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October 12, 2009 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Salient’s Top 10 Albums of 2009


#1 Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavillion

Where Kid A served as the perfect opener to the decade, capturing the paranoia and technological uncertainty rife during the early 00s as well as smashing down the barriers of acceptance for experimentation in popular music, Merriweather Post Pavillion is the ideal closer to 10 years that have seen this influence unfold, expand and flourish. A veritable cornucopia of found sounds, dreamy, synthetic soundscapes and giddy vocals, Merriweather Post Pavillion is the perfected product of a group who have spent the decade pushing boundaries of noise, sound and song, and sees them strike the ideal balance between palatability and discovery. It’s also just a really brilliant album, able to give you all the things great music should, be it a broad, uncontrollable smile, a soundtrack for a beautiful summer’s day, a brief respite from cold, harsh reality, a journey back to childhood, or just something awesome to dance to. Above all, Merriweather Post Pavillion shows that regardless of whatever else has happened in the world, in music at least the Oughties have been a decade of expanded horizons, increased acceptance and an embracement of difference.

#2 Raekwon
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II

Raekwon first announced plans to release a follow-up to his 1995 solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, in 2005. In effect, therefore, anticipation for this album has had four years to escalate. By all means, it should have resulted in a Chinese Democracy scenario—and yet, somehow, Raekwon managed not only to meet, but also to exceed expectations that were already sky-high. Guided by an impressive arrangement of producers, Pt. II marks a fine return to the form of The Chef’s formative Wu-Tang salad days. Consider the tense, ‘Idioteque’-referencing beat of ‘Penitentiary’; the atmospheric, drawling ‘Black Mozart’; the insistent, uneasy throb of ‘House of Flying Daggers’, all of which could comfortably go toe to toe with any highlight from the original Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Even if there have been several more notable hip-hop releases this year, Pt. II is, by some distance, the best.

#3 The Antlers

The Antler’s debut, Hospice, is a concept album told from the perspective of a hospital orderly that focuses on his relationship with a young girl suffering from terminal bone cancer. Peter Silberman’s (The Antler’s singer and principal songwriter) musical representations of the vicarious suffering and alienation felt by the album’s protagonist are both chilling and captivating in their honesty. But for all its great emotional heft, Hospice is also a work of serene beauty. In combination, Silberman’s quivering vibrato and delicate arrangements render what might have been an unbearably painful listening experience into a touching work of transcendental catharsis.

#4 Grizzly Bear

Veckatamist stomps out its own genre: the so-called ‘Baroque pop’. Grizzly Bear’s follow-up album builds on the groundwork laid by Yellow House nicely, with more technical songwriting and experimentation than their previous effort allowed. Pedants debate over which track reigns supreme: ‘Two Weeks’, ‘Ready, Able’, or ‘While You Wait for the Others’—all contenders for song of the year. Once again, Grizzly Bear prove that they are the superlative pop practitioners of their class. They are choir boys extraordinaire, with nary a step awry as their voices sway sadly towards graduation; I wanna matriculate where they’re matriculating.

#5 St. Vincent

Actor is an aptly named album: singer Annie Clark sets about creating a carefully staged production of pretty voice as narrator against a frenetic backdrop. Clark’s vocals remain calm, even when the arrangements are anxious, even hostile. The listener wants to warn our charming protagonist of what lurks behind her, but her occasionally wavering voice indicates that perhaps she knows: one suspects this is what Feist would sound like if she fell down the rabbit hole. ‘The Strangers’ remains the standout track with prettily whispered lyrics “paint the black hole blacker”, representative of St Vincent’s clash of light and dark; pop and melodramatic avant-garde float separate like oil and water.

#6 Japandroids

Where no small part of 2009’s musical output seemed predisposed to a trashy garbage sheen (not necessarily a bad thing), Japandroids simply turned up the volume. Pummelling out eight tracks of pure garage anthem nostalgia, they created an album of singles that still stands out as one of the catchiest records of the year. Between near-emo wordless hooks in ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire’, the carefree playfulness in ‘Wet Hair’s’ refrain (something about French-kissing French girls) and their predisposition to having the volume knobs at 14, Post-Nothing comes off as a wholly impressive, aggressive, and unforgettable listen. Somehow Harder // Faster // Catchier // Better than any other rock album this year.

#7 Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It’s Blitz!

With It’s Blitz!, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs took a turn for the accessible, the melodic; the pop-y. It’s a change in direction that often sets a band’s career on the downward spiral (N.B.: ‘selling out’), but I don’t feel that this is the case with the YYYs’ third. Granted, it contrasts with the blistering Fever to Tell, but it also stands alone as an example of the YYYs’ distinctive sound: the game is the same, but the rules have changed. Instrumentalists Nick Zinner and Brian Chase experiment with setting concepts of distance and nostalgia to music on vintage Arps, which Karen O grounds with her inherent white-hot heat and larger-than-life persona. It’s Blitz! is fun, infectious, emotional, and, yes, it’s a stellar YYYs record. Sure, there’s no ‘Maps’ equivalent, but that’s a sign of a band that’s looking forward, rather than back. P.S. Also best album artwork of ’09 IMO.

Get Color

While HEALTH don’t strike 9/9 on their sophomore effort Get Color, there are so many incredible moments enclosed within its industrial noise shell that it’s pretty indispensable in terms of this list. The LA noise band have always been capable of incorporating badass dance beats into their work, but never more so than on lead single ‘Die Slow’. It’s all pulverising riffs and eerily robotic vocal lines, and comes bursting into life on its half-speed-banger chorus. Despite the dance influences all over ‘Die Slow’ and standout ‘We Are Water’, Get Color still holds its own as an incredible noise-rock record. While Nine Inch Nails may no longer officially exist, there’s no need to worry—HEALTH have that market cornered on Get Color, and don’t look to ease up on their trade anytime soon.

#9 Handsome Furs
Face Control

If you’re looking for an album that shows just how much a social environment and life experience can affect a band’s sound, look no further than Face Control. Inspired by their tour of Eastern Europe, Face Control reflects the area’s harsh and unforgiving landscape and culture. Combining sharp, angular guitars with heavy, processed beats, the Handsome Furs have created an album that exudes swagger and attitude while simultaneously avoids pretension. With songs like ‘Legal Tender’, ‘Evangeline’ and ‘I’m Confused’, Face Control meshes a minimalist punk aesthetic with strained, earnest vocals and storytelling surety in a way that feels both vibrant and immediate.

#10 Underwater Peoples
Summertime Showcase 2009

2009 has seen a seemingly endless succession of unknowns emerge from the amorphous realm of blogs, rapidshare sites and torrent trackers, all with the same goal in mind: to produce the perfect soundtrack to a summer of sun, nostalgia and poolside parties. The Underwater People’s label has been responsible for many of the finer exponents of this breezy aesthetic blend, and in the form of their Summertime Showcase 2009 they’ve also produced a perfect introductory document. So hurry up antipodean sun. We need your solar rays so that we can bask, beachside, with beer in hand, blasting Real Estate’s ‘Backyard’ on our
boomboxes. Now that’s what I call bliss.


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