The Top 50 Albums of 2009

Treble staff
The Top 50 Albums of 2009

30. MastodonCrack the Skye (Warner Bros.)

In some ways, delving into Crack the Skye is sort of like rediscovering early Metallica all over again. That may sound needlessly reductive to Mastodon die-hards, but hearing the album’s four-part, monolithic centerpiece “The Czar,” or final act “The Last Baron,” one can’t help but be reminded of interminable page-turners like “The Call of Ktulu” or “To Live Is To Die.” The parallels are limited, though, primarily because Mastodon proves themselves superior at the form than their predecessors, if only for their outright refusal to hand-feed their audience. Criticisms have been thrown at the album’s overarching, Byzantine concept – too heavy-handed, ostracizing the listener, whatever – but the truth is, Crack the Skye‘s tale is so ornate, so indecipherably allegorical that it surely can’t be blamed for constricting the weight of the songs themselves. It’s as much susceptible to the whims of this ambitious quartet as any rendition of “Moby Dick” or penchant for black-blood power metal. If anything, this hazy landscape served – like Ride the Lightning or … And Justice for All did for Metallica – as a crux for the band’s most unabashedly melodic work to date, far more so than the similarly conceptual Leviathan allowed, and yet more reserved than Blood Mountain‘s full-on-rage could accommodate. Crack the Skye‘s demons may not be the relentless face-melters that Mastodon is known for, but these linger and creep with mythical force. – Dustin Allen

Review

29. Dinosaur Jr.Farm (Jagjaguwar)

That a release featuring the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr. hadn’t been seen in nearly two decades by the time Beyond hit in 2007 was enough to get every Gen-X romantic craving pure-D rock guitar solos and late-80s slacker throwbacks. But that, with Farm, the trio continues to top themselves with as much grit and relevance as a band seemingly in the prime of youth, is simply rare, if not unheard of. This reunion was not one to capitalize on flighty alt-rock nostalgia as the surge of reissues preceding it might point to. These guys really had something together, realized it even if a little late, and humbly buried the hatchet in order to make some amazing music together. Maybe the prolonged intermission allowed a wealth of worthy material to collect dormant, which could only be tapped into with this exact lineup, or maybe there’s just something to this whole chemistry thing after all. Either way, Farm is the stellar culmination of that specific spark and, whatever detours were taken to get here, it’s clear Dinosaur Jr. shouldn’t ever be heard any other way. – Dustin Allen

Review

28. The Big PinkA Brief History of Love (4AD)

The buzz on this duo most likely comes from their ability to channel some of Britain’s greatest and longest-dormant alt-rock acts—Blur, Suede, The Stone Roses, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine. Normally that M.O. would be a red flag for mere derivation, but it’s frankly impossible to ignore this album’s standout moments of distorted electronics (“Velvet”), pop that’s part anthem and part kiss-off (“Count Backwards from Ten”), or perfect hybrids of all of the above (“Dominos”). – Adam Blyweiss

Review

27. Junior BoysBegone Dull Care (Domino)

Perhaps the most understated album of the year, Begone Dull Care is as much a study in meticulous sequencing as patient songcraft. Not so much a departure from the Junior Boys’ previous two LPs as the album’s lukewarm reception would seem to indicate, Jeremy Greenspan’s sultry, wet-lipped croon and Matt Didemus’ subtle digital textures play as much of a role as they ever have. Admittedly, the final 20 minutes wane somewhat underneath the weight of their chilled gloss, but what separates Begone most from its predecessors is that the first five tracks easily represent the finest run these synth sages have to yet to pull off. From the stray sneaker squeaks and echoed ear pops that circulate through opener “Parallel Lines,” or the misleading innuendo behind “Bits & Pieces” sold by way of bittersweet R&B cues, to the supple acoustic intro of “Dull to Pause” and bright digital bursts layered around “Hazel,” Begone Dull Care once again proves that Junior Boys are one of the best of their kind. – Dustin Allen

Review

26. Passion PitManners (Frenchkiss)

As Athena sprung fully formed from the split skull of the Greek god Zeus, Passion Pit and Manners (and the stunning Chunk of Change EP preceding it) bloomed from a Valentine’s Day gift of music from one college student to another. With a rickety, cobbled-together charm that places it just outside the last few years of indie-dance, Passion Pit tone down the highfalutin acid-wash of Yeasayer without approaching MGMT’s Cliff’s Notes on it. While girlfriends come and go, Michael Angelakos and his young Boston crew have stumbled upon a style on Manners that stays strong from start to finish, and that one hopes is built to last beyond the here and now. – Adam Blyweiss

Review

25. Future of the LeftTravels With Myself and Another (4AD)

If Mclusky was the sharp, pugnacious adolescent, then Future of the Left, bearing 2/3 of the former group, is the acerbic, if somewhat drunk adult armed with a doctorate in Comparitive Literature in addition to that same perpetual bad attitude towards all. There are none too many occasions in which people get to witness well-crafted pop eloquence go hand-in-hand with the most putrid of bile, or at least when one is not in Wales. Kudos alone goes to the band for (a) making the synthesizer bone-breakingly aggressive to the point that it makes an ample understudy for the guitar and (b) creating the most poetic and most rollicking of all opportunities for audience chants: “It doesn’t smell like a man/It doesn’t taste like a man/But does it fuck like a man?” — Chris Morgan

Review

24. BaronessBlue Record (Relapse)

Baroness revealed themselves as an innovative and incredible metal band on 2007’s Red Album, and that hasn’t changed with their sophomore effort, Blue Record. Yet while they’ve retained the heaviness and epic sound of before, they also prove themselves as one of the foremost rock `n’ roll bands of their time, amplifying hooks and melodies as much as instrumental dazzle and Drop-D sludge. Between a hypnotic series of intricate interludes, the Savannah, Ga., quartet hammers through a magnificent set of songs that balance their adherence to structure as much as it does their thunderous muscle. It takes a talented band to combine Mastodon, Mogwai and Fugazi, and do it well, but it takes a truly unique one to channel those elements into a fist-raising rock anthem like “A Horse Called Golgotha.” – Jeff Terich

Review

23. The DecemberistsThe Hazards of Love (Capitol)

I didn’t realize before The Hazards of Love how polarizing the Decemberists would turn out to be. I mean, this is a band that finished first in an NPR listener poll! Wait a minute; I suppose that says everything. When I first heard the album all the way through, it was as if I had just heard the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man of the indie music world. Here was an album that could be enjoyed on so many different levels! You have your expected chamber pop combined with a literary bent. But this time, you also have a tale told all the way through an entire album, somewhat of a prog conceit, characters played by two amazing singers, with Shara Worden truly shining as the Forest Queen. You have more prominent electric guitars and rock opera theatrics, something a bit daring for Colin Meloy and our band of literati. Frankly, the only things this album was missing was a Kanye West remix and a guest appearance from Jim James. Oh wait, Jim James DID appear on the album. Sorry, Kanye, but your remix would not have been the best of ALL TIME!! In other words, this album blew me away. In fact, I’m surprised it is appearing as low as it is on our list. I really don’t understand the backlash. After I heard it, I quickly tweeted that I had heard the best album of the year. A friend of mine, who usually shares my musical tastes quickly responded, “You better not mean that Hazards of Love piece of shit.” Whoa. I was dumbfounded. I mean, it wasn’t Muse, for Pete’s sake. But, I remain steadfast in my opinion and I know many agree with me. I’ve been meaning to ask my friend, however, because I don’t yet know what it’s like, how does it feel to be wrong? – Terrance Terich

Review

22. Antony and the JohnsonsThe Crying Light (Secretly Canadian)

It seems to be an increasingly remarkable occurrence, in our current era, when an artist is able to construct an identity that stands in stark contrast to those of his or her contemporaries. New York singer, composer, theatrical and visual artist Antony Hegarty should certainly be counted as one of a shrinking number of such artists. His latest album, The Crying Light, is another devastating work, every piece crafted with staggering grace and care. In this mournful exploration of birth, life, death, nature, identity and the complex interplay between these forces, Antony and his chamber orchestra instill his arrangements with overwhelming emotion, relying on sparse instrumentation that yields implausibly rich textures and soundscapes. Beyond compositional strength, the emotional depth of The Crying Light is bolstered by Antony’s otherworldly vocal performance. At once capable of controlled, trembling warbles, pained croons, and magnificent, chill-inducing caterwauls, his distinctive voice perfects the expressive realization of this record – what other way is there to convey the crushing tragedy of a song like “Another World”? “I need another world, this one’s nearly gone / Still have too many dreams, never seen the light / I need another world, a place where I can go” could never sound more sad or beautiful. – Derek Emery

Review

21. St. VincentActor (4AD)

Annie Clark has a talent for making unlikely sounds sit together in, if not harmony, grudging symbiosis. The deft flights of beauty are traversed by her very idiosyncratically charming method of brutalizing a guitar. Actor places her taste for mechanical noise on the same plane as her taste for luminous songcraft, resulting in a record with any number of twists and turns, drawing in and softening up listeners only to brush them back abrasively a moment or two later. Standout tracks like “Save Me from What I Want” and “Just the Same but Brand New” find her employing a lyrical prowess suggestive of Aimee Mann’s most playful and poignant word games, while building up the kind of intricately conjured atmospheres that Björk inhabited a decade ago. Elsewhere, she nails down an indie rock sound that obscures its made-on date, reveling in quirky surprises while pondering the culs-de-sac of human relationships, the elusiveness of knowing “well enough” the intentions behind the actions of those with whom we are closest. – Tyler Parks

Review

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