Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Top 40 Albums of 2009: Part 2

Dylan, Etc's Top 40 Albums of 2009

Part 2: #1-20

A Memphis punk who relieves himself onstage. A Somalian rapper who describes his country’s civil war in blood-curdling detail. A mysterious group of ABBA wannabes about whom nothing is known save a few cryptic videos. All these artists produced some of this year's best albums. Yesterday we counted down #21-40 of the Top 40 Albums of 2009, but those were just twenty small steps leading up to this.

Read about the picks (here are the first twenty), listen to the sample MP3s (or download them all at once from a link at the bottom) and feel free to bitch about why this list sucks in the comments. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion has topped just about every other best-of list…find out if it did here too!

20. Jay Reatard – Watch Me Fall
Jay Reatard’s roller coaster year has established one fact: the guy is an asshole. He urinated on his band onstage, then called them “boring rich kids who can't play for ahit [sic] anyways” when they quit. He hates everyone from his peers (Jay to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: “It must hurt being so bland”) to his fans (Jay to Brooklyn: “Shut up!”) He's such a thoroughly unlikeable individual it’s almost a shame his music is so good. Short punk nuggets pepper Watch Me Fall, smacking the listener in the face then getting out. Hey, it’s better than getting peed on.
It Ain’t Gonna Save Me

19. Matt the Electrician – Animal Boy
No, Matt the Electrician is not some take-off on Joe the Plumber (remember him?) and from the sound of “Bridge to Nowhere” he probably wasn’t pounding the pavement for McCain-Palin. Instead, this quiet Texas folkie spends his time writing nice letters to the Walmart Complaints Department (“For Angela”), solving math problems (“Divided By”) and doing ukulele-and-horn Journey covers (“Faithfully”). Not bad for a guy who only a few years ago was wiring houses all day.
Bridge to Nowhere

18. Mika – The Boy Who Knew Too Much
Very British, very Broadway and very, very effeminate -- Mika has long been a man easy to hate. From the sound of it, he couldn’t care less. His second release after 2007’s debut smash Life in Cartoon Motion finds Mika pumping out shamelessly catchy hooks designed to get in your head and stick. Mika’s the Clueless of music: claim you’re too cool all you want, but the grin on your face will betray you.
We Are Golden

17. Wolfmother – Cosmic Egg
Led Zeppelin’s back, and comes in the form of a jew-froed Australian. Between the first two Wolfmother albums Andrew Stockdale fired the rest of the band and replaced them with three more Zep devotees who sound identical. The quartet leaves no misty mountain unturned, giving us their Stairway to Heaven (“In the Castle”) and Black Dog (“New Moon Rising”). Wolfmother nails the Zeppelin sound so perfectly, calling them derivative is a compliment.
New Moon Rising

16. The Elms – The Great American Midrange
The Elms come from the same Indiana town that gave the world John Mellencamp, so heartland rock is in their blood. Their small-town themes just might be the story of America though, from hope during hard times (“Strut”) to the desire of the disconnected to discover their roots (“Back to Indiana”). From the sound of things, they’re doing a pretty good job.
Back to Indiana

15. K’Naan – Troubadour
Rappers have long boasted about coming from a tougher background than the other guy. Guys, it's over; K’Naan wins, but for him it’s nothing to brag about. Born in Somalia in a neighborhood known as the River of Blood, he experienced the devastating civil war firsthand, only escaping when his mother’s visa was approved on the last day the U.S. Embassy was open. His painfully personal lyrics detail the pains of growing up in war-torn poverty: at age 11 he saw his two best friends shot dead next to him (the third bullet was meant for him), then later that year he casually tossed a rock he'd picked up and blew up half his school (that "rock" turned out to be an active grenade). In spite of it all, hope courses through Troubadour’s veins in optimistic songs like “Dreamer” and “Waving Flag,” the official song of the 2010 World Cup.
Wavin’ Flag

14. The Raveonettes – In and Out of Control
For a band whose musical sensibilities grow out of the teen-crush pop of Buddy Holly and the Ronnettes (“Rave On” + “Ronettes” = Raveonettes), this Danish duo tackle some mature themes on their fourth albums. Serious songs about overdoses (“Last Dance,” “D.R.U.G.S.”) vie with slightly more cavalier songs about sexual assault (“Boys Who Rape (Should Be Destroyed),” “Break Up Girls!”). Heavy topics aside, the pair’s shoegaze pop has never been sharper -- the fact that the lyrics stuck in your head actually say something is just a nice bonus.
Last Dance

13. Aceyalone – Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones
“Right now I would like to introduce you to my band,” Aceyalone says to introduce this album. “These gentlemen and these lovely ladies I have behind me go by name of the Lonely Ones.” Here’s the catch: the Lonely Ones don’t exist. Though these funky soul grooves sound like the second coming of the Delfonics, they were actually cooked up in the studio by rapper Aceyalone and producer Bionik. If you can’t find the perfect ‘70s samples to rap over, you just gotta create them yourself.
Can’t Hold Back (ft. Treasure Davis)

12. Florence and the Machine – Lungs
“The dog days are over,” Florence Welch sings at the beginning of Lungs and by the time the hearty drum wallops kick in you’re inclined to believe her. This eccentric frontwoman surrounds her tales of heartbreak and excess with delectable power-pop, emphasis on the power. When she sings about domestic abuse on “Kiss with a Fist,” it’s clear this gal hits back.
Dog Days Are Over

11. Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers – A Fish Hook An Open Eye
Nick Cave called this his favorite new band, and with song titles like “I’m Not Frigid…Yet” and “Woman Sets Boyfriend on Fire” it’s easy to see why. Shilpa’s girl-punk swagger recalls the garage soul of the Detroit Cobras with a macabre twist.
I’m Not Frigid…Yet

10. We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls
What is it about a Scottish accent? Ever since Franz Ferdinand took over the world in 2004 a hearty brogue has been the height of indie style and We Were Promised Jetpacks wear theirs well. Their swaggering tunes strut and sway in turns, angled hooks giving way to piano codas in defiant blasts of north-of-the-border pride.
Quiet Little Voices

9. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – The Century of Self
Austin’s …Trail of Dead has never been a band to keep ambition in check. On their sixth full-length, one minute they’re imagining the music of angels and the next they’re reflecting on the violent history of the Khyper Pass. Whatever. The pounding drums and wall-of-distortion guitars speak for themselves.
Isis Unveiled

8. Kid Harpoon – Once
September 28 was a long time coming for Kid Harpoon fans. British singer-songwriter Tom Hull released his first single under the Harpoon name in 2006, dropping two incredible EPs since but no album proper. Once was worth the wait. Instead of compiling a bunch of the brilliant EP tracks for a wider audience, Hull released Once with twelve new songs tackling the same old themes. His wharf-rat lyrics hit on auto theft (“Stealing Cars”), rodents (“Running Through Tunnels”) and killing pretty girls (pretty much everything else) but the baroque-pop is as upbeat as ever.
Stealing Cars

7. The Dead Weather – Horehound
When Jack White announced his third band at the beginning of the year, fans everywhere wondered why the greatest guitarist of his generation would get behind the drum kit. The answer is still unclear, but the world of music is a better place because he did. Sultry singer Alison Mosshart’s Janis Joplin growl takes center stage while Jack bashes away contentedly like a man who knows he’s proven the skeptics wrong yet again.
Treat Me Like Your Mother

6. John Frusciante – The Empyrean
The news recently broke that John Frusciante had quit the Red Hot Chili Peppers after twenty years. Good. One listen to The Empyrean shows his ambitions go far beyond adolescent ditties about californicating. His guitar wails with more soul than a dozen Anthony Kiedises, incorporating everything from gospel to ambient in these sprawling psychedelic epics. Though this move may hurt his pocketbook, giving his eccentric creativity free reign can't be a bad thing at all.

5. Eels – Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire
Eels singer “E” may look like a mentally unstable homeless man, but under the monstrous beard lies the soul of a poet, a gruff-voiced balladeer chronicling the ups and downs (mostly downs) of love. “The Look You Give That Guy” portrays the jealous would-be boyfriend imagining what will never be while “In My Dreams” finds quiet hope in what already is.
In My Dreams

4. Music Go Music - Expressions
If happiness has a soundtrack, Expressions is it. Little is known about Music Go Music aside from a glorious series of ‘70s-cheeze performance videos, but watching them grin through their ABBA-inspired pop anthems tells you all you need to know. It’s not the feel-good album of the year -- it’s the feel-invincible.
Just Me

3. David Bazan – Curse Your Branches
There’s a certain irony when a lifetime Christian rocker makes the album of his career the moment he decides God doesn’t exist. Through ten brutally personal songs David Bazan preaches the Gospel of Doubt, describing his fall from faith and the toll it’s taken on the believers around him.
In Stitches

2. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
It seems the more outlandish the Decemberists’ artistic vision becomes, the better they get. In The Hazards of Love they infuse their Victorian folk with a prog-rock crunch to create a swirling 17-song opera that, not surprisingly, will soon become a movie. Their tragic tale this time concerns a woman torn from her shape-shifting lover by a malicious forest queen and a vengeful widower who gleefully brags about murdering his children in the show-stopping “The Rake’s Song.” Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark and My Brightest Diamond’s Sharon Worden come aboard to voice the female characters, but as always it’s Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy’s theatrical vision that holds all the pieces together.
The Rake’s Song

1. Balmorhea – All Is Wild, All Is Silent
Few bands could credibly list among their influences French composer Claude Debussy, post-rock pioneers the Six Parts Seven, and country singer Gillian Welch. On an album that gets richer with each listen though, Texas sextet Balmorhea do indeed sound like the bastard child of all three. To put it another way, imagine Beethoven conducting Fleet Foxes through a set of instrumental Sigur Rós covers. All Is Wild’s nine tracks spin tales too vast to be confined to the spoken word, too emotional for verse-chorus-verse narration. The world Balmorhea creates encompasses snow-capped mountains, isolated brooks, forest clearings. Don’t analyze it, just let the experience take hold.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks! See you in 2010.

Download all MP3s featured in this post here. For #21-40, click here.


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Don't stop posting such articles. I love to read blogs like this. Just add more pics :)

zan said...

ok, this is a great blog, and you've introduced me to some excellent music over the years (just now enjoying a listen to the john frusciante solo effort that I probably wouldn't have heard otherwise), and I am particularly grateful for the link you provided to that spectacular Wilco at the Tanglewood show. Thanks.

but dude, where the hell is Middle Cyclone?

keep it up.