Aquarium Drunkard :: 2009 Year In Review

Here it is -- our obligatory year-end list. Mixing things up, I decided to take a different tack this year and feature more than fifteen albums (see: previous year-end lists). With one caveat: none of us could write more than several sentences about each LP as the Decade series has been lengthy enough. An exceptionally strong year for new music, even expanding our list considerably it was difficult to leave out some very worthy contenders.

As always, except for AD's album of the year, Veckatimest, the below list of records is not ranked in any particular order. Enjoy, we did. -- j gage, j neas, j crosby, m garner

Grizzly Bear's third LP and best to date, Veckatimest feels cinematic in scope, like a 12-act progression through a beautifully constructed panorama. Its lavish composition finds multiple moving parts coalescing into a single, tangible whole, where even wordless moments are fat with enchanting imagery. Listening to it is like trying to chart a swift breeze by the flutter of the leaves it touches. It weaves in and out and wanders in circles. That isn't hyperbole or an attempt at conceptualizing the abstract; you literally find the music moving around you, at times predominantly in front, swimming to the side and swooping behind before flying back around. Take the introduction, "Southern Point," a kaleidoscopic five minute song with jazz inclinations that makes you nearly forget for a moment that someone is even singing as you get caught up in simply following the sound. Throughout the album, ornate arrangements, accompaniment from the Acme String Quartet and Brooklyn Youth Choir, and even episodes of acoustic solitude assist in that intoxication. Such simple complexity doesn't peel away its layers in just one or even 10 spins through. Even "Two Weeks," the critically adored standards ballad and most straightforward lyrical vehicle on the record, does not fully unfurl itself until you've had time to absorb its plea to quietude amid a sometimes frenzied relationship, the plea itself a slow indulgence.

Founder Ed Droste has noted that Veckatimest is the first time the group has truly collaborated, creating each step together rather than patching together piecemeal from the individual creative efforts of its members. Infusing a more collective element from the start is likely primary among reasons for Veckatimest's subdued extravagance. It's allowed Grizzly Bear to compose a seamlessly diverse and innovative piece in which even more obvious genre samples, such as the aforementioned jazz and standards forms, are still almost lost under the ethereal elegance of its atmosphere. Only upon returning to the record repeatedly, skipped tracks be damned, can you expect to discover the variegated textures of their colorful and meticulous efforts. Ironically, this is made all the more difficult as each new discovery can distract from the potential of the next, so as the record comes to a close you once again find yourself pressing play. (buy)

Big Star :: Keep An Eye On The Sky - At long last the pioneers of power-pop get their due with this meticulously crafted box set. Essential, as in, if you've somehow missed out on this chapter of rock history, here is your all-in-one tutorial. (buy)

Death :: For The Whole World To See - Whoa, holy shit - where did this come from?!? Earlier this year Drag City Records unearthed and unleashed this '70s proto-punk wallop on the masses. Imagine if Bad Brains had taken up residence with the MC5 gang in Detroit Rock City. Fierce. (buy)

Ghana Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Ghanaian Blues 1968-1981
- The past five or so years have found me digging for more and more non-western sounds, namely rare and out of print 60s and 70s highlife/afrobeat. This is in large part due to the efforts of labels like Soundway. Ghana Special is no exception. (buy)

MP3: K. Frimpong & His Cubanos Fiestas :: Kyenkyen Bi Adi

Atlas Sound :: Logos - Bradford Cox continues to impress, whether recording with Deerhunter, or here under his Atlas Sound moniker. A true student of music, Logos mines yet another set of Cox's varied influences with typically impressive results. One of my favorite artists of the second half of the decade. (buy)

Sharon Van Etten :: Because I Was In Love
- A sleeper, Van Etten's Because I Was In Love was quietly released by Drag City only to gain momentum the old fashioned way: by word of mouth. And it is all the better for it. (buy)

Tune-Yards :: Birdbrains - 45 schizophrenic minutes of clanky beats, folky yelping and quasi-yodeling. Sound good? You bet. By far one of the more interesting records I happened upon the second half of the year.   (buy)

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