CoS Year-End Report: The Top 100 Albums of ’09: 25-1

25. Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor

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Wolf’s fourth album was a totally inventive proposition, financed by his fans through Bandstocks, and exploring a more expansive, orchestral sound. At times close to collapsing under its own weight, the final product was an ever strange mix of adult exploration and child-like dreaming. From the S&M influenced “Vulture” to the epic title track, The Bachelor was unmissable. -Will Hines

24. David Thomas Owen IV – Solace My King

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Anyone presumptuous enough to use their middlename and generational suffix better bring the goods. That goes double for an unknown. David Thomas Owen IV’s Solace My King was so complete and jawdropping that Owen could slide “badass” (in quotes) between Thomas and Owen, and it would be wholly deserved. All that needs to be said about this album (and Owen) is that he can credibly be compared vocally to Jeff Buckley. Done and done. Sadly, if you blinked this year, you missed Solace My King. -Luke Johnson

23. Bat for Lashes – Two Suns

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With Two Suns, Bat For Lashes (Natasha Kahn) has achieved a mystical level of musical artistry and storytelling. There’s a reason she’s compared to Kate Bush — she’s that good. Two Suns harnesses the same sort of emotionally-powered sonic shamanism that Bush, Peter Gabriel, and only a handful of other artists have been able to successfully wield. To top it all off, Two Suns is a concept album. Throughout the album Kahn pits herself against “Pearl” a character she devised to be her polar opposite creating a musical mirror maze of duality and fractured personas. Plus, like the aforementioned artists, she managed to work an astoundingly compelling pop song into the mix. “Daniel” makes you want to workout in a darkened room and sob as you spiritual consciousness is awakened – now that’s a hit single! -Cap Blackard

22. Röyksopp – Junior

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Mixing the downtempo, contemplative work of Melody A.M. and the poppy efforts of The Understanding, Junior is a fresh offspring that energetic yet dazed with sleep reaches a state of enlightenment in a soaring morning melody set towards a sky dominated by the northern lights. We swear to any given deity that Röyksopp must’ve been puffing the wrong mushroom up the wrong faerie glade because covering nearly every aspect of electronic music while still actually making brilliant pop music shouldn’t be humane or in-this-world. Yet, Junior stands here as vigorous, charming and affecting an electronic pop album you could wish for. -Jesper Persson

21. Julian Casablancas – Phrazes for the Young

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We’ve been waiting a long time for a new album from The Strokes — too long, actually. But given recent news, it looks like we won’t have too kick around the dirt much longer. Next summer, the New York hipsters will reconvene for a tour, a new LP, and what will undoubtedly be a hell of a time. There’s something depressing about that, though. Because odds are most of the fans will forget about Julian Casablancas’ brave foray that is this year’s, Phrazes for the Young. Try and separate the guy from The Strokes and you’ll soon realize you’re left with some exceptional material. Songs “Out of the Blue”, “River of Brakelights”, and the angsty dance number “11th Dimension” all bring Casablancas to new heights as a songwriter. And there hasn’t been a better digression on the Big Apple than there was with “Ludlow St.”, not even with The Strokes. Working off this debut, it will be very interesting to see where Casablancas goes next — lyrically speaking, of course. -Michael Roffman

20. Mount Eerie – Wind’s Poem

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No matter what game Phil Elverum decides to play each go-round, he’s always at the top of it. This time Elverum takes a stab at emulating gusts of wind through black-metal fuzz. Let’s just say that the knife is pretty damn sharp. Last year’s Lost Wisdom was so stripped of Elverum’s noisier side that if felt like he was straying away for good. But Wind’s Poem sounds like somebody spent a little too much time watching Twin Peaks, walking through the forest, and falling asleep to Xasthur (if that’s even possible). What results is a paradox of an album. At moments serene, at others ear-splitting, and sometimes an impossible combination of everything. It may sound like a good idea, but don’t try to fall asleep to it, you’ll wake up scared shitless. -Drew Litowitz

19. Discovery – LP

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What do you get when you mix the rock and Caribbean energy of Vampire Weekend with the orchestral/ambient pop of Ra Ra Riot? How about some electro funk pop? Coming out of left field, the side project between VW’s Rostam Batmanglij and Riot’s Wes Miles, LP makes use of a very simple concept: Make saccharine sweet love songs about missing girls and then throw in lots of hand-claps and high-hats and a boatload of synth. Then, when you’re done with all of that, Autotune the hell out of it. It’s light and disposable while at the same time having something innocent and genuine to it. Whether it’s the kinetic pop that is “Osaka Loop Line”, the old school R&B meets technologically transmogrified dance beat of “Orange Shirt” or the effects-explosion of the Jackson 5 cover “I Want You Back”, the album is a mighty demonstration of the power and fury that is pop music. Whether you like it or not. -Chris Coplan

18. The xx – xx

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Hidden behind minimal guitar, sparse drum machines, and oozy bass, the xx have a lot of love to give, it’s just incredibly understated. Four 20 year olds from the UK put together what is easily the most interesting debut of the year, illustrating conflicted love behind a beautifully sterile aesthetic. When Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim respond to one another in song, it sounds like New Order fighting off the Ambien they just took, while re-imagining the country duet for the digital age. It’s all so detached and lackadaisical that it feels like there’s got to be something boiling underneath the surface, ready to explode at any given second.  But, it never does. The emotion all comes from that restraint. While the record sounds brilliant, it’s what isn’t there that reveals all the emotion. The fact that it works so well demands only the best kind of scrutiny. -Drew Litowitz

17. Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor

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Jim O’Rourke’s latest solo release comes together step by step, note by note. The Visitor is a charmer, to be sure, full of intensely masterful guitarwork and brilliant arrangement. O’Rourke floats between genres, melodies and sounds beautifully, crafting one of his best solo albums without ever forcing out a “song” as such. The piece is fragile, intricate, and beautiful without ever falling apart. Equal parts John Fahey and prog rock, this is a pure joy to listen to. -Adam Kivel


The Visitor

16. The Thermals – Now We Can See

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What can be said about The Thermals’ four albums? While the first two, More Parts Per Million and Fuckin’ A, are seemingly massive blasts of power-punk energy, the next two are the dynamic and mature examples of their real abilities as a unit. While The Body, the Blood, the Machine is a slam dancing attack on the fallacies of faith and organized religion in a futuristic police-state, Now We Can See is the high point of their thematic attacks on the world gone wrong. There’s some great political subtext to it, but what’s even better, and the real lynch pin motif, is that these are songs from the eyes of a corpse. Seemingly the idea behind an awful metal album, Now We Can See is about the wonders and pitfalls of being alive. The title track speaks on the journey and greatness of finally being aware, while songs like “When I Died” and “When I Was Afraid” are the most personal and still seemingly universal tracks on the whole LP. Not to mention, their punk energy takes a crack at a more hard rock noise and showmanship. Simply put, this album outshines without overpowering the rest of the catalog. -Chris Coplan


“Now We Can See”

15. Moby – Wait for Me

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It’s a shame when a work of genius goes unnoticed. Moby’s Wait for Me is a perfect example. While first single “Shot in the Back of the Head” raised some ears, mostly because David Lynch sketched out the video, hardly anyone paid attention to the actual release. Those that did, pegged it as “too depressing.” But that’s hardly a criticism. If anything, it’s a genuine response. Wait for Me is a layered exploration into a bleak, horrifying world that works off the human condition. “Pale Horses” deals with coarse isolation, “Shot In the Back of the Head” is an instrumental that cuts deeper and deeper on each listen, and “Mistake” rallies on with thoughts on betrayal and broken love. It’s a hard journey to take, but since when has that been a bad thing? This is Moby’s crowning achievement, a perfect painting that examines everything the multi-instrumentalist can do, and while it’s haunting and terrifying and depressing (sometimes all at once), it’s one of the most emotionally charged records in years — perhaps since Springsteen’s Nebraska. Yeah, really. -Michael Roffman

14. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

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Dave Longstreth has been an amazing musician/songwriter/singer for a few years now, but this is the first record of his I’d unabashedly call “accessible.” The multi-line harmonies are still there, the world-beat influenced rhythms, the sporadic yelps and woops too. But the key to the album is that it combines one of the year’s smoothest ballads (“Two Doves”), a straight club jam (“Stillness is the Move”) and some other great indie gems. The record has a little bit of everything, without sounding cluttered or unusual, and the strengths of three different lead singers shine through. -Adam Kivel

13. St. Vincent – Actor

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Logically, St. Vincent (née Annie Clark) should’ve fallen on her face this year. Before her 2007 debut was released every blog in the sphere had posted about what a fresh talent she was. She managed to deliver an LP that lived up to its hype and kept everyone wanting more. At the beginning of this year she released Actor, an album influenced by cinema but by no means a literal concept piece. This was her chance to succumb to the sophomore slump. Somehow she topped the previous album and exposed more talent than anyone knew she had. From the ominous opening of “The Strangers” to the dance-rock grinds of “Marrow”, Clark wrapped some disturbing lyrics in gorgeous and catchy packaging. Although the identities of her narrators are wrapped in secrecy, the macabre images-such as laughing with a mouth of blood-stay in your mind long after her delicate voice has moved on to a new twisted song. -Anthony Balderrama

12. Yusuf Islam – Roadsinger

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If 2006’s An Other Cup taught us that Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, still had some “majik” in those old vocal chords and fingertips, then Roadsinger (To Warm You Through the Night) clearly showed us that the master singer-songwriter can still deliver a stunning record. On Roadsinger, Yusuf is able to reconnect with the themes and styles that made Cat Stevens so adored by his listeners, all while offering a commentary (both hopeful and dark) on the world around him. “Welcome Home” revisits his definitive theme of life being a journey towards truth, self-discovery, and contentment. “Thinkin’ Bout You”, the record’s finest track, finds the sixty-year-old almost giddy with joy, hitting listeners with a level of enthusiasm and jubilation reminiscent of his classic “Can’t Keep It In”. Yusuf recorded nearly the entire album live, which gives Roadsinger the immediacy and honesty of his older records. And that voice-decades after it first took the world by storm -is still the most gorgeous thing going. -Matt Melis

11. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

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Veckatimest was one of the most hyped albums of 2009. The album was supposed to be great, permanently putting Grizzly Bear in the “Indie Hall of Fame hosted by Thom Yorke.” So when Veckatimest turned out to be stellar, there was no surprise but there was still plenty of joy. The unraveling of this album is an aural treat. The gorgeous harmonies, sunny California melodies, lush production, and intricacy of songs like “Two Weeks”, “All We Ask”, “Ready, Able”, and album closer “Foreground” were like golden threads wrapping around your brain. -Charles Poladian

“Two Weeks”

10. The Dead Weather – Horehound

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Back in March, when Jack White pulled the sheets off his new act, The Dead Weather, every fan had a right to be skeptical. After all, how many bands could White pull off? Truth be told, this little rock unit kept everyone in good company all summer long, both on or off the stage. Between Alison Mosshart’s rich, sexy vocals to White’s thundering, skeletal drum beats, whatever energy started in Third Man studios has yet to rest. This is rock ‘n’ roll at its finest; the stuff to root for, the grime to pine for, and the type of heat that makes it okay to wear nothing but black leather and skinny, skinny jeans. Besides, with a duet like “Will There Be Enough Water?”, you can’t help but beg for more. Seconds? Yes, please. -Michael Roffman

09. The Antlers – Hospice

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When you listen to a concept album, you try to picture the singer as the main character. While listening to Hospice, you try to avoid such an action for pity’s sake. With music ranging from hushed piano to roaring guitar in jarring fashion, singer-songwriter Peter Silberman gives a tale of impending doom. Hospice is bleak, full of pessimism, yet somehow comes across as arguably the most beautiful album of the year. Maybe it’s the barenaked vocals in “Kettering” and “Epilogue”. There is the unparalleled yearning found in “Sylvia” and “Thirteen”. Raging against death hasn’t been captured this way in some time, and Silberman pulls it off convincingly. The Antlers had a breakthrough this year with Hospice, and despite the darkness of the material, the future is only bright for this Brooklyn-based trio. -Justin Gerber

08. Wale – Attention Deficit

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The most anticipated hip-hop album in a long while finally arrived, and boy did it deliver. D.C.-born Wale finally released Attention Deficit in early November, featuring excellent production by TV on the Radio techmaster Dave Sitek, Mark Ronson, The Neptunes, and more. Verses from Gucci Mane, Pharrell, and Bun B add to the luster, but it’s Wale’s unique style, blend of references, and self-assured tone that steal the show. Opening track “Triumph” sets a superb pace, and despite a few bumps along the road (*cough* Lady Gaga feature *cough*), the album hits some real high notes. -Adam Kivel

07. Kittens Ablaze – The Monstrous Vanguard

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It’s no secret that this website has had an undeniable love affair with these Brooklyn rockers for some time now. The demo album that arrived in our inbox back in early 2008 was what first caught our attention, but their recently released full-length debut was what made us realize that Kittens Ablaze are not your ordinary Brooklyn based indie outfit. No, The Monstrous Vanguard was 10 tracks of indie rock bliss, fusing together the enigmatic sounds of Arcade Fire with the lyrical melancholy of early Bright Eyes while still maintaining a one-of-a-kind passion, sound, and attitude. The album’s one negative? The fact that even now it has yet to propel Kittens Ablaze to the level of popularity and critical acclaim the band so undoubtedly deserves. –Alex Young

06. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

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Where to begin with this album? This punk-rock artists were known were for their explosive live shows and songs that were oozing with sex, fun, and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s Blitz! was such a departure from what was expected, accessible dance-rock. Normally bands who strayed too far were met with ridicule, this band was met with praise. The band defied expectations and delivered a knockout of an album. “Zero”, “Heads Will Roll”, “Soft Shock”, “Shame and Fortune”, and “Hysteric” ditched the guitars that were the trademark of Nick Zinner and used synths to deliver propulsive dance hits which could have only been made by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. -Charles Poladian

05. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

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French veterans Phoenix created pure pop heaven with Wolfgang Amadeus and introduced the band to super-stardom. The songs were not only infectious but cleverly crafted and beautifully produced. 2009 hits “1901” and “Lisztomania” felt timeless and the rousing choruses were left in your head for days. “Lasso” and the sprawling “Love Like a Sunset Pt.1” and “Love Like a Sunset Pt.2” guided listeners to something that was missing for a long time; an effortlessly emotional and genuine pop tune. -Charles Poladian

04. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love

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Call it a rock opera or a concept album —The Hazards of Love is the biggest production The Decemberists have ever put on and it succeeds in every respect. On their recent tour, The Decemberists played the entire album from start to finish each night, and although the songs stand on their own, they knew that this epic works best as a whole. Colin Meloy and guest vocalists (including the scene-stealer Shara Worden) weave together tales of an evil queen, infanticide, supernatural occurrences, and unrequited love. What you end up with is an homage to prog rock and musical theater, which should be the combination from Hell but ends up being a compelling novella of sorts that has emotion, experimentation, humor, and hooks. Of course, this leads us to wonder what Meloy could possibly dream up next. –Anthony Balderrama

03. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

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While Chris Cornell was busy screaming with Timbaland, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs blitzed their way through 2009, The Avett Brothers stuck with its formula. After hiring some producer named Rick Rubin, the band gave us I and Love and You, an album full of love, fear, doubt, and hope. More often than not, artists tend to get saccharine with the aforementioned subject matter, but the Avetts avoid such pitfalls. “January Wedding” is a straight-up love song with no frills attached, heightened by uplifting banjo and guitar. There is the unexpected fury in the middle of “The Perfect Space”, surrounded by gorgeous harmonies of questions to a lover. “Slight Figure of Speech” even features rapid-fire rap not heard from white boys since Snow. Then there is that title track, and the soaring “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise”, and… wait, you should be listening to this right now. –Justin Gerber

02. Passion Pit – Manners

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Every year has an “it” band, the one that comes out of nowhere and joins hipsters and cheerleaders in musical coolness. This year it was Passion Pit with their fantastic debut that quickly became the soundtrack to the summer. Manners rose out the the unlikeliest of places and has since found its way into the headphones of just about everyone in tight Levis and Ray Bans. Trendiness aside, it more than proved itself to be an addictive record with soaring falsettos and club hooks galore. The poppy synth lines and children’s chorus sing-alongs of “Little Secrets” were inescapable, and not even MTV could avoid the pulsing bass of “The Reeling”. Where there were anthems, there was also an undeniable innocence about it all. Michael Angelakos sang with the same broken hearted passion found on that lonesome mix tape he made for his then girlfriend back in 2007 making Manners endearing and lasting. Even if Passion Pit doesn’t make it past 2010, their debut will always a blast to listen to. -E.N. May

01. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion

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Duh. –The CoS Staff

The “most accessible” album tag has always been one to be wary of; in the case of Merriweather Post Pavilion, such wariness proves to be unwarranted. This is because, if anything, the accessibility refers to the newly granted access to the artists’ brains. For this I offer my personal experience with Animal Collective: in the beginning I didn’t care much for them, and a deafening bore of a performance at 2008’s All Points West festival didn’t help matters. In late December, however, I was at a friend’s house in New Jersey and had access to a leaked copy of the album, so I gave them another chance and pulled out my nicest headphones. The bubbling synths, monolithic bass drops, and sunny harmonies finally clicked. I finally “got it,” you could say. Moreover, their underlying methods of composition became wildly clear without seeming at all mechanical. “So this is what they’ve been getting at all along,” I thought. “This is what I missed.” The accessibility of the album ended up being a wondrous attribute, perhaps its most important: whereas Animal Collective has in the past been labeled “experimental,” Merriweather Post Pavilion makes it clear that nothing they’ve created was done by chance. Similarly, it’s not all cold algorithms. It’s from the heart. -Aaron Kelley

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