Ah, the inevitable year-end, best-of list. Don't fret. We've managed to move past the usual suspects (U2, Grizzly Bear) to compile a top-10 list that's truly unique—from Mos Def's return to rap to the local band that had all kinds of national buzz—along with a playlist of the songs that we just couldn't get out of our heads.
The Mountain, Heartless Bastards (Fat Possum). Rather than espouse the raw vigor emanating from this set, let's just cut to the chase. Erika Wennerstrom is a beast. A fucking beast! Forget comparisons to Janis Joplin and the like—this blonde Midwesterner outshines 'em all. Her voice is a reminder that someone else's pain can be manifested in a way that provides everyone else nothing but joy.
Fantasies, Metric (Metric Music International). For the four years between Live it Out and Fantasies, Metric must have been listening to Sonic Youth on a loop. Somehow Emily Haines has, again, blended heartbreak and synthesizers with her invigorating social-critique-meets-dance-party style of rock 'n' roll. Best part: There are acoustic versions of every track that prove each song, at its core, is perfect.
Summer of Hate, Crocodiles (Fat Possum). Derivative? Check. Obvious? Sure. But it's so damn catchy and fun throughout that it scarcely matters. Its 34 quick minutes of white-hot fuzz-pop, wham-bams and syrupy, strung-out synths is a hell of a good time that demands repeated listens. Across the board, local boys Charles Rowell and Brandon Welchez have created an album of infectious everything.
Embryonic, The Flaming Lips (Warner Bros.). It took me about 10 listens to actually begin to get this album and probably another 20 to truly love it. A total mess slowly took shape as tripped-out offerings like “Gemini Syringes” and “Sagittarius Silver Announcement” proved their worth. If anything, Embryonic proves that Steven Drozd can craft a diamond out of any tossed-off jam and that The Flaming Lips are still as fearlessly freaky as ever.
Actor, St. Vincent (4AD). Actor is a best-record contender for three reasons: 1. Annie Clark, who essentially is St. Vincent, wears a curly fro and doe eyes on the cover in the cutest way possible. 2. She also wrote the entire record herself. 3. She recorded it using GarageBand. On top of that, it's a very well-rounded mix of distortion and lullabies that I couldn't stop listening to over and over and over again.
Travels with Myself and Another, Future of the Left (4AD). Even after innumerable spins of Travels, that same wash of endorphins still pumps through my extremities as I once again come to the conclusion that this might be the best rock band in the world. No fashion, no posturing, no trend-hopping and no accompanying bullshit—just three Welsh men who happen to be craftier, louder and funnier than their contemporaries.
Album, Girls (True Panther). You wouldn't know it on initial listen, but Girls' debut is a lot like The Clash's London Calling. A genre-jumping pastiche of emotion and angst from a wounded soul (frontman Christopher Owens) that never lets up or loses its pop sensibility. More a collection of singles, compiled together it breathes new life into the LP format as an art.
The Ecstatic, Mos Def (Downtown). In previous endeavors, Mos bridged hip-hop with the indie scene. This time, he's built a goddamned light rail between whole continents of music, linking them all back to the Island of Great Art. In tracks set to everything from jump-rope beats from the playground to belly-dance riffs from Beirut, the artist formerly known as Ford Prefect sings, drums, hablas Español, recruits Madlib and Slick Rick and ultimately drops the last great hip-hop album of the decade.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Phoenix (V2 Records). Few bands can reference an over-the-top film (Lisztomania) and an epic one (Amadeus) without sounding like pop-culture pinheads, but France's Phoenix has done it brilliantly. On their fifth album, the hip Parisians play swoon-worthy Franco-synth-pop: precise, melodic, ambient and littered with unforgettable hooks and high-in-the-mix boyish vocals. As joyful / melancholic as Liszt / Mozart in their heyday.
xx, The xx (XL). Nothing is more musically intriguing than listening to two singers whisper lovers' secrets back and forth. And to hear it over a finely crafted rhythm is nearly orgasmic. The mature melancholy of The xx builds on Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft's mysterious vocal restraint to create English indie pop beyond the maturity of 20-year-olds.
CityBeat's 2009 Mixtape:
Side A: “I and Love and You,” The Avett Brothers; “Polite Dance Song,” The Bird and the Bee; “Ambling Alp,” Yeasayer; “Stillness is the Move,” Dirty Projectors; “I Never Said I Was Deep,” Jarvis Cocker; “People Got a Lot of Nerve,” Neko Case; “All The King's Men,” Wild Beasts; “Just War,” Dangermouse & Sparklehorse; “Psychic City (Voodoo City),” YACHT
Side B: “Fishage,” Beaters; “House of Flying Daggers,” Raekwon; “Ulysses,” Franz Ferdinand; “False Jesii Part II,” Pissed Jeans; “It's True,” Christmas Island; “The Heartbreak Rides,” A.C. Newman; “After the Rain,” Mission of Burma; “Freak Train,” Kurt Vile; “You Saved My Life,” Cass McCombs