I am happy to present Inaudible’s first annual end of year listy list.
TOP 23 ALBUMS OF 2009
23. Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon: The End of Day (GOOD Music)
Kid Cudi’s proper debut is a solid collection of nu-skoool hip-hop jams and pop anthems – and when it came out a few months back I listened hell out of it for about two weeks straight. Originally, I thought it was going to end up way higher on my list, but in the end, it’s levelling off at the bottom. The main reason for this is that it unfortunately lacks lasting power. I don’t want to listen to it anymore. I feel I’ve exhausted it of all its charms. Still, “Man on the Moon: The End of Day” does have some great tracks, and at its best moments shows Kid Cudi’s potential as a force to be reckoned with in mainstream hip-hop.
But where does the Solo Dolo go from here? I’m afraid his recent gigs with Lady Gaga are showing us exactly where . . . but ya never know, he could still surprise us. Cudi is worth listening to, but so far he ain’t changing the game, he’s just going along with it. At least I discovered Chip Tha Ripper because of this album.
The Hamilton, Ontario duo Junior Boys return with their third album and present more of the same lush and textured emo-electro-pop. There’s something about Jeremy Greenspan’s voice that I am absolutely and completely fed up with, but this album gets a nod on the list for its ridiculously smooth production and the number of times I kept returning to it over the year. “Begone Dull Care” is great for dinner parties, morning hangovers on the TTC, and dates with girls who don’t really like electronic music. And that is exactly the Boys’ problem. They are playing it way too safe, veering off into the terrifying world of muzak instead of delving deeper into the world of next-shit electronica. These boys are audiophile nerds to the extreme, which is why their albums sound so goddamn good, but is also why I want them to push their sound further. And I want Greenspan to try something other than his trademark breathy crooning. His voice on Morgan Geist’s “Double Night Time” was a welcome addition, and a nice teaser as we waited for a new Junior Boys release, but he sounds exactly the same in every song. His timbre, tone, emotion, and pitch does not vary one bit from the opening track on “Last Exit” to the last track on “Begone Dull Care”.
Still, I do give the Junior Boys props, they’re an excellent duo, but all I ask is for them to step it up in future releases, especially if they want me to show more than just dull care. (I know it’s a cheesy end but I’m going with it.)
21. Sleeping Me – Lamenter (Phantom Channel)
Sleeping Me is the moniker of guitarist Clayton McEvoy who makes sweeping ambient compositions that are reminiscent of Stars of the Lid, Harold Budd, and Brian Eno. McEvoy uses only guitars and an array of pedals to create his droned out sound. The result is a relaxing and dulcet lull that is perfect for morning coffees or an absorbing book before bed. McEvoy also put out an album entitled “Cradlesongs” earlier this year, but it is hard to find, so I have not heard it in its entirety. However, if “Lamenter” is any indication, it too is sure to be ideal listening for shoegazers, just in the horizontal position.
20. Telefon Tel Aviv – Immolate Yourself (BPitch Control)
In late fall of 2008, I finally saw Telefon Tel Aviv live, and was given a sneak preview of “Immolate Yourself” as they played the album almost in its entirety. Although, I was a tad dismayed at their stripped-down sound, I was still happy to finally see one of my all time favourite electronic duo’s play live. And when this album came out in January, I picked it up immediately. TTA are meticulous producers – their early releases and 2007’s excellent “Remixes Compiled” disc clearly illustrate their amazing attention to the slightest glitch, hiss, and frequency. While still arranged and produced with the same hyper attention to detail, “Immolate Yourself” seems much more restrained and unadorned. Even so, this is dark electro-pop at its moodiest. I think it’s worth owning this album for opening tracks “The Birds” and “M” alone. Fun late night experiment: smoke a joint and try to figure out exactly what Cooper and Eustis are saying over and over in “The Birds”.
Fans of the group will unfortunately know already that just a few days before the album was released Charles Cooper was found dead in Chicago. This was upsetting news, yet ironically helped give the album even more emotional resonance. Telefon Tel Aviv are an ambitious and forward-thinking band and it’s a sad fact the duo won’t be on any more top lists in years to come.
19. Mokira – Persona (Type Records)
Andreas Tilliander returned this year with a beautiful release under his Mokira moniker. Andreas Tilliander has put out some of the finest and most genre-defining electronic releases of this decade: “Ljud” and “Elit” under his own name and “Cliphop” and “Plee” under Mokira. Now a seasoned and respected veteran in the electronic music world, Tilliander’s 2009 release on the lovely Type Records may be his finest album to date. With such strong work backing him up it makes it almost impossible to truly gauge, but suffice to say “Persona” is a brilliant piece of static-warbled and absorbing ambience. Opening track “About Last Step and Scale” begins very much like a Basinski loop, but then after a minute or so, you feel like you’re being pulled downwards, deep below the ‘disentegrated loop’ and into Mokira’s territory. He operates miles below the surface, creating dark bass rumbles, enigmatic rhythms, and low-frequency bleeps and bloops, yet still keeps it melodic at all times. It’s an album I can write to, fall asleep to, but also listen carefully to and get lost within. Andreas Tilliander stole my robot heart years ago and “Persona” reminds me exactly why.
18. The Field – Yesterday and Today (Kompakt)
It took me awhile to get over my initial fears that Axel WIllner’s second album would fail in comparison to “From Here We Go Sublime”. But once I was finally swept into the looped brilliance of “Yesterday and Today” I was hooked, and now think it’s a much more fully realized vision of his musical aesthetic.
The second track “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” slows the tempo down and adds lush vocals in the mix to fantastic effect, and then “Leave It” comes next – a sprawling and emotive track of 4/4 techno bliss – and when the bass hook drops at the 3 minute mark, I am fucking sold. Wooh. One of my fave songs of the year for sure. The title track is also fantastic and features John Stanier from Battles adding some live drums to the mix. Another fine piece of work from The Field and yet another solid release from Kompakt.
Gainsville, Florida’s, CYNE released the fantastic “Water For Mars” this year on Hometapes, and it quickly turned into the most satisfying summer album of the year for me. The production skills of Speck and Enoch are bass-heavy and hip-hop smooove. MC’s Akin and Cise Star play off each other’s rhymes, always trying to compliment each other’s lyrical dexterity. “Pretty Apollo” begins with a Fender Rhodes tinkle and snare pop and quickly builds into one of those hazy summer jams. CYNE’s overall feel is that of next-level hip-hop . . . ain’t no gangsta shit here, just intelligent rhymes, dope production, and positive energy. This was one of my most listened to bike ride albums for sure. I’m such a boombox pimp, pimp, pimp, pimp.
16. Passion Pit – Manners (Frenchkiss)
Passion Pit’s full-length debut fits in with a long line of “dance rock” or “synth rock” bands that I enjoy listening to when a) I want to have a good time, b) I am getting ready to have a good time, or c) I am already in the process of having a good time. Think Hot Chip, Cut Copy, Bloc Party, Phoenix, Hall & Oates et al. It really is quite surprising that a band mixing uber-falsetto lead vocals, a children’s choir, and chipmunk synths, actually sounds this goddamn good. Thanks to the slick production, ridiculously infectious hooks and refrains, and the band’s youthful energy and emotion, “Manners” is a through and through winner of an album, and one I dig a little more with every listen.
Fave track: “Let Your Love Grow Tall”. Lovely.
15. Rameses III – I Could Not Love You More (Type Records)
“I Could Not Love You More” is a soothing and pastoral album full of lush drones and ambient soundscapes. Combining acoustic guitar, lap steel, loops, voice, synths and field recordings of idyllic summer days, the London-based trio have released a relaxing and intimate album reminiscent of Mountains, Helios, The Green Kingdom, and Klimek.
Like all good ambient and modern classical, there’s a sense of weightlessness to Rameses III‘s music, yet there’s still an inherent feeling that a band is playing this music – it’s not overly produced, it’s soft and very organic. Tracks like “The Kindness in Letting Go” and “Cloud Kings” play up the trio’s love for sprawling drone, while tracks “Across The Lake Is Where My Heart Shines” and “No Water, No Moon” are more song-like in composition, where the instruments maintain their sonic shape, rather than morphing into a whirr of sound. Overall, Rameses III has released another fine album and one of my favourite ambient, home listening albums of 2009. C’est tellement beau, le!
14. DJ Sprinkles – Midtown 120 Blues (Mule Musiq)
I have consistently returned to “Midtown 120 Blues” throughout the year and find it one of the smoothest house albums in recent memory. This is house music that conjures up the classic sounds of Chicago and Detroit and is very rewarding after repeated listens. There’s soul here, techno, nostalgia, and rich ambience. The monologues and voice snippets are interesting and introspective and deal with the politics of music and identity. Tracks “Ball’r (Madonna Free Zone)” and “House Music is Controllable Desire You Can Own” are highlights that play just as well in a party setting as they do in a horizontal one. Sexy, sad, deep, smart, and emotional music. Smoooove.
13. Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Vertical Ascent (Honest Jon’s)
One could argue this is electronic music’s answer to rock super group Them Crooked Vultures, because the trio is made up of a) Moritz von Oswald of Basic Channel, Maurizio, and Rhythm & Sound legend, b) Sasu Ripatti, better known as Luomo and Vladislav Delay and Uusitalo and c) lesser known but still prolific, Max Lodenbauer of Sun Electric and NSI fame.
Early releases from Ripatti under his various monikers define some of my finest moments listening to music ever (especially on drugs for Delay and on a dance floor for Luomo), and don’t even get me started on Basic Channel and Rhythm & Sound – the definitive forerunners of stripped down minimal techno and dub techno respectively, and also up there as some of my finest listening experiences ever! So suffice to say, I was stoked and intrigued when I found out the trio, being hyped as a live improv jazz meets dub ensemble, were releasing an album.
Each of the four tracks are simply called Pattern and all range around the ten-minute mark, and they do have a jazzy feel to them. The type of stuff a later Miles would have made if he was, ya know, an android. Pattern’s 1 and 3 both keep the pulsating, rolling percussion throughout, while Pattern 4 is the most dub-like in execution, working at a slower more languid clip and builds hazily, ending with a strange burst of synth. Pattern 2 is the most atmospheric of them all, and sounds like robots slowly building other robots in a factory that has absolutely amazing acoustics.
The fact that “Vertical Ascent” is a live album is also something of note. Especially in a genre of music where many “live” shows consist of nothing more than staring at Powerbooks. These three musicians have been innovating for close to twenty years and show no sign of stopping. Brilliant!
12. Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange Arrangement (Stones Throw)
No other album this year made me smile as much as Mayer Hawthorne’s instant classic “A Strange Arrangement”. This LP is so much fun and infused with the smoothest soul I’ve heard in years. Meshing the sounds of Smokey, Marvin, Curtis, and the Temps, Mayer Hawthorne’s debut plays like a warped 33 from your parents old LP collection, but also manages to sound like the next shit at the same time. Seeing him live was also a great experience, and I hope he continues to refine his throwback sound and innovate a bit more with his next release, but overall when the Mayer’s in town, you know it’s gonna be a good time.
11. Tortoise – Beacons of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey)
Post-rock darlings Tortoise release their first album of new material in 5 years and it’s a complete return to form. Sounding like the proper follow-up to 2001’s “Standards”, “Beacons of Ancestorship” truly is a prog album. It is dirty and crisp, sounding like it was recorded underwater and in an air-tight studio at the same time. And as always, their sound is undefinable – dub, post-rock, lo-fi, electronica, dance, spaghetti western, jazz, classic rock, punk, it’s all here in a tight 45-minute set. What more can I really say? Tortoise’s musical influence really knows no bounds. They are one of the best bands in the biz and one of my all time faves. Catch them on their belated North American “Beacons” tour in early 2010. Love it.
10. Memory Tapes – Seek Magic (Rough Trade)
Dayve Hawk took the blogosphere by storm in early 2009 putting up free releases as Weird Tapes and Memory Cassette, and by summer he had wed the best aspects of his two projects to become Memory Tapes. Instead of building tracks with layers of sound, the songs on this album are filled with catchy hooks, choruses and refrains, in proper pop song fashion. Guitar licks reminiscent of New Order, and analogue synths suggestive of Aphex Twin are meshed together to smashing effect in “Green Knight” and “Bicycle”. The choruses of “Stop Talking” and “Graphics” are so infectious and hooky you’ll find yourself singing them for days. Album closer “Run Out” is a perfect come down track, it’s emotional and harmonious, and could easily be stretched out to ten minutes in length and I’d still want to play it over again. Props to Hawk for his musical output this year, and let’s hope 2010 sees him playing some live shows in our respective local areas.
9. Dog Day – Concentration (Outside Music)
It was great to discover an amazing east coast rock band this year, because it’s been many a moon since a group from the Maritimes has really piqued my interest. But in the tradition of bands like Eric’s Trip, Hardship Post, and Elevator to Hell, Dog Day have the lo-fi power pop indie rock thing down to a beautiful science. The vocal interplay is great, and the album is chock full of catchy melodies, smooth synth lines and angular guitars licks. Their live show at The Horseshoe in Toronto was also a great concert and proved the band excels not just in the studio but also on stage. Best band outta the Maritimes since Shotgun and Jaybird for shizz (and they don’t really even count because they orig from the Yukon). Gimme more!
8. Mountains – Choral (Thrill Jockey)
Brooklyn duo Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp have released my favourite ambient/modern classical album of the year. Mountains are up there with Marsen Jules and Loscil for me, because with “Choral” they have crafted a beautiful album that expertly blends the organic with the digital – seamlessly meshing acoustics with electronics to fantastic effect. I have been lulled to sleep by this album more than any other this year, but have also enjoyed it in the early mornings, and while reading and writing. Their live show at The Music Gallery in Toronto was one of my favourite live shows of the year. Using guitars, synths, accordion, melodica, voice, two Powerbooks, and lots of other toys, they created a whitewash of introspective and hypnotizing ambience.
In October, the duo released another album entitled “Etching” that was limited to 1000 copies, and I’ve unfortunately been unable to get a hold of it, but I’m sure it’s just as warm and abstract as the fantastic “Choral”. If you can find it, buy it.
7. The xx – The xx (Young Turks)
Oh youth! In all your angsty, moody, cigarette filled ennui! Let’s write an album so deceptively simple and void of emotion that it will end up being one of the most complex and emotional albums of the year!
Lucky for us, the bloodsuckers behind the “Twilight” travesties weren’t quite hip enough to know about The xx yet, otherwise “Crystalised” would probably be playing during some anti-climactic softcore vampire porn moment in “New Moon”. They already stole Death Cab, Bon Iver and St. Vincent from us, and forever tarnished their musical credence as fodder for vampire-related garbage, and no doubt The xx’s lethargic pseudo-goth sound would have fit right in.
But I digress. The debut album from this young band is a very good one. It’s been hyped to death, and deserves at least most of it. I unfortunately showed up late to their Toronto debut at The Phoenix with Friendly Fires on December 2nd and missed their brief half an hour set. I was upset to have missed them and received mixed reviews from various people at the concert. Perhaps the recent loss of keyboardist Baria Qureshi from the band had something to do with their hasty and as one person said “lackluster” performance. I can’t say for sure, but I think I would have liked their live show. I’ve returned to this album many times since its release and think it’s a melancholic grower worthy of repeat listens.
Fave tracks: “Stars” and “Night Time”
6. Nosaj Thing – Drift (Alpha Pup Records)
Jason Chung aka Nosaj Thing made quite a name for himself in 2009 with the release of his first full-length album “Drift”. While he’s being lumped in with the LA hip-hop scene, “Drift” is far from being simply a hip-hop album. There’s just as much dubstep and leftfield IDM as there is hip-hop. The beats are spastic and crisp, the bass deep, and the synths dark, murky, and atmospheric. This album has continued to surprise me all year with its depth and range. The last half of the album gets a bit more heady, pulling the listener in with its offbeat compositions. Sonically speaking this is one of the best sounding albums of the year with its many layers and intriguing use of samples. I caught his show in Toronto earlier this year and although the turnout was few, Nosaj’s set was great. I look forward to more new music from this young and talented producer.
5. Wax Stag – Wax Stag (People in the Sky Records)
Reminiscent of Solvent, Plaid, Marc Houle, and early Autechre and Aphex, Rob Lee’s debut as Wax Stag is a veritable analogue bubblebath for your ears. Synths, moogs, hand claps, and 8-bit bleeps and bloops help make this album a charming and sonic winner. And for those of us who’ve been listening to IDM and leftfield electronica since before the new millennium, it’ll churn up some serious nostalgia too.
Rob Lee also records music under the moniker Tack Till, a more subdued indietronic solo project, which is really awesome stuff as well. It reminds me of the very first Savath and Savalas album. Check it out and if you haven’t heard Wax Stag yet, please do so.
4. Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue (Warp Records)
Stephen Wilkinson aka Bibio released his first album for Warp Records and with it his musical aesthetic expanded twofold. Bibio’s earlier releases “Fi” and “Hand-Cranked” were excellent skewed folktronica, but as he continued to release new music, the sound was getting a bit samey and uninspiring. Definitely not the case with “Ambivalence Avenue” though – Bibio keeps his indie folk roots but tosses soul, hip-hop, and techno in the mix, to create one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, as well as, one of my fave releases. The production is amped, the song writing more structured and deliberate, and the juxtaposition of genres works like a charm.
The remix album “The Apple & The Tooth” also features four new tracks from Bibio, as well as some dynamite remixes by Wax Stag, The Gentleman Losers, Eskmo, and Leatherette, and I find it just as satisying a listen as “Ambivalence Avenue”. A great year for Wilkinson’s musical output, and I look forward to further evolutions of his sound.
3. Lusine – A Certain Distance (Ghostly International)
Jeff McIlwain returned as Lusine this year with “A Certain Distance”. The album is full of Detroit-tinged synths and beats, as well as the addition of vocals from Finnish singer Vilija Larjosto on “Two Dots” and “Twilight”, and Caitlin Sherman on the absorbing “Gravity”. Although, McIlwain doesn’t break any new ground with “A Certain Distance”, the album does an excellent job of straddling the divide between electronica and pop music. The production is smooth and has been tediously tinkered and tweaked with by McIlwain, and in the end it tops my list because it epitomizes that type of melodic techno I like to listen to no matter what mood I happen to be in.
2. POLVO – In Prism (Merge Records)
Chapel Hill, NC post rock legends POLVO returned this year after a twelve year absence and dropped the fantastic “In Prism”. Barely missing a beat in a dozen years, the band (with new drummer Brian Quast) have written my favourite “rock” album of the year. Now, this may partly be because Polvo are one of my all-time favourite bands, and the mere fact that they got back together and put out a new album is enough to warrant them a place on my list. BUT, the album is really fucking good – it’s dark, and moody and off-kilter. However, I do usually skip the first three tracks of the album and start at “City Birds” because the opening tracks sound like a “new” Polvo, all polished and mature, whereas the rest of the album transports me back to the mid-90’s, to halcyon days, to my youth, where things seemed happier. Or better. Or funner. Or I don’t fucking know. More carefree or something.
“Lucia” has some amazing guitar work, with Ash Bowie’s skewed chord progression and Dave Brylawski’s classic rock riffage mixed with Eastern sensibility. The following track “Dream Work/Residue” sounds as if mined from “Exploded Drawing” B-sides and does a good job of churning up the post-rock nostalgia I apparently have become an eternal sap for. Polvo were probably the most influential band for me during my own music making days, with their crooked tunings, fucked-up time signatures, and stoned energy. And so Polvo’s “In Prism” is topping my list for 2009, because like Wax Stag and Tortoise and Lusine, it reminds me of days gone by and the many memories that come with . . .
1. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp Records)
. . . Grizzly Bear‘s “Veckatimest”, on the other hand, reminds me of the future and the past in asynchronous chorus.
Sometimes when a band gets too much hype I will refuse to listen to them. Take Fleet Foxes for example: I just recently began listening to their self-titled debut and now a year after its release I love it. My cousin Chris did the same thing with Burial. While everyone around him was going ape-shit over “Untrue” in the fall of 2007, he staunchly dismissed it, not ready to embrace the dubstep sound that was beginning to inflect electronic music. But a year later, like me and Fleet Foxes, Chris and Burial were having a torrid aural affair…
The way I see it, if a good band puts out a good album, I will eventually get into it, and I don’t care if I’m riding the crest of the hype-wave or not.
Which brings me to Brooklyn based quartet Grizzly Bear. I have never listened to “Yellow House”. Or the “Friend” ep. Or seen them play live. Or really know anything about them. All I do know is that when I finally gave “Veckatimest” a chance, I quickly realized that Grizzly Bear was one of the best young bands composing music in our present day. A throwback to “White Album” era production, elaborate songwriting with many hooks and changes, and amazing vocal work reminiscent of The Beatles, Beach Boys, CSNY, The Guess Who, Bjork and more.
Now this is not to say that they sound like The Beatles, it’s just that the ambition displayed on this album reminds me of the fab-four’s further aspirations for the White Album. Plus, the production value of “Veckatimest” is comparable. The drum toms in “All We Ask” sound like they were stolen from Ringo’s set, and the deep bass slides at the end of “Fine For Now” sound like they must be coming from a Rickenbacher. Yet, Grizzly Bear have appropriated none of Paul’s schmaltz, they’re very much more rooted in John’s sonic textures, rather than Paul’s sentimentality. But enough comparisons to a band it’s stupid to make comparisons to in the first place…
There isn’t a throw away track on “Veckatimest” and it’s subtle infectiousness grows on you slowly but surely. Album opener “Southern Point” starts with a jazzy guitar riff with simple Rhodes chord accompaniment that gets your head bobbing and then builds to a beautiful chorus with strong vocals that remind me of The Guess Who. Second track “Two Weeks” is probably the most accessible track with its sing-along refrain and mid-tempo beat. Standout tracks for me are “Fine For Now”, “Ready, Able”, “While You Wait For the Others” and the beautifully sparse closer “Foreground”.
What an assured, and matured collection of songs, yet, it’s clear the band is still experimenting with their sound(s) and overall aesthetic. No other album this year in any genre has given me a glimpse into the future of music for the next decade like “Veckatimest”, and Grizzly Bear do so by first taking one step backwards into the past and then a strong hop, skip, and jump forward into what’s to come. Fucking awesome. I made it to the end.
BEST NEW ARTIST OF 2009
Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points
Look at that baby face! The fact that he already sounds so goddamn good at the young age of 22 makes me very excited about his future in music. I am already assured of his deftness for sound. Shepherd’s got an ear for sonic composition like Spencer Tunick’s got an eye for the visual. A natural is what I’m calling him.
Everything he’s put out this year has been a warmer, a burner, and a mafuckin’ killer – and still just footnotes to the amazing music he’s going to produce in the next 5 years!
My wish for 2010: A Floating Points full-length please. I imagine it sounding so good it’ll be inaudible.
RIP MJ (1958-2009)
Thanks for reading…