- 10. Drafted By Minotaurs – Aversion Therapy
Aversion Therapy is Infraction Records’ first vinyl release, a collection of enveloping electro-acoustic drones that carry an unusually emotional undercurrent. The songs ebb and flow, swelling to eventual climaxes with a greater sense of direction and purpose that much ambient music lacks.
- 9. Mountains – Choral
Mountains make me feel all warm inside, and Choral is the musical equivalent of basking in a pool of sunlight.
- 8. Oneida – Rated O
This was my introduction to the band: a massive album that spans three LPs and a dozen genres. Listening to Rated O in its entirety takes two hours, and if you have the time it’s worth it. I haven’t fully absorbed everything yet, but the album seems to function best when you allow yourself to drift in and out of its trance, pleasantly surprised each time by how much you’ve been unconsciously enjoying it.
- 7. Tosca – No Hassle
Tosca’s last album, j.a.c., was a mess—it had some good tracks, but no flow, and most of the record was plagued with embarrassingly bad vocals. No Hassle sees Tosca learning from their mistakes; it’s strictly instrumental, and the wonderful ambience of their earlier records—mostly abandoned for j.a.c.—makes a welcome return. As its title suggests, No Hassle is about relaxation, not provocation, and the inclusion of a second disc containing an hour-long live version provides for a particularly relaxed engagement. I suppose critics might call this lounge-music, but there’s a depth and emotion to it that betrays Tosca’s skill and experience, and the album has enough moments of small brilliance to earn a strong recommendation.
- 6. Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue
Ambivalence Avenue is a bizarre little combination of folk-pop songs with huge overdubbed harmonies and the kind of headphone hip-hop for which the Warp label is renowned. At first I found it quaint, if not maddeningly catchy, but repeat listens reveal the craft. It’s instantly pleasurable and it’s got legs; what else could you want? Fans of Prefuse 73, Flying Lotus, and Boards of Canada would certainly appreciate this.
- 5. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
I was hoping this would be the album of the year, and while it is certainly stunning, it takes what I always found to be the band’s most endearing quality—their sometimes-meandering soundscapes—and largely restrains them in favour of tighter, poppier songwriting. With the haze mostly cleared, Veckatimest is a stronger album than its 2005 predecessor, Yellow House, but the highest points of the band’s debut still make me wish they’d stretched out a bit more on Veckatimest. But by all other accounts this record is an achievement, cementing Grizzly Bear in the enviable position of emissaries to a unique and sophisticated style.
- 4. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
It’s obvious that Grizzly Bear plans every note well ahead of time. The Flaming Lips seem to just play and allow the songs follow. That’s a mark of experience, I suppose, and Embryonic sounds like the work of a band that knows exactly what it’s doing. The lyrics might be silly but the atmosphere is compelling, and after a few listens the myriad subtleties begin to reveal themselves, and to a listener like me—for whom Embryonic is an introduction to the band—it becomes obvious just why they’ve been around for so long, and why they remain relevant.
- 3. The Field – Yesterday and Today
I don’t envy Axel Willner for having to create a followup to 2007’s From Here We Go Sublime. That album hinged on a trick: the splicing and repetition of tiny samples to the point that the source material was completely obscured—except for when Willner decided to reveal it. Wilner must have realized that while a single gimmick is not enough to sustain two albums, the complete abandonment of his signature sound would disappoint. So for Yesterday and Today, Willner utilizes his cool formula to new effect, creating lengthier and more melodic tracks that play as an album, with a satisfying pace that Sublime never quite achieved. And on tracks like “Yesterday and Today” (which features John Stanier doing the drum machine’s job) and the hypnotizing “Sequencer”, Willner gracefully transitions into new and experimental territory, affirming his ability to reinvent without forgetting the sound that got him here.
- 2. Giuseppe Ielasi – Aix
In a lengthier review, I pretentiously described this record as “musique-concrete distilled through a minimalist-techno apparatus”. The interaction of so many disparate elements (everything from aerosol cans to double-bass) should be cold and sterile, but Aix is the opposite—meticulous construction only supports its sensuous textures and satisfying rhythms. Japandroids is number one for less delicate reasons, but truthfully if I could keep only one album from 2009 it would be Aix. I’ve never quite heard anything like it.
- 1. Japandroids – Post Nothing
There’s an honesty about Japandroids that makes them so endearing; they sing about girls, about being homesick, being drunk, and about trying to have a good time in spite of everything. The lyrics generally amount to a sentence or two (“we used to dream/now we worry about dying/and I don’t want to worry about dying”) but the band delivers them—usually in unison—with such raw enthusiasm that it’s hard not to be affected. I don’t know why certain chords elicit certain emotions, but Japandroids seem to know, inspiring both jubilance and sorrow, and especially a kind of wistfulness in between. So while you’re partying to Post Nothing (and it really is a great party album) don’t worry if you get just a little overwhelmed—I’m sure the band would understand.
- Giuseppe Ielasi – (another) stunt
Kind of a companion piece to Aix, only constructed almost entirely from samples of old vinyl records. Rhythmically and texturally tantalizing. And for only six dollars!
- Taylor Deupree – Weather and Worn (7″)
Experimental label 12k’s inaugural vinyl is a brief but beautiful musical equivalent to watching the rain falling outside your window. Even the record itself is transparent: a clever visual metaphor to compliment the delicate ambience. (If you don’t have a turntable, don’t hesitate to get this on itunes; it’s sublime)
- Eluder – Drift
One of my favourite ambient artists releases a free EP and it’s of higher quality than most of what I paid for. The cover art says it all. (download here)
- Seaworthy – 1897
Half of the album is eerie drones, the other half a strangely hypnotic solo guitar, bookended by field recordings of outside the munitions shelter where the record was made.
Single of the Year
- Animal Collective – “Summertime Clothes”
I wasn’t as enamoured with the album as the general hipster population (personally I like Person Pitch more) but “Summertime Clothes” is the band at its peak: I hear it and I start to get all nervous and excited.
Oh, and as promised, here’s the tracklisting for the mix I made (which you should really listen to, on account of it being extremely well-done):
0:00 Japandroids – Heart Sweats
4:20 Bibio – Fire Ant
9:10 Mountains – Choral
21:27 Grizzly Bear – While You Wait For The Others (ft. Michael McDonald)
25:52 Oneida – 10:30 At The Oasis
38:10 Animal Collective – Summertime Clothes
42:32 Giuseppe Ielasi – Untitled 7
44:50 Flaming Lips – The Sparrow Looks Up At the Machine
48:57 Seaworthy – Ammunition 2
54:33 Tosca – Springer
59:34 The Field – Leave It
71:04 Richard Skelton – Brook
77:36 Flaming Lips – Gemini Syringes
81:10 Tim Hecker – Pond Life
82:27 Japandroids – Sovereignty
85:53 Taylor Deupree – Worn