Top Albums of 2009: #1 of The Hanukkah List

12/22/2009

Eve Marcellus: #1

Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest

Grizzly Bear’s sophomore album was, for fans who had been getting by since 2006 with just one (albeit pretty cool) EP, a huge reward. What makes Veckatimest such a jaw-dropping album is the level to which Grizzly Bear has progressed. The spare, ambient echos of their debut, Yellow House are revisited on tracks like “All We Ask” but seem more self-assured, melodic, and powerful. The album is full of moments of quietness and, in contrast, soaring crescendos; the sort of thing that have kept the band at the forefront of the indie, neo-folk radar all this time. There are no dance tracks, no rise above middle tempo on the record. The impact comes from the one aspect, which each track has that manages to at once set it apart and yet, nestle in as part of the whole. There is the heartbeat percussion and soaring choral backing vocals of “Cheerleader”. “I Live With You” makes use of a whole host of instruments from strings to a fuzzy guitar, elevating the spare lyrics to an almost cinematic level rather than shrouding them. The album’s stand-out singles, “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait for the Others,” act as (almost) bookends, and are certainly the most forward tracks of the bunch. Both are fantastic examples of what could be called a Grizzly Bear formula: airtight harmonies, clean-yet-exciting instrumentals, and delightfully smart lyrics. I have tried to pick a favorite track, or even narrow it down, but this is impossible. Veckatimest is a package. After the stir caused by the release of Yellow House, and the subsequent gig opening for Radiohead on their 2008 tour, the band openly discussed the pressure to create the best album possible. It is thrilling to know that this is a band who is able to deliver on such a tall order.

David Johnson-Igra: #1

St. Vincent: Actor

Using the elements that established St. Vincent (Annie Clark) as a twisted and beautiful talent on her debut album Marry Me, Clark returned with Actor as the lead in her melodic cinema. Clark loves when “something can be whimsical, delightful, but also disgusting,”—and with Actor, realities shift from crass anatomical cries for help on “Marrow,” to melodic morning-after tales on “The Party.” Clark’s inspirations came while watching her favorite movies — Badlands, Pierrot le Fou, The Wizard of Oz, Stardust Memories, Sleeping Beauty. With each song like individual film scores, the unimaginable of comparing Snow White with Woody Allen became imaginable. On Marry Me Clark was criticized as soft with her voice lacking depth. She responded with heavy guitar dissonance on tracks like “Actor Out of Work,” and beautiful building distortions on “Stranger,” eliciting melodic contrasts from gentle to coarse. In the predominantly male indie rock scene, St. Vincent uncannily stands out and it’s not just for her pretty face.