Here it is. My annual list of the best albums of the year.
Up Next Tomorrow: Best Singles of 2009
Artist: Great Lakes Swimmers
Album: Lost Channels
One of the many folk-pop acts that have flooded the music world over the last few years, Great Lakes Swimmers stands out from the crowd with well-crafted melodies and earnest, simple lyrics. In many ways, you can sense this band is still working at crafting their sound, but listening to them find their identity along the way has been a joy.
Listen to: Pulling on a Line
Album: Wilco (The Album)
Our Chicago darlings still have yet to match the brilliance of their Magnum Opus, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But their latest self-titled album certainly does take a cross section of all the sounds the band has embraced over the last decade and puts on display all of the wonderful musical talents of one of the greatest bands of our time.
Listen to: You Never Know
Artist: Flaming Lips
Channeling Pink Floyd through a distortion-filled, sometimes overly-gimmicky filter, the Flaming Lips latest album, Embryonic, is like a great infomercial. At first, you’re not sure why you’re giving it any attention, but after 10 minutes, you’re fully sold.
Listen to: Silver Trembling Hands
Artist: Julian Casablancas
Album: Phrazes for the Young
Perhaps I miss the Strokes too much, but I couldn't’t help but fall for many of the tunes on this debut by Casablancas. From a Motown-inspired tune to an electro-synth pop song, the album is certainly ambitious—and certainly a good substitute until we can all hear the next Strokes album.
Listen to: 11th Dimension
Album: Live at Reading
Nirvana brought an energy that nary any other band has ever brought to the stage—and is fully apparent from the very first moments of this album all the way through to the last smash of a guitar. Yes, Kurt Cobain is still missed. But listening to his band at its peak of success will lend some pause to that longing.
Listen to: Breed
Artist: Ida Maria
Album: Fortress ‘Round My Heart
Some music is just meant to be fun: a hot mess of punk, youthful rebellion and energy. And with songs like “I Like You So Much Better (when You’re Naked), Ida Maria fits squarely into this category. With punk-pop, influences and a sometimes raspy, Rod Stewart-esque voice, this Swedish vixen brings a style that seems borrowed but still comes off as new.
Listen to: I Like You So Much Better (when You’re Naked)
Artist: Sunset Rubdown
Spencer Krug’s lyrics are those of a cryptic poet—engaging but confusing, melodic yet disjointed, calming but chaotic. And somewhere in the middle of the mess came this great album that harnesses Krug’s talents just enough to make for an accessible sound, but not so much as to smother the creativity. After all, sometimes it’s beautiful when we color outside the lines.
Listen to: Idiot Heart
Artist: Dinosaur Jr.
This is the greatest album that Pearl Jam never made: a collection of melodic guitar solos, heavy-hearted vocals and song craftsmanship that many a great band used to start the grunge movement (and many a horrible band went on to poorly copy and destroy the movement…yes I’m looking at you Creed.) J Mascis is a master at guitar solos and this album shows his skills off with three tracks that are well over five minutes long.
Listen to: Said the People
Artist: Animal Collective
Album: Merriweather Post Pavilion
A collage of accessible electronic psychedelic tunes that borrows from the Beach Boys, Grateful Dead and African tribal beats, Merriweather Post Pavilion is Animal Collective’s finest album by a great margin. Previous works by the band were too ambitious in my opinion, and lacked a cohesive melody and structure. This album is proof that just because you have a plethora of colors on your palette, you don’t need to use every one of them to make a great piece of art. And Animal Collective have done just that, crafting songs that are addictive, ecclectic and toe-tapping good.
Listen to: My Girls
Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
For much of the year, I liked to think of Phoenix’s latest album as my secret treasure of an album. But then something happened. The rest of the country discovered them and soon they could be heard on radio stations and Cadillac ads. And for good reason. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is an album that accomplishes a rare feat: every track from start to finish is really good. Many highly rated albums—even on my list—have the occasional one to three tracks that are “skipable,” or just not on par with the rest of the album. Using a combination of electronic and pop rock sounds, they’ve created the best album of 2009.
Listen to: Lisztomania