23 February 2011

Top Albums: 2009

{ Susan Boyle sold 8.3 million records, probably more than your favorite indie-bands combined, Wikipedia tells me that auto-tune peaked in 2009, thankfully Jay Z proclaimed the death of auto-tune, Lady Gaga's debut single dropped in early January, Adele is best new artist at the Grammy Awards. And speaking of the Grammy Awards, remember when Chris Brown beat up Rihanna before the award show? I remember. Duffy wins big at the Brit Awards. Britney completes a world tour. Lady Gaga doesn't go away. Eminem returns. And Michael Jackson leaves the world. The Beatles are remastered and get the Rock Band treatment. And by the time 2009 comes to a close, we realize that Lady Gaga is here to stay. }

Looking back on 2009, it really looks like a big year for female pop stars. Rihanna, Adele, Duffy, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry gaining all sorts of recognition for their music, while veterans like Madonna, Beyonce, Kylie and Britney Spears embark on wildly successful tours.

The DJs at the clubs definitely had a lot of great singles to spin.

Some old music stalwarts released some albums. U2's album No Line On The Horizon wasn't exceptional considering their body of work, but it was a surprisingly strong record. Wilco's self-titled record was also very solid. Jay Z released an incredible record with a stunning single in "Empire State Of Mind." The Resistance by Muse was adventurous. Air's Love 2 felt like a return to form.

There were some highly anticipated records that were a bit disappointing like Kingdom of Rust by Doves and Kasabian's West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum showed a bit of promise but failed to capture the magic of their debut record. On the strength of their EP, I was really looking forward to the debut record by Alberta Cross, but it failed to meet my expectations.

I'm sad to say that I never really spent enough time with the Metric record Fantasies along with Animal Collective's critically acclaimed album Merriweather Post Pavilion.

And, of course, there was the death of pop legend Michael Jackson. Surely there were many hours of Michael Jackson pouring out my speakers through out the summer and the rest of 2009. It has been almost two years since the death of Jackson but it seems so much more recent than that. In spite of all his troubles, I was really looking forward to his comeback shows(and the subsequent DVD that would come from that) and the movie Michael Jackson's This Is It really only serves as a bittersweet reminder of what could have been.

The show must go on. Here's what I listened to and enjoyed back in 2009:

5. Passion Pit - Manners

Love them or hate them, Passion Pit's record - Manners - was exciting and fun.

I remember many summer nights blasting Passion Pit from the speakers of my car.

The energy I get from this record is the same fun-vibe I get when I first MGMT's debut record. For some reason, I believe in Passion Pit's staying power more than MGMT. For one, Passion Pit could survive just remixing pop songs.

Sweet summery indie-electro albums will always have a place in my heart. Who said pop music is dead?

4. Mayer Hawthorne - A Strange Arrangement

Who knew that a white kid living in Los Angeles by way of Detroit (Ann Arbor to be precise) would produce such a wonderful soul record?

I might be going too far but he might be the male equivalent of Dusty Springfield.

Maybe I'll wait a few more records before I really bestow that upon him.

The neo-soul vibe of A Strange Arrangement is absolutely perfect. Take a playlist featuring some Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and The Delfonics, and drop in some Mayer Hawthorne tracks in between and Hawthorne's tracks will feel right at home.

The bright horns, the perfect reverb on the guitars, the bouncy pianos, and crystal clean vocals, all make for one of the best soul records I have heard since, well, the '60s and '70s.

Of course, Hawthorne may be compelled to write a different record for his sophomore release, but I wouldn't complain if the new record was more of the same old.

3. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

I love the enchanting quirkiness of Andrew Bird and his album Noble Beast.

I really don't pay that much attention to the charts so I was surprised to see that Noble Beast peaked at 12 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number 3 on the U.S. Billboard Rock Albums.

The album is worth it.

The breezy vocals, the haunting whistling, folksy violin-work, the unique lyrics, the breezy melodies, and the mesmerizing loops all make for a deliciously wonderful record.

Trivia: Andrew Bird used to be part of Squirrel Nut Zippers. Remember them?

2. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

I have to admit that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is rated this high mostly on past achievements.

I rarely cash in my Music Snob card and it's moments like these where I want to yell, "I knew Phoenix before they were big!" Their debut record United was rock 'n' roll with a splash of Air, Daft Punk and the 1980s. Songs like "If I Ever Feel Better" and "Too Young" (you'll remember this one from Lost In Translation which was released three years after this album) are absolute classics in my book and I'm hard pressed to find better songs in the Phoenix catalog.

But I guess I'm just happy that they're finally getting their due today and I hope that their previous efforts will get their due.

But after a lot of mixed feelings, I've come to grow very fond of the album. The quality of their songs simply cannot be ignored. There are obviously some bona fide hits on this record. Sure, they shed their R&B vibe for an indie-rock one but Wolfgang seems to call upon those days a bit more and the result is a fantastic record.

1. The XX - XX

I'm always wary of the album that throws too much at you, as if they're trying to hide deficiencies. There's always an album that will be praised for its sonic textures and its amazing layering of instruments and what not but in the end I will always defer to the group that can command so much emotion as simply as possible.

The stark simplicity of the debut record by The XX is absolutely beautiful.

Perhaps my love for this record really speaks to my love for an album that doesn't over-complicate things but can convey so many complicated things.

Maybe I just love that punk-aesthetic of The XX, the power behind such a stripped down sound. And with the stark sound there is an intimacy and power behind the songs.

Guitar. Bass guitar. Beats. Keyboard. Male vocals. Female vocals.

That's it.

And in a complicated time, simplifying things and getting back to basics really is more powerful.

2009 Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
  • Jay Z - The Blueprint 3
  • JJ - JJ No. 2
  • The Mary Onettes - Islands
  • M. Ward - Hold Time
  • Royksopp - Junior

{ Buy it. Love it. }

Please be sure to read my post explaining this little project and, more importantly, the criteria that I'm using. Thanks!