Hey, have you heard it's the end of the year? Or, the beginning of the year, depending on when you're reading this? Haha, biweekly print publications, yay! On the following pages, you'll find our list of the 30 Best Albums of 2009, in, for the first time in all the years we've been doing this, no order whatsoever (well, alphabetical order). It seemed odd, we thought, to assign numerical rankings to albums by artists as disparate as Paramore and Lucero, or Brother Ali and the Beets. So instead, we give you 30 albums we think you should own, along with key tracks from each, should you be interested in making the ultimate Year in Review playlist, which we assume you are.
A Sunny Day in Glasgow
On a superficial level, it's tempting to lump the hazy melodies and undulating electronics of A Sunny Day in Glasgow's second record in with the hordes of sandy-shoed mumblers who faddishly combined Gidget with gadgets this year. But doing so ignores the sculpted craft of Ashes Grammar. Tossed-off bedroom laptop records are not recorded in a pristinely echoing space under acoustic inspiration from avant-garde composer Alvin Lucier's "I am Sitting in a Room," typically. Spread-out swells of frosty ambience bloom into delicate pop life and then wilt back, all with immaculate design. Its glow comes from higher, not lower fidelity.
» key track: "Close Chorus"
Merriweather Post Pavilion
With MPP almost cracking the Billboard 200 on vinyl sales alone (?!) and its CD release falling on Obama's Inauguration Day, the year started with a real sense of underdog victory. We had made it out of 2008 alive; this was our moment! Then things got pretty shitty again, what with the soaring unemployment rate and the swine flu killing 99 percent of the human race. Fortunately, from the moment "In the Flowers" explodes into hysterics at the idea of reuniting with a long-distance lover in a dream to when Panda Bear begs his brother to quit bottling up emotions about their father's death in "Brother Sport," every second of MPP swells with so much damn heart—while also managing to make songs sound like 3-D entities. It was exactly the type of album that we needed this year—vulnerable, tangible and about life's simple pleasures—by a band who not long ago sounded like a mutant life form.
» key track: "In the Flowers"
Antony & the Johnsons
The Crying Light
Antony Hegarty is a perpetually dramatic guy, of the doomed opera-star variety, but The Crying Light can hardly be called histrionic. Compared to his earlier work, he sounds hushed and reserved, his singular voice gently quavering more often than wildly trilling. His best record is all about control; nuanced images of graceful epilepsy and disappearing bees that never become trite; beautifully orchestrated strings and golden morning piano notes that never slip into schmaltz. His voice is the most precise instrument, though, ranging from "Another World"'s alien purr to "Aeon"'s surprisingly rough, heartbreak shouts.
» key track: "Epilepsy is Dancing"
Spit in the Face of People Who Don't Want to Be Cool
Or spit on the face of anyone who doesn't embrace 50s-inspired garage pop with wide-angled joint vocals sung by three sloppy (usually drunk) boys damn proud to be from Queens because said people are lame and no fun to be around.
» key track:"What Did I Do?"
Lesser politically outspoken rappers had a hard time finding a cause in 2009, given the Bush-Obama switchover, but Brother Ali handles change masterfully. The underground MC of the decade narrowed his focus to deliver a series of at times uncomfortably intimate hyperrealist narratives of loss and iniquity. Along with the usual repertoire of powerful boasts and confessionals over Ant's wonderful beats, Ali won re-election this year as the president of indie rap.
» key track: "Games"
We've long insisted that Neko Case has never managed to release an album that's been great, or even good, from start to finish. Too often, we found ourselves thinking, "Yes, we get it. Your voice is great. But your songs? Kinda boring." But there's something ever so slightly different about Middle Cyclone: there's a sprightliness that runs through the whole thing, making it the perfect setting for Case's vocals, as opposed to something that somehow makes listening to her seem like a chore.
» key track:"This Tornado Loves You"
Yeah I Know
There we were, waiting in line for a dressing room at Urban Outfitters last week when Darlings' riled-up "Eviction Party" came on over the speakers. Naturally, we congratulated ourselves for including them in our "8 NYC Bands You Need to Hear" issue this spring, then we remembered that when garage rock is this catchy, it's pretty easy to get behind. Yeah I Know is easily one of the most listenable records of the year as odes to growing up and how sometimes it's awesome and sometimes it sucks never get old, nor do kick-down-the-door calls to arms like closing track "If This Is Love." It's a fucking anthem.
» key track:"If This Is Love"