2009 was a huge year for music, filled with more than plenty of ups and downs. Britney Spears pulled off an incomprehensible comeback. Kanye West made a fool of himself on national television, again. Lady Gaga stormed into the spotlight and left everyone far beyond bewildered.
But between all that pop music mayhem, some great music actually surfaced, making the year an unforgettable one for slightly more respectable reasons. So the guys from The Breakdown, TommieMedia’s weekly album review show on KUST, decided to compile their own lists of 2009’s best albums. Check out their picks below and let the debate begin.
David Monson’s picks
5. Discovery “LP” (XL)
This one is fun and quirky. It’s full of crisp synth layered over pulsating bass lines and snapping highs. Considering this is the band’s first album, it features promising production quality. The two vocalists back up their crisp pop/R&B sound by providing addictive hooks and frequent harmonies. The only guest vocals of the album are on “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” and interestingly enough are provided by a female singer.
4. Architects “Hollow Crown” (Century Media)
Hitting hard with double-bass kicks and massive guitar sounds, this metalcore album grabs your attention immediately and never backs down. The band’s highly technical style can be likened to the heavy-hitting Australian group Parkway Drive, with the addition of sung vocals (e.g., Atreyu). Check out the title track at the end of the album for an example of Architects’ subdued side and introspective prowess.
3. Thrice “Beggars” (Vagrant)
If you have followed Thrice in the past couple of years, you know that it has been experimenting with diversified sounds, heavy post-production and epic atmospheric effects. With its latest release, however, the band stripped away the fancy stuff and presented a raw, visceral sound. The album elicits the listener’s attention from start to finish and reveals subtle creative genius with each successive listen.
2. P.O.S. “Never Better” (Rhymesayers)
Here in Twin Cities, we are blessed with one of the best music scenes in the country, including a well-respected community of hip-hop artists. Atmosphere (and the Rhymesayers label) paved the way for many other acts, including the Doomtree crew. P.O.S. raps with Doomtree, produces beats and also enjoys a successful solo career. His individual efforts are a unique combination of punk and hip-hop. “Never Better” is definitely worth a listen.
1. The Temper Trap “Conditions” (Glassnote Records)
“Conditions” is the first studio album from this fresh Australian indie rock band. The band’s sound is a pleasing mix of atmospheric vocals and big washed-out guitars. The Temper trap’s true strength is the ability to write infectious melodies without resorting to a worn-out musical formula.
David Monson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Linden’s picks
5. P.O.S. “Never Better” (Rhymesayers)
There are multiple personal reasons why I would pick P.O.S.’s Rhymesayers debut “Never Better” on my top five year-end list. He’s from Minnesota, he’s rooted in the punk rock scene and he’s one of the most down-to-earth musicians out there. But aside from those, the reason why it would be a crime to not have “Never Better” on the best of 2009 list is that no other rapper/producer in the rap scene, or any scene for that matter, is able to weave densely poetic rhymes over chaotic punk rock instrumentals as effectively as P.O.S. His delivery is undeniable and his charismatic originality make him the reigning king of Minneapolis hip-hop. And that’s something in itself.
4. Passion Pit “Manners” (Frenchkiss)
We’ve heard the story a thousand times: A band forms and weeks, even days later they are everywhere, thanks to the swift power of the blogosphere. At least that’s what it seemed like for Boston-based Passion Pit, which was born in 2007 as a way to write songs for a then-girlfriend’s Valentine’s Day present. Their brand of electro-pop is relentlessly unabashed and youthful. The tracks throughout “Manners” bounce and pop like a synthesizer circus and the high-pitched, robotic delivery from lead singer Michael Andelakos becomes a futuristic component in itself, giving the songs a dreamy, ambient feel. Songs like “Sleepyhead” and “Little Secrets” are exercises in complex synthesizer acrobatics and are as danceable as they are complete head-trips.
3. Phoenix “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” (V2)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard at least one track from the biggest, most successful buzz band of the year. Tight-laced French indie poppers Phoenix, and now Grammy nominees, blew up after releasing the insanely catchy singles “1901” and “Lisztomania.” The band has everything: Just enough cool, just enough pop and just enough edge. The slick production throughout “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” exemplifies Phoenix’s achievements as a band obsessed with perfect precision. Thomas Mars’ clean vocal delivery busts and soars, breathing life into each of the techno-driven indie pop. Front to back, this is one of the most complete pop albums of 2009.
2. Girls “Album” (True Panther Sounds)
Christopher Owens’ sprawling life story has already become a thing of indie rock legend. In fact, the Girls’ lead singer’s story is so bizarre and complex that it would be impossible to make up and maybe is what makes the San Francisco duet’s debut album so intriguing and amazing. After spending the worst half of his hazy childhood in the Children of God cult, Owens relocated to San Francisco to be raised by a wealthy family. The bulk of the album’s lyrical material deals with the dark shadows of Owens’ past, but the music is quite the opposite. From the opening surfer-punk riffs on “Lust for Life” and onward, it’s apparent that most the demons in Owens’ closet have faded in the sun or at least been drowned by the copious amounts of pills that went into making the record. “Album” has just enough sunshine and acid-washed Kool-Aid to get you through any breezy summer afternoon. Surf’s up!
1. Animal Collective “Merriweather Post Pavilion” (Domino)
When Animal Collective released its seventh studio album, “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” back in January, just one month into the new year, many critics hailed it to be one of 2009’s best. Well, all fortune telling aside, they all nailed this one on the head. Never before has Animal Collective’s spaced-out electronica been so irresistibly accessible. Shying away from their zany, avant garde approach on previous efforts, “Merriweather Post Pavilion” tightens the reigns, showcasing that A.C. can capture the essence of perfect psychedelic pop songs without losing their signature sound. It is tracks such as “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes” where Panda Bear’s vocals channel Brian Wilson and take center stage, sending listeners into the most enjoyable, tripped-out reverie of 2009.
Matt Linden can be reached at email@example.com
Grant Goerke’s picks
5. Brand New “Daisy” (Interscope)
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well, not for Brand New, a band that has consistently redefined itself album after album. Gone are the songs filled with pop sensibilities and teenage lyrics that marked the band’s beginnings. Instead, “Daisy,” the group’s first new release in three years, features a refreshing variety of lyrical themes, instrumentation and genres. While most bands fight to find one style that works, Brand New has managed to define itself by never staying the same.
4. Russian Circles “Geneva” (Sargent House)
In today’s booming world of post-rock and instrumental music, standing out has become an almost insuperable task. However, the Chicago three-piece Russian Circles has mastered it. “Geneva” further displays the band’s extraordinary talent in writing influential songs without falling back on vocals. Every song on this album adds a different part to the overall experience, including huge build ups, impressive guitar work and more atmospheric elements.
3. Mastodon “Crack the Skye” (Reprise)
Mastodon’s “Crack the Skye” took progressive metal to an epic level that was unheard of before even on the band’s previous concept albums. Clocking in at a total length of 50 minutes, “Crack the Skye” displays remarkable songwriting. Each of the seven tracks offers fans the guitar solos and gargantuan vocals they have come to love, but the album’s ability to build off the band’s far out lyrics and themes makes it a truly a standout effort.
2. Converge “Axe to Fall” (Epitath/Deathwish, Inc.)
With 16 releases under its belt, Converge has served as the godfather of aggressive music for nearly two decades. And in 2009, the band dropped yet another metal masterpiece with “Axe to Fall.” Filled with sinister guitar parts and ultra-abrasive drum fills, the album absolutely rips from start to finish. Thanks also to a number of notable guest appearances, “Axe to Fall” takes Converge to even higher levels of prestige than ever before.
1. This Town Needs Guns “Animals” (Sargent House)
Released in the United States on March 10, This Town Needs Guns’ “Animals” showcased a near-perfect blend of incredible musicianship and emotionally powered vocals. Throughout “Animals,” the Oxford-based indie rockers pack each track with twisting riffs and delightfully playful rhythms to create an unforgettable ride. And they did it all without once turning on a distortion pedal—a move unheard of in today’s effects-driven music scenes.
Grant Goerke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org