If you had asked me to list my favorite albums of the year in, say, October, I would have told you that this was one of the best years for music in ages and I could hardly choose between all my favorites. If you had asked me to list my favorite albums of the year this week, (which you did, as you’ll recall–I think we were at Arby’s), I would tell you that nothing really stood out. Albums that I thought were masterpieces upon first listen (The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love, Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon: The End of the Day) quickly reached their saturation points. Artists I love released albums that barely warranted a second spin (Tegan and Sara’s Sainthood, The Hidden Cameras’ Origin: Orphan).
My appreciation for this year’s releases has been slightly dulled by the sheer number of new records I picked up this year. According to iTunes, I currently own 69 records that were released in 2009. That is over 2 days worth of music. I could listen to my 2009 releases from start to finish for 48 hours straight and not hear every song on every album. It is just too easy in this age of digital downloads to go overboard and pick up everything that’s garnering a slight amount of buzz. Also, I have a serious problem. It’s this or Home Shopping Network, and I don’t really have anyplace to keep hundreds of souvenir plates.
All that being said, I still maintain that in terms of quality releases, this year saw a greater percentage than many. We’ll have to wait and see whether I’ll still be listening to any of these records next year, but for the time being, here it is. As you read this list, please keep in mind that I would never give this list to anyone and say, “buy these records.” I can’t tell you how many of my friends I tried to turn on to Los Campesinos!, my favorite record of the last five years, who think it is garbage. I don’t think I have the most eclectic taste in the world, but I do like to give everything a fair shake, and this sometimes leads to me liking music that my hip friends find too mainstream and my mainstream friends find too hip. (Note: I do not have any mainstream friends.) In other words, stuff that no one likes. Enjoy!
15. Harlem Shakes – Technicolor Health
The best thing about Technicolor Health is that it does not try too hard. This might sound like low praise, but it is remarkably refreshing to hear an album that does not try too hard in an age filled with artists who drown their music in massive amounts of production to cover up the fact that they are fundamentally not very good at writing songs. Harlem Shakes have songwriting talent to spare, and this album is filled with sing-along rockers that only become more appealing over multiple listens. If you like the French Kicks or the Joggers, this record is for you. Because it sounds exactly like an album that either of those bands would release. Features the song “Sunlight,” which is probably my favorite single of the year.
14. The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
The Low Anthem is just another of the approximately 17,000 Americana/roots-influenced bands that released records this year to great critical acclaim, with one slight difference: they do not make you want to murder yourself out of boredom. Now, I’ve spent some quality time with your Fleet Foxes, your Bon Ivers, your Iron & Wines, and I’ll admit it, they’ve moved me on occasion. But Oh My God, Charlie Darwin strikes me on a more gut level than any of those artists. Unlike some of the other roots bands, the Low Anthem covers the whole range of roots music, from brooding folk to country and blues to rave-up gospel. They’re as adept at boot-stomping bluegrass as they are at pastoral hymns. Not a bad track in the bunch.
12. Cheap Trick – The Latest
This is the part where you decide that I no longer have any credibility and you stop reading my list. But wait! Hold up a minute! Believe it or not, in 2009, Cheap Trick released their best album since Dream Police. If you are the type of person who believes that Dream Police is a good album, then I think you might be surprised by The Latest. Segretto thinks it’s garbage, but to me, it’s a great example of the good old classic Cheap Trick sound. The rockers rock and the ballads don’t sound like “The Flame.” The production is a little too glossy, as often seems to be the case with older bands making comeback records, but songwise, this is the biggest collection of bangers Cheap Trick has assembled since the late 70s. Also, they released this record on 8-track, which I think we can all agree is a particularly awesome and hilarious way to make your record label waste money. Kudos, boys! Welcome back!
11. Girls – Album
2009 was the year that bands started delving into the early Beach Boys catalog, and no one replicated the masters with greater precision than San Francisco’s Girls. It took me awhile to warm up to this record … it felt a little contrived upon the first few listens … but inevitably, I am a sucker for sunny pop tunes, and Girls have enough catchy tracks to choke a bear. Besides, any group of straight guys that has the balls to start an album with the lyrics “I wish I had a boyfriend/I wish I had a loving man in my life” deserves my respect. Bonus points for making it big despite having a name that makes them impossible to find on Google.