Best Albums 2009 (21-25)

25. Dark Was the Night

Now That’s What I Call Pitchfork! The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner couldn’t have chosen a slate of artists I’m more ambivalent about if they’d tried: Dirty Projectors, Beirut, Yeasayer, the National. (OK, they could have left off Yo La Tengo.) (And Buck 65.) (But you get the idea.) Like a radio station worth a monthly listen to keep up on trends, the Dessners’ mix not only renders irritants like Justin Vernon, Antony Hegarty, and  Grizzly Bear palatable — it explains why their fans adore them. The unwary might even be lured into drawing some foolish conclusions about Today’s Music: that quiet is the new loud, that folk is the new punk, that Vashti Bunyan and Shuggie Otis belong in the canon. Never doubt the ability of the Red Hot organization to elicit the best from their contributors.

24. P.O.S. – Never Better

Maybe no white MC could get away with rapping and repping as punk as Pissed Off Stef, who quotes Fugazi on “Savion Glover” and provides some helpful backstory on the personal reminiscence “Out of Category.” Not even if he rhymed as sharp as Promise of Skill. But Product of Society could only have emerged from a city big enough to foster subcultures but too small for them to keep from intermingling. And “Drumroll” isn’t the only track hooked to a drumroll — the dominant rhythm here is a hardcore/funk tumble crafted by Lazerbeak and none other than Plain Ole Stef.

23. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains

Joseph D’Agostino’s lyrics say less than his guitar, but his reveries and instrumental detours are both more focused than his band’s track lengths suggest. Time wasted on sluggish arterials — the Merritt Parkway, the GWB, I-90 — gives him the opportunity to notice “the way suspension bridges shake/ When you’re stuck behind trucks/ Sailing into 1999.” A life spent in Staten Island, not Brooklyn, has insulated him from indie trends — Times New Viking and Yuck sound like pioneers up against this band of sonic and spiritual ’90s throwbacks. But drummer Matthew Miller swings some and the music-hall piano is a nice touch. Besides, people even still make great blues records sometimes, you know, and that stuff’s from way before the ’90s.

22. Staff Benda Bilili  Tres Tres Fort

These paraplegic Kinshasa street musicians (I know, I know) are my favorite noisemakers to emerge from Vincent Kenis’ Congotronics marketing scheme and, not coincidentally, the least given to hypnotic repetition. Credit goes to the youngster in their midst, eighteen-year-old Roger Landu, and his homemade, single-stringed electric lute. Maybe also to their homely busker origins, apparent in the ease with which they dip into rumba and reggae and funk and whatever else will entice passersby with spare coins. After all, what are world music fans but a certain subclass of tourist?

21. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

I always knew Nick Zinner had a guitar-god record in him. Just wouldn’t have guessed it would also be his keyboard-whiz record, or that so much of the fun would come from distinguishing axe work from synth effects. As for Karen O, she screeches “Off with your head/ Dance till you’re dead” like she means it, celebrates transcendent anonymity on “Zero” like she doesn’t, and calls the tune where she confesses “You suddenly complete me” “Hysteric.” Not quite a Parallel Lines for an age in which disco has more cred with aesthetes than punk; more a Garbage 2.0 for an era that mistakes taste for principle.

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  • James  On October 2, 2011 at 10:45 am

    You’ve mentioned him a few times here, but is there anywhere I can go to read a longer explanation of your disdain for Bon Iver?

    • usefulnoise  On October 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      Sorry, I think I’ve only ever slighted him in passing! Without going to deep into it, his stylized falsetto sadness strikes me as precious, and his lyrics are poetic nonsense.

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