The Top 50 Albums of 2009

Treble staff
The Top 50 Albums of 2009

There’s really no such thing as a bad year for music. Once upon a time we declared 2007 better than 2006, but in retrospect, 2006 was the year that gave us The Drift and Pink. And some have said that last year was a bit of a disappointment for music, but then again, that was the year that gave us In Ghost Colors and The Midnight Organ Fight. Judging the merits of any given year’s musical output is based solely on the music you actually happen to hear. And besides, it’s not like it’s the year’s fault if the output is underwhelming. Nonetheless, here we are, 2009 fading fast, and our poll of its best music tallied. Verdict: this was one fantastic year for music. Offering large chunks of flashy synth pop, new wave divas, veteran hip-hoppers with wisdom and perspective, and lots of metal, sometimes terrifying, frequently ass kicking. This is easily the most diverse result we’ve ever gotten at year-end time, and while that could potentially say more about us, it most definitely shows that artists from all spectrums brought their A-game in 2009.

50. Dâm-FunkToeachizown (Stones Throw)

Damon Riddick— Dâm-Funk to his friends—assembled hours of Los Angeles garage-produced music into one of 2009’s most fascinating collections. It began as five sprawling installments and ended as, essentially, a double album. It’s basically a bunch of found objects, cobbled together on really old equipment while L.A. dirties itself Beck-like in the foreground. All the piecemeal ends up being kind of totally retrofuturistic, remitting the junkiest of gear for sounds that only get old if you’re a moron because, to cite a track title, funk goes on and on. – Anthony Strain

Review

49. Jarvis CockerFurther Complications (Rough Trade)

Lock up your daughters, sisters, mothers and nieces, Jarvis Cocker is 46, single and letting it all hang out. The former Pulp frontman, usually a refined and stylish sort, let go of any such refinement on his second full-length by teaming up with Steve Albini and hammering out a Stooges-style set of sleazy and lusty rock music. While the pairing isn’t one that most would have initially put together, it’s a wonder it didn’t happen sooner. The raw, raucous side of this Sheffield troubadour is the most inspired and energized he’s sounded in years, and as such turns out some of his best work in some time as well, from the saxophone paranoia of “Homewrecker!” to the sensual allure of “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong)” and the manic “Caucasian Blues.” In the latter, Jarvis dispenses the sage advice, “I’ll tell you what it’s all about/ you find a good woman, and you fuck her till your hair falls out.” Let us not forget, his name is Cocker. – Jeff Terich

Review

48. Manic Street PreachersJournal for Plague Lovers (Columbia)

Though certainly lacking in the lightning aggression of The Holy Bible, Journal for Plague Lovers‘ tone, though by no means softer, is appropriately reflective and world weary. Whereas The Holy Bible was the storming of the trenches, Journal is the shell shock amid the no man’s land, barbed-wire cuts, gas fumes and shrapnel covering the flesh and mind in a new cloth. Steve Albini’s spare production coupled with the bizarre anguish and rage of Edward’s lyrics (often written before the music even when he was still in the band) brings about the grotesque spirit of every voluminous riff James Dean Bradfield can fit into Edward’s verbose phrases, but also allows the more melodic aspects stand on their own merits. Edwards’ lyrics, this time given to some editing by once co- but now sole lyricist Nicky Wire (who contributed no words of his own this time around), are things to be admired. In a time in which the likes of Pete Wentz and various emo acts do their damndest to turn a memorable phrase, Edwards manages to meet their clever asshole with articulate aphorist. – Chris Morgan

Review

47. Yo La TengoPopular Songs (Matador)

After 25 years together, would it now be appropriate to call Hoboken’s own Yo La Tengo old timers? Their albums are so consistently good that it’s a given that I’ll be picking up a copy with each new release. Popular Songs sees the trio fine-tuning their eclectic sound—everything from funk to ’60s fuzz pop to noisy epics, they’re all here. There aren’t any huge shockers here – no massive game changers in the Yo La Tengo oeuvre but at this point in their career, that’s not even the point anymore. What is the point is to make great music that is singularly Yo La Tengo, and Popular Songs more than fills that requirement. – Jackie Im

Review

46. The DodosTime to Die (Frenchkiss)

When comparing The Dodos’ Time to Die to 2008’s Visiter, one can’t help but hear the impact of Phil Ek. The difference in production is stunning – this is not to say that any one is better than the other, but it does point to an interesting shift in the Dodos’ sound. Adding vibraphonist/percussionist Keaton Snyder, Time to Die sounds fuller, warmer and more epic, as embodied in haunting opener “Small Deaths.” The sharp contrasts of Visiter are rounded out here and I’ll admit, there were times when I missed it. But no matter how big the budget or who the producer is, the singular charms of the Dodos remain. Idiosyncratic, complex and still amazingly frenetic, Time to Die only heightens the best parts of the Dodos’ sound. – Jackie Im

Review

45. WavvesWavvves (Fat Possum)

Fuzz seems to be a key term lately. From No Age to Times New Viking to Vivian Girls, fuzz has been utilized in so many albums that it’s almost starting to become cliché. (On that note, where would us critics be without the word “fuzz?” Chew on that.) San Diego’s Wavves does something different with Wavvves. The one-man project by Nathan Williams is all fuzz, distortion and naggingly good harmonies. No-fi rather than lo-fi, Wavvves is self-contained, insular and at times, unsettling – bedroom recording at its very best. Williams’ freakout earlier this year at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival wasn’t the wisest move, but it wasn’t terribly surprising either. The tracks on Wavvves are slightly unhinged (see: “Sun Opens My Eyes” or “Goth Girls”), but the melodies are so good that they draw you in repeatedly. Would Wavvves be different had Williams not dove into the loner incantations? Certainly, yet nothing changes the solid hooks and complex noise that makes Wavvves such a fascinating listen. – Jackie Im

Review

44. Various ArtistsDark Was the Night (4AD)

It’s been nearly 20 years since the Red Hot Foundation began its crusade to fight AIDS with the power of music. I remember vividly picking up the CD of Red, Hot & Blue, the initial compilation / tribute to Cole Porter. Sure, some of those bands are fairly dated by now (Fine Young Cannibals, Neneh Cherry, and Jody Watley, anyone?), but Aztec Camera’s version of “Do I Love You?” is still on my iPod playlist. It had been seven years since the foundation had released a compilation album, that being a salute to Fela Kuti, who is amazing, but I’m not quite sure all that many indie kids even know who he is. In other words, the Red Hot Foundation was in dire need of a reboot. They got it in the form of brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National who produced the double CD, triple album, Dark Was the Night. Named after the famous Blind Willie Johnson song, which found its way into space thanks to the 1977 Voyager spacecraft, this compilation seems like the be-all end-all collection not just for Red Hot, but for indie compilations in general. One look at the track listing, even just on the first disc, gives you a virtual who’s who of current indie superstars: The Dirty Projectors, Ben Gibbard, Feist, Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, the National, Yeasayer, Antony, the Decemberists, Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, and Grizzly Bear and Feist again! Jeezum crow! Then the second disc tries to outdo the first with Spoon, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, New Pornographers, Yo La Tengo, Cat Power, Andrew Bird, Conor Oberst and Kevin Drew. I’m spent. As if it weren’t enough that all of these artists contribute new tracks or covers, and that the National, the Decemberists, Spoon and Sufjan share songs that could rank among their best (man, I love “So Far Around the Bend”), you can revel in the fact that the cash you plunk down on this record is going to a great cause. – Terrance Terich

Review

43. Fuck ButtonsTarot Sport (ATP)

With Andrew Weatherall on board as producer, it’s not really that surprising that Fuck Buttons’ sophomore record was as suggestive of any number of artists from the past thirty years of UK dance culture as it was of fellow noise travelers keen on carving out huge blocks of white noise. While extending the sound they developed on their debut—the Fucks still seem just as jived to take listeners on a squall-driven head trip—Tarot Sport also shows the duo flashing some more buoyant and danceable percussion, as on the jaunty, if still euphoria chasing, “Olympians.” While most of the tracks still build to skull-splitting crescendos, this time around each is blended with the tracks that bookend it, making for one long, heavy ride that doesn’t stop until the feathered serpent lands. – Tyler Parks

Review

42. BibioAmbivalence Avenue (Warp)

This is one of those records that feels like a career in the making. Since 2004, Stephen Wilkinson has been exploring the ethereal outer reaches of lo-fi electro-acoustic loops as Bibio, but in light of the excellent Ambivalence Avenue, it seems as if all previous works have been pushing toward this moment. Never before has Wilkinson explored such complete songwriting as he does on his debut for Warp Records. Relying less on repetitive loops and spacey ambience, here he effortlessly fuses these elements into a superior, pop-driven, and more vocal-centered context. Still full of lush atmospherics, the resulting blend traverses driving psych-pop, funked-out minimalism, Dilla-esque breakbeats, glitchy electronica, and breezy folk musings, all the while maintaining its own identity. With a wider scope and a bit more focus, Bibio went ahead and made the best album of his career without really sacrificing what made his music interesting in the first place. – Derek Emery

Review

41. Sunn0)))Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)

A dense and suffocating mass of stygian sludge, creeping at a glacial pace—this singularity has an overwhelming presence in the entirety of Sunn0)))’s catalog. But like Milton’s God forming innumerable worlds from the infinite void of Chaos in “Paradise Lost,” Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson have managed to draw a wide variety of sounds from their infernal drone, all while that drone has remained unchanged, black as ever. Monoliths & Dimensions is the culmination of a decade’s worth of experimentation, wherein O’Malley and Anderson have employed a legion of additional musicians to add strings, horns, choirs, and more to their brand of impenetrable sludge. The added orchestration and use of space hasn’t dulled Sunn0)))’s soul-crushing intensity—the band is as terrifying as ever. But, as proven by the angelic strains woven throughout “Big Church,” or by the celestial ending of “Alice,” sometimes staring into the void can be achingly beautiful. – Eric Friedman

Review

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