Year in Music: Our List of the 10 Best Albums of 2009 Sadly Features No Local Music

I really wanted this column to be about the best local records of 2009 — that's what I did last year around this time, putting bands like Kinch, Miniature Tigers, and The Loveblisters on the top of a very solid list of albums from 2008.

Sadly, I couldn't manage such a list for 2009. I'm sure that will piss some people off, and there's certainly room for disagreement here, but I honestly couldn't find 10 truly great records by Valley bands released in the past 12 months. I solicited input from some of the scene's movers and shakers, many of whom contributed a few suggestions, but through all the Phoenix-bred records I heard in 2009 (and, trust me, I heard a lot), I simply didn't find enough to make a respectable list. A list of decent albums, sure, but not a list of stellar ones. I'm sorry, but that's unacceptable to me.

So, with apologies to Sam Means' The Sinking of Santa Isabel soundtrack (which had six pretty fabulous songs on it), Glendale death-metal act Job for a Cowboy's excellent second album, Ruination, The Love Me Nots, Willy Northpole, Trap, and Kinch, I'm not going to make a list of the top 10 local records this year. I absolutely refuse to name any record that's not unassailably excellent to a list of the "best" to come out of our nation's 12th-largest metropolitan area, which is what I'd have to do. Phoenix deserves better than that.

Maybe I was spoiled by 2008, a banner year for releases in the local music scene and a year that saw the release of records that led to Phoenix sending more bands than it ever had to the star-making SxSW music festival in March and made Dear and the Headlights the very first Arizona band to play Coachella in April. Viewed through that lens, 2009 was a great year for local music, making it even sadder when you realize most of what happened was a halo effect from work done the previous year — and what that means for 2010.

I wasn't kidding when I told you something special was going on a year ago, just like I'm not kidding when I tell you we're hurting now. Hopefully, the ship will be righted, and next December will see me deliberating about whether to do a list of the top 25 local records. I can't make the hurt go away, though; I don't play an instrument or sing.

In the meantime, here are my top 10 albums of 2009, as submitted to the Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll. The list includes one Arizona band, though they're from (gulp!) Tucson. I know, I know, that's probably adding insult to injury for a lot of Phoenix scenesters, but Golden Boots' Western-Gothic tapestry The Winter of Our Discotheque is truly the 10th-best record released anywhere last year. It's embarrassingly ahead of anything Phoenix produced in 2009, and just one more reason I can't justify fluffing up some bullshit list. Listen to "Knife" and try to tell me you'd do it differently.

1. Islands, Vapours

Basics: Some dudes formerly of The Unicorns make a super-polished indie-pop record full of gorgeous, ear-catching melodies and deceptively intense lyrics.

Overused but descriptive adjectives: Shimmery, joyous, poppy, Calypso.

Someone else said: "Though there is an overall whiff of the 1980s about Vapours, it sidesteps the traps of either sounding trendily vintage or indistinguishable from the rest of today's Reagan-era imposters." (Pitchfork)

2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It's Blitz

Basics: World's greatest art-punk band (which employs world's greatest female rock singer) makes synth pop record. It's predictably awesome.

Overused but descriptive adjectives: Eerie, '80s, glittery, stylish.

Someone else said: "The alternative pop album of the decade — one that imbues the Killers' Hot Fuss and MGMT's Oracular Spectacular with a remarkable emotional depth and finesse." (Spin)

3. Wavves, Wavvves

Basics: Kid from San Diego makes noisy, ridiculously lo-fi indie rock that somehow manages to sound something like the Beach Boys. Kid implodes on stage in Europe, and everyone, mysteriously, seems to think less of him for it.

Overused but descriptive adjectives: Lo-fi, Wilson-esque, noise, hyped, surfy.

Someone else said: "Cobbled together out of guitar, a drum kit, and bad recording equipment, these songs sound like Beach Boys B-sides sent through a fantastic slack filter where making everything sound effortlessly shitty is as important as conveying effortless cool." (The Onion AV Club)

4. Ida Maria, Fortress Round My Heart

Basics: Norwegian chick does something that perennially half-assed Scandinavian artists never do — make an album that's totally killer from front to back — and seems to be establishing herself as totally cool when Grey's Anatomy uses one of her songs, thus making her an untouchable in indie-rock circles. Also, this record really came out in 2008, though the U.S. release was 2009.

Overused but descriptive adjectives: Boozy, bluesy, blunt, brilliant.

Someone else said: "Teeming with the type of pop-punk energy that Avril Lavigne never pulled off as well as Maria does here, Fortress gets as much mileage out of its massive sing-along choruses as it does from Maria's indomitable sneer." (Slant)

5. Ben Kweller, Changing Horses

Basics: Upbeat indie-rock darling from Texas makes an album with a pedal-steel-to-whiskey-song ratio far exceeding what's acceptable under the monolithic "critic's taste" rubric. People who think country music has to be a caricature of itself (and somehow be directly relatable to Johnny Cash) are shocked and horrified, although the album is, by far, his best work to date.

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7 comments
bea sting
bea sting

What an ass.Keep pimpin' Kinch, though. If nothing else, for the love of God, keep doing that.'Not my job'.... nice.

Martin Cizmar
Martin Cizmar

Idiots,

Please read what I wrote. I never said there weren't ANY good local CDs released last year, I said there weren't TEN great ones, and that if I can't make a top ten list without filler I'm not making one at all. I acknowledged some great Phoenix bands, but I'm not going to do a real list given what we had in the past year.

Also, it is nor my job to "pimp" the local scene and pretend it's something it's not - that's flat-out unethical. I'm a journalist, I report on what other people do. So do something if you want to be like Seattle...

Tony
Tony

What about Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, or Beirut? Or perhaps Lymbyc Systym's new album? Seems kind of counter-productive and anti-scene to not list any local band's new albums like Black Carl, Yellow Minute, Dry River Yacht, or Everything I've Never Seen. In Seattle they write about local music constantly just to elevate the local scene. You don't have to like it but at least acknowledge local accomplishments and promote it. That's how you build a scene. A scene is solely dependent on promotion and advertisement. The New Times always fucks that up. You guys kill the scene with pompous nonsense. You fail to treat the local scene with respect. There's something special going on here creatively compared to other places I've lived and visited.

Try to get out every once in a while and see what 20 something year olds like myself are into and tying to do. You need to pimp out the scene to make it happen.

TG for MC
TG for MC

Martin,

Everyone in the Phoenix metro area really cares so much about what you have to say, especially when you write reviews of reviews about the albums of the year. Unlike local music, I'm glad the New Times has decided to finally put out a quality product. Keep up the greeeaaaaat work!

ExWhyZee
ExWhyZee

Really? Not ONE good thing that's local? Not one local effort that's a 'worthy' thing? Your taste must be completely in your mouth. Perhaps if you extended your musical reach beyond Kinch and that ilk... ah, but that seems to be too much to ask. Way to champion the local scene (Yep, one exists! Again, there's more than Kinch and Dear and the Headlights goin' on around here, sir). There's TONS going on in this town. Of course, since you only write about national acts and Kinch (yes, there's the 'K' word again!), you might not be aware of that.Dear bands that did not make this list, BE GLAD. Who hired you, Martin Cizmar? All I can say to that person is 'Way to go'.

 
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