Best music of 2009 (so far)

Alex Schaaf

Well, it is official: 2009 is already an infinitely better year for music than 2008. Sure, last year we romped in the forest with Fleet Foxes, we giggled to some of of Montreal’s innuendos, and we got a lesson in old-school rock and roll from The Raconteurs. But 2009 has already, not even halfway through, seen some major hitters that have knocked those groups out of the water. Here’s where I stand so far on the year’s best, though I reserve the right to change my opinions drastically by the end of 2009.
1. “Veckatimest,” Grizzly Bear
Unless Radiohead comes out with another surprise release, or Neutral Milk Hotel reunites for “Aeroplane, pt. 2,” I don’t see any other album topping this one. Packed with rich, dense layers of sound, it showcases everything that was great about “Yellow House,” their previous release, while adding so much more. “Two Weeks” is bound to be the song of the summer, as the band takes on a more straightforward pop approach than usual, and it pays off, with glimmering vocals set over a bouncing piano theme.
2. “Bitte Orca,” Dirty Projectors
I hadn’t really paid much attention to Dirty Projectors before their “Knotty Pine” collaboration with David Byrne for a charity album earlier this year, which I thought was very impressive. Then I got “Bitte Orca,” and it was everything I liked about that song unfolded into an entire album. This band is definitely a grower, as you might get turned off at first by the unorthodox song structures or the unique quality of lead singer Dave Longstreth’s voice, but getting past those roadblocks you realize what a masterpiece this album really is. Filled with both virtuosic guitar playing and handclaps, with R&B-like grooves and dizzying meter changes, the album has something for everyone, music elitists and club-goers alike.
3. “Noble Beast/Useless Creatures,” Andrew Bird
Bird’s latest release is another sold contribution to his catalog. He uses the distinctive traits that have got him this far – the pizzicato violin lines, the whistling, and the inventive lyrics. On top of that he adds even more new textures and sounds, leading to a captivating if melancholy album. Tracks like “Oh No” and “Anonanimal” showcase everything there is to love about Bird. In addition to all this, he released a second album, “Useless Creatures,” on the same day, showcasing his more experimental side. The album is not a throwaway; it manages to be catchy without any words and it shows a much deeper layer to Bird’s genius.
4. “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” Animal Collective
Animal Collective has probably gotten the most blog hype of 2009, but in this case it is well-deserved. This album likely won over many fans, like myself, that just couldn’t break into their previous efforts. But with tracks like “My Girls” or “Brothersport,” it’s hard to say no. “Merriweather” is a densely packed, electronic yet organic mixture of sounds and textures, packed with enough punch to turn these art-rockers into party favorites.
5. “Manners,” Passion Pit
Picking up from where I left off with Animal Collective, these guys know how to bring the party. “Manners” is an upbeat dance album, as instantly catchy as they come. Tracks like “Little Secrets” and “The Reeling” are powerful grooves packed with riffs that will never leave your head. “Sleepyhead” was the first track that brought Passion Pit into my consciousness, with its chipmunk falsetto over a delicious Cyndi Lauper beat, but the rest of the album is equally strong. Sometimes “catchy” can also mean hollow or soulless, but Passion Pit knows how to bring the sincere emotion along with the beats.
Other albums that have made 2009 a great year for music: Dan Deacon’s “Bromst,” The Decemberists’ “Hazards of Love,” Here We Go Magic’s self-titled debut album, Bowerbirds’ “Upper Air,” Fanfarlo’s “Reservoir,” and Wilco’s “Wilco (The Album).” I’ll check back in December to tell you how these hold up over the coming months.