The Top 50 Albums of 2009

Treble staff
The Top 50 Albums of 2009

40. The Juan MacLeanThe Future Will Come (DFA)

As titles go “The Future Will Come” was already way more ominous than it might have been and there’s no shortage of grim on MacLean’s second full-length. The nine-minute odyssey of “Tonight” deteriorates from robotic bass to spanging saloon-like piano that sounds about ready to rip open and shower you with mice. Co-vocalist Nancy Whang carries most of it but at the end it’s just MacLean and he’s all “I can feel tonight” over and over. You get the general impression he just killed her. It’s kind of great. – Anthony Strain

Review

39. Major LazerGuns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do (Downtown)

Following their production work with multikulti ladies like M.I.A. and Santigold, a colorful caricature of a dancehall album made perfect sense as the next project for DJs Diplo and Switch. Sharing their stage name with the title character of a rather silly backstory—a one-armed commando with a penchant for fighting the undead and partying until dawn—they use guest appearances from musicians visiting Kingston’s Tuff Gong Studios and some crazed viral music videos to form a collage representing a fun, filthy section of the reggae spectrum. – Adam Blyweiss

Review

38. Franz FerdinandTonight (Domino – Epic)

Franz Ferdinand were always sexy in a stylish, rock star kind of way, not to mention Alex Kapranos’ witty, scandalous lyrics, which were occasionally dashed with cheeky bits of homoeroticism. But with Tonight, the music itself got a lot sexier. Amplifying the more blatantly disco aspects of their sound, Franz turned up the synths, focused on grinding out a rhythm fit for nightclub trysts and made a record that, while thoroughly Ferdinand, just sounded that much more glamorous and, dare I say it, carnal. “Ulysses” slithers with a predatory throb, “No You Girls” is glittery drunken revelry and “What She Came For” has one of the nastiest grooves the band has ever written. Tonight exists in clubs and in bedrooms, at parties and in bars. Play in direct sunlight at your own risk. – Jeff Terich

Review

37. The Very BestWarm Heart of Africa (Green Owl)

It takes either a pretty large pair or a cherubic sense of enthusiasm (I haven’t decided which just yet) for a musical group to call itself The Very Best. That said, the trio comprising production duo Radioclit and Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya aren’t so much about declaring themselves the greatest of all time as they are passing on a feeling of pure euphoria to the listener. On debut full-length Warm Heart of Africa, the trio dishes out a rich and sunny plate of dance jams steeped in African pop music. The beats bounce, the synths explode, and, indecipherable as they may be to Western ears, Mwamwaya’s Chichewa-sung lyrics exude pure joy. Having guests like Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and M.I.A. certainly don’t hurt their case, but when the group soars into a heavy, rhythmic exercise like “Nsokoto,” indie rock headliners need not apply. – Jeff Terich

Review

36. YACHTSee Mystery Lights (DFA)

Performance art got to be a thing in 2009; Lady Gaga broke the glass in case of emergency and James Franco’s still down on the floor picking up the pieces. Billy Corgan and Jessica Simpson barely rate. But Jona Bechtolt, man, he’s been doing it for how long? And now he’s got a writer and all-out Barbarella with him in Yacht and they consider themselves a collective, incorporating anyone who likes them (but not a cult, crucially) and Bechtolt rips off software and doesn’t care who knows and their shows are like microwave dynasties and the actual album…well, it’s like a Keith Haring figure cut himself shaving and all that came out was Hawaiian Shave-Ice. So many great genre touches never got pushed so far over the top, or sounded like such immense fun. – Anthony Strain

35. Akron/FamilySet `em Wild Set `em Free (Dead Oceans)

For better or worse, Akron/Family have always been at their best when kept in a state of flux. Their trademark song, “Ed Is a Portal,” from 2007’s Love Is Simple – and Treble’s own #18 track for that year – is nothing if not an example of that. It encompasses both their unabashed enthusiasm for an all-hands-on-deck approach to their songwriting and, in Seth Olinsky’s own words when I had the privilege of interviewing the band leader earlier this year, “tendency to be schizophrenic and go in a million directions.” While Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free somewhat tempers that rash inhibition to a strange brew of quasi-’70s album rock, it loses none of its inventiveness. From the elastic bass groove and cloy strings of opener “Everyone Is Guilty,” to the sporadic free verse of “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon” and serene double-up closers “Sun Will Shine” and “Last Year,” Akron/Family are as gloriously sprawling as ever, both as comfortable with their indecision for any one direction as feeling their way through every stray hook and tangential melody – in short, impeccably brilliant and impossible to replicate. – Dustin Allen

Review

34. IsisWavering Radiant (Ipecac)

One of the weirdest critiques I received this year came in the form of a one-sentence e-mail that read: “Isis isn’t heavy.” I was a little confused, of course; this is the same Isis we’re talking about, right? But the more thought I gave to this dismissal, the more it made sense. To be sure, Isis is a heavy band. But on Wavering Radiant, the group’s most accessible work to date, their deeper incorporation of synthesizers and layered instrumental passages often find the Los Angeles-via-Boston metal act approaching weightlessness. Take, for instance, “Ghost Key.” That intro billows and vaporizes, graciously teasing for two whole minutes until the guitars come in, incorporating more ominous elements with a measured and disciplined restraint. But at the end of the day, this masterpiece of density and complexity is most certainly heavy. – Jeff Terich

Review

33. A Place to Bury StrangersExploding Head (Mute)

Somewhere on the chronology of psychedelia and shoegazer, it was forgotten that these genres were rooted in and best at building punishing walls of noise that rose and crumbled over suspecting and unsuspecting audiences like the Tower of Babel — just listen to Piper at the Gates of Dawn and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Upside Down.” A Place to Bury Strangers, with their aptly titled Exploding Head, are not lost on this otherwise lost aspect of both sounds (and for its loss I blame Slowdive and/or Swervedriver). What’s perhaps best is that the band has a love for oppressive volume. While their pop structuring leaves more than enough room for compromise, they fill it with yet more noise, more effects; while the rhythm section pounds with robotic consistency and gunshot aggression, Oliver Ackermann’s guitar shifts from melody to chaos and back with a long-neglected Dionysian lack of restraint. The end of guitar has been a long time coming, and if it has, at long last, arrived, what better way to carry it out than with a most textured, migraine-inducing self-destruction. – Chris Morgan

Review

32. DOOMBorn Like This (Lex)

With the release of a ten-volume set of instrumentals, a collaborative record with Danger Mouse, and classics like Vaudeville Villain, Take Me to Your Leader and Madvillainy, MF DOOM was no doubt one of the most productive and critically acclaimed hip-hop artists through the first half of the 2000s. After an unexplained absence, the masked villain returned this year as simply DOOM with his don’t-call-it-a-comeback record Born Like This. On standout “That’s That,” DOOM acknowledges his absence: “Can it be I stayed away too long? / Did you miss these rhymes when I was gone?“, but assures us he’s still got what it takes reclaim the throne of weirdo stream-of-consciousness rap: “As you listen to these crazy tracks / Check them stats then you know where I’m at / And that’s that.” And while this album may lack the same brilliance and consistency as previous opuses, a slew of excellent tracks – “Gazillion Ear,” “Ball Skin,” “Lightworks,” “Batty Boyz,” “Cellz,” “That’s That,” for example – decisively save it from mediocrity. In short, Born Like This may not quite measure up to the best works in DOOM’s discography, but to his credit, even a substandard offering from DOOM can sit comfortably as one of the year’s best. – Derek Emery

Review

31. RaekwonOnly Built 4 Cuban Linx pt. II (IceH20 – EMI)

If you’re going to present an album as a sequel to a personal masterpiece and hip-hop landmark, you had best bring your A game, or else the gesture will seem like a lazy attempt at coasting on the artistic achievements of a former effort (I’m looking at you, Jay-Z). Luckily for Rae, all parties involved brought the fire. The Chef’s narratives are at their grittiest. The production is impeccable, particularly contributions by RZA and the late J Dilla—the former could be pointed to as the difference between the Cuban Linx albums and the rest of Raekwon’s solo work, and the latter is responsible for the standout tracks on an album so good it shouldn’t have any. Almost the entire Clan shows up on the album, and the chemistry between Raekwon and Ghostface is as potent as it’s ever been. Only Built 4 Cuban Link… Part II is a masterpiece in its own right and, along with Ghost’s output this decade, proof that the Wu-Tang Clan are still a force to be reckoned with. – Eric Friedman

Review

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