It's that time of the year again. Time for my annual "Best Albums" feature where I act like I'm knowledgeable and insightful when it comes to discussing current music trends. Sounds like a fun game, right? It's inevitable that I will leave off several notable albums this year, but if I can't remember them off the top of my head, then they're not really worth noting (for the most part). I glanced back at last year's list and realized that I was completely right on all counts. So, why would this year be any different? I'm both a year older and a year wiser. This was a spectacular year of releases, so I'm bumping it up a notch from last year and giving you my 15 top albums of 2009, in no particular order (I think).
1. Converge - Axe to Fall - This gets my vote for album of the year for three reasons. First, Converge is one of my all-time favorites, and they can do no wrong. Second, this album runs step for step with the quartet's masterpiece, Jane Doe, which is a lofty statement to say the least. Third, Converge went on an inspired face-melting mission and guitarist Kurt Ballou hitched a ride on a dream cloud to the Xanadu of brutal riffage and bought a townhouse there. The first five songs are reason enough to worship this onslaught of sonic dynamite. Fucking brilliant.
2. Pissed Jeans - King of Jeans - Surlier, dirtier, and louder than Hope for Men, complete with an endearing basement show ambiance of sweat, blood, and booze. You can practically feel the spit from the slurs and growls of frontman Matt Korvette. It's the kind of performance that reminds me of an overly exerted, red-faced singer puking in the corner after practically killing himself while attempting to entertain 18 kids at a shitty bowling alley basement show. All out, all the time.
3. St. Vincent - Actor - I'm in love with Annie Clark, and she's in love with me, or so I repeatedly tell myself (over and over and over). Regardless of our passionate love for one another, her shining album as St. Vincent is a meandering trail of sugary yet astute indie rock that isn't afraid to get messy and noisy from time to time. Clark is the quintessential bandleader, with a talent for beautiful quirk and a charismatic charm that could persuade me to eat a heaping bowl of dirt.
4. Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport - This Bristol duo ditched much of the abrasiveness from its debut, Street Horrrsing, and produced a haunting soundtrack of noise that builds ominous beat upon ominous beat as snippets of sound ricochet from one quadrant of a song to another. The album's personality is the equivalent to the perfect sci-fi horror movie scene, littered with blood thirsty aliens probing petrified victims with eight-foot long needles beneath blinding spotlights. The climactic closing track, "Flight of the Feathered Serpent," is goddamn chilling.
5. Sleepy Sun - Embrace - A hearty slice of stoner rock pie. This sextet doesn't attempt to disguise their certain Sabbath allegiances, which is actually kind of refreshing. I saw these guys in an intimate theatre with seating. Although they were slightly off-put by playing to 35 seated concertgoers, it didn't temper their charming enthusiasm. Fuzzed-out, weed-scented guitar licks galore, with Rachel Williams (who can straight fucking bellow) and Bret Constantino's vocals casually strolling alongside. A good trip.
6. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion - I loved the audacity Stereogum exhibited when it named this the album of the year directly after it's release way back in January. Seems brash, presumptuous, and just a little fucking ridiculous, doesn't it? Well, the readers elected it album of the year in Stereogum's recently published Best of 2009 Extravaganza. Of course they did. Either Stereogum dangled a mutant-sized carrot in front of its impressionable readers' faces for 11 months, or I'm calling a goddamn conspiracy. I mean, who wants to turn around and see his own foot in his ass? All that being said, the album does in fact dominate.
7. Box Elders - Alice and Friends - Poppy low-fi garage goodness with a Dead Milkmen-like charm. This album is by no means mind-blowingly spectacular, but it's so damn fun that I can't deny it from this list. I feel like I've missed seeing these guys something like eight times (they're always coming through Chicago), and I'm reminded of my brazen stupidity each time I spin this album. Mindless, head-bobbing good times.
8. Baroness - Blue Record - While Red Album proved to be Baroness's coming out party, it lacked cohesion. This album, though, is an equal-part batter of metal doom riffs, transcendent melodic guitar, guttural and fiery vocals, and intricate, shitstorm drumming. It has eerie valleys and triumphant peaks abound, and there are unusual moments where it sounds like I'm being chased by gaggles of demonic trolls. Currently the best prog-ish metal band calling the state of Georgia home (in case you didn't know, Mastodon's from Atlanta).
9. Double Dagger - More - These guys pair perfectly with a sweaty and sticky art space show that has a fridge full of dollar PBRs, a 20-minute bathroom wait, and thin clouds of smoke hanging just overhead (I experienced this dream setting over the summer). Bass, drums, vocals, and enough frenetic energy to make a five-year old shit right through his pants. Is it just me, or does Baltimore have an outstanding music scene?
10. Bat for Lashes - Two Suns - I cheat on St. Vincent's Annie Clark with Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes. That's just how shit rolls, ya know? They both understand. Plus, Khan's albums are spells. They literally sound like a benevolent sorcerer concocted them, sprinkling sprite dust and unicorn ashes over each tune. Two Suns is enchanting and daze-inducing. Check out the video for "What's A Girl to Do" off of her debut Fur & Gold and convince me you're not mesmerized. Sounds like magic.
11. Magik Markers - Balf Quarry - The apparent u-turn that was 2007's Boss proved to be the fantastic realization of a newly mapped route as duo Elisa Ambrogio and Pete Nolan moved toward more structured ways of songwritng. Balf Quarry continues in that direction with drone noises and blips loosely held together by Ambrogio's ominous, echoed vocals and Nolan's rudimentary drumming. Once you think you're contently dazing off (see "State Number"), the album inflicts multiple blows to the solar plexus (see "The Lighter Side of...Hippies"), leaving you disoriented by the album's polarity, but still quite content.
12. Dan Deacon - Bromst - Heard this story before? A classically trained electronic musician (whatever that means) who wears garish neon clothing, seems to barf arty bullshit, and looks like he'd molest your children? That's Dan Deacon, alright. I respect ambition, and Deacon's got so much it makes him seem like a pretentious, holier than thou fartbag. The simple fact is that the man is a talented whatchamacallit, and this album is a swirling grab bag of electro-excellence. Critics have called it "darker" than Spiderman of the Rings. Whatever. It's still a fun romp and makes me feel like I'm forever jumping on a moonbounce inside an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese.
13. Lightning Bolt - Earthly Delights - I shouldn't really have to go into much detail here. Uhhh . . . there was a new Lightning Bolt album this year--the first since 2005's Hypermagic Mountain. It's fucking Lightning Bolt. No drastic shift musically. They still sound like the apocalypse. Lightning Bolt, fuck.
14. Future of the Left - Travels With Myself and Another - With enough piss and vinegar to drown a little league baseball team, the Welsh trio's sophomore album expands on the ferocity and simplistic crunch of 2007's Curses with a scorcher of middle-finger-right-up-in-your-asshole-face punk rock. No longer stuck in the "ex-Mclusky" pigeonhole, Future of the Left has rightfully secured its own identity and the splendidly volatile mixture of anthemic jaunts coupled with pissed-off, snarly poundings prove that the Welsh boys are worth looking up.
15. Wye Oak - The Knot - This is the third Baltimore band/artist on my list. What the fuck is up, Charm City? Anyway, there's just something adorable and endearing about this indie rock duo. Since their debut If Children, Jenn Wasner's vocals matured with a heartfelt soulfulness and the cultivated songwriting now peeks into rooms of complexity, working with cascading melodies and almost tangible emotion. Wye Oak reminds me of eating a giant banana split sundae at an ice cream parlor on a dreary spring day and watching an unaffected dude break up with his sobbing girlfriend in the booth across from me.
Honorable Mention: Health - Get Color, Deer Tick - Born on Flag Day, Passion Pit - Manners, Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Drug Rug - Paint the Fence Invisible, Obits - I Blame You, Anni Rossi - Rockwell