It’s been a long year, but it was one injected with records that made ears explode and knees weak. Here are our picks for the Best Albums of 2009.
50. Noah And The Whale / The First Days Of Spring
Haunting in a lonesome and beautiful way, the second studio album by the British musicians grabs your attention like Mother Nature does from time to time. Songs like “My Broken Heart” and “Blue Skies” tell you singer Charlie Fink has been through a rough patch since former member/lover Laura Marling left the group but that’s the highlight of the record. As Noah And The Whale shows us, love breaks hearts but music mends them.
49. Dance Gavin Dance / Happiness
A jarringly original album that definitely took people by surprise this year was Happiness by Dance Gavin Dance. It’s the third album in as many years by the band, but their reputation had escaped me. What some discovered was a mix of Circa Survive, James Brown, and Fall of Troy – sometimes mish mashed all onto one complex track, as on “Carl Barker”.
48. Yeah Yeah Yeahs / It’s Blitz!
Listening to It’s Blitz! for the first time can transport you to a pulsating, swirling dance club where the house lights are synced up to Nick Zinner’s frenetic guitar work and Karen O is handing out ecstasy. The most exciting tracks come with misleading names: “Zero” and “Dull Life.”
47. Marianas Trench / Masterpiece Theatre
Although it’s filled with pop punk and has a few tracks that have been overplayed by music video countdowns, Masterpiece Theatre is Marianas Trench’s best record yet. What shines the most are the band’s more intimate tracks where they find themselves bellowing raw emotion through melodies. The track “Lover Dearest” may sound sappy, but frontman Josh Ramsay’s vocal performance will impress you.
46. Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band / Outer South
Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, two other regular Bright Eyes contributors (Nate Walcott and Jason Boesel), Nik Freitas and Taylor Hollingsworth put in a concerted team effort on this album, sharing songwriting and even singing duties. The first, and probably last effort from the Mystic Valley Band, has the capability to both soothe the heart of a homesick country boy away at school, and simultaneously impress his jaded urban classmates.
45. Hockey / Mind Chaos
They share the same name of Canada`s most beloved sport and surprisingly, they don`t bring it any shame. Instead the band from Portland, Oregon, gives indie rock some dancing shoes and slaps it in the face with funk. Bold? Yes. Potential? They’re new and they’ve already played Bonnaroo and Glastonbury Festival.
44. Muse / The Resistance
The Resistance plots an epic rebellion, world wide war, and… is there actually a symphony in here too? Regardless, it was an offering that saw this Brit trio go all out, producing an album where each song clocked in at around four minutes. The songs reach that length, for the most part, through the tactical use of orchestra-backed piano, but fans of Muse’s more traditional throbbing bass and hard hitting drum sound never have to wait too long before the rocking commences, in typically grandiose and awesome form.
43. The Sounds / Crossing The Rubicon
On Crossing the Rubicon, retro Swedish quintet The Sounds are feeling rather nostalgic. “Come on bring that beatbox back,” singer Maja Ivarsson demands on “Beatbox,” a track with disco ambitions and an exhilarating breakdown where a reverb-heavy guitar washes over you in funky waves. Deeper lyrics than that are found on new wavey tracks like “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake” when Ivarrson also shows off her impressive pipes.
42. Taking Back Sunday / New Again
Old Taking Back Sunday fans pleaded for an album somewhat similar to Tell All Your Friends and instead they got New Again. Packed with catchy and familiar hooks, the fourth record from the group is dynamic in its own way. Despite losing yet another member, the band hasn’t lost its edge, its energy or its talent with tracks like “Sink Into Me” and “Everything Must Go”.
41. Lily Allen / It’s Not Me, It’s You
Her first album was a diamond that had a place in everyone’s heart. This time around, Lily Allen’s second release It’s Not Me, It’s You still features her sharp tongue with even wittier lyrics. It may not feature any outstanding tracks like “Smile”, but it still has enough songs with brain-teasing lines that are irresistible to most ears.
40. John Frusciante / The Empyrean
Being as Frusciante has recently left the Chili Peppers, this album, his sixth solo release since 2004, sort of takes on a whole new meaning; perhaps the world can look forward to a lot more works like this from the prolific songwriter. If that’s the case, then we’re all very lucky. On this album he delves deep into his mind, alternately riding swelling electronic waves and drowning in murky introspective depths, but always extending a hand out for his listener to come along with him.
39. August Burns Red / Constellations
The third full-length from August Burns Red is their most powerful and solid record to date. Tarnished with chaotic guitar riffs, the release has no apparent stand-out track but instead provides almost 50 minutes of pure metal music and artistic songwriting.
38. Portugal. The Man / The Satanic Satanist
For those of you who don’t know them, Portugal. The Man could be considered Animal Collective’s crazier yet nostalgic, folk-influenced brother. Full of tantalizing songs like “People Say”, The Satanic Satanist was such a pure and joyful release that the band had to record the entire thing again acoustically. It also introduced a tune named “The Woods” that could easily be one of the best songs of 2009 to make babies to.
37. Oh, Sleeper / Son Of The Morning
New on the scene, Oh, Sleeper have yet to break into the minds of mosh pit enthusiasts. Son Of The Morning isn’t your average release by any ordinary hardcore band. The band constantly and in great fashion, fuses compelling poetry with hypnotic breakdowns, leaving you breathless after every song. Even if you aren’t one for heavier music, you will be astonished by the band’s potential and at least by the chorus of “The New Breed”.
36. Norah Jones / The Fall
There’s always been something sexy about Norah Jones. Aside from her beauty, her voice is without a doubt one of the most seductive sounds known to man and it works for her on The Fall, an album full of unique sounds. Whether she’s crooning on tracks like “Chasing Pirates” or claiming the truth on “I Wouldn’t Need You”, Jones has noted that her voice is an iconic part of music that’s here to stay.
35. K-OS / Yes!
Throughout K-OS’ fourth full-length he offers a variety of track flavours, some dominated by stand-up bass and kicking drums, some by a wash of synthesizers, some (okay, one) by a sample of Phantom Planet’s “California” – but every track has something for b-boys and girls to throw down to, and lyrics that are bound to make you think a little bit.
34. Blakroc / Blakroc
This collaborative effort from a handful of artists went under the radar in November and it’s a shame it did. Featuring hip-hop moguls like Mos Def, Ludacris, Raekwon, RZA and The Black Keys in the background, Blakroc combines hip-hop and drenches it in alternative rock with a bit of blues. Adventurous and daring, the album’s 11 tracks will tease your musical senses as it flirts with the boundaries of music.
33. Relient K / Forget And Not Slow Down
Often overlooked, singer Matthew Thiessen is one of the most underrated songwriters around today. On Forget And Not Slow Down, the frontman and his group claim they drew from influences such as the Foo Fighters, but it’s clear the overall sound breathes nostalgic Relient K, which is touching and inspirational music any pop punk fan can appreciate.
32. Dan Auerbach / Keep It Hid
When you listen to this album, you might be convinced it was replaced by something from a little known but highly talented late fifties soul musician. “I Want Some More” comes right out of another era, but the barely restrained-desire in Auerbach’s voice and an aggressive solo bridges the generation gap. The opener, “Trouble Weighs A Ton,” a spiritual number, can send shivers down your spine that you’ll barely understand.
31. The Temper Trap / Conditions
Australia’s The Temper Trap leapt onto the radar this year with Conditions, a debut that is part Tomorrow Starts Today, part Only By The Night, and part Law & Order. Most exhilarating? The discovery that bands can come from Australia and not sound like AC/DC or Airbourne.
30. Say Anything / Say Anything
Five years ago, they released a record that drew fans with edgy yet adoring lyrics. Two years ago, they revealed a double album that shook off a few followers with a variety of influences. Now Say Anything have unveiled a self-titled piece that questions the band’s genre and image. One thing is for sure, the songwriting is still prolific (“Ahh Men” is one of their best songs yet) and the music is expanding horizons in a positive way.
29. Gallows / Grey Britain
It’s inevitable that hardcore punk group Gallows will get compared to The Sex Pistols for their angry politically charged tunes and their accents, but the band has done something The Pistols never could do: release a second record. They can also all play their instruments, as their major label debut, which has earned them a great deal of critical praise, has proven. Some slow brooding, like the intro on “Misery,” even gives the impression of some emotional growth on the part of the hooligans.
28. Billy Talent / III
Billy Talent III was a blessing for Canadian rock radio stations. First of all, it gave them two hot new singles (“Rusted From The Rain” and “Devil On My Shoulder”) to play four times a day. Next, it’s Canadian content. Perfect! Getting two birds stoned at the same time! They’ve got that perfect amount of heaviness that old guys can still dig and an established sound that will make most of us forget that Nickelback ever existed.
27. Pearl Jam / Backspacer
On Backspacer, Pearl Jam is kind of like that gnarly old surfer who works at the resort giving lessons on the beach (this analogy is helped by the fact that one song on the album is called “Amongst the Waves”). This surfer guy has seen his share of glory days, but he’s still got it in him to ride (or, in this case, rock) with the young kids, as on “Gonna See My Friend” or “Got Some”. Sure, but he doesn’t have as much anger in him as he used to; he’s made his peace with the Earth and some days he gets up and he just feels great (“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”).
26. Modest Mouse / No One’s First And You’re Next
It’s wrong to cast an EP on a list like this, but Modest Mouse’s latest effort is an exception. A collection of unreleased tracks and b-sides, the release is crafted from classic and creative lyrics that have made the band what it is today. If you’re unsure of what that is, then you might want to YouTube the Heath Ledger-directed video for “King Rat”.
25. Chester French / Love The Future
In order to grab the attention of major artists such as Kanye West and Pharrell, you have to be good. Chester French is just that. The duo received multiple contract offers from the aforementioned and wound up recording their debut at Harvard University by themselves. The result: a record full of entrancing indie rock beats, old-school vocals and playful lyrics that make the group seem wise beyond their years.
24. The Swell Season / Strict Joy
Their relationship might be fragile, but Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are still entwined as one and making music that’s beautiful on the inside and out. Strict Joy is full of its up and downs and unlike their previous work, it has a lot of character. Hansard’s raspy voice works well in blues-ridden tracks like “Low Rising”, but it’s their chemistry that really shines, especially on “The Rain”.
23. Spiral Beach / The Only Really Thing
Those that have heard Spiral Beach play before know the music they produce is full of energy, youth and spunk. Yes, spunk. Though they look like they belong in high school, the Toronto quartet are consistently growing as musicians and The Only Really Thing is an example. With contagious tracks that are upbeat to the tip, the record ventures through territory that’s somewhat new but also familiar to the band and in the end, keeps the same tempo that is, in this case, ageless.
22. Wilco / Wilco (The Album)
The seventh record from Wilco is a gentler affair than previous works by the band, more laid back than even Sky, Blue Sky, but Nels Cline’s experimental jazzy lead guitar doesn’t really require any edge to still steal the show. Neither do Jeff Tweedy’s twang or romantic gesture-filled lyrics. Wilco approaches the melancholy, but tracks emanate a peculiar bright light that keeps the band cruising on that weird liminal space between country and alternative that they have been treading for several years now.
21. The Mars Volta / Octahedron
On Amputechture and again on Bedlam in Goliath The Mars Volta sought to stretch their creativity and dexterity beyond anything they’d accomplished before, like Bruce Willis on the bench in Unbreakable – so determined to test his strength that soon he’s draping paint cans on the bar along with his whole collection of weights. While the band probably could’ve gone a little farther into left field with this release, the fact that they’ve eased off and released what they’ve called a ‘pop’ record, their version of an ‘acoustic album,’ just seems like smart pacing.
20. Wolfmother / Cosmic Egg
Critics lashed out at the Australian rock band when they released their debut a few years ago and with a few departures, Wolfmother is back with a hunger for rock n’ roll. Signature riffs and singer Andrew Stockdale’s howl are still intact but they are now backed by some creativity the new members emit. As the tracks on their second record dive into a variety of influences, it’s apparent the group is no longer a 60s’ rock knockoff. Instead, they are just Wolfmother.
19. Jay-Z / The Blueprint 3
Some recording artists are lucky enough to put out three albums. Of these lucky few, it takes a more ambitious and unique soul to dream of combining those three albums into a body that, taken as a whole, is greater than the sum of its parts. It takes Jay-Z to do this twice. Yes, the man who already completed a very memorable trilogy of albums at the turn of the millennium has finished off another with The Blueprint 3.
18. Jack Johnson / En Concert
You can’t help but think that if more people like surfer-turned-world-famous-musician Jack Johnson were in charge, the world would be a better place. If the good vibes flowing from speakers during songs like “Bubble Toes” are any indication, with president Johnson in charge, beach side love-ins would become mandatory and clothes: optional. On the other hand, maybe if all that power went to his head he would start using the vast army of college kids that flock to his shows for evil. And then who knows what could happen.
17. The Flaming Lips / Embryonic
The way singer Wayne Coyne makes it sound, coming out with a double album was the easiest thing in the world for his band. The smokey psychedelic weirdness emitted on tracks like “Convinced of the Hex,” and the childlike lyrics of “I Can Be A Frog” certainly sound effortless when the finely tuned Oklahoma quartet do it. Weird astrology terms and venomous barbs about the apocalypse captain the rickety vessel, while temperamental and often foreboding funk fuels the contraption.
16. Franz Ferdinand / Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
One listen to Franz Ferdinand’s latest debut will have you wondering what kind of substance the group was on while they were writing and recording. Songs like “What She Came For” and “No You Girls” are laced with swagger, sophistication and a groove that undeniably belongs in the 80s’. Different from tracks that made them famous, the release is enough to provoke anyone to slick back their hair, pop their collar and slip on their dancing shoes.
15. Metric / Fantasies
Guitarist and co-producer (and card-carrying Broken Social Scene member) Jimmy Shaw has helped to put together an enviable album that he can hang his hat on but it should come as no shock that it’s lead singer Emily Haines who will get the most credit for the success of Fantasies. Using her own unique perspective, she does a number of different takes on the ‘poor little rich girl’ image, on singles “Help! I’m Alive” and “Gimme Sympathy,” of course, but also in standout tracks “Sick Muse” and “Gold Guns Girls”.
14. The Decemberists / The Hazards Of Love
When Oregon’s The Decemberists set about making a baroque love story concept album, they didn’t half-ass it. Every song blends seamlessly, titular characters like the Rake and the Evil Queen get developed before they interact with other characters in later songs, reprises keep the listener up to date on what’s been going on… and they still find time, in “The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid,” to have a Jefferson Airplane-esque freakout.
13. Cage The Elephant / Cage The Elephant
Fresher than the Prince of Bel Air, Cage The Elephant have shown they have nothing to prove because they’ve issued a statement that only speaks the truth. With a singer who’s a next-generation version of Anthony Kiedis and a supporting act that will twist your mind and senses with riffs based off funk and blues rock. Like their hit single states: ain’t no rest for the wicked.
12. Person L / The Positives
Kenny Vasoli is a man on a mission. Cast in a shadow called The Starting Line, the singer/guitarist is desperately trying to find his own voice and as The Positives shows, he’s a musical journeyman. The sophomore attempt by Person L spans ancient British pop rock (“New Sensations”), alternative grunge (“Loudmouth”) and straight-up rock and roll (“Goodness Gracious”). In other words, pop punk has taken the driver’s seat while garage rock is in the back seat making out with his flavour of the week.
11. Animal Collective / Merriweather Post Pavillion
It quickly became a cliché to call Merriweather Post Pavilion “Beach Boys on Acid,” but, when you listen to the progressive floating crescendos and vocal harmonies on songs like “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes,” it’s not hard to understand why it was such a common descriptor for the sound achieved by Maryland’s Animal Collective on this album. No matter which way you look at it, it’s one of the greatest summer albums of all-time. Just a snippet of “Bluish” is enough to bring someone back to their youth. Even if you’re still right in the midst of it.
10. Radio Moscow / Brain Cycles
Earlier this year we got the chance to speak to Parker Griggs, who sings, plays guitar and drums on this album. He said there’s very little of the “different” blues that he brings to the table coming from Iowa these days. At least there’s him. The greasy slick sound of Brain Cycles might follow in the steps of acts from thirty or forty years ago, but, judging by this album, Parker Griggs is a fitting man to take up the mantle and pick up where those bands left off.
9. Arctic Monkeys / Humbug
They’ve grown shags, yes, and they’ve watched their talent skyrocket. Humbug may be a collection of foreign sounds to an Arctic Monkeys fan, but it’s very familiar to followers of Cream and Jimi Hendrix. Dripping with dazzling riffs and infectious breakdowns, the record screams maturity and talent which shows Alex Turner and co. understand the term “range” and are poised to break boundaries that are in their way.
8. A Lot Like Birds / Plan B
The question isn’t “Who?”. Instead it’s “How?”. The arrangements and journeys through genres and influences on Plan B are utterly indescribable. The Sacramento, California, band are like a Baskin Robbins ice cream parlour who want you to try every musical taste known to man. Not only do they flirt with screamo, pop punk and experimental rock but they polish it off with spine-shattering anthems and brain-melting instrumental rides off into nowhere. Want proof? Check out “Hallows Or Horcruxes?”.
7. Every Time I Die / New Junk Aesthetic
On paper, the lineup of Buffalo hardcore punks Every Time I Die doesn’t seem all that extraordinary – but after giving them a listen (or, God help you, seeing them live in concert) you will reach a drastically different conclusion. Lead singer, badass, sex symbol, and divine angel for the good of all mankind Keith Buckley amplifies everything done by his band mates by a factor of twelve. If Dallas Green and George Pettit from Alexisonfire were fused together in a bizarre medical accident, that two-headed monstrosity would still be unable to keep up with Buckley’s powerfully expressive vocals.
6. Paramore / Brand New Eyes
If you wipe off the pop punk image and the comparisons to pop stars trying to be “straight-edge”, you will notice Paramore isn’t just some band with a chick singer. The Franklin, Tennessee quintet fronted by vocalist Hayley Williams almost broke up before recording their third full-length and as a result, it’s one that’s full with emotion. Heavier than previous material, brand new eyes is like a female art student trying to find herself in a world that isn’t outlined with lipstick, pink dresses and “instant happy moments”. If there is any indication the band is progressing, it’s the 90s’-dipped tune “All I Wanted” featuring a howl that will open eyes. And oh, Williams is just about to turn 21.
5. Them Crooked Vultures / Them Crooked Vultures
Homme and Grohl and Jones. Oh my. On Them Crooked Vultures, John Paul Jones’ British Invasion know-how, Homme’s psychedelic desert fuzz and Grohl’s precise drumming create a sound that is both genuinely seventies and freshly original. Homme’s influence – he plays guitar and sings – seems to shine through the most, making Them Crooked Vultures sound more like Queens Of The Stone Age or Eagles Of Death Metal than Zeppelin or The Foo Fighters. ‘Super group’ gets thrown around a lot lately but, after hearing the instrumentation on this self-titled debut, it’s no wonder these men receive the respect that’s routinely shown them.
4. fun. / Aim And Ignite
Aim and Ignite is such a confident debut, vocally and instrumentally, because the players involved in fun. are not new to writing, recording, and performing; the group includes members of Anathallo, Steel Train, and the now defunct The Format – all groups that began near the turn of the millennium. Songs on Aim and Ignite feature ambitious and unique arrangements involving strings and horns that are always pleasing to listen to. The band’s distinct chameleon quality keeps the album interesting and makes you wonder what they’ll do next.
3. Brand New / Daisy
A tiny unassuming fox barely registers in front of some sparse woods on the cover of Daisy, Brand New’s fourth album. This image acts in conjunction with the calm gospel music that leads off “Vices” to put unprepared listeners off their guard before they’re ambushed by the swaying fury and lip gouging angst of the album proper. The urgency in Jesse Lacey’s vocals, and in the grim threatening instrumentals that loom forever just at Lacey’s heels, make this the closest the band has come to capturing in studio the magic that they create on stage.
2. Thrice / Beggars
Over the years, Thrice have built a solid fan base and toured extensively, promoting a number of discs. But none of them explode like Beggars does. Artistically thunderous from start to finish, the record wanders in and out of anger (“The Weight”, “All The World Is Mad”) and common beauty (“Circles”, “In Exile”) with lyrics that speak volumes. Frontman Dustin Kensrue is not your average lyricist as he shows he’s a restless musician who understands the world is in need of alternative rock that’s bold, innocent and raw. Some albums have taught us good music will never fade away and die and in it’s own way, Beggars reassures us of that.
1. Manchester Orchestra / Mean Everything To Nothing
The young Atlanta band avoided the sophomore jinx by a wide berth with this, a very solid second album. Vocalist Andy Hull combines the poetic and emotive abilities, not to mention the vocal range, of Brand New’s Jesse Lacey and the Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan – and he does all this while holding down guitar duties too. The album opening “The Only One,” with all its handclaps and driving keys, has the band sounding more cheerful than they will for any of the following songs. In the immersive songs that follow – especially “Shake it Out,” “I’ve Got Friends” and “Pride” – this positive vibe quickly gets overcome by tension-ridden anxiety, a sound the band does very well, and an emotion Hull reflects perfectly with his pissed-off shrieks.