Ten Years Later: A Retrospective Look at the Indie Rock of 2009
Looking back, 2009 was a stellar year for music, particularly in the realm of indie rock. Bands like Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors had their most successful releases to date. Social networking and music websites had been paving a way for underground sensations to reach a broader audience, and 2009 seemed to be a peak year for this phenomenon. Ten years later, a handful of albums have truly stood the test of time and can safely be cemented as classic.
Merriweather Post Pavilion
On the strength of sticky melodies, playful electronics, and adventurous song structures, hipster heroes Animal Collective had their most successful album both commercially and critically with Merriweather Post Pavilion. It’s a glistening psychedelic pop masterpiece centered around the triumphant single “My Girls”. The term “trippy” has often been thrown around to describe MPP, but that is far too reductive. This is not a simple exercise in stimulants, but instead it is an ambitious and perfectly executed mixture of dense soundscapes and top-notch oddball songwriting from Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Avey Tare (David Portner).
Grizzly Bear’s breakthrough record Veckatimist is a once in a generation indie rock album. There is a ghostly quality creeping through these superbly textured and intricate arrangements. The chemistry between primary songwriters Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste is perfectly in sync. Vecktamist garnered numerous accolades and album of the year consideration due to its gorgeous harmonies, orchestral touches, and oblique lyrics. And with all of its experimentation and boundary pushing, it is still an accessible pop album containing memorable singles like “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait for the Others.” There wasn’t much sounding like it before, and it still feels like a singular listening experience ten years later.
Japandroids wouldn’t really take the indisphere by storm for a few years down the line with 2012’s Celebration Rock, but Post-Nothing was an excellent sneak preview of the Japandroids storm that was on its way. Just a duo, Japandroids play minimal, straight-forward rock tunes with only vocals, guitars, and drums. Japandroids’ music is a lo-fi blend of indie, punk, and touches of classic heartland rock. These tunes are tailor made anthems for fist pumping fun during the summer festival circuit. It is hard not to fall in love with these guys lyrically. With a refreshing lack of pretension, Japandroids shout about living in the moment care free while facing the inevitability of growing older. There hasn’t been much music in the past decade that matches the life affirming qualities of Post-Nothing.
Hospice is an emotionally devastating concept album that tells of a budding relationship between a hospice worker and a terminally ill patient. Such a heavy-handed narrative may be hard to pull off effectively, but it works because of the package The Antlers present it with. A brilliant piece of chamber pop, the tragic subject matter is delivered through whispery vocals, soaring post-rock phases, and subtle electronic trickery. While as heavy and crushing as it is, the music is simultaneously weightless and thoroughly majestic. Many believe this album to be an allegory for an abusive relationship, but Peter Silberman has yet to confirm just how autobiographical Hospice actually is.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
There isn’t much that can be said about Phoenix’s fourth LP other than that it is a damn near perfect pop album. The record opens with the one-two punch of “Lisztomania” and “1901”, both becoming party staples for your beloved indiehead. The album is rounded out by excellent deeper cuts such as “Lasso” and “Love Like a Sunset”. The French rockers come through with the most crisp, shining tunes of their career. An attention to detail, crystalline guitar licks, and tasteful electronic touches take Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix miles above your average run-of-the mill indie album.
The xx became one of the biggest bands in the world as a result of their self-titled debut. Because of the xx’s minimalist philosophy, their music is razor thin and spacious. Male and female vocals from Romy Croft and Oliver Sim speak together in dialogue. Post-punk inspired guitars spiral in and out while DJ and producer Jamie xx nods to trip-hop with the sparse electronic beats he adds to the mix. The atmosphere the xx create is haunting, sensual, and fully their own.
David Longsteth has always reached his hand out to the avant-garde. An explorative songwriter by nature, David has always been drawn to the fringes with varying levels of success. But on Bitte Orca, and with the help of band mate Amber Coffman, Dirty Projectors hits the perfect balance between zany art-house composition and pop appeal without sacrificing musical integrity. While quirky and outrageous, standout tracks like “Temecula Sunrise”, “Stillness is the Move”, and “Cannibal Resource” are perfectly calculated. There isn’t any real precise way to describe the uncanny music of Bitte Orca, but it sure was a stroke of brilliance.