Putting together a year end list is always daunting, but as this will be the first one that I have had open to public observation the process has been downright agonizing. Before I get into my list I wanted to cover two ground rules that I have always followed: itâ€™s about the original release date and no compilations allowed. This immediately rules out The Low Anthem and the Dark Was the Night collaboration organized by the Dessner brothers of The National. I have seen them on many lists already, but they are just not for me.
Also, up until this year have kept out EPs as well, but as the format seems to be growing as a way to quickly get music out to the masses I slotted one in at the bottom of the list. This is not to say I view it as the twentieth best album, but more so my favorite EP of the year.
And away we go:
20 â€“ Blitzen Trapper â€“ Black River Killer EP â€“ Basically a continuation of the great tunes that came from 2008â€™s â€œFurrâ€ this EP is short and sweet but hey, isnâ€™t that what EPs are supposed to be? With that out of the way, letâ€™s move onâ€¦
19 â€“ fun. â€“ Aim and Ignite â€“ These guys opened for Manchester Orchestra at the Mad Hatter earlier this year and put on a great show. The album dropped late summer and is full of quirky over the top pop that has a wide range of influences from Weezer to Queen. This has to be the most appropriately named band of 2009.
18 â€“ Bad Veins â€“ S/T â€“ If you are reading this then you probably already know enough about the album by this local duo. Great energy, great sound, and a wonderful album release show on Fountain Square back in July the night that the MPMF line-up was rolled out. If you werenâ€™t sure as to how vibrant the Cincinnati music scene is, that was the night it stood up and smacked you in the face.
17 â€“ Yeah Yeah Yeahs â€“ Itâ€™s Blitz! â€“ Quite different than albums of Karen O and company in the past this one is full of electronic beats and at points can be very bright and fun, then somewhat dark soon thereafter. Itâ€™s the back and forth that make his a good album from front to back.
16 â€“ Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band â€“ Outer South â€“ Continuing his move away from Bright Eyes moniker and theme, this album featured some gems featuring Conor on vocals (â€˜Nikoretteâ€™ and â€˜Ten Womenâ€™) as well as some gems featuring other band members on vocals (â€˜Air Mattressâ€™ and â€˜Bloodlineâ€™). Having caught the boys live in Louisville at Headliners, it was even clearer that it was less about Conor and more about the band.
15 â€“ Wilco â€“ Wilco (The Album) â€“ Confession time: I am as big a Wilco fan as there is, but this album left me a little disappointed honestly. There are a handful of great songs on this record, but some of the songs just seem like filler too. The greatness of tracks like â€˜Bull Black Novaâ€™ and â€˜Sonny Feelingâ€™ plus Wilcoâ€™s reputation got the album to #15 but could not push it higher in my book.
14 â€“ Swell Season â€“ Strict Joy â€“ Released late in the year, this one has left quite an impression on me. I was late to the Swell Season party after the release of â€œOnceâ€ (Iâ€™ll blame that on not being a movie guy) but was looking forward to this one and t does not disappoint. Quiet, and somewhat heartbreaking, this is one that if released earlier in the year may be higher on the list.
13 â€“ Vandaveer â€“ Divide & Conquer â€“ I consider one of my luckiest moments of the year to be when I was asked to help out with ENS, and one of the reasons I think that is because it helped me get to know Vandaveer. I was asked to review their show in the Parlour at Southgate and I have been an admirer ever since. This album features a full band which is vastly different than the live show these days but it comes across wonderfully, especially on â€œA Mighty Leviathan of Oldâ€ among others.
12 â€“ AC Newman â€“ Get Guilty â€“ Clangy guitars and a familiar voice (New Pornographers) ramble throughout this album. While it feels rawer than a New Pornographers album, it of course has the same catchy hooks and makes for some great sing-alongs. Released back in January it is likely to be overlooked on many year-end lists which is a damn shame.
11 â€“ Passion Pit â€“ Manners â€“ Definitely a departure from my standard format, itâ€™s awfully hard to pass up a collection of songs that are instantly catchy. Iâ€™m pretty sure that if this had made its way out before MGMT (it wasnâ€™t close) that Passion Pit would be held in as high regard as MGMT. Their show at The Mad Hatter ranks as the one show I wished Iâ€™d seen most this year in Cincinnati.
10 â€“ Monsters of Folk â€“ S/T â€“ â€œSupergroupsâ€ are hard to pull off, but these guys seemed to have done it. While I do believe that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole this album was far from disappointing to me which was tough considering my high expectations. Sure there are only a few songs that truly are collaborative from a vocal standpoint, but for the most part they did a nice job carving out a sound that is Monsters.
9 â€“ Dawes â€“ North Hills â€“ Picture a dark and empty bar towards the end of the night in 1972 with a band playing in the corner. That band is Dawes and that is a very good thing. While this album has been out just over a few months it keeps getting more impressive with each listen as they play a sound that harkens back to the early 1970s but also somehow feels fresh for 2009.
8 â€“ M Ward â€“ Hold Time â€“ Seriously Matt Ward has to be the hardest working man in music. She & Him, Monsters, and his own solo career keep him in our musical conscience throughout each year and he continually sets the bar very high with each project. This album is a little more polished and more hopeful than older Ward albums, and features some guests which is also new, but it still impresses from start to finish. With his continued progression into an all round musician, I can see how he may have lost some folks, but he didnâ€™t lose me.
7 â€“ Andrew Bird â€“ Noble Beast â€“ You ever have a record that makes sense start to finish as an album while none of the songs stand out at GREAT, well thatâ€™s what Noble Beast was to me. A total team effort as the album fits together nearly perfectly including my favorite three song stretch from â€œAnonanimalâ€ through â€œThe Privateersâ€.
6 â€“ Pomegranates â€“ Everybody, Come Outside! â€“ Am I a homer for putting this album this high? Maybe so, but it is a great record. I read somewhere that listening to this album with headphones was like candy for your ears, and that about sums it up perfectly. Hereâ€™s to hoping for nothing but the best for these local guys as 2010 starts to unfold.
5 – Slaid Cleeves â€“ Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away â€“ While this may be a little too country for most ENS readers it is a beautifully crafted piece of work even if it is a little dark. Songs like â€œCryâ€, â€œDreamsâ€ and especially the hanginâ€™ day hymn â€œTwistinâ€™â€ make me stop in my tracks on each and every listen.
4 â€“ Neko Case â€“ Middle Cyclone â€“ Take the siren from New Pornographers and let her do her own thing too. Some songs are pop, others are quite quiet, but it all fits together to make a collection of tunes that fit together nearly flawlessly. Itâ€™s like the perfect mix of New Pornographers pop and reflective heartbreakers.
3 â€“ Harlem Shakes â€“ Technicolor Health â€“ While these guys didnâ€™t make it through the year as a band they put out a dynamic release back in the Spring before calling it quits in the Fall. Itâ€™s fun, its bright, and fits really well together which makes it unfortunate that we canâ€™t expect to see these New Yorkers back together any time soon, if ever.
2 â€“ Elvis Perkins in Dearland â€“ S/T â€“ A huge leap forward from the 2007 release â€œAsh Wednesdayâ€, this album starts with â€˜Shampooâ€™ and only gets better. Direct, thoughtful, textured, and diverse, this album was unlike many in 2009. The band that Elvis brought along for the ride added so much to the album it almost made me wonder how much better â€œAsh Wednesdayâ€ could have been.
1 â€“ The Avett Brothers â€“ I and Love and You â€“ What do you get when you put together a hard working touring band and Rick Rubin? Well, if that band is the Avett Brothers then you get the best album of 2009. The brothers Avett were already musically and lyrically gifted, and Rubin brought out the best in these guys and the result is near perfection. This is an album that is timeless and classic and that is why I have it picked as top of 2009.