Monday, January 11, 2010

Finally, The Best of 2009

Well here it is. After blasting through the last of the longlist, these are the ones that made the cut. It's clearly a little late considering I announced these selections on UMFM on December 31st, but what can I say - my plan to have Archer nap extensively so I could write heaps hasn't exactly come to fruition.

20. Kings Of Convenience – Declaration Of Dependence (Virgin/EMI)
Every year I reserve a space on my Top 20 for Kings Of Convenience in the hopes that they actually release an album. If they don’t then I release it into the wild for some other album to take its place, but thankfully, 2009 saw this Norwegian duo finally release the follow-up to Riot On An Empty Street. Five long years I’ve waited, but I’ll take quality over quantity anytime from these two.

19. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (Downtown)
Like I said on the year-end wrap up that Station Manager Jared McKetiak and I did on UMFM, if you’d asked me at the beginning of the year which was more likely – Kings Of Convenience releasing a new album, or Mos Def releasing a good album, I’d be hard pressed to choose. Strangely enough, both things happened in the last twelve months and both find their place on my Top 20. The Ecstatic is a return to the fine form Mos once showed he was capable of before he got tied up with being a movie star and released albums simply for the sake of fulfilling his contract. It’s vital, it’s exciting and it’s packed with ideas and cogent rhymes.

18. The Very Best – Warm Heart Of Africa (Green Owl Records)
Combining the production talents of UK duo Radioclit with the otherworldly voice of Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya, The Very Best seems like a boastful moniker but when you listen to Warm Heart Of Africa, it’s hard to deny how accurate the trio are. WHOA followed a promising mixtape of original and remixed material with a baker’s dozen of originals that are chock-a-block with both ideas and joy.

17. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
It had to appear somewhere... this is the album most likely to show up on the lists of just about everyone who blogs about music or makes lists like these. Released in late January ’09, this one stood the test of both time and hype.

16. Bird By Snow – Songbread/Another Ocean (Gnome Life Records)
If you read my glowing post about this album back in March, you wouldn’t be surprised to find it here.

15. Evening Hymns – Spirit Guide (Out Of This Spark)
A long-time Ear To The Sound favourite, Spirit Guide is the first full-length for Jonas Bonnetta under the Evening Hymns moniker and a surprisingly muscular and taut record considering prior material. Bonnetta hasn’t lost his knack for writing achingly beautiful quiet songs (“Cedars” for one), but he has augmented that with some robust rockers (“Dead Deer” and “Broken Rifle”) as well.

14. Antony & The Johnsons – The Crying Light (Secretly Canadian)
Speaking of achingly beautiful quiet songs, Antony Hegarty is the crown-prince of such material and The Crying Light is the jewel in his crown. He follows up the Mercury-prize-winning I Am A Bird Now with an album that finds backing band The Johnsons crafting arrangements and instrumentation that more deftly matches Hegarty’s ethereal vocals. Tonally and lyrically the material shifts away from individual sadness to examine universal connectedness. I was just as blown away by this record as I was by the last – and that’s saying something.

13. Japandroids – Post-Nothing (Unfamiliar/Polyvinyl)
I knew it. And I called it. WAY back (March 2008) when I wrote about the Lullaby Death Jams EP, I said Vancouver duo Japandroids were worth watching out for. Post-Nothing totally rewarded my expectations in the band and proved the pair could find new and exciting ways to make a two-piece sound like a band four times as big.

12. Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy (Big Dada)
Well, I gushed about this one in August so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find it here.

11. Ilyas Ahmed – Goner (Root Strata)
Of all the selections in my Top 20, this is the one I’ve yet to see on any other lists. Which is a shame, because Goner totally deserves to be heard and heralded, by as many people as possible. Ahmed is a Pakistani-born, Oregon-based guitarist who had previously released a handful of albums on limited-edition CD-Rs. His latest is both his first for Root Strata and a step towards rock song-structure after the folk/drone of his earlier material. Those elements are still present but Ahmed has built on them, no longer hewing so close to the sound of the CD-Rs. He’s opened himself up to something new, and I suggest you do the same.

10. Thao with the Get Down Stay Down – Know Better Learn Faster (Kill Rock Stars)
San Franciscan Thao Nguyen follows her first effort with the Get Down Stay Down (We Brave Bee Stings and All) with the first credited to both her and the band. Know Better Learn Faster feels even fuller than that last record and has an energetic bounce to it that nicely complements Nguyen’s off-kilter vocals about busted relationships and repaired hearts. She’s definitely the ‘glass half full’ type.

09. Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele – The Good Feeling Music Of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele (Paw Tracks)
I kind of wish all the people gushing about the Animal Collective album had taken the time to check out this semi-related effort (it was released on the AC founded Paw Tracks). While the songs are tongue-in-cheek funny and Dent does indeed play the ukulele, this is neither a novelty record nor a gimmick. It’s a brilliant piece of pop songcraft that both plays with and to hipster crowds and nearly erases the image of Tiny Tim’s not so magnificent ukulele.

08. The Wooden Sky – If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone (Black Box Recordings)
I wrote about this record in a two-fer back in September and I still think “Bit Part” is the best Blue Rodeo song the band never wrote.

07. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)
I actually wrote a brief blurb about this record on the Music Trader blog (and if you didn’t know that the Osborne Village institution had a blog, you should bookmark it). “Stillness Is The Move” does indeed “sound so frickin’ good” but the great thing about Bitte Orca is the more you listen to it, the more songs (and elements within the songs) sound so good. And it doesn’t wear out its welcome.

06. Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre (Out Of This Spark / Arts & Crafts)
Thank goodness I got straightened out on when exactly this record came out. I’d originally excluded it from my rankings thinking it came out in December ’08, but its original release came in January ’09 – around the time I wrote about it.

05. Lee Fields & The Expressions – My World (Truth & Soul / Do Right)
So glad this one wasn’t an unearthed treasure from yesteryear. Since I wrote about this record, I’ve come to the conclusion that Fields and Marvin Sease once shared a hairdresser.

04. Miike Snow – Miike Snow (Downtown)
Here’s that electro-pop record that blew Junior and Begone Dull Care out of the water. They were really good, but this one is incredible. I raved about it in June.

03. Antlers – Hospice (Frenchkiss)
Summer ’09 was apparently a good time to catch my ear.

02. Quantic & His Combo Barbaro – Tradition In Transition (Tru Thoughts)
While the above-mentioned Jared McKetiak was a little surprised this didn’t make the number one spot – what with my love of all things Quantic, a passion for cumbia and other Latin sounds, and a soft spot for anything with a cuica – Tradition In Transition was the only album that stood a chance of unseating what for me was the unequivocal ‘best album of 2009.’ And that’s saying something.

01. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)
Some years I wrestle with a few top contenders right up until the last possible moment. Other years one album establishes itself as the best and subsequent albums can only try to usurp it. 2009 was the latter. From the moment I first heard Veckatimest I knew everyone else would have a tough road ahead of them if they were going to be better than this truly beautiful record. I played it to my son before he was even born, it was that special a record.

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