Saturday, March 6, 2010

For the curious

These are the albums I heard in full last year, and here's how they rank, relative to one another:

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Nite Jewel- Good Evening

Grizzly Bear- Veckatimest

Speck Mountain- Some Sweet Relief

The Flaming Lips- Embryonic

Crocodiles- Summer of Hate

The Raveonettes- In and Out of Control

Mulatu Astatke and the Heliocentrics- Inspiration Information, Vol. 3

Mastodon- Crack the Skye

The Bird and the Bee- Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future

Depeche Mode- Sounds of the Universe

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions- Through the Devil Softly

Yo La Tengo- Popular Songs

Prefuse 73- Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian

Built to Spill- There Is No Enemy

M. Ward- Hold Time

Wilco- Wilco (the Album)

Gun Outfit- Dim Light

Jay-Z- The Blueprint 3

Kid Cudi- Man on the Moon: The End of Day

Doves- Kingdom of Rust

Major Lazer- Guns Don't Kill People ... Lazers Do

Mason Jennings- Blood of Man

Animal Collective- Merriweather Post Pavilion

N.A.S.A.- The Spirit of Apollo

Au Revoir Simone- Still Night, Still Light

Norah Jones- The Fall

Eels- Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire

Asobi Seksu- Hush

Dirty Projectors- Bitte Orca

VAST- Me and You

Dan Deacon- Bromst

Flipper- Love

La Roux- La Roux

Bat for Lashes- Two Suns

The Dead Weather- Horehound

Camera Obscura- My Maudlin Career

St. Vincent- Actor

Neko Case- Middle Cyclone

Zero 7- Yeah Ghost

Doom- Born Like This

Yeah Yeah Yeahs- It's Blitz!

Chris Cornell- Scream

Morrissey- Years of Refusal

Air- Love 2

John Mayer- Battle Studies

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson- Summer of Fear

K'Naan- Troubadour

Imogen Heap- Ellipse

Green Day- 21st Century Breakdown

The Prodigy- Invaders Must Die

Lady Sovereign- Jigsaw

Amy Speace- The Killer in Me

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band- Outer South

Passion Pit- Manners

David Bazan- Curse Your Branches

Royksopp- Junior

Sonic Youth- The Eternal

Moby- Wait for Me

Erin McKeown- Hundreds of Lions

Basement Jaxx- Scars

Girls- Album

Super Furry Animals- Dark Days/Light Years

Mos Def- The Ecstatic

BlakRoc- BlakRoc

Dinosaur Jr.- Farm

The Mars Volta- Octahedron

Simian Mobile Disco- Temporary Pleasure

Amadou & Mariam- Welcome to Mali

Felix da Housecat- He Was King

Sufjan Stevens- The BQE

Maxwell- BLACKsummers'night

The Big Pink- A Brief History of Love

The Church- Untitled 23

Kings of Convenience- Declaration of Dependence

Cake- Motorcade of Generosity

U2- No Line on the Horizon

Crystal Stilts- Alight of Night

Dolores O'Riordan- No Baggage

Viva Voce- Rose City

Al B. Sure!- Honey I'm Home

Mariah Carey- Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel

Paramore- Brand New Eyes

Peter Bjorn and John- Living Thing

Jadakiss- The Last Kiss

Metric- Fantasies

Weezer- Raditude

Sunn 0)))- Monoliths & Dimensions

Rodrigo y Gabriela- 11:11

Porcupine Tree- The Incident

Wolfmother- Cosmic Egg

Shakira- She Wolf

Echo & the Bunnymen- The Fountain

Flight of the Conchords- I Told You I Was Freaky

Maps- Turning the Mind

Franz Ferdinand- Tonight

Cracker- Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey

Patterson Hood- Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)

Whitney Houston- I Look to You

Silversun Pickups- Swoon

The Crystal Method- Divided by Night

Tinted Windows- Tinted Windows

Better Than Ezra- Paper Empire

Trans-Siberian Orchestra- Night Castle

Wyclef Jean- From the Hut, to the Projects, to the Mansion

Soundtrack of Our Lives- Communion

MSTRKRFT- Fist of God

Meat Puppets- Sewn Together

Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn- Break Up

Lionel Richie- Just Go

Os Mutantes- Haih...Ou Amortecedor...

2009 albums I heard in full after the cutoff date:

The xx- xx

Health- Get Color

Tegan and Sara- Sainthood

Clipse- Til the Casket Drops

Devendra Banhart- What Will We Be

R. Kelly- Untitled

Lil Wayne- Rebirth

2009 albums I heard most of but not quite all of:

The Avett Brothers- I and Love and You

Bebel Gilberto- All in One

Pink Martini- Splendor in the Grass

A Fine Frenzy- Bomb in a Birdcage

The Phenomenal Handclap Band- The Phenomenal Handclap Band

Our Lady Peace- Burn Burn

Mario- D.N.A.

The top 10 albums of 2009: No. 1

The Pains of Being

Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being

Pure at Heart

In what plays like a love note to mid- to late-'80s jangle pop and shoegazer distortion, the debut album by New York foursome The Pains of Being Pure at Heart skips and zips, chirps and chimes, altogether chipper and defiantly alive. With élan that verges on delusion, their bright-eyed melodies defend a heroin casualty and a brother-sister tryst, as well as relate more familiar youthful pursuits, like the raging impulse to lock lips and hips.

Such urges fuel anticipation and impatience in "Come Saturday," sprinting drum rolls and a tumbling guitar rush playing the role of the firing-on-all-cylinders adrenal glands. The library, such a testament to the pent-up, the potential, is one place where desires erupt and give the microfiche something to stare at, in the cheekily titled "Young Adult Friction." The male-female vocal blending of guitarist Kip Berman and keyboardist Peggy Wang-East fosters the Romeo-and-Juliet overtones.

True to Shakespeare, there is tragedy, though you probably wouldn't know it before you read the lyrics. A plucky snare-and-kick-drum beat and a guitar line evoking the piano hook of David Bowie's "Modern Love" open "A Teenager in Love," belying the fact that Alli, the teenager in question, has died, most likely as a direct consequence of her lust for life, which happened to involve heroin. When someone impugns Alli as being "dead all along," Berman scornfully tells the heavens (or quite possibly her gravestone), "He hadn't lived a day / the way you lived in your final days."

Murkier --- or what would be murkier if Berman and Wang-East didn't sound so chaste --- are the apparent tale of incest in "This Love Is Fucking Right!" (blithely unrepentant) and the not-necessarily-consensual couplings in "The Tenure Itch" ("These late night sessions, he's master still / Just one more lesson leaves you twisting to his will.")

But the album's brilliant melodies and endearing optimism bathe everything in a radiant, innocent light. It's all too easy to get lost in the sweet alliance of burbling bass, frisky drums, jangling guitar and singing keyboard. So pure at heart, so high on life.