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The top 20 albums of 2009 that aren’t Merriweather Post Pavilion January 6, 2010

Posted by gwyoung in Lists, Music.
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…or Bitte Orca, Veckatimest, Embryonic, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, or any other album that’s been put on pretty much every single year-end list you’ve seen in the past month. While those albums are all incredible and definitely deserve their places on all of those lists, what I find most exciting about year-end lists is the chance to be reminded of some of the good stuff that I missed throughout the year. So, the goal of my list is to point my readers to some lesser-known or less-acclaimed albums of similar caliber that were released this year. Here goes:

alaskas - set yourself free20. ALASKAS – Set Yourself Free

This guy makes loud, repetitive, abrasive music mostly from looping samples of himself yelling. Though self-described as “aggressive post-grime tribal punk” this album reminds me more of Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead or early Animal Collective.


19. Bowerbirds – Upper Air

Bowerbirds were pretty much overshadowed by the Dirty Projectors this year, which is a shame since their sophomore album completely blows Hymns For A Dark Horse out of the water. Their take on folk music experiments with song structures in the same way as the DPs but does so with its own unique elements.


18. City Center – City Center

Panda Bear comparisons aside, City Center’s self-titled debut of swirling sampled psychedelia stands all by itself as one of this year’s great albums. The textures here are mostly subdued and subtle with the exception of the shimmering outburst halfway through centerpiece “Bleed Blood,” one of 2009’s best musical moments.


le loup - family17. Le Loup – Family

So many of 2009’s albums tried to ride the coattails of Animal Collective’s success and Le Loup’s Family is a prime example. However, instead of making a carbon copy of Merriweather Post Pavilion’s gorgeous sounds, they infuse their aesthetic into their own already-successful brand of string-plucking folk pop, and to great effect.


julian lynch - orange you glad16. Julian Lynch – Orange You Glad

Julian Lynch represents the darker side of the “chillwave” genre made popular this past summer by Neon Indian and Memory Tapes. He uses the same lo-fi aesthetic but turns it into something completely different: a swampy, slow-moving churn of blippy electronics and folk melodies.


mew - no more stories15. Mew – No More Stories…

Mew’s rather annoying and pretentious choice of a lengthy poem for their album title serves as a poor representation of the more direct and charming pop songs found on the disc. Though the album gets bogged down on a few of the more self-indulgent tracks, Mew’s willingness to experiment accentuates the beautiful melodies of the rest.


junior boys - begone dull care14. Junior Boys – Begone Dull Care

Having heard this album (ahem) several weeks before its release, I was in shock at the poor critical reception that it eventually went on to receive. This is my favorite album by Junior Boys and I think it shows the electronic duo moving in an even more sophisticated direction. Plus, no-one can deny the genius of “Dull To Pause.”


wildbirds & peacedrums - the snake13. Wildbirds & Peacedrums – The Snake

It’s amazing what this duo can do with basically only drums and vocals. Of course there are a lot of electronic embellishments added to the tracks in post-production, but the songs themselves are driven by husband Andreas Werliin’s powerful rhythms and wife Mariam Wallentin’s deep, soulful voice.


team teamwork - the ocarina of rhyme12. Team Teamwork – Ocarina Of Rhyme

Here’s a good idea: mash-up some popular rap songs with themes from an N64 classic. Who knew The Clipse’s “Virginia” would sound so good over the Lost Woods theme, or that the music from Goron Village would make such a good backbeat for Aesop Rock? The contrast between rap’s vulgarity and Zelda’s childlike innocence make this album a truly epic mix of good vs. evil.

hecuba - paradise11. Hecuba – Paradise

Hecuba’s Paradise is like the perfect piece of film noir: dark in all the right places, mysterious, and completely engaging. It even has its own femme fatale in Isabelle Albuquerque’s seductive vocals, while Jon Beasley’s synthesized accompaniment provides a blend of hip-hop, techno, and jazz to balance them with just enough light.


health - get color10. HEALTH – GET COLOR

Music critics were quick to announce the promise shown on HEALTH’s shoddy self-titled debut, but when the band actually delivered on that promise with GET COLOR all they got was the cold shoulder. This unique piece of noise-dance is more machine than human with its propulsive beats and distorted creaking-metal vocals.


candy claws - in the dream of the sea life9. Candy Claws – In The Dream Of The Sea Life

Think Stars, only fuzzed-over and washed out with the hazy distortion of ocean waves. Add meandering tropical synths to some catchy and tight melodies and you get Candy Claws’ doe-eyed “musical companion” to Rachel Carson’s work of non-fiction, ‘The Sea Around Us.’


discovery - LP8. Discovery – LP

There was so much hatred for this album when it came out, and I must admit that I was at first a part of it. But something sparked my interest, and about four listens in it finally surfaced. Maybe it’s my strange affinity for auto-tune, but something about the smoothness of the vocals when paired with the production’s spastic synths makes this album just too appealing to continue hating.

patrick wolf - the bachelor7. Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor

Somewhere amidst all the DP and Grizzly hype, Patrick Wolf sneaked in the release of his best album to date. It wasn’t until The Bachelor that I finally realized what Patrick is all about. This album epitomizes his avant-pop aesthetic, carefully weaving orchestral strings into a masterpiece of electronic pop.


javelin - jamz n jemz6. Javelin – Jamz n Jemz

Javelin’s live performance made it clear that this crate-digging duo has found their own niche in today’s music culture. Compared to what they played live, Jamz n Jemz is a series of short, rough sketches of what’s to come, but these raw, untainted versions of their grooves might top any future fully-formed songs.


circulatory system - signal morning5. Circulatory System – Signal Morning

One of the few remnants of the Elephant 6 powerhouse of the 90s, Circulatory System end the decade the way they began it: by creating an elegant opus of experimental fuzz-pop gems. The E6 weirdness is alive and well in this album, and the fact that Will Hart & co. return right from where they left off shows hope for the collective yet.


lady gaga - the fame monster4. Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster

The Fame Monster is pop culture’s equivalent to Merriweather Post Pavilion, an album of the year where radio-friendly hits are concerned. This album shows that Lady Gaga’s non-single tracks are just as fantastic as what everyone hears on the radio, from her catchy hooks to her incredibly detailed production. Ga-Ga Ooh-La-La indeed.


ramona falls - intuit3. Ramona Falls – Intuit

Brent Knopf of Menomena’s debut album under the moniker Ramona Falls sounds a lot like, well, Menomena. And this isn’t a bad thing at all. Though a “solo record,” Knopf enlisted help from a wide range of musicians, and this collaborative effort shines through on each of the album’s charmingly complex tracks.


former ghosts - fleurs2. Former Ghosts – Fleurs

Former Ghosts is a collaboration between Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, This Song Is A Mess’ Freddy Rupert, and Zola Jesus. Not surprisingly, Fleurs is dark, intense, and disturbing. The trio draws inspiration from the dark synth-pop of early New Order, and though at times alienating, the album’s finer moments rival the work of its influences.


universal studios florida - ocean sunbirds1. Universal Studios Florida – Ocean Sunbirds

Though I excluded Animal Collective from this list, references to them keep popping up everywhere, and Ocean Sunbirds is no exception. Universal Studios Florida take the tropical synths of MPP and discard most of the vocals, resulting in the hour-long set of mind-numbingly beautiful electronics that is 2009’s most criminally underrated album.

And that’s the list. Stay tuned for the top 20 tracks of the year, which should be posted sometime tomorrow.



1. Daniel - January 7, 2010


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