The Best Albums Of 2009 [Part 2 Of 3]

Here are albums number 20-11 on my list of the 30 Best Albums of 2009. Be prepared for a few surprises.

You can see Part 1 here.

20. Muse – The Resistance

Yes, this album was almost instantly demonised by music critics, indie fans, and even Muse fans. Yes, United States of Eurasia sounds ridiculously like Queen. Yes, it’s not an easy album to like. But once you get over these things, and once you actually listen to the album a few times through, you realise that it’s actually pretty good. Sure, it’s pretentious as hell, but that’s what we have come to love and expect from Muse. There aren’t the standout, instantly catchy songs of ‘Black Holes And Revelations’, but there are still great songs such as Resistance and MK Ultra. And then of course there’s the three part symphony to finish the album- how ironic that it is this, the most experimental and most pretentious part of the album, that has been received most strongly by music critics. It’s definitely not an easy album to like, but if you make the effort then there is enough here to satisfy any Muse fan.

19. The Boxer Rebellion – Union

This really is a great album by the UK indie masters The Boxer Rebellion. ‘Union’ is self-released, and the CD version is only sold at live gigs (and select HMV stores in Canada for some reason), although the digital version is available through iTunes. For this reason it is ineligible for the official UK charts, which has prompted many music enthusiasts to question the current system. Regardless of this, however, ‘Union’ is a magical album to be enjoyed by virtually any indie fan. It is very very The National, but this can only be a good thing. Soviets perfectly captures the beauty that lingers throughout the entire album, but it is the constant juxtaposition of acoustic guitars with heavier rock elements that make this album truly special. See opener Flashing Red Light Means Go, where a driving drum beat slowly gives way to the melodic strums of an acoustic guitar. ‘Union’ is something much more than an album to tide you over until The National’s next release: it is an absolutely spectacular album in its own right.

18. The Chairs – Nine Ways

This album was initially available only as a deluxe edition on The Chairs’ website, however now has been released normally, via The Chair’s Bandcamp website. Which is good, because this album really deserves a lot of recognition. Leading up to its release, the band churned out a series of quality EPs and covers, and they have consolidated their sound significantly for this LP. It is a resoundingly mature and unique record. First single Charlotte Pipe tells a story about the imagination of a woman called Charlotte Pipe, in a very vivid and detailed way, while still maintaining a rapid pace and catchy hooks. My favourite song off the album, I Wish, is incredibly intelligent- if you listen to the lyrics carefully it is revealed mid-song that the narrator singing “I wish that you loved me” is actually Henry VIII, notorious for beheading his wives. ‘Nine Ways’ is intelligent and vivid, weaving elegant stories entwined with catchy pop music. There’s nothing not to like here.

See write-up here.

17. The Temper Trap – Conditions

The Temper Trap are a Melbourne band, which is perhaps surprising, given that they are probably more recognised in the UK than in Australia. This is due to the band’s decision to focus on building up a strong international fanbase early on, rather than staying put in their home country. They are a band that prefers the spotlight, and now that they have returned to Australia to play a series of festivals and headline shows, it seems like only a matter of time until they are as well known here as they are overseas. ‘Conditions’, their debut LP, builds on the sound evident in their earlier EP, without reinventing anything too drastically. Sweet Disposition is of course the standout track, and seems made for cross-promotion, having been featured in movies, television shows, and advertising campaigns. But there is a lot of depth to this album as well: Fader is catchy in the same vein as Sweet Disposition, but Down River displays a bit more music prowess and thoughtfulness. ‘Conditions’ is a pop record, and is suitably instantly likeable. More than this however, The Temper Trap are probably Melbourne’s best and most significant contribution to international music in a long time.

16. Fanfarlo – Reservoir

Fanfarlo sound a bit like a mix between Sigur Rós and Arcade Fire (the album cover even features the little sister of Sigur Rós’ Jónsi). The majestic, sweeping choruses of Arcade Fire, and the beauty and mixed instrumentation of Sigur Rós: it’s hard to go wrong. The album was initially released for $1 on Fanfarlo’s website, which was a clever advertising strategy, but ultimately this is a record with every last cent of its full price. I’m A Ghost begins ‘Reservoir’ with the perfect introduction to Fanfarlo’s sound, with the combination of a heavy keyboard and what appears to be an entire percussion orchestra. Ghosts is probably my favourite track off the album- the first few seconds with the strings section and the bass guitar are simply magical. The album never trails off, with Fanfarlo constantly finding a new way to adapt and utilise their wide range of sound. It’s not just a good album, it’s a great album, that reveals more with every listen.

15. The XX – XX

The XX (I refuse to use lowercase x’s) are undeniably the buzz kids of 2009. Even though they have been around for four years, this year has seen the release of their debut album, and a veritable tsunami of accolades from bloggers and music critics alike. There’s something hypnotically beautiful about this album. There are no grand hooks or pop lyrics, listening to this record is an intimate experience. And, in a world swelling with pop music, this in itself is special. ‘XX’ is a mood, above anything else. What mood it is really depends on the individual: I can imagine this record making you nostalgic, peaceful, joyous, or even depressed. Crystalised is a song that never fails to give me goosebumps, with beautiful harmonies and haunting guitar. However it is a record that needs to be listened to from start-to-finish to fully appreciate it. ‘XX’ is an infinitely subtle and intimate record that is as surreal as it is beautiful, even if it is beautiful in a strange, foreign way.

14. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Yep, here it is, 14, not 1. Let’s just move on, shall we?

No? Well fine, if you must know, this album doesn’t do as much for me as Animal Collective’s earlier stuff. There, I said it. I’m just not as in love with MPP as everyone else seems to be. That’s not to say that I don’t really like the album- it is after all my 14th favourite record of 2009. There’s absolutely nothing I can say about MPP that hasn’t already been said, so suffice to say it is a great album that no music collection is complete without. I just don’t love it as much as everyone else.

13. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Yep, here it is, 13, not 2. Come one, you’re not really reading another ‘Best of 2009’ list just to see this and Animal Collective as numbers 1 and 2 yet again are you? Again, however, this is unfortunately a case where I need to justify this album’s relatively low placement in my list, rather than its mere inclusion. It is a gorgeous record that seamlessly mixes pop and folk elements, but you already know this. I just don’t see anything that special about it. Sure, Two Weeks is a great song, with that infectious keyboard riff and effortlessly gliding vocals, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. I love Southern Point, but some songs just don’t appeal to me at all. So, now that I’ve lost all credibility, let’s just move on. Leave me alone, it’s my 13th favourite album of the year, it’s not like I’m saying I hate it!

12. Girls – Album

Girls’ debut ‘Album’ is an extraordinarily refreshing record (that sentence works on two levels!). It is a minimalistic and under-produced summer pop record, but yet is made infinitely more complex and rewarding by haunting and brutally honest lyrics. It is summer pop with sometimes quite dark lyrics, in the same way as it is under-produced but yet has many layers of intricate sound. ‘Album’ just appears as completely natural. Lust For Life is the atypical carefree summer tune, until you hear “I wish I had a father, maybe then I would have turned out right”. Summertime is resounding and uplifting, whilst second single Laura is simple and straightforward, while at the same time telling an enthralling story of a man dealing with a breakup. ‘Album’ is refreshing and awesome. It’s as simple as that.

See full review here.

11. Passion Pit – Manners

Sure, Passion Pit are one-dimensional. But who really cares when their one dimension is so brilliant? The Passion Pit sound is one of a driving, almost dance-floor backing beat, coupled with effects-heavy guitar and extraordinarily high vocals. And it works. The band essentially started with lead singer Michael Angelakos writing and recording a few songs to give to his girlfriend as a Valentine’s Day present. These lovestruck elements are still present in ‘Manners’, but Passion Pit’s sound has expanded to be more grand and more ambitious. Moth’s Wings is my favourite song off the album, with a sound so huge that it would raise the roof off any stadium live, and Michael’s typical high-pitched vocals. Sleepyhead, the favourite from Passion Pit’s initial debut EP, is here, but it is a mistake to dismiss this album as containing only a few good songs- deeper cuts such as Eyes As Candles are just as catchy as the singles. ‘Manners’ is an undeniably one-dimensional album, but that doesn’t stop it from being instantly dance-able and absolutely, resoundingly, brilliant.

So, that’s 20-11. Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion! Feel free to insult me for having Veckatimest and Merriweather Post Pavilion so low, and/or discuss any other choices (or lack thereof) in the comments section.

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