We're jumping into the "best-of" list fray. While there were MANY near misses, this list represents the 10 albums that were on our permanent rotation this year. 2010 is shaping up quite nicely, and we're looking forward to an even more exciting year in record releases...Now, let the snarky comments commence!
10. Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence: This Norwegian duo stole our hearts nearly eight years ago on their debut, Quiet is the New Loud. Then when things progressed to a pinnacle in Riot on an Empty Street, we thought things couldn't get any better. After four years on hiatus, and a stellar remix album (Versus), The Whitest Boy Alive singer, and his partner in crime have dispelled rumors of a breakup with this cohesive piece of genuine art. Perfect harmonies, layered instruments, and a compelling narrative bring this album to the top of our list.
9. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast: The classically-trained violinist and former swing-jazz musician completely switches gears on his bizarre and soulful twist on good ol' fashioned folk. He's an absolute crowd pleaser on the stage, especially when you witness the multi-instrumentalist Bird handling a violin, guitar, and glockenspiel all while whistling (and in no particular order). Don't forget his backing band with loops, drums, keys, bass, organ, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. This particular album, most notably the Noble Beast (Deluxe Edition) reels you in from the start only to sink you in further and further with each listen. We promise the more times this album makes its rounds, the more the mastery makes perfect sense.
8. The xx - xx: We openly admit we were harsh critics at first preview of this album, but after one live performance and many, many listens through, we wholeheartedly disagree with ourselves. As one of our favorite music blogs, Gorilla vs. Bear says, "if you think you don't like the xx, listen again." Correct indeed my friends. At 20 years old these grimy South Londoners have taken hype to the next level on this subtly (and sometimes not no subtle) raunchy piece of R&B-inspired abstract indie-pop. The sophistication of this relatively freshman band is something that will take even their biggest skeptics by surprise.
7. Wilco - Wilco (The Album): This is the seventh studio production for the über-popular sextet fronted by Jeff Tweedy. Not only is this a great progression for the band, it might be their best album, period. The quirky, highly dubbed studio version is supremely sublime with its catchy hooks, ambiguous lyrics, and trembling falsettos, perfectly highlighted by a duet with Feist on "You and I." Yeah, they're not as experimental and not quite as enthralling as they once were (see Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Sky Blue Sky), but maybe that's ok. No matter how you see it, this is still a viable approach to what Wilco has been meaning to achieve all along.
6. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone: Commonly known for laying her vocals to The New Pornographers, Neko's solo efforts have been doubly impressive, and the title of the album says it all. Middle Cyclone is literally a force to be reckoned with. Case's unmistakably and fiercely feminine voice bears down with all its might capturing witty hooks and unpredictable arrangements with pure precision. There is absolutely nothing about this album that we dislike.
5. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II: This is one of those albums that made it into the "Most Anticipated Albums for 2009" list back in '08. While most never live up to the hype we've all created for them, OB4CL2 however, lives up to and far exceeds all expectations. Easily one of the most articulate hip-hop artists to date, Raekwon has the keen ability to hit harder than anyone else in the game, best exemplified here. OB4CL2 carries the faint smell of super vintage Wu-Tang Clan, the kind that just doesn't really exist anymore. Imagine you just stumbled upon a time machine back to Wu-Tang's peak, and you got backstage passes to every show. Yep, it's kinda like that.
4. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: A finely tuned perfection of pop, this album has launched our French friends into superstardom status. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix's raw bases make it prime for even more impressive remixes from the likes of Animal Collective, Friendly Fires, Passion Pit, and many, many others. After four very underrated albums, we're happy to see they've finally made their brand more accessible to the masses.
3. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca: This one was a particularly surprise stand-out in '09, and quite controversial on many "best-of" lists. For a band led entirely by Dave Longstreth with an otherwise rotating list of members, the Dirty Projectors appear to have found the winning combination with these three very talented ladies, and holding down the direction and rhythm section (Brian Mcomber on drums and Nat Baldwin handling the bass), with three convincingly amazing gentleman. The somewhat solid cast of supreme artists along with Longstreth's improved song-writing and artistic direction showcases the group's keen ability to use their own gut-wrenchingly beautiful voices as pure instruments. Case and point - the gorgeous harmonies between Deradoorian, Coffman and new addition, Haley Dekle in "Useful Chamber," and "Remade Horizon," are so completely perfect and on point, you won't believe they're not studio produced. Bitte Orca presents their brand of melodic organized chaos in the most fluent, and strikingly beautiful way possible.
2. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion: Another iffy choice among the masses, Animal Collective's very special brand of unattainable avant-noise pop has been loved and hated equally by everyone on the planet by now. They've explored every facet of the music spectrum, taking each and every aspect seriously to the point of exhaustion. Their extreme persistence and dedication to the point and hyper-stylized philosophical meaning of their music is truly in the eyes (or should we say ears) of the beholder. This writer finds the approach not only fascinating, but truly unique unlike anything else.
1. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest: From the very chamber-pop entrance of "Southern Point" to the prodigious slow and steady chorus ending on "Foreground," this album takes perfection and detail to the next level. While previous Grizzly Bear albums were impressive, yes, the members didn't have the solidified glue between them to keep us all interested through and through. However, if their mass success isn't a testament (I mean if Jay-Z endorses it then it must be gold, right?), then their live performance truly turns skeptics into converts. Coming in clutch when indie needed it most, Veckatimest provided a much-needed resuscitation from the wave of horrendous indie pop blasting to the radios as of late. This album will be influential on future artists for many years to come.