Quick Before it Melts

Albums: 2009

by  |  December 18, 2009  |  15 Comments

Last year’s list of favourite albums was daunting to write.  At the time I said that all the albums in contention were taunting me, as if they were saying “I dare you to love me,” but this year it’s more like they’re chanting “I dare you to hate me,” forcing me to choose between an incredible collection of records that I’ve championed over the course of the year.  Worse yet, I’ve decided that 20 is just to broad a number, and have limited myself to 10 selections.  Getting it down to 20 was easy, but the final list of 10 was a struggle right up until the eleventh hour.

As always, it’s an interesting list:  50% is made up of Canadian musicians, (not surprising considering that in 2009 QBiM honed its coverage to homegrown talent, an old favourite pops up for good measure, and a few newcomers are welcomed with open arms.  In the end, these 10 albums (listed alphabetically without ranking) remained as my favourites of the year (note: favourite albums, not best albums).  As always, please contribute your thoughts, opinions and disagreements in the comments.

The Antlers
Hospice (self-released/Frenchkiss)

Over three albums, The Antlers have quietly become one of the most exciting and interesting bands in America, and have done so without the involvement or influence of a record label.  Hospice is a harrowing and sometimes too-painful-for words story of a man watching his loved one die of cancer before his eyes.  Peter Silberman has emerged as 2009’s most striking songwriter, and Hospice its most unforgettable album.

MP3: The Antlers “Sylvia”

Attack In Black
Years (By One Thousand Fingertips) (Dine Alone)

Back in August 2007 when I first heard Attack In Black’s debut, Marriage, I said this:  “what really excites me about Attack In Black is ‘what comes next’. I have a feeling that Album Number 2 is going to be absolutely exceptional, if this disc is anything to go by.”  Album 2 ended up being the brilliant 2008 vinyl/mp3-only The Curve of the Earth, but third time was really the charm.  Years… is a bold and assured record, and hands-down the most overlooked and under appreciated album of 2009.  

MP3: Attack In Black “The Greater Niagara Circle Route”

Evening Hymns
Spirit Guides (Out of This Spark)

You can’t listen to “Lanterns”, the opening track on Spirit Guides without getting swept up in its power and beauty.  Like The Antlers, Evening Hymns taps into a  deep vein of sadness and pain, but does so in a way that is redemptive and healing.  Spirit Guides is an album that constantly changes shape and mood and, late arrival to this list it may be, it’s definitely one of the year’s most welcomed.

MP3: Evening Hymns “Broken Rifle”

Grizzly Bear
Veckatimest (Warp)

Even though its early leak meant that the first recorded taste of Veckatimest the world got sounded like “an underwater YouTube stream” (according to Ed Droste), the final product was truly a glorious blend of sound experimentation and genre-bending.  Elsewhere in the blogosphere, I’ve called “Two Weeks” a scatter-shot symphony, one of many jewels on this opulent opus.  For awhile this year, it was the album all others were being measured against.

MP3: Grizzly Bear “Cheerleader”

Dan Mangan
Nice, Nice, Very Nice (File Under:Music)

Dan Mangan’s raspy, well-worn voice imbues sincerity and warmth, like your favourite funny uncle; he may not say a lot, but when he does, you know it’s going to be worth hearing.  Why I ever waited so long to give this album a proper listen I don’t know, but I’m certainly glad that I did.  Mangan has established himself as a songwriter to reckon with.  “Road Regrets” is at the top of my list for song of the year, followed quickly by “Robots” and “Sold”.

MP3: Dan Mangan “Road Regrets”

Manic Street Preachers
Journal For Plague Lovers (Columbia)

If you would have told me at the start of 2009 that Manic Street Preachers would be appearing on my year-end list, I would have retorted with, “Yeah, and Blur are going to get back together, too.”  After hearing the Steve Albini-recorded Journal For Plague Lovers I could not–and would not–deny that the Manic Street Preachers have managed a is a sure-footed return to form by following up a record they released 15 years and five albums ago.  Journal For Plague Lovers is a beautiful eulogy for their former band-mate Richey Edwards, whose final lyrical contributions have been given a proper documenting.  A career-defining moment, too long in the making.  Welcome back; we missed you.

Video: Manic Street Preachers “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time”

Fantasies (Metric Music International)

It’s been criticized as being an record of singles, and not a proper “album” at all; they’ve had “sell out!” shouted at them and been derided by all sorts of critics armchair or otherwise.  But–GOSH DARN IT!–Fantasies is a pretty fantastic record from beginning to end.  “Gimme Sympathy” was one of the highlights from the summer of ’09, and a career high.

MP3: Metric “Gimme Sympathy (acoustic)”

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Slumberland/Fortuna Pop)

The shoegaze revival made me feel old in 2009, but I could forgive The Pains of Being Pure at Heart for reminding me of my age, because, while many were doing it well, only they did it right.  Their blend of fizzy twee-pop fermenting with feedback didn’t re-invent the wheel, but it certainly improved on previous models.  They ended the year by bettering their formula with the Higher Than The Stars EP, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that this was one of the year’s most enjoyable debuts.

MP3: The Pains of Being Pure At Heart “Everything With You”

The Rest
Everyone All At Once (The Rest/Auteur Recordings)

The Rest  pretty much snuck up on me and stole my heart away with their splendid debut album of tender and stirring compositions.  At times they sounded like Belle & Sebastian playing Arcade Fire covers, at others they managed an anthemic bombast that was distinctly their own.  Sadly overlooked for this year’s Polaris Prize, Everyone All At Once is an immense, and accomplished record. Auspicious beginnings, indeed.

MP3: The Rest “Walk On Water (Auspicious Beginnings)”

The xx
XX (Young Turks)

The most minimal of minimalist records, XX challenged listeners perceptions of what is necessary for “good music”.  Flashy production?  Treated vocals?  fancy cover art?  How about bass, drum, guitar and a pair of voices? Back in September I said that “Infinity” is what you’d get if Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” made out with Massive Attack’s “Blue Lines” at a house party in the suburbs, and I stand by that now.  It stands apart as the most refreshing and original record of 2009.

MP3: The xx “Basic Space”

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  2. Bryant says:

    Great selection! I really like the majority of your picks, and there are definitely a handful of acts that have flown below my radar, so I’ll have to check them out. My lone gripe is with Pains of Being Pure at Heart — there music just didn’t grip me, but maybe that’s a problem with me rather than with the band.

    I appreciate you putting this together, I know first hand how much time it takes to listen/rank/write-up/post a year end list is, so thanks again for doing it!

  3. […] (#4 Canadian Album of 2009/Year in Review Interview) Quick Before It Melts ( Albums of the Year/ Song Of The Year “Road Regrets”) The Verge (Top Songs of 2009-#6 “Road Regrets”, #81 “Robots”) Hour (Year in […]

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