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Musical Pairings: The Top Ten Indie Rock Albums of 2009

December 12th, 2009

Creating my Top Ten list is always difficult because I find myself struggling with whether I want to fill it with what I believe are objectively the best albums of 2009 or what I know are my subjective top albums of the year. Although those two lists would have a lot of overlap – they aren’t exactly the same. For example, if I listed what I thought were objectively the best albums of 2009 – I would have to include Animal Collective’s latest effort. But the truth is that album didn’t have a great effect on me. I listened to it a number of times and then left it to sit in the dark corners of my iPod. Although I picked up a copy of the album on vinyl – I’ve definitely played it less than the rest of the albums that I did place on my Top Ten list. In other words, what follows are my Top Ten indie albums of 2009. I’d love to read your list, or hear which albums I overlooked, or which albums you think I over/underrated in the comments field.

10. Passion Pit – Manners

To be honest, I definitely fall into the category of people who thought for sure that Passion Pit would prove to be one hit wonders after the indie success of “Sleepyhead.” But when I reviewed the album just prior to its release, I conceded that with Manners Passion Pit went and proved me wrong. To slightly amend my prior review of Manners: it is the most upbeat, bob your head, tap your toes, and get-up-and-dance album of the year.

Passion Pit – Moth Wings (Skinny Friedman DJ edit)

9. Or, The Whale – Or, The Whale

One of the best parts of doing a music blog is getting introduced to music you otherwise may have missed. For example, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have missed Or, The Whale’s self-titled debut album if not for Musical Pairings. As I stated in my review of their album this “San Francisco indie-Americana seven-piece Or, The Whale know how to pen heart-clenching ballads and floor-board stomping rockers.” There has been a lot of Americana inspired indie albums released this year, but Or, The Whale’s debut is hands down the best.

Or, The Whale – Black Rabbit

8. John Vanderslice – Romanian Names

John Vanderslice is one of the most consistently rewarding artists in indie rock, but somehow his albums seem to totally fly under the radar. Maybe it because his albums are always filled with the type of songs that just grow on you after repeated listens. As we noted in our review, Romanian Names features “beautiful melodies, high quality production, and intelligent songwriting.”

John Vanderslice – Too Much Time

7. The Xx – XX

The Xx’s debut album XX is sexy. Featuring co-ed vocalists with deliveries that can be described as (for the feminine) sensual and (for the masculine) emotionally cool. It is instrumentally thrifty featuring sonic landscapes composed primarily of warm layers of reverb, rivers of wobbling bass tones, and slowly dissipating guitars. This one isn’t to be missed. You can read the full review here.

The Xx – Crystalised

6. Papercuts – You Can Have What You Want

This album was recommended to me by Christian at the Bay Bridged, and I have to give it to him: this really is a great album. It is a warm, soothing album that is perfect for night-driving or curling up with a relaxing glass of red wine in a dim-lit living room after a difficult day. I loved it back when I first reviewed it, and I love it even more now. Highly recommended.

Papercuts – Jet Plane

5. Thao with The Get Down Stay Down – Know Better Learn Faster

I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t heard Thao’s first album, but if it is half as good as Know Better Learn Faster (which I hear it is) then I’ll love it. Kasey and I keep coming back to this one when we want something fun, upbeat and still intriguing. In our original review I said: “It is just the right type of album to uplift any water-logged, city dweller: it is melodic, warm, catchy and fun.”

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down – When We Swam

4. Yeah Yeah Yeah – It’s Blitz

This is an album I described as complex and fully-satisfying, It’s Blitz is easily one of my favorite records this year. It’s Blitz finds the band perfecting the styles and themes they first approached on the underrated Show Your Bones. Disco, electro-pop and garage-punk blend together seemingly effortlessly to make songs that are just fun. Read my original review here.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Heads Will Roll (A-Trak Remix)

3. The Decemberists – Hazards of Love

The Decemberists are another one of the most consistently rewarding bands to emerge this decade, and I’d argue they are one of the ballsiest. After all, no one makes rock operas anymore, but listening to Hazards of Love I almost wish more groups did. Almost. Indeed, the format is perfect for a band like the Decemberists, but can be expected to fall flat in the hands of lesser groups. This album is a testament to the vast story-telling skills of the Decemberists’ front man Colin Meloy. The best part is that if you choose to ignore the story he is telling – the music is still fantastic.

The Decemberists – The Rake Song

2. Girls – Album

Girls’ Album is a snapshot of San Francisco in 2009. It truly is the perfect album to soundtrack summer days spent hanging out in Dolores Park, relaxing in Golden Gate Park, shopping for records at Amoeba, sitting around a bonfire at Ocean Beach, or hanging out with friends in a small two bedroom apartment anywhere in the city. Each song is like a micro-climate of a greater, cohesive whole with the result that songs are sometimes sunny, sometimes foggy, but most are a little of both. This is a breathtaking debut. Read the full review here.

Girls – Hellhole Ratrace

1. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Not just the best album of the year, but one of the best album’s of the decade: pop music doesn’t get much better than this. This is the album I just keep going back to when I need an old standby to get me through the day. In my original review, I described Veckatimest as “earthy, bright and rich” and featuring “ethereal, dreamy” tunes that alternate between anxious energy and lazy flows. This is the type of album that you buy a whole hi-fi system to “really” hear.

Grizzly Bear – Cheerleader

~~~
P.S. Don’t forget to share your comments, best of lists, and ideas in the comments section. Let me know what I missed or underrated.


  • Brendan

    I must say, I completely agree with everything you've chosen here. I live in SF too and the Girl's album is exactly what you mentioned- a micro-climate of the city.Great blog by the way. I'm a long-time reader, first time commenter.

  • Matthew

    Thanks Brendan!

  • Develop the Qualities of a Great Songwriter

    That's a great list Brendan, though I must tell that I haven't heard all of them but I surely have listened to a few and going by that I think this lists is quite a good one.

  • Chris

    Bitte orca, orca bitte!

  • Matthew

    Chris, You are right – no question that the Dirty Projectors album was one of the best albums of the year! If I had done a top 15 it would have been on the list.

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