Friday, December 18, 2009

Crawf: Best of 2009

25. Alela Diane - To Be Still
24. DOOM - Born Like This
23. No Age - Losing Feeling EP
22. Micachu - Jewellery
21. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
20. Antony & The Johnsons - The Crying Light
19. The xx - xx
18. Ben Frost - By The Throat
17. Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish I Were An Eagle
16. Girls - Album
15. Flaming Lips - Embryonic
14. Gold Panda - Back Home EP / Make Mine 7”
13. jj - jj N° 2
12. Memory Tapes - Seek Magic
11. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

10. Polvo - In Prism
A band I once thought gone for good returned this year with their best album yet. I’m not sure this has ever happened before, but I’m not complaining. Math-rock as we know it might as well be dead, but don’t tell that to Polvo, who somehow dug up the style’s grave and disguised it’s zombified remains as something totally accessible and easy to listen to. Let’s just say that it’s nice to be blown away by rockin’ riffs again, but it’s even nicer that these rockin’ riffs (executed with clock-work precision, as expected) are also within the grasps of the common Zeppelin fan - memorably hummable, rooted in enticing melodies.

9. Real Estate - Real Estate
No matter where I went in 2009, I couldn’t seem to get away from the sounds of summer gently wafting through my headphones. No one wanted it to be winter, especially when it got cold, and it was during the season’s coldest time yet (at least here in Denver) that Real Estate warmed me up the most, to the point where I wanted to take up their generous offering of refreshing beverages. It’s also the year’s most relaxing album in one of the more stressful times in recent memory - a gentle reminder to roll out the hammock, take a vacation, and just chill the hell out. Ahhhh.

8. Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms
Glo-fi’s finest achievement in 2009 won me over not because of the it’s decidedly lo-fi aesthetic, or because of the sequencing of the beats - two of the genre’s mainstays. No, Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo rose above the rest with something simple: great melodies, and great songs. If anything, the artist’s love for Ariel Pink gave him the distinct advantage of taking his music back to a time and place where the song really always was the most important thing. Why it takes this much tape-hiss to get us to remember these crucial elements is beyond me, but everything gels so wonderfully with the squishy synths and ear-piercing octaves that maybe Neon Indian has found a way to circumvent the question altogether: the songs simply are. And they are wonderful.

7. Various Artists - Dark Was The Night
A compilation album reaching the top 10 of any list is immediately suspect, and could easily be considered a cop-out. But slipping in at the tail-end of a decade really defined by its love of the indie-musician, Dark Was The Night highlights the very best artists of a style, doing their very best work. Even bands like Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors managed to turn in arguably better work here (see the drop-dead gorgeous ballad, “Deep Blue Sea” and, of course, “Knotty Pine,” a track that ranks among the decade’s best songs, period) than they were able to on their own full-lengths. But most astounding of all is the mighty return of Sufjan Stevens, revealing himself as an entirely different beast, one who’s almost giving the finger to his “50 States Project” by contributing a brilliant cover of Castanets’ “You Are The Blood.”

6. Jim O’Rourke - The Visitor
Long pieces of music are generally one of two things - classical, or space-disco/kraut/dance. This has been true for a very long time, from innovators like Manuel Göttshing or Steve Reich in the 70s (of course centuries older for classical works). Rarely, though, do they take the shape O’Rourke so meticulously crafted with his first album in several years, which is that of lushly composed and orchestrated pop and folk. O’Rourke’s absence has been sorely missed, and he more than made up for lost time with The Visitor, one of the year’s finest pieces of music that explores such a vast emotional range (no easy task for an instrumental work), while showcasing O’Rourke’s cornerstone- his beautifully full, clean, and open production style.

5. Tortoise - Beacons of Ancestorship
Am I this transparent? If a year passes with an album featuring the name “John McEntire” listed anywhere on the sleeve, it’ll likely make my top ten. Biased? Yes. But only because of what a great drummer and engineer the man is. And what’s best about his work with Tortoise is that it’s very clear his drumming plays a crucial role in the composition of the band’s material. Never was this more true than with Beacons of Ancestorship, an album that thrives on beats that trudge like dinosaurs through tarpits. Slowly lurching, intensely driving, exotically tropical, and undeniably hip-hop.

4. Here We Go Magic - Here We Go Magic
Since the Sea and Cake didn’t release an album this year, I’ll settle for Here We Go Magic’s self-titled debut. And maybe “settled” is a poorly chosen word... what I mean to say is that HWGM is without a doubt the most exciting new band to hit the scene in 2009, layering deftly arranged blankets of static and noise between slices of world-pop. The songs themselves will pull you in, but it’s subtleties (like that teeny, tiny clave pattern I recently discovered in “I Just Want to See You Underwater” that gently pushes the groove even further) that’ll keep you coming back for more - Luke Temple’s project is the kind that demands and requires repeat listenings to discover all the magic contained within.

3. Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue
I’m done with Prefuse 73. Fortunately, Prefuse 73’s influence isn’t done with us - last year’s glitch-hop tops was Flying Lotus, but this year fans of the genre are treated to a new and unique animal in Bibio’s surprising and delightful Ambivalence Avenue. Treading such diverse ground as ballads, waltzes, and of course, straight up banging hip-hop, Bibio’s gentle guitar work and vocals combine for a beautifully sensual music that lays the path for a journey from the highs of the dance-floor, to the lows of losing your girlfriend.

2. Cass McCombs - Catacombs
Maybe singers these days aren’t as good as they used to be. It seems like bands and their albums rely so heavily on effects - reverb, delay, static, crunch - whatever it takes to hide the fact that their voices just might not be that great, that any kind of sincerity or conviction is immediately lost, and the singer is ultimately distanced from his or her audience. Cass McCombs is thus 2009’s ultimate breath of fresh air, as his voice is so sweetly honest, clean and true throughout Catacombs. But his sentiments, as filtered through chamber folk and even doo-wop, only strengthens the sincerity of his testimonials on this, the year’s most beautiful collection of love songs.

1. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
From the wavery-guitar’s opening moments of “Cannibal Resource” to the bombastic ballad (...somehow?!?) of “Florescent Half Dome,” Dirty Projectors’ latest - and best album yet - consistently messes with you. The overwhelming amount of things happening on the album, from ridiculous, skittering guitar solos courtesy of the amazingly talented Dave Longstreth, to blasting, pounding drums and even Nico-inspired balladry ("Two Doves") - it all may be a bit much for the casual music fan. But the DPs manage to succeed here by refusing to push its audience away with eliticism, tapping into more familiar ground than at first meets the ear, skipping gracefully on international waters with West-African rhythms and harmonies, taking a pit-stop in the club with the raucous “Stillness is the Move,” but also landing squarely in that quintessential “indie” forum that has so massively dominated the sound of the decade. What’s best, though, is the lyrics, as no other album outlined the frustrations of a young generation caught in a recession that doesn’t belong to them - a simultaneously inspired and inspiring call to action for an endlessly creative group of youngsters that proves no matter what happens, we all still do have some sort of control over the whirlwind of problems plaguing our surroundings, even if that control takes the form of a complexly beautiful work of art, our greatest weapon since, well... since the work of art itself.

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