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30. LAKE – Let’s Build a Roof
This loveable indie pop group from Olympia has graced the Palouse twice in 2009 and we love them for it. Sweet cherry pie melodies. Diverse influences and always fun to listen to and play on KZUU. And the adorable front woman knows how to charm a crowd with confessions of not shaving.
29. BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME — The Great Misdirect
Another masterpiece full of epic songs brought to you by the geniuses behind Colors. While it can be argued that this is more coherent album that completes BTBAM’s transition to progressive metal, I still find this album lacking in some of the intensity that Colors had. This is not to say that this album doesn’t have intensity, just noticeably less than previous albums. The members are still show their amazing musicianship throughout the entire album.
28. TEGAN & SARA — Sainthood
Another solid album from these Canadian twins. Sweet indie rock that makes you feel as if you’re listening in on a conversation you really shouldn’t be. Better in my opinion musically than The Con. Lyrically though, Sainthood is pretty upsetting. Really catchy infectious drum beats with snappy vocals; it’ll be the best forty minutes spent of your life.
27. THE BUILDERS AND THE BUTCHERS — Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well
There is not a lot of room for seriously off-beat music in the indie scene; there’s a line drawn somewhere and it keeps the riffraff out. But by some miracle, The Builders and the Butchers made it through the gates with their surprisingly dark, Chris Funk-produced, Salvation is a Deep Dark Well. They blend Americana with heavier rock influences, all tied together with modern-day murder ballads that hearken back to the true sense of the term (think Nick Cave more than The Decemberists; Appalachia more than Amanda Palmer). Lead singer Ryan Solee’s voice is one more checkmark in the weird column—strangely twangy, it’s one more thing you don’t hear every day in indie music, and that’s most definitely a good thing.
26. MATT & KIM — Grand
There’s a reason these two perform with shit-eating grins permanently plastered on their faces. Their music is pure joy, created from a space of adventure and exploration, brought to you through the lens of two kids who love the world and want to revel in its wonder. Opener “Daylight” rides the strength of its bounding, powerful piano line, reminding us how little effort is actually needed to enrich your life–approach every day with an open heart and mind and see what develops. It’s their best song–immediately catchy and uncompromisingly infectious.
25. KURT VILE – God Is Saying This to You…
The lo-fi folkster’s Matador records debut Childish Prodigy was a solid update on Crazy Horse Americana, but it was God, his first LP released this year that captured the unique talent of this singer/songwriter. A wise blend of Americana, psych-folk, and ambient electronics, Vile records his bedroom finger-pickers beautifully. The soul of Young and Dylan embody the lyrics… if they were on acid.
24. ST. VINCENT — Actor
Annie Clark is a pretty woman who makes pretty music. Actor is high class music and a huge step up from her already wonderful earlier album, Marry Me. St. Vincent cannot help but write refined lyrics and put out a beautifully polished album. When you finally decide to buy this album, get it on vinyl. Listen to the intensity of “Marrow” over and over and over again.
23. THE DODOS — Time to Die
Some might hate on the Dodos for abandoning the experimentation and rawness of Visiter and Beware of the Maniacs, but when you can produce polished pop gems like this, let the haters hate. Meric Long and Logan Kroeber have honed their sound to a refreshing degree. This album contains, without a doubt, the most beautiful moments in the bands history. The chorus of “Troll Nacht” is among the most transcendent of the year–who can argue with its picture perfect melody and forceful, clean guitar work? The Dodos utilize the percussive opportunities provided by an acoustic guitar, powerfully carrying every song forward on the strength of Long’s strumming.
22. BARONESS — Blue Record
Very epic sounding songs with most tracking in at under two and a half minutes. Melodic guitar work draped over rumbling drums make me love this album more and more each time I listen. Lots of heavy distortion set alongside no-nonsense lyrics with a punk twinge. What more could you ask for? These guys get to the point with a Russian Circles vibe all their own.
21. WOODS – Songs of Shame
The “lo-fi” tank is running on fumes, and Songs of Shame might be considered the last worthy artifact of an obsessed trend. Aside from founding the preeminent lo-fi/shitgaze label, Woodsist, Woods lead singer Jeremy Earl has likely spent a lot of time in the woods, with an acoustic guitar seeing how high his voice can reach. Rustic psych-folk that is simultaneously haunting and comforting, Songs of Shame is like your favorite worn t-shirt, tattered and stained, a bit old, but fits perfectly.
20. CAMERA OBSCURA — My Maudlin Career
Traceyanne Campbell is someone you want to cuddle up next to and never let go. The beautiful front woman of Camera Obscura sings with such a precious lilt that I think she could turn even the most staunch metalhead with her disarmingly pure delivery. Perhaps it’s nothing more than the Scottish accent, but her voice is heartbreakingly tender. CO’s melodies are among the most delicious and satisfying you can find this side of Paul McCartney. A timeless indie pop jewel.
19. FREDDIE GIBBS – midwestgangstaboxframecadillac
The rap industry and the economy have a lot in common of late. Mainly, they are both broke as a joke. Rap fans are still waiting on a slew of heavyweight albums to be released; BigBoi, Jay Electronica , Saigon, where art thou? Go ahead and add Freddie Gibbs to that list. Its tempting to write about Gibbs fascinating story (which you can read about here) but I’ll get to the music. What a breath of fresh air. It’s nice to hear a new voice that you can liken to 2pac, a storytelling ability in the vein of Scarface, and a spit-fire flow I’ll credit to… Pimp C and Bizzy Bone? It doesn’t matter, because Gibbs is damn near undeniable. Turn up “Box Frame Cadillac” and tell me otherwise.
18. GALLOWS — Grey Britain
This album is British hardcore punk at its finest and is quite frankly the best I’ve ever heard. Laced with liberal doses of most everything you could look for in a Hardcore Punk album without getting clichéd. The guys from Gallows bring you straight up hardcore punk with the message that they’re fed up and disgusted with how things in England are going politically, economically, and socially. The most refreshing thing about this album is that, coming from England, it is entirely devoid of what much of American hardcore has become: white boy posturing and bro-core (The utter garbage that is Emmure’s Felony comes to mind). The band also mixes the merciless assault of thundering guitars and shouted vocals with acoustic guitars, piano, and clean vocals to create an album that really shows off the varied talents the musicians. These guys are welcoming the apocalypse with open arms and with plenty of gang vocals to invite the rest of us to join with them.
17. THE AVETT BROTHERS — I and Love and You
A departure of sorts from what the Avett Brothers were getting really good at, I and Love and You takes some getting used to, but once you have, it’s golden. “January Wedding” sounds the most like the brothers’ last few albums, with bare twang and simple, almost stand-alone vocals. Still, it’s not too out of place among more polished and layered tracks like “Ten Thousand Words” and “Laundry Room,” which, if nothing else, still holds true to their gleaming lyricism. So much of I and Love and You is upbeat and catchy, it’s hard to see where the guys that created Emotionalism and The Second Gleam have gone. But a few listens in, it’s clear they’re still here, a little more grown up but no less beautiful.
16. DAN DEACON — Bromst
The next time you hear someone saying that electronic music is just someone pushing play on a laptop, kindly direct them to Dan Deacon. His compositions are extremely intricate, relying on bouncing, buzzy layers of noise and happiness over nonsensical lyrics that somehow manage to resonate. Too noisy for some? Perhaps, but the patient and open-minded listener will be treated to a rewarding journey through this freaky Baltimorian’s twisted musical vision.
15. DOOM – Born Like This
A natural writer, DOOM could probably write a verse off his dome at 4 a.m. and it’d still be better than 99% of rappers written material. So it’s no surprise that most of the music on Born Like This sounds like an impromptu display of his virtuosity on the mic. Daniel Dumile was fated to rap. On “Cellz” he samples a poem from Charles Bukowski’s film Born Into This and it seems, finally, the masked-villain has met his match.
14. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART — self-titled
80s aesthetics are alive and well in 2009, but in a surprisingly un-ironic way. The PoBPaH synthesize 80s shoegaze textures from influences like The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Cocteau Twins. Perhaps the best way to describe their lovable but not over-the-top indie pop is more comparisons. The Smiths, My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Ride. What I mean is that their sound isn’t new, but it’s refreshing in 2009 when everyone seems to just want to make indie folk records.
13. GIRLS – Album
Either these cheeky Californians want to confuse everyone’s Google search or they want to use their band name/album title as an allusion to their simplicity. Girls use about four chords over the course of Album’s twelve tracks, a compliment if you consider “Lust For Life”, “God Damned”, “Ghost Mouth”, and “Hellhole Ratrace” four of the finest pop songs of the year (note: we do). Some critics may chalk up the buzz of Girls to singer/songwriter Christopher Owens horror story of a childhood which was covered in virtually every interview/review concerning Girls, but they would be wrong. The sincerity, pain, and overwhelming call for love is heard in Owens voice on every song, which by the way, Elvis Costello anyone?
12. THE ANTLERS — Hospice
We all tried not to bawl our eyes out while listening to Hospice. Written off a personal account of a guy working at a children’s cancer ward, it is scary and intimate. Think Fleet Foxes, but instead of singing about trees and snow, this band takes heartbreak and despair and turns it into beautiful music. Listen to Hospice over a glass of red wine and hold back your tears. Hold someone’s hand. Maybe?
11. THE XX — XX
These trendy Brits are 20 years old? No way. This might the tightest collection of restrained and beautiful pop songs released all year. It tails off a bit on the album’s second half, but the first five tracks might be the best 1-2-3-4-5 sequence of 2009. The vocals tend towards an almost R&B influence, floating over killer basslines and melting into a sexy, sultry swirl. The album’s restraint is one of its strongest points, as it never gets overdone or too full of itself.
10. WHY? — Eskimo Snow
This piece of work sits somewhere in between the lines of hip hop and folk-rock music. WHY? released a second album from a previous recording session this September. Eskimo Snow was recorded along with 2008’s Alopecia. Enlightened indie kids everywhere falls in love with Alopecia, and Eskimo Snow was an amazing gift during our WHY? dry spell. Yoni Wolf does a wonderful job of making all of our inner thoughts and obsessions seem completely natural. Wolf calls out and tells us, “It’s okay to be a freak, because I’m a freak and I’m a fucking genius.”
9. METRIC — Fantasies
If KZUU had to pick a top track from Metric’s most recent album, Fantasties, it would be impossible. We actually tried. Emily Haines+band continues to put out the best indie pop beats around and they always do it with such confidence. They know they are good and they take their talent and run with it. The fans, like me, just sit around and wait for the next thing to obsess over. Metric is always somewhat dark, but this one takes it further. The beauty of the album is not necessarily in the wonderfully catchy singles like “Help I’m Alive” or “Gold Guns Girls”, but in the more profound, touching tracks like “Collect Call” and “Blindness”. Metric’s dancey pop does a number on your feet. Sing-along music straight outta the mouth of the hottest front-chick around.
8. FEVER RAY — Fever Ray
Fever Ray is the beautiful and alarming solo project of The Knife’s leading lady, Karin Andersson. Although the project is creepy, weird and scary, it is somehow still gets you tapping your pencil and swaying side to side. This one was mind-opening, mind-bending, mind-altering! How does Andersson pull this kind of thing off? Who knows, but we all loved it like a fat kid loves cake.
7. JAPANDROIDS — Post-Nothing
This is what we call “all killer, no filler.” The Vancouver duo is completely unpretentious, singing about French-kissing some French girls, and thinking about “sunshine girls.” There is nothing here but rock and roll, covered in distortion and garage aesthetics while maintaining an in-the-moment attitude. Japandroids are not deep, but they are incredibly aware of what rocks, and everything that goes along with it. In 2009, when so many bands are self-consciously artistic, Japandroids strip it all away and go after what they want–sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Really, isn’t that what life is all about?
6. CONVERGE — Axe to Fall
Another blisteringly paced album from the masters of controlled chaos. The musicianship on this album is the best seen from these guys yet. The guitar riffs in this album will be stuck in your head long after the songs have ended, especially the lead riff in the song Dark Horse. Even when these guys slow down on songs like Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast you are still being pummeled with the shear heaviness of what Converge is dishing out. Converge also makes generous use of guest appearances on this album including the likes of Mookie Singerman of Genghis Tron, Steve Von Til of Neurosis and Seattle’s own John Pettibone(Undertow, Himsa). The bottom line is that this album is just as brutal as Jane Doe and one-ups Jane Doe in being an absolute showcase of the growth and maturity of Converge.
5. SUNSET RUBDOWN – Dragonslayer
I don’t want to suggest a Lennon-McCartney like split between Wolf Parade song-smiths Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs) and Spencer Krug, but it comes as no surprise that the two have focused their talents on separate endeavors. Krug’s fourth LP with Sunset Rubdown was recorded live off the studio floor, impressive considering just how good this band is at their instruments. Krug has tightened the screws on his brand of epic, near classical art-rock but he continues to let his distressed yelp of a voice soar. Always juggling a handful of projects, Spencer Krug is quickly moving up the short-list of the best songwriters of his generation. Better hurry with those states Sufjan, I may have to change parties.
4. GRIZZLY BEAR — Veckatimest
On the surface, Veckatimest is just another indie folk album. But like a good book, the fellas from Grizzly Bear present a solid listen that yields different nuances every time you press play. Listeners are put in a strange place—a world with heavy beats and some sort of ephemeral warmth. Lowdown, sexy drum and guitar work is mixed with electronic subtleties and topped with layered vocal harmonies that make you ache.
3. RAEKWON – Only Built For Cuban Linx… Pt. 2
Hey, anyone remember that one hip-hop group from the ’90s… Wu-Tang Clan was it? Yeah, they were good. Remember that solo album from original member Raekwon, the one where Rae and Ghostface embody fictional mafioso characters Lex Diamond and Tony Starks? Yeah, this is the sequel. The whole clan drops by including highlights from a revived Method Man and a hungry Inspectah Deck. Same shit, different decade. It’s rare in hip-hop, in all music really, when a sequel lives up to the original classic. Pt. 2 does just that throughout the 70-minute magnum-opus. “Ayo, the Wu is back”.
2. ATLAS SOUND – Logos
Somehow, Bradford Cox has constructed a machine allowing him to enter into his own dreams, where he proceeded to write and record Logos. These songs morph and fade, grow and transform before our very ears like a soundtrack to a dream. To say that the album is nostalgic would be an understatement, but where Cox’s peers construct their childhoods through lesser sheets of noise, electronic blips, and reverb, Cox amps up his songwriting. Though they take time to unravel, Logos contains the young songwriters best music to date, and I love me some Deerhunter. The single, “Walkabout” with Panda Bear (AnCo) is perhaps the sweetest four minutes of sunshine recorded all year, a close second being “Shelia”.
1. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE — Merriweather Post Pavilion
What did AnCo do in 2009? Not much, really, except change pop music. A DJ this semester told me, “I’ve never heard an album that sounded like that before.” It’s hard to dispute the pure creative genius of Noah Lennox, Dave Portner, and hell, even Brian Weitz and Josh Dibb. The sounds and textures on MPP are completely off-the-wall and “weird,” but the brilliance of the band lies in their ability to weave infectious hooks and picture-perfect melodies on top of everything, making it entirely listenable. The album makes perfect sense for 2009, representing the evolution of both pop and indie rock. The two are slowly becoming almost inextricable from one another. If this is what the future sounds like, then I’ll gladly put up with an oppressive dystopian society, secret thought police, and the empire striking back.