I realize I've had a lot of lists lately, what with my last set of articles being that Best of the Decade feature, but at the end of the year, and especially when a decade turns its numbers, I go pretty list-crazy. Thanks to that large decade project, this list is a tad late, as January is already churning out some worthy releases for 2010 lists (and some early cuts from those albums made it onto my Best Songs of 2009 list). With the decade list, the midway Best Albums of 2009 list I made last year, and reviews written throughout the year, a lot of these albums are getting repeat coverage, so I've only written blurbs about albums I haven't covered yet. Feel free to post any queries, cheers or jeers in the comments section and I will likely respond. So, finally, here's my top 25 albums and top 50 songs of 2009:
25. Passion Pit, Manners
This year I wound up with one of my most electronically-inclined year-end best-of lists ever, and it's not surprising considering the great progress the style has made over the past decade. While so much electronic music I've heard in the past has had a distancing effect, it's become more and more capable of bursting with life, as every track on Passion Pit's debut album does, primarily capturing an overwhelming feeling of joy and sweeping romance.
24. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
23. Bat For Lashes, Two Suns
Expanding upon the dreamscape feel that made Fur and Gold such a strong debut for Natasha Khan as Bat For Lashes, Two Suns shines an even greater spotlight on Khan's talents. Employing tribal drums, haunting piano, and vocals on par with such great singer-songwriters as Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell, Khan has crafted an album that feels both otherworldly and greatly indebted to nature. (I feel like I just described a musical version of Avatar, but trust me, this thing's better written.)
22. The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love
21. Julian Casablancas, Phrazes For the Young
After three top-notch albums as frontman of The Strokes, Julian Casablancas makes his solo debut with his laid-back rock slur vocals still intact. Kicking off the album with “Out of the Blue,” it initially seems like he's importing the typical Strokes sound wholesale, but from the second track on, he reveals his electronic intentions. It's not too far off from The Strokes; synths are just taking over the riffs that guitars would have previously covered, and the results are just as good as anything he's done with the band.
20. Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3
While the general lack of guest vocalists that helped make The Blueprint so compelling is clearly not repeated in its third installment, the glut of up-and-comers and big name talent featured on The Blueprint 3 makes the album play like a State of the Union address for the current hip-hop landscape. Jay-Z presides over the guest rappers and producers as they showcase their considerable strengths and on “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” proposes the direction he wants hip-hop to take.
19. Lily Allen, It's Not You, It's Me
Lily Allen's brilliant and much-hyped debut, Alright, Still, is a tough act to follow, especially its opening first four tracks that verge on pop perfection. While Allen's follow-up, It's Not Me, It's You, never reaches those heights, it's still a solid collection of pop songs highlighting her characteristically blunt British wit, packed with winning social satire and characteristically keen relationship insight.
18. Lucero, 1372 Overton Park
Though a Bruce Springsteen album has never made it onto any of my year-end lists in this decade, there always seems to be at least one band on there that takes its cues from his mid-1970s peak, usually adding some punk rock energy. This year is no different, with Lucero taking the token spot held in previous years by the likes of Marah, The Hold Steady, and The Gaslight Anthem, throwing horns, keyboards, and gravelly vocals into a raging set of anthemic rockers.
17. The Thermals, Now We Can See
16. Wilco, Wilco (The Album)
15. Cymbals Eat Guitars, Why There Are Mountains
14. Built to Spill, There Is No Enemy
After over fifteen years as guitar-based indie rock royalty, it's amazing how fresh Built to Spill still sound, and yet how little has changed. While There Is No Enemy may not contain as many epic guitar workouts as their previous album, You In Reverse, even the shorter songs give Doug Martsch's guitar and distinctively nasal vocals ample opportunity to shine in an album littered with blissed-out and bittersweet pop moments.
13. Jarvis Cocker, Further Complications
12. Japandroids, Post-Nothing
11. P.O.S., Never Better
10. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It's Blitz!
If you had told me after my first listen of It's Blitz! that it would make my year-end best list, I'd assume it'd only be because a weak year meant its inclusion was a list-filling necessity. It wasn't a weak year; this one just grew on me immensely. What once felt like synthed-out experimentation that I hoped was just getting an electronic fixation out of their system after two powerful rock albums eventually revealed itself to be a perfect fit for both their dancefloor glamfests and their tender ballads. It may well be their best album yet.
8. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca
7. Mos Def, The Ecstatic
6. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
5. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career
4. The Big Pink, A Brief History of Love
At this point, bands aping the lush electronics and soaring anthems of 1980s radio are a dime a dozen, but few can achieve something as emotionally affecting as what The Big Pink managed on their debut. Of course, as outlined in their ambitious album title, it helps that they're tackling the greatest emotion out there, and it goes beyond lyrical subject matter. The music captures all forms of love, from triumph to tear-jerker to shambolic mess, and the album, like love, is never anything less than a grandly impactful experience.
3. St. Vincent, Actor
2. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
1. A.C. Newman, Get Guilty
Best songs of 2009:
50. God Help the Girl, “Hiding 'Neath My Umbrella”
49. Nneka, “Heartbeat”
48. Rhett Miller, “If It's Not Love”
47. Atlas Sound, “Walkabout”
46. Wild Beasts, “All the King's Men”
45. Jarvis Cocker, “Leftovers”
44. Shakira, “She-Wolf”
40. Alphabeat, “The Spell”
39. Noah and the Whale, “Blue Skies”
30. Mika, “We Are Golden”
29. Julian Casablancas, “4 Chords of the Apocalypse”
28. The Black Lips, “Starting Over”
27. Raekwon, “House of Flying Daggers”
26. Passion Pit, “Moth's Wings”
25. Franz Nicolay, “Jeff Penalty”
24. Thao, “Body”
23. Neko Case, “This Tornado Loves You”
22. Dirty Projectors, “Useful Chamber”
21. Spoon, “Written in Reverse”
20. Built to Spill, “Life's a Dream”
19. St. Vincent, “Actor Out of Work”
18. Japandroids, “Wet Hair”
17. Speech Debelle, “Spinnin'”
16. P.O.S., “Goodbye”
15. Vampire Weekend, “Cousins”
14. Sally Seltmann, “Harmony to My Heartbeat”
13. Camera Obscura,“The Sweetest Thing”
12. Brother Ali, “The Preacher”
11. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, “Young Adult Friction”
6. Girls, “Hellhole Ratrace”
5. The Big Pink, “Dominos”
1. Death Cab For Cutie, “Little Bribes”