2009 in Music

Staff Writers Matt Fisher and Charles Lin Discuss Notable Artists and Albums

Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion — Dropped in January, fans everywhere were calling MPP the “album of the year” as early as March. Despite the band losing its lead guitarist in 2008, MPP is structured similarly to previous Animal Collective albums only more so, displaying beautiful, elaborate-yet-repetitive melodies that enable listeners to either sit quietly and listen, or crank the volume and dance. This album provided two of my “most played” songs of 2009, including “Summertime Clothes” and “Brothersport.” —MLF

Kutiman Thru You — This album makes the list more for being a game changer than a stand alone album. Kutiman showed that anybody on the tubes embodies the power of funk. You just don’t know it yet. —CYL

Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca — Experimental and adventurous, Dirty Projectors once again released a powerhouse album. Using almost solely their vocal prowess, the four singing members of Dirty Projectors take their listeners for an intricately layered tour through the head of frontman Dave Longstreth, surprising us occasionally with spastic guitar cranks. Tight orchestration and perfect timing make this album a musical joy. —MLF

Elvis Perkins Elvis Perkins in Dearland — I’ve been increasingly convinced that the End of Days are truly and dearly upon us (e.g. Jersey Shore). My Apocalypse Now That’s Music! compilation will be headlined by Elvis Perkins in Dearland’s mournful Big Easy inspired dirges. —CYL

Grizzly Bear Veckatimest — Named after a tiny, uninhabitable island off Cape Cod, Veckatimest is the type of album that all young bands long to release: instantly successful with wide appeal, yet not causing a rift with their existing fan base. Built on simple guitar chords and some electric looping, the meandering quality of the vocals, haunting at times and ebullient at others, gives Veckatimest and incredible “listenable” quality shared by few other new albums this year. —MLF

Islands Vapours — Islands’ third album displays a surprising array of musical styles but maintains an indefatigable quality that is uniquely Islands-esque. Built around guitar chords and heavily reliant on their ever-present synthesizer, the songs each explore a different rhythmic or melodic device, but rarely lose sight of a traditional indie-rock sound entirely, blending the enhancements seamlessly into their music. —MLF

Andrew Bird Noble BeastNoble Beast was pretty good, but lets talk about Andrew Bird’s whistling some more. How the hell does he do it? Is the man a giant woodwind? Is he whistle syncing? One of those pedals on stage has got to be the WHISTLE BLOWER 3000. I could listen to this man blow air through his lips all day. Not that that’s homoerotic at all. Oh, and the rest of his stuff is pretty alright too. —CYL

Condo Fucks Fuckbook — To the be clear, this band is Yo La Tengo. As in, all three members from Yo La Tengo play as all three members in Condo Fucks. Fuckbook deviates from the standard Yo La Tengo “shoe gazey” sound, and focuses more along the simpler, more blues-like rock from previous decades. Despite the differences, Fuckbook delivers the same unprocessed, driving guitar that makes Yo La Tengo part of the rock ‘n roll canon, and this albums deserves the same respect. —MLF

Passion Pit Manners — My guilty pleasure of 2009. I shouldn’t like this album. Michael Angelakos sounds like a Catholic school boy choir on meth. The beats and melodies are far too giddy and the album reeks a little too much of bad synth pop. Listening to it makes me feel like a high school senior without the balls to tell the girl I’ve known since pre-school that I secretly like her and next year she’s going to state and I’m going to the city and there are only two parties left before I never see her again, but I just know that this weekend at Nick’s improbably hip house party, we’ll see each other. We’ll lock eyes on the dance floor, maybe chat a little over some beers and later that night there’ll be all this relationship drama and when the dust settles and the guy who drank too much is puking his guts out we’ll find ourselves pouring out our hearts while we’re watching him wretch in the toilet, and then she’ll say she has a boyfriend whom she met at camp and they’re going to college together and just eff me man, eff me. —CYL

Dinosaur Jr. Farm — Dinosaur Jr. has been making rollicking albums since the early eighties. All of them are good. Their newest effort exhibits more pop construction than their previous trips to the recording studio, but the fundamentals of the band remain unchanged — especially J. Mascis’s outstandingly talented guitar — and they show that some bands can excel in any genre they choose. If you like big guitar and classic rock song construction, Dinosaur Jr. (and especially this album) is always there for you. —MLF

Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix — Let me describe the ascendance of this album to the top of my 2009 list: May Oh. That French band with the lead singer who looks like a cross between Paul Dano and Thom Yorke put out an album a while ago. June There are two good singles on this. I like. July Oh look, they have a music video where they wear tight jeans and Wayfarers and trot around Franz Litz’s house. I guess that’s cool. August The rest of this album is kinda infectious. September Now Caddilac is using them in ads? Booo. October Ok, that brat pack/Lisztomania YouTube mash up was pretty sweet. November Why can’t I stop listening to this album? December Get out of my head you crazy French Paul Dano impersonating demon spawn. —CYL

Neko Case Middle Cyclone — Her third solo work, Middle Cyclone, continues Neko Cases’s successful engagement with meandering western music. Bringing one of the most beautiful voices in rock to bear on her subject matter, Case heartrendingly describes her forays into love and life. Set over finger-picked guitar and resonant back-up vocals, if you ever want to know what emotional “longing” feels like, just flip on Neko and blare your stereo. —MLF

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse Dark Night of the Soul — Despite hearing this album constantly blared by the hipsters at that food truck with the expensive opiate laced fries, Dark Night of the Soul still makes my list. It’s moody, complex, and was never officially released so I can tell people about it while sounding smug and assuredly hip. —CYL

Volcano Choir Unmap — Sharing its frontman with the newly popular Bon Iver, Volcano Choir is one of Justin Vernon’s several experimental side projects, this time partnering Collections and Colonies of Bees. With almost no rock-song construction, the songs more resemble beautiful stream-of-consciousness poems set to ethereal, pretty melodies. Justin Vernon’s voice, soothing and expressive, carries this album into my personal top ten. —MLF

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes Up From Below — I listened to these guys live. It was incredible, energetic, ebullient, and just an all out delight. The band has so much talent, and unlike other hippie commune/cult bands, they’ve got good song structure and play tight. They’re like the Polyphonic Spree, only you’re not worried about them devil worshipping and plotting mass suicides on the weekend. It’s a shame their studio album is an overproduced and utterly uninspired piece of flattened shit. Skip their album, see them in person, or find some live recordings on YouTube. NPR has a great live studio video podcast of them. You can see their adorable hippie singer girl who looks like she’s tripping acid and their inexplicably hot accordion player. ­—CYL

Japandroids Post Nothing — A young duo out of Vancouver, their debut album is rock-centered and unfiltered. While the subject matter of their songs has yet to evolve — almost all of them are about girls who haven’t yet called them back — their music drips with charisma and their enthusiasm is extremely catchy. Reminiscent of The Thermals, and exhibiting all the pop-fi swagger they can muster, this is a band to watch and an album to enjoy. —MLF