At the end of every year, I like to compile a list of my 25 favorite albums of the year. Last year's list was practically a chore, but this year has yielded a better crop, and we're only halfway through it. The following is a rundown of the 25 albums of 2009 that will be vying for a spot on my year-end list, with brief remarks on ten standouts that I haven't yet reviewed here.
This is a strong contender for my favorite album of the year, with the poppiest mind of the primo power-popsters The New Pornographers pulling out another showstopper. Nearly every track is keenly orchestrated for the utmost uplift, wonderfully demonstrated through the use of “Prophets” in a climactic moment of the How I Met Your Mother season finale.
The latest album from Baltimore's own purveyors of blissfully wonked-out art-pop has been getting considerable love from critics since its January release, with early buzz from many publications as an early contender for the year's top album. Though some of it may come off as too much of a sound collage, the pop hooks are strong and the songs are decidedly bright for a winter release.
Following their artistic breakthrough on 2006's Let's Get Out of This Country, Tracyanne Campbell's gorgeous coo is back for the like-minded My Maudlin Career, another set of twee pop delights with a serious debt to the Wall of Sound approach to 1960s girl group pop. The results are as splendid as their previous effort, if a touch more mellow.
The Decemberists have many elements that their detractors cite as turn-offs, primarily their overlong prog-folk exercises with antiquated lyrics and instrumentation punctuated by Colin Meloy's nasally vocals. Meloy and co. embrace these signposts more than ever on The Hazards of Love and throw in a fair share of rock star moments for a fascinating concept album.
With a cheeky album title that preemptively blocks any label critics may want to tag them with, this is another entry in the ever-increasing number of bands taking their cue from '90s indie rock and burying their hooks under a mountain of fuzz. Luckily, the strong songcraft and youthful exuberance of this Canadian duo still shine through on their debut.
After penning so many sex-centric gems as the frontman of Pulp, the operative word in Jarvis Cocker is still “cock.” On his second solo outing, Cocker's seductive low croon slinks along with the strong set of glam and disco-inspired numbers. And on such delights as “Angela” and “Homewrecker,” Cocker rocks out more than ever.
It's hard to think of an album more enamored with nature than this one. Though Case's country-tinged singer-songwriter style runs the risk of falling into generic coffeehouse music territory, she turns in a top-notch set of moody gems. It does end with a half hour track consisting of nature sounds, mainly cricket chirps, but there's a reason God gave us the Delete option.
P.O.S., Never Better
From the hardcore punk hotbed of Minneapolis, P.O.S. takes that aural assault and adds some aggressive rapping to the equation. Even at the most assaultive, though, there's always a hook to latch onto. While both hardcore punk and aggressive rap are two of music's biggest acquired tastes, they're combined so seamlessly on Never Better that I'd damn near call it accessible.
Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
French compatriots of Daft Punk, Phoenix has been at it since the 1990s, and on their fifth album, they sound as young and vibrant as any band fresh out of the gate. Offering the same sort of giddy electronic sunshine as Hot Chip and with vocal stylings perfect for the young indie pop set, this is by far one of the most fun releases of the year.
Just as she does on her album covers, Annie Clark as St. Vincent is not afraid to present her beauty in odd ways. On Actor, she surrounds her gorgeous voice with bizarre sounds, including thumping electronics, discordant guitars, and quite a few squealing orchestral climaxes. The album delivers a fair-share of knock-outs and despite all of its flourishes, never goes off the rails.
Cymbals Eat Guitars, Why There Are Mountains
Dan Deacon, Bromst
The Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca
Ida Maria, Fortress Round My Heart
Mos Def, The Ecstatic
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Thermals, Now We Can See
Wilco, Wilco (The Album)
My apologies for any formatting issues. Please blame it on ambition instead of incompetence.