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Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
The best thing about how popular this record became this year is that if you were to google the name of it because, say, you can never remember how to spell "Amadeus," you would find that Google first assumes that you're looking for Wolfgang Puck, then Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and then Mozart. Fair, we say, because Mozart neither dressed as well as these dudes nor wrote ten pop songs so good even our snobbiest, most noise-loving friends loved them. He totally never played Saturday Night Live, either.
» key track: "1901"
Nostalgia runs deep on the Jersey band's debut full-length, but everything else floats along wistfully, giving rise to Yo La Tengo and Galaxie 500 comparisons, if they had recorded underwater. Ultimately, Real Estate is an exercise in balance and texture—we're pretty sure they've cracked the code to the perfect guitar tone—and a testament to how tapping into the universal longing for home, summer, etc. can carry an album a long way.
» key track: "Green River"
The Rural Alberta Advantage
The first 40-odd seconds of Hometowns' opening track, "The Ballad of the RAA," seems, frankly, to set the table for another in a long line of low-rent Postal Service ripoffs. But the airy synths and canned-sounding drums are eventually joined by the ragged, soulful singing of Nils Edenloff, and things immediately come together. What follows is a batch of songs that alternates between keyboard-heavy indie-pop and aggressive, acoustic folk-punk that will appeal to fans of Neutral Milk Hotel, early Against Me, and anyone who, even only occasionally, misses wherever they came from.
» key track: "The Deathbridge in Lethbridge"
More than ever, bands seemed to chase trends in â�‚��œ09. Leave it to Spencer Krug to put out an album that couldn't have been further from the beach themes/slop-pop/lo-fi haze craze that seemingly worked its way into every other recording this year. His weird man-boy yelps led an acutely refined band through hook-happy moonlit orchestrations about, like, Rapunzel and stuff, culminating in an epic last track—a twisting nail-biter that might be the best ten minutes of music recorded this year. With Dragonslayer, the Krugster officially bowed out of Wolf Parade's shadow and established himself as one of the most enigmatic, prolific songwriters of the decade.
» key track:"Dragon's Lair"
Songs of Shame
In November, New York Magazine largely credited Grizzly Bear and the Dirty Projectors with restoring "New York as America's music capital," but both bands spent the bulk of the year on tour. So where were forward-thinking, flannel-wearing New Yorkers spending their time? At sweaty Market Hotel shows seeing Woods. Songs of Shame is a slab of rattled, acid-drenched backwoods country, infused with Neil Youngish vocals and filtered through what would eventually become the signature scuzzy sound of their homegrown record label, Woodsist. Woods sounded progressive enough, classic enough, creepy enough, and strangely optimistic enough to rightfully represent our city's growing legion of DIY bands. This is it. This is how the Brooklyn music scene sounded in 2009.
» key track:"To Clean"
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
With two dayglo singles frontloading It's Blitz!, "punks go dance pop" was an easy description. It's a very unsatisfying one, though. Sure, with Nick Zinner and Brian Chase quietly programming zaps and beats rather than bombastically bashing, this wasn't the debauched, visceral band that initially caught New York's ear. But the record's strength is one that's been obvious ever since that first rough and tumble EP; the wounded torch song. Karen O's increasingly refined singing just wrung the ache out of every slow burning composition. And for heart health, a sad glass of red wine beats a beer bath, it seems.
» key track:"Hysteric"