My Favorite Albums of 2009


Gossip, Music for Men
Music Math: (Olivia Newton-John + Melissa Etheridge) x Pansy Division
Best Tracks: "Heavy Cross," "Dimestore Diamond," "Love and Let Love," "Love Long Distance," "Men in Love"
Representative Lyrics: "Everybody knows the things she does to please / Low-cut sweaters with her skirts above her knees / She's a dimestore diamond"
Notes: Fronter Beth Ditto leads Gossip through a refinely tamed version of their previous sound, flexing disco beats and syncopated rhythms with a decidedly queerpunk sensibility. And they are amazing live.


Franz Ferdinand, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
Music Math: 1970s psychedelia + Donna Summer / Mick Jagger's leather pants
Best Tracks: "Turn It On," "No You Girls," "Can't Stop Feeling," "Lucid Dreams"
Representative Lyrics: "Kiss me / Lick your cigarette, then kiss me / Kiss me where your eye won't meet me / Meet me where your mind won't kiss me"
Notes: Blending irreverent janglepop with sinister chords and seductive lyrics turned FF's sound inside out, and the album itself seems saturated with booze, cigarette smoke, night, and man-musk. The first track, "Ulysses," implies that this is a journey through the urban nightlife underworld, and it's a trip you'll want to take again and again with these sexy beasts.


Amanda Blank, I Love You
Music Math: (Peaches x P!nk) + Scary Spice
Best Tracks: "Make It Take It," "DJ," "Shame On Me," "Make-Up"
Representative Lyrics: "If I wear a dress, then he'll never call / So I'll wear much less / I guess I'll wear my camisole"
Notes: Dirty, sexy, and confrontational, Amanda Blank's debut experiments genre like a curious college student, pulling R&B, hip hop, pop, funk, and disco together in one fabulous package.

Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
Music Math: Björk x (Blues Traveler - barbeque + Talking Heads) + 1/3 Wilco
Best Tracks: "Fiery Crash," "Imitosis," "Heretics," "Scythian Empires"
Representative Lyrics: "Oh close your eyes and you wake up / face stuck to a vinyl settee / Oh the line was starting to break up / What was that you were going to say?"
Notes: Like Björk, Andrew Bird is a musical hyrbridist, sewing together genres, pairing unlikely instruments, and singing strangely hummable melodies in his tremulous voice. This album is, I gather, one of his most accessible, and it's also fairly "fun" as far as music goes.

Annie, Don't Stop
Music Math: (ABBA - irony + 20 years) + (Kylie Minogue - Australia - 20 years)
Best Tracks: "Hey Annie," "My Love Is Better," "Don't Stop," "I Don't Like Your Band"
Representative Lyrics: "Tell me the truth / I don't want no lies / When I'm with you I'm hypnotized / Looking for trouble, that's what I am / Playing a game we both understand"
Notes: Formerly known for dance songs like "Chewing Gum," this album provides Annie an opportunity to grow up a bit. Not gone is her sense of irreverence and understanding that pop music is at its best when its both irrelevant and nonsensical; however, the beat and melodies are enough here, and her voice is both ethereal and purring.

Asher Roth, Asleep in the Bread Aisle
Music Math: (Eminem - aggression)/Judaism + (Amy Winehouse - narcotics)
Best Tracks: "Lark On my Go Kart," "Be By Myself," "She Don't Wanna Man," "I Love College"
Representative Lyrics: "Drink my beer and smoke my weed / But my good friends is all I need / Pass out at three, wake up at 10 / Go out to eat, then do it again, man I love college."
Notes: Although he gives a lot of deference to Eminem on this album, Asher Roth is more like Eminem on Paxil, a shiny, happier-go-lucky version who raps about maybe some things that aren't quite so serious. The merging of lite rap and 1960s go-go rhythms and music is fun and interesting.

Cobra Starship, Hot Mess
Music Math: Fall Out Boy + NSYNC + satire
Best Tracks: "Hot Mess," "Good Girls Go Bad," The Scene Is Dead - Long Live the Scene," "Pete Wentz Is the Only Reason We're Famous"
Representative Lyrics: "Oh yeah, it's alright cause I got a pretty face /
I guess that I can sing alright /H-oh yeah, it's alright, I can love you like a sailor
/ I can make you dance all night. "
Notes: For a novelty band that formed only to record a single for the Snakes On a Plane soundtrack, Cobra Starship had an amazing year. Hot Mess is both cheekily derivative of "typical" pop music and gleefully deconstructive of its banality. Whenever these songs come on, I want to get up and shake my moneymaker. And it doesn't get old.

David Guetta, One Love
Music Math: (LA Fitness Radio - Radio Disney) + divas
Best Tracks: "I Gotta Feeling," "When Love Takes Over," "Sexy Bitch"
Representative Lyrics: "I'm underwater, now I can't breathe / It never felt so good / Cuz I can feel it coming over me / I wouldn't stop it if I could"
Notes: The Timbaland of dance music, David Guetta's latest album of collaborations features everyone from Akon to Kid Cudi to Estelle, but it's Kelly Rowland who seems to be his main muse. While all dance music is invariably lame to a degree, Guetta's tracks are a cut above the rest.

A Fine Frenzy, Bomb in a Birdcage
Music Math: (The Hush Sound - men) + (Tori Amos - faeries) + Rilo Kiley
Best Tracks: "Stood Up," "Blow Away," "Electric Twist," "Happier," "What I Wouldn't Do"
Representative Lyrics: "We are young / fighting any war / we stood up / we stood up / and there are two of us / and there will be more / yeah, they'll show up"
Notes: Alison Sudol's songwriting is some of the best I've heard this year, and these arrangements, ranging from lush and somber to fiesty and toe-tapping, are the perfect vehicles for her pitch-perfect voice.

Florence + the Machine, Lungs
Music Math: Kate Bush + The Clash + Loreena McKennitt
Best Tracks: "Howl," "Drumming Song," "Kiss with a Fist," "Dog Days Are Over," "Rabbit Heart"
Representative Lyrics: "The looking glass, so shiny and new / How quickly the glamour fades / I start spinning, slipping out of time /Was that the wrong pill to take?"
Notes: On the one hand dense and operatic, while on the other fragile and percussive, Florence Welch's songs seem spun from dark fairy tales and hallucinogenic literature as told through the eyes of a contemporary twentysomething. It's both immediate and oddly relic-like. A curious mix. Lots of promise.

Hockey, Mind Chaos
Music Math: Black Kids + Bob Dylan + The Strokes + The Cars
Best Tracks: "Too Fake," "Learn to Lose," "Wanna Be Black"
Representative Lyrics: "And I guess there's a lot to learn / Well from a life of very fast days / Yes and I guess there's a lot to learn / All from a life of take-what-you-want-days"
Notes: Sounding a little bit like Bob Dylan fronting The Cars, Hockey makes the 80s seem to start all over again. This album will make you long for roller skates, muscle cars, and leggings.

Jay Brannan, In Living Cover
Music Math: Kurt from Glee + acoustic guitar
Best Tracks: "The Freshman," "Both Hands," "Zombie"
Representative Lyrics: "When I was young I knew everything / She a punk who never really took advice / Now I'm guilt stricken, sobbing with my head on the floor / Stop a baby's breath and a shoe full of rice milk"
Notes: Jay Brannan's voice is perfect, amazing, soft and lilting, and when put into these familiar songs, it's hypnotic. Particularly excellent is his a capella arrangement of "Both Hands," in which many layers of his voice merged together make chords like a pipe organ. It's amazing.

Kelly Clarkson, All I Ever Wanted
Music Math: Bonnie Raitt + Heart / Avril Lavigne
Best Tracks: "I Do Not Hook Up," "Save You," "Don't Let Me Stop You," "Impossible," "If I Can't Have You"
Representative Lyrics: "Started with a perfect kiss then / We could feel the poison set in / Perfect couldn't keep our love alive"
Notes: Although I don't think album is as good as the much maligned My December, it does feel like a successful compromise between what her label wants her to do and what Kelly wants to do. Snappy pop anthems and soulful ballads line up alongside southern rock-influenced jams and house party rock songs. And Kelly's voice is the chameleon that vanishes inside each of the genres, pulling the album together seamlessly.

Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster
Music Math: Madonna x Christina Aguilera / Yoko Ono
Best Tracks: "Bad Romance," "Monster," "Telephone," "Teeth"
Representative Lyrics: "Take a bite of my bad girl meat / Show me your teeth / Tell me something that'll save me / I need a man who makes me all right / Tell me something that'll change me / I'm gonna love you with my hands tied"
Notes: Gaga ratchets up the camp just a single notch on her new release, and while the songs are a bit more ambitious sonically than The Fame, they cover similar territory. More of an EP than an album, this release does signal a promising future for La Gaga, and perhaps does little more than tide us over until her next full album is complete.

Lily Allen, It's Not Me, It's You
Music Math: Natasha Bedingfield / Amanda Palmer
Best Tracks: "Everyone's At It," "The Fear," "Chinese," "Back to the Start," "Who'd Have Known"
Representative Lyrics: "I want to be rich and I want lots of money / I don't care about clever, I don't care about funny / I want lots of clothes and f***loads of diamonds / I heard people died while they're trying to find 'em"
Notes: Lily Allen treats genre like brief layovers on a sonic world tour. On her second release, she turns her satirical pen toward politics ("F*** You"), religion ("Him"), her parents ("Chinese," "He Wasn't There") and even herself ("Back to the Start"), mining in each song a kind of perceived failure or hypocrisy in our culture or ourselves. Pop music with substance? Who'd have known.

M.I.A., Kala
Music Math: (Björk - Iceland) + Bollywood / P!nk
Best Tracks: "Boyz," "Jimmy," "Paper Planes"
Representative Lyrics: "In a faraway land we get shit made / Ray-Ban shades, warheads laid / Babies born in air raids / My girls run the Everglades"
Notes: A consummate hybridist, M.I.A. fearlessly pulls instruments, traditions, and sounds from every remote corner of the world and then fills them with her searing, vitriolic lyrics that burn as painfully as they do ring true.

Paramore, Brand New Eyes
Music Math: (No Doubt + Jesus) + (Collective Soul/Good Charlotte)
Best Tracks: "Careful," "Ignorance," "Playing God," "Brick by Boring"
Representative Lyrics: "Coiled up on the dirty ground / Her prince finally came to save her / And the rest you can figure out / But it was a trick / And the clock struck 12 / Well, make sure to build your house brick by boring brick"
Notes: Hayley Williams has now cemented herself as rock's voice to be reckoned with. This album's acidic guitar riffs boil over with her soaring, arena-sized voice. Lyrically, the band's grown up; while fame often makes for a boring subject to be explored by famous people, here, they plumb the unexpected effects of sudden fame with sensitivity, regret, and without apology.

Plastiscines, About Love
Music Math: (The Hives - testosterone + French supermodels) x Phoenix/The Donnas
Best Tracks: "Runaway," "I Could Rob You," "Bitch," "Another Kiss"
Representative Lyrics: "I could rob you if I want to / I could rob you if I try / I could rob you if I need to / Just be alright
Notes: Sexy, sensual, and nonsensical, Plastiscines take punk, put some hot lip gloss on it, and then prance around in their underwear where they know you can see them. The album is polished pop-punk, fun, sassy, and a nice example of how different punk sounds work in Europe (see also The Hives).

Switchfoot, Hello Hurricane
Music Math: Stone Roses + Five for Fighting + Jars of Clay + Evanescence
Best Tracks: "Mess of Me," "The Sound," "Hello Hurricane," "Always"
Representative Lyrics: "I've been watching the skies / They've been turning blood red / There is not a doubt in my mind / There's a storm up ahead"
Notes: This feels like the album that should have been released after their breakthrough The Beautiful Letdown and offers the most synthesized take on their various sounds from the past several years. Furious rock songs stand alongside piano-driven power ballads without irony or ill effects. And clearly, someone's been taking some voice lessons.

Weezer, Raditude
Music Math: Weezer - Weezer + Weezer
Best Tracks: "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To," "I'm Your Daddy," "Can't Stop Partying"
Representative Lyrics: "Tell me the truth / I don't want no lies / When I'm with you I'm hypnotized / Looking for trouble, that's what I am / Playing a game we both understand"
Notes: Weezer's new album is ridiculous (Hello, "Raditude"), but it's a very sincere hysteria. The songs are straightforward pop-rock songs (verse/chorus/verse), but they sparkle with wit and charm as Rivers Cuomo creates the quintessential house party album.

White Lies, To Lose My Life
Music Math: Joy Division/Depeche Mode + She Wants Revenge
Best Tracks: "Death," "To Lose My Life," "Farewell to the Fairgrounds"
Representative Lyrics: "Let's grow old together / And die at the same time"
Notes: Dark, eerie synths and driving rock drums make this early 80s throwback sound both prescient and retrospective, sort of like when all the popular kids start hanging out at the goth danceclub--although they're tourists, their curiosity is sincere, and deep down, maybe they are a little goth after all.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It's Blitz
Music Math: New Order + Garbage / Smashing Pumpkins + Scissor Sisters
Best Tracks: "Zero," "Heads Will Roll," "Shame and Fortune," "Hysteric"
Representative Lyrics: "Shake it like a ladder to the sun / Makes me feel like a madman on the run / Find it never, never far gone / So get your leather, leather, leather on on on on"
Notes: The new evolution of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is much more electropop than their last album. Veritable dance floor anthems are nestled among more lilting ballads, but the overarching connection seems to be the synthesizer and its many, many guises. Karen O's voice sounds fantastic on this record.

1 comment:

  1. Some great stuff here...and yes I LOVE Florence + The Machine. They are probably going in at number one on my list of year end faves.