Wednesday, December 30, 2009

YMD's Top 32 Albums of 2009

Considering how anal I am about making year-end lists, it's pretty lucky that the years of my life overlap calendar years by all but one day. So here are the 32 (we could have a tournament) best albums of both 2009 and my 23rd year on this Earth.

(Very good albums were also put out this year by Basement Jaxx, Dam Funk, Desire, El Perro Del Mar, the Field, Franz Ferdinand, Ghostface, Intrusion, Jeremy Jay, Keri Hilson, Lil' Boosie, Lily Allen, Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas, Luciano, Martin, Matias Aguayo, the Mountain Goats, Nomo, Omar-S, OOIOO, Redshape, Rick Ross, Ryan Leslie, Telepathe, William Basinski, Zombi, Zomby, and many others. That none of these albums made my top 32 shows how amazing of a year this was for music. Every year is a great year for music, obvi)

32. Meanderthals - Desire Lines (Smalltown Supersound)
Doesn't quite work as well in the winter, but you can't quite blame it for that.

31. G-Side - the Huntsville International Project (Slow Motion Soundz)
Huntsville's finest live up to expectations with a heavy, personal record record. Block Beataz, Mick Vegas, and others provide an ill combination of soul and southern synths.

30. Whitney Houston - I Look to You (Arista)
Some surprisingly epic jams on here. "Nothin' But Love" sounds like a Whitney/the Knife mash-up in the best way possible. Her voice isn't what it used to be, but it works for her on most of this.

29. Junior Boys - Begone Dull Care (Domino)
Not their best album, but still very, very good. The "is that a Real Instrument?!" moment on "Bits & Pieces" is wonderful, even as someone who isn't particularly impressed by Real Instruments.

28. Italoboyz - Bla Bla Bla (Mothership)
Certainly the funniest house full-length of the year, Bla Bla Bla is also one of the best. Quirky in the most positive sense of the word.

27. Cortney Tidwell - Boys (City Slang)
Skilled songwriting, a beautiful voice, and lush production, Cortney is one of the best singer-songwriters out (not my area of expertise, admittedly).

26. Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Vertical Ascent (Honest Jon's Records)
Electronic supergroup delivers 45 minutes of immensely detailed and hypnotic music. It's not exactly a masterpiece, but it's well worth exploring.

25. Gorilla Zoe - Don't Feed Da Animals (Bad Boy South/Block/Atlantic)
Zoe's album is all over the place and I think underrated because of that. Zoe has a ton of ideas that vary wildly in quality, but I find him endlessly likeable whether he's doing odd melodrama, purposeful stupidity, or just making bangers like "Dope Boy", one of the best tracks of the year.

24. Flaming Lips - Embryonic (Warner Bros.)
It doesn't necessarily sound like 80s Lips, but it's hard not to hear Embryonic as a return to that darker, more aggressive spirit. This came rather out of nowhere and has some really gnarly sounds.

23. Ciara - Fantasy Ride (LaFace)
As an album, this is perhaps tainted a little by thoughts of how great it could have been, by the year-and-a-half of awesome leaks that only made it as bonus tracks or missed out entirely, of alternate versions of songs (the better, Missy-less "Work"). Still, this is a very good R&B record.

22. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II (Ice H2o Records)
I didn't believe that it had come out until it was pumping through my speakers. The fact that it's actually a really great Wu-Tang record is almost just a cherry on top.

21. Z-Ro - Cocaine (Rap-A-Lot Records)
Z-Ro's voice, whether rapping or singing, has that kind of ageless, been-gone-through-it quality that allows for maximum pathos. When he really tugs at the heartstrings like on "I Don't Give a Damn", with its "I Ain't Mad At Cha" quoting beat, it's almost too much to take.

20. Music Go Music - Expressions (Secretly Canadian)
I'm not sure how an ABBA tribute band that also seems to like Sabbath makes sense in 2009, but it does. MGM followed on last year's awesome "Light of Love" with a thoroughly enjoyable album. The "I emerge" bit in "Reach Out" is a moment of triumph.

19. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz! (Interscope)
I wasn't a huge fan of the YYYs' second album move away from filthy rock, so when I heard they were going synth-pop for this one I wasn't too excited. But this is very, very good, tons of hooks all around. "Zero" has more lift than British elevators/Lebron James, "Heads Will Roll" is PIL fueled gem, and "Hysteric" is the soft touch that's always been their secret weapon emerging again.

18. Rihanna - Rated R (Jive)
Ri Ri responded to this year's drama by going even deeper into her Swag Grace Jones persona and the best moments here are the ones in which that quite strong end entertaining persona rises above. "I'm such a fucking lady" might be lyric of the year.

17. UGK - UGK 4 Life (RCA/Jive)
I'll just continue to believe that they have an endless supply of deep, filthy Houston soul until the well dries up for sure. Pimp and Bun are great throughout, and they bring the best out of their guests. "Hairy Asshole" which is about (and in support of) exactly what it sounds like it's about, might be the highlight, with very good verses from Boosie and Webbie in addition to Pimp and Bun's usual awesomeness.

16. Donae'o - Party Hard (My-Ish)
The best of the few traditional full-lengths to come out of UK Funky House so far, Party Hard brings pretty great beats and Donae'o himself, who has an almost uncanny knack for conjuring great hooks seemingly as ad-libs. The title track is an anthem.

15. FaltyDL - Love Is a Liability (Planet Mu)
FaltyDL's non-album single "To London" is my favorite thing he's put out this year, but Love Is a Liability is a great, unexpected full-length. It's mostly filled with jaunty, garagey rhythms and layered, multi-textured productino. DL throws in a lot of ideas and he has a hell of a hit-rate.

14. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca (Domino)
The Projectors keep on getting better, with Dave Longstreth just writing melodies about ten times as interesting as most any other indie songwriter. I'd be lying if I said I didn't much prefer the female Projectors' singing to Dave's, but such is life.

13. Ida Maria - Fortress Round My Heart (Mercury Records)
The control that Ida has over her wounded howl of a voice is something to marvel at. She gets maximum emotion from every shriek, God bless her.

12. the Juan Maclean - the Future Will Come (DFA)
The Juan Maclean ruled lots of last year with the monstrous "Happy House", and while not all of this album is as awesome as that track, that's not exactly a terrible insult. Nancy Whang helps give the band some balance, and the duet "One Day", though too short, has gotten tons of play.

11. Jacek Sienkiewicz - Modern Dance (Cocoon Recordings)
My countryman Jacek (we're both American!) (naw I'm just kidding, I meant Poland) delivered a mixed album of his own productions in April, and it seems to have flown mostly under the radar, at least as far as critical reaction. I love this shit though, it's mnml, but definitely jacking, the highlight for me coming early on with new track "All Yours".

10. DJ Sprinkles - Midtown 120 Blues (Mule Musiq)
Terre Thaemletz's Midtown 120 Blues starts with a critique of the history of house music, the transition from specific, regional, queer scenes to a universalized ideal. You don't have to engage with the intro to appreciate the album's beauty, the detail of the sound design, the lushness of the production, but it's a hell of an extra-musical hook.

9. Gucci Mane - The State vs. Radric Davis (Brick Squad/Asylym/Warner Bros.)
It seems silly and outdated to be ranking a Gucci album, considering the sheer volume (never mind quality) of tracks that he's released this year. And yeah, I could probably construct two Gucci full lengths, made only from his 2009 material, that would be as good or better than this one. Maybe next year I'll start counting mixtapes, this year we have this, which despite having some glaring weak spots (most notably and disastrously "Spotlight), is still a very good record by prolly the current Best Rapper Alive.

8. Shackleton - Three EPs (Perlon)
After closing down his and Appleblim's Skull Disco label, Sam Shackleton went to work on this album for mnml techno label Perlon and it turned out to be a hell of a work. It's a continuation of the singular dubstep he was doing on Skull Disco, and a minor masterpiece of busy percussion, space, and mood. And then when he drops "he's got the whole wide world in is hands" it somehow makes sense.

7. The xx - xx (Young Turks)
xx is indie through the filters of 00s American R&B, modern British dance music, and, most importantly, Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game". It's a shocking debut and its success makes me very happy.

6. Maxwell - BLACKsummers'night (Columbia)
Speaking of shocking, Maxwell came back from the ether this year and put out an album to get completely lost in. That's two years in a row with amazing neo-soul album, kids, what's going on?

5. Future of the Left - Travels With Myself and Another (4AD)
These guys got much better with their second album. Granted, it peaks a few minutes in towards the end of the force of nature that is "Arming Eritrea", but the whole record is a triumph of absurdist wit and killer riffs.

4. DJ Quik and Kurupt - BlaQKout (Mad Science)
Quik and Kurupt put out the album of the summer for me. The beats here veer from traditionalist G-Funk to futurism, sometimes within seconds. Quik is on a whole other level production-wise, and both rappers are happily along for the ride.

3. Fever Ray - Fever Ray (Rabid Records)
We were waiting for a Knife album and instead we got this wonder, the most glacial, labyrinthine thing since, well, the last Knife album. But this is more personal than Silent Shout, I think. The rhythms here are almost as impressive as the melodies and textures, from the percussion that accents the arpeggiator on "Triangle Walks" to the eye-opening waltz on "I'm Not Done". Brilliant stuff, especially in the cold months.

2. Electrik Red - How to Be a Lady Volume 1 (Def Jam/Radio Killa)
This could've just been The-Dream's girl-group, but there's so much personality in these lyrics, the spoken bits, the delivery. How to Be a Lady Volume 1 (what a great title) is full of treasures: "if my body's a club you're my disco ball" on "Freaky Freaky", "(diamonds on my neck) ca-na-ry yello!" on "Drink In My Cup", the Princely electro of "Friend Lover", I could go on for days.

1. The-Dream - Love vs. Money (Def Jam/Radio Killa)
Never in doubt since it came out in March. LvM isn't perfect (that Kanye verse, the closing Lil Jon track, which I've long programmed out), but it still manages to tower above the rest of 2009 for me quite handily. Along with Tricky Stewart and LOS da Maestro, The-Dream made a masterpiece here. The three singles are up front, and then the album really gets down to business, throwing out two brilliant sex jams before the all out joy of "Take U Home 2 My Mama" ("her titties like Woo-ooh-ohh" remains the most joyful proclamation of the year). The emotion of the albums second half peaks, for me, on the bridge of "Mr. Yeah", in which Dream's post-R Kelly, sensitive loverman reveals himself most plainly through stuttering minor-key synths. Best R&B album of the decade, obvious album of the year for yours truly.

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