The best new music of 2009 brought to you with love and excellent taste by your friends at Impose. Go here to win them all.
Deciding the 50 best musicians, artists and bands of 2009 is always a game of balancing editorial tastes, and of knowing where you are and who you are. Is this list global, reaching into every subgenre of every corner of the known sound universe? Nope. What's “best” has never been universal, but it can certainly become homogenized, and somewhat paradoxically, parochial. No two ears are the same, but pairs of a given tenor will flock to the same four or ten sites.
We're hoping our list isn't simply a re-ordered version of everyone else's. If we've succeeded in that, you may enjoy our Best Music of 2009 50-song compilation, which you can download here, here, and here (or below from our player).
Best New Music of 2009
50: Oneohtrix Point Never
Daniel Lopatin's releases from the past few years, compiled into No Fun Production's Rifts proved to be one of the best collection of revisionist cosmic music in the tradition of Ash Ra Temple's Klaus Schulze.
49: Silk Flowers
With a member of USAisamonster (RIP) and a friend in Saturday Looks Good to Me/City Center's Fred Thomas, Silk Flowers's Black Dice-meets-Ian Curtis neo-house music presented a flat plane of low-emotive dance music in their self-titled debut on PPM that found sublimity in never cresting, always riding.
48: Speech Debelle
This South London-based MC was a breath of fresh air amongst this year's new hip hop voices. Her debut album Speech Therapy (Big Dada) was sweet in its delicate delivery, serious in its intimate lyrical content, and ended up walking away with the 2009 Mercury Prize as a result (to the shock and amazement of the artist and record label alike).
47: Sean McCann
Not only was the synth/viola maestro one of the most prolific solo artists of the year, (highlighted by Phylum Sigh on DNT), but he also put out a collaboration with Greg Manata of Eno/Fripp proportions on Anathema Sound that was perhaps the best ambient release of the year, and joined in with free-drone collective Dreamcolour on Inner Worship (Stunned). Dude even has a blog dedicated to him.
On February 13, 2009, Drake, a rapper with almost no buzz in rap, released So Far Gone, a mixtape that collected his past recordings into a free download off his website. Within about four minutes, and for the next ten months, Clear Channel Radio played the syrupy, infectious pop rap non-stop, nation-wide, and created two Billboard top 10 singles in “Forever” and “Best I Ever Had.” Less than a year after the tape dropped, Drake has signed a million dollar contract, worked with Lil Wayne, Jay Z, Mary J Blige, Jamie Foxx, Eminem, and Kanye West, and almost completed his first studio album, Thank Me Later. All off a mixtape, and probably some friends.
With only two 7″s and a split 12″, (on Fan Death and Fashionable Idiots), Drunkdriver quickly and loudly stated their case as one of the most tremendous bands to straddle the line between noise and hardcore. Their live show cements them as one of the few truly intimidating, brutal acts today.
The rare Stateside-by-way-of-Philly dubstep luminary continues to forge out of the usual constraints of the style and into ever-wonkier basslines.
43: Beach Fossils
Of all the Beach bands, it's hard not to put the Fossils near the top of the heap. Catchy, well-written songs fronted by young faces. Unless they're dogmatic, expect a label with money to scoop them up in 2010.
42: The Beets
See Beach Fossils and replace “beach” with “garage pop”. Also listen to their debut, Spit In The Face Of People Who Don't Want To Be Cool, on Captured Tracks.
41: Matt Mondanile
A few tail feathers above the heap of bird sounds, cat sneers, wolf whispers, and catatonic loop pedal spindlers throwing their takes on one-man psychedelic head trip music. Mondanile's primary vehicle in this department, Ducktails, can claim (count 'em) four different albums in 2009, including the excellent self-titled release on Not Not Fun, along with releases on Olde English Spelling Bee
and Release the Bats. Don't forget Mondanile's Parasails series, let alone his membership in Real Estate or Predator Vision.
40: The Clonious
It's the spirit of jazz improvisation wrapped up in future funk leanings that makes Between The Dots (Ubiquity) stand above the rising tide of post-Dilla beat concoctions offered this year. Not content with slumping in the cut, The Clonious imparts rhythmic discipline for his selections and not just gettin' down for the “wonk” of it.
With the addition of a drummer, Robedoor's second LP, Not Not Fun's Raiders, may have been the best representative of outer limits psych drone still indebted to a pulse, with a back bone that twists and curls like calcified reams of smoke.
38: Tickley Feather
Having transplanted from Philadelphia to rural Virginia, Annie Sachs put together what was both her sophomore effort on Paw Tracks and her first cohesive album of songs written and recorded in a single period. That effort, Hors D'Oeuvres, was simultaneously dreamy and dark, with undefined tones rumbling beneath toy pianos, muffled bass lines, and animatronic drum sequences.
Where most decent records are as invasive as the common cold, Hey Friend What You Doing (De Stijl) was a full-on swine flu of infectious melodies. Recalling old singles on K, Gravity, Kill Rock Stars, and Slampt, Pens applied their own snotty Brit-punk swagger to 2009's garage rock pile-up.
Leave it up to a pair of kids from Saratoga Springs, NY to record the most engaging sonic prism of hip-hop, shoegaze, pop, and electronic textures this year with Eyelid Movies (BBE), all fused into a single beam of light.
35: The Fresh & Onlys
The only San Francisco band that was able to keep up with Thee Oh Sees in material released. That alone deserves notice, but The Fresh & Onlys were also able to write brilliant pop songs, turning what once was flower power music into tender-hearted bro songs on both their Woodsist release Grey-Eyed Girls and their self-titled LP on Castle Face.
34: Slasher Risk
Having released a slew of tapes of the duo's particularly insane live recordings, Slasher Risk dropped their debut LP スラシア リスク, on Obselete Units. Nothing drops harder than a live set by the drum, guitar, and pedal-box duo, though. As perhaps the only band to perform trapeze acts over the neck of their guitars before burning them, we called them the greatest “fuck-all insane feedback seance in NYC today,” and we're sticking to it, but maybe changing “NYC” to “the galaxy.”
33: TV Ghost
Definitely one of the most under-recognized of the young, angry touring bands keeping punk rock alive while simultaneously spitting out genius new licks and exciting new songs. Their self-titled release on In The Red was a sizable and accomplished effort at reproducing the hair-rising effects of seeing them live.
32: Tyondai Braxton
Ice Capped At Both Ends (Warp) marked the further developments of Battles set into rich orchestration, for a sound like a film score for which no film yet is frenetic enough.
31: Double Dagger
The hardest working Baltimore band (next to Future Islands, who we'll get to next week for our “Best of 2010” list). The trio has long deserved national attention for the pure intensity of their live performances which play like punk shows but are implemented with the precision of expert pedal-stompers and machine gun percussionists. Thanks to Thrill Jockey, the band gave us More (of the same timeless music) in 2009.
30: Grass Widow
The west coast already had its own answer to the Vivian Girls in the Dum Dum Girls, so with their self-titled record on Make a Mess, Grass Widow, instead, raised the stakes by being stranger and more versatile, and by actually making use of their three voices by singing flawless harmonies on almost every song. Three-part harmonies where each member signs different words (“because why would we all agree exactly on everything?”), even.
29: James Ferraro
There's no one doing Ferraro but Ferraro. While his work with Skaters similarly massages the frontiers of what can be heard in the Void, Ferraro is an absurdly prolific solo artist averaging well over a release a month, including the sprawling collection on Arbor's Citrac.
With a debut produced entirely by Exile, who's become California's newest phenomenon behind the boards, Fashawn was a strong rookie of the year contender. At only 20 years of age, life as a shorty shouldn't be so rough, but Fashawn is a street knowledge griot that understands the ecology of Sunny CA.
27: Bird Names
Their fantastically quirky Sings the Browns (Upset the Rhythm) put this five-year old band on the map that marks off territory between cute twee pop and snide garage that rides neither bedroom pop nor psychedellic shaman music bandwagons. They travelled to their own slanted tunes, and continued to release exciting music on their late-in-the-year cassette Recession Vacation (Really Coastal).
26: Ill Mondo / Neal Rames
There’s always one album each year that completely catches you off-guard and make heads take notice based solely on the verbal spit and production grit, and the Neal Rames/Ill Mondo self-titled joint on Circle Into Square was that indie hip-hop surprise debut of the year, for “Gold Rush” and “Natalie Moore” alone.
25: Smith Westerns
Though easy to dismiss these kids as the poor man's Black Lips, don't forget that the Chicago group is too young even to be let into the same bars as the aging Atlantans. Instead, pay closer attention to the fresh melodies, not to mention the gloriously crunchy production values. On their debut LP on Hozac, the kids are doing something supremely sentimental and teen-aged.
24: Talk Normal
Disclosure: Before the noise duo released Sugarland on Rare Book Room, before they opened for Sonic Youth, or toured the U.S. a couple times in a year, Talk Normal's Andrya Ambro was one of the original Impose writers. Its nice to see our favorite people making some of the best clattering, plate-smashingly best noise rock music of 2009.
With obvious nods to greats like Pavement and Teenage Fan Club, Darlings' Yeah I Know (Famous Class) was a pop masterpiece of 2009. The band embodies everything a good young pop group should, with a slacker attitude that belies their technical ability.
22: Fever Ray
Fever Ray's self-titled Mute debut flipped the pop paradigm on it's head, releasing a beautifully dark album reminiscent of early Portishead–if Portishead used a pitch shifter on Beth Gibbons' voice to make her sound like she was channeling the Devil.
21: Hudson Mohawke
The most interesting development in electronic drum chopping since the hyperkinetic DSP rhythms of the early 00s, the fresh Scottish producer's beats are extraordinarily irregular (strange time signatures, unpredictably non-looping, and free of any rigidly mechnical timing) and both in spite of and through this carry a heavy groove like few other current acts. Pair this with slippery melodies that seem half improvised and half OCD, and you've got one of the most assured Warp debuts in ages.
20: Black Dice
At least some at this website eye Black Dice as the logical next step in the progression of great, experimental groups in the tradition of Throbbing Gristle. Repo (Paw Tracks), their wonkish 2009 full length, adds another to the pile of challenging, unprecedented music still leveraged by a song-based sensibility.
It's still hard to put a definitive tag on the girls in Nisennenmondai, only because we haven't been able to see them play in over four years (the last time they hit our shores). But by finally putting out a full length EP (five songs over 40-minutes) that was distributed to the U.S.–Destination Tokyo on Smalltown Supersound–they filled a much needed musical void. Channeling Krautrock via Sonic Youth, they've figured out a way to funnel their frenetic energy; always on the precipice of a cliché explosion without ever giving in. The best use of mathematical noise since Battles.
Emeralds put out three excellent releases this year: the Fresh Air 7″, their self-titled LP on Wagon and their live tour cassette, The Overlook. By freeing up their heavy drone the trio made an evolutionary jump to become one of the best purveyors of cathartic headspace music in the neo-psychedelic world.
17: Animal Collective
You forgot too, but Merriweather Post Pavilion was the biggest thing since Revolver for about four months. It almost made the excellence of the late 2009 Fall Be Kind EP feel easy and expected. Maybe this explains the mumbles about a hiatus. Sociopolitical debate about “My Girls.” Go.
It would seem there is a prolific mindstate in Northern California that has drifted inland. Ganglians decided to forgo that dreadful downtime between the debut and sophomore slump by releasing Monster Head Room and Ganglians (both Woodsist), two of the breeziest, most instantly engaging garage/psych records of the year, at the same time. With the back-catalog cleared out, we look forward to Ganglians getting weirder in 2010.
15: Brother Ali
Many will champion US as the Brother Ali record of 2009, but we wanted to be certain you did not forget his The Truth Is Here EP (Rhymesayers). Front to back, it was the best hip hop EP of 2009 and this year Atmosphere gave away its EP for free. Don't get it twisted, we enjoyed US, but Brother Ali is a master of the EP and it needed to not be overlooked.
Already one of our favorite bands, 2009 saw them release their most mature and fully orchestrated record to date. Black Square was released in Canada, the US and Europe to universal praise as maybe the only band with the ability to meld Beefheart and Melt Banana with a knife-like precision they can also exhibit in the live realm. And speaking of live, they toured relentlessly in 2009, again. Disclosure: We liked the album so much, we put it out on cassette.
13: Diamond District
From the moment we heard “I Mean Business” of In The Rough (Oddisee), Diamond District jumped into heavy rotation. There's not a single weak beat on this 90's throwback record. It's true recession rap on multiple level: crate diggers finding influences in the recesses of NY's rap legacy, and conscious musicians living in a modern economic struggle.
Ambivalence Avenue: No other record this year made summer bike rides to and from work more of a pleasure, less of a task in 2009. Gorgeous field recording mash-up music that's not just for the aging IDMer.
11: Strange Boys
…And Girls Club (In the Red) rushed blood to the head faster than any representation of the garage side of Texas psych since the 13th Floor Elevators.
The best metal band in New York for the better part of 2009, and perhaps the only one on the eastern seaboard with the claim to DIY Black Metal, though that's not the kind of crass description the band chooses. (Try “Transcendental Black Metal.”) Their release of Renihilation on 20 Buck Spin helped them play some high profile shows (The New Yorker Fest?), and maybe helped the metal masses “relate to the status of transcendental experience in the contemporary world.”
09: The Black Lips
As the number of imitators grow, the Black Lips come pre-hyped and over-exposed for all (read: voyeurs of the American underground) world to watch. Yet 2009 saw them put out another great album (200 Million Thousand, Vice), induce fan girl freak outs, collaborate with GZA and King Khan, and tour relentlessly–including to India, which didn't go too well. If 200 MillIon, their own stamp on this year's lo-fi dialogue wasn't already so strong, getting kicked out of the second most populous country in the world would've been enough to crown them standard bearers of this garage generation.
08: A Sunny Day in Glasgow
A few years ago, A Sunny Day in Glasgow's Scribble Mural Comic Journal was widely praised for the sometimes-dubby, othertimes space-ready “sonic environment.” Ben Daniels followed through in Ashes Grammar (Mis Ojos Discos) with a sophomore album that took his bedroom masterpieces and one-upped them a full band.
07: Sene & Blu
Blu might continue his conquest as the most talked about blog rapper in this era, but Sene deserves all the praise on this record as he proves his name worthy next to the Blu man. It's low budget recordings on a even lower budget of distribution allowing this record to hide out from the industry villains that would sue these artists into oblivion for all the doo wop samples. We can only hope it gets enough hype to keep Sene's pockets healthy without jeopardizing any future music.
06: Eat Skull
Wild & Inside (Slitbreeze): Our favorite lo-fi wanker record, hands down.
05: Screaming Females
Winner of the “diy band of 2009” award. While many bands hustling for themselves were given big opportunities in 2009, being hand picked by Jack White, Dinosaur Jr. and Kristen Hersch personally (because they didn't have a booking agent) make Screaming Females easy front runners–despite being from New Jersey. Their Don Giovani debut (first on a label and third LP overall) Power Move left everyone drooling over Marissa Paternoster's sick axe skills.
04: Gucci Mane
When released from prison this year, Gucci Mane lived up to mountains of buzz by immediately hitting the studio and releasing (literally) dozens of mixtapes, landing featured spots on numerous hit singles, finishing his album The State vs. Radric Davis, and getting sentenced to another year in prison for failing to complete community service hours. This was all in 2009.
03: Freddie Gibbs
Freddie Gibbs could be the straw that breaks the industries' back. Interscope didn't see marketability in Gibbs and dropped him from the label. It goes to show just how out of touch the majors have become. Gibbs took his unreleased work, gave it out for free and became one of the most talked about mixtape rappers of the year.
02: Dan Deacon
People were not slow to react to Dan Deacon's Bromst (Carpark), an exciting shift from Deacon's sugar-frenzied debut LP, Spiderman of the Rings. Where Spiderman was doggedly frenetic, Bromst ruminates and indulges in tracts of ambient restraint, before going back inside to the party. And, where last year he made waves stirring up huge dance parties with his one-man crazy-scientist setup, he spent the first half of 2009 touring with a full-on orchestra-sized band. Then he got ill with acute sciatica. Wish him well.
01: Thee Oh Sees
Dog Poison (Captured Tracks), Help (In the Red), Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion (HBSP-2X), Zork'sTape Bruise (Kill Shaman). All albums released by the band in 2009. That doesn't include their gaggle of singles, and yet, it sounds like child's play for Thee Oh Sees. Everyone wanted to make psychedelic music this year, but only Thee Oh Sees were able to be unhinged and ecstatic in their freakiness.