For what it’s worth: Top 10 albums of 2009

In particular order:

1. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner):

My car stereo is broken at the moment. It still plays albums, but there is no skipping of tracks, and the volume can’t be changed. This means that the default volume for Embryonic in particular is “piercing.” After two albums of bliss and one (underrated) one of transition, I’m amazed that the Lips are willing to induce such pain. But it’s in service of deeply hypnotic songs, and each synth squeal and squelch just adds to the masochistic joy. Bands that are as old as I am shouldn’t be this exciting.

2. Akron/Family – Set ’Em Wild, Set ’Em Free (Dead Oceans):

If all goes according to plan, I will start 2010 with a singalong of “Last year was a hard year for such a long time; this year’s gonna be ours.” Akron’s semi-philosophically joyous ramblings may be cut from the same patchouli as the hippies of yore, but the band’s manic incorporation of everything from Afro-beat to pure noise is anything but flaky. Their live set still puts the album to shame, but that’s saying something when the album is this good.

3. Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre (Arts & Crafts):

Sad, slow and soulful. This year’s answer to Bon Iver as far as good winter albums go. Like a group of ghosts decided to cover vague memories of Howlin’ Wolf. (Moaning wolf?)

4. Lhasa – Lhasa (Warner):

Not quite as mesmerising as her tri-lingual The Living Road, Lhasa’s self-titled third album is still a masterful display of restraint. Songs that initially sound similar reveal new layers with each listen, and as always, the singer seems intuitively, irresistably in tune with the earth.

5. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino):

I still say the cover art is atrocious, but that’s the only thing that doesn’t work on yet another thoroughly inventive slab of pop. I still haven’t gotten over “My Girls.”

6. Portico – First Neighbours (Copperspine):

If you didn’t notice the bizarre polyrhythms and wiry energy of First Neighbours, it’s probably because they sound so natural. Not many bands can push the limits of pop-rock song structure without feeling like they’re trying to make a statement. The album’s Canadiana is just an added bonus.

7. We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls (Fat Cat):

Yeah, they kind of sound like a Scottish U2 with all the reverb, but how can you resist those nakedly emotional vocals, the simplistic lyrics that become emphatic mantras, the crushing post-punk atmosphere? There’s a politeness to the album that holds it back, and they’re walking a fine line with the bombast, but for now, they’re on the right track.

8. Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light (Secretly Canadian):

Simply beautiful. Although I’ll still go with “Shake that Devil”  from the Another World EP as the best thing he’s done.

9. The Heavy – The House That Dirt Built (Counter):

Anyone who can re-appropriate “I Put a Spell on You” and make it work deserves respect. A little less soul and more garage than their debut, but still one of the most forceful albums of the year.

10. Charles Spearin – The Happiness Project (Arts & Crafts):

A concept album with a real concept, and the result brings out the melody inherent in the English language. Not an easy task. It’s a little hit and miss, but even when it’s musically off, it’s still fascinating.

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