Best Albums of 2009


Jan 12 2010, 4h42

Best Albums of 2009

Before we get too far into 2010, I thought I'd review my favorite albums of 2009.

1. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Key Tracks: Vengeance Is Sleeping, Middle Cyclone

Neko's voice is an instrument unlike any other--a breath of fresh air in this auto-tuned, candy pop-saturated era. The melodies on this album are equal parts haunting and beautiful, accentuated in lullabye-like tunes such as Vengeance is Sleeping and Middle Cyclone. Throw in a couple catchy rockers with kooky lyrics, like I'm an Animal ("heaven will smell like the airport"), and you've got a complete, classic album that outshines everything that anyone else put out in 2009.

2. Vetiver - Tight Knit
Key Tracks: Pay No Mind, Everyday

This is the perfect album for long car rides, sitting out on the porch with a cold drink, or enjoying a quiet night in. It's guaranteed to put you in a better mood whenever it's playing. It's somehow a feel-good album without the songs being terribly upbeat or sung with much enthusiasm. It's the best album you probably didn't even know existed last year.

3. Dark Was The Night Compilation
Key Tracks: Feist and Ben Gibbard - Train Song, Iron & Wine - Die

Quite possibly the best compilation album I've ever heard. It's as if someone peeked into my music library, recruited my most listened-to artists of the past couple years and convinced them each to contribute an amazing new track for this disc, whose proceeds go to raising HIV & AIDS awareness. Notable contributors include The Decemberists, Neko Case & the New Pornographers, Jose Gonzalez, a duet between Feist & Death Cab's Ben Gibbard, Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch, and Iron & Wine, whose tuneful "Die" may be the most beautiful one-minute song you'll ever hear.

4. Coconut Records - Davy
Key Tracks: Drummer, Any Fun

Actor Jason Schwartzman is a man of many talents. Not only does he have his own TV show and act in awesome movies, he writes all of the songs and plays all the instruments for Coconut Records. He's got a penchant for Shins-inspired melodies, Beatlesque chord progressions, and tasty combinations of hand claps, bells, pianos, and a heavy dose of na-na-na's and do-do-do's to keep your head bobbing.

5. The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
Key Tracks: Kick Drum Heart, I And Love And You

These NC bros took a big risk this year deep-frying their folky bluegrass roots in pop rock batter, courtesy of the legendary Rick Rubin, mastermind behind such classics as Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill and Jay-Z's Black Album. The results are a stunningly delicious treat. The track "I and Love and You," about packing everything up and moving to Brooklyn, reminds me of all my friends who've made big moves in the past few years.

6. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Key Tracks: 1901, Lisztomania

These guys from France brought their A game this year to give rock music a sorely-needed kick in the pants. While comparable bands like The Killers, Jet, and Franz Ferdinand took steps backward in 2009, Phoenix raced ahead of the pack to emerge with the best rock album of the year and the most promising future of all its peers.

7. Iron & Wine - Around the Well
Key Tracks: Kingdom of the Animals, Sinning Hands

Very few bands can put out an album of previously unreleased throwaways and B-sides and have it stack up to the quality of their best and most well-known material. With 23 tracks here, the hidden gems actually outnumber the yawners. If you're into indie covers, you'll love Sam Beam's quiet renditions of songs by Flaming Lips and The Postal Service. Also check out the acoustic guitar double-bends on Sinning Hands and the subtle wah pedal swells on Kingdom of the Animals.

8. Wolfmother - Cosmic Egg
Key Tracks: White Feather, Far Away

I had low expectations for this album, but I was pleasantly surprised. I loved their first album in 2005, but since then, everyone except for singer/guitarist Andrew Stockdale up and quit, so some apprehension was to be expected. There's plenty of the Led Zep / Black Sabbath influence still here, but this sophomore effort reaches much further. Much like The White Stripes before them, Wolfmother has figured out how to pay homage to the past masters of the craft while pushing their own art ever further. Pianos, cowbell, violins--c'mon in and join the party, there's plenty of room for all.

9. Harper Simon - Harper Simon
Key Tracks: Berkeley Girl, Shooting Star

Harper has some darn good genes. The unsuspecting ear may confuse his voice and melodies as that of his legendary father Paul. Nothing too complicated here on his debut album, especially lyrically, but the tunes sure are easy on the ears. As he proclaims in Wishes & Stars, "I'm simple as a bee, as a melody in C, but it don't matter." Sean Lennon also contributed to the album.

10. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
Key Tracks: Wilco (The Song), Sonny Feeling

You've got to love a rock band borrowing the age-old rap technique of asserting something confidently in the 3rd person, and actually pulling it off. "Put on your headphones... Wilco will love you, baby." Tweedy doesn't lie.

Honorable Mention

Some other enjoyable albums from 2009 that didn't quite crack my top 10...

11. Mos Def - The Ecstatic
12. Wu-Tang Clan - Chamber Music
13. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk
14. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2
15. Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
16. Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid
17. The Black Crowes - Before the Frost... Until the Freeze
18. The Dead Weather - Horehound
19. Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
20. A Fine Frenzy - Bomb in a Birdcage


  • tulsatulsa


    Jan 12 2010, 19h27
  • trheelgrl16

    Great list, Sean! I didn't know about Vetiver and can't wait to get it after your review. Hope you're well.

    Jan 13 2010, 4h38
  • Tenenbaumz

    Not one hip-hop album makes your Top 10? Though I understand your struggle to compare genres, I still thought you'd be a top 3 disciple of The Chef as well. Thanks for the recommendations. Let me know what you think of K'naan when you get the chance.

    Jan 13 2010, 15h03
  • aerytwo

    @trheelgrl16 Hey, thanks--doing great! Hope you are, too. Any music recommendations for me? Send 'em along. @Tenenbaumz My rankings probably change depending on the day or mood and I've been more in a mellow indie state of mind lately. Though Mos and Chef have some of my favorite, most-listened to tracks of the year and both their albums can make a strong case for Top 5. I also tried to factor in the ratio of skip-able tracks to standouts on each album in the rankings, and that's probably where they slip a little for me.

    Jan 20 2010, 4h17
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