The Best Albums of 2009

December 17, 2009

pic from this years RNR Hall of Fame Concert, unrelated to my alb pix tho!

I’ve had my 2009 year and 2000s Decade “Best Of” lists close to final form for quite awhile now. Seeing as how everyone is throwing theirs out this week, I thought it might be time to go ahead and begin posting mine. Leafing through “Rolling Stones” latest issue I noticed a lot of overlap on Decade’s Best Singles, so I thought it even more pertinent to rush mine out before it looks like I’ve just absorbed everyone else. For the record, I made my decisions before reading the critics picks! So, from now until the new year rolls in there will periodically be a new best-of list posted. I’ll begin with Best of 2009 then move to the Best of the Decade. As far as movies of the year go, I’ve held out as long as possible to catch the big Oscar bait picks that are held till the last minute, so as of this writing I have not seen many that could make the pick. We’ll go with what we’ve got, though!

The Best Albums of 2009

10) Justin Townes Earle – Midnight at the Movies

Son of cult fave alt-country and folk rocker Steve Earle made the best country record of the year with this excellent album, with likely no radio play on any country station on the FM dial. He may have gotten noticed by being the son of a great– a thing he probably loathes considering his lukewarm relationship with his pops that’s written of in the music mags and is shown to the world in the excellent “Mama’s Eyes” track from this record– but he sounds little like his dad, and writes in a very different tone and style from him as well. Justin sounds a bit more like the original Hank Williams than like Steve, especially on songs like “What I Mean to You,” “Here We Go Again,” and “Poor Fool” where the vocal similarities are hard to miss and the western swing is layered strongly yet un-apingly on. Balancing out the sound of the record are great contemporary alt-country style ballads like the opening title track and the aforementioned “Mama’s Eyes.” An excellent country cover of the Replacements classic “Can’t Hardly Wait” ranks with the best cover songs of all time– not one-upping a perfect song but staying true to it and reinterpreting it enough to make it wholly original. “They Killed John Henry” shouldn’t work, simply because every folk, country and punk singer has tried to claim a version of Henry’s tale as their own, but it does work remarkably well. Earle writes a version of the folk epic that is rousing and electrifying and more punk than most punk songs while never musically veering away from folk territory. Now if someone could get a copy to the local country stations…

9) Wilco – Wilco (The Album)

Wilco’s obvious grab for reintroduction to the masses even features a track titled “Wilco (The Song).” Wilco has spent the decade pushing the boundries of their musical leanings,by either layering perfect pop songs with noise and distortion or paring things down to near silence on other occassions. “Wilco (The Album)” is the most straightforward and instantly accessible album they’ve made since last decades “AM” and “Summer Teeth.” Long story short, no, it’s not as good as any of those records, the old ones or this decades defining Wilco record “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” It’s still better than 90 percent of anything else you’re likely to hear though, and it well warrants a spot on any list of the best music of the year. With the assistance of folk pop singer Feist they craft arguably their best single ever, “You and I,” and fill the record with easy to digest and immensly joyous pop songs like “I’ll Fight,” and the title track.

8 ) Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

“Lisztomania” and “1901” are the best one-two punch of any power pop rock record this decade has had to offer, and then the French rockers settle in for 8 more songs that are almost as good in a quick pop of a record that’s over in barely past the half hour mark. “Love Like a Sunset, pt.II” comes in halfway to the end for an instrumental track that speaks paragraphs without a word and sounds like the summation of technical progress in a mere minute and a half. “From the mess to the masses!” is the rallying cry that works even if we don’t know what it means.

7) Mos Def – The Ecstatic

Mos has a few quirks that keep him from being as great as his potential suggests, but he tones those down here to craft the best hip hop record of the year and his best personal work since “Black on Both Sides.” A quick sound bite from Malcolm X kicks things off in the opening track “Supermagic” and Mos puts the pedal down without letup for the next hour. “Life in Marvelous Times,” “Revelations” and “Casa Bey” are career highlights and no matter what the topic– Iraq, armageddon, love, peace– Mos hits his mark.

6) Passion Pit – Manners

“Manners” was the most fun and catchy album of the year and it’s one I played repeatidly from the end of June to the beginning of August. Musically it sounded perfect on beaches, boats, car rides through parks, at BBQ’s and parties, on back porches and from window speakers; lyrically it traverses lonliness, isolation and mental confusion. A very odd juxtaposition, but one that works. I guess if you just listen to the music it’s a great summer album, then you can throw it on in the fall and digest the words if you feel like bringing things down a bit! “Little Secrets,” “The Reeling,” and “Sleepyhead” are standouts, but really the whole thing works. Loud keyboards, crashing dance beats and a piercing male falsetto; internet buzz made this band a geek phenomenon and caused some snobbish critics and fans to avoid them simply because they were “hipsters.” Their loss.

5) Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
Dylan’s backing band on this record is simply amazing. The guitars, drums and accordions all sound fantastic. We’ve got a bluesy, folky, noirishly romantic waltz through Dylan’s America and it’s a good one. “Beyond Here Lies Nothin” is his best single in 20 years or so and every other song is close to it in entertainment and listening enjoyment. Lyrically, it’s not Dylan’s most notable work, but it’s a nice change of pace to hear a sparser, less wordy Dylan record. His ragged and aged voice compliments the sound and somewhat sparseness perfectly, and this one’s just a few notches shy of being as good as Dylan’s best album of the decade, “Love and Theft” and a notch above his other notable recent work, “Modern Times.”
4) Patterson Hood – Murdering Oscar (and other Love Stories)
Patterson Hood’s solo work mixes polished off recordings of decade old material– songs he wrote and lost/forgot about, recently rediscovered and recorded. He mixes those with newly written songs that counterpoint and contrast those youthful ones; thus we get the emotional gamut– anger, depression, cynicism and joy, wisdom, consideration. There are folk tales of murder (title song), personal reflections on raising children in an uncertain world (Pride of the Yankees); a scathing and supringsly neo-feminest indictment of marriage from a male perspective (“Screwtopia”) balanced by a song recently written from the perspective of a happy husband and father hoping to be a wonderful grandfather some day (“Grandaddy”). His backing band who hit the road with him to support this work is sometimes called “The Belevederes” and sometimes “The Screwtopians,” after two of the songs in this collection– whatever you call them, they sound excellent and fit this sound perfectly.
3) Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Neko Case cannot make bad music. I really think this is the case; if she can, she has yet to do so, and if she hadn’t made “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” a few years ago this would be her best work yet. As it stands, it’s a very close second to that one. “This Tornado Loves You” would be the best single she has recorded had she not sung “Deep Red Bells” at the beginning of the decade– you get it, she’s her own competition. There are no flaws on this record, and her voice soars tremendously as it always does, her lyrics are original and poetic, her musical accompaniement is top notch.
2) U2 – No Line on the Horizon
This is the U2 record I’ve been waiting for. Apparently it’s the one most music critics has been waiting for  but one less than half of  U2 fans have been, going by the generally positive critical reviews but lackluster sells and fan reception. This record has everything U2 does best and it sounds fresh and new– great dancy pop songs: “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” and “Get on Your Boots”; hard, full throttle rockers: the opening title track; religious quandrying ballads: “White as Snow,” “Cedars of Lebanon”; and the epic, long yet gorgeous and career highpoint “Moment of Surrender.” Bono was wanting to jump off from here to make the holy pondering, “take off your shoes to listen to it” type of album that has percolated in him for decades; recent news has pointed to that being a 50/50 shot now. Fans may want something lighter, but let’s hope he goes the high road and delivers progressively from here.
1) Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King
I predicted this would be the album of the year on my stop-gap “Best of the 2009 Music So Far” article I posted back during the summer, and now I’m posting it here making it so. It was admittedly close this year, but all things considered this one marks 2009 the best. It’s a work by a terrific band that could be coasting yet somehow found it in them to release their best work at this late date– something a lot of rock veterans seem to be doing if recent U2, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Wilco and Green Day records are any indication. DMB are consistently good, occassionaly average, and every now and then excellent– this one hits excellent and pretty much stays there. To commemorate the death of their late, great sax man LeRoi Moore who died this year in an ATV accident, the album opens and closes with wailing notes he laid down before his unfortunate demise. The first full song to kick things off is “Shake Me Like a Monkey,” the best single they’ve had since the ’90s and the most energetic one possibly ever. “Funny the Way It Is,” the single that was released to promote this album follows, and it’s one that has grown on me the more I hear it; I didn’t care for it at first, something lyrically felt off, but now in context of the full album it works perfectly. “Lying in the Hands of God,” “Why I Am” and “Time Bomb” showcase Dave mulling over religion and God in deep, searching, loving, doubting, struggling, hoping and angry ways. “Alligator Pie” and “Squirm” pinch in a little cajun sound and rock out.”Dive In” is a perfect, cynical political and cultural critique. There’s not a wasted note, word or melody to be found here.

2 Responses to “The Best Albums of 2009”

  1. Hey!

    My name is Olivia Zhou and I work for Audible Treats, a music marketing and publicity agency located in Brooklyn, NY. I was searching for quality music blogs and I found yours through Hype Machine with your top album list of 2009. If you’re interested, I want to add you to our service list so you can easily access my clients’ mp3s, videos streams, bios, jpegs, etc. that would be a good fit for you to post on your site.

    To get more information on the artists we service, you can see our current client roster at We work mostly with hip-hop artists (indie as well as commercial) and some alternative groups. Here’s an example of some recent press releases we sent out:

    If you’re interested, please reply with your contact info (email, physical address, twitter, etc) to which we can send press releases and links to music. If there’s any current releases of our that you’re interested in reviewing, please let me know and we’ll send you a review copy asap.

    I look forward to hearing from you!

    Thank you,
    Olivia Zhou

  2. […] fans of years past, but I ranked “Groo Grux” as the best album of the year last year (here), enjoyed “Busted Stuff” almost as much as that one a few years past, and have always […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: