2009: Favorite 50 Albums of 2009 (35-21)
50 Albums that Defined 2009 for TMT

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

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35. Kreng
L'Autopsie Phénoménale De Dieu

[Miasmah]
by Mr P

Music is often designed to evoke a specific time and place, but some of the most interesting works of the 21st century manipulate our senses of both. L'Autopsie Phénoménale De Dieu, the astonishing debut album by Kreng (a.k.a. Pepijn Caudron), continued this exciting trajectory, using samples from disparate sources -- free-jazz, non-Western musics, obscure electronic music -- to effectively compress time and blur space. Jazz shuffles and punctuated bass lines rubbed up against elongated drones and minimalist piano, with operatic vocals, cyclical percussion, screeching violins, and blaring horns moving through passages of textural sound explorations. Indeed, the album was as much an experiment in juxtaposition as discovery, yet there was also a clear narrative weaved throughout. Although the story was probably not quite as defined as his theater and dance scores must be, Kreng created something truly vivid, theatrical, and cinematic, without resorting to the predictable harmonic tricks employed by most "modern composers." To call L'Autopsie a "postmodern collage," then, would be severely misguided. This album was a testament to the modernist sensibility of narrative, one that resisted the typical trappings of the avant-garde in favor of restraint, precision, and an unabashed approach to emotion.

Kreng - Miasmah

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34. Sunset Rubdown
Dragonslayer

[Jagjaguwar]
by Tamec

Theatrical, fantastical, and grandly ambitious: these qualities have marked Spencer Krug's work with his bands Wolf Parade, Swan Lake, and, perhaps most radically, with Sunset Rubdown. Dragonslayer, the band's fourth proper LP, was to the casual listener no great departure from 2007's excellent Random Spirit Lover. On closer study, however, the record was a subtle narrowing of focus, musical simplification, and consolidation of quality. While Krug will never be a singles artist — only one song on the album is under four minutes — Dragonslayer's songs were some of the most immediate and punchy he's yet laid to tape. In particular, the middle-album punch of “Black Swan” and “Paper Lace” were two of the best tunes found in Krug's catalog to date. Some things about his songs will always be take-it-or-leave-it: on “Silver Moons,” did you want the song to end right there at around three minutes, or would you prefer a false fade-out followed by another verse and piano coda? Can you handle an epic, heart-rending, 11-minute closing track? For all its relative concision and considerable immediate appeal, Dragonslayer was not for the impatient, but, as we should know by now with Krug, that's not the point. What it was, however, was another rich, imaginative rock record from one of the most exciting songwriters on the block.

Sunset Rubdown - Jagjaguwar - Review

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33. Social Junk
Born Into It

[Digitalis]
by Timothy Terhaar

With Born Into It, Social Junk immersed us in a music of chaos, not necessarily bound by rigid or consistent rhythmic or tonal structures, dedicated only and truly to the creation of a slow-burning, psychically insidious noise. It was music that existed largely outside trends in pop and indie culture, and it probably constituted a self-selecting community of strange sound junkies -- but that doesn't mean it wasn't ever catchy. The material was junk — electronics, guitar, voices, saxophone, tape loops, percussion — but the result was a surprising cohesion that could have been produced only by social affinity: collaboration in orgiastic hierophany. There was an element of horror — the band traveled from Philadelphia to West Virginia to produce the bulk of the recording, after all — and much of it sounded like a hallucinatory ritual conducted in the dead of a foggy night before a dark cave in the middle of the Black Forest. As such, it compelled closed-eye swaying, flailing: feeling. We have listened over and over, ever transfixed and transported, shaken and uplifted. We have entered and lost ourselves in it, to emerge on the far side reborn with hope in the future of the creative practice of socially organized noise.

Social Junk - Digitalis - Review

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32. Flower-Corsano Duo
Four Aims

[VHF]
by Jay Hill

Their sounds came together like thunder, lightning, and — well, more lightning. The Four Aims combined the steady rumble of Chris Corsano's staccato snare drum and skittering cymbals with the worn screech of Michael Flower's electro-acoustic banjo to form a heady cacophony that meandered through aggressive noise and satiating grooves. In many ways, it captured the sound of a gathering storm preparing to unleash its stinging precipitation. Album opener “I, Brute Force” served up rock fretwork worthy of Hendrix and jazz drumming befitting Coltrane side-man Elvin Jones. “The Three Degrees of Temptation” found both artists working against type, with Flower expanding percussively to fill every beat and Corsano carrying the atonal melody. It pitted the enticement to seek the familiarity of comfort zones against the ascetic discipline needed to explore new possibilities. Finale “The Main Ingredient” reminded us that music can evoke both violence and beauty, but in either, there is the expression of pure emotion. Even without lyrics, this album seemed to contemplate the universe and, ultimately, the significance of meaning itself. There were albums that received more recognition this year, but there were few that deserved higher praise.

Chris Corsano - Michael Flower Band - VHF Review

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31. Matrix Metals
Flamingo Breeze

[Not Not Fun]
by Tyler Craig

As though unearthed from the recesses of a glove compartment in your Ford Tempo — gunk and crumbs and dust and detritus wiped and smacked and flicked off the grooves and traps in the tape — the synthetic 1980s simulacrum of Flamingo Breeze added a dark and unsettling cerebral element to a tape that was danceable yet minimalist. The upbeat synth and drum machine lines in this Matrix Metals cassette — crafted by period-collage-sound artist Sam Meringue — would have served perfectly as the incidental score to either a convertible drive down the coast or a California white blazer party in 1989, air thick with hairspray. Through simple, looped samples of pop songs, with the glossiness and the bottom half of any normal studio-recorded pop album eliminated, Flamingo Breeze was the perfect soundtrack to the shittiest summer of your life.

Not Not Fun - Review

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30. Black To Comm
Alphabet 1968

[Type]
by Joe Davenport

Marc Richter's Black To Comm project finally came into its own with Alphabet 1968. Although many of his music's more abrasive tendencies have been pushed aside in favor of working within a relative pop structure, his work lost nothing for it. Alphabet 1968 had Richter dabbling with a multitude of avant-garde genres and blending them into a cohesive work. The album began with an ambient piano passage on “Jonathan,” segueing into “Forst,” which, with its 4/4 bass underneath a layer of gauze, wouldn't sound out of place on a GAS album. “Musik für Alle” contained barely-there choir samples nodding to Arvo Pärt, while “Houdini Rites” and “Void” took things in a much darker, atonal direction. The album's closer, “Hotel Freund,” resembled any of James Kirby's albums as The Caretaker, as it also borrowed heavily from early 20th century ballroom works to reconstruct something new. How much of this was Richter and how much was manipulated samples I'm unsure, but the end result was nothing short of striking.

Black to Comm - Type

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29. Jon Hopkins
Insides

[Domino]
by Alan Ranta

Admittedly, I have been a fan of Jon Hopkins for a couple years now. But, despite my bias, his third album, Insides, easily ranked as one of this year's most pleasant surprises. Before this seminal release, Hopkins seemed happy enough utilizing his extensive training in classical piano to simply flesh out lofty ambient soundscapes and subtly somber chill tracks. Maybe the sessions with Brian Eno recording Coldplay's Viva La Vida inspired him to up his game, or maybe pastoral chill no longer commanded his absolute attention like it had previously; either way, Insides saw Jon tread toward the dark side of the moon. He invested himself in increasingly complex, melancholy melodies given weight by ominous beats and rumbling sub-bass, accented by skittering flicks of finely shredded glitch. Some tracks still hit roughly the same solemn, ethereal pillow as his first two full-lengths did, but the new material was aided by more vivid and distinct production, as well as by Jon's increased confidence in the studio. As such, every track contributed to the inevitable ascension of Insides to the next level.

Jon Hopkins - Domino - Review

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28. John Wiese
Circle Snare

[No Fun]
by Lukas Suveg

Circle Snare stood in stark contrast to John Wiese's watershed release, Soft Punk. Although there was empty space between sounds, Circle Snare was insular and claustrophobic, delivering profound psychoacoustic effects when listened to on headphones. There were certainly passages of chaos and emotional catharsis, but they felt well-deserved after the long segments of silence punctuated by abrupt, small sounds. While noise is overtly harsh and often considered impersonal to the uninitiated, Wiese's expressions on this album were very human — almost uncomfortably so. His chopped-up, sampled breathing sounded absolutely malicious as it skittered between channels, and when he unleashed waves of pummeling noise, it was with brute physicality. The three-part title suite unfurled steadily, initially hinting at the inclusion of traditional tonality. This notion was quickly dispelled as the drone was shattered into thousands of indiscernible fragments, pitch-shifted drum machines moaned, and mangled tape loops screeched and yowled like feral cats. Possibly the most noticeable aspect of the release was the absence of the sadism found so frequently in the genre. Wiese allowed his listener some respite quite often (by way of near-silence), making Circle Snare one of the most patient, restrained sets of noise music released in 2009.

No Fun - Review

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27. Wolf Eyes
Always Wrong

[Hospital Productions]
by Paul Haney

Wolf Eyes' tenure on Sub Pop was rather confounding on a purely superficial basis, but despite being the odd noise act alongside a deluge of indie rockers with increasingly mainstream ambitions, the Michigan trio bestowed the masses — or, at least, those tough enough to stick it out — with some of their ugliest, scum-ridden work yet. Releasing their "proper" follow-up to the superb Human Animal on Dominick Fernow's revered and meticulously curated Hospital Productions was much more fitting, and Always Wrong documented with distinct craft the ever-maturing and ambitious trajectory of Young, Olson, and Connelly. They became paradoxically more controlled and composed while also eons more disturbing, filthy, and confrontational. The sonics on Always Wrong inhabited a stark clarity that allowed this onslaught of seven pieces to come across as all the more unsettling: broken electronics, de-programmed drum samples slowed to an injured crawl, and bile-inhabited vocals are all hallmarks we've come to expect from these guys, but here, everything was seemingly more tense, disgusting, and horrific. If anything, the album's title is perfectly fitting: this is just wrong, and we shouldn't want anything less from Wolf Eyes.

Wolf Eyes - Hospital Productions

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26. Gesellschaft Zur Emanzipation Des Samples
Circulations

[Faitiche]
by Stephen Bezan

At its core, Circulations was a conceptual work, a vehicle used by Jan Jelinek to introduce the goals and methods of Gesellschaft Zur Emanzipation Des Samples (“The Society for the Emancipation of Sampling”). As stated literally within the music itself, the primary aim of the GES is to provide assistance for sampling artists affected by legal action surrounding their work. Musically, the album featured sample-based collages that were then played back and recorded in public spaces. According to the GES, such an act may allow sampling artists to continue with their work while avoiding the looming threat of copyright infringement. All things considered, it is understandable that the music may be seen as secondary to the larger theoretical framework in which it exists. However, Jelinek's audio collages proved immensely engaging and rewarding on their own, demonstrating the expressive and sonic range made possible through plunderphonics. In the end, the quality of music helped demonstrate the need to refine copyright law and to encourage the continued production of works from contemporary sampling artists. Whether or not one agrees with the theoretical and aesthetic ideas presented by the GES, Circualations nevertheless raised many important questions that are as relevant as ever in the current digital age.

G.E.S. - Fatiche - Review

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25. Fever Ray
Fever Ray

[Mute]
by Jay Dryburgh

Sure, Fever Ray almost directly delineated from The Knife, but — as Tyler Craig put it in his TMT Review — this “isn't a fun record you can spin in the Dodge Neon with your girlfriends.” Fever Ray borrowed about as much from The Knife's Silent Shout as she did from the frantic synth-pop of the Yellow Magic Orchestra and the stoic down-tempo of The Junior Boys. None of these elements seems as permanent or as essential as the body they revolve around, the sprightly but tortured Karin Dreijer Andersson, who broods so loudly that she's begging for a dance. Her primal urges are repressed by a detached cool, and it was this spark of conflict that raged throughout Fever Ray, down to Andersson's revolving door of vocal filters. For every gothic or industrial turn, there was a countering flute or a sax patched into a synth. And through her ominous music video get-ups and overwhelming live performance, Fever Ray cavorted with the same oversized grace as a creature from Where The Wild Things Are. So, no, this was not a fun album in any traditional sense; but any thrill-seeker worth their salt would flirt with Fever Ray's darkness just the same.

Fever Ray - Mute - Review

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24. Fuck Buttons
Tarot Sport

[ATP Recordings]
by Ze Pequeno

How can you mature if you have already matured? Fuck Buttons' debut album, Street Horsssing, reflected a maturity long sought in the noisier realms of rock, with an emotional complexity compounded with an elegant, rhythmic approach. How, then, to follow that up? Evolve. Tarot Sport retained that complexity and elegance, but took it a step further in a way previously unimagined: a classical approach. It was difficult to listen to Tarot Sport without hearing it not as an album but as a noise symphony, with each song a movement representing the whole. Transitions were much smoother, layers were much more succinct and powerful. The duo's manipulations were subtle yet poignant, like those of an orchestra conductor. More importantly, though, the structure of this work showed the potential of a developing narrative. The brusque epic “Olympians” and the adventurous “Space Mountain,” for example — while brilliant pieces on their own — scaled together in a larger context, one being a possible conflict, the other a possible climax or falling action. Given that this is only their second album, Fuck Buttons will have plenty of time to take it further, perhaps bringing forth a complete narrative through instrumentation on their next album.

Fuck Buttons - ATP Recordings - Review

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23. Julian Lynch
Orange You Glad

[Olde English Spelling Bee]
by Papaya

There are worse things in this world than being known for appearing on a split 7-inch with Ducktails, but to consider Julian Lynch merely a contemporary of the Underwater Peoples crew is to miss out on a well-kept secret. While fitting comfortably beside other UP artists (with whom he shares a home city of Ridgewood, New Jersey), he has a sound completely independent of any of them, and defies easy classification by the blog buzzwords that too often cheapen that label's so-far stellar musical output. What he lacks in flashiness or nostalgia he more than makes up for with a refreshingly pure songcraft, which seems to respect the existence of some of the more recent hip trends without having to address any of them musically, and it feels like a much-needed breather from the hustle and bustle of the music scene. Perhaps his experience in ethnomusicology provided opportunities for Orange You Glad; album opener "Venom" laid the groundwork with warbling guitar and cozy production that displayed several instruments and styles in conversation, one that was expounded upon in quick gems such as "Rancher" and the extended jam of "The Flood." Fans of lo-fi's subtler aspects should consider themselves blessed this year with the sublime sounds of Orange You Glad.

Julian Lynch - Olde English Spelling Bee - Interview

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22. Jim O'Rourke
The Visitor

[Drag City]
by Jason P. Woodbury

Jim O'Rourke has spent the past few years doing everything but creating straightforward music, and it's his dedication to exploring the outer realms of sound that made The Visitor — his 38-minute single-song opus — so thrilling. Its format may have scared off any candy-ass listeners, wading into this pool of sounds to find themselves surrounded on all sides by the elements that established O'Rourke as a premier sonic manipulator. Fahey guitars careen into spaced-out pedal steel swells, while banjo runs collide into charming 70s sitcom theme songs. The elements were pure pop, but the assemblage owed its cohesion to O'Rourke's experimental roots and his devotion to drone, glitched-out noise and free jazz. Describing the album, O'Rourke said that he worked out The Visitor's instrumental expanse, sometimes employing up to 200 tracks, through “trial and error.” At this point in their careers, lesser artists have this stuff figured out, but it's to O'Rourke's eternal credit that he never seems satisfied, constantly pushing and expanding, not content to churn out the masterpieces we want and expect from him, but instead offering us something far better.

Jim O'Rourke - Drag City - Review

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21. DOOM
BORN LIKE THIS.

[Lex]
by Gumshoe

When people talked about the Death of Hip-Hop in the last few years, aren't they really talking about a Dearth of Doom? No Madvillainy follow-up; Viktor Vaughn MIA; what's next, a regular release schedule for a rapper who used to keep it Regular as Activa when it came to dropping mad records? Maybe so. Other than that mix tape-style project full of guest-spots, BORN LIKE THIS. was it. But don't get it twisted like a vanilla spliff. While the album was maddeningly minor DOOM — like Little Dorrit is minor Dickens — it still huffed and puffed like Pete's dragon ("rugh, rugh-rugh-rugh-rugh-rugh, rugh-rugh-rugh, rugh-rugh-rugh") and grunted like a grizzled gravedigger, knee-deep in MF's modus operandi: wordplay, production smokier than a cigar shop, and, overall, an icy-cool veneer. BORN LIKE THIS. hit like a bong loaded with ice cubes if you stuck with it, and the guest spots — two, count ’em, two, from Ghostface — were a let-down only because you wished there was more DOOM for the dollar. “Once sold an inbred skinhead a nigga-joke/ Plus a brand new chrome smoker with the triggers broke/ I thought I told him firing pins were separate/ He'll find out later when tries to go and rep it” Hey, I'm not saying I get it, I'm just saying I like it. Extra points for braille-style vinyl packaging, the uncredited psych organ sample-lifting ("Microwave Mayo"), and the track with Bukowski's "Dinosoria, We" over-top; they were all just blotches of icing on DOOM's ever-growing layer-cake of lyrical luminosity. Lip-numbing.

DOOM - Lex - Review

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

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