The Albums of 2009

December 30, 2009

It’s the end of the year, which means there has been a veritable smorgasbord of countdowns flooding the internets. And what a year it has been! 2009 has seen the likes of Michael Jackson’s untimely death, infamous outbursts from Kanye West, and Susan Boyle. And that’s just the highlights (I use the term loosely). Fortunately though, the last year of the noughties has produced some excellent albums. So here’s my two cents: my favourite 10 albums of 2009.

10. Regina Spektor – Far

Kicking off the list is the wonderful Regina Spektor, with her fifth album Far. As a big Spektor fan, I was waiting for this album with baited breath, and while it isn’t as strong as her previous releases I was not disappointed. Her ability to create intricate stories and lush images from the most mundane of situations continues to impress, particularly with the tracks ‘Wallet’ and ‘Folding Chair’. Despite the fact that Spektor may have ditched some of the quirkiness we’ve come to know and love in the hope to attract a bigger audience, this still is an excellent album.

9. Whitley – Go Forth, Find Mammoth

Number 9 sees (unfortunately) the only Australian entrant of the countdown. Whitley’s Go Forth Find Mammoth could almost make this list solely on the basis of its title and album art. Fortunately though, it doesn’t need to- because the Melbourne songwriter’s second LP rises above that pesky sophomore-album curse, and even improves on his excellent debut. What struck me the most about this album is it’s cohesiveness- every song flows brilliantly into the next, often without the listener even noticing.

8. Florence and the Machine – Lungs

When I first heard Florence Welsh sing ‘Dog Days are Over’ in the dark ages of 2008, I immediately fell in love with her incredible voice. To put it in the ever-eloquent words of Sir Mix-A-Lot: It’s just so…big! Her debut album Lungs then followed suit, with 13 tracks of glorious indie pop with soul. ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)’ is definitely one of my top songs of the year. The Machine is heading down under in early 2010, and looks set to be one of the highlights of the Laneway festival circuit.

7. Pheonix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

What a year 2009 has been for Phoenix! After three albums and only a couple of big singles, the French indie rockers finally hit the big time with the wonderfully-titled Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Smooth, well-produced and infinitely catchy, the album has rocketed the band into stardom. WAP has taken the honours of triple j’s 2009 album poll, and now they’re playing venues like the Convention Centre, with tickets selling for a whopping $80. While I don’t see myself forking out that much to see them, WAP is still up there with my favourites of the year.

6. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

Ah, Mumford and Sons. This time last year they were the relatively unknown backing band for Laura Marling. Now they have arguably the biggest single of the year (everybody now: “I really fucked it up this time!”). While ‘Little Lion Man’ is a standout track, the rest of the album should definitely not be overlooked. On one listen it can send you into a spiral of depression, but on the next the very same songs can be uplifting. It’s very impressive for a debut album from a band as young as this. As the British indie-folk scene continues to grow, this band is set to only get bigger and bigger. And that’s not a bad thing.

5. Passion Pit – Manners

I remember when I was first introduced to Passion Pit’s debut LP Manners- I was told that they were quote-unquote “2009’s MGMT”. While they both hail from eastern US and are often lumped into the same genre, thankfully the similarities end there. Because Passion Pit are actually good. The thing that strikes me most about Manners is that it’s just happy. Songs like ‘Little Secrets’ and ‘Sleepyhead’ will leave you bopping for hours after listening, while the more introverted ‘Moth’s Wings’ is also an album highlight.

4. Silversun Pickups – Swoon

Poor Silversun Pickups. They are so often criticised as carbon copies of the Smashing Pumpkins. And it’s easy to see why- with their moody lyrics, male/female vocals and distorted guitars. Regardless, their debut Carnavas is still one of my favourite albums. Unfortunately Swoon doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but it’s still a great album in its own right. From the highs of lead single ‘Panic Switch’ to the calmer waters of ‘Catch and Release’, Swoon delivers with moody rock at it’s finest.

3. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion / Fall Be Kind EP

Animal Collective’s 9th studio album Merriweather Post Pavilion has by far been the critical darling of 2009. Rating a whopping 89 on Metacritic, it’s been heralded as an instant classic of our age. And they’re not wrong; for most of the year this was my favourite album. For a band known for their experimentation, this is their most accessible release yet- and it’s still completely different to anything released this year. A surprise release of the Fall Be Kind EP followed in October, which saw a darker turn for the band, but still just as excellent.

2. The xx – xx

The debut album of the year and 2nd best overall goes to The xx, a newly-formed band hailing from Britain. Their simply titled debut xx quietly popped up around August, but quickly became one of the year’s most hyped bands on the interwebs. The hype is not unfounded; this is a fantastic album. Like it’s cover, the true beauty in xx lies more in what isn’t there, rather than what is. While so many bands rely on heavy production and gimmicky instrumentation, The xx have delivered an album with an intimacy I haven’t seen in recent times. It’s something you would expect from a band that has been releasing music for years, not a debut made by four 20 year olds. My only worry is, with such an incredible album, where can the band go from here?

1. Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring

And so we arrive at number 1, and the album that gets the honours is one that took me completely by surprise. Noah and the Whale are another band to come out of the incredibly incestuous London indie-folk wheel. The First Days of Spring is their second album, and I only stumbled across it by accident. It’s a concept album, but not in the vein of Tommy or The Wall. Instead it focuses entirely on the breakdown of a relationship between lead singer Charlie Fink and none other than Laura Marling, who quit the band for a solo career after said break-up. The album tells of the break-up from the early stages of despair (‘The First Days of Spring’), to brief spurts of hope (‘Love of an Orchestra’), to guilt over post-break up sex (‘Stranger’), before finally coming to a bittersweet conclusion (‘My Door is Always Open’). Understandably, it’s not a happy album- far from it- but Fink’s lyrics and delicate instrumentation makes for one incredibly unique, cohesive, tragic and yet strangely heartening record. If you haven’t heard it, obtain it in whatever way possible. You’ll be far richer for it.

And there we have it folks. Honourable mentions should definitely go to Yeah Yeah Yeahs- It’s Blitz! (if only for showing us that disco is so 2009), Grizzly Bear- Veckatimest, Muse- The Resistance, Editors- In This Light and on this Evening and the wonderful Dark Was The Night compilation. Over the past decade how we obtain music has changed dramatically and despite claims of the ‘death of the music industry’, albums like these prove that there are still plenty of artists making really quality music. I can’t wait to see what 2010 and beyond brings.

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