I guess a pretty good place to start here on this blog is to look backwards, just to last year, at the 10 best albums of 2009.
10. No Age: Losing Feeling EP
It's just a 14-minute EP, but it's everything about No Age that's to get excited about. A seamless blend of sleepy atmospherics and noise rock makes this a mesmerizing, highly replayable excursion. If this project had become a full sized LP, it would have been higher up this list.
9. Ramona Falls: Intuit
A low-key release, Ramona Falls accomplishes beautiful acoustic and lush orchestral songs in the vein of Sufjan Stevens, but refreshingly, he makes it sound much easier. His smoothly flowing melodies and layered-vocal harmonies combine to form a beautifully original style of music that stays with you long after its 44 minutes. This hidden gem is the most underrated album of the year.
8. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca
Any indie album that can be described as "unclassifiable" and "accessible" is almost guaranteed to be a hit, and Bitte Orca is exactly that. From the delicate acoustics on the catchy "Temecula Sunrise" to bass-driven beats on "Stillness is the Move" to David Longstreth's offbeat falsetto, Bitte Orca can't be pinned down. The constant, however, is its bountiful charm and unique brand of pop.
7. Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest
This album had a long winter for me. It's an extreme case of an album appearing plain and one-dimensional at first that then (very) gradually blooms with all its drama, intrigue and skillful design coming to light. Veckatimest is carefully composed and expertly crafted, with the group's chamber choir vocals carrying the album's mostly subdued melodies as well as operatic major pieces like "Two Weeks" and "While You Wait For the Others".
6. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
One of the year's most enchanting albums, Merriweather Post Pavilion absolutely engulfs you in its glow party dream world. On "In the Flowers", the pounding drums after "if I could just leave my body for the night" always send chills up my spine. Aside from some sleepers in the album's mid-section, MPP is abounding in warm psychedelic pleasures. This is Animal Collective for the masses.
5. fun.: Aim and Ignite
fun.'s debut is so dense with slick hooks and bursting melodies that you soon realize you're hearing an album's worth of quality power pop singles. "Power pop" only hastily describes it; there's some Queen in there, as well as Nate Ruess's former band the Format, among other influences. Above all, fun. is truth in advertising.
4. Neon Indian: Psychic Chasms
Psychic Chasms lives in a world of colorful hallucinations and kaleidoscopes of sight and sound. Neon Indian lifts '80s synths and chirpy electronics to make an album that's part dance, part chillout electronica, and all fun. The album-long groove is irresistible, especially on "Terminally Chill" which is the year's best song.
3. Japandroids: Post-Nothing
In an overflowing online universe of music reviews and opinion, it's fascinating to me that so many have come to the same translation of Post-Nothing's sound: young freedom. Japandroids are all-or-nothing rockers that drop frantic drumming and furious riffs to release their can't-sit-still zest for life. This album gets you out of your over-thinking head and into your life.
2. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
TPOBPAH revive so many old sounds ('90s Britpop, lo-fi shoegaze) that to deliver a debut as fresh-sounding as this is in 2009 is a major accomplishment. As their video for "Everything With You" suggests, this album of uplifting, fuzzy dream rock could soundtrack the best times of your young adult life. The moral: Live your best life.
1. Camera Obscura: My Maudlin Career
It couldn't be anything else. No other band in the last few years has captured my imagination like Camera Obscura. The irresistible hooks, the soaring instrumentals, the yearning melancholy, Tracyanne Campbell's tender croon; their music shines with charm and beauty. With 2009's My Maudlin Career, their most consistent work, Camera Obscura is now solidly one of my top five favorite bands.