2009: Favorite 50 Albums of 2009 (10-01)
50 Albums that Defined 2009 for TMT

(50-36) - (35-21) - (20-11) - (10-01)

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10. Kurt Vile
Childish Prodigy

[Matador]
by Mario Speedwagon

By the end of 2009, I was so sick of terms like “glow-fi,” “dream-beat,” and “chill-wave” being tossed around. I needed music that had some balls. I admit, I got into Kurt Vile late in the game, but I'm glad I finally found time to check him out. Childish Prodigy is Vile's third release in less than two years -- he released God Is Saying This to You... earlier this year and Constant Hitmaker last year -- and its lo-fi, sluggy rock was the kind that made you feel like you should be drinking Schlitz and working some shitty blue-collar job in Nowheresville rather than sunning in southern California while wearing wayfarers and drinking a Mai Tai. It was easy to hear the Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Bob Seger influences in Vile's music, but the manic, psychedelic, reverb undertones ultimately made it his own.

Kurt Vile - Matador - Review

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09. Lightning Bolt
Earthly Delights

[Load]
by willcoma

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh, Lightning Bolt. Cool fizzy water on our heads, filling in our ev'ry orify. Meat and potatoes, gravy that never gets the chance to congeal, fresh spit out a 90-mile-per-hour car winda. Each album a brusque reminder that we're capital ‘A' ALIVE and should get to kicking. Maybe there's no new chapter of their hurricane legacy (cep' maybe the honest-to-goodness ho-down of “Funny Farm” or the ambient Tago Mago-esque murk-flutter of “Rain on Lake I'm Swimming In”), but our heroes are nonetheless as vital as ever. A new LB album can be like medicine you neglected to remember taking. Then it comes knocking, comes knocking down, comes crashing thru, comes fortified and correct as you please. The bruising, big-bottom progressions of Earthly Delights continued to be a pure almighty solace of a listening experience, hitting a comfort zone that refused to get moldy -- juicin' and sluicin' their way into your palpitating heart and eliciting great crushing waves of gratitude for making your year-in-sound exploration that much fuller.

Lightning Bolt - Load - Review

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08. Atlas Sound
Logos

[Kranky]
by Judy Berman

About three months ago, I was sitting on a grassy hill in the Catskills, listening to Bradford Cox play Logos' simplest track, "Shelia," on an acoustic guitar. There were only about 20 of us gathered around him on that last night of All Tomorrow's Parties New York, and our excitement about the rare experience was electric. Part of what was so special was that we seemed to be witnessing the real Bradford Cox -- not the rumor-magnet shit-starter blogs have been so fond of dissecting. That, I think, is the guy who came through on Logos, too. This album, like its predecessor, was characterized by wintry atmospheres and lo-fi electronics. But it also sounded like it was a hell of a lot of fun to make: Cox's collaboration with Noah Lennox, "Walkabout," was a playful meshing of the Atlas Sound and Panda Bear aesthetics. Its polar opposite, the aforementioned "Shelia," found the multi-instrumentalist shedding his sonic swaddling to embrace pure, unadorned melody. What resulted was the wondrously prolific Cox's most varied and most confident album yet.

Atlas Sound - Kranky - Review

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07. Mount Eerie
Wind's Poem

[P.W. Elverum & Sun]
by Jon Lorenz

Alright, so most people aware of Wind's Poem probably already know what I'm about to say here: "Oh my god, this record is so black metal, and it totally sounds like the music from Twin Peaks." Well, duh right? Yes, both of these elements exist on some level on Wind's Poem, Elverum's fourth full-length as Mount Eerie, but they really only act as side notes in the context of the album's full-on epic-ness. From the immediate bombardment of shrilly cymbals and distorted guitars on first track "Wind's Dark Poem," to the smooth, flowing, stripped-down approach with "eerie" keyboard on "Wind Speaks," the album proved itself to be perhaps Elverum's most dynamic record yet, a dramatic shift from the plaintive approach of last year's Dawn and Lost Wisdom. And, as on most of Elverum's recorded music, there were recurring themes throughout, with references to trees, the wind, and the sky in songs like "Wind Speaks," "Between Two Mysteries," "Through the Trees," and "Stone's Ode." Black metal or not, Wind's Poem was easily one of the coldest records of the year, full of dark mystery and lonesome winters. It was also a clear favorite from the day we heard it.

Mount Eerie - Review

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06. Flaming Lips
Embryonic

[Warner Bros.]
by Kid Midnight

Embryonic is about as exciting, fresh, and raw as any record could ever hope to be. From the free-jazz influences of “Aquarius Sabotage,” to the soul-meets-noise concoction of “Your Bats,” to the playful yet ominous nature of “I Can Be a Frog,” one can literally hear the ideas pouring out of Embryonic like the day they shot a hole in the Jesus egg. Sure, the album was strangely bereft of the band's usual poppy lightheartedness, but standout track “Evil” still had enough of the “Traditional Flaming Lips Ballad”-like qualities to keep us completely satiated. But when Coyne sang “I wish I could go back in time,” the crux of the album was suddenly revealed: an overt back-and-forth between what was and what will be. Indeed, Coyne wished to retreat to the past, yet as the music clearly showed, he also struggled with an unquenchable urge to move forward. Despite this tug-of-war between past and present, it was obvious that the future was the only direction for them. And it worked out rather nicely, as Embryonic stands as the first great work of The Flaming Lips' fourth decade as a band.

The Flaming Lips - Warner Bros. - Review

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05. Raekwon
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II

[Ice H20/EMI]
by Mike McHugh

Although Raekwon's trusty co-conspirator Ghostface Killah may boast the tightest narrative flow among the Wu-Tang Clan, no other rapper, Killa Bee or otherwise, can best Chef's command of the dramatic. Like its predecessor, OB4CL2 is a rain-slick gangster opus fraught with plenty of bubbling Pyrex and raw deals. The beats are seismic -- a “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” sample that actually bangs hard? Damn. Contributions from the touchy Dr. Dre, the deceased J Dilla, and the quintessential RZA give Rae and an equally heavy cast of guest spitters (Busta Rhymes, Jadakiss, Slick Rick) a lot to live up to. Thankfully, everyone involved is up to the task, but no one more so than Lex Diamonds himself. On OB4CL2's best tracks, Chef shines when he reflects on the past glory of the Wu while simultaneously mapping out its future. From his poignant tribute to the one and only “Ason Jones” to his digs at rap's young bucks on “Kiss the Ring,” Raekwon makes it clear that, though the Wu-Tang are legends already, they ain't retiring to any Shaolin dojo just yet. Lest we forget, ya'll, Wu-Tang is for the children. So throw your W's up.

Raekwon - EMI - Review

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04. Oneohtrix Point Never
Zones Without People

[Arbor]
by Mangoon

That the earth is a gaseous planetoid hurtling through deep space amidst a universe of radiation-emitting pulsars, vengeful asteroid belts, and sweeping stellar winds is a fact not lost on Daniel Lopatin. When not droning along with dreamscape unit Infinity Window, Lopatin goes at it solo as Oneohtrix Point Never, a project that synthesizes his obsession for the sci-fi soundtracks of Vangelis and Harold Faltermeyer with an obligatory role call of Berlin School alum (Cluster, Schulze, Gottsching, Popol Vuh, et al). Although the recent compilation Rifts collected the aural triptych OPN released in installments over the last couple years (Betrayed in the Octagon, Zones Without People, and Russian Mind), it was the trilogy's middle chapter Zones Without People that stood out as OPR's most well-rounded jaunt. A prog-inspired concept album revolving around the narrative of a planet of cyborgs yet to become aware of their own robotic nature, Zones was a collection of cosmic fugues and regenerative "echo jams" that rejected the linearity of pop and opted instead for a more vertical approach, descending and ascending along a celestial axis; where some moments brought you to religious heights of revelatory gnosis, others dipped into the depths of a sulfuric robot inferno. In the end, Zones Without People came off a bit like a soundtrack to the rising of the Milky Way, with its amalgamation of converging arpeggios, sweeping filters, and analogue androidisms heralding the coming of a new musical age.

Oneohtrix Point Never - Arbor - Interview

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03. sunn 0)))
Monoliths & Dimensions

[Southern Lord]
by Jeff Roesgen

For over a decade, sunn 0))) have been casting forth metallic dirges so brutally compelling that they've changed the way metal is both played and heard -- opting for monastic drones in place of thunderous rhythmic assaults and blood-fingered riffage. As it relates to their excellent and prolific catalog, it wasn't difficult to regard this year's Monoliths & Dimensions as anything but epicurean. Here, the minimal, roaring meditations of “Aghartha” and “Hunting&Gathering (Cydonia)” (Monoliths) sat beside the dynamic, orchestral, and choral compositions “Big Church” and “Alice” (Dimensions). The images that this visceral opus evoked -- cities at the core of the earth; empty, windowless cathedrals; the gentle shriek of nature -- seemed to wander about the tracks in an ultra-conscious state of dreamlessness. The focus was decisively shifted from guitars and amplification to improvisation and frequency. The good news for reverent metal fans was that sunn 0)))'s music still lurked within the same dark forests of the psyche. For those with slightly broader ears, there too came a creeping light of transcendence.

Southern Lord - Review

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02. Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca

[Domino]
by Ajitpaul Mangat

“Where do you and I begin?” sings the paradoxically jubilant Amber Coffman. And we ponder, amid nonsensical falsettos, allusions to “crazy dream[s]” and mirages, and assurances that the stillness is the move. It's a space thing, the cover hints; a Donnian metaphysical conceit: you and I are one. It's also a time thing, an Einsteinium relativity equation. The cover echoes the near past: the cover of Slaves' Graves and Ballads (2004). The music reverberates the melodies that score our collective unconscious. “Two Doves” impressively channels Nico channeling Jackson Browne, as well as a-ha's “Take On Me.” “Stillness is the Move,” meanwhile, owes its pop sensibility to Timbaland's 90s R&B. The past and present are contracted. It's all very apropos for an ivy leaguer. But the striking accessibility and amiability of Bitte Orca has less to do with solipsism and pretension and more to do with unity and community. We respond to these dirty projectors like never before, because they shine a brighter light on our shared pasts, our musical memories. As such, they remedy that malady: space is deleted, time is effaced, and you becomes I.

Dirty Projectors - Domino - Review

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01. Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion

[Domino]
by Larry Fitzmaurice

“No more runnin'/ I've got to leave,” sang Avey Tare on “No More Runnin',” the penultimate track on Animal Collective's eighth full-length, and it was understandable for longtime fans to read volumes into this single utterance. After years of continually pushing boundaries at a pace most average musicians would find exhausting, Merriweather Post Pavilion sounded as if the band had finally reached an impasse -- and a pleasant one at that, filled with tranquil contentment instead of creative frustration.

In interviews over the past year, the band has even hinted as much, stating their collective (pun intended, I suppose) satisfaction with the sound established on MPP, to the point where they felt no need to work on new material. To this writer, it seemed as if this was it for Animal Collective, and that didn't seem so tragic. After all, isn't it better to go out on a high point than to limp aimlessly towards a bloodless finish?

Of course, this isn't it for Animal Collective -- the recent release of the Fall Be Kind EP alone has proven this much -- but a certain peace with oneself nonetheless flowed through the watery musical elisions that make up MPP. “My Girls,” “No More Runnin,'” and “Daily Routine” addressed the themes of togetherness and safety that were hazily elaborated on Person Pitch, while “Guys Eyes” and “Taste” contained the merest, gentlest protestations in favor of retaining some sort of corporeal self-identity. Yes, Avey Tare's penchant for Nirvana-inspired post-adolescent drama was still here in the formless forms of “Summertime Clothes” and “Lion in a Coma,” but the angsty crowning of Strawberry Jam is smoothed over into warm, tonal bliss on MPP.

That bliss, as well as the increased accessibility it leads to, lent almost exclusively to the reason why this record tops our year-end list (as well as others already revealed, and others yet to come). There were the dance references (“My Girls”' interpolation of Frankie Knuckles' “Your Love”), the clear sub-genre influences (“Also Frightened”'s trunk-rattling dubby bassline), and, of course, the Beach Boys hat-tipping that will probably dog Panda Bear until he puts down his sampler (tip: play “Guys Eyes” over “All I Wanna Do,” and see if you can tell which song is which).

Amidst all the talk of audience expansion, however, it's often overlooked that Animal Collective aren't going to top charts or perform on The Ellen DeGeneres Show any time soon. For every floor-packing melody like “Summertime Clothes” or “Brother Sport,” there are thornier thorns located on this album, like the sharp intercut harmonies on “Also Frightened” or the keyboard-crashing reverb of album highlight “Daily Routine.” Sure, Merriweather Post Pavilion isn't for everybody -- but given the increasingly (and aggravatingly) communal oversharing nature of society, it was nice and necessary in 2009 to spend “Just one sec more in my bed” and immerse oneself in the intimate, intensely personal pleasures of Animal Collective's craft.

Animal Collective - Domino - Review

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(50-36) - (35-21) - (20-11) - (10-01)

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