The best albums of 2009, according to us

Apart from the vast (VAST) staff at Listen, Dammit, HQ, two writers contributed the most during our inaugural year. So we’re rewarding them with the chance to spout about their favorite albums of 2009. (One of them already posted his list at his day job, but whatever.)

Here, then, are lists from Kenneth Partridge and Eric R. Danton.

Ken’s list:

Note: The following albums are arranged in no particular order, though if I were pressed to pick a favorite, the Big Pink would be it.

The Big Pink (pictured above, photo by Tim Saccenti), “A Brief History of Love”: In this, the year shoegaze reigned supreme (Holiday Shores, Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls, Wavves, etc.), the Big Pink tweaked the formula and combined its washed-out guitars with Oasis melodies and Stone Roses beats. In 2009, there was no better single than “Dominoes,” and to this British duo’s credit, the song is surrounded by material nearly as strong.

Morrissey, “Years of Refusal”: Lyrically sharper and more melodic than the Mozzer’s previous two ‘00s comeback albums, “Refusal” is the singer’s best since 1994’s “Vauxhall and I,” although it shares more in common with that collection’s muscular predecessor, 1992’s “Your Arsenal.” “Refusal” was to be pop-punk producer Jerry Finn’s last record—he died of a cerebral hemorrhage soon after the disc was finished—and insofar as he breathed new life into one of the most iconic performers of the last 25 years, he went out on a towering high note.

Crystal Antlers, “Tentacles”: It’s the organ—reminiscent of both Doors psychedelia and Question Mark and the Mysterians proto punk—that makes this California band’s debut such an exciting listen. The arrangements are killer, too, and these songs shudder and skid all over the place, matching the ferocity of bassist Jonny Bell’s lead screaming.

Tie: The Mary Onettes’ “Islands” and the Horrors’ “Primary Colours”: These records are, respectively, light and dark, good and evil, wide-eyed and sneering versions of the same sound: a grandiose brand of ’80s guitar pop typified by the Church, the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, When In Rome, etc. For the Horrors, “Colours” marked a major departure, as the quintet shucked the Goth-garage grinding of its debut, “Strange House.” For Sweden’s Mary Onettes, “Islands” is simply a more focused version of what the group has been doing for years. In the interest of balance, these albums should always be played back to back. (But which one comes first? — ed)

Raveonettes, “In and Out of Control”: The Raves keep making essentially the same record, but each time, they get a little closer to achieving that perfect mix of dark humor, Jesus and Mary Chain noise, and Phil Spector pop.

La Roux, “La Roux”: This decade needed its own Erasure. Pity we had to wait until 2009 for this gem to arrive.

Dinosaur Jr, “Farm”: This record has, in glorious abundance, all of the things too often missing from this decade’s most-hyped indie-rock records: big riffs, straightforward lyrics, catchy melodies, and guitar solos—lots and lots of J. Mascis guitar solos. Long before the Hold Steady came along, Dinosaur Jr. made it OK to cross punk with classic rock, and it’s still justifying the crosspollination.

Discovery, “LP”: What happens when members of Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot join forces and tackle present-day R&B? The bumping likes of “So Insane,” that’s what—a summer jam that vaguely echoes “The Electric Slide,” or maybe the best cuts on that “Forever Freestyle” compilation, and that sounds great in any season.

Neon Indian, “Midnight Chasms”: This album is for anyone who, in 1987, slept over his or her best friend’s house, convinced the ‘rents to order from Little Caesar’s, and spent the night buzzed on Mountain Dew, trying in vain to beat “Adventure Island” on the original NES.

Honorable mention: “The xx,” The xx; “It’s Blitz,” the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; “Watch Me Fall,” Jay Reatard; “Dracula Boots,” Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds; “Album,” Girls.

And Eric’s list:

1. Neko Case, “Middle Cyclone” (Anti) — A showcase for Case’s astounding voice on some of her most compelling songs. These tunes evoke vast, twilit skies and distant freight trains, weed-strewn industrial lots and deep sighs. It’s enveloping, aching and sometimes powerfully lonesome.

2. Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard, “One Fast Move or I’m Gone” (F-Stop/Atlantic) — Two unlikely collaborators — Farrar fronts alt-country mainstay Son Volt, while Gibbard heads indie-rockers Death Cab for Cutie — turned their shared affinity for Jack Kerouac into a deeply beautiful album with this soundtrack to a documentary of the same name, about Kerouac’s novel “Big Sur.” Farrar and Gibbard sing intimate harmonies on these 12 understated, rootsy songs with lyrics drawn mostly from Kerouac’s writing. (Read more.)

3. Metric, “Fantasies” (Metric Music International) — Every song on this Toronto band’s latest is tight, punchy and packed with dazzling electro-pop hooks.

4. Sonic Youth, “The Eternal” (Matador) — Quite possibly their best album since “Daydream Nation” in 1988, “The Eternal” follows the path of Sonic Youth’s best work by balancing the musicians’ avant-garde leanings with accessibility on songs that are taut, inventive and sometimes downright exhilarating.

5. The Flaming Lips, “Embryonic” (Warner Bros.) — A return to the sonic freakouts that characterized the Flaming Lips of old, this 18-song, 70-minute double album is a brazen statement of purpose. Heaven only knows what that purpose is, but that’s the fun of it. (Read more.)

6. Jay-Z, “The Blueprint 3” (Def Jam) — Rap’s biggest star also happens to be rap’s best rapper, whether he’s reciting an epitaph for Auto-Tune or describing how he sets the trends that everyone else follows. His career longevity is no accident — over the years, Jay-Z has traded his street-level worldview for a more sophisticated perspective that shows growth that most rappers never achieve. Also: He’s just that good.

7. St. Vincent, “Actor” (4AD) — The second album from Texas songwriter Annie Clark is a collection of precise, exquisite, sometimes off-kilter orchestral pop songs that are smart and commanding.

8. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart” (Slumberland) — Velvety fuzz-tone guitars, super-catchy melodies and endearing sincerity make this one of the most charming records of 2009.

9. Camera Obscura, “My Maudlin Career” (4AD) — This Scottish band turns in its best yet with tight, jangling indie-pop songs built around sparkling vocal hooks and vivid harmonies.

10. Grizzly Bear, “Veckatimest” (Warp) — A collection of songs that are eclectic and highly focused with great depth, Grizzly Bear’s third album is easily the band’s best so far.

  4 comments for “The best albums of 2009, according to us

  1. Ken
    December 18, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Great choices, Eric. I nearly put Pains of Being Pure at Heart on mine, and if Neko had just made “Middle Cyclone” two cover songs shorter, she’d have wowed me like she did with “Fox Confessor.” Almost.

    I’m ashamed to say I’ve yet to pick up the Sonic Youth disc, though it’s in my eMusic queue. The Metric, Jay-Z, and Camera Obscura also rank among my favorites of the year, though for some reason, I neglected to list ’em.

    These things are hard to compile…

  2. Eric
    December 18, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks, Ken – I like your list, too! And yes, they are tough to compile.

  3. Listen, Dammit
    December 18, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    All right, you two: Get back to work!

  4. Nathan
    December 31, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Ken, thanks for putting Big Pink at your top. It was my number one this year and felt a bit offended when I failed to see it on no other lists on blogs and other publications. They deserve the credit…

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