in Top Ten

Sean’s Top Ten Albums of 2009

I get it now. Posting our top tens this way gives last-second additions a shot at listage, since chances are way better for a movie or album to hop onto the year’s list than the decade ones. And, since Nancy can’t do lists for the year, it gives us a nice post-a-day rhythm for a while. Very appealing stuff.

Honorable Mentions
St. Vincent – Actor
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The xx – xx
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion 

10. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Just “bearly” edging out critical darling Merriweather Post Pavilion is this sexy beast straight out of Brooklyn. While my initial impression of the band was, “wow, that music video sure makes them look gross,” the album eventually grew on me to the point where I was humming some of the more memorable songs to myself while I was busy measuring newspapers or something else equally boring. As Colin pointed out, “Two Weeks” is one of the year’s best, the rest of the album is no slouch. While Animal Collective is undeniably great on their release, I find that it takes way too long for me. Which is weird, I know, especially when you see what some of my later picks are. But I can’t stop being myself.

9. The Antlers – Hospice
Continuing with the bear theme is the first album from the band the Antlers. I guess they were just one guy before, and now they’re like a band. So it counts as a debut, even though there are albums from The Antlers already and it sounds like that one guy does a lot of the work. Regardless, what we’ve got here is basically an American attempt at Sigur Rós territory. They never quite get that good, but as my second real foray into post-rock music, they still deliver quite the experience. Yes, Colin, they’re willing to throw out some instrumental tracks. They’re trying to build an atmosphere, a feeling. That’s how they get you, and how they can get away with talking about cheery topics like abortion later on. It all comes back to these dramatic ideas from this guy you might remember named William Shakesman.

8. Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
I kind of feel bad for not being as passionately a fan of MoF as my co-bloggers. But not that bad, I mean, this shit still is on my top ten list. Merriweather Post Pavilion couldn’t even crack this list. At this point, I’m a pretty unabashed My Morning Jacket fan, and I’ve always been interested in Bright Eyes, especially because of Nancy’s seemingly endless love for Conor Oberst. Hopefully MoF can serve as the gateway drug I need to finally dive into that musical pool. But even if it’s not, this is still a really great album. I even like that first song that everyone else hates. As they’ve said, it’s just really nice to hear really skilled musicians working together to create undeniably great sounds. It’s always good when an album can reach go-to status for me, and for a couple weeks, this was in that spot. I still have no idea who M. Ward is, outside of some guy who plays with Zooey Deschanel.

7. U2 – No Line on the Horizon
I wanted to think of No Line on the Horizon as some sort of comeback for U2. But their last couple albums have been pretty freaking good. So I guess it’s just a compliment to the strength of this album that I feel that way about it. There’s a lot going on here, U2 is producing music that is epic, melodic and even straight up rocking. I can’t go more than a few minutes into this album before I start tapping my toes, bobbing my head or making a fool of myself. Frankly, I can’t wait to see as much of this realized as I can this summer. The only real complaints I can lob against this album is that I had to listen to “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” about a bajillion times since Blackberry used it in the ad that came in during every Daily Show/Colbert commercial break for a while.

6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains
There’s something to be said for an album as sprawling and lush as the debut from Cymbals Eat Guitars. The album is called Why There are Mountains, and the epic scale of these nine tracks does lend itself to such a titanic title. If this album was a movie, it would consist entirely of sweeping crane and helicopter shots of fantastic landscapes. That it is the product of some kids who weren’t signed to a label or anything is pretty incredible. If the point of being into alternative or indie music is to find new, young bands full of promise, than anyone who finds these guys has hit the jackpot. I know it’s kind of scary to latch onto an album that you might not have heard much about, but trust me, this one is worth the risk. After all, it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.

5. Japandroids – Post-Nothing
After being a fan of the White Stripes for a few years, you’d think I’d already know that a guitar and drums duo can still deliver a terrific ride. But I still came into Japandroids’ Post-Nothing expecting very little. Instead I got one of the purest albums of the year. These are two guys that just want to have a good time, despite their fears of the weight of the world. There’s just such a sincerity to their minimalist, catchy lyrics. Plus they know what they’re doing on drums and guitar. It’s one of my great regrets of 2009 that my back injury prevented me from going to see these guys live in November. I’m sure that would have been one hell of a show.

4. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Like I said in my review, Neko Case is so good that I totally, completely prefer her to her super group the New Pornographers. There are a number of outstanding tracks here that I’ve completely fallen for, to the point where I feel like a sucker. Sure, lyrics like, “your rails have always outrun mine,” does sound like some creative writing class bullshit, but there’s just something about it that makes me grin a stupid grin. Hmn, did I quote “This Tornado Loves You” in the review too? Man, I don’t want to give you the impression that that’s the only song that I like. I like the whole thing. Here’s a lyrics from “People Got a Lotta Nerve”: “you know, they call killer whales, but you seemed surprised when they pinned you down to the bottom of tank, where you can’t turn around and took both half your leg and both your lungs.”

3. Metric – Fantasies
The first album of the year I really responded to was this gem from Metric. Fantasies is just about as cleanly executed as an album can get. From what John and Paul call “that hammer song” to the triumphant climax that is “Stadium Love,” I really dig Metric and their sweet freaking music. I don’t know why I haven’t gone back and looked over their earlier work, because honestly this is exactly what I look for in an album. This is definitely the album of the summer for me, and more than that, I was listening to it a lot while I was in Europe, so it’s associated with those memories too. Good album is good.

2. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Another first taste of a band that’s been around for a little while, Phoenix is a band I quickly grew to love during the latter half of this year. From the extremely catchy first couple tracks, to the instrumental space racers part, all the way to the end, this is probably the album I listened to the most this year. And I never got sick of it. I’m still thrilled when I see that Cadillac ad with “1901” in it. Who would have thought that I could grow to like a French band that’s not Daft Punk? Not that I’m a huge Daft Punk fan, but those songs are catchy. And why are these French bands recording in English? When I was over there they seemed pretty happy with their language. Why not sing in it? Eh, maybe they just wanted more mass appeal. Which they deserve. Can’t wait to see them do their thing.

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
I feel exactly the same about this album as Colin. The reviews weren’t too hot, neither was “Zero,” it seemed like something I could write off. But when I did finally check it out, I was blown away by how consistently good it is. I’m gonna say it, this is my favorite Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. I’m comfortable saying that because if I had my iPod on shuffle or was listening to the radio and any song off this album, any song, came up, I’d be stoked. At it’s roots, It’s Blitz! has everything that makes Yeah Yeah Yeahs great, from more rocking numbers that hearken back to greats like “Gold Lion” to songs that are a little more delicate, like the immortal “Maps.” It’s just more sophisticated now. If you’re not dancing to this album, you’re probably frozen by its profound beauty.