Now that 2010 has arrived, most of the major music publications have finished putting out their picks for the top albums of 2009. Each newspaper, magazine, and blog uses their own criteria to determine their rankings, leading to an infinite amount of subjectivity. In the words of my boy Alex, these lists are more or less “an exercise in futility.” 2009 did have its share of great, universally acclaimed albums (you’d be hard-pressed to find an indie outfit that didn’t list Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Phoenix, or Dirty Projectors in their top ten), but there were more than a handful of albums that flew below the radar. Here are the top ten LPs that fell through the cracks in ‘09:
10. The Slew — 100%
What do you get when you combine legendary turntablist Kid Koala with the former rhythm section of Wolfmother? Add DJ Dynomite D to the mix and you have The Slew. This project was berthed with the goal of producing a soundtrack for a Jay Rowlands documentary, but when production on the documentary was halted in 2005, The Slew kept going. Their debut, 100%, showcases the talent of each member in this unlikely collaboration. Kid Koala distributed this album at no cost during the entirety of September. If you weren’t able to get a copy then, grab one now and give it a spin.
9. Amanda Blank — I Love You
2009 saw the full length debut of Amanda Blank. The Philly-bred, foul-mouthed female MC had already created a name for herself in the Mid-Atlantic region from her frequent collaborations with fellow Illadelphians, namely Diplo and Spank Rock. She paid her dues on the show circuit and dropped raunchy verses on a healthy batch of remixes, further establishing herself in the Bmore club/electro/booty bass scene. After seeing this chick live, I couldn’t wait for her debut album to drop. While this album is far from perfect, it is a solid debut and has more than a few tracks that will end up on at least one of your playlists. Her flow is unreal, and her tracks are littered with catchy hooks. I am certain that one of the reasons this album failed to make a lot of noise was due to the fact that _I Love You _did not satisfy the taste-engineers over at Pitchfork Media. I think they panned Blank’s debut because she did not fit nicely into Pitchfork’s album review formula (as understood by Carles, author of the famous weblog HIPSTER RUNOFF):
[(LABEL x Hometown)² ± previous album’s standards + Obscurity Factor x Perceived Authenticity] = Pitchfork Rating
Alright, enough ranting about Pitchfork. This album has collaborations from Spank Rock and Chuck Inglish of The Cool Kids. Pick it up. It’s well worth a Hamilton.
8. Kasabian — West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
Falling prey to a similar curse, Kasabian’s third album _West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum _did not end up on many “best of” lists despite topping the charts in the UK and going Platinum. Tom Meighan’s haunting vocals are the backbone of the album, and the boys continue to develop their modern psychedelia sound with this release. Actress Rosario Dawson contributes impressive vocals on “West Ryder Silver Bullet,” not to mention that this LP was produced by industry vet Dan “the Automator” Nakamura whose résumé should be reason enough for you to give this album a listen.
7. Tiga — Ciao!
Tiga’s second full length album dropped in 2009. Once again, Tiga employed the production expertise of the Deweale brothers (Soulwax, 2 Many DJ’s) and included guest contributions by James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) and Jason ‘Gonzales’ Beck. This album showcases a (slightly) more mature Tiga, but still reminds us of what he has been doing to keep Montreal dance floors rocking for years. His hypersexualized, glamorous vocals overlay the bumping, bass-driven grooves on Ciao!. Due to the electro-banger recession of 2009, this album was less relevant to the blogosphere than it would have been in years past. If electro is more than a passing fad for you, I wholeheartedly recommend picking this one up.
6. Men Without Pants — Naturally
Originally slated for a 2008 release, I don’t know anyone outside of the industry that was able to get a hold of Men Without Pants’ debut album Naturally until April of 2009. Men Without Pants is the lovechild of Dan the Automator and Russell Simins. No, not Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam. Russell Simins, one third of The John Spencer Blues Explosion. Simins’ well-known precision on drums and Automator’s programming genius make this album one brisk dive into a pool of what Spin Magazine has labeled “sex-dappled blues-rocktronica.” These veterans didn’t go it alone, though. They enlisted help from Sean Lennon, Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), half of The Mooney Suzuki, Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto), Gillian Riberts (string arranger for Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and a gaggle of others. All in all, it’s a trashy good time.
5. Little Boots — Hands
Victoria “Little Boots” Hekseth seems to be a polarizing force in certain music writing circles. Her self-styled, poppy sound fared well on the UK charts this past year and received generally positive reviews, but it was notably absent from most year-end lists. The album is chock-full of electropop goodies and shows a lot promise from the young Brit. Hands _includes a duet with Philip Oakley (The Human League), as well as composition and production credits from Joe Goddard (Hot Chip), Greg Kutstin (The Bird and the Bee), Jas Shaw (Simian Mobile Disco), and famed UK bootlegger Roy Kerr. Little Boots is often mentioned in the same sentence as Lady GaGa and La Roux front woman Elly Jackson, but do not be mistaken. While she is similarly unapologetic for her pop sound, she has a carefully crafted style of her own that shines through on _Hands.
4. Dan Auerbach — Keep It Hid
Dan Auerbach, best known as the singing, guitar-playing half of The Black Keys, ventures out on his own for the first time with Keep It Hid. Although his solo debut shows remnants of his stint with The Black Keys, this album features much more melodious compositions, each recorded in his custom-built studio which he has named “Akron Analog.” Akron because it’s in the singer’s hometown of Akron, Ohio, and Analog because he uses mostly vintage, analog equipment. His decision to branch out and pursue his interests in old-time blues, r&b, bluegrass, and 70’s rock proved to be a good one, as each track on Keep It Hid offers something new and captivating.
3. YACHT — See Mystery Lights
Formerly Jona Bechtolt’s solo project, YACHT has officially become a duo with the release of See Mystery Lights. Claire L. Evans has been permanently added and provides vocals on this upbeat electronic LP. Bechtolt is no stranger to this boy/girl formula, as he used to be the beat man behind Khaela Maricich as part of The Blow. He split from The Blow in 2007 to focus his energies on YACHT, but it appears he has gone back to his blueprint for success by adding a new front woman. The cheery, energetic tracks on See Mystery Lights seem almost like a 21st century Tom Tom Club. Check it out.
2. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse — Dark Night of the Soul
Albums can be overlooked for any number of reasons. In the case of Dark Night of the Soul, it may have been passed by due to the fact that it was never actually released. In fact, as it stands, this album may never be released. A dispute with the EMI group landed the LP in legal purgatory, where it still remains. This is more than unfortunate, because this album truly is one of the best of 2009. The list of contributors is ridiculous: James Mercer (The Shins), The Flaming Lips, Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals), Julian Casablancas (The Strokes), Frank Black (The Pixies), Iggy Pop, Nina Persson (The Cardigans), Scott Spillane (Neutral Milk Hotel), and many more. Legendary filmmaker and artist David Lynch constructed a book of photos (over 100) to coincide with the music as a “visual narrative.” If you know anything about Danger Mouse, you know he found a way to get this album to the people. He “released” the album in the form of the photo book (limited edition) or an album poster. Both versions come complete with a blank CD-R and a note: “For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.” Somehow, this album is scattered all over the internets. Google is your friend.
1. jj — jj n° 2
Newcomers jj generated quite the buzz when their tracks began circulating the net, yet they maintained an enigmatic quality by revealing very little. Signed to The Tough Alliance’s label Sincerely Yours, the Gothenburg-based jj first drew attention by releasing their own interpretation of Lil Wayne’s smash hit “Lollipop,” titled “Ecstasy.” jj n° 2 _features melodic pop enveloped by a dreamy, echoey Balearic aura that seems in line with other Sincerely Yours releases, but maintains a sound that is decidedly unique. While this album was not totally overlooked, it did not get the universal acclaim and attention that it deserved. In late December, jj signed to the Secretly Canadian record label and announced plans for their second LP to be released in March 2010. jj n° 2_ may, in fact, be my top album of 2009, not just the top album that was overlooked.