Top Five Wednesday: Top Albums of 2009

It’s that time again, chums. It’s time to objectively decided who ruled the most this year. I always find these lists amusing, because it seems that their sole purpose is to create argument. They’re especially ridiculous because it’s literally impossible to listen to all the music released in a year; many people just glom onto the best thing going and roll that hype machine right along. Through no fault of their own, Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective are the glom bands this year. They’re undeniably good, but they’re not going on my top five. Everyone else thought they were awesome, so you already know to check them out. Here’s some other stuff (i.e. what I thought was best).

5. The Life of the World to Come – The Mountain Goats. On first blow, this is a slightly confusing release; it’s chock-full of depressing quiet songs that don’t go for the emotional jugular. They just arrive and demand to be considered. They are gorgeous not because of sweeping arrangements or soaring vocal diatribes (although there are a few of both on the album); they succeed mostly because John Darnielle does not do those things. A fine new chapter in the Mountain Goats’ burgeoning canon.

4. Hello Hurricane – Switchfoot. Switchfoot’s last two albums have had shining moments amidst a murky haze of average. They finally snap out of it with Hello Hurricane, returning to form with some of the most powerful rock songs they’ve ever penned and several of their trademark mid-tempo pop ballads that (finally) don’t sound overly layered and created. I dare you to not bust out the air guitar on “Needle and Haystack Life” and “The Sound.”

3. Troubadour – K’Naan. I don’t really like rap, but K’Naan made me fall in love with him. I discovered K’Naan in preparation for Austin City Limits, and his ridiculously smooth delivery, smart rhymes, social message and dastardly infectious pop hooks (come on, you know you’re still singing “ABCs” if you ever heard it) won me over. His set at ACL was amazing, which was just the icing on the cake of this discovery. Highly recommended for anyone, not just rap fans.

2. I and Love and You – Avett Brothers. Having profoundly enjoyed the rocked-out alt-country of Emotionalism, I was thoroughly unprepared for the piano-pop of I and Love and You. They somehow managed to smooth out the rough edges of their songwriting without rubbing the edges off their sound, and the result is a glorious mishmash of hyper-romanticism, sweetly sung hooks, incredibly tight musicianship and punk attitude. Take into account that the Brothers (and their friend Bob) did nearly everything on the album, from the art to the liner notes to the music, and it’s a pretty well-rounded triumph.

1. Ocean Eyes – Owl City. I’ve listened to this album dozens of times and been continually impressed by the lyrical, musical and conceptual depth of this album. On the surface it’s a electronic indie-pop album for teenage girls; below the surface it’s an incredibly tight collection of songs written by a songwriter hitting his stride in an idiom that just happens to be one of the it things right now. A case of right place at the right time? That accounts for his success. But I’ll tell ya, I’d still be listening to the stacked clicks vs. the sweeping strings of “Cave In” and the absurdly gleeful “The Bird and the Worm” if no one else was. These songs are amazing, and if tween girls realize it, more power to them. I hope that the rest of the music world catches on. They can’t afford to not know about the emotional power of “Meteor Shower” or the charming “Tip of the Iceberg.” It’s just not right for people to not know.

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