The Inflatable Ferret’s Top 25 Albums of 2009, taken from Volume I, Issue 4. To download a free copy of the full issue, go here. (Note: To listen to the albums on the lala.com media players, you will need an account. To sign up for a free Lala.com account, go here.)

In a year that saw the ascent of Lady Gaga, Kanye’s VMA outburst, and Chris Brown’s domestic abuse scandal, some of the best releases were lost in the hidden corners of the music world. 2009 was the year of the debut album, but it also saw solid releases from a few familiar faces. IF was sick of everyone coming out with their Best Of lists a month or two before the year even ended. So, we invite you to look back on 2009 as we sift out the music industry muck to give you the 25 best albums.

25. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast


Andrew Bird’s fifth solo album caught IF’s attention because of it’s mellow sound and evident maturity from his previous albums.  But all the things we love about Andrew Bird remain – his novel whistle, unique mix of instruments, and looping technique. “Tenuousness” and “Anonanimal” feature Bird’s clever wordplay and convoluted, open-ended lyrics. In “Tenuousness,” he sings, “From proto-sanskrit Minoans to Porto-centric Lisboans/ Greek Cypriots and harbor sorts/ who hang around in ports a lot.”  Bird’s toying with us, often times asking us to stretch our imagination to allow sounds of words to redefine their meaning.

24. The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come



For most musicians, a concept album revolving around the Bible would be a bold move.  For John Darnielle, it’s just another stop on his folk-lyrical life journey – of course, it’s not just “any other album.”  Darnielle’s honesty with his religious doubt and obsession with the Good Book as literature are refreshing and endearing.  That familiar nasal trill is no longer the confused young songwriter of the 90’s, but a pensive sage reflecting on times past and putting into words the doubts he has about his future.  He’s one of music’s greatest storytellers, and this is one that’s worth sitting down for.

23. Memory Tapes – Seek Magic



One part dance, one part electronica, one part new age – who are we kidding?  There are no distinct parts to Seek Magic.  Just a swirl of Dayve Hawk’s brilliant electronic psychedelia.  Full of the DJ’s signature mellifluous bells and keys, Seek Magic contains precisely what it presumes to be searching for (magic, that is).  The album plays so fluidly, it’s hard to believe it’s made up of different components instead of one flowing substance.

22. Califone – All My Friends are Funeral Singers



Califone always had the sort of orchestral appeal of an 8-piece band despite being just a foursome.  But they might as well have twice the members with how versatile they are.  Listen to any given track on All My Friends and you’ll have a different conception of the kind of band they’re trying to be, be it the folk stomp “Ape-Like” or the rough post-rock “Giving Away the Bride.”  But it’s not a scattered variety.  Califone’s purpose is clear – to redefine indie folk…and music in general, for that matter.

21. Volcano Choir – Unmap



Justin Vernon has brilliantly spaced out his releases of late, from Bon Iver’s debut album, to their Blood Bank EP, to September’s Unmap, a collaboration with Collections of Colonies of Bees.  It’s enough to keep our JV fever at bay, but not enough to get tired of it.  Using a stripped down version of Blood Bank song “Woods” and adding strong tracks like the strangely upbeat “Island, IS”, Vernon proves that Volcano Choir is not just a throwaway side project – it’s a whole new persona.

20. Amadou & Mariam – Welcome to Mali



Everyone’s favorite blind Afro-pop duo is back, and they’re badder than ever.  Well, they’re actually good-er than ever…?  Always conscious of their Malian roots, A&M decided to take their national pride one step further.  Don’t understand French?  No problem, because the mellotron in “Ce N’est Pas Bon” and Mariam’s gorgeous voice in “Sabali” transcend language (not to say that any other Amadou & Mariam track doesn’t).  They even put the title in English for us.  The K’Naan featured “Africa”, the title track, and the passionate “I Follow You (Nia Na Fin)”  remind us that we’re dealing with some of the most talented artists on the globe.  Honest, fun, and as always drenched in wonderfully catchy afro beats, Welcome to Mali is their best album yet.

19. Girls – Album



Ignoring the hype of Girls’ Album was no easy task for anyone in the blogosphere. And considering both Christopher Owens’ Children of God cult background and the “Lust for Life” XXX music video, I prejudicedly refused to submit to what I saw as indie’s most obtrusive spectacle of 2009. After listening to Album, however, I heard the most human record of the year. Owens and Chet “JR” White grounded an album of heartbreak and loss in a plethora of sunny, hopeful musical arrangements. From the blues inspired “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker” to the shoegazing “Morning Light,” Girls reaches deep into the annals of rock, and appropriately so for an album so lyrically nostalgic. Owens’ rueful lamentations seduce the listener to sympathize with his regret, the most remorseful of which I experienced being that I did not initially give Album a fair chance. Maybe I’ll start watching Glee. Just kidding, I won’t.

18. K’Naan – Troubadour



If only the Somalian rapper had burst onto the scene just a few years earlier – he’d have made the perfect spokesperson for D.A.R.E.  Even with a list of childhood tragedies as long as the journey he made to his present home in Canada, K’Naan’s “natural high” is enough to keep him away from drugs and alcohol.  But he wears his pain on his sleeve, and it’s a staple of his world-hip-hop.  “I never write for leisure,” he once wrote on his myspace.  Musicians talk about putting themselves into their music, but the Dusty Foot Philosopher comes as close as anyone can to breaking the boundary that lies between his musical and personal identity.  It might be cliché to use the word “inspirational” to describe any track, but let me tell you that “Wavin’ Flag” is the first song I’ve ever used that word to describe.  So, it’s no wonder it was picked as the 2010 World Cup Anthem.  “Take a Minute” thanks his mother and home country of Africa for helping K’Naan to “write this, by showing me to give is priceless.”  Troubadour is sure make anyone “feel the giving getting [them] up off the wall.”

17. Passion Pit – Manners



It’s easy to snub an album that began as a mixtape for the lead singer’s girlfriend – that is, unless you’ve heard it.  Michael Angelakos’ powerful falsetto and the band’s lovable synth-pop have caused thousands of college students across the world to appreciate a style of music often overlooked (and often with good reason).  Manners’ span may now extend beyond Angelakos’ girlfriend, but the original intentions remain.  Passion Pit is one of those indie pop bands you really don’t mind blowing up, because you know they deserve it.  “Sleepyhead” is one of the defining tracks of the year, but the album is as deep as any, and each track is as dance-worthy as the next.  When world peace is achieved, the world will dance to Manners.  I suggest you get a head start.

16. Real Estate – Real Estate



The debut album from these four Jersey boys is a perfect musical manifestation of warm summer nights, hanging out at the beach, and the simple freedom of carelessness. Even in the dead of winter, the heavy reverb and wispy vocals on tracks like “Fake Blues” and “Snow Days” could warm up the spirits of any listener with visions of ocean and sunshine. Lines like “Budweiser, Sprite, do you feel alright?” from standout “Suburban Beverage” give the album an almost tongue-in-cheek laziness that makes it all the more appealing.

15. Alberta Cross – Broken Side of Time



Never before have punk and country rock been fused so craftily.  After a change of scenery and three new members, Sweden born Petter Ericson Stakee and London born Terry Wolfers expand their innovative style on their debut LP.  Stakee’s distinct moan over layered jams-turned-compositions equals the perfect recipe for a blues-rock style that destroys any preconceptions of the Brooklyn-based five-piece.  Expect Wolfers’ enchanting bass and Stakee’s soulful gospel chants to make your spine tingle on “Rise From the Shadows.”  And try to keep your heart rate down for the frantic riffs of “Leave Us and Forgive Us.”  This is rock – the way it’s meant to be.

14. The Clean – Mister Pop



It’s better to burn out than fade away?  Tell that to any number of music legends who just didn’t know when to call it quits.  But you can’t really blame them – it’s as tough for a true musician to put down paper, pen, and instrument as it is for Brett Favre to walk away from a football field.  And can you really expect a band like the Red Hot Chili Peppers to make music like they did 20 years ago, given their transformation and maturation along the way?  No.  But you can expect it from The Clean.  The Daniel Day-Lewis of music, The Clean released their last album in 2001.  Though we can’t say exactly what they did in the 8 years in between, we can say that it produced one of the best albums from the influential New Zealanders.  They manage to infuse their work with elements that almost seem to predate their formation in 1978.  Try not to forget about these guys, and cherish Mister Pop.  Because it might be the last you hear from them in a while.

13. Wilco – Wilco



Poor Wilco.  Critics will always hold them to the standards of 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Well, boys, you can rest easy knowing that IF still appreciates your music.  And we commend the tribute to Bad Company with the whole self-titled song/album concept.  Okay, so they may not have had Bad Co. in mind when they named it.  But we won’t let that take away from our listening experience.  Laid back tracks like “Wilco (the song)” and “Sunny Feeling” and the heartfelt Tweedy-Feist duet “You and I” lead us down roads previously untaken by the alt-country dandies.

12. Bat for Lashes – Two Suns



Natasha Khan seems like the obvious heir apparent to Björk as indie music’s most evasive enchantress. But unlike her Icelandic precursor’s fowl 2001 Oscar get up, the English-Pakistani Khan’s second full-length album doesn’t lay an egg. Two Suns’ fragmented narrative explores the ebb and flow of Khan’s relationships with a lover and her self through a wide number of cosmic, earthly, and metaphysical dualities. Khan subjects her own identity to this principle through her conception of an altar ego named Pearl, a malignant blonde (as if there were any other kind), whom Khan birthed as a result of her personal investigative research ala Nellie Bly. From the public liberation of her foil’s persona and fair-haired wig to a concurrent, inspirational trip to Joshua Tree, Khan demonstrates a pedantic commitment to preparation that successfully grounds her otherworldly lyrics and synth. The record’s first single, “Daniel,” entwines an 80’s mystique with elemental images of fire and water in her pursuit of love lost. In tracks such as “Moon and Moon” and “Sleep Alone,” Khan’s voice captures the fragility of a woman bereft of her lover. And from the adoption of a new personality, she discovers the struggle with her own identity in “Siren’s Song” and “Pearl’s Dream.” Throughout the album, Khan illustrates the ubiquity of darkness; and in the climactic duet with Scott Walker entitled “The Big Sleep,” she fully succumbs to the shadows. Ultimately, what is most impressive about Two Suns is that an album rooted in duality motifs is itself binate, reconciling dark, conceptual themes with catchy choruses and synth-pop beats.

11. The Antlers – Hospice



Hospice is 2009’s For Emma, Forever Ago.  Though the hype was not quite as massive, Peter Silberman’s ultra-introspective third effort can certainly hold its own.  One of the purest concept albums of the decade, the ten-track Hopsice is shy and unassuming with its one-word song names.  But that takes nothing away from its resplendence.  The album was created in solitude and with death in mind, and perhaps that’s how we’re supposed to listen to it.  There certainly aren’t any party tunes on it, but it’s hard to consider such a beautiful album a sober listening experience.


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