What a year! 2009 ushered in many amazing albums and it was very difficult to distill a list of my favorites. But, I'll try my best to give a brief overview of just a sampling of what I listened to in 2009...
Among the albums getting multiple plays on the Fedge hi-fi were Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective, the self-titled gem from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, L'île de Sept Villes by The Hylozoists, Middle Cyclone by Neko Case, Hospice by The Antlers, My Maudlin Career by Camera Obscura, The Floodlight Collective by Lotus Plaza, Fever Ray's self-titled, Polly Scattergood's self-titled, Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors, Catacombs by Cass McCombs, Years' self-titled on Arts & Crafts, Concentration by Dog Day, City Center's self-titled, See Mystery Lights by Yacht, the Dark Was The Night compilation and Sainthood by Tegan And Sara.
Here are ten of my most-listened to albums of 2009, in no particular order...
Even by the time Beggars Banquet released Marry Me, the first album by St. Vincent in 2007, she was no longer simply referred to as one of The Polyphonic Spree or a member of Sufjan Stevens' touring band. She was well and truly becoming a fully formed entity unto herself. Songs like Now, Now, Jesus Saves, I Spend helped establish Clark as a serious songwriter right from the start. Two years after her debut, she returns with Actor, an accomplished second album full of single contenders. The obvious first choice for first single was Actor Out Of Work while Marrow was the popular choice among fans for single number two with its dancefloor ready beats. Clark's charm is one of innocence with a dark side. She can be singing a rather upbeat song like Actor Out Of Work but will pepper her words with jagged notions from her imagination while wrapping it all up in a very appealing package. (4AD)
If Volcano Playground don't achieve Pitchforkian levels of success in 2010 then there really is no musical justice in the world. This band hails from Oshawa, Ontario and their Waiting mini-album is not merely a collection of songs but rather a mission statement, a band throwing down the gauntlet and demanding your attention. And they do so with such apparent ease as well. They've only been around as Volcano Playground for the past year having formed out of the ashes of The Recroom, Thee Side Project and Antique Toys. With Waiting, the band has created a polished, modern variation on the spacey 4AD power pop and amped it up five, ten, fiftyfold, producing a truly mammoth sound that transcends their local stomping ground and beckons music fans around the world. (Volcano)
Toronto indie Arts & Crafts signed Young Galaxy in 2007 and released their excellent self-titled debut. It featured the singles Swing Your Heartache, Outside The City and, used quite effectively in the 2009 Alexander Keith's beer TV commercials, Come And See. So it was surprising to see the band no longer on Arts & Crafts with their second full-length Invisible Republic. Epics like Destroyer and Long Live The Fallen World build upon the strengths of the first album and it resulted in an even stronger second album. This Vancouver band is fronted by Stephen Ramsay (vocals/guitar) and Catherine McCandless (vocals/keyboards). They build upon a perfect collaborative bond they established on the 2007 self-titled and lift their songs to new heights, bigger and bolder than ever before. Invisible Republic is the sound of a confident band moving forward and the assured songs stand out in a catalog of already amazing songs. I think Arts & Crafts should have kept the band as quality like this is rare. (Fontana North)
This Loves Last Time
Xian Hawkins was preparing to make a new album under his Sybarite moniker when the concept for a different kind of album presented itself. Rather than go forward making a new Sybarite album Hawkins created Bell Horses. His primary collaborator is Jenny Owen Youngs, whose own career has been progressing quite well, with two albums on Nettwerk Records, with notable single Hot In Herre, a genuinely transformed cover of a Nelly song. What makes This Loves Last Time such a seamless and intimate blend of Hawkins and Youngs' strengths all the more impressive is that the entire album was created long distance via emailing song files back and forth. While Youngs provides lyrics and voice to most of the album, the rest of the songs are sung by Alexander Ericson (Alberta Cross, Stjarna). Michael Lerner, drummer for NYC band The Antlers also contributes to the songs, again, all via many emails. Hawkins is the helmer to this project though and his stamp is obvious, taking his more electronic instrumental Sybarite compositions into a more vocally based pop song structure with most welcoming results. (Try Square)
Only During Thunderstorms
When the music press ignores a gem like Only During Thunderstorms, something is amiss. Paper Moon are from Winnipeg, Manitoba and front woman Allison Shevernoha will charm and disarm you like no other vocalist in recent memory. Her voice inspires a feeling of warmth and goodness. Continuing their goal of making utterly catchy songs, the band released their new album in 2009 - only just their third since forming in 2000. Opting for quality over quantity, Paper Moon excel at songwriting and performance. Watch the video for stand out single Where Did All Our Time Go? for proof of why Paper Moon is so amazing (and see if you can name all the different movies the band parodies). (Endearing)
In And Out Of Control
The Danish duo of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo returned in 2009 with their fourth album proper In And Out Of Control. While the more direct pop sound riled some longtime fans I found it to be a perfectly fine next chapter in The Raveonettes's sound. The whole album is worthy of single treatment, with the obvious choices Bang! and Last Dance chosen to introduce us to their new refined sound. The video for Last Dance is unquestionably silly and fun but it can't quite hide the darker undertones of the lyrics - "Your addiction and you are in love / Night star crossed, I wait my turn / And every time you overdose I rush to intensive care / Another sad-eyed stare before you disappear". The band's skill at creating happy sounds against brutal subject matter is underscored on Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed). In fact, if you weren't paying attention to the lyrics you might think it's just some happy song. Other single contenders include Suicide and Breaking Into Cars. (Fierce Panda/Vice)
FLORENCE + THE MACHINE
Florence Welch is the woman behind Florence + The Machine, one of 2009's truly happy surprises. Londoner Welch possesses a voice as powerful and uniquely distinguished as Kate Bush and Annie Lennox, of whom she admired while growing up. After amassing fans throughout 2008, the band was snapped up by Universal and debut album Lungs was issued in the summer of 2009. It's definitely Welch's voice that will command your attention but she also has the songs to frame it so beautifully, with such rousing singles as Kiss With A Fist, Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up), Dog Days Are Over, Drumming Song and You've Got The Love - all found on Lungs. Typically, even though the album was issued in July for the UK market, it would take another three months for their US label to catch on to the jewel they had on their roster. A second album is already planned, with recording to begin in early 2010. Welch is one of those rare talents who, if given the time and space to develop, will have a career as long and diverse as Bush and Lennox. (Moshi Moshi/Universal-Island)
JONSI & ALEX
Originally named simply Riceboy Sleeps, I first heard a song called Happiness on the Dark Was The Night compilation but by the time their debut album was released the band was known as Jónsi & Alex. Jónsi is Jón Þór Birgisson, the vocalist from Iceland's Sigur Rós and he teams here with Alex Somers to create an album of quiet, thoughtful beauty. Icelandic string quartet Amiina and the Kópavogsdætur Choir add to the overall whole creating one of 2009's most other worldly albums. All The Big Trees and Daníell In The Sea are the singles but listen to the full album in one sitting for a journey to a different world via a soundscape of utterly widescreen cinematic quality. Wasting little time, Jónsi has already recorded his debut solo album, titled Go and due for release in March. (Parlophone/XL Recordings)
YEAH YEAH YEAHS
It had been a while since Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 2006 showstopper of an album Show Your Bones and even their 2007 stop gap EP Is Is was beginning to seem like a distant memory but it's very apparent the band was not sitting idle. In addition to front woman Karen O scoring the Spike Jonze movie Where The Wild Things Are the band just happened to release their most confident and powerful album yet. It's Blitz! sees the band moving closer towards the mainstream pop world, adding more keyboards to the mix. While this may have disappointed the longtime fans it is a win-win situation for the rest of us. It's an album of strong songs - Zero, Heads Will Roll and Soft Shock all embody the Yeah Yeah Yeahs of the past with a sound firmly entrenched in moving forward. Lucky fans who bought the album early were rewarded with a bonus disc of acoustic versions of some of the album's songs - proving that as long as the quality is there, the song can work in whatever form, be it rough acoustic to full blown studio versions. (Polydor/Interscope)
The second official "solo" album from Deerhunter leader Bradford Cox is one of the year's most unique. Cox seemingly disregards trends and cues from the mainstream and does whatever he feels like and the results are key to demonstrating how he is a genuine trailblazer in contemporary music. After the knockout punch that was 2008's Microcastle/Weird Era Continued from Deerhunter, Cox created the followup to the debut album from Atlas Sound, Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel. In Logos, Cox takes us even further into his never-resting mind. Cox is joined on Walkabout by Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) and on the epic Quick Canal by Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab. Like the aforementioned Jónsi & Alex, Logos is most definitely a soundscape like no other, it demands to be heard in one sitting so you can fully immerse yourself in it. (Kranky/4AD)