The Top 50 Albums of 2009

Treble staff
The Top 50 Albums of 2009

20. ConvergeAxe to Fall (Epitaph)

In the eight years since Jane Doe, Converge has evolved considerably without wilting that which makes them serious artists. Over time their songs have shortened in length, and have been less focused on “metalcore” acrobatics for their own sake; but they have not dulled either in technical precision or emotional viscera. Axe to Fall makes a sound case as to why Converge are as revered as they are. Their punk discipline and consistency melds all the better with their aesthetic independent streak creating a more sonically diverse (the terms “metal” and “hardcore” in themselves become less sufficient descriptions for their sound with every release), guest vocalist-strewn album with a brevity, depth and bleak intensity that mixes well with a reading of John Gray’s collection of pessimistic aphorisms, Straw Dogs. – Chris Morgan

Review

19. HEALTHGet Color (Lovepump United)

HEALTH’s self-titled debut was a spastic, abrasive ball of tribal-tinged fury that earned them a lot of comparisons to Boredoms and Liars, and while the album certainly rocked in its own right, it was particularly exciting for the potential it showcased. You have to give credit to HEALTH for figuring out the best way to deliver on the promise of their violent firstborn was to get way more melodic. Get Color is still a ferociously noisy affair (“Eat Flesh” and “Death+” are as harsh as anything on the self-titled), but songs like “Die Slow,” one of 2009’s most spectacular singles, find the band tainting their screech with beauty. Maybe it was the tour with Nine Inch Nails, who made a career out of making industrial noise accessible, or maybe it’s just a sign of maturity, but HEALTH have gotten color, and it looks great on them. – Eric Friedman

Review

18. The Flaming LipsEmbryonic (Warner Bros.)

If any band has earned the right to coast through the rest of its career, it’s The Flaming Lips. Hell, At War With the Mystics even made it seem like they were planning on doing so. Instead, in typical Lips fashion, Wayne Coyne & Co. have thrown us a curveball: a double-album of krautrock-obsessed freak-out jams. Proving there’s a much darker side to the band that incorporates costumes, spaceships, and a metric ton of confetti in its live show, Embryonic is like a bad acid trip in all the right ways. It’s weird, even by The Flaming Lips’ standards. It’s also unthinkably brilliant, and one might be tempted to call it the band’s magnum opus if it didn’t already have The Soft Bulletin to contend with. Here’s to another decade with the Lips. – Eric Friedman

Review

17. Camera ObscuraMy Maudlin Career (4AD)

Continuing the (forgive us) maudlin yet entertaining arc begun on Let’s Get Out of This Country in 2006, the Scottish band weather with aplomb both the departure of trumpet player Nigel Baillie and a move from indiecentric American label Merge to the Anglophilic shoegaze/dreampop roster of 4AD. Indeed, as Tracyanne Campbell’s songs get honey-dipped by orchestral arrangements and tinkly production such sea changes are rendered seamless and unnoticed. Splitting the difference between Phil Spector girl groups, California mountaintop pop, and latter-day emotives like The Smiths and Belle & Sebastian, My Maudlin Career makes us ready to be heartbroken once again. – Adam Blyweiss

Review

16. Neko CaseMiddle Cyclone (Anti-)

On the cover for Middle Cyclone, Neko Case is perched on top of her own bitchin’ car (natch), brandishing a sword – subtle, this is not. Yet I can’t think of a more fitting cover image. Her red hair blown back by the wind, Case looks gorgeous, powerful and even a little dangerous. The image matches the stunning physicality of her voice and Middle Cyclone takes full advantage of that. In Middle Cyclone, Case embodies a killer whale, an elephant, and a tornado – brazen and fervid, the tracks are darkly romantic, wildly evocative and more troubled than those on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Beyond the powerhouse tracks like “This Tornado Loves You” and “People Got A Lot of Nerve,” Middle Cyclone is a grower – each track slowly revealing its gifts at each listen. “Vengeance Is Sleeping” and “Polar Nettles” are mysterious and beautifully descriptive. Middle Cyclone is a work that couldn’t have been made by any other artist – Case’s voice, writing, and personality reverberate through, crafting an album that is cloaked in shadows and nature and likely the most gorgeous I’ve heard all year. – Jackie Im

Review

15. The Pains of Being Pure At HeartThe Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Slumberland)

Moving beyond the hype and the twee/noise-pop label, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart just put out a really fucking good album. Whether a backlash over bands like them, Vivian Girls or Crystal Stilts takes over, it doesn’t stop POBPAH from being a great album of finely crafted melancholic pop songs. Hitting that sweet spot of purposeful amateurism and overloaded studio tricks, the tracks are wonderfully sunny and catchy – it’s hard to be a cynic listening to them. From the deliciously joyous “Young Adult Friction” to anthemic “Stay Alive,” each song is sweet without being saccharine, melancholic without being emo, poppy without being too clean. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is an album that is so undeniably good that I can only hope it will transcend any backlash. – Jackie Im

Review

14. JapandroidsPost-Nothing (Polyvinyl)

From synth-pop, to post-punk, to psychedelia, to folk-prog, the aughts have been a decade riddled with revivalism. Cynics can surmise what they will from such a fact, but it’s impossible to deny that plenty of great tunes have come from bands channeling a host of influences into their own particular sound. Vancouver guitar and drum duo Japandroids graced 2009 with a handful of killer cuts, joining in with the current wave of 90s rock and garage-punk resurrectors. Perhaps not distinctive for its originality – listen to Smashing Pumpkin’s “Mayonnaise” after album closer “I Quit Girls” – Post-Nothing‘s blitz of nostalgia, angst, shouts, and distortion (lots of distortion) manages to set Japandroids apart from their peers and forerunners with an uncanny dedication to incredibly catchy melodies and tremendous energy. At once triumphant, grating, infectious, endearing, suffocating, and raucous, this is a record that demands to be played with the volume up and the windows rolled down, screamed along to with little regard for anything other than the here and now. – Derek Emery

Review

13. GirlsAlbum (True Panther Sounds – Matador)

For brandishing such a generic title for their breakout, Girls’ Album is about as immodest a declaration as any band could muster right out of the gate. With an equally vague moniker – boasting connotations of youth, sweet adolescent infatuation or heartbreak as much as meaning next to nothing at all – to mark their peculiar AM beach pop, the San Francisco outfit are damn near anti-Google. But when front man Christopher Owens evokes pop legends like Elvis Costello or Buddy Holly in a single throaty croon, then tints it all with drug-addled ’60s psychedelia and subtle shoegaze, Girls make themselves a talent to be reckoned with. Even for all of that, though, Album never asserts itself too boldly, resorts to cheeky spin-offs of such rockabilly icons or wallows in the self-deprecation that can be plucked from every dismal lyric. Without so much as a bowtie or horn-rimmed glasses to reduce them to kitsch, Girls have created at once the most unassuming, endlessly listenable and hands-down best debuts of the year. – Dustin Allen

Review

12. Fever RayFever Ray (Mute)

Karin Dreijer’s solo debut as Fever Ray is far less immersed in contemporary techno than her work with brother, Olaf, in The Knife, but the record is no less enticingly mechanical, haunted, and bleak than Silent Shout. Witchcraft is about from the word go, “If I Had a Heart” throwing waves of night out in all directions and generally setting the tone for what is to come. The retreat into childhood on “Seven” and “When I Grow Up” is both disturbing and hypnotic. Mundane recollections are back-lit through burgundy satin, otherworldly, synthesized moods wrapped around and re-shaped by the ambiguity between human and super-human played out in the manipulation of the vocals. While the album has spawned five singles (taken in quite different directions by a number of 2009’s most named dropped producers), it still works best as whole, a wandering trajectory of innocence and menace, of inscrutable, inimitable lyrics and ominously satisfying soundscapes. – Tyler Parks

Review

11. Yeah Yeah YeahsIt’s Blitz! (Interscope)

Headbangers in the ’80s may have expressed shock and dismay at Eddie Van Halen’s embrace of the synthesizer, but New York new wave/performance art superstars The Yeah Yeah Yeahs make for an easy, even natural transition from raunchy guitars toward streamlined synths on their third full-length. With a little help from new wave/post-punk producer extraordinaire Nick Launay, Karen O, Brian Chase and Nick Zinner carried their sound from carnal and raw to a more glamorous form of sex appeal. And immediacy? It’s Blitz! barely even needs time to warm up before it gets its hooks in, suggesting that when the group finally releases a hits compilation, this album could be one of the more prominent players. With some of the band’s prettiest tracks (“Soft Shock,” “Skeleton”) and some of their most badass (“Zero,” “Heads Will Roll”), It’s Blitz! is more than a technical upgrade, it’s an award-show makeover. – Jeff Terich

Review

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