Has the year gone by just like that? Time really flies when you’re having fun, especially this year when so much good music’s been produced and released. Although most year-end best-of lists have been published already, we’ve left it to the real end of the year to give you our scoop on what’s been hogging our stereos these 12 months. And while our posts through the year have been song-based, this list is decidedly record-based, with both full length and shorter ep’s included. With that, here’s 40 of our favorite records of 2009, presented in alphabetical order. From the way this year has turned out, we can’t wait already for what 2010 has to offer. Cheers, and as we always say, see you on the other side. – dan and brian.
1. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE – MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION (DOMINO)
Every respectable year-end list ranks this album as the best of the year, and for good reason too. Panda Bear, Avey Tare and Geologist have managed to up their game from last year’s spectacular Strawberry Jam with an album that’s as finely crafted as it is fun and spontaneous. It helps too that they’ve quickly followed up with the equally impressive Fall Be Kind EP, proving themselves to be the most prolific creative presence in the music world today – dan.
2. THE ANTLERS – HOSPICE (FRENCHKISS)
The background story of Hospice is a familiar one birthed in social isolation, but the results are most extraordinary. With this album, The Antlers have aimed for the stars by bringing together the literary, conceptual, personal and emotional in what makes for an immensely rewarding journey, which we must warn you, is most certainly not for the fainthearted. – dan.
mp3: the antlers – bear
3. ARCTIC MONKEYS – HUMBUG (DOMINO)
If you thought that the scuzzy accented brit-punk of the Arctic Monkeys was getting old, think again. The boys are all grown up, and they haven’t shed the accent, but the new musical direction has ultimately given the band a voice they can call their own. – brian.
4. ATLAS SOUND – LOGOS (KRANKY)
Can Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox do no wrong? My first listen left me wondering if this was his first misstep, but I’m glad to have been proven wrong by an album that takes its time to fit your ears and win you over. Logos harbors no delusions of timelessness, yet so often transcends the boundaries of time in its childlike affair with nostalgia. – dan.
5. BAT FOR LASHES – TWO SUNS (PARLOPHONE)
There are moments in Natasha Khan’s sophomore album that you feel you’re in the Donnie Darko movie, and that’s not because of her music video for “What’s A Girl To Do”. But for all intents and purposes, this is a largely experimental album with a very classic vocal delivery. However, Khan lets us take a peek inside her head, and its almost as if this is how her mind works: light stirrings of unorthodox sounds, yet they all come together into a beautiful pastiche. – brian.
6. BLACK METEORIC STAR – BLACK METEORIC STAR (DFA)
If Justice made dance music sound metallic, and DFA label mates LCD Soundsystem made it sound silver, Black Meteoric Star propelled it to the galaxies and beyond. This is music that sounds every bit like what Gavin Russom’s DJ moniker suggests. – dan.
7. CAMERA OBSCURA – MY MAUDLIN CAREER (4AD)
The first two beats of album opener “French Navy” could not have been more triumphant, setting the tone for Camera Obscura’s most confident album to date. Yet, this is no small achievement considering the distance Tracyanne Campbell covers with her typically cynical romantic renditions of the bitter ironies of loves found and lost. – dan.
8. CIRCULATORY SYSTEM – SIGNAL MORNING (CLOUD)
The legacy of the Olivia Tremor Control is more prevalent in music today than it’s talked about, but OTC leader Will Cullen Hart’s Circulatory System reminds us after an 8 year absence how much you can achieve with lo-fi. Like every OTC record, this requires multiple listens, with new discoveries guaranteed every single time. – dan.
9. CLUES – CLUES (CONSTELLATION)
Recorded at the Mighty Hotel2Tango, this self-titled debut is marked by urgency and intensity amidst a flurry of schizophrenic tempo-changes. While Constellation forebears Godspeed You! Black Emperor captured the doom of the impending apocalypse, Clues chooses instead to epitomize the fragmented paranoia of today’s uncertain world. – dan.
10. THE CRIBS – IGNORE THE IGNORANT (WICHITA)
What has Johhny Marr (ex-Smiths) been up to lately? Well, it seems he’s joined The Cribs and they’ve produced one of the finest guitar albums of 2009! The lines flow infectiously as counter melodies to the Jarman Brothers’ excellent vocal deliveries. The songs come toe-tappingly fast and catchy, giving you that much needed spring in your step as you commute to work. – brian.
11. DELOREAN – AYRTON SENNA EP (FOOL HOUSE)
The sun’s just about to set and you decide to put this EP on because the Spaniards know how to party. Delorean brought to the fray of 2009 an amazingly fun album of dark synth pop that somehow seems perfect for those magic sunsets by the beach. – brian.
12. DIRTY PROJECTORS – BITTE ORCA (DOMINO)
Have you heard anything like Bitte Orca this year, or even in the past decade for that matter? In their first album for Domino, Dirty Projectors have put together one of the most inspired and genre-bending (is this art-pop or R&B opera?) records of the year. Only time will tell how far this will go down as a classic or even a milestone in the evolution of indie music. – dan.
13. THE FIRE FIGHT – HENRI (WAKE ME UP MUSIC)
It’s not everyday you get a concept album in Singapore, much less for a debut album. But that’s whats so great about the relatively young scene we have! There are no real rules and The Fire Fight have delivered a cracker of an album that foretells the misadventures of a bear. The instrumentation is tight, and the delivery is so full of confidence. Easily one of the most listen-able new bands. – brian.
14. FLORENCE + THE MACHINE – LUNGS (ISLAND)
It’s as if Lilith Fair was just yesterday and Sarah McLachlan was ten years younger all over again. There’s a startling similarity between Florence + The Machine’s music and Sarah McLachlan’s early work, and yet maybe that’s as far as similarities go. This young nouveau folk band takes the best parts of the female rock movement from the early nineties and performs as a single unit worthy of their namesake. – brian.
15. GIRLS – ALBUM (TRUE PANTHER)
One of the surprises of the year is this slacker jangle pop band from San Francisco with as much in common with Elvis Costello as with (gasp!) Spiritualized. The two-hit combo of “Lust for Life” and “Laura” set the tone for the most honest, confessional songwriting riding on the simplest of melodies. I’m sure these guys are really just crazy, or totally mad, as only insanity could ever produce a work of genius such as this. – dan.
16. GRIZZLY BEAR – VECKATIMEST (WARP)
How often do you find music that could be played softly in your bedroom but also performed in a large church hall? Veckatimest is the pinnacle of Grizzly Bear’s quest for musical perfection, achieved not just through technical proficiency, but a instinctive judgment of how good music should consistently feel and sound. – dan.
17. THE HORRORS – PRIMARY COLOURS (XL)
The Horrors have been on almost every legitimate indie music blog, and they’re no exception to our list. Shedding off their previous monstrosity of glam rock, they’ve rebooted the legacy that post-punk bands like Joy Division have left behind. The reverb-laced guitars bleed through the rest of the mix, and any shoegaze band would be proud of the fuzzed out chaos that ensues. – brian.
18. JAPANDROIDS – POST-NOTHING (UNFAMILIAR)
The rise and fall of emo over the past decade or so has been a most predictable trajectory, but I could never have expected loving an emo record like Post-Nothing as much as this. By stripping away the need for fashionable heart-on-sleeve posturing, Japandroids strip the genre to its core and reveals what it has failed to do all these years – to stop sulking and start rocking. – dan.
19. JAY-Z – THE BLUEPRINT 3 (ATLANTIC)
Shawn Corey Carter aka Jay-Z completes his Blueprint trilogy with one of the most epic hip hop albums of 2009. The response to over-produced highly commercial hip hop that thrives in clubs is one of the finest and most honest hip hop that shows us why Jay-Z has always been the king of his genre where he effortlessly mixes ideas from so many others. – brian.
20. JOE HENRY – BLOOD FROM THE STARS (ANTI-)
This is a dark album, but that’s where Mr Henry thrives. Musically, there seems to be a return to roots, with sparse instruments that shadow his previous record, Civilians. Vocally, he has never been stronger, nor sounded more earnest. While I could never fault a Joe Henry album, Blood From Stars finally allows Henry’s voice to drive each song, making each nuance and inflection a slight tick, a venerable personality to each of his songs. Also special is the role of saxophone player by his son, Levon Henry, whose voicings do sound young compared to the experience of his father. But it is exactly this dichotomy that marries one generation to the other and makes this a favorite. – brian.
21. JORDAN MARTIN – GRIMM’S TALES FOR TINY TOTS VOL. 1 (SELF-RELEASED)
Taking the lesser known stories by The Brothers Grimm, Jordan Martin’s frail voice makes a point as he re-imagines these forgotten tales, almost as if he were by your bedside reading to you. A one man army, Martin plays all the instruments on this EP, and trust us, that’s an incredible feat. – brian.
22. LITTLE DRAGON – MACHINE DREAMS (PEACEFROG)
Little Dragon have broken out of their electronica based nu-soul groove and explored their synths to an even finer degree. What results is a sexy manifestation of disco samples, a slice of synthesiser heaven and Yukimi Nagano’s ever smokey vocals that breathe life into the android cacophony created by the rest of the band. Truly one of the stellar records of 2009. – brian.
23. THE LOW ANTHEM – OH MY GOD, CHARLIE DARWIN (NONESUCH)
The attention to detail in the hand-printed CD-sleeves gives some indication of how much effort was put into this record, but no cover art could have anticipated the breadth of the Low Anthem’s musical range in this expansive and surprisingly mature debut, in large part attributable to the versatility of Ben Knox Miller’s vocals and the sheer number of instruments each member commands. – dan.
24. MARTYN – GREAT LENGTHS (3024)
Dubstep has some of the crossover potential that trip-hop had in the 90’s, as evident from the unanimous accolades for Burial’s Untrue two years ago. This year, the marrying of dubstep with other genres like techno and glitch have produced some solid electronica from the likes of 2562 and Martyn (who shared a single earlier this year in Yet/Kontrol). But while 2562 peeks in from the techno underground, Martyn has placed himself right in the thick of things with a debut album that surely goes through great lengths in crossing musical boundaries in dance music. – dan.
mp3: martyn – vancouver
25. MOCKY – SASKAMODIE (CRAMMED)
Mocky’s previous albums have always been hit-and-miss affairs, with the hits usually occurring through his collaborations with his good friends Feist, Gonzales and Jamie Liddell. This time round, the collaborations are still fruitful, but Mocky has finally gotten round to standing on his own feet and solidifying his sound. And boy what a sound it is, dripping with the best bits of Motown funk and soul. – dan.
26. MONO – HYMN TO THE IMMORTAL WIND (TEMPORARY RESIDENCE)
Darkness to Light. That is the progress that Japanese post-rock band, Mono, have made in their genre, as they transport you into a forgotten time. Gone are the predictable dynamics of soft to loud that plague this intense genre, moving instead in movements like a symphony, that herald this band into the rare category of post-rock bands that do matter. – brian.
27. THE MOUNTAIN GOATS – THE LIFE OF THE WORLD TO COME (4AD)
John Darnielle has clearly set his sights on things beyond this world, as evident from the title of his latest album which derives from the last line of the Nicene Creed. The whole album comprises his meditation and interpretation of 12 extracts from the bible, and what shines through is the honesty with which he approaches the Word in all its reality, and the sensitivity with which he translates this both in songwriting and arrangement. – dan.
28. MOUNTAINS – CHORAL (THRILL JOCKEY)
Choral was recorded at home performed mostly live with minimal overdubbing, contributing to the organic beauty of the whole album whose melodies drift through in a sea of very lush surroundings. By coloring its canvas with strains of folk, this debut for the Thrill Jockey label attests to the potential for ambient music to move beyond aesthetic form and sensory appeal to something more communicative and relational. – dan.
29. THE OBSERVATORY – DARK FOLKE (SELF-RELEASED)
The Gothic album artwork by Sun O))) artist Justin Bartlett provides the perfect frame for the latest album by Singaporean band The Observatory. Painted in, well, darker shades, Dark Folke is a descent to the deepest end, a most harrowing journey into the unknown. It’s not the easiest album to listen to, but there’s so much in the shadows you wouldn’t mind coming back for more. – dan.
30. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART – THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART (SLUMBERLAND)
The cult of the Jesus and Mary Chain has always lingered in the underground, along with fellow C86, shoegaze and twee travelers. However, it’s quite a treat when these sub-genres combine to form one of the prettiest indiepop classics of today, as if it was the 80’s all over again and we were all young and lovely. – dan.
31. SUCKERS – SUCKERS EP (IAMSOUND)
Under the tutelage of Yeasayer’s Anand Wilder, these up and coming Brooklyn psych-folksters have sure whet our appetites this year with a set of very danceable anthems. Together with Yeasayer, Suckers are a testament that the electronic age has finally caught up with the hippies and infiltrated their campfire singalongs with synths and glitter. – dan.
32. SUNSET RUBDOWN – DRAGONSLAYER (JAGJAGUWAR)
Wolf Parade’s Spencer Krug is a master of theatrics and performance. In Dragonslayer, the entire albums plays out like a drama, complete with constant plot twists, overlapping storyline arcs and repeated themes, which sound oh so fine with delivered in its raw and muscular rock form. – dan.
33. THE TEMPER TRAP – CONDITIONS (LIBERATION)
Hailing from Melbourne, The Temper Trap seem unable to shed their U2 influences, but it’s all good. Giving us an intense guitar driven record with some of the strongest and catchiest vocals we’ve heard in awhile, this album takes you through the highs and lows of rock music that was good to begin with. – brian.
34. THEM CROOKED VULTURES – THEM CROOKED VULTURES (INTERSCOPE)
I will admit, this selection is VERY biased as I’m a big fan of Led Zeppelin and Queens Of The Stone Age, so this entry is a no brainer. One legendary bassplayer, a man who plays some of rock’s sexiest guitar riffs and a drummer who tremendous heart. Their music speaks for itself, although such a stellar line up is reason enough admit them into rock and roll’s hall of fame. – brian.
35. THE VERY BEST – WARM HEART OF AFRICA (GREEN OWL)
Music in the West has always been influenced by Africa, but this year has seen a greater collaboration across the continents as well as a deeper understanding of the musical heritage of Africa (owing in part to the highly recommended Soundway Records reissues). The Very Best may be seen as fruit of this ongoing exchange through the partnership between Malawi-born Esau Mwamwaya and UK-based Radioclit, whose remix album last year was really a foretaste of the richness of the original material released this year – a truly buoyant record of cultural hybridity. – dan.
36. VANDAVEER – DIVIDE AND CONQUER (SUPPLY AND DEMAND)
The music of Vandaveer hinges on the perfect harmony between Mark Charles Heidinger and his sister Rose Guerin. Everything else – in most part the beautifully arranged instrumentation – revolves around the this closely knit sibling bond, which is the irreplaceable core of an album as delicately crafted as this. – dan.
37. WILCO – WILCO (THE ALBUM) (NONESUCH)
I wonder if Wilco finally accepted certain changes to their line up, and this self-titled album is seen as a rebirth for the band. Galvanizing themselves as one of the best alternative country bands in the world, Wilco continue to astound with their versatile musicality, intricate vocal harmonies and astute lyrics. Jeff Tweedy and Co. have made a remarkable Wilco album, and there’s a positivity in their step, perhaps attributed to Tweedy’s time in rehab and laying some demons to rest. – brian.
mp3: wilco – i’ll fight
38. THE XX – XX (YOUNG TURKS)
I’m not sure how long the XX took to produce this record, and how much they poured over the sound of every instrument, but because of the judicious use of space through the album (quite a rare virtue these days), every part that made the cut sounds absolutely perfect and befitting its sexy cool. – dan.
39. YEAH YEAH YEAHS – IT’S BLITZ (INTERSCOPE)
It’s easy to forget the raw energy the came with the first YYY album, Fever To Tell, when you listen to the electro-tinged It’s Blitz. The NY trio however, are not guilty of jumping on an electro bandwagon two years in the making, and have evolved into one of the finest acts of 2009 with their blistering fusion of art punk and synth beats. Fully deserving of its commercial and critical acclaim, you can’t help but smile to yourself that when you first heard, you knew they would take over the world. – brian.
40. YO LA TENGO – POPULAR SONGS (MATADOR)
The thing I love about Yo La Tengo is how they’re able to swing from noisy two-minute punk numbers to the sweetest ballads and then to post-rock masterpieces of the most epic proportions. In Popular Songs, such variations are attempted again but with the added touch of everything being really palatable and easy-listening without sounding complacent or mediocre. But coming from these veterans who’ve been in the business for almost as long as I’ve been alive, that’s really no surprise at all. – dan.