Better late than never! The top twenty albums of 2009 as chosen by Klap4music after countless hours of careful statistical analysis and scientific formulas to determine the best music of the year.
Kiss Kiss – The Meek Shall Inherit What’s Left
Released: July 7
Kiss Kiss don’t really have any idea what they’re going to be doing from one minute to the next, so it should come as no surprise that The Meek Shall Inherit What’s Left is a delightfully scrambled mess of an album, one that jumps from bouncy indie pop to quirky gypsy folk to outsized 16-minute concept tunes. But somehow everything holds together, making it a wonderfully effective blender of rock music.
M. Ward – Hold Time
Released: February 17
It’s become typical to expect excellence from M. Ward at this stage in career, but even so, Hold Time was a startling consistent example of beautifully refined Americana. His best since Transistor Radio, it’s an album that flows smoothly from one song to the next, a river of songs photographing classic American music as it rolls along.
Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring
Released: October 6
Few bands could do such an abrupt about-face as Noah and the Whale do with their sophomore effort, but the London quintet pull it off in style. The First Days of Spring is the break-up record of the year, but it would be crushingly depressing if not for the vivid, pastoral soundscapes the band have masterfully crafted.
Manic Street Preachers – Journal for Plague Lovers
Released: May 18
It always seemed like the Preachers were searching for an identity to call their own after the disappearance of their heart and soul, frontman Richey Edwards. But Journal for Plague Lovers confidently stands tall among great Preacher records of the past, exorcizing Edwards’ ghost with his own lyrics and creating a modern rock record that blows away most of the newer competition, including many of their own previous works.
The Fiery Furnaces – I’m Going Away
Released: July 21
Ever since Blueberry Boat, the Fiery Furnaces seemed to lose their way on latter albums, unable to reconcile the experimental brilliance of that album with the pop charm of Gallowsbird’s Bark, resulting in albums that were wildly uneven and even more challenging. But with their latest, the brother-sister duo has regained that middle ground wonderfully. I’m Going Away is their most accessible album in years, without losing that distinctive oddball charm and slice-of-life lyrics that has defined them.
Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing
Released: April 21
Manchester Orchestra’s second album shows them maturing into something every fan of the band was desperately hoping for, the newest poet laureates of emotive indie rock. Singer and lyricist Andy Hull has sharpened his roiling tide of emotions into impassioned pleas and finely tuned angst, resulting in one of the year’s best songs (“I Can Feel A Hot One”) and a record that bodes so, so well for the future.
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Released: January 6
It’s no surprise that Merriweather Post Pavilion became so wildly popular in indie circles – without losing any of the weirdness or experimental angles that have defined the band over the past decade, they successfully broadened their pop horizons, resulting in an extremely accessible record that appealed as much to the diehard fan as it did to the wannabe hipster. Perhaps the strangest success story of the year – after all, would anyone listening to Animal Collective in 2000 have predicted this level of success ten years later?
Portugal. The Man – The Satanic Satanist
Released: July 21
An alt-rock record that never seems to struggle and definitely never wants for a tasty melody or grabbing hook, The Satanic Satanist is Portugal. The Man at their best, a melding of all their previous sounds into a record that could not sound more tossed-off or carefree if it tried. It’s a brilliant trick, one that results in an album that is as light and relaxing as it is refreshing and remarkably accomplished.
Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You
Released: February 9
While not as unique and defining as her debut, It’s Not Me, It’s You is the perfect pop album, mixing Lily Allen’s sizable amounts of sass and razor-sharp wit with superbly diverse production by Mark Ronson and songs that absolutely kill. Track after track is a potential hit single, perhaps derailed from commercial success only by Allen’s often-blunt lyrics. Then again, that’s what makes Lily such a treat in the whitewashed world of mainstream pop.
Mos Def – The Ecstatic
Released: June 9
This could very well be the comeback record of the year, and would easily have been the rap record of the year if it were any other year. Alas, 2009 was a special year in music, and The Ecstatic is no exception. Mos Def sounds rejuvenated, more centered in than he has in years, and the record’s confident tone and relentlessly ingenious beats and rhymes follow in turn.
The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
Released: March 24
There’s been better Decemberists records, and there’s certainly been better concept records over the course of history, but The Hazards of Love is perfect at what it sets out to do: embody the Decemberists’ literary and musical ambitions in one giant song cycle. It’s the ultimate progression of the band’s sound, taking their penchant for wordy songs and long-winded stories and expanding it over the course of an entire album. It’s what the Decemberists were destined for, and in that respect it’s a fine piece of work. And while the story is a little half-baked, the songs are as epic and well done as ever, driving the story and resulting in some of the best instrumental work the band has ever put down.
Taken By Trees – East of Eden
Released: September 8
Journeying to the East to find oneself has become as much of a cliché as any over the past few decades, as has recording one’s experiences there. Luckily for former Concretes’ frontwoman Victoria Bergsman, she seems to have sublimated all those Eastern influences into her own sound rather than just throwing in a few foreign instruments and styles onto her shiny brand of Swedish indie-pop. It’s a record that is almost impossible to place, the convergence of sounds and Bergsman’s own haunting vocals resulting in a mystical, almost timeless album, one just at home in the foothills of Pakistan as it is in the indie blogosphere.
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Released: March 3
While Middle Cyclone doesn’t quite approach the classic status of Case’s last record, the transcendent Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, it takes only three-and-a-half minutes to foresee it possibly attaining that stature. While the musicianship is top-notch and runs the gamut from smoky folk to woodsy Americana and straight-ahead rock, the focus remains, as always, on Case’s inimitable vocals. Opener “This Tornado Loves You” is proof of this and more, Case’s distinctive pipes highlighting a stormy mess of a song, one that revels in the passion of destruction as much as it does in love and longing.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
Released: March 9
It’s Blitz! is perhaps the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ most complete record yet, one that runs the gamut of emotions and moods from the exhilarating opener “Zero” to the frighteningly effective, lullaby-esque closer “Little Shadow.” No longer can the Yeah Yeah Yeahs be accused of being just another one-dimensional New York garage rock band – from synth-filled new wave to mellow alt-rock to haunting ballads, It’s Blitz! is a multifaceted album that reveals more and more upon each successive listen. It shows a startling amount of growth for a band long relegated to one-hit wonder status, and gives hope that, yes, there is life after “Maps.”
Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
Released: September 22
It didn’t come as a surprise that a collaboration between Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, M. Ward, and uber-producer Mike Mogis would be entertaining; what was a surprise, however, was just how good and refined Monsters of Folk ended up being, more the product of a long-time band than a supergroup thrown together for shits and gigs. It’s a minor miracle that the foursome are able to integrate all their own influences and ideas so seamlessly into the final product, a time capsule of classic Americana that manages to stand on its own, rather than the hodgepodge of styles one would expect. Best of all, that final product is the best example of pure, unadulterated American rock ‘n roll to come out all year.
Japandroids – Post-Nothing
Released: August 4
Post-Nothing is best taken straight, no chaser, with zero preconceptions or any hint of in-depth critical analysis upon first listen. All fuzzed-out guitars, straight-out-of-the-garage drums and vocals that, frankly, don’t give a damn, it’s the sound of youth and youth’s emotions at their most free, uncaged from any hint of adult restraint. It’s a record full of anthems and undeniably vital, practically bursting with life, energy, lust, you name it: and not ashamed of any of it.
Miike Snow – Miike Snow
Released: June 9
It’s a far cry from “Toxic,” but Bloodshy & Avant’s new side project (with singer Andrew Wyatt) is deliciously unfettered pop in its own way. Perhaps the best-produced album of the year, it flits from Vampire Weekend-esque indie (“Animal”) to gorgeous atmospherics (“Silvia”) to fantastically filthy electro-pop (“Black & Blue”) to haunting ballads (“Faker”), with the ease of a musical chameleon with a liking for keyboards. It’s an instant party starter, but at its heart it’s something more, an album built on a pop foundation but with multiple layers, a heart that values superior songwriting and grade-A production to shallow sentiments and mindless hooks.
Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II
Released: September 8
Raekwon’s latest is a shining reaffirmation of Wu-Tang dominance over the rap game; RZA’s production is his best work in years, the various guest spots all seem placed to perfection, speaking more to their lyrical abilities and personalities than any “oh, hey, look who we got to guest on this track” bullshit. Every spot here means something, and, more than that, every spot here frames and support the leader, the rapper whose flow and style defines this album and makes it a new rap classic. Raekwon is clearly at the top of his game here, delivering a conceptual story that wallows in the dirt and grime of New York and comes out reinvigorated in the end. The Wu are far from dead – indeed, this might be the strongest they’ve been all decade.
Florence and the Machine – Lungs
Released: July 6
The Voice is a major reason for this album’s success, but it’s not the only one. Just as importantly, the talented backing band does an excellent job transcribing Florence Welch’s uniquely powerful voice and haunting tone into the music. Lungs is an album as versatile as its namesake, from the thumping bombast of “Drumming Song” to the bluesy “Kiss With A Fist” to the ethereal buildup to “Between Two Lungs.” But that Voice! – from fierce to grieving to lusty, Welch is the driving force behind Lungs, one that at times seems to be like a force of nature, whirling from high to low with equal passion and equal ease. The debut of the year, and a very exciting one for the future.
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Released: May 26
When I first heard this record it certainly didn’t stand out to me as a potential Album of the Year candidate. And it still didn’t stand out after the second, third, or a dozen listens, but over the course of the summer the little things began to strike me as special, revealing a record full of layers I had previously dismissed in the guise of “just another dance-rock record.” It is a dance-rock record, and an exceptional one at that, but it’s the painstaking attention to detail, the relentlessly innovative beats and polished drumming, the appealingly earnest way these Frenchmen take English rock ‘n roll and make it their own, all these things and more that catapult Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix into a realm of its own. It’s the way the band breaks it down and then the multi-tracked harmonic guitar flies in over the end of “Lisztomania;” it’s the way “1901’s” chorus zooms in and out on the bass like a pneumatic hammer of pop as the synths take skyward; it’s the way the “Love Like A Sunset” suite resolves itself so beautifully in a haze of major-key watercolors; it’s the way singer Thomas Mars’ bares all in the heartbreaking shimmer of “Rome.” More than anything else, it’s a dance record that isn’t afraid to celebrate its own flaws, rejoicing in its ability to take a shallow genre and make something lasting, one that speaks as much to a person’s emotions as it does their feet. Here’s to my record of the year.