Top 10 albums of the year!!

Well here it is! My personal top 10 albums of the year. A couple notes, first of all, as I said with my top ten songs podcast, this isn't a definitive list. I haven't heard every album released this year, plus I have a horrible memory, so it's possible I completely forgot something. Another thing, I've been listening to far more Canadian albums than anything else this year, and my list reflects that, with half Canadian artists and half American. Ultimately I hope this list will give you a few things to check out in the new year, or if you have the albums, maybe you'll put them on again. Here goes.

10. Barzin- Notes to an Absent Lover

In the early half of the year I first heard Barzin's somber Notes to an Absent Lover. What really interests me about this album is how concise it is. There is nothing extraneous about it. Barzin incorporates a small band to support his stories, only adding a harmonica here, or an accordion there when necessary. A slow burning tribute to lost love.

9. Evening Hymns- Spirit Guides

I'm currently in the process of finishing my first full length album. Things are sounding fantastic, and I couldn't be happier with how it's turning out. But, there were two moments within the last few months when I felt like I was out my league. One was hearing Evening Hymns Spirit Guides for the first time. Where Barzin simplifies, Evening Hymns diversify. Strings, horns and choirs appear and disappear, but are never excessive. The music moves like the nature described in the songs. There are really only 7 songs here (track 7 of 8 is just the sounds of a storm), but they outline a career of great music to come. (Listen to "Dead Deer" in my Top 10 Songs podcast).

8. St. Vincent- Actor

Brooklyn is well represented on this list. I think 4 or the artists are based there. Including St. Vincent. What really keeps me coming back is front women Annie Clark. Her soft, angelic voice contrasts almost jarringly with her crunchy guitar tone. And who would have thought that the tastiest riffs of the year would be written by a women from Brooklyn? Well, they were.

7. Mos Def- The Estatic

Can Mos Def do any wrong? Why is it that everything he does is gold? Brooklyn is well represented again, Mos Def's 4th album may be the best of his already brilliant career. mixing elements of soul, afro-beat with hip-hop and rock and roll. it doesn't hurt to have producers Madlib, Oh No and J Dilla on your side, pulling some of their most exciting samples out of the crates.

6. Bruce Peninsula- A Mountain is a Mouth

There is a dark element creeping in a lot of the best music of 09'. Maybe it's just a fad, or a sign of the times. But if an apocalypse is coming, I want Bruce Peninsula as the soundtrack. They employ a large choir of voices, singing unison or simple harmonies, to create a sense of urgency in their songs. This is a band to see in a good venue. I got a chance to see them in a turn of the century Grist mill in Waterloo, and it was one of the best shows I'd seen all year.

5. Dirty Projectors- Bitte Orca

What to say about the Dirty Projectors? Easily the most original act of 2009 (I know, bold statement), Dirty Projectors really need to be heard to be understood. I can't do it justice in print. Frontman Dave Longstreth has to be slightly crazy. His music is rhythmically and melodically all over the map, and yet somehow it manages to be accessible. The female harmonies are intricate and the band is tight, that probably has to do with the reported constant and lengthy rehearsals. Check out the track Two Doves on my Top 10 songs of 09 podcast.

4. Grizzly Bear- Veckatimest

Challenging and accessible is a difficult combination. Dirty Projectors do it to a point, but Grizzly Bear really acheives it on Veckatimest. Grizzly Bear manages to make one of the best pop albums of the year disguised as experimental Indie rock. The single "Two Weeks" is easily the catchiest song of the year. I'm also excited to see that intricate vocal harmonies were big this year (as they were last year with acts like Fleet Foxes). Check out "Two Weeks" in my 10 of 09 podcast.

3. Dan Auerbach- Keep It Hid

Black Keys Dan Auerbach goes it alone on Keep it Hid. A fine blend of all the best sounds of the 60's; Soul, folk and Psychelelic Rock. Dan shows a soft touch on ballads like "When the Night Comes", but then counters with dirty Psych rock like "I Want Some More". And although the songs on paper sound like they're on opposite ends of the musical spectrum, the production (mostly employing analog and vintage gear) ties everything together as the greatest 60's album never released. (Listen to "When The Night Comes" in my top 10 podcast)

2. Patrick Watson- Wooden Arms

I mentioned hearing Evening Hymns was one experience that briefly had me second guessing my own musical experience. The other was seeing Patrick Watson last month at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The man is a showman of the highest order. And he and his band deliver great music. Wooden Arms is the album that should have won the Polaris. Interesting percussion, and eclectic music supports Patrick's soring falsetto. Check out "Beijing" in the Best of 09 Podcast.

1. Timber Timbre- Self Titled

The moment I saw Timber Timbre for the first time, I knew this was an act to watch. Front man Taylor Kirk captivates an audience in a way I've never seen before. The album is a mixture of blues, Old time rock and roll, and dust bowl folk. Taylor is of a rare breed in this day and age, he's a storyteller, and his lyrics often send chills down my spine. For example take this verse from "Lay Down in the Tall Grass":

I dreamt you found me out in a field
You tripped over my site
And you dug me out of this shallow grave
with your Swiss Army knife
And only you could revive me, so badly decomposed
I was born white, dry, and scaly
but you still took me home

He knows what came before him, the album is full of homages to past masters, both lyrically and musically.
Check out "Demon Host" in my Top 10 of 09' podcast.

Honorable Mention (or, the next 10)

Sam Allen- Landscapes, A Horse and His Boy- Self Titled, Wilderness of Manitoba- Hymns of Love and Spirit, Bell Orchestre- As Seen Through Windows, Robert Hedge- The Observer EP, Fucked Up- The Chemistry of Common Life, Oubijou- Beacons, Kanaan- Troubadour, Sick Friend- Sleep Late, Brooke Manning- Bride and Loom

Best Compilation

Dark Was the Night
The folks behind 1993's No Alternative compilation (remember that?) out did their selves with Dark Was the Night. A collection of new and unreleased songs from a who's who of the current indie music scene raising awareness for AIDS/HIV. Unlike most compilations, this one if full of great tunes. featuring Grizzly Bear, Fiest, Dirty Projectors (with David Byrne!!), Decemberists, Conor Oberst (with Gillian Welsh), Yo La Tengo and many more. It also features Sufjan Stevens brilliant, epic cover of You Are the Blood, found in my top ten songs podcast.

Well that's it! See you kids in the next year!


Sam Allen said...

great list Shawn!
not much to say but that.

Joel said...

excellent! - I would also add Joel Plaskett's Three to the honorable mentions at least... Happy new year!