Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

Welcome to our annual "So You Think You Have Decent Taste In Music?" post.

I mean, our annual "Top 10 Albums" of the year post. These are strictly my opinion, and the order is fairly flexible. Feel free to comment on how atrocious this list is, or how I blatantly missed some crucial album that came out this year.

1. Florence + The Machine - Lungs

I first heard of Florence + The Machine back in July of 2008 when I found her "Kiss With A Fist" song on the music blogosphere. In face, I played it on one of my first few radio shows ever. It's different from the rest of the album, but just as good in its own respect. It seems to be about a mutually violent relationship where the couple just enjoys taking punches at each other and being crazy. Kind of reminds me of my parents. Mom sometimes throws hairbrushes; Dad calls it a love tap.

However, her album Lungs wasn't released until just last July. While in Australia, I found "Dog Days Are Over" and made a mental note to buy that album the next time I saw it. Unfortunately, that wasn't until November of this year, when one of Florence + the Machine's songs was pumped over the Best Buy airwaves and my brain remembered what it was meant to do. Essentially ever since, I've been playing Florence on repeat, over and over again.

This is the kind of album where that works. "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" is a powerful and moving song about sacrifice, quite literally, and overcoming fear. Give it and essentially ever other song I'm about to mention a listen. I'm going to write a short novel here. "Howl" is another intense, almost primal, song about desire and passion and how that sometimes gets out of control. Check out the lyrics here. "Drumming Song" is another primal song of desire. This is Florence's strong point. Singing without inhibition, all in. It's glorious. "There's a drumming noise inside my head/That starts when you're around/I swear that you could hear it/It makes such an almighty sound." Ok, three more songs and I'll go onto the next one, I promise.

It took me a little bit to warm up to "Cosmic Love" but once I did, I found it to be a magical, mysterious, tribal-like love song. The "you left me in the dark" part gets me every time.

"My Boy Builds Coffins" is one of my sister's favorites off this album. It's a song about a man who builds coffins. And it's beautiful and intense.

Ok, last one: "You've Got The Love." I originally liked The xx's remix version better, but I came back around to this. This song is a cover of house/gospel artist Candi Stanton's similarly named "You Got The Love." It's one of the most inspiration, uplifting songs I know; this is the song you want to hear when you are having a terrible day, when you feel like giving up, when all is falling apart.

Florence Welch is my hero. She's an incredible singer with a powerful voice that pulls feelings out of emotional crevices you didn't know you had. If you can't tell already, it's highly recommended.

2. Matt & Kim - Grand

I first heard Matt & Kim this summer after being shown two of their videos by a coworker. "Yea Yeah" from their older Matt & Kim and then "Daylight" from Grand. Here's "Daylight":

*squee.* smiley drumming and refrigerators.

And in yet another story of television influencing my music tastes, the new television show Community featured their song "Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare" and "Daylight." Soon after, "Oh hey, I know that song" was exclaimed. And then in an act of rebelling against the typical, the student entertainment group on campus brought Matt & Kim to our student union for a $5 concert. Deal!

Oh yeah, and "Daylight" was in a Bacardi commercial. And the "Lessons Learned" video has Matt & Kim stripping in Times Square.

If you like fun, dancing, drums or smiles, listen to Matt & Kim. "Cutdown", "Daylight", "Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare", and "Lessons Learned" are definite favorites. "Cinders" and "Don't Slow Down" are catchy too.

3. Ladyhawke - Ladyhawke

This barely makes the 2009 list...it was technically released in September 2008, but I bought it in 2009. So there. It's my list; I do what I want. A lot of the singles were re-released in 2009 though...

Ladyhawke made an album that I enjoy listening to almost all the time. And I got to see her and her band perform that album live at the 9:30 club.

When I was in Australia, which is essentially right next door to Ladyhawke's (singer Pip Brown) native New Zealand, Ladyhawke was a pretty solid fixture in the club scene I frequented. This was awesome. "My Delirium" was everywhere. Everyone knew "Dusk Till Dawn." I felt so cool for having heard Ladyhawke before.

But the music, it's so danceable and catchy. Screaming "bang, bang, bang on the wall" during "Dusk Till Dawn" is super fun. "Love Don't Live Here" got me through some interesting times. "Magic" was one of the first Ladyhawke songs I ever heard, and I still like it. "Paris Is Burning" too.

"Back of the Van" with it's "you set me on, you set me on fire" line intently repeated speaks to me. I know I'm terrible at reviewing music, but you know that feeling you get when you just like something? I feel that feeling with this album.

4. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

"It's 20 seconds to the last call, going hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey"

Oh Phoenix, you and your adorable Engrish lyrics that don't really make sense but sound awesome...thank you for Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The bright melodies of "1901" and "Listzomania" lit up my year. "1901" is one of those stories where I heard a song consciously, forgot about it, and then heard it again and thought it was the best thing that ever happened and found myself jotting lyrics down to Google when I got home, etc. I'm always curious to know if I would have liked these songs as much the second time if I hadn't heard it the first.

I knew "Listzomania" before this video came out, but I started really, really liking it after watching that. "Rome" is a new favorite. "2000 years remain in a trash can" are just some simple, yet poetic lyrics. Others I love: "Lasso," "Girlfriend."

5. The Temper Trap - Conditions
I'm only on 5? Geez, this list is long.

I first heard of The Temper Trap while watching the movie (500) Days of Summer through their song "Sweet Disposition." Luckily for you, I don't review movies, because my ravings about that movie would be longer than my Florence review.

Regardless, The Temper Trap's "Sweet Disposition" starts out with a smooth tenor then transitions to a more percussive transition into the solid chorus. But that lead up of "a moment, a love, a dream aloud, a kiss, a cry, our rights, our wrongs" is just the perfect way to build to that part of the song. I also like the lyrics in the first verse of "oh reckless abandon, like no one's watching you." I really think it's a sweet song and was used really well in (500) Days of Summer.

But wait, there's more! "Science of Fear" stirs the soul. It's almost unsettling. It gives off a mysterious vibe, and a closer look at the lyrics makes the listener think (Like what on earth does "watch the murder of your way of life" mean?). The "ooh ooh ooh"s in "Fader" are just super fun to sing. "Down River" has solid drums and I particularly like the lyrics of its first verse.

Also, I got to see these guys perform at the CMJ Music Marathon this year and it was a great show.

6. Metric - Fantasies

Metric is just a great band. I listened to parts of Fantasies back in April, but just bought the whole album this November. "Sick Muse," "Help, I'm Alive" and "Satellite Mind" were my favorites back in April, and currently I'm hooked on "Gimme Sympathy." Watch this incredible acoustic version:

It's just good stuff. I remember hearing that "Satellite Mind" was written after lead singer Emily Haines went to a funeral. Made me rethink the whole song.

7. The xx - xx

Ok, this came out of nowhere and maybe in a year I'll look back and say "what on earth was this doing on this list" but for now:

The xx is really cool. I know pretty much nothing about them except that they are up and coming and from England and they were really hyped up at the CMJ Music Marathon this year. However, I hadn't really investigated them at the time, so I didn't really see them.

But "Crystalised" is already my top played album on this laptop ("You've applied the pressure/
To have me crystalised") and I can't get enough of it. Something about the bass and how the singers have these hypnotizing voices and it creates this really sensual song about working out relationships, the pace at which things are progressing and expectations.

Their music is minimalistic, but intriguing. "Heart Skipped A Beat" with it's "sometimes I still need you" line is just perfect. Leave it to a bunch of 20 year-olds to write an album of songs I can relate to. When the male and female leads combine forces, especially on "Crystalised," it creates a dynamic that's untouchable. Other strong tracks include "Islands" and "Basic Space."

8. Imogen Heap - Ellipse

I first heard "First Train Home" from Ellipse back in July and really liked it. In September, I got the rest of the album and that brings us to number 8 on our list.

I love Imogen Heap, but unfortunately I have a habit of loving half the tracks on her albums and feeling really apathetic toward the rest. It's about the same this time.

"First Train Home," in typical Imogen fashion, has tinges of electronic music along with bounciness and well-crafted harmonies. "Bad Body Double" is one of my favorites of this album and the recording in the shower is quite cool and resounds with every girl who has looked in the mirror and felt like they didn't know who that person was. "The Fire" is nominated for a 2009 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. "Aha!" is mystical and sounds like it could easily be in a Halloween movie.

9. Regina Spektor - Far

(Editor's Note: Ok, so looking back over this, Far should be above Ellipse, but I'm too tired to change it now.)

Regina Spektor is one of my favorite musicians and her album Far was really well done.

I wasn't sure about the album when I had only heard "Blue Lips" and "Laughing With." It's not that they're bad songs; it just wasn't what I was looking for.

"The Calculation" is the most adorable love song and it was what I was looking for. It almost feels like it should be in a kids movie. Cutest lyrics award:
So we made our own computer out of macaroni pieces
And it did our thinking while we lived our lives
It counted up our feelings
And divided them up even
And it called that calculation perfect love

Other favorites: "Dance Anthem of the 80's", "Wallet", "Machine", "Eet"

10. Discovery - LP

Ra Ra Riot + Vampire Weekend = Discovery

Take two bands I like, have members of each collaborate for a electro-new wave indie "thing", call it Discovery.

I originally heard songs "Orange Shirt" and "Osaka Loop Line" before the album was officially released and enjoyed them. Lines like "Google yourself when you get home" make me want to debate what music is in our time and in our future. "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" features Angel Deradoorian of Dirty Projectors and "Carby" features Ezra Koenig, also from Vampire Weekend and both are quite good. As long as you don't go in expecting a Vampire Weekend or Ra Ra Riot album, Discovery's work is a fun surprise.


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