10 Posts to go.
I'm not sure I have a best album of 2009, at least, not one that was released in 2009. I suspect that it might be related to the number of new albums which I purchased this year: 1. The album in question - Imogen Heap's Ellipse - is...good. The songs are catchy, and they've already started to grow on me a little. Thing is, it feels cheap to declare a winner by default, especially in this instance; you see, I don't like Ellipse more than I like Speak For Yourself (Heap's previous release).
One review I read came fairly close to the mark when it said that Ellipse wasn't lacking in and of itself, but what it didn't have was a single track with the heart-stopping power of Hide And Seek. I concur, but there's more to it than that. What Speak For Yourself has going for it is an emotional honesty that verges on brutal. The album was a procession of songs, each of which spoke to something that you yourself had undoubtedly felt: unrequited longing/sexual tension (Goodnight and Go), frustrated/failing relationships (Loose Ends, The Walk), infatuation (I am in love with you). I'll admit that I don't really have any experience with dysfunctional family drama (Just for now), but even then the song still works. Ellipse has beautiful songs (esp Tidal), and I do approve that Heap is not sitting on her heels writing variations on the same theme, but for a dude who is still emotionally rooted in teenage angst, there's a certain loss of that emotional truth when you move away from the familiar frustrations of love. Also, I think that even when she does tackle the same theme across both albums, I will tend to prefer the earlier release (ie. Goodnight and Go vs. Swoon*). Sure I didn't have a 'best of 2005' award for music, so it isn't as though I denied an award to the album I liked more, but even so it feels like giving a director an Oscar for something that wasn't their best work simply because they deserve to have one but keep having it poached them (this happened to Scorsese, I think?). Well, like that except no one even pretends that this is an important accolade.
*Side note: If you listen to her talk about this song, you'll notice that the way she says the word "Swoon" is positively sublime.
Looking at past releases that I have discovered this year, the obvious choice would be the work of Coheed and Cambria. A month or so ago I would have said without question that Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV Volume 1: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness was without question my favourite, but now I'm kind of torn between that and In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3. Thing is, I think it's a function of having listened to the former much more until very recently, so I have worn one out, but not the other. I think I like the flow of the earlier album (In Keeping Secrets) a little more, in that it has a generally higher energy level across the middle tracks than does its successor.
I imagine that unless you own all these albums, this post is pretty awfully annoying. I don't have a lot of time now, but I'll go back and link all the tracks so you can get an idea of what I mean.
I went on a music finding quest several weeks ago, but I found that some artists had a single song that I thought outshone the rest of their respective albums. Blow Away, by A Fine Frenzy, and Foundations, by Kate Nash are prime examples. The songs stand up, but the albums as a whole I don't think I like nearly enough to call "Best of '09".
Another factor to consider is that when I'm evaluating an album, I'm comparing it to the likes of Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick, The Clash's London Calling, Talking Heads' Speaking in Tongues, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon...albums that I will listen to from end to end, albums that have withstood the test of time...albums like people don't make anymore. I will, that said, listen to a Coheed and Cambria album all the way through, but that's a rarity for something so recent. It also has a lot to do with how one listens to concept albums (especially when they are telling a story). They're not J-Tull, but at least they can present me with an album that is compelling as an album, and not just as "oh hey there are some good songs on this thing".
I guess what I am saying is that I don't know what my best album of 2009 is, but I think I WOULD know it if I saw it. I'll likely be back to edit this one, because I think I can do a better job of both the criticism, and explaining my criteria.