top 10 albums of 2009

02Jan10

I know that this is technically tabu, since ’09 is gone and we have walked into a new decade, but I have to. Not only do I want to share with others my favorite albums from the last year, but I also think it will be really interesting to look back at this post, in even a couple of years, and see how much my musical tastes have evolved or if they become stagnant. So, without further ado here is my top 10 list of my favorite albums of ’09 – if you’re interested in getting any of these albums from me, just leave a comment letting me know.

1. As Cities Burn – Hell Or High Water
I’m sure this comes as a shock to no one, since I blab about this band constantly. Although, 2009 was a heart-breaking year for ACB, breaking-up and all, this album was everything I needed their last album to be. Not to mention, the artwork is an exceptional wood etching! At first listen, it definitely had a new sound. The last couple of weeks leading to this albums release, the band would post one new song on their myspace page every week. I remember being excited when monday would come-around, listening to the new material, not knowing exactly how to feel. In my eyes, anything Cody Bonnette does is worthy of an open-mind and humble listen, and am I ever glad that that is exactly what I did. I can really relate, find comfort, and motivation in this album. That’s not something I can say about many. Recorded mostly by Cody himself, Hell Or High Water has much less screaming than their previous albums, specifically Son I Loved You At My Darkest and a lot more direction from what seems to be becoming Cody’s style. Still written very personally, this album creates accountability for christians and the church and exposes the negative and stale that lives in both. Ex-member/old brother TJ Bonnette makes an appearance on the track Gates, a song that is more reminiscent of their old sound – man do I love these two brothers singing together. Definitely my favorite band,  this album is hands-down, deserving of the #1 spot. Favorite song: Made Too Pretty

2. P.O.S. – Never Better
“… presented by Doomtree, sponsored by the Rhymesayers”, P.O.S. says pridefully in the album’s first song, Let It Rattle. Easily becoming one of my favorite artists from Minneapolis, P.O.S. with help from the Doomtree and RSE crews, has created one of the best, most fresh hip hop albums I have ever heard! This is his third release, definitely encouraging me to check out his first 2 albums. Packed with instruments, off-beat-sounding choruses and song-writing that raises the bar for all of hip hop – P.O.S. is paving the way. With an obvious punk-rock-inspired sound, I think that this album can appeal to many who don’t like your typical rap or hip hop. After all, P.O.S. has been on the warped tour. Touching on topics of race and identity, this album seems to be directly from P.O.S.’ heart. Honesty would be the word I would use to define P.O.S., he has some of the most truthful lyrics, making him appear to be a real person who has struggles just like you and I. Some of his lyrics expose him so truthfully, even if what he is saying might be shameful or embarrassing – it’s still the truth. (ex. A lot of my friends shake when they don’t drink. All my friends wheeze when they sleep. All my friends think green, but can’t afford to live it.)  So many musicians seem to live a different life than the general public, almost like they’re on a different planet. Well P.O.S. is definitely the type of dude that you might run into the next time your having a pint at the bar. With more of a political presence than spiritual – if I were to personally say that this album is lacking anything, it would be that spiritual aspect. I had this album at #6, but after listening to it while writing this review – I’ve decided that it needs to be higher up on my count down. Favorite Song: Purexed

3. mewithoutYou – It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright
Whenever I think of the art of poetry and story-telling, I think of this album. With a much more mellow vibe, this album shows a different side of Aaron Weiss. We saw a glimpse of this in their previous album Brother, Sister, but on this venture, Aaron has nearly diminished his angry-yelling style of singing – which for a lot of people, was what they liked about this band. Personally, I like both styles. Now, don’t let the fun animal characters and folk sound of some of the songs fool you, this album is very dynamic and contemplative. I love that Aaron sings in arabic on some of the tracks, it gives this album a much more diverse feel – a refreshing change from most other “christian” bands. From storytelling to worship songs, this album feels very complete and every listen makes me want to run out and dance in a field on a warm summer day! Favorite song: The King Beetle On A Coconut Estate

4. The Devil Wears Prada – With Roots Above And Branches Below
With a band name that I can’t stand, it was refreshing to recently read that the band also dislikes and regrets their name. Although, I do  like the visual that this album’s title, With Roots Above And Branches Below, creates. Definitely a post-hardcore, scream album,  the lyrical content that this band writes is what makes this album for me – I guess the exceptionally-harsh break-downs help too. The titles of their track names have always seemed childish and bothered me. Maybe if these guys were still 14 year-old boys, they would be appropriate – it just brings this great album’s whole maturity level down several notches. With that being said, I love the pride that TDWP has in their faith. This type of music, specifically, I don’t really enjoy or relate to when the content seems to lack purpose or value. Now, that doesn’t mean that I only listen to christian post-hardcore bands, but the passion and energy that this music demands of these musicians seems almost-pointless if they have no true value or purpose driving their music. Covering topics from mass media lyin, our society not backing-up the politicians we elect and how we all live off the lust and misfortune of others – this album is by no means immature. Faith driven, this album is both encouraging and eye-opening, plus it rocks ridiculously hard. I’ve seen this band live twice and I can honestly say that for this style of music, they give the best performance by far. Favorite song: Dez Moines

5. Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing
Let start by saying that Andy Hull is one of the best singer/songwriters of our time. This is Manchester Orchestra’s sophomoric effort, although I recall reading here that he has written and recorded 38 full length albums, but only released 2 of them. Although, they have released several EP’s. Let me just mention that I saw them live about a year-and-a-half ago when Andy was celebrating his 21st birthday. I don’t even understand how he can be such a young baby and have recorded 38+ albums. He’s only 21, yet his beard and burly presence makes every ounce of my unaccomplished manhood ache – one day, I too, will have a massive beard, one day. This album is incredible on so many levels, many of them I haven’t even recognized yet. Andy’s logical, but emotional battle with God is present in many of his songs – not lacking on this album. He grew up a pastor’s kid, which I really believe has molded him to be the writer that he is. He even declares this in the song The Only One, singing “I am the only son of a Pastor I know, who does the things I do”. Andy’s unique, strong voice is the fuel that drives this album – but the the classic-sounding, guitar melodies and back-up vocals polish a sound only possible by Manchester Orchestra. I really hadn’t experienced MO until I saw Andy, in all his glory, and the posessed-like Chris Freeman belting-out high notes while shuffling keyboards, computers and abusing a floor tom with a tympani stick. The oxymoronic title Mean Everything To Nothing perfectly sets the spirit of this album. Throw in a few songs about friends, personal-questioning and some old church hymns and you’ve experienced the monster in Andy’s mind that has written these beauties. Favorite Song: The River

6. Doomtree – Doomtree
I am proud and honored to say that my city, Minneapolis, is home to some of the best and most legitimate hip hop out there. Doomtree is a collective group consisting of 9 members – 5 emcees and 4 producers/dj’s. I’m not sure what rock I was living under for the past 5 years, but I had never checked out Doomtree until about a year-ago, which is really embarrassing because not only do I love hip hop and local music, but I interned for a Minneapolis music magazine in college, where I learned so much about the diverse music scene here. I do recall hearing the name Doomtree thrown around randomly, but oh man was I missing out. Labeled as underground or indie hip hop, this grimy group is definitely known best for their lyricism, diversity and their ability to make good new music. This album is their 2nd release as a group – although each emcee has come-out with solo projects – and I believe I read somewhere that this album was the first real album in the group’s eyes. The only thing that is better than this album is watching them perform it live. Their energy, professionalism and stage presence is always worth the $5-12 cover. Favorite song: Gander Back

7. Halloween, Alaska – Champagne Downtown
Another local band, Halloween, Alaska has been one of my favorite indie-electronic bands for years. This is their third, and probably most waited-for/anticipated album. Completely driven by thoughtfully-used synth keyboard sounds and lead singer James Diers’ abstract vocals – HA is in a league of their own. One of my favorite characteristics of many HA songs is the low, grumbling bass that cradles the sounds of the rest of the instruments. With the correct sound system, or at the correct venue, the chemistry of these sounds is magical ambience. I don’t know a better way to describe this album, than to say it is an absolutely perfect accompaniment to a black cup of coffee, or a glass of cabernet sauvignon. The percussion executed by the popular David King is incredible. I remember seeing HA for the first time, watching David with meditatively-like concentration, playing faster than my eyes could follow. It’s almost as if his mind and body were designed specifically for him to keep rhythm and be a drummer. I remember thinking how incredible it was, during slower parts or songs, that David would still play just as fast, but he would play the off-beats on his thigh, instead of a drum, to keep the pace fast. Lyrically, I don’t necessarily relate to HA’s songs – I’ve always thought them to be too abstract for my comprehension – as if they are floating around in space – I can read them as they go by, but I can’t grab or contain them. I know they’re pretty small and not extremely well-known outside of the twin cities, but definitely check these guys out. Favorite Song: Gone With The Wind

8. Mos Def – Ecstatic
Ever since I heard Mos Def and Talib Kweli together as the duo Black Star, Mos has been one of my favorite emcees. On and Off labels – Mos has released 3 solo albums previous to this one. Open in his music about being Muslim, Mos starts the first track on this, and all of his albums, by saying, “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim”. An Arabic, insightful expression that is said to contain the true essence of the entire Qur’an, as well as the true essence of all religions. Muslims often say this phrase when embarking on a significant endeavor. All but one chapter of the Qur’an begins with this statement. The english translation is In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate. I love that Mos chooses to show his faith and disciplne by starting his projects by giving glory to God. Right off the bat I feel that I can relate spiritually to this album and my mind has been elevated to hear the music in a different light. I’m trying to think back to Mos’ previous albums, and I might be wrong, but I think that he pays homage to Slick Rick in all of his albums by somehow mimicking his lyrics – assuming Mos believes that imitation is the highest form of flattery. This trend is surpassed on Ecstatic, in the song Auditorium, where Slick Rick actually has a verse on the track. One of the most well-know artists for socially-conscious hip hop, Mos’ music has always been thought provoking and daring. Culturally awake – Mos sings a song in spanish, speaks Arabic and challenges listeners throughout the whole album, things that are not characteristic of most hip hop albums, to say the least. The only expectation I have for Mos’ future albums is that they’re going to be a true reflection of him at that time. I don’t know if it will sound like this album, or if he will sing on the whole thing, similar to The New Danger. This is part of who he is as an artist and why this album is a great listen. Favorite Song: Priority

9. Pac Div – Church League Champions (mixtape)
T
echnically not an album, Church League Champions is a mixtape put out by the California trio, Pacific Division, more commonly known as Pac Div. You can download it free, here! This album is classic hip hop, freakishly reminding me of my first and still-favorite hip hop group, A Tribe Called Quest. Sick of the current bling’d out trash, these guys try to bring something different out of Cali, although frustrated with being judged by their peers and the industry for not sounding like typical west coast rap. Singing about polo shirts, 501 Levi’s and getting clothes at swap meets – they definitely are different, but they still have a west coast flare that is apparent in several songs – especially through the vocal sound of member BeYoung. The fact that I like every track on this promotional mixtape only excites me for their debut album that is said to be released in the first quarter of 2010. They have a very polished sound, they’re lyrically clever and each song has a different sound – a trait that is missing from so many hip hop acts. Favorite song: Young Black Male

10. Anchor and Braille – Felt
The solo project from Anberlin front-man Stephen Christian, Felt is a mostly acoustic bundle of ballads and love songs. Hearing the higher-pitch of Stephen’s vocals, it definitely explores a new, slower pace than what we’re used to hearing from Anberlin. Backed with a lot of harmonic piano parts, this is a great, romantic-sounding album to listen to over dinner with your better half. Many songs incorporate what sounds to be brass horns, which helps give the ablum some dimension that the guitar and piano can’t accomplish alone. Overall a good album, I try to listen sparingly because I could find myself getting sick of it quickly – but still worth listening to, especially if you appreciate Anberlin. Favorite Song: Sleep. When We Die.

Honorable Mentions
Making this list was a lot harder, time-consuming, self-exploring and demanding than I thought it would be. I can’t believe that all the albums on this list are only the albums that came out in 2009 – I had many others that I realized where released in 2008, so they didn’t make it. I guess for my musical tastes, 2009 was a really busy year. I hope you enjoyed the list and were able to learn about some new music.
peace, kev.

Brother Ali – Us

Brand New – Daisy

Thrice – Beggars

Tides Of Man – Empire Theory

The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love

Emery – In Shallow Seas We Sail

K’naan – Troubadour

Oh, Sleeper – Son Of The Morning

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6 Responses to “top 10 albums of 2009”

  1. 1 jackie

    kevin, you put a lot of work into this and i am impressed! way to go. i enjoyed reading it.

  2. I be interested to here why the honorable mentions weren’t top ten. mainly Brand new, K’nann, and Thrice.

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