Photograph by Annabel Mehran

The year 2009 will be remembered for many things, including the divorce of Jon and Kate Gosselin, Tiger Woods’ infidelity, and of course, the introduction of Keyboard Cat. But aside from those momentous events, some decent music was released. As the year draws to a close, we here at Ca Va Cool continue our list-making ways to bring you our favourite albums of 2009. Through an intense, scientific process, we have distilled the vast amount of quality releases into an essential brew of twenty such albums. Old favourites share space with relative newcomers in the first half of our list.

Sunset Rubdown

20. Sunset RubdownDragonslayer (Jagjaguwar)

Spencer Krug has solidified his position as wizard of the indie world with the release of Dragonslayer. Conjuring up mythical beasts and inspiring a belief in whimsical folklore, all while contorting vocals entangled with punchy keyboards. Dragonslayer is Sunset Rubdown’s white rabbit in the top hat. The witty experimentation paired with outstanding hooks forms an album that is both accessible and multifarious. Dragonslayer compiles an unparalleled consistency as the eight tracks serve as standalone sensations while weaving an outlandish fairytale. The record has the capacity to immerse listeners and encourage exploration. Sunset Rubdown uncovers a new adventure with each thumping refrain of ‘Idiot Heart’ or the possessed chanting of ‘You Go on Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)’. The quintet’s unpolished finish on the album prides itself on the kinks in their armour and much like a good fairytale, each scrape, bruise, and bump has its own merit when fighting dragons. — Jan Kucic-Riker

Photograph by Cameron Wittig

Photograph by Cameron Wittig

19. Volcano Choir Unmap (Jagjaguwar)

Separating a band from its parts is perhaps a futile exercise, but in the case of Volcano Choir, one can only wonder if the project would have gotten nearly as much attention in 2009, had it not been fronted by the perpetually expressive and morose Justin Vernon, who brought us one of our favourite albums of 2008, Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago.  The Colony of Bees, Vernon’s collaborators on this project, have been making experimental rock for some years now, but for one reason or another, their sound hadn’t really hit a chord with the masses. One gets a sense that Vernon may have involved himself with this project to test himself artistically. He takes a step back from the limelight and uses his voice primarily atmospherically and instrumentally, the reverse effect of his croons on For Emma which were the focus of his ballads. The fact that it works so well on Unmap is just another sign of promise for the bright career ahead for Bon Iver. — Sal Patel

Thieves Like Us

18. Thieves Like UsPlay Music (Shelflife)

Sometimes less is more. This axiom is often ignored in the electronic music world, where layer upon layer of simulated sounds are combined over complicated beats to form dense, poppy tracks. This can be great, but then a band like Thieves Like Us comes along and demonstrates the successful application of the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid). The international trio’s first release, Play Music, is as direct as its title containing stark, uncluttered tunes that still pulse with danceable riffs and pensive melodies. Lacking superfluity, listeners are less preoccupied by surface noises and channeled straight to the core of the music. Carefully placed details, like interesting guitar samples or wistful lyrics, command attention against the sparse atmosphere. No distractions, no excessiveness, just a collection of intriguing, catchy songs. Simplicity at its finest. — Sabrina Diemert

Photograph by Justin Hollar

Photograph by Justin Hollar

17. Atlas Sound Logos (Kranky)

The frayed nostalgia on Logos marks an unadorned honesty in Atlas Sound’s recordings. The haunting chime of ‘Shelia’ teases subjects of adolescent love and guilt, poignantly concluding with, “’Cause no one wants to die alone, we’ll die alone together.” Bradford Cox romantically balances eerie dissonance with washed out textures in the recognizable lo-fi landscape of Logos. The record explores instrumental layering and Cox’s ability to experiment assertively. Collaborations with Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab and Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) propel the depth of Logos to shining heights. The polarity of the album reveals upbeat harmonies shrouded in dreamy vocals as the majority of tracks reflect the curious nature of Atlas Sound. Logos is the mystified tour guide walking the nebulous corridors of a once-familiar home. While the destination and sights along the way are foreign, the happy stumbling may lead you to surprising places. — Jan Kucic-Riker

Photograph by Brantley Gutierrez

Photograph by Brantley Gutierrez

16. Dinosaur Jr. Farm (Jagjaguwar)

Call it blasphemy, but I’ve never really appreciated classic-era Dinosaur Jr. Not to say this period for the band wasn’t important, even revolutionary in the sense that it prophesized the way alternative music would sound in the ‘90s, it’s just that I’m never suddenly struck with the urge to blast You’re Living All Over Me on my stereo. Farm on the other hand I can listen to on repeat. On the second album since their 2005 reunion, all the elements which make their older songs less musical (i.e. self-indulgent guitar freak outs) are as forgotten as their internal squabbles and what remains are well-structured rock songs with so many melodic layers they can only be contained by turning the gain up to eleven. In a bold middle age move, Dinosaur Jr. are now a better band than ever and I don’t see them running out of hooks anytime soon. — Daniel Hernandez

Photograph by Donald Milne

Photograph by Donald Milne

15. Camera ObscuraMy Maudlin Career (4AD)

There are some bands who manage to escape the pressures of having to re-invent themselves, their genre or the music itself, when releasing a new album. Those bands have it good, but have also earned this position in the collective consciousness by having a sound which began as distinct and refreshing. That’s the pocket in which Camera Obscura sits. There are times when listening to My Maudlin Career where you may be convinced that you’re listening to their 2006  release Let’s Get Out of This Country, and that’s exactly what I dig about it. It’s assumed that continuing to make “the same kind of music” is a much simpler exercise than pushing to find a new sound, but sticking to your sound without producing a lesser work than the original is also a feat to be recognized. My Maudlin Career, like its predecessor, is full of sweet pop, cute and emotional lyrics and most importantly, is an easy listen. And so the age old idiom fits, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fucking fix it.” — Sal Patel

Annabel Mehran

Photograph by Annabel Mehran

14. St. VincentActor (4AD)

Although a fan of The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, for which Annie Clark has acted as member and part of touring band, respectively, I never checked out St. Vincent’s debut album, Marry Me, which explains how I was so pleasantly surprised by Actor. In fact, I bought the album solely based on a YouTube video of her performing The Beatles’ ‘I Dig a Pony’ in concert, which was a perfect introduction to the guitar work found on her album. She creates lush and swooping arrangements on almost every song, complimenting her voice which is simultaneously gentle and powerful. But it’s the complex and ever changing styles that makes this album so great, as if each song, every instrument plays an actor in the grand cinematic theme of the album. — Kyle Sikorski

Photograph by Elizabeth Weinburg

Photograph by Elizabeth Weinberg

13. Passion PitManners (Frenchkiss)

The next evolution in a project that began as a mixtape to an ex-girlfriend, Passion Pit’s debut LP Manners had the lofty goal of living up to their breakthrough song ‘Sleepyhead’. The album’s first five tracks mark one of the strongest openings to any album released this year.  The exuberance of the children’s choir on ‘Little Secrets’ and dark synthesizers of ‘The Reeling’ are so memorable that you can forget that a gem like ‘Moth’s Wings’ is sandwiched between them. While unquestionably top-heavy, Manners’ biggest accomplishment is sustaining that energy through the entire album. The latter half includes notable digressions like ‘Swimming in the Flood’ and ‘Eyes as Candles’ that prove the band has more than one trick up their sleeve. Filled with songs that are sure to remain dance party favourites for years to come, Passion Pit has created an excellent mixtape for you. — Kevin Kania

Photograph by Liam Maloney

Photograph by Liam Maloney

12. Handsome FursFace Control (Sub Pop)

Shifting inspiration from Scandinavia to Eastern Europe, Handsome Furs’ sophomore LP retains the elements that made their debut Plague Park so great while taking it to the next level. Face Control is louder and more robust while remaining limited to Dan Boeckner’s guitars and Alexei Perry’s beats and keyboards. Single ‘I’m Confused’ captures the culture shock of modern Russia and transforms it into frantic rocker bursting with energy. From the blues-rock stomp of ‘Evangeline’ to the New Order-influenced ‘All We Want, Baby, Is Everything’ to the lesson of saying no to prostitutes in ‘Nyet Spasiba’, Face Control is not lacking in variety, though all these tunes will get you moving. Handsome Furs may be influenced by the cold environment in which they tour, but the heat produced by their chemistry together is undeniable. — Kevin Kania

The Antlers

11. The AntlersHospice (Frenchkiss)

Hospice is the concept album that wakes to find colour in the world for the first time with the disclosure to paint the perceived emotional detachment. The Antlers find canvas in the wintry corridors of an intensive care unit while any warmth in the monochromatic hallways is drained in heartache. The shattering ring of broken falsetto vocals intimately spiral in a freefall with disenchanted beauty. The record casts a heavy shadow through a thematically merciless narrative and the tragedy of good intentions. Peter Silberman’s whispery prose serves as a confessional with the words, “Tell me when you think that we became so unhappy, wearing silver rings with nobody clapping. When we moved here together we were so disappointed, sleeping out of tune with our dreams disjointed.” The Antlers search for faith in a life support system only able to coerce despondency as they learn happiness is never wanting to sleep. — Jan Kucic-Riker

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— , December 21, 2009    Comments Off on Best Albums of 2009, Pt. 1
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