2009: Favorite 50 Albums of 2009 (20-11)
50 Albums that Defined 2009 for TMT

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

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20. Broadcast and the Focus Group
Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

[Warp]
by David Nadelle

Recorded with in-house designer and Ghost Box boss Julian House, Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age's maverick feel and mix of spare, complex, and cracked arrangements not only contrasted sharply with the polished mainstream drivel this year, but also placed Broadcast a million miles away from any of their supposed contemporaries. Only a handful of the many tracks on this record could be called "proper songs," but Witch Cults was less a conventional album than an exercise in inventiveness. For this release, there was a widened scope for experimentalism, but Broadcast still retained their textbook sinister pop sound. All of the band's past obsessions were given room to walk cheek by jowl with newer, less-explored ones (Hammer horror, British Isle folk, Czech film scores, children's fable-tracking); meanwhile, House's sense of groove and electronically-enhanced breaks in time and logic complemented the proceedings spectacularly. The result was the creation of a totally imaginative world and the prompting of surreal musical hallucinations for the listener. What the comfortable heard was a clash of clipped sounds and few fully-functional tracks, but what the thrill-seeker heard was Enthusiasm (note the capital E). Never once getting bogged down by its hip reference points, ...Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age is refreshingly original and infuriatingly clever.

Broadcast - Warp - Review

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19. Girls
Album

[True Panther]
by Annapocalypse

When you type out their credentials, Girls sound like any other buzz band from the past decade: a couple of long-haired dudes from San Francisco who wear circa-1985 thrift store ensembles and play pop music. But once you stop reading about their appearance and actually listen to their debut album -- appropriately titled Album -- you realize why there was an enormous amount of hype surrounding them in 2009. Girls' penchant for combining a scrappy punk rock attitude with the sheen of 60s pop was the true focal point of Album, from the Beach Boys-on-speed attempt of “Big Bad Mean Mother Fucker” to both singer Christopher Owens' nasally whine and the jangly opening guitar line of "Lust For Life," a song that contains the lyric to whom anyone with a pulse can relate: "I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine." But the real standout on Album was “Hellhole Ratrace,” an ambitious track that ran nearly seven minutes long, fueled by an escalating wall of sound alongside Owens' plaintive cries. It was clear after one listen to their infectious debut that Girls were more than just a flash-in-the-pan act in 2009.

Girls - True Panther - Review

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18. Blues Control
Local Flavor

[Siltbreeze]
by Elliott Sharp

Over the past few years, indie artists have consciously integrated more historically and geographically diverse sounds and flavors into their conceptions of pop music, but some subterranean artists have followed closer in the footsteps of explorers like Sun Ra to create sound-moments that seem to arrive from, or imaginatively construct, other worlds that exist beyond the confines of Earth's standard pop time. Local Flavor embraced this otherworldly quest and, in 34 minutes, delivered four tracks of disparate, free-floating, and transcendental joy. While it was difficult to pinpoint the sounds with any certainty, we received a hard-hitting boogie-rock stomper, an ambient spa relaxation and water-walking episode, a Billy Burroughs Northern Moroccan night-sweat carnival ride, and an extended cosmic club-banging sonic meltdown. When the dub beat dropped on the cool waves of static, distortion twirls, and floating drone traces in “On Through The Night,” it was unclear where the spaceship had landed, but there was no doubting the fact that we were there. From sun up to moon up, Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho brought the taste of heat and noise in such a way that they've created one of the most sonically spectacular and forward-looking albums of the year.

Blues Control - Siltbreeze - Review

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17. Omar Souleyman
Dabke 2020

[Sublime Frequencies]
by Chizzly St. Claw

Omar Souleyman, purveyor of serpentine rhythms, stands tall and proud. Yet, we get little hint of that from his expressions, for his face is enshrouded by an imposing mustache and an ever-present pair of sunglasses. Judging by the martian quality of his peculiar form of Dabke, we are left to wonder whether there are more Syrian artists in the vein of Souleyman, but since the arid plateau is beyond our reach for the time being, we can only surmise based on what Sublime Frequencies will share with us. Nevertheless, Omar Souleyman in 2009 was our jackal, our viper, and our gazelle, swirling from electric bouzouk seizures while wailing love-potion keyboards led us through the desert in search of the one who would steal both our love and our mind. Syrian techno, not for the faint of heart, now exists on the streets of America, and those of us lucky enough to be this far ahead of the crowd can see that we have just crested the dune by clawing through the desert, and before us lies a massive plain populated with the promise of a bazaar of new musical worlds. Souleyman will take us there.

Omar Souleyman - Sublime Frequencies - Review

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16. The Antlers
Hospice

[Self-Released/Frenchkiss]
by Joe Hemmerling

Even though I've been plugging this band every chance I got, I'm finding myself at a loss for words now. See, 2009 was the year of The Antlers for me. Hospice was the first great album I heard, and it arrived in the very first package I ever received from Tiny Mix Tapes (at that point, the album was a self-release). There were familiar signposts: a dash of Jeff Buckley, a touch of Jeff Mangum, a rich layer of My Bloody Valentine. Yet the sum total was so devastating and beautiful that it could simultaneously invite comparison with such idols and more than hold its own. And if broader discussions of the band's musical acumen -- of their ghostly melodies treading desperately to keep above the lapping waves of feedback, of songwriter Peter Silberman's wounded, angelic voice piercing through it all -- if these things get swept aside by fans and critics effusing over the album's sublimely merciless narrative, it's only because so few have managed to wed story and song this intimately. I'm struggling for words, because when an album reaches as deep as Hospice, it touches a place inside you where words dare not venture.

The Antlers - Frenchkiss - Review

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15. Dan Deacon
Bromst

[Carpark]
by Jeff Milo

My favorite parts about Bromst were the quiet spots, the decelerations of forte to piano where you're on a synth-surged rollercoaster blurring by bulging, swaying textures, as chanting vocals barrel-roll over you. You feel your shoulders pulling back at the force of it all until you are dislodged and frozen, and all around you is quiet; you're grinning with the same glow of the cover's pastel tent in the middle of a dark and pensive silence. You'll find this disorienting transcendence in the sonorous cartilage forming one of the most poignant track transitions of the decade -- when the chugging gallop drums, superball-ricocheting oop-ee-ay vocals, and roaring synths of “Snookered” vanish and we are lulled by lingering chimes, nearly evaporating, before “Of The Mountains”' sprightly bells grasp us as the landscape fills in again with live drums and chanting hey-hey-ooos until all is warm and vibrant again. Less the frolicking, irreverent, pop-art-splattered, sugar-gurgled cartoon of his Carpark debut Spiderman of the Rings, Bromst gave us all that energy. But it was not exclusively channeled for the arms-raised dance fervor, but for flexing the orchestral sensibilities of Dan Deacon's compositional training instead, aiming for the cerebral, the contemplative. Bromst is radiant.

Dan Deacon - Carpark - Review

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14. Graham Lambkin
Softly Softly Copy Copy

[Kye]
by Mr P

If Graham Lambkin's 2007 album Salmon Run was an intentional intrusion into pre-recorded art, his follow-up release Softly Softly Copy Copy can be seen as an intrusion into his own sound sources. This album saw Lambkin in musique concrète mode, with two 20-minute, 40-second tracks (both appropriately titled "20:40") combining field/location recordings (sampled water, ringing bells, bird calls, etc.) with the occasional violin (Samara Lubelski) and acoustic guitar (Austin Argentieri). The various sounds, while typical of electro-acoustic and musique concrète compositions, were layered in a wildly inappropriate fashion, with Lambkin shifting gears on a dime and violently morphing from one texture to the next. It was a perpetual disruption of the music's assumed trajectory: crescendos were cut off, buildups interrupted, and conventional harmonic sensibilities nearly obliterated. While it was nice to hear moments of clarity, it was the more extreme moments -- when the music seemed destined to either deteriorate completely (12:25 into the first track) or burst aggressively from the speakers (4:10 into track two) -- that proved most aethetically arresting. The album was a study of sound and non-sound, a ritualistic sacrifice that served as an appropriate metaphor for the sublime, an indicator that Lambkin's aesthetic inclinations have continued to resonate in the increasingly aimless (with good reason) avant-garde.

Graham Lambkin - Swill Radio - Mimaroglu

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13. Zu
Carboniferous

[Ipecac]
by Tyler Craig

Saying genre names is among the most cringe-inducing things one can be forced to do. Even reciting something as simple as “punk” or “pop” or “pop-punk” is enough to make me wince a little, much less the amalgamated mutant titles concocted by our elite popular music criticism demagogue; names like “psyche-doom-folk-drone” or “Wagnerian power violence-cum-acid jazz” are moronic and explain little. Zu, the Italian "jazz" trio that could, have given us their umpteenth release, Carboniferous, in an attempt to eliminate our need to create pointless genre names. One minute weaving in and out of mathematically virtuosic time figures and another ad-libbing rapid-fire baritone sax honks before a harsh drone passage sailing out to the end, Zu's Carboniferous did to unavailing musical tags what the Carboniferous era did to certain minor marine species: eliminate them. Mike Patton and King Buzzo's collaborations on the record only reinforced this idiosyncratic milieu of musicians' ability to consistently challenge the notion of musical borders, and Carboniferous may just be the boldest challenge to that fossil known as genre in recent memory.

Zu - Ipecac - Review

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12. Grizzly Bear
Veckatimest

[Warp]
by Chris Norton

Panda Bear can take his Brian Wilsonisms and shove it: this bear runs back up the primal end of the DNA chain, to 50s vocal groups like the Four Freshmen and Hi Los shimmering on the small screen before Wilson's boy-starred eyes. From all their disparate influences, pre-rock crooners to post-rock acoustic/electric sound machinists, Grizzly Bear wrang music at once otherworldly, familiar, and completely contemporary. Heavy folk compositions strung from delicate glissando to blunt-object-trauma bass and mallet-thwacked tom toms. Lyrics that read as if the whole glorious choir is Xanaxed out, potentially suffering from chemically-induced punctures in their collective memory but not quite sure why that tinge of sadness still lingers. They sang oblique hymns of love, space, time and memory between humans, named after a place devoid of them -- out of place and time. Yeah, it was front-loaded and back-loaded. Who cares? Would you always? Maybe sometimes? Make it easy. Grizzly Bear took every painstaking step to make it sound that way.

Grizzly Bear - Warp - Review

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11. Emeralds
What Happened

[No Fun]
by Jspicer

It was only a matter of time before John Elliott, Steve Hauschildt, and Mark McGuire began to fully realize their potential. In a year when the members of Emeralds couldn't sit still, it is their earliest salvo, What Happened, which told the tale of the year that lay before them. Previous works from the threesome often fell deep into the trap of reimagining the Tangerine Dream playbook, but What Happened transformed Emeralds into a standalone entity, one that would serve as touchstones for a new generation of synth-based composition. The sci-fi trappings that have become a mainstay of the current synth movement are nearly non-existent within What Happened, replaced with very bold combinations of modern convention and a fresh take on the sounds of the future. A permanent midnight set on the land of Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick, as What Happened blocked out the sun and basked in the moon's eternal doom.

Emeralds - No Fun - Review

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

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