Best Albums Of 2009

10. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

As someone who’s permanently felt he was born in the wrong decade, I’ve always been a sucker for musicians who are able to capture the essence and spirit of the 1960’s and give that era a contemporary twist. Canadian indie pop band Camera Obscura accomplishes this feat yet again with their fourth album. Creating catchy pop hooks strung together with lavish melodies and illustrious harmonies all within the realm of what I like to call “vintage new wave,” the band has proven itself to be composed of a rare breed of artists, who manage to pay homage to the past in a way that makes today more fun to listen to.

Must-Have Track: “French Navy”

9. Passion Pit – Manners

Since the band’s formation in 2007, Passion Pit has been the electronica-meets-alt. rock band to watch out for. With the release of their first album, they’re quickly transitioning into the mainstream, receiving heavy rotation of their brilliant single “Sleepyhead” everywhere from movie trailers to ads for the Palm Pixi phone. Dominated by lead singer Michael Angelakos’ irresistible Freddy Mercury-meets-Brandon Flowers falsetto vocals, the album is an experimental and fun debut, providing a track listing of eleven songs that you’ll easily catch yourself humming on the subway. If this is just the start for this band, I can’t wait to see what they create next.

Must-Have Track: “Eyes As Candles”

8. Florence And The Machine – Lungs

When I first heard Florence And The Machine’s unapologetically sassy first single “Kiss With A Fist,” I knew right then that I was listening to a new musical tour de force. This fire-haired chanteuse’s debut album soul-meets-grunge rock sound makes me have faith in the idea of a collaboration album between Joan Jett and Joss Stone (imagine!). With hard-hitting lyrics, this powerful record draws inspiration from everything from the harsh realities of contemporary violence to modern literature (the song “Howl” is inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s iconic 1956 poem of the same name) in an undeniably beguiling and upbeat fashion.

Must-Have Tracks: “Kiss With A Fist,” “Drumming Song”

7. Jemina Pearl – Break It Up

In the debut solo LP from Be Your Own Pet’s lead singer, Jemina Pearl, we are presented with a portrait of a brash yet vulnerable woman, who mixes attitude with sentimentality at the same fearless rate that college students mix Adderall with caffeine. Part girl-next-door and part ruthless rocker chick, Pearl successfully uses her solo record to break away from her Be Your Own Pet sound to create a new, individual musical persona. The result is a slew of intelligently written and sometimes sarcastic hard rocking pop songs that any fan of The Gossip or Yeah Yeah Yeahs will ecstatically add to their collection.

Must-Have Track: “I Hate People” (featuring Iggy Pop)

6. Metric – Fantasies

You can never have enough Emily Haines in your music library. Her haunting stripped down solo material and evolving rock goddess status as the front woman of Metric have made her into one of today’s female artists with the biggest musical range and acclaim. This is Metric’s fourth album, and the band has left behind much (but not all) of its electronic influences in favor of a more Garbage-esque purely rock oriented sound – a risky move that luckily the band executed extremely well. Songs like “Help I’m Alive,” “Sick Muse,” “Front Row,” and “Gold Guns Girls” all serve as delicious slices of upbeat indie rock pie. But the album’s true gem is the unforgettably gorgeous “Gimme Sympathy,” a mid-tempo track intricately layered with some of the most beautifully and intelligently written music and lyrics Haines and Co. have ever recorded.

Must-Have Track: “Gimme Sympathy”

5. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Formed in 2000 in Versailles just outside of Paris, Phoenix orchestrated their triumphant return to the music scene in 2009, garnering them their first Grammy nomination (in the “alternative album of the year” category). With Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the rock band establishes itself as a strong musical force to be reckoned with. Pushing the boundaries of their sound further than their previous efforts by encompassing an even wider electronic infused pop fusion to alternative rock, the band has been receiving much mainstream exposure. Its new music has been placed in various trailers (“Where The Wild Things Are,” “New York, I Love You”) and on several television programs and commercials. Clocking in at barely over 35 minutes, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a critical album that not only augurs a very promising future for the band, but also serves as a cultural marker about the state of indie music today – both what it has evolved into and where it can go from here.

Must-Have Tracks: “1901,” “Lisztomania”

4. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

In TIME Magazine’s “The Top 10 Everything of 2009,” Bitte Orca (German for “please whale”) placed as the second best album of the year. The article’s author, Josh Tyrangiel, explained how the experimental rock band Dirty Projectors has complicated his life. “The job of a music critic is essentially to describe music,” he wrote “For the past few years, the job of Dirty Projectors mastermind Dave Longstreth has been to make the critic’s job undoable.” Combining elements of everything from raw acoustics to next level electronica, Bitte Orca is a genre-molding album that compacts as much variety as it can into the formula of its songwriting. The result is a stunning and ethereal musical masterpiece that gives us a real, meaty taste of what artistic expression is all about.

Must-Have Tracks: “Stillness Is The Move,” “Two Doves”

3. Miike Snow – Miike Snow

Months before the release of Miike Snow, the band’s identity remained a secret as their debut single “Animal” was making its way around the internet, creating much buzz and speculation. All that was known was that their album artwork was that of a mythical jackalope, leaving the people behind this piece of electronic pop/rock genius a huge mystery. Later, it was revealed that the band was the product of a trio of Swedish friends, singer/songwriter Andrew Wyatt and production duo Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (more commonly known as Bloodshy & Avant, the Grammy winning team responsible for Britney Spears’ megahit “Toxic”). The lyrics of their eponymous debut album are equally dark and hopeful, all set to near flawless electronica infused rock. Wyatt’s haunting tenor voice has the power to send chills down one’s spine and simultaneously evoke a striking glow of warmth. After receiving incredible amounts of critical acclaim, preparing for a nearly sold out nationwide and UK tour in the first quarter of 2010, and remixing songs for acts such as Peter Bjorn and John, Passion Pit, and Vampire Weekend, Miike Snow is one of the most refreshingly original and exciting finds of 2009.

Must-Have Track: “Black & Blue”

2. Lissy Trullie – Self-Taught Learner

In case you couldn’t already tell from the rest of this list, I love female rockers. Who would have known that the beauty of Lissy Trullie, the spunky ingénue who served as the muse to Oscar de la Renta’s son’s first fashion line and the face of Chloe Sevigny’s clothing line, would transcend the boundaries of her Elle Magazine photo spread and translate into grungy pop/rock? And you thought models couldn’t jam out on guitar. Shame on you. “Self-Taught Learner” is the premiere EP of Trullie’s four-piece rock band, and it serves as only a teaser for what her debut album has in store for us in early 2010. But this teaser is gloriously tasty and you should savor every bit of it. Along with the EP’s energetic title track, first single “Boy Boy,” and a phenomenal cover of Hot Chip’s “Ready For The Floor,” there is not a single boring or filler song on this record. It’s no wonder that music legends such as Courtney Love and The Smiths’ Johnny Marr are all singing Lissy’s praises. Her impressive alto vocals mixed with the band’s fierce guitar and percussion instrumentals along with their spirited and zesty lyrics bond together to form the perfect party soundtrack. From high fashion to music’s next big thing, Lissy Trullie has it all and is not afraid to dish it out with a fist and a guitar riff.

Must-Have Track: “Don’t To Do”

1. Ingrid Michaelson – Everybody

Many of Ingrid’s fans were incredibly skeptical about the release of her second album. There was a lot of speculation that she had “sold out” after her 2007 breakthrough hit “The Way I Am” became the theme song to every commercial or love story on television. Then there were all the rumors about Ingrid ditching her simple folksy sound for a bigger band/orchestra feel, which many feared would be the death of the Ingrid they fell in love with and the birth of another Jewel or Alanis Morrisette wannabe. Then Everybody was released and blew everyone out of the water. Yes, the album is far more musically advanced and progressive than Ingrid’s previous effort, but rather than muffling her already trademark sound, the record enhances it. The album gorgeously spins out the narrative of a relationship, starting with the fear of letting someone in and the butterflies in your stomach during the “honeymoon period,” and ending with the ultimate downfall and feelings of despair, resentment, and hurt that come with a painful breakup. Ingrid does what she does best by capturing the rawest and most vulnerable of human emotions through lyrics, wearing her heart on her sleeve at the most tender moments. Sophisticated instrumental diversity accompanies her powerful words. Standouts include the empowering “Soldier,” the multi-layered harmonies of “The Chain,” the upbeat and beautiful “The Mountain And The Sea,” the incredibly dark “Locked Up,” and the Joni Mitchell-esque single “Maybe.” The record serves as a statement of musical maturity, while still remaining faithful to the sound that made people fall in love with Ingrid for the way she was years ago.

Must-Have Tracks: “The Chain,” “The Mountain And The Sea”

Rounding out the Top 25:

11. Girls – Album

12. Julian Casablancas – Phrazes For The Young

13. Lady GaGa – The Fame Monster

14. Discovery – LP 1

15. Band Of Skulls – Baby Darling Doll Face Honey

16. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

17. The Bird And The Bee – Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future

18. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

19. Plastiscines – About Love

20. Fanfarlo – Reservoir

21. The XX – The XX

22. Tegan & Sara – Sainthood

23. Jay Ferrar & Benjamin Gibbard – One Fast Move Or I’m Gone

24. Raveonettes – In And Out Of Control

25. Morrissey – Year Of Refusal

Have Yourself A Dirty Little Christmas

So here’s the thing about the holidays: it doesn’t matter what you celebrate, whether it be Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or the birth of L. Ron Hubbard, they’re all supposed to send out messages of positivity, warmth, family, and love. Now that’s really cute and sentimental and all, but then riddle me this – why have they become so hyper sexualized? What do slutty Santa outfit inspired lingerie that make their way onto the mannequins in the display windows of every Victoria’s Secret from every November through December, have anything to do with the “Christmas spirit”? I don’t think the idea of “giving” refers to amateur lap dances. How does mistletoe promote the birth of Jesus? I guess making out with strangers under a little plant is how Mary got a place in that stable, huh?

Especially sexualized is the holiday music we have all learned to love and play on loop starting the day after Thanksgiving. We sing these carols walking around in the sleeting weather clutching our mittens and chorus books, knocking on people’s doors and invading their personal space by showering them with our own beliefs and holiday “cheer.” Not every Grinch or Scrooge wants to be entranced into a Prozac induced Christmas coma, where their natural goodness and glee about the festive season overshadow the fact that they’re actually bitter, cynical, and alone (side note: did anyone ever realize that this incessant spreading of one’s own personal customs already happened? The Crusades, anyone?).

So let’s start with some of the classics. Dean Martin crooned “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for years before anyone really knew what the clinical term “date rape” meant (yes, this song was released around the same time as other promiscuity endorsing holiday songs such as “Santa Baby” – which by the way is SO creepy – or the classic sexualized twist on the myth of Santa coming down your chimney with instead your mom being the one going down in “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause”). The song serves as a holiday anthem to the sketchy, persistent man who does not take “no” for an answer. In the track, the female singer spends the entirety of the song trying to leave the male singer’s home – an act that he won’t let her do, whether it be by physically stopping her or playing mental games to trick her to stay. She comes up with a million reasons of why she can’t stay and has to leave, but rather than responding to her concerns, he simply continues to take off her jacket and ensure that she has no way of leaving.

“Say, what’s in this drink?” she asks, as she tastes something funny in the cup she most likely did not watch him pour her. Do you really want to know what that is, sweetheart? That’s a little pill that’s going to make you black out and wake up by the yule log with only your underwear around your ankles as a way of triggering the little memory you have of the night before. “At least I’m going to say that I tried,” she continues to sing, as the drugs start to kick in and she realizes she’s going to be staying overnight. This way when she presses charges, she can truthfully say she said “no.”

On top of that, our chauvinistic male protagonist doesn’t understand rejection, as he asks the age old question: “what’s the sense in hurting my pride?” Well with that argument, how can anyone resist that sultrily delicious eggnog with the crushed, little, dissolving white chunks on the bottom of the glass? This is an actual Christmas carol! It’s literally a song about a woman saying no and a man ignoring that to try to get his way with her, despite her clear refusal. Personally, I know that nothing says “Happy Birthday Jesus” to me like some good, old fashioned, date rape.

Then there’s that new holiday classic that seems to be everyone and their mother’s favorite Christmas song of all time – Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” The song is everywhere – from being on loop at Macy’s to being performed nearly flawlessly by that incredibly talented eleven-year-old girl at the end of Love Actually. While yes, I will admit that the song is ridiculously catchy, and is probably as intelligent of a career choice for Carey as Glitter was not, but has anybody ever actually listened to the actual lyrics?

First of all, the setting of the song is the materialization of Christmas. It has nothing to do with the holiday itself, but rather with the idea of it being an excuse to give and receive gifts amongst the privileged. All you want for Christmas, Mariah? How sweet. You cut back on your list of diva demands this year. People can’t afford food or homes all over the world, but you only want one thing this year, so that makes you a good and charitable person. But wait, what is this material good that you so strongly desire? A human? Oh okay. I get it. By objectifying someone into a gift that can be received on Christmas, it’s like they’re devoid of any humanity and instead are just your playthings and objects. Wow, fuck my Tickle-Me-Elmo, I want a real human doll I can make do whatever I want too! Thanks for the idea, Mimi.

As a heterosexual woman who has just one “thing” she needs, Mariah is using her song as a way of saying that men are objects that can be used however she pleases – something that the lyrics equating a man to a material good don’t even attempt to veil. I’m so glad that you’re using your celebrity status to send such a positive holiday message, Mariah: Who needs inanimate objects as gifts, when you can own one that literally moves and can “hold you tight”? It’s like slavery all over again! I’ll totally trade you my ex-boyfriend for that guy you hooked up with at Rachel’s party last weekend. He wasn’t the one I asked for for Chirstmas anyway, lolz. Gag me.

Then there’s the new wave of “contemporary” Christmas songs. Lady GaGa’s “Christmas Tree,” for instance, is literally about having sex underneath a Christmas tree. “Light me up, put me on top, fa la la la la la, la la la la,” she sings, while you as the listener, can’t help but wonder how all that garland doesn’t somehow get in the way by furling around her, unless of course, she’s celebrating an auto-erotic asphyxiation themed holiday this year – which in hindsight would actually not be that surprising. This theme reoccurs on “Under My Tree,” a track off of NSYNC’s holiday album, except the catch is that that this time, not only is the couple having sex underneath the Christmas tree – but Santa is sitting there watching. That old, bearded pervert! No wonder he’s so jolly. You would be too if you were saving money on porn subscriptions and Viagra prescriptions by watching people who decide to rock around their Christmas tree and offer you their cookies and milk for free.

I’m not saying I agree with the objectification and the severity of the situations in the aforementioned songs, but people need to be aware of what they’re singing about. So next time you knock on someone’s door, instead of singing a little festive ditty, just go all out – deck your halls, jingle your bells, take off your pants and go inside. And always remember to pull out before you come, all ye faithful.