Happy New Year everyone! The only way to ring in 2010 is to finally compile my list of favorite albums from 2009. In an otherwise crappy year for me, at least there is always music. I often hear so many people complain that there isn't any good music being made today, or that the '70s were SO much better musically than now. And though I love music from the '60s or '70's, etc., I still think this past decade will be remembered as the best decade for music yet. There is just so much wonderful sound being produced and blending of such diverse influences to create an entirely new landscape of audio satisfaction.
For this year, I managed to narrow the list down to 30 albums that I think I couldn't do without and would like to share it with all those nay sayers out there. So...here it us, pretty much in order of absolute most must to simply must must. This has been weeks in the making, so enjoy.
01. Manic Street Preachers - Journal for Plague Lovers:
A return to the sound of their '94 masterpiece The Holy Bible, one of my favorite bands brought it all for this album. From the grabbing open of "Peeling Apples" to the beautifully sad "William's Last Words" this album, written by Richey before he vanished in '94, is everything the Manics do best...a blend of brutality and poetry.
02. Portugal. The Man. - The Satanic Satanist / The Majestic Majesty:
One's electric. The other acoustic versions of the same songs. Both are brilliant. Part folk, part L.A. psychedelic, part frantic rock--simply amazing music.
03. Elvis Perkins in Dear Land
Follow-up to my favorite album of 2007, this takes on a different feel than the pure singer/songwriter feel of Ash Wednesday. With the full band, which includes upright bass, marching drum, etc., the songs take on a fuller sound. And as always, Elvis's lyrics and voice are among the best around.
04. Natural Snow Buildings - Daughter of Darkness:
Nearly seven hours long, this drone folk album is obviously of epic proportions. Having listened to the entire thing straight through on more than one occasion, I can say it's not just the length that is impressive. There's a tale told in the music that is devastating, haunting, and moving.
05. Queenadreena - Djin & Ruby Throat - Out of the Clouds Came a Bird:
Two new Katie Jane Garside albums in one year! Katie Jane has been among my favorite singers, songwriters, and artists since I first heard Daisy Chainsaw back in 1991. The Queenadreena album is another amazing frantic set of songs reminiscent of Daisy Chainsaw. The Ruby Throat is acoustic bliss that like the first Ruby Throat album, sounds as if you're listening in as a child from some twisted fairy tale sings to comfort herself from a deranged world.
06. Samantha Crain - Songs in the Night:
The most amazing voice that I discovered this year, Samantha has the voice of a Dust Bowl angel surrounded by demons. There is so much emotion in every song, sometimes hopeful and other times destitute...but always beautiful.
I know there's a lot of haters out there, but no one is doing more to reinvent prog rock than Mars Volta. On this, their fifth album, they've toned down for a mellow sound, but without sacrificing the utterly imaginative soundscapes and stories. For me, their albums are like sci-fi novels put to sound...and my ears like what they are reading.
08. Dead Man's Bones
Gothic folk songs with a children's choir...what's not to love? This is definitely a mood album. It takes you to a place that feels quite like a semi-scary children's movie world ala Tim Burton. Personally, it's a place I love visiting.
This doesn't stray far from the kind of exploration of the psyche covered in John's previous (and BRILLIANT) albums. Though, this does strive to achieve something grander. It's almost as if he's trying to explore heaven. This is his Da Vinci album.
10. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic / The Dark Side of the Moon
This is sort of cheating, placing two albums in one, but they are very similar and both very surprising to me as I'm not a huge Flaming Lips fan beyond the classic Yoshimi and Soft Bulletin. But Embryonic blew me away. I didn't expect much, but by track 2, it commands the listener to pay attention and rewards with a journey that is very...well, Floydian. Which brings me their cover album of Dark Side of the Moon. Granted, that's one of my least favorite Floyd albums (and I'm huge Floyd fan) so I was open to a re-interpretation. I think what they did with it is fantastic and captures the concept better than the original. It's how Syd would have done it.
11. The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love:
I avoided this one for months because of all the negative things I read about it. When I finally did hear it, I couldn't believe how much people hated it. It's a great concept album with a great dark fairy tale story, told by one of the best song writers around. Bravo.
With their second album, the band moves to a softer, more straight forward folk sound. It sounds like the child of Emmylou Harris circa her Gram Parson days, but splashed with some of the genre bending spice that signifies this decade.
13. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
In my opinion, Spencer Krug is one of the five best songwriters of the decade. He is the Neil Young of the present and I was so glad to hear how amazing this album was after the disappointing last Sunset Rubdown album. Another concept album here, with long intricate songs. You're either into it or your not.
I love this band's style of psychedelic sunshine folk and this year's addition to their discography is no exception.
15. Cotton Jones - Paranoid Cocoon:
More sunshine psychedelic folk, but with a twinge of something old timey. This is one of those records that I can't imagine anyone not liking.
One of my favorite current L.A. bands switches gears a little, moving away from the nu-sleaze sound of their last album into a more shoegazer sound for this one, but the results are the same in that it produces another gem of an album.
17. Circus Devils - Gringo
Robert Pollard delivers his best album since mid-90's Guided By Voices. Though I enjoy a lot of his solo work and his Boston Spaceships albums, this one had that something extra I've been looking for. A lo-fi muddled masterpiece...that is, if lo-fi is your thing.
Swirling Pink Floydian chamber psychedelia from Germany. This is the best space rock album in decades.
19. Elizabeth & the Catapults - Taller Children:
Indie folk in the style of Amiee Mann's Bachelor No. 2, this is a great sing-along album of clever songs. One of those Saturday morning kind of albums, of which you can never get enough (along with Sunday morning albums, which are totally different).
20. Band of Skulls - baby darling doll face honey:
This is one of those albums where every song is a "this sounds like (fill in the band)" kind of songs, but each song sounds like someone else. Surprisingly though, it works well and flows well and is just a really fun indie rock listen. One I listened to many, many times this year.
21. Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid:
Solo album from Black Keys and Blakroc's Dan Auerbach is just a fantastic set of modern blues tracks.
22. Joker's Daughter - The Last Laugh:
Female singer songwriter that plays folk in the style of a modern day Incredible String Band or Fairport Convention, but again, added with an indie rock sound that makes it feel new and refreshing while still showing its influences boldly.
I've seen the Yeah Yeah Yeahs album on so many best of lists and can't for the life of me figure out why. I thought it was pretty lackluster '80s retro trash. This album on the other hand is amazing. Another children's choir album, but it works great, taking the listener to another world of soundscape paradise.
Though definitely not my favorite by the band, I applaud them for exploring new territory on their third album. At times, it works brilliantly...(ie. the single "Crying Lightning"). There's a darker edge to this album and you can hear Josh Hommes' influence on it. I have a good feeling Alex Turner is going to continue to deliver great stuff for the next decade.
25. The View - Which Bitch?
My favorite pub rock album of the year comes from these Scottish lads whose music has grown up from their first album. There's something of the Monkees on here (the great Monkees of Capricorn, Head, etc) but with a modern UK indie vibe. Lyrically, this album is far beyond most of the pub rock stuff, which in my opinion makes it stand out considerably.
I expected this to be pretty boring, but it isn't. It certainly comes at you Wu style. I like hearing how how the many track producers reinvent the RZA signature sound. The beats are dope. The rhymes are classic Wu. It doesn't quite hold up against the original crop of Wu releases, but certainly the best Wu Tang of the decade in my opinion.
With every release, Pete gets better and better. A quieter album than previous Babyshambles or Libertines stuff, this is a kind of an expansion on the softer songs from Shotter's Nation. It's also a bit of journey album, spanning different genres and times. Very complex and simple at the same time. Beautiful.
28. The Dead Weather - Horehound
Certainly not ground breaking, but the Jack White - Alison Mosshart pairing is pretty electric. This is the kind of fiery blues rock that just isn't being made anymore. I'm glad they decided to revive it.
After five mixtapes, finally a fully produced album from the best MC in the game. Wale's flow is unbeatable and diverse. He moves into different rhythms unlike anyone else I've ever heard... from part one, youngin's love the way I switch it up- hell's yeah we do. This probably would be higher on my list if I hadn't just discovered the previous years' mixtapes as well.
30. Broadcast and The Focus Group - Investigate Witchcults of the Radio Age
Experimental psychedelic of which Broadcast is known for. This is their best in a long time, doing their most spot on impersonation of The United States of America. One of the more creative albums I heard this year.