MAGNET’s Top 20 Albums Of 2009

YIM2009

20. THE CLEAN | Mister Pop [Merge]
the-clean-mr-pop-album-artA band that releases five albums in 30 years isn’t exactly what you would call prolific. Still, it’s hard to hold anything against the Clean. Between Robert Scott and brothers David and Hamish Kilgour, the three members have released more than 30 albums with other projects. Knowing this almost makes an LP from the Clean even more of an event. They could do this whenever they wanted. Mister Pop is not the easy-to-digest collection of simple pop songs the band could have made. It’s not some grand comeback record, either. Devoid of any pressure, the result is a really great, relaxed and eclectic pop album.
“In The Dreamlife You Need A Rubber Soul” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/InTheDreamlifeYouNeedARubberSoul.mp3
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19. JAY REATARD | Watch Me Fall [Matador]
jayreatardJay Reatard has had a rough year. With his band quitting mid-tour (to later join Wavves, no less; blasphemy!) and Reatard getting attacked onstage by multiple fans at a show in Austin earlier this month, it’s almost as if he was trying to live up to this album’s title. How far would he go? Watch Me Fall found him singing “I Can’t Do It Anymore,” “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” and “You Faked It All Away.” It’s a collection of songs by a man no longer able to hold it all together and unwilling to even care. And it’s his tightest, catchiest record yet.
“It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/ItAintGonnaSaveMe.mp3

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18. CANADIAN INVASION | Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand [Transit Of Venus/ Empyrean]
CanadianInvasionThreeCheersMidway through the year, MAGNET promised Andy Canadian that we’d stop mentioning Teenage Fanclub in reference to Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand, his band’s second album. Trouble is, there’s no better touchstone for the Philadelphia outfit’s decadent vocal arrangements and smart guitar chime. To cap off a decade in which power pop was largely reduced to cartoonish proportions (thanks to Weezer and Fountains Of Wayne), Canadian Invasion delivered a thoughtful, tuneful concept album about suburban ennui and the detonation of the nuclear family. The real soundtrack to Sam Mendes’ American Beauty.
“Standing On The Shoulders Of The Carcass Of John Mayer” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/StandingOnTheShouldersOfTheCarcassOfJohnMayer.mp3
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17. BILL CALLAHAN | Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle [Drag City]
bill_callahanDreaming the perfect song and barely waking to scribble it down before going back to bed, Bill Callahan arose the next morning to read what he’d written: gibberish. “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” was the nearly illegible phrase and the inspiration for a track that finds Callahan trying to forget a lost lover, pleading “show me the way to shake a memory.” It’s about holding on and being unable to hold on. If it’s not the perfect song, it makes a legitimate case for consideration. Retaining the grander production of 2007’s Woke On A Whaleheart but returning to the dark, somber themes of his earlier lo-fi work under the Smog moniker, this LP is like watching swarming birds at dusk, with Callahan’s voice a warm, wool blanket wrapped around your shoulders.
“Eid Ma Clack Shaw” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/EidMaClackShaw.mp3
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16. THE DODOS | Time To Die [Frenchkiss]
dodoscoverPeter and Gordon. Chad and Jeremy. Meric and Logan. The first two pairs were boy-next-door acoustic-guitar strummers from the British Invasion; the last is better known as the Dodos, a San Francisco duo that takes the wholesome melodies and trad harmonies of those classic folk-pop groups and speeds everything up to a shimmering, double-time blur. It’s this busker mentality—and not the surface comparisons to the Shins’ layer-cake guitar jangle—that elevates even the downer sentiment of an album titled Time To Die.
“Fables” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/Fables.mp3
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15. GRANT-LEE PHILLIPS | Little Moon [Yep Roc]
Grant-LeePhillips2Grant-Lee Phillips’ most adventurous solo album yet never neglects the date who brought him to the dance: the big guitar throb of Grant Lee Buffalo. But Phillips has also added textured elements to his sound that constantly surprise. “It Ain’t The Same Old Cold War Harry” could be an update of the revered Fletcher Henderson/Duke Ellington big-band sound of the late ’30s. Phillips’ confident baritone is now right up front in a superlative recording by producer/bassist Paul Bryan that gives this music a transparency seldom heard in an era of too many tracks and not enough substance.
“It Ain’t The Same Old Cold War Harry” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/ItAintTheSameOldColdWarHarry.mp3
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14. JAPANDROIDS | Post-Nothing [Polyvinyl]
japandroids-post-nothing1One of the noisiest, punchiest pop albums of the year comes from two Vancouverites, Brian King and David Prowse, who dropped Post-Nothing like a pipe bomb. The resulting critical French-kiss became a story on its own, but ignore that. The album is so tight it’s hard to catch a breath in the short spaces between the fuzzy skronk of its songs. The opening hat trick—“The Boys Are Leaving Town,” “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “Wet Hair”—is reason enough to pick it up. But the whole album is a dirty joy, energetic and earnest and raw, like bliss-pop coated in metal shavings.
“Young Hearts Spark Fire” (download):

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13. AC NEWMAN | Get Guilty [Matador]
acnewman1Carl Newman’s second solo LP has the same thrill-ride melodic twists, ornate instrumentation and gang-vocal shout-alongs as acclaimed recordings by his New Pornographers. Get Guilty also points to what Newman does best: making subtly orchestral pop music that doesn’t sound overly stuffy, sad or stiffly baroque. From the clickety-clack drumstick tapping on “Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer” to tambourine-laced stomp “Collected Works,” Get Guilty is as much a mad dash through the closet of a music room as it is a studiously composed rock album.
“Submarines Of Stockholm” (download):

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12. THE XX | XX [Young Turks]
The-XXWho says that the New Yorkers should have all the post-punk fun? South London quartet the xx took the austere echo of Interpol’s guitars and made them sultry-smooth via the delicate vocal interplay of guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sim. Considering the sense of atmosphere and space created in these whisper-soft songs, this self-titled debut is scarily efficient, as not a single keyboard blip, drum-machine beat or inhaled breath is wasted.
“Basic Space” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/BasicSpace.mp3
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11. JASON LYTLE | Yours Truly, The Commuter [Anti-]
lytleJason Lytle’s fertile solo debut appeared on the respected Anti- label, so now he can rub elbows at the office Christmas party with labelmates Nick Cave, Neko Case and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. As expected, Lytle’s post-Grandaddy music retains a sweeping blend of lush melody (played on vintage keyboards), fragile vocals, jarring soundbites, pungent guitar and naked emotion. “Brand New Sun” picks up exactly where Grandaddy began drawing a pension, “It’s The Weekend” will soon appear in somebody’s TV commercial, and “Rollin’ Home Alone” is as close to Neil Young as Lytle has ever ventured.
“Yours Truly, The Commuter” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/YoursTrulyTheCommuter.mp3
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10. PISSED JEANS | King Of Jeans [Sub Pop]
PissedjeansWith their third album, Philadelphia’s favorite scuzz-punks create an unrestrained miasma of feedback and ferocity that provides a harsh reminder to the neutered underground that indie rock isn’t just about fashion shoots and selling your music for car commercials. King Of Jeans retains Pissed Jeans’ unabashed worship of the early catalogues of Sub Pop and Touch And Go, but it shows a band able to really tighten up its songwriting and excoriate the directionless, electrified slop that cluttered its last two albums. This is the skin-wrenching masterpiece we all knew Pissed Jeans had in ’em.
“False Jesii Part 2” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/FalseJesiiPart2.mp3
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9. SUPER FURRY ANIMALS | Dark Days/Light Years [Rough Trade]
supperfuryWhenever you’re at play in the fields of Welsh weed lords Super Furry Animals, you expect a certain loopiness to the proceedings. However, Gruff Rhys and his mates have never sketched out an uplift mofo party plan quite like Dark Days/Light Years. From the opening house-party chatter of “Crazy Naked Girls” and the sitar-laced “The Very Best Of Neil Diamond” to surrealist krautrock love song “Inaugural Trams,” Dark Days hardly sounds like a group’s ninth album. It’s an 11th-hour movable feast.
“Inaugural Trams” (download):

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8. BOSTON SPACESHIPS | Zero To 99 [GBV Inc.]
bostonspaceshipszeroBob Pollard puts out so many records (relax, it’s not an insult) that the legendary songwriter’s best efforts, like Zero To 99, don’t get the attention they deserve. It’s too bad, but just sit back and enjoy the Boston Spaceships journey anyway. This third Spaceships blast-off—created with multi-instrumentalist Chris “Slushy” Slusarenko and drummer John Moen (Decemberists)—is primo Pollard, and for all of the man’s alleged flaws, much of Zero To 99 is as quirky, melodic, catchy and life-affirmingly amazing as Guided By Voices. Come on, come on, the hatch is open …
“How Wrong You Are” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/HowWrongYouAre.mp3
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7. THE THERMALS | Now We Can See [Kill Rock Stars]
thermalsnow-we-can-seeAfter the Thermals dutifully crossed a sloppy punk opus (2004’s Fuckin A) and a tirade against politics and religion (2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine) off their indie-cred checklist, it was time to get down to the business of making a tight, loud-rock record for the world to enjoy. The Portland, Ore., trio came out the other side with Now We Can See, overloaded with hooks and sounding like a lost Pixies album. Teenagers of the year, indeed.
“Now We Can See” (download):

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6. DIRTY PROJECTORS | Bitte Orca [Domino]
dirtyprojectorsbitteorcaLots of things about Dirty Projectors shouldn’t work. Frontman Dave Longstreth’s voice, to take only the most notable element, is a limited instrument; both of the women in the band are, from a technical standpoint, better singers than Longstreth. The group’s musical arrangements are frequently complicated to the point of convolution. And somehow, when the parts come together, none of that matters, because Dirty Projectors are making music that no other band in their hopped-up, Brooklyn-based experimental-rock scene is interested in making, and the fragile parts cohere into something that’s by turns majestic and vulnerable. Bitte Orca earns its esoteric attitude by blending falsetto crooning, bottom-heavy samples, icy fingerpicking and soft harmonies into an album that sounds like it knows exactly what it’s about. There may have been more accomplished records in 2009, but few sounded this confident.
“Stillness Is The Move” (download):

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5. THE FLAMING LIPS | Embryonic [Warner Bros.]
Flaming-LipsThe Flaming Lips’ penchant for expansive experiments and lush arrangements came to some sort of zenith in 2009 with this release. Somehow Embryonic maintains a perfect balance between aggressive noise and heartbreaking melody over two full discs. What’s sounded indulgent in the Lips’ catalog up to this point here sounds careful and considered, and what’s sounded too regulated sounds free. As a result, Embryonic is like nothing the Lips have done before, but it also is like everything they’ve done well, aged and tended. Zaireeka is still the band’s avant-garde watermark, but Embryonic is a genuine achievement of experimental pop—and one of the most convincing arguments for the Lips’ continued importance.
“Silver Trembling Hands”:

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4. BUILT TO SPILL | There Is No Enemy [Warner Bros.]
bts-there-is-no-enemy-aaYear-end lists are for chasing zeitgeists and next big things; what’s an old warhorse like Built To Spill doing here? Simply put, Enemy is a comeback album for Doug Martsch, the kind of effort that should squash fanboy demand for performances of 1997’s Perfect From Now On like roadkill in the rearview mirror. Enemy isn’t a new direction but rather a finer balance of the introspective pop vocals and Crazy Horse guitar triumphs that make Built To Spill subtly excellent and obviously influential to Death Cab For Cutie and Modest Mouse. If you’re not excited about Built To Spill in 2009, you’re living in the past.
“Hindsight”:

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3. THE ALIENS | Luna [Birdman]
ALIENS_LUNAThank God for mental illness. When the short, fitful life of the Beta Band came to an end in 2004, few would have predicted the Scottish group’s own version of Syd Barrett would be left carrying the torch for modern psychedelia. After enduring institutionalization and electro-shock therapy while on sabbatical from the Beta Band, Gordon Anderson co-founded the Aliens to deliver stoner-friendly rock that’s way stronger than the stuff you were listening to in the ’60s or ’90s. Painting with the retro, muted-watercolor sounds of Caribou and sculpting Dungen-style tangles of guitar, Luna will try anything to mess with your mind. It’s not so much the dark side of the moon as it is staring directly into the sun.
“Sunlamp Show” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/SunlampShow.mp3
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2. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART | The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart [Slumberland]
the-pains-of-being-pure-at-heartTo call the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart amateurs doesn’t seem like an insult. The considerable charm of the New York outfit hinges on our collective ability to imagine it is a friend’s band, one you saw at basement parties, stood elbow-to-elbow with at shows, browsed the cut-out bin together. This seeming familiarity comes from the Pains’ rare ability to reach into the more precious regions of your Anglophilic record collection—Ride, Pastels, Comet Gain—and extract new combinations of shoegaze, twee and C-86. Cobbling together these influences is a feat that any professional band might accomplish. But nobody else could.
“Young Adult Friction” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/YoungAdultFriction.mp3
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1. THE LOW ANTHEM | Oh My God, Charlie Darwin [Nonesuch]
lowanthemThe Low Anthem made Oh My God, Charlie Darwin in January 2008 while the Providence, R.I., trio and friends were staying in a summer cabin and keeping warm by a wood stove. If you’re thinking that this sounds like the makings of the soundtrack to a Kerouac adventure, well, you’d be right. (Fittingly, OMGCD includes a Tom Waits cover, “Home I’ll Never Be,” which happens to feature lyrics by the Beat author.) Indeed, the Low Anthem’s dynamic second effort traverses both land and emotion with the same poetry and fervor of On The Road. Treading comfortable folk territory from gentle acoustic strumming to foot-stomping hoedowns, OMGCD is a thrilling, romantic journey through Americana at its absolute finest.
“Charlie Darwin” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/CharlieDarwin.mp3
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Written by Jud Cost, Emily Costantino, Edward Fairchild, Matthew Fritch, Matt Hickey, Dustin Khebzou and Eric Waggoner

 

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