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The Top 50 Albums of 2009

By ; December 21, 2009 at 12:01 AM 

The Top 50 Albums of 2009

Atlas Sound - Logos

20. Atlas Sound

Logos

[Kranky/4AD]

You can give him shit for his infamous 2008 blog hissy fit, or that fact that he likes to wear stupid dresses sometimes on stage, but Bradford Cox can write songs – and damn good ones at that. While the tracks on Logos don’t really stray away from the musical sensibilities found on Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, it feels much more coherent and, dare I say, catchier. The title song and “Shelia” hide behind some standard pop procedures, but Cox even manages to make them his own. With a carefully chosen guest list – specifically Laetitia Sadler’s dreamy voice on “Quick Canal” and Noah Lennox doing his thing on “Walkabout” – the Deerhunter frontman does exhibit a more conscious effort to evolve his sound on this record. Whether or not he was entirely successful is up for debate (especially lyrically), but Logos gives its listeners enough certainty that Cox still has plenty of creative force left in him. –Brendan Fitzgerald

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Mew - No More Stories...

19. Mew

No More Stories…

[Sony BMG]

Denmark’s Mew make complex art-rock that is immediately appealing, but that also rewards repeat listens. Their third major label album, which boasts a title nearly as expansive as its music, is a clear step forward in maturity. The utterly unique No More Stories… rocks like a mutant hybrid of My Bloody Valentine and Yes, navigating sticky shifts in time and dynamics with smartly employed atmospherics. Jonas Bjerre’s vocals don’t so much take center stage as float along as another instrument. No More Stories… makes the case for Mew as one of the few prog rock bands that are actually progressive, and their music is memorable enough that in some strange world it could actually pass as pop music. –Sean Highkin

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

18. Yo La Tengo

Popular Songs

[Matador]

There’s something to the title of Yo La Tengo’s 2009 album that really rings true. Popular Songs – it sounds like another joke from the same band that brought us 2005’s I’m Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. Sure, we’ve never seen Yo La Tengo in the top 10 and probably never will. But Popular Songs is Yo La Tengo’s most accessible album in years. Longtime fans enjoyed their Condo Fucks detour into garage rock covers from earlier this year, but by genre-hopping from R&B to psychedelia to guitar-drenched epics, they’re created a better record here. “Periodically Double Or Triple,” “If It’s True,” and “Avalon Or Something Similar” may not have the catchiest titles, but the music is some of the most infectious the band has created. And just when you think they really have created a batch of single-ready material, they reward you with three epic songs to close the disc. But what really matters is that Yo La Tengo have recorded another record which lives up to the promise of I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. By referencing their past while creating an adventurous new musical landscape, the record rewards longtime fans while providing a great entry point for wannabe converts as well. –Todd Norem

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Fever Ray

17. Fever Ray

Fever Ray

[Rabid]

For Karin Dreijer Andersson, the female half of Swedish brother-sister duo The Knife, the aim of the game is to create an atmosphere with her music, which she has accomplished with unsettling aplomb. This album doesn’t just summon images of her native Sweden in the dead of a frosty night, but also engrosses you in Andersson’s disturbing neuroses at being a mother. The album features songs with disturbing titles, including “If I Had A Heart,” and throughout the album she delivers her vocals emotionlessly, producing agitating and strange lyrics such as, “we talk about love, we talk about dishwasher tablets.” However, these vocals combined with cold synths, simple percussion and sparse electronics create a heady tonic that is both interesting and perversely beautiful. –Rob Hakimian

Listen to the album on Lala


St. Vincent - Actor

16. St. Vincent

Actor

[4AD]

Annie Clark has the full package: a beautiful voice, a knack for melody, an understanding of good pop song structure and, to top it all off, a considerable talent on the guitar. Actor allows her to showcase all of these talents. With the inclusion of violin, French horn and saxophone (to name but a few of the auxiliary instruments found on here) that Clark has bent to her will, she truly has created a record that is a joy to behold. These 11 tracks may at their core be simple pop songs, but lyrically there is a certain sense of mischief and paranoia as well as humour that keeps the album fun and interesting. The songs range from the harsh, thumping guitar-led “Actor Out Of Work” to the delicate and reflective “The Party,” all of which are carefully woven together into Annie Clark’s “animatronic Technicolor ride.” All these impressive factors combine to create an album that will have a longer life in your CD player than almost any other album released this year. –Rob Hakimian

Listen to the album on Lala


Circulatory System - Signal Morning

15. Circulatory System

Signal Morning

[Cloud Recordings]

I won’t pretend to understand Will Cullen Hart’s situation. Taking eight years since 2001’s self-titled and Inside Views, you’d think Hart was trying to pull off his best Scott Walker impression. Sadly the reality is as grim and saddening as the themes of one of Walker’s latest records, in that the delay has been caused by Hart living with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. But even though Signal Morning has been years in the making, its immediate and frivolous quality almost doesn’t match up to the story behind it.

As erratic and surprising as it is, though, it also sounds like an intense labour of time and love with hundreds of nuances scattered throughout. It rarely stays in one place for long, but each moment is as beguiling as it is captivating, making returning and listening through it a tantalizing prospect. It’s a sad fact that this might be the last full record we hear from Hart – or more optimistically, the last full record in what is likely to be some years – but at least with Signal Morning he’s created one of lasting quality. –Ray Finlayson

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Mastodon - Crack the Skye

14. Mastodon

Crack the Skye

[Reprise]

Mastodon’s Crack the Skye is a metal triumph of the most traditional sort, and the kind that doesn’t really garner mainstream acclaim anymore. The Atlanta group’s fourth album mostly eschews death-metal growling and completely sidesteps any and all recent developments of the metal genre, opting instead to deliver a thrilling, old school display of chops and pure adrenaline. Crack the Skye is another high-concept entry into Mastodon’s catalog, with Brent Hines this time howling about Rasputin-era Russia – but this time, more so than in their previous work, they have the musical force to match the imagery. While undeniably more accessible than earlier albums, it will be impossible for detractors to throw “sell-out” accusations their way, because Crack the Skye has much more in common musically with Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All (and, for that matter, with Rush’s Hemispheres and Yes’ Relayer) than with the Black Album. The album – and in particular its two impressive 10-minute centerpieces, “The Czar” and “The Last Baron” – is packed with the kind of tricky solos and stop-on-a-dime time changes that are more likely to connect with people who read guitar magazines than those who listen to any kind of conventional modern hard rock. The difference is that Mastodon spent as much time crafting melodies as they did honing their chops this time around. –Sean Highkin

Listen to the album on Lala


Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

13. Neko Case

Middle Cyclone

[ANTI-]

New Pornographers’ Neko Case has released a string of solo records that might best be classified as indie country, but she’s not your typical country singer. Middle Cyclone is her strongest solo statement so far, emphasizing her songwriting and unusual vocal talents. She has the voice of a siren, so it’s hardly a surprise she played one on an episode of the demented late night cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Her haunting voice is unmatched by any other in popular music. It draws the listener in and rewards close attention. The arrangements on Middle Cyclone are unconventional and the songwriting is strong, but it’s that incomparable voice that makes the record memorable. The ominous “Red Tide” is a standout on this album of standouts. Even the overlong last track, “Marais La Nuit,” is pleasant as a cool summer night. But those are swamp frogs Case recorded, not crickets, despite several critics’ claims to the contrary. –Andrew Steadman

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Brand New - Daisy

12. Brand New

Daisy

[Interscope]

The connotation associated with placing a Brand New album so high on a year-end list is generally bad – that is, typically websites from the mold that onethirty was formed would not touch an album of this ilk. Sadly, most “relevant” mediums wrote Brand New off about six years ago, after their second album Deja Entendu became the flagship emo album to be spun to death on every 13-16-year-old girl’s sticker-covered Walkman. It’s a shame, of course, because while many bands got comfortable with their sound and style, Brand New managed to progress and morph their style with each album release.

With this, their fourth release of the decade, Brand New has replaced their pop-punk idols (and sound) from their first two releases and replaced them with the likes of Jesus Lizard, Nirvana and Modest Mouse. Listeners anxious to test this theory need to look no further than the opening minutes of the disc, where the balls-to-the-wall audio onslaught of “Vices” builds into a noise breakdown that would make Duane Denison proud.

It’s the opinion of this writer that this might be the most overlooked album of the year, if only because it received no attention from alternative music news outlets despite fitting an aesthetic that appeals to many alt audiences. –Larry Weaver

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career

11. Camera Obscura

My Maudlin Career

[4AD]

The sweeping strings, soaring choruses and bubbly melodies on My Maudlin Career sounded perfect in the spring, when My Maudlin Career first appeared on the radar. Now, in the winter, the album sounds just as appropriate, if not more so; its elaborate orchestral arrangements evoke memories of winter, sipping hot beverages in front of a fireplace and other cozily clichéd imagery. Vocalist and songwriter Tracyanne Campbell’s plaintive vocals are sung sweetly but not simply – sometimes biting and sometimes wistful, and always utterly devastating. Her lyrics get stronger with every release, mastering her uniquely sardonic and cynical perspective. This band has come a long way from its Belle & Sebastian knockoff roots. The songs aren’t traditional by any means, and musically, there is a bit of cognitive dissonance with pairing songs like the Abba-esque “French Navy” with the pseudo-doo-wop of “The Sweetest Thing” and the stately theatricality of “Careless Love.” But the album is held together by its unflinchingly jaded outlook on life and love, lovably pathetic and resigned. And not since The Smiths has disenchantment sounded so cheery and catchy. –Andrew Ryce

Listen to the album on Lala

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