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Best unsung albums of 2009

The cocky and the cock-blocked
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  December 22, 2009

BETTER THAN DIRTY PROJECTORS? Maybe Cryptacize’s modesty — like everything else suggested by the title of their Mythomania — is just a ruse.

"Make yourself useful."

It was a suggestion I heard quite often as a young one, and it has maintained a mantric presence over my efforts ever since. But these days, it's not so easy to feel useful as a music critic. For one thing, there's so much music coming at us — making a list of top albums feels like Lucy compiling a list of top candies coming down the conveyor. For another (and as that I Love Lucy reference attests), the relevance of the music critic grows iffier by the day. Now that at least 30 seconds of everything is free to sample for yourself, there's really no need for me to play food taster for you — unless you're the type who just likes having a food taster around. The critical mass has become like a large, shimmering school of fish: fascinating to watch as we simultaneously lurch in one direction, then another, in search of the next scraps of sustenance, but ultimately native to an ecosystem from which everyone else has happily evolved. Year 2010, here we come!

Bleak self-appraisals out of the way, I'm still committed to making my year-end list something greater than its own self-dooming parameters. In scanning the heavy crop of year-end rankings, I was irked by the degree of repetition from list to list — as though there really were only a handful of truly great albums, and our role was just to put them in a provocative sequence. I'd argue that behind every worthy album, there's at least one other, as good or better, that's been cock-blocked. So here's my list, in pairs, first the one that's getting its due, and then the one that isn't.

• Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
• Here We Go Magic, Here We Go Magic (Western)
Seriously: one more word about Merriweather Post Pavilion and I'm going to stomp on someone's fancy blinking sampler thing. AC's latest soup was — yes — noticeably groovier this time, but there are many of us who stopped hyperventilating over "My Girls" last December. This was a big year for texturally concerned artists — layering was big. Yet, sumptuous as certain corners of Merriweather are, the whole effort seems a little anxious. On the other hand, Luke Temple's near-perfect full-length debut with Here We Go Magic sounds utterly at home in its continuous haze of loping post-folk ("Fangela"), trippy pop expressionism ("I Just Want To See You Underwater"), and lo-fi bedroom odysseys ("Tunnelvision"). And speaking of bedroom odysseys . . .

• Atlas Sound, Logos (Kranky)
• Lotus Plaza, The Floodlight Collective (Kranky)
As great an album as Logos is, and as steep a step in Bradford Cox's own impressive solo climb, I can't help suspecting that all the blog-stoking drama surrounding its premature leakage into our iPods assisted in eclipsing co-Deerhunter Lockett Pundt's even dreamier popscape, Floodlight Collective. These one-man hypno-pop deals are gaining serious steam (see: Here We Go Magic, the trippy debut singles from Georgia's Washed Out, and Bibio's stunning pastiche Ambivalence Avenue), but Pundt's album shines with the careless confidence of light glinting off a lake. True, if you didn't know better, you might think it's Cox who's fallen down the well of a given song for vocal duties ("What Grows?"), but by the time the climactic "Whiteout" boils up over the edge of its own melodies, Pundt's unique voice is loud and clear — though never near.

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  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Entertainment, Natasha Khan,  More more >
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