Part 2 of The Inflatable Ferret’s Top 25 of 2009: 10 through 1…

10. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Everything about The Pains of Being Pure at Heart forces a double take. The mouthful of a band name sounds like its catering to the verbose indie music culture that could never settle for a simpler one. But it’s too good of a name to have any such agenda. Their fast-paced love songs sound like some kind of throwback. But it’s impossible to put your finger on just what exactly it is they’re imitating. Well, the answer is nothing at all. The Pains is one of the most inventive albums of the year, and it’s created with one of the most basic formulas. With relentless acoustic strumming that would make Johnny Marr drool, riffs so pure they’d run straight through the tiniest sieve, the New York popsters rethink an entire music scene without changing any of its bases. Perhaps what makes the foursome so successful is their uncanny ability to transform – not just translate – their very thoughts and emotions into music.

9. Wild Beasts – Two Dancers

Rarely does a young indie band fully mature just one year after its debut album, but Wild Beasts has already created a space for itself in British rock history. Tom Fleming and Hayden Thorpe’s paranormal vocals reinvent the two-singer approach, and their “Hooting and Howling” are as significant instruments as the lusciously layered, subtle guitar or Chris Talbot’s steady drum rhythms. There’s not a weak spot on this album, from the opener “The Powder Fun Plot” (who can forget the wonderfully bizarre line “This is a booty call/my boot, my boot, my boot, my boot up your asshole”) to the spacey “Empty Nest.” Wild Beasts are eager to welcome you to their world, and they lure you in with a style so accessible you can’t help but join in the curious frenzy.

8. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Part II

We’ve all heard the tireless debates between those who think hip-hop is dead and those who think it’s alive and well. Well, one thing’s for sure. Hip-hop is alive. But is it well? Hip-hop’s reputation, of course, has suffered from lackluster releases from its most respected stars (Jay-Z’s The Blueprint III) and its most ridiculous self-parodists (Chris Brown’s Graffiti). And it’s undeniable that rap has taken a new direction since the turn of the millennium, straying far from the Wu-Tang sound. But as long as Clan members release music, the spirit of hip-hop’s most respected group will remain. Cuban Linx II embodies that spirit, and it includes a number of familiar faces. Considering the appearances by Ghostface, Inspectah Deck, and RZA, it essentially is a Wu-Tang record. The most impressive thing about Cuban Linx II is that the 2009 sequel sounds just like it would have had it been release in 1996.

7. St. Vincent – Actor

With haunting vocals and eerie harmonies, St. Vincent’s sophomore album refused to go unnoticed this year. Annie Clark was a former member of Sufjan Stevens’ live touring band before debuting solo, which speaks for her unique composing style and beautifully chilling chord progressions. Throughout the album, Clark’s calm, gentle soprano floats over layers of pedal distortion and minor chords. Burying her emotions in subtle metaphors and contrasting tones, Clark captures the sound of stifled anxiety and desperation, wrapped in fairy-tale idealism. From the layers of lilting melody in the album’s opener “The Strangers,” to the distorted guitar-heavy “Actor Out of Work”, Clark shows highs and lows in each song. “Marrow” is a progression from a controlled, methodical opening to a tense, hysterical conclusion, which blends into more soothing choral-like harmonies of “The Bed” and “The Party.” Actor is a thoughtfully crafted journey through layers of insightful and emotive introspection.

6. The Dead Weather – Horehound

I’m not going to say everything Jack White touches turns to gold, but everything Jack White touches turns to gold. He’s one of the few modern artists (or artists, period) I feel comfortable using the word “genius” to describe. He’s a tireless innovator and a prolific one at that. When he’s not acting, producing, giving lectures, or managing his own Third Man record label, he’s usually putting out excellent music. But what is most refreshing about his latest project is that The Dead Weather is not really his. White takes back seat (or should we say shotgun?) to Alison Mosshart here, and he shows he’s just as capable a sidekick as he is a hero. With half-Kills, half-Stripes guitar riffs, Horehound fuses metal surges and relentless cymbals into simple soulful blues-rock. “I drank some dirty water/Shook evil hands/I’ve done some bad things/And they get easier to do,” mutters Mosshart in a classically simple blues narrative: her character caught up in her evil deeds. White’s witty wordplay shines on “Cut Like a Buffalo”: “Wake me up when it’s broke/But only if it’s broken/You know I like treating you like a joke/Can’t tell when I’m joking.” It’s definitely too soon for White Stripes comparisons, but Jack White is as comfortable with his new gang as he’s ever been.

5. Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Phoenix’s star-eyed dance pop has always been suited perfectly for the radio, so it’s somewhat puzzling that their first major mainstream recognition comes a whopping nine years after their 2000 debut album United. It’s one of those made-for-Hollywood success stories, and not just because the French foursome is so likeable – their music is just as contagious as their smiles. Their pristine dream hooks and Thomas Mars’ silky vocals are sure to force fluid movement from even the stiffest partygoers. Phoenix take major steps with Wolfgang, including a more percussive focus and, most notably, the wonderfully crescendo instrumental track “Love Like a Sunset Part I.” Surprisingly, however, it’s not what they did differently on this album that put them in iPods across America, but what they did the same. It’s what they did differently that makes Wolfgang their best album to date.

4. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

My mama always said a Dirty Projectors album is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. And so it seems that the only certainty at each recording session is that frontman Dave Longstreth will include more signatures than the Declaration of Independence and more arrangements than an IKEA retailer. Bitte Orca, German for “Please, whale,” maintains all the idiosyncrasies of the band’s previous work; however, Longstreth and co. have finally delivered a consistently blissful record. In chocolate terms, Bitte Orca is an assortment of delectable sweets without so much as a coconut black sheep. The objective of the album was to involve everybody, a goal no better fulfilled than on “Useful Chamber,” which in itself sounds like an entire record. Lead single “Stillness Is the Move” treads the elusive border between the complex, jarring ingenuity of art rock and light-hearted simplicity and easy listening of pop. The rest of the album continues to integrate this duality, delivering a clarity that art rock had previously neglected and, dare I say, reinventing the way artists will reinvent.

3. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

You know you are in for a treat when you hear Wayne Coyne and company have cooked up their weirdest album yet. And though that claim may be fiercely contested, you certainly can’t argue that Embryonic is in any way normal. The Oklahoman veterans return to form with psychedelically accretive tracks like “Silver Trembling Hands” and “The Ego’s Last Stand” that alternate between mellow dream and frenzied nightmare. The album is bound together by a thick layer of static Lips-ian synth to remind us we are no longer on Earth, and it even includes guest appearances from Karen O and MGMT. Don’t miss Coyne classically listing off animals in “I Can Be a Frog” while Karen O mimics each one. Sure, you can call their bold videos (“Watching the Planets”) and fetus Christmas ornaments a big publicity stunt. But they pull it off, especially on this culmination of their mind-bending strangeness. “What’s the difference between us?” Coyne asks in “Convonced of a Hex”. Well, Wayne, I could go on and on.

2. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Named after the Columbia, Maryland venue where Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Deaken (Josh Dibb) encountered and coddled their vast range of musical influences, it’s only fitting that a categorically fleeting album anchored in sampling pay homage to this physical and memorial melting pot of inspiration. Fueled by an extensive spectrum of untenable sounds ranging anywhere and everywhere between organically tribal tracks like “Lion in A Coma” and the electronically-vibrant, psychedelic, melodic orgy “Brother Sport,” Merriweather Post Pavilion is the keystone of the decade’s pursuit for musical perfection, a trait more synonymously Beach Boys than the similarly immaculate harmonies whence tracks like “No More Runnin,” “Bluish,” and the euphoric, but cardiac-arrest inducing “My Girls” manifest the ethereal acoustics of Brian Wilson and company. Nay, the comparison fits best in the harmoniously distraught lamentations of their contemporaries, who might have previously imagined the sounds of Merriweather Post Pavilion in the conceptual recesses of their minds, but failed to transpose them into reality first. Any and all heretofore sonic impossibilities materialize. It’s undulating. It’s cosmic. It’s autonomous. But above all, Merriweather Post Pavilion is transcendent.

1. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Veckatimest sounds incredibly diverse, ranging from solemn orchestral pieces more reminiscent of the band’s earlier work, to sunny pop catchy enough to score the album a spot in the Billboard Top 10. The light, fluffy pop of “Two Weeks” and the soaring mountain top vocals of “While You Wait for the Others” give each respective track a place at the top of the year’s defining song list. The album beautifully showcases the immense, raw musical talent of every individual member of the group, something rare in today’s indie rock world. Chris Taylor’s production wastes not a single gorgeous sound throughout the album’s 52 minutes, and Daniel Rossen’s unique, echoing guitar twists and turns through tracks like “Southern Point.” Christopher Bear’s drumming turns would-be normal time keeping into something you can’t help but marvel at upon every listen. Finally, Ed Droste’s songwriting and startlingly simple melodies bring the album all together. Veckatimest is precisely the album with which Grizzly Bear should have followed up 2006’s Yellow House. It stays true to the band’s core aesthetic while expanding into new territories. This is an album that embodies a music scene that has exploded as of late, and by the sound of it, has even more to offer in years to come.

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Comments ( 2 )

New Year’s Resolution: start reading this more, because I like the look.

That said, nice of you to include the token hip-hop release of the year but that girl from Dirty Projectors really can’t sing. It’s a problem. They ruined Black Flag and their original music’s worse.

The rest of the Top 10 I won’t complain about, I feel like every rock band is retreading other rock bands and it’s just not exciting to me – tell myself 4 years ago I wouldn’t be interested in a throwback Flaming Lips album and I wouldn’t believe you, but I couldn’t even find the energy to pirate Embryonic.

As for the 11-25, K’naan’s album was a real disappointment after Dusty Foot Philosopher and I’m never going to figure out why people like more than three or four songs on it. Passion Pit’s EP was annoying so I had no interest in a full band version. Amadou & Miriam fell off. I forgot all about Califone and the rest, yeah, I didn’t hear them either.

Y’all should check out Exile’s Radio, Freddie Gibbs’ Midwestgangstaboxframcadillacgangstamuzik (NODJ), Fashawn’s Boy Meets World, Georgia Anne Muldrow’s Umsindo and Finale’s Pipe Dream and a Promise. Umsindo at least is more exciting than Andrew Bird doing Andrew Bird again.


Nodima added these pithy words on Jan 11 10 at 2:54 pm

Yo, thanks for the input, D.

James James added these pithy words on Jan 12 10 at 12:58 am

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