Best Albums of 2009: 1-5

1.

xx by the xx

I am forced to admit that xx by the xx was a dark horse when I was contemplating this list. Although relatively new to music compared to many of the artists on this list, I was pleasantly surprised when xx became the most obvious choice for Best Album of 2009 during my musings. Featuring a cohesive sound far more mature than it had any right to be, xx is a tour de force in down-tempo rhythm and blues. The album plays out more as a discussion between lovers than a sampling of songs. The song “Intro”, which, appropriately enough, begins the album, is a brilliant primer for the rest of xx. It begins with a sample of the Mac start-up sound, immediately associating the listener with a feeling of something new and alive. This feeling is appropriate given the nature of the album. xx sees romance as something exciting, a process of give and take and equilibrium, and a feeling to be explored. Dependency is something that isn’t to be ashamed of, instead, it is embraced. These themes are the main focus of a majority of the songs, and yet, remarkably, the songs never feel stale or trite. There are one or two clunkers in the mix (“VCR” and “Basic Space”) but these are easily overlooked on the basis of the quality of literally every other song on the album. The instrumentals play a large part in this. The album could lack lyrics and still come across as one of the better instrumental albums in recent memory. Soft and soothing, and often driven by a powerful back beat, the instrumentals easily carry the (mostly clever) lyrics along in a way that is deeply affecting and poignant. Simply put, xx is an album that deserves one, two, or 100 listens, preferably with that special someone.

2.

Two Suns by Bat for Lashes

Natasha Khan is amazing. She is beyond incredible in terms of voice, vision, and execution. Two Suns is the superlative product of these traits. It is a difficult album to explain to the layman as it is just so… odd. But odd in a way that piques the audience’s interest. Khan has the voice of an angel and an ear for melody. Two Suns is about Khan exploring her separate psyches, each one a luminous being in her own way. But just as it is difficult to nail down her influences (electro, pop, classical, alternative rock, a bit of metal?), her schizophrenic nature is as elusive. Who is Khan and who is Pearl? Instead of peeling them apart, it should be inferred that they are inseparable from one another. Two Suns ultimately succeeds on the merits of the melodies and the vocals in each song. “Glass” is, in this reviewer’s opinion, probably the best intro song ever recorded. Exemplary in nearly every description, it forces the listener to acknowledge that, despite the oddness of Khan’s vague construction, the ensuing will be a piece of meticulous art, thought out and planned by Khan herself. And although the message may be lost in translation, the beauty of the album itself is not. Two Suns is a view of a world that should be experienced by everyone.

3.

Manners by Passion Pit

Music, while it has a base in intellectual and mathematical theories, is a device that is deliberate in its attempts to connect with a more primal part of the mind. There are few albums that do this better than Manners by Passion Pit. It is less concerned with technical merit than it is with striking a chord with the listener. It aims for little more than an infectious chorus with a danceable backbeat. And ultimately, this is a noble, if misunderstood, ambition. Manners makes no attempt to take itself seriously, and, in that way, it is a refreshing change from so many albums of any genre. The inherent problem with an album with this attitude is that it depends entirely on the skill and talent of the artist. Thankfully, Passion Pit is more than able to produce songs that are so infectious, I dare any listener to give the album a spin and not have a song stuck in his head by the end. Manners doesn’t seem to have a cohesive narrative and it doesn’t need one. Every song on the album is just as infectious as the last. It should be noted that Manners is not a fluff piece. Passion Pit has developed some very quality music that demands to be listened to in the company of others.

4.

Hospice by The Antlers

Occasionally an album will come along that redefines one’s expectations of a genre… and maybe the entirety of music as well. Hospice is an album of such aching poignancy that it almost breaks the heart to listen to more than once. But it cannot be helped as the quality of the music alone makes it worth at least another listen, if not a permanent spot on one’s playlist. The Antlers combine shoe-gaze and folk to deliver an album of incredible tenderness that affects not only the ears but the heart as well. Hospice is told as a singular narrative that follows a man as he loses a loved one to cancer. Peter Silberman’s voice is perfect: it is sweet yet morose tone to it, almost as if he were telling a tragic lullaby, and there is such an agony to his voice that it is almost painful to listen to. But one should, again and again. Hospice is the equivalent of watching Oedipus Rex for the first time: one can’t help but observe the tragedy before him but is rewarded with the ultimate catharsis. Without a doubt one of the best albums of the year.

5.

The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs by Freddie Gibbs

A late addition to the list, The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs is the rare combination of wit and bravado that also manages to paint a striking picture of life on the street. Freddie Gibbs is an able rapper and one that isn’t afraid to call it like it is. He uses his candor in combination with his lyrical prowess to establish a game that is fearsome indeed. Although occasionally bogged down by the conventions of popular rap music of the day, he is a creative soul with a bent towards clever word play and epic beats. The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs is a panorama of street life that reveals the paradoxical elements of a quotidian existence in relentless poverty and boundless aspirations. Chasing skirts and wealth, Freddie Gibbs both extols and condemns the life he leads. He admits that the price of being successful in “the hood” is a high one indeed. And although he is quick to point out the atrocities of living the way he does, he is just as mercurial in defending it. The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs is an album that takes all the best of elements of old school hip hop and popular rap today and combines them into a new form that rewards the listener with multiple listens. Hopefully Freddie Gibbs doesn’t disappear like an artist with a similarly nigh-eponymous album. Pitchfork claimed that it is rappers like Freddie Gibbs that are saving rap, a claim that is difficult to refute after one listens to The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs.

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~ by Verse on December 7, 2009.

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