As this decade comes to a close, there is no doubt it will be remembered for the rise of Indie music and the enormous influence the Internet has had on the course of music history. 10 years ago the independent music scenes of the United States were fragmented by location and genre. But thanks to technology, they have all coalesced into one huge melting pot phenomenon unlike any other before it. There was no giant explosion as with underground scenes of the past. It was a slow, steady crawl that still goes unnoticed today by a large portion of pop culture despite unlikely widespread commercial success from weirdos like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear. And thus 2009 marks the high point so far in this golden age of music. The money may be draining out of the industry faster and faster, but the art is getting better, and there’s a whole lot more of it.
Last year I felt other Blogelites’ end of year lists were rewarding commercial viability over music quality and I was worried that Indie music as whole may have been moving towards the mainstream a little too much. It turns out my slight pessimism may have been unfounded, at least for now. This year I agree with the hipster consensus picks for the most part, and my list lines up with others’ lists much more so than in the past two years. I still think things are moving in a poppier direction overall, but that may not be all that bad of a thing if it results in albums like Merriweather Post Pavilion, Veckatimest, and Bitte Orca, all of which were the most accessible efforts to date from their respective artists. You have to figure this Indie thing is going to eventually burn out and something else is going to come along, but so far there is no sign of it slowing. I continue to suspect that there is something fundamentally different about this music movement than its predecessors.
Up until this year, one phenomenon that was prevalent in former scenes that was not a primary characteristic of the Indie world was artists collaborating and teaming up with one another. But in 2009, that seemed to change. Two of the greatest compilations of all time came out this year, Dark Night of The Soul & Dark Was The Night. Both Dark comps featured a vast cast of Indie stars all working together in new configurations, and the music world began to fell a little smaller and more tightly knit together. You had My Brightest Diamond joining The Decemberists and Beach House joining Grizzly Bear. There was Karen O’s Kids, there was the Monsters of Folk, there was Zach Hill working with as many artists as he can. Certainly there have been plenty of team-ups before, but this year it just felt different to me.
Last year’s trend was the No Agey distortion lo-fi sound, and that bled into 2009 for a bit helping propel Wavves into Indie celebrity. This year’s trend would be “chill-wave”, characterized by bands like Real Estate, Neon Indian, and Washed Out. This stuff sounds nice, but for the most part it is way too boring to amount to anything more than a passing fad.
Even though I agree with the P4kish lists more this year, I still think there are plenty of overrated records getting way too much love. Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Fever Ray bored me to death. Girls was good for a crappy punk record, but that’s like winning the Special Olympics. The new Baroness was weak, and I think people were overcompensating for overlooking the stellar 2007 Red Album. And you’ll find my list absent of any hip-hop records for the first time, as I could not find a single one that felt special. I absolutely hate that I cannot find anything worthwhile in a genre I used to love, but all I hear is unimaginative garbage or borrowed styles done better 15 years ago. One thing that always appealed to me about hip-hop was how one beat and one rhyme could express so much, but now I feel this style is overwrought with limitations and constricting expectations. Innovators could always come along and revive this thing, but right now I don’t hear a heartbeat.
In years past, I flexed my writing muscles by doing individual write-ups for all 50 albums on my list, but this year I decided to spare you readers the overkill. For the most part, I’ve already said everything I want to about these records, and if I haven’t the other 5 billion bloggers sure have. Enjoy the final product of a year’s worth of research:
50. Wavves: Wavvves
49. Harlem Shakes: Technicolor Health
48. Birds Of Avalon: Uncanny Valley
47. Sin Fang Bous: Clangour
46. Blackout Beach: Skin Of Evil
45. The Dodos: Time To Die
44. The Orphins: Wish You Well
43. Akron/Family: Set Em Wild, Set Em Free
42. Royal Bangs: Let It Beep
41. Omar Rodriguez Lopez: Xenophanes
40. Sunset Rubdown: Dragonslayer
39. Bibio: Vignetting The Compost
38. Venice Is Sinking: AZAR
37. Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs
36. Volcano Choir: Unmap
35. The Bronzed Chorus: I’m The Spring
34. Mastodon: Crack The Skye
33. Tortoise: Beacons Of Ancestorship
32. Devendra Banhart: What Will We Be
31. Jim O’Rourke: The Visitor
30. Bear In Heaven: Beast Rest Forth Mouth
29. Crystal Antlers: Tentacles
28. Lotus Plaza: Floodlight Collective
27. Blastoids: Kids Hands Smell Like Glitter
26. From Exile: Monolith
25. The Flaming Lips: Embryonic
24. The XX: XX
23. Here We Go Magic: Here We Go Magic
22. So Many Dynamos: The Loud Wars
21. Built To Spill: There Is No Enemy
20. Woods: Songs Of Shame
19. The Mars Volta: Octahedron
18. Nomen Novum: Paradises
17. Untied States: Instant Everything, Constant Nothing
16. Clues: Clues
15. Sonic Youth: The Eternal
14. White Denim: Fits
13. Atlas Sound: Logos
12. Bibio: Ambivalence Avenue
11. Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
10. DM Stith: Heavy Ghost
9. Cymbals Eat Guitars: Why There Are Mountains
8. Loney Dear: Dear John
7. Nomen Novum: November
6. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca
5. Mew: No More Stories Are Told Today I’m Sorry They Washed Away No More Stories The World Is Grey I’m Tired Let’s Wash Away
4. Do Make Say Think: Other Truths
3. Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest
2. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
1. St. Vincent : Actor
MPP, Veckatimest, and Bitte Orca are all phenenomal records and all three would be a solid pick for album of the year, but for me, nothing topped Actor. It is one of those albums where every single second feels perfect. A sense of excitement comes with the beginning of every song as it starts. It is completely dynamic, and perfectly paced. It’s entirety works as a compelling thematic piece, and every individual part holds up on its own. The classical/pop hybrid aesthetic of St. Vincent may not be fully appreciated by many, especially the testosterone dominated music journalism world that remains inept at discerning female talent. But in my book, Annie Clark is one the greatest musicians in the world right now period.
The most underrated record of the year, and maybe the best primarily instrumental record of the decade, is Do Make Say Thinks‘ Other Truths. I can’t believe it is falling under so many people’s radars. Mew‘s newest may be the best “Bridge Band” record I’ve ever heard. And November, Dear John, Why There Are Mountains, and Heavy Ghost are all simply amazing recordings that should be getting a lot more love than they do.
I feel like everything on this list is essential, so dig in to what you don’t recognize, and go hear some great new music!
- Posted by Davy Minor on December 29, 2009 at 7:13 am