LWE’s Top 10 Albums of 2009

LWE 10
It seems once again artists have looked past shriveling album sales and pooh poohed format worries while creating a truly outstanding crop of longplayers. Whether exploring the sinews connecting electronic music and jazz, amalgamating traditional African and house sounds, gearing up a set of club bangers or diving into unknown recesses in listeners’ heads, the 10 albums LWE’s reviewing staff chose represent the best 2009 had to offer. We have only one regret: last year we voted DJ Sprinkles’ breathtaking Midtown 120 Blues as 2008’s #3 album of the year, which disqualified it from being included this year as well. Rest assured, LWE still has love for this great work; we just wanted to make room for the rest.


10. Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras, Catholic
[Macro] (buy)

Re-issues are already the perfect gift from record labels to collectors. They don’t appear on the horizon like new releases but sneak up unexpectedly from behind, pleasantly spinning the focus around for a moment. Like mortar, they put that elusive and essential brick firmly in place, or they fortify that worn and weary copy ensuring both the completeness and endurance of a collection. As a previously unreleased collaboration between Jorge Socarras and disco demigod Patrick Cowley, Macro’s impressive gift of Catholic in 2009 does so much more. Not only inspiring re-appreciation of one of disco’s legendary auteurs, it calls for a reassessment of what we know about Cowley, deepening our understanding of an already rich musical endowment. The surprising stylistic scope of Catholic only adds to its charm, demonstrating the underlying musical promiscuity of the late 70’s and early 80’s and allowing new lines to be draws in the lineage of electronic and dance music. It’s not often that something this new, unanticipated, and exciting comes up from the past, but when it does, you really appreciate the present, bow and all. (Andrew Clapper)

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09. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion
[Domino] (buy)

Merriweather Post Pavilion is undoubtedly this list’s most controversial entry, but what’s less certain is why it’s earned such notoriety. Too close to indie rock for some, sure; too rapturously embraced by indie music press/audiences, true, but hardly Animal Collective’s fault. Although there’s no accounting for taste, I’d aver the apprehension has much to do with jealously guarding the electronic realm from arriviste experimental rockers, even if they crafted one of the year’s most striking electronic albums that offers nothing to fear. The jaunty, hook-filled tunes leaping from Animal Collective’s latest LP are often the product of synths, sequencers, drum machines and voices, with guitar and bass licks providing texture instead of leading the way. But their gear choices are only means to a colorful, densely packed end: Ragged tones and twinkling loops enrich and balance tunes that skirt the borders of pop and experimental abstraction with apparent glee. They’ve created a deeply personal album whose sentiments resonate as strongly as its clever arrangements, inviting listeners into the comforting arms of “Also Frightened,” to consider their natural urges on “Guys Eyes” and artistic proclivities on “Taste,” to cheer up family and friends alongside “Brother Sport” and sing oneself hoarse to Recession-era anthem “My Girls” as the guys channel Frankie Knuckles. Taken together, Merriweather Post Pavilion is a complete package of dazzling sounds, excellent songwriting and personality to spare. In a year crammed with rock-oriented artists trying to incorporate electronics into their sound, Animal Collective have emerged as plugged in friends, not foes. (Steve Mizek)

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08. Ben Klock, One [Ostgut Tonträger] (buy)
“Ain’t no happiness, ain’t no sadness” was the Elif Bicer-vocaled refrain to the catchiest moment on Ben Klock’s debut album, One. Bicer might as well have been describing the album, which went beyond simple black and white emotions with its many different shades of gray. If this makes One sound dully monochrome, then the description is misleading. Possibly the most varied full length to come out on Ostgut Ton thus far, it nonetheless pulled reduced techno, Chain Reaction dub, flecks of house, and a sprinkling of dubstep into a unified, distilled and purified whole. In a record so consistently excellent it’s tough to pick out highlights, but the relentless early morning kick of “Gloaming,” or the brutal organ stabs of “Grip” offer easiest access for the uninitiated. Eschewing such “obvious” feelings as happy or sad, One offered far more complex and enthralling sensations to be a good deal better than “OK.” (Peder Clark)

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07. Redshape, The Dance Paradox [Delsin] (buy)
Right from the very first burst of jangling percussion and mysteriously icy, Amber-era Autechre inspired chords of “Seduce Me,” it was obvious the mysterious techno producer had successfully managed to translate the brooding sensibilities underpinning his deep techno EPs to the album format. However, there were two crucial differences between The Dance Paradox and Redshape’s back catalog. The first was that the producer worked with a drummer throughout the recording process, and flowing from this method, the album was more varied sounding than Redshape’s singles. While these traits are most obvious on “Rohrschach’s Game,” where drums tumble through a textured fog, bringing chaos to the textured ambience, the standout cuts sound more like a woozy combination of Redshape’s established sound. “Garage GT” unfolded to the sound of traffic noise and police sirens as the author laid down gloriously warm jazz keys, set to the ever present lumbering bass. “Dead Space Mix (Edit)” meanwhile, was an updated version of the B side from the first Present release, and saw Redshape go back to the bleep meets Detroit techno of Nexus 21, while “Man out of Time” was like a typical dance floor focused Redshape track dissected and re-imagined for home listening, its sprawling chords and rumbling bass flowing through a freeform prism. Despite this approach, there were other moments when Redshape reverted to type. “Bound (Part 1 & 2)” was like a successor to “Blood into Dust,” its buzzing bass line and crystalline synths building to a dramatic denouement, while “Globe” burnt brighter and went deeper than all the producer’s other brooding moments. If there’s one complaint about Paradox, it would have to be its brevity. At just eight tracks, it feels like Redshape was hitting his stride as it finished. Maybe it’s more to do with the fact that this writer would be happy to listen to the richness and depth of sound and prevailing mood, somewhere between miserabilism and euphoria, ad infinitum. (Richard Brophy)

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06. Juju & Jordash, Juju & Jordash [Dekmantel] (buy)
Juju and Jordash are not your average dance producers. Accomplished guitar and keyboard players, respectively, the Israeli-by-way-of-Amsterdam duo defies expectation in origin and outcome. Their first widely released full-length presents their unique style as well as or better than their previous records have, permitting stomping dance anthems, like the mischievous single “Deep Blue Meanies,” to exist alongside intricate instrumental explorations like “Jugdish,” which sounds something like the Bill Evans trio on mescaline. Though that jazz influence is clear, from both their sound and their no-samples approach to production and performance, their cosmopolitan sound doesn’t stop there. Jamaican dub, Italian disco, American house, and German experimental rock also figure heavily into their work. Juju and Jordash have been bubbling under the surface of recognition for the past five years — earlier releases have appeared on Keith Worthy’s Aesthetic Audio, Reggie Dokes’ Psychostasia, and Jus-Ed’s Underground Quality — and with this remarkable LP, they are bursting through.
(Shuja Haider)

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05. Bodycode, Immune [Spectral Sound] (buy)
After last year’s “Release,” we were primed for a meal-size helping of Alan Abrahams’ lush, sophisticated, abstracted vocal house. A well-sequenced selection of his dance-oriented new work would’ve done the trick. And we certainly got choice tracks — from “Hyperlight”‘s deep house debris to the burrowing reproach/plea of single “What Did You Say” to rattling anthem “Imitation Lover” — but Abraham did us one better, delivering an honest-to-god album that engages the length and concentration of the LP as house music seldom has. Immune‘s tracks drift into and echo off of one another, merged into a viscous and seemingly indivisible whole. Abrahams’ instantly recognizable compositional style and, yes, voice are crucial to this unity, but Immune‘s true bonding tissue is its pervading mood. The course of its human dramas already set, this is a music of introspection, reflection, regret, and melancholy. And somehow, Immune pronounces these feelings rhythmically, its poignance bound to the jack. Who knew that disappointment could move so seductively?
(Chris Burkhalter)

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04. Martyn, Great Lengths [3024] (buy)
Some of the most talked about, ground-breaking and over-hyped records in 2009 all came from the dubstep camp. Martyn fit snuggly into the first two of these descriptives with his mind blowing Great Lengths album that marked out its own territory in the ever expanding dubstep universe. Any hype surrounding his debut full length though was duly earned; the Dutchman’s unique take on the narrowing divide between techno and dubstep was embodied with tough, embossed percussion, rarefied techno chords and heavy, rounded bass lines that never laid a foot wrong. While many artists now inhabit the neutral zone unoccupied by either dubstep or techno exclusively, few have managed to do so with an effortless grace as Martyn. Whether tooling with takes on deep house, chord heavy breakbeat or post-garage pressure, Martyn kept the balance between beauty and melancholy throughout the album’s entirety, adding to its appeal with a cohesiveness and digestibility often disregarded by electronic artists in album form. (Per Bojsen-Moller)

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03. Shackleton, Three EPs [Perlon] (buy)
Even at Sam Shackleton’s most kinetic moments of dub-based munitions deployment, there has existed a fervent experimentalism in everything he has undertaken. Whether it has been the laissez faire approach to making his productions palpable club successes or a casual disregard for the very structures of what may deem a track to be called dubstep, it has been obvious from the first that inherent in Shackleton is to forge his own unique path through his music. His first proper artist album was no exception to his maverick style, giving us an aureate, densely layered work that doesn’t so much require repeated listening as demands it. For those familiar with Shackleton’s productions, Three EPs was no departure from anything he has done, but as a whole showed a much grander ambition. From the cohesive flow of the nine tracks to the locked grooves on the vinyl, Three EPs was been designed to be a listening experience and proved to be one that yielded further curiosities upon each listening. In its experimental regard it can be loosely likened to another of 2009’s stand-out releases, the Moritz von Oswald Trio’s Vertical Ascent. Though Three EPs may outwardly be more easily approachable, both are fashioned from recondite percussion programming and spend long periods of time teasing out central themes and ideas from studied, repeated rhythms. Shackleton’s album however is saturated with the deep thrum of bass patterns, the prevailing essence of dubstep that has stayed with him while he has gradually started erasing the lines between it and other genres. However this doesn’t equate to any of the tracks being suitable for club play, but then that is hardly the point here. Instead this is the result of a producer displaying the mastery of their unique sound and further setting themselves apart from their rivals, creating in the process an album that is timelessly classic. (Per Bojsen-Moller)

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02. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent
[Honest Jon’s Records] (buy)

Do you remember the first time you really heard techno? Not just let it drift passively through your ear canals, but heard it, felt it like you’d been waiting to feel it your whole life but are caught completely off-guard by it in the instant. I can remember my moment (or moments, rather: classics like Hawtin’s Decks, EFX & 909 and Luomo’s Vocalcity thumping on repeat in my sophomore year dormroom), and while I’m not sure I’ll ever plunge quite that deep again, the Moritz Von Oswald Trio’s Vertical Ascent takes me back to the excitement of elemental, expectation-defying sounds about as much as any record has since. Over just four ultra-extended deep grooves, Von Oswald, Max Loderbauer, and show-stealer Sasu Ripatti travel a veritable universe of alien, quasi-melodic landscapes: they give us abstract anthemics on “Pattern 1,” slasher movie moodiness on “Pattern 2,” gravity-defying tropicalia on “Pattern 3,” and the druggiest Rhythm & Sound side of all time on “Pattern 4.” It’s a record that doesn’t sound like techno so much as it fully embodies it in ways you never thought possible, reaffirming what got your brain racing and ass shaking in the first place. And nearly three decades since George Clinton and Kraftwerk met on that fateful elevator ride, it’s nice to know there are still a few stones left unturned. (Jordan Rothlein)

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01. Black Jazz Consortium, Structure
[Soul People Music] (buy)

From Underground Quality, to Third Ear, to Uzuri, one of 2009’s resurgent aesthetics was stripped down, analog house — a sound no one pulled off better than Fred P., best known as Black Jazz Consortium. When Structure was released last March, hardly anyone had gotten over his seminal New Horizon EP, and the appearance of almost a dozen new tracks was virtually overwhelming. But while that EP focused on accessible, romantic house, Structure finds Fred P going much deeper and darker, experimenting with clunky rhythms, stark arrangements and odd time signatures. “New Horizon” may be his best song ever, but more austere tracks like “Tea-Pot Science,” “Something Old” and “I Want That” reveal how subtle and refined Fred’s technique really is. Using little more than perfectly constructed bass kicks, hand claps and a fistful of simple synth sounds, Structure outperformed every other album that came out this year. (Will Lynch)

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Staff Lists:

Per Bojsen-Moller:

01. Martyn, Great Lengths [3024]
02. Shackleton, Three EPs [Perlon]
03. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon’s Records]
04. Ben Klock, One [Ostgut Tonträger]
05. Holger Zilske, Holz [Playhouse]
06. John Daly, Sea & Sky [Wave Music]
07. Intrusion, The Seduction of Silence [echospace [detroit]]
08. Linkwood, System [Prime Numbers]
09. V/A, 5 Years of Hyperdub [Hyperdub]
10. Black Jazz Consortium, Structure [Soul People Music]

Richard Brophy:

01. Redshape, The Dance Paradox [Delsin]
02. Legowelt, Vatos Locos [Crème Organization]
03. Traxx, Faith [Nation]
04. Demdike Stare, Symbiosis [Modern Love]
05. Bodycode, Immune [Spectral Sound]
06. Cio D’or, Die Faser [Prologue]
07. Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras, Catholic [Macro]
08. Ben Klock, One [Ostgut Tonträger]
09. Pendle Coven. Self Assessment [Modern Love]
10. Planetary Assault Systems. Temporary Suspension [Ostgut Tonträger]

Chris Burkhalter:

01. Black Jazz Consortium, Structure [Soul People Music]
02. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon’s Records]
03. SND, Atavism [Raster-Noton]
04. Broadcast and The Focus Group, …Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age
[Warp Records]
05. Atom™, Liedgut [Raster-Noton]
06. 2562, Unbalance [Tectonic]
07. Bodycode, Immune [Spectral Sound]
08. Junior Boys, Begone Dull Care [Domino]
09. Tevo Howard, Dreamer’s Reason Café [Beautiful Granville Records]
10. Cio D’or, Die Faser [Prologue]

Andrew Clapper:

01. Juju & Jordash, Juju & Jordash [Dekmantel]
02. Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras, Catholic [Macro]
03. Linkwood, Systems [Prime Numbers]
04. Black Jazz Consortium, Structure [Soul People Music]
05. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon’s Records]
06. Dam-Fun, Toeachizown [Stones Throw Records]
07. Ben Klock, One [Ostgut Tonträger]
08. Bodycode, Immune [Spectral Sound]
09. Maayan Nidam, Nightlong [Power Shovel Audio]
10. Bottin, Horror Disco [Bear Funk]

Peder Clark:

01. Ben Klock, One [Ostgut Tonträger]
02. Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras, Catholic [Macro]
03. Black Jazz Consortium, Structure [Soul People Music]
04. The Whitest Boy Alive, Rules [Asound/Bubbles]
05. Bodycode, Immune [Spectral Sound]
06. Mountains, Choral [Thrill Jockey]
07. Andrés, II [Mahogani Music]
08. Planetary Assault Systems, Temporary Suspension [Ostgut Tonträger]
09. Redshape, The Dance Paradox [Delsin]
10. Christian Naujoks, Untitled [Dial]

Shuja Haider:

01. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon’s Records]
02. Juju & Jordash, Juju & Jordash [Dekmantel]
03. Black Jazz Consortium, Structure [Soul People Music]
04. Linkwood, Systems [Prime Numbers]
05. Martyn, Great Lengths [3024]
06. Bodycode, Immune [Spectral Sound]
07. Redshape, The Dance Paradox [Delsin]
08. Black Meteoric Star, Black Meteoric Star [DFA]
09. Ron Trent, Dance Classic [Prescription Classic Recordings]
10. Hieroglyphic Being, So Much Noise 2 B Heard [Mathematics Recordings]

Todd Hutlock:

01. Intrusion, The Seduction of Silence [echospace [detroit]]
02. Shackleton, Three EPs [Perlon]
03. Martyn, Great Lengths [3024]
04. Matias Aguayo, Ay Ay Ay [Kompakt]
05. Etienne Jaumet, Night Music [Versatile Records]
06. Lawrence, Until Then, Goodbye [Mule Electronic]
07. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon’s Records]
08. Redshape, The Dance Paradox [Delsin]
09. The Field, Yesterday And Today [Kompakt]
10. Brock Van Wey, White Clouds Drift On And On [echospace [detroit]]

Anton Kipfel:

01. Bodycode, Immune [Spectral Sound]
02. Shackleton, Three EPs [Perlon]
03. Martyn, Great Lengths [3024]
04. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion [Domino]
05. Lindstrom & Prins Thomas, II [Eskimo Recordings]
06. SND, Atavism [Raster-Noton]
07. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon’s Records]
08. 2562, Unbalance [Tectonic]
09. Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras, Catholic [Macro]
10. Redshape, The Dance Paradox [Delsin]

Kuri Kondrak:

01. Juju & Jordash, Juju & Jordash [Dekmantel]
02. Agore, Memories [4 lux]
03. 2562, Unbalance [Tectonic]
04. Black Jazz Consortium, Structure [Soul People Music]
05. FaltyDL, Love Is A Liability [Planet Mu]
06. Redshape, The Dance Paradox [Delsin]
07. Future Beat Alliance, Patience and Distance [EeevoNext]
08. Reagenz, Playtime [Workshop]
09. Linkwood, System [Prime Numbers]
10. Aybee, East Oakland Space Program [Deepblak]

Will Lynch:

01. Black Jazz Consortium, Structure [Soul People Music]
02. Reagenz, Playtime [Workshop]
03. Whitest Boy Alive, Rules [Asound/Bubbles]
04. Losoul, Care [Playhouse]
05. Vladislav Delay, Tummaa [Leaf]
06. To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie, Marlone [Kranky]
07. STL, Dub Techno Explorations [Something]
08. Kurt Vile, Childish Prodigy [Matador]
09. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon’s Records]
10. Juju & Jordash, Juju & Jordash [Dekmantel]

Chris Miller:

01. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon’s Records]
02. Shackleton, Three EPs [Perlon]
03. Reagenz, Playtime [Workshop]
04. Ben Klock, One [Ostgut Tonträger]
05. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavillion [Domino]
06. Martyn, Great Lengths [3024]
07. Cio D’or, Die Faser [Prologue]
08. Vladislav Delay, Tummaa [Leaf]
09. Redshape, The Dance Paradox [Delsin]
10. Falty DL, Love Is A Liability [Planet Mu]

Steve Mizek:

01. Shackleton, Three EPs [Perlon]
02. Black Jazz Consortium, Structure [Soul People Music]
03. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon’s Records]
04. Martyn, Great Lengths [3024]
05. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion [Domino]
06. Bodycode, Immune [Spectral Sound]
07. Redshape, The Dance Paradox [Delsin]
08. Juju & Jordash, Juju & Jordash [Dekmantel]
09. Trus’me, In the Red [Prime Numbers]
10. Planetary Assault Systems, Temporary Suspension [Ostgut Tonträger]

Jordan Rothlein:

01. Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent [Honest Jon’s Records]
02. Shackleton, Three EPs [Perlon]
03. Brock Van Wey, White Clouds Drift On And On [echospace [detroit]]
04. Martyn, Great Lengths [3024]
05. Atom™, Liedgut [Raster-Noton]
06. Stimming, Reflections [Diynamic Music]
07. Fever Ray, Fever Ray [Rabid]
08. Fuck Buttons, Tarot Sport [ATP]
09. Black Jazz Consortium, Structure [Soul People Music]
10. Juju & Jordash, Juju & Jordash [Dekmantel]

ryan  on December 21, 2009 at 1:47 PM

structure is a well-deserved #1. that album blows me away every time.
no midtown 120 blues though? or was that last year already?
that album and structure were on a different level than everything else for me this year.

btw, anybody know if catholic is on vinyl?

Headphone Commute  on December 27, 2009 at 10:04 AM

This is truly an excellent list. Many of these are my absolute favorites for this year, and to be honest, I haven’t heard Black Jazz Consortium this year! So there’s something for me to put into my shopping cart!

I’m curious what you think of my Best of 2009 List:
http://bit.ly/88vrc5

And more specifically
Music For Kicking Your Brain Back Into The Groove
http://bit.ly/5tgrrU

and
Music For Crawling Through Abandoned Cities
http://bit.ly/4yJJMB

Those two should definitely be up your alley! Anyway, thank you for sharing! You are now officially in my RSS reader’s list 😉

~HC

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