2009 Favorites (1 of 2): Albums

Merriweather Post Pavilion Two Suns Curse Your Branches Ambivalence Avenue

The Hazards of Love Year in the Kingdom Gather, Form And Fly

The Happiness Project Strict Joy

10 Favorite Albums of 2009

In alphabetical order… I leave it to others to make  countdowns of which albums were “Best” or “Most Important” … These are simply the ones I listened to the most this year and recommend you check out. I’m bound to discover even more great music from 2009 that I missed  — please leave a comment with your suggestions! — but for now, here are my personal picks. More than half are available for cheap download on emusic. Links provided where applicable.

Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective

Merriweather Post Pavilion

on emusic? YES!

Critics need to spend less time talking about Panda Bear’s overrated Person Pitch and comparing Animal Collective to the Grateful Dead (and more time remembering how awesome Sung Tongs was), but otherwise, we should be good. Merriweather Post Pavilion rules. The secret ingredient is (and always will be) the tight harmonies between Panda and Avey Tare, showcased on tracks like “Also Frightened”.

Two Suns

Bat for Lashes

Two Suns

on emusic? No

The dramatic melodies, the yearning vocals, the seance-with-synths production, the bare midriff, the glitter… Stop, stop. I get it.

Curse Your Branches

David Bazan

Curse Your Branches

on emusic? YES!

I’m less familiar with Pedro the Lion, the band Bazan fronted back when he was, so I’m told, more assured in his faith. Instead, my introduction to Bazan’s masterful songwriting has been this solo album, where the guy sounds like he’s hanging on by a thread, taking potshots at the Book of Genesis (the melodic opener “Hard to Be”), but also scratching to be the change he wishes to see in the Christian world. “Bless this Mess” updates the Sermon on the Mount for the modern underdog: “God bless the man at the crossroads / God bless the woman who still can’t sleep / God bless the history that doesn’t repeat”

Ambivalence Avenue


Ambivalence Avenue

on emusic? Not this one but others are.

A Pitchfork Best New Music pick that got through to me. A nice blend of sonic textures: electronics, live guitar, and occasional vocals.

The Hazards of Love

The Decemberists

The Hazards of Love

on emusic? Not this one but others are.

It’s true, concepts in rock albums can be annoying, but even more annoying is talking about how annoying concepts in rock albums are, which is a topic just about every review I read for Hazards of Love, the Decemberists’ long-in-coming rock opera, couldn’t shut up about. Get real: nobody listens to Tommy for the story. When I spin Hazards, I hear an English folk-rock album that’s fucking solid for the first 12 tracks, then meanders for about ten minutes, does a creepy Pink Floyd children’s chorus thing, then closes with about the prettiest Decemberists melody I’ve ever heard. All Colin Meloy ever wanted was to turn you on to Anne Briggs. I pity the poor English major.

Year in the Kingdom

J. Tillman

Year in the Kingdom

on emusic? YES!

The smoke now clearing, I think this might be my favorite acoustic album since Bon Iver’s For Emma. Not that I’ve heard everything this guy’s done: tracks like “Crosswinds” and “Though I Have Wronged You” just struck me the first time I heard them, and they haven’t let me down since. The whole album has an earthiness and eclecticism that should hopefully set the bar for the next Fleet Foxes release (for which Tillman will serve as drummer / background vocalist). More in my recent live review.

Lightning Dust

Infinite Light

on emusic? YES!

This is a side project by Amber Webber and Joshua Wells of Black Mountain, a psychdelic Vancouver collective whose albums don’t  feature Webber’s shaky vocals quite this upfront in the mix, nor do they attempt such tender production. I don’t want to oversimplify the difference between the groups along masculine/feminine lines… let’s just think of “Never Seen” as being like Wendy and Lisa’s hauntingly beautiful demo tape in Purple Rain that Prince just won’t give the time of day to, even though it could, like, totally save his life.

Gather, Form And Fly


Gather, Form & Fly

on emusic? YES!

I find it ironic that the wave of cultish adoration surrounding Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago, the left-field acoustic collection of breakup songs Justin Vernon recorded while he was holed up in his Wisconsin northwoods cabin, has gotten so huge that it seems the only Vernon could hope to escape it would be to hole himself up in a cabin somewhere. As the world knocks its head against the wall waiting for a For Emma follow-up, I wonder: does Vernon secretly regret he ever made the thing? Look at his former DeYarmond Edison bandmates, the trio known as Megafaun: They made a brilliant album this year of effortless, experimental Americana that has stayed blissfully underground. “Kaufman’s Ballad”, the spectral retelling of the true-stoy theft of Gram Parson’s casket, gives way to “The Fade“, a straightforward folk-rock poem of personal loss. Perhaps the icing on Megafaun’s cake would’ve been a sweet spot on the new Twilight soundtrack alongside ol’ Justin. Or perhaps not.

The Happiness Project

Charles Spearin

The Happiness Project

on emusic? YES!

Health Care Schmelth Care: Did you know in Canada they give grants to struggling musicians? (Check it out: up to two grand a month just for living expenses. Canadian dollars, but still.) I don’t know whether Charles Spearin (a member of Toronto’s Do Make Say Think) submitted the paperwork for The Happiness Project, but you can imagine just how encouraging it must be for an artist to create among such a supportive community. Actually, ‘community’ would be the operative word in describing this one-of-a-kind album: Spearin records his neighbors talking about what makes them happy, then plays the tapes back, pairing the subjects’ voices with instruments that match their inflections. Try it out with “Mrs. Morris”, then dive in to the others, which are sequenced together like any other engaging album of songs. “Vanessa” is by far my favorite: a story of a medical miracle that builds to a sweeping, sustaining climax: “All of the sudden I felt my body moving inside.”

(Thank you Drew!)

Strict Joy

The Swell Season

Strict Joy

on emusic? No

Glen is the real deal Irish romantic poet. He gets a lifetime pass. And I’m excited to hear the Van Morrison / Tim Buckley influence shine through so well this time out.

Next Five

There Is No Enemy Built to Spill, There Is No Enemy
Bitte Orca Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca (emusic)
Troubadour K’naan, Troubadour

Veckatimest Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest (emusic)

YearsYears, Years (emusic)

Favorite Reissues

The Beatles, Remasters Box Sets

Neil Young, The Archives Vol. 1: 1963-1972


8 Responses to “2009 Favorites (1 of 2): Albums”

  1. 1 amy
    December 9, 2009 at 9:21 pm


    i finally found your blog. it’s about time! the name of it…are you into vinyl now? there was this great sale at amoeba for classical music vinyls last week and i got tchaikovksy. classical music is such a gift.

    nice job on the blog so far..see you at coachella?

    love and light,

  2. 2 lchennig
    December 12, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Whoopsies… my first retraction… had to take Ponytail’s “Ice Cream Spiritual” off the list since it came out in 2008. (Put Grizzly Bear on instead.)

    Man, putting together a Best Of list is HARD! Some of my favorites are starting to run their lists, including A.V. Club. Did you catch the ballots of the AVC writers? (http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-best-music-of-2009-the-ballots,36026/) There’s so many albums I’d never even heard of this year! (This always seems to happen at year’s end… good time to catch up!)

  3. 3 raka
    December 16, 2009 at 12:34 am

    phoenix – “wolfgang amadeus phoenix”! sure, i only just discovered it in the last week or so, but the amount of pleasure i’m deriving from it in the last few days of 2009 immediately rockets this album to the top of my list.

    “lisztomania” starts the adventure off with a toe-tapping hook that’s just so darn catchy it’s impossible not to catch the spirit – the hook works, you’re hooked. “1901” hits you with intense fuzzy chords – you’re falling falling falling into love falling apart. “fences” is a bit more groovy, sort of a question mark – and the answer is “love like a sunset”. and it really is, it really is love like a sunset.

    and that’s all just in the first half! amazing! i can’t stop listening to it!

  4. 4 raka
    December 16, 2009 at 12:45 am

    and oh shit! it looks like the a.v. club agrees with me – it’s top on their list for 2009! haha hurray

    i was scrolling through, getting more and more anxious as i didn’t see the album, didn’t see it, didn’t see it – wait, there it is! number one!

    number one!

  5. 5 Colby
    December 18, 2009 at 12:24 am

    What about the top ten of the decade??????
    Mine would go a little like this (in no particular order):

    Wilco- Sky Blue Sky
    Atmosphere- Seven’s Travels
    Decemberists – The Crane Wife
    Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Real Emotional Trash
    At the Drive In – Relationship of Command
    Blitzen Trapper – Furr
    Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
    Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
    Easy Star All-Stars – Dub Side of the Moon/Radiodread
    My Morning Jacket – Z

    Honorable Mention: Sufjan’s ‘Illinoise”, Mars Volta ‘Bedlam in Goliath’, Sonic Youth ‘Rather Ripped’, Brother Ali ‘Undisputed Truth’, Philadelphia Experiment ‘Philadelphia Experiment’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: