I know it's the fourth day of 2010, but I'm just a bit slow with last year's retrospective. Anyway, because you can't not do it, here's my favorite albums on 2009.
1. Wild Beasts – Two Dancers (Domino) | BUY
Slinky, sexy, understated and anchored by an incredible rhythm section, Wild Beasts move to the big leagues with their second album. I hear something new and amazing every time I listen to it.
MP3: All the King's Men
MP3: We Still Got the Taste Dancing On Our Tongues
2. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote) | BUY
Ten years into their career and no signs of peaking, Phoenix just get better with each album. Did any other record this year have this many killer cuts? It's all hits. Pop album of the year bar none.
3. Intelligence – Fake Surfers (In the Red) | BUY
Catchy, weird, occasionally disturbing, Lars Finberg's skewed genius is in full effect on Fake Surfers, a record that transcends any garage/lo-fi/surf pigeonhole in which you try to put it.
MP3: Moody Little Tower
4. BOAT – Setting the Paces (Magic Marker) | BUY
Here's Seattle's little band that could, making good with LP3. Self-depricating indie rock of the mid-'90s variety where the song, not the attitude, is king. Giant hooks, lyrics that are funny without being novelty (and have just enough of the crying-on-the-inside clown thing going on too), and production that is neither slick nor low fi. What's not to like?
MP3: The Name Tossers
5. The Horrors – Primary Colours (Beggars Banquet) | BUY
Whether it was Geoff Barrow's influence as producer or a quality shift in the band itself, but the Horrors have gone from goth novelty to making seriously great psych rock — dark, shoegazy, killer basslines, speaker melting production… awesome. And still goth.
MP3: Scarlet Fields
6. Cats on Fire - Our Temperance Movement (Matinee) | BUY
With great melodies, perfect arrangements, and a tongue-in-cheek mopey sense of humor, Finland's Cats on Fire have put their own fresh spin on the best of early-'80s jazzy jangle.
MP3: Letters from a Voyage to Sweden
7. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – S/T (Slumberland) | BUY
One of the great success stories of 2009, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart did what their influences couldn't — become genuinely popular. Deservedly too, their debut is one of the smartest, most-tuneful albums of the year. Just try not to sing along.
MP3: Come Saturday
MP3: Everything With You
8. The XX – xx (XL) | BUY
A lot of hype around this one, but justified. Though it might take you a while to come to that conclusion. The album's charms sink in slowly, and usually late, late at night. Get comfortable, turn it up, then turn off the lights.
9. Ty Segall – Lemons (Goner) | BUY
A one-man-garage wonderkind, Ty Segall has the lo-fi sound down — thick, dirty, and hot — but also has the songs and attitude to keep it on repeat. Out of the 500 records Ty released this year, Lemons is the one absolute must-own.
MP3: Lovely One
10. The Raveonettes - In and Out of Control (Vice) | BUY
The Raveonettes have never really strayed from their Phil Spector meets JAMC formula, but Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo began perfecting and elevating it with last year's Lust Lust Lust and, while they turn down the volume (or at least the distortion) for In and Out of Control, it's easily their best batch of songs yet — the the production is perfect.
MP3: Breaking Into Cars
11. Think About Life – Family (Alien 8 Recordings) | BUY
Nothing matches the positive vibes that comes from seeing Montreal's Think About Life live, their second album come pretty close. Funky, fun, loaded with clever little touches and samples… this is feel good music with no saccharine aftertaste.
MP3: Sweet Sixteen
12. Fresh & Onlys – S/T + Grey-Eyed Girls, etc (Castle Face, Woodsist, etc) | BUY
This time last year, few had heard of San Francisco's psychedelic friends The Fresh & Onlys hadn't released a single anything. Since then they've put out three albums and a slew of singles. Almost all of them are good. If they'd pulled the best songs from their records into one killer album, we'd be talking Top 5. Instead, their warts-and-all 2009 ouvre comes in at #12.
MP3: Peacock and Wing
MP3: Invisible Forces
13. Real Estate – S/T (Woodsist) | BUY
Leaders of the "beach" scene that seemed to take over certain parts of the Brooklyn blog community, NJ's Real Estate were no doubt the leaders, and the best of the bunch. Part '80s Flying Nun, part Greatful Dead, their magic hour sound captivates even in January.
MP3: Beach Comber
14. Micachu & the Shapes - Jewellery (Rough Trade) | BUY
Given form by cut-and-paste maestro Matthew Herbert, Micachu's kitchen sink debut was like nothing else in 2009. And any time you started to figure out what it was doing, it went somewhere else. Can't wait to hear what they do next.
MP3: Golden Phone
15. Fanfarlo – Resevoir (Atlantic) | BUY
If you listen to only one swoony, anthemic, orchestrated epic this year, make it this, Fanfarlo's debut was a long time coming but worth it.
MP3: I'm a Pilot
15 – 30 after the jump…
16. The Beets – Spit in the Face of People Who Don't Want to Be Cool (Captured Tracks) | BUY
Best thing outa Jackson Heights, Queens since Indian food. Primal, sloppy folk/protopunk, barely produced, but dripping with attidude (and reverb). They mean it, man.
MP3: What Can I Do?
MP3: For You
17. Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage (Chemikal Underground) | BUY
Semi-mysterious Glaswegian sextet The Phantom Band sound like a combination of the best moody Scottish groups of the last 10 years: the angst of Arab Strap and Malcolm Middleton's solo work, the sweep of the Delagos, the atmospherics of Mogwai. So it makes sense they're signed to Chemikal Underground, home to all the aformentioned. Checkmate Savage is epic and awesome, nine tracks, nearly an hour long, and not a wasted minute.
MP3: Folk Song Oblivion
MP3: The Howling
18. Crayon Fields – All the Pleasures of the World (Chapter Music) | BUY
What a beauty. Sounding like a lost '60s baroque pop classic, Australia's Crayon Fields deliver 10 perfect mini masterpieces on their second album. Romance is definitely not dead.
MP3: All the Pleasures of the World
19. Let's Wrestle – In the Court of Wrestling Let's (Stolen Recordings) | BUY
Let's Wrestle smartly did not clean up their sound when making their debut album, keeping their shambolic charm intact. Funny, and surprisingly poignant at times, this is exactly what I wanted from these clever kids.
MP3: Dianna's Hair
MP3: We Are the Men You'll Grow to Love Soon
20. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner Bros.) | BUY
Ten years after blowing our minds with The Soft Bulletin, The Flaming Lips get out of their giant bubbles and get weird again, delivering that album's worthy successor. Nothing as immediate as "Race for the Prize," but stick with it and it's just as rewarding. Thank god for Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd.
MP3: Silver Trembling Hands
21. Obits – I Blame You (Sub Pop) | BUY
A bunch of old dudes from '90s bands show up and show you how rock is supposed to be done. Few snarl like Rick Froberg, and the whole band is just on. The audio equivalent of cheap trucker's speed.
MP3: Two Headed Coin
MP3: Pine On
22. CFCF – Continent (Paper Bag) | BUY
A late entry in my 2009 list, Michael Silver's full-length debut is an impressive disc of instrumental, yet highly melodic dance music without even a trace of "glo-fi." (Though there's definitely some Balearic in there.) You may find yourself singing overtop tracks like the effervescent "Half Dreaming." Annie, Roisin, Robyn, etc… may I present your new collaborator?
MP3: Half Dreaming
MP3: Big Love
23. Savoir Adore – In the Wooded Forrest (Cantora) | BUY
A One of the more unheralded albums of 2009, this is pure pop that's not afraid to go big when it needs to. Maybe a little all-over-the-place stylistically but it all works so no complaints here.
24. Jack Penate – Everything is New (XL) | BUY
A bit of a guilty pleasure but I have to admit this was in constant rotation in Summer 2009. Everything is New is more varied, sexier, and a great showcase for Peñate's slightly-smoky pipes than his rockabilly debut; a summer-in-the-city album that feels like a 100-degree day where you want to peel the humidity off your body.
MP3: Every Glance
MP3: Today's Tonight
25. Bear in Heaven – Beast Rest Forth Mouth (Hometapes) | BUY
It makes sense these guys opened for MEW in New York. Beast Rest Forth Mouth is all epic sci-fi soundscapes, soaring synths, pounding pounding drums. I don't know if that's what they had in mind, but that's how I hear it. Good songs too. Let the invasion begin. Resistance is futile.
MP3: Lovesick Teenagers
MP3: Wholehearted Mess
26. Knight School – The Poor and the Needy Need to Party | (self-released) BUY
Heirs to the Vaselines' shambly twee rock, this is the nerdiest, funniest, catchiest, tinniest record on this year's list.
MP3: Pregnant Again
MP3: Who the Fuck Hung the Moon?
27. The Clientele – Bonfires on the Heath (Merge) | BUY
The Clientele are always gonna sound like The Clientele but as long as they can put out records as lovely as Bonfires on the Heath, I say don't change a thing. Hazy, hypnotizing, perfect.
MP3: I Wonder Who We Are?
MP3: Bonfires on the Heath
8. Atlas Sound – Logos (Kranky) | BUY
Bradford Cox has been on a two-year hot streak that doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon. Amazing to think that most of the songs were done in one take. He makes better records when not trying than most bands do when spending months in the studio.
MP3: Quick Canal (featuring Laetitia Sadier)
MP3: Walkabout (featuring Panda Bear)
29. Girls – Album (True Panther Sounds) | BUY
I wish there were more songs we hadn't heard before (be it limited edition 2008 singles, myspace, leaks etc) but I think that may be more the fault of the way things work these days than the fault of the band. Yet there's no denying Chris Owens' dreamy songs that owe equal parts to pre-Beatles rock n' roll and Cherry Red's mid-'80s catalogue.
MP3: Lust for Life
30. Grass Widow – S/T (Make a Mess/Captured Tracks) BUY
My favorite of the many new all-girl groups bearing strong post punk/C-86 influences, many of whom hail from San Francisco. (See also the very good Brilliant Colors.) I think it's the arrangements that get the on the list — both their instruments and vocals. Despite the lower fidelity approach, there's a lot going on here. If you combine their two short 12" from this year, you've got one hell of an album.
MP3: To Where
MP3: Lulu's Lips