Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunless Shortlist: Albums 2009

15. Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away

Another year, another great Fiery Furnaces album. Every single one of their albums since Rehearsing My Choir has been on this list. And the only reason Blueberry Boat wasn't was because I didn't do a list that year.

14. John Vanderslice - Romanian Names

Not exactly JV's most instantly enjoyable album, but I didn't give up on it. It is truly incredible. I still may not enjoy it as much as I could, but I understand more of it with every listen. JV is one of the most consistent songwriters out there right now.

13. St. Vincent - Actor

This was the year I finally fell for St. Vincent. I still don't think much about St. Vincent when not listening to her. But in those moments that I am listening to her, I love nothing more.

12. Most Serene Republic - ...and the Ever Expanding Universe

I have to say, and I don't care what anybody thinks about this, but I think The Most Serene Republic is one of the most underrated bands in the world. They aren't the best-reviewed band out there, and they certainly aren't the most popular. However, since they figured out their sound on Phages, they have become something remarkably great.

11. A.C. Newman - Get Guilty

This album is 2009's secret weapon. It was released on January 20th, the most important release date of 2009. It went by mostly unnoticed, but don't underestimate this album. It is subtly remarkable.

10. Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come

There is a pattern emerging with every Mountain Goats release. One release is instantly enjoyable (Tallahassee, The Sunset Tree, Heretic Pride). The next release is dense and difficult to understand immediately (We Shall All Be Healed, Get Lonely, and this one). Maybe that makes them even more rewarding in the end.

9. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

Yo La Tengo have always been at emulating their influences. This album might be their finest example. Huge year for Yo La Tengo with this album and the incredible Condo Fucks album.

8. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

With its first listen, you can just tell that this album was going to blow up this year. It was easy to see that this would be their year. Don't worry about a backlash though. These guys deserve the attention for putting together the most instantly gratifying album of the year.

7. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

Speaking of backlashes, if anybody is set up for a backlash right now it has to be Grizzly Bear. The hype machine was in full effect for this band. When they finally released Veckatimest, their most poppy album to date, the music certainly did live up to the hype. You must always expect a backlash when an art band releases something accessible. I hope that doesn't happen any more than it already has because they guys are just great.

6. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

The Dirty Projectors have certainly never been accused of being accessible. It's art rock to its fullest, and art rock should be difficult stuff (except to those that "get it"). What's so remarkable about this album is that they accomplished both. It's remarkable complex, but instantly enjoyable at the same time.

5. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

This is one of the many great albums released on January 20th. I think it's taken me that long to love it as much as I should. I was immediately a little disappointed when I first heard it. But I kept coming back again and again. With every listen I was able to appreciate more and more of it. I listened to it one more time as I was compiling this list and am stunned that I was ever disappointed. This is amazing music.

4. Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

Bill Callahan is definitely one of those "can-do-no-wrong" songwriters for me. When I picked up this album I expected to love it, but I couldn't predict that I'd love it as much as I do. It's full of some of his strongest writing to date.

3. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Of course this album is on this list. Animal Collective has quickly become one of my (and everybody else in the world's) favorite bands. Every release solidifies that status even more. I guess the thing that makes this list a little different is that this album isn't at number one. I absolutely love this album, and it should be number one, but it's just not quite as good as...

2. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer

I am obsessed with this album. I didn't realize how much I was obsessed for a long time though. It just took me completely off guard. I was listening to it constantly and didn't even notice just how much. That obsession is very worthy. This album is absolutely stunning. Everybody should be lucky to be obsessed with it.

1. Flaming Lips - Embryonic

I am still in disbelief that this album is number one. I loved this album the first time I listened to it, but I guess I didn't want to love it this much. My faith in some of my favorite bands has weakened in recent years with every weak release (Wilco, Weezer, Modest Mouse, etc.). I most definitely didn't have much faith in the Flaming Lips after the very tepid At War With the Mystics. I figured that either they had slipped into cookie-cutter commercial music, or they were just always lucky at making great music (or even frauds all along). Embryonic proves me wrong once and for all.

This is a very difficult album to hear, for sure. Especially as they had progressed (digressed?) further and further into pop music, listening to something this difficult is very jarring. But beyond the music, thematically it is even more difficult to hear. The Flaming Lips had always exemplified "the world is fucked but we'll be okay." It was a party. We'll be just fine. With Embryonic they now seem to have figured out that we won't be okay after all. It's very disturbing hearing them come to understand that. It's even more disturbing to understand it because you can't help but believe it as you hear it.

Because of all of this, and simply that the album just sounds great, my faith is completely restored in the Flaming Lips. They are truly giants in music, and now I understand that there isn't reason to be bitter about that. They deserve it. They know what they are doing. Hell, I even found out this year that all the money they got from Kraft for using "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" in salad dressing commercials went to help animal shelters and children's charities. Holy shit, these guys are saints!! They deserve all the popularity, and the money, all the exposure that they have earned this decade. They closed out the last decade with their masterpiece (The Soft Bulletin). Now they close this decade with something that may be even better. Even if the world is ending, I can't wait to party with these guys. That is Embryonic.