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Klap4music's Top 20 Albums Of '09

Self-explanatory - in my continued protest of the current rigid list system Sputnik imposes on us, this list will be set backwards (i.e., #1 is actually #20, 2 is 19, etc.). Comments, thoughts, disagreements welcome! Last in my four-part series, although I will be doing my decade list sometime before the New Year.
1 Kiss Kiss
The Meek Shall Inherit What's Left


20. Kiss Kiss don't really have any idea what they're going to be doing from one minute to the next, so
it
should come as no surprise that The Meek Shall Inherit What's Left is a delightfully scrambled mess of
an
album, one that jumps from bouncy indie pop to quirky gypsy folk to outsized 16-minute concept
tunes.
But somehow everything holds together, making it a wonderfully effective blender of rock music.
2M. Ward
Hold Time


19. It's become typical to expect excellence from M. Ward at this stage in career, but even so, Hold
Time
was a startling consistent example of beautifully refined Americana. His best since Transistor Radio, it'
s an
album that flows smoothly from one song to the next, a river of songs photographing classic American
music as it rolls along.
3Noah and the Whale
The First Days of Spring


18. Few bands could do such an abrupt about-face as Noah and the Whale do with their sophomore
effort,
but the London quintet pull it off in style. The First Days of Spring is the break-up record of the year,
but it
would be crushingly depressing if not for the vivid, pastoral soundscapes the band have masterfully
crafted.
4Manic Street Preachers
Journal for Plague Lovers


17. It always seemed like the Preachers were searching for an identity to call their own after the
disappearance of their heart and soul, frontman Richey Edwards. But Journal for Plague Lovers
confidently
stands tall among great Preacher records of the past, exorcizing Edwards' ghost with his own lyrics and
creating a modern rock record that blows away most of the newer competition, including many of their
own previous works.
5 The Fiery Furnaces
I'm Going Away


16. Ever since Blueberry Boat, the Fiery Furnaces seemed to lose their way on latter albums, unable to
reconcile the experimental brilliance of that album with the pop charm of Gallowsbird's Bark, resulting
in
albums that were wildly uneven and even more challenging. But with their latest, the brother-sister duo
has regained that middle ground wonderfully. I'm Going Away is their most accessible album in years,
without losing that distinctive oddball charm and slice-of-life lyrics that has defined them.
6Manchester Orchestra
Mean Everything to Nothing


15. Manchester Orchestra's second album shows them maturing into something every fan of the band
was
desperately hoping for, the newest poet laureates of emotive indie rock. Singer and lyricist Andy Hull
has
sharpened his roiling tide of emotions into impassioned pleas and finely tuned angst, resulting in one
of the
year's best songs ("I Can Feel A Hot One") and a record that bodes so, so well for the future.
7Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion


14. It's no surprise that Merriweather Post Pavilion became so wildly popular in indie circles - without
losing any of the weirdness or experimental angles that have defined the band over the past decade,
they
successfully broadened their pop horizons, resulting in an extremely accessible record that appealed as
much to the diehard fan as it did to the wannabe hipster. Perhaps the strangest success story of the
year - after all, would anyone listening to Animal Collective in 2000 have predicted this level of success ten
years later?
8Portugal. The Man
The Satanic Satanist


13. An alt-rock record that never seems to struggle and definitely never wants for a tasty melody or
grabbing hook, The Satanic Satanist is Portugal. The Man at their best, a melding of all their previous
sounds into a record that could not sound more tossed-off or carefree if it tried. It's a brilliant trick,
one
that results in an album that is as light and relaxing as it is refreshing and remarkably accomplished.
9 Lily Allen
It's Not Me, It's You


12. While not as unique and defining as her debut, It's Not Me, It's You is the perfect pop album,
mixing
Lily Allen's sizable amounts of sass and razor-sharp wit with superbly diverse production by Mark
Ronson
and songs that absolutely kill. Track after track is a potential hit single, perhaps derailed from
commercial
success only by Allen's often-blunt lyrics. Then again, that's what makes Lily such a treat in the
whitewashed world of mainstream pop.
10Mos Def
The Ecstatic


11. This could very well be the comeback record of the year, and would easily have been the rap record
of
the year if it were any other year. Alas, 2009 was a special year in music, and The Ecstatic is no
exception.
Mos Def sounds rejuvenated, more centered in than he has in years, and the record's confident tone
and
relentlessly ingenious beats and rhymes follow in turn.
11The Decemberists
The Hazards of Love


10. There's been better Decemberists records, and there's certainly been better concept records over
the
course of history, but The Hazards of Love is perfect at what it sets out to do: embody the
Decemberists'
literary and musical ambitions in one giant song cycle. It?s the ultimate progression of the band's
sound,
taking their penchant for wordy songs and long-winded stories and expanding it over the course of an
entire album. It's what the Decemberists were destined for, and in that respect it's a fine piece of
work.
And while the story is a little half-baked, the songs are as epic and well done as ever, driving the story
and
resulting in some of the best instrumental work the band has ever put down.
12Taken by Trees
East of Eden


9. Journeying to the East to find one's self has become as much of a cliché as any over the past few
decades, as has recording one's experiences there. Luckily for former Concretes' frontwoman Victoria
Bergsman, she seems to have sublimated all those Eastern influences into her own sound rather than
just
throwing in a few foreign instruments and styles onto her shiny brand of Swedish indie-pop. It's a
record
that is almost impossible to place, the convergence of sounds and Bergsman's own haunting vocals
resulting in a mystical, almost timeless album, one just at home in the foothills of Pakistan as it is in
the
indie blogosphere.
13Neko Case
Middle Cyclone


8. While Middle Cyclone doesn't quite approach the classic status of Case's last record, the
transcendent
Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, it takes only three-and-a-half minutes to foresee it possibly attaining
that
stature. While the musicianship is top-notch and runs the gamut from smoky folk to woodsy Americana
and straight-ahead rock, the focus remains, as always, on Case's inimitable vocals. Opener "This
Tornado
Loves You" is proof of this and more, Case's distinctive pipes highlighting a stormy mess of a song,
one
that revels in the passion of destruction as much as it does in love and longing.
14 The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It's Blitz!


7. It's Blitz! is perhaps the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' most complete record yet, one that runs the gamut of
emotions and moods from the exhilarating opener "Zero" to the frighteningly effective, lullaby-esque
closer
"Little Shadow." No longer can the Yeah Yeah Yeahs be accused of being just another one-dimensional
New York garage rock band - from synth-filled new wave to mellow alt-rock to haunting ballads, It's
Blitz!
is a multifaceted album that reveals more and more upon each successive listen. It shows a startling
amount of growth for a band long relegated to one-hit wonder status, and gives hope that, yes, there is
life
after "Maps."
15Monsters of Folk
Monsters of Folk


6. It didn't come as a surprise that a collaboration between Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket's Jim
James,
M. Ward, and uber-producer Mike Mogis would be entertaining; what was a surprise, however, was just
how good and refined Monsters of Folk ended up being, more the product of a long-time band than a
supergroup thrown together for shits and gigs. It's a minor miracle that the foursome are able to
integrate
all their own influences and ideas so seamlessly into the final product, a time capsule of classic
Americana
that manages to stand on its own, rather than the hodgepodge of styles one would expect. Best of all,
that
final product is the best example of pure, unadulterated American rock 'n roll to come out all year.
16Japandroids
Post-Nothing


5. Post-Nothing is best taken straight, no chaser, with zero preconceptions or any hint of in-depth
critical
analysis upon first listen. All fuzzed-out guitars, straight-out-of-the-garage drums and vocals that,
frankly,
don't give a damn, it's the sound of youth and youth's emotions at their most free, uncaged from any
hint
of adult restraint. It's a record full of anthems and undeniably vital, practically bursting with life,
energy,
lust, you name it: and not ashamed of any of it.
17Miike Snow
Miike Snow


4. It's a far cry from "Toxic," but Bloodshy & Avant's new side project (with singer Andrew Wyatt) is
deliciously unfettered pop in its own way. Perhaps the best-produced album of the year, it flits from
Vampire Weekend-esque indie ("Animal") to gorgeous atmospherics ("Silvia") to fantastically filthy
electro-
pop ("Black & Blue") to haunting ballads ("Faker"), with the ease of a musical chameleon with a liking
for
keyboards. It's an instant party starter, but at its heart it's something more, an album built on a pop
foundation but with multiple layers, a heart that values superior songwriting and grade-A production to
shallow sentiments and mindless hooks.
18Raekwon
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt II


3. Raekwon's latest is a shining reaffirmation of Wu-Tang dominance over the rap game; RZA's
production
is his best work in years, the various guest spots all seem placed to perfection, speaking more to their
lyrical abilities and personalities than any "oh, hey, look who we got to guest on this track" bullshit.
Every
spot here means something, and, more than that, every spot here frames and support the leader, the
rapper whose flow and style defines this album and makes it a new rap classic. Raekwon is clearly at
the
top of his game here, delivering a conceptual story that wallows in the dirt and grime of New York and
comes out reinvigorated in the end. The Wu are far from dead - indeed, this might be the strongest
they've been all decade.
19Florence and the Machine
Lungs


2. The Voice is a major reason for this album's success, but it's not the only one. Just as importantly,
the
talented backing band does an excellent job transcribing Florence Welch's uniquely powerful voice and
haunting tone into the music. Lungs is an album as versatile as its namesake, from the thumping
bombast
of "Drumming Song" to the bluesy "Kiss With A Fist" to the ethereal buildup to "Between Two Lungs."
But
that Voice! - from fierce to grieving to lusty, Welch is the driving force behind Lungs, one that at times
seems to be like a force of nature, whirling from high to low with equal passion and equal ease. The
debut
of the year, and a very exciting one for the future.
20Phoenix
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


1. When I first heard this record it certainly didn't stand out to me as a potential Album of the Year
candidate. And it still didn't stand out after the second, third, or a dozen listens, but over the course
of the
summer the little things began to strike me as special, revealing a record full of layers I had previously
dismissed in the guise of "just another dance-rock record." It is a dance-rock record, and an
exceptional
one at that, but it's the painstaking attention to detail, the relentlessly innovative beats and polished
drumming, the appealingly earnest way these Frenchmen take English rock 'n roll and make it their
own,
all these things and more that catapult Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix into a realm of its own. It's the way
the band breaks it down and then the multi-tracked harmonic guitar flies in over the end of "Lisztomania;"
it's the way "1901's" chorus zooms in and out on the bass like a pneumatic hammer of pop as the
synths
take skyward; it's the way the "Love Like A Sunset" suite resolves itself so beautifully in a haze of
major-
key watercolors; it's the way singer Thomas Mars' bares all in the heartbreaking shimmer of "Rome."
More
than anything else, it's a dance record that isn't afraid to celebrate its own flaws, rejoicing in its ability
to
take a shallow genre and make something lasting, one that speaks as much to a person's emotions as
it
does their feet. Here's to my record of the year.
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