This year may not seem as diverse as last year but that's only because we don't have Governor X here to exclaim how great Adam Lambert and Tokio Hotel are.
Anyway, on with the lists.
1. Middle Cyclone by Neko Case. I did a review of this album earlier in the year which pretty much says every thing I want to say about it. In my opinion, it's still the best album of 2009. The cover with her with a sword on the hood of a classic Mercury is pretty righteous in and of itself.
Check Out: "This Tornado Loves You", "Magpie to the Morning", "Prison Girls", "People Got a Lotta Nerve"
2. The Beatles Remasters. All of these albums are classics and the remastering job is fantastic. These recordings have never sounded as good, as least not since the vinyl era. I was really impressed by the sonic clarity, as each instrument is more sharply defined than on the 1990 CD versions.
Check Out: It's The Beatles, numbnuts. Aside from some of the dippy country covers where they let Ringo sing, it's pretty much all money.
3. The Fall by Norah Jones. Norah Jones is a big Tom Waits fan, especially of the album Mule Variations, to the point where she enlisted Jacquire King, one of the engineers on MV, to produce The Fall. King brought in some of the musicians from the album, including guitarists Smokey Hormel and Marc Ribot. The result is a slow burn of an album, with Jones's smoky voice set over an eclectic art-rock background. The more I listen to it, the more I like it.
Check Out: "Young Blood" (co-written by Okkervill River's Will Sheff), "Even Though", "Chasing Pirates", "Light as a Feather" (co-written by Ryan Adams). Also, make sure to download the Amazon bonus track "Can't Stop", which was too damn good to leave off the album, in my opinion. Also noteworthy is her subdued cover of Wilco's "Jesus Etc." from the deluxe version available on iTunes.
4. Coltrane by John Coltrane. Also known as Prestige 7105 or First Trane, this was Coltrane's first album recorded under his name for Prestige Records and released in 1957. While this was before Coltrane became a big name in jazz and before his evolution into one of the greatest jazz innovators in history, this is nonetheless a fantastic album. Coltrane's big tone is there and while he broke no new ground with this recording, it's one of my favorites of his.
Check Out: "Violets For Your Furs", "Chronic Blues", "Bakai", "While My Lady Sleeps"
5. By a Thread by Gov't Mule. The Mule's first studio album in three years. Gov't Mule have a new bass player, Jorgen Carlsson, who proves a muscular addition to the group consisting of Warren Haynes (guitar, vocals), Matt Abts (drums), and Danny Louis (keyboardist, guitar). Recorded at Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studio.
Check Out: "Broke Down on the Brazos" (featuring ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons), the traditional "Railroad Boy", "Steppin' Lightly", "Gordon James"
6. Rollin' With Leo by Leo Parker. 2009 remaster of a 1961 session, baritone sax player Parker's second with Blue Note Records. Sadly, it would be his last, as he died from a heart attack four months after recording it. The album itself is a real burner, straight ahead bop with some real swing. Parker's baritone growl is well suited for the material and the various ensembles that back him.
Check Out: "The Lion's Roar", "Rollin' with Leo", "Mad Lad", "Talkin' the Blues"
7. Bible Belt by Diane Birch. Diane Birch's debut album has a nice Carole King, blues/gospel/soul kind of feel to it. Some of the horns are even provided by members of the Blues Brothers Band. I was surprised that this was her first album, as the songs are well written and very soulful. Worth looking into.
Check Out: "Rewind", "Rise Up", "Fire Escape"
2) 7 Worlds Collide - The Sun Came Out: This double album is a collaboration of original songs by Neil Finn's friends throughout the industry. Joining Finn in the effort were members of Radiohead, Wilco, Johnny Marr, KT Tunstall, Bic Runga, and Neil's son Liam and brother Tim. All proceeds from the album sales go to Oxfam. A fantastic collection of music, all geared toward a good cause. Can't go wrong with that.
3) Richard Swift - The Atlantic Ocean: Swift is solo musician and multi-instrumentalist who specializes in tight, catchy numbers that make you want to tap your feet. Drum machines and effects give the record a brittle, poppy sound that gets stuck in your head and makes you whistle. A very enjoyable album.
4) Stereophonics - Keep Calm and Carry On: Certainly not their most ambitious effort, these songs get much better with repeat listens. There may be no satisfying guitar solos, but Kelly Jones' voice lifts many of these tunes to arena-worthy rockers.
5) Wilco - Wilco (the album): Laugh if choose, call them pretentious. They make no bones about this album having cosmic importance. This is no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it's not supposed to be. Jeff Tweedy brings a light, refreshing airiness to this collection of songs. There are a few really worthy lite-rock tracks found here. That's all it is, nothing more, nothing less. It's fun.
6) White Rabbits - It's Frightening
7) M Ward - Hold Time
8) Pearl Jam - Backspacer
9) Blakroc - Blakroc
10) Flaming Lips - Embryonic
Don McGlashan and the Seven Sisters - Marvellous Year
I haven't heard this album yet, so it can't make my list. It's an import from Australia, and Amazon and Amoeba Records can't help me out in obtaining it at this time. I will keep looking for it in 2010.
I'm including both of the albums here. ...Until The Freeze was a free add-on when you purchased Before the Frost. Seems to me that the Black Crowes keep getting better with age. They really seem to have developed their own sound with the past few releases as opposed to the Faces-clones they were before. They even decided to "roots" it up here, specifically on the second album, which could be called a bluegrass/Americana album. An amazing tight band and album.
Tight Cuts: Good Morning Captain, A Train Still Makes a Lonely Sound, What is Home, Roll Old Jeremiah
2. Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid
The Black Keys front-man steps out on his own here. Gone is the two-instrument arrangements of the former band, here arrive more low-key songs that are accompanied by bass, drums, and organ. Keep It Hid is surely a choice album for those that love the stoner rock genre. Consistent, looping hooks and mellow vocals will do that. An amazing tour accompanied this album as well, with Texas-based, Hacienda, stepping in as Dan's backing band.
Tight Cuts: I Want Some More, Real Desire, Street Walkin
3. Emmit-Nershi Band - New Country Blues
Take the main guys from Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident and put them together to make a traditional bluegrass album. A pretty basic concept, yes, but they really pull it off with aplomb. Both Drew Emmitt and Billy Nershi handle lead vocal duties for the versatile band. Acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, bass guitar and some occasional drums are all that are present. Full of instrumentals, ballad-y stuff, and knee slapping jigs, hey, it's a fun album.
Tight Cuts: New Country Blues, These Days, Wait Until Tomorrow
4. Built to Spill - There Is No Enemy
If you like classic Built to Spill, then you'll be happy with There is No Enemy. Not sure what else to say. It isn't groundbreaking, it certainly isn't their best effort (though closer to the top than the bottom), but it's better than subjecting yourself to Bon Iver or Grizzly Bear. It may not rock out quite as much as some of their earlier stuff, but even this more ballad-y album still has plenty of catchy hooks and layer upon layer of guitars. Like I said, classic Built to Spill.
Tight Cuts: Aisle 13, Nowhere Lullaby, Pat
5. Bowerbirds - Upper Air
I'll admit it, I'm a homer. I went to school with the main dude, Phil Moore. Even so, this is an incredible album. Sometimes you just want to get home and chill the fuck out. When this urge has struck me in the past few months, my go-to album is Upper Air. I really like that they've added more instruments to the fold, going with violin, piano, and organ in addition to their conventional acoustic guitar and accordion. Friend or not, Phil Moore really is a poet, and he writes some great lyrics. There are no weak songs here.
Tight Cuts: Northern Lights, Teeth, Beneath Your Tree
OK, I think this is supposed to be a Top 10 list or a Top 20 list, but I'm not filling them out with description because I just don't see them being all that strong, certainly not enough to be spoken about in such an eloquent tone that I throw down. Let's say they were OK in some aspects, but nothing to brag about. You'd need beer goggles, wait, EAR-goggles to enjoy them. In no particular order:
Pearl Jam - Backspacer
Relentless7 - White Lies for Dark Times
Decemberists - Hazards of Love
Umphrey's McGee - Mantis
Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs
John Mayer - Battle Studies (Go ahead and make fun of me. Yeah, I like John Mayer!)
The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
2. Sonic Youth - The Eternal: It's 2010. By now, you know whether you're a fan of Sonic Youth or not. If you aren't a fan yet, The Eternal offers nothing to convert you. If you are a fan, then you probably already know that this is easily their best album since the early 90's. After a decade and a half of mediocrity, I'm just happy that Sonic Youth finally released an album that doesn't make me feel embarrassed for them. Now, please retire before you make another NYC Ghosts & Flowers.
3. Dinosaur Jr.- Farm: Everybody is making a huge deal about this album and I'm not sure why. It sounds just like the Dinosaur Jr. I remember from high school. That's not a bad thing. It just goes to show you that distorted guitars & competent solos will never go out of style.
4. Micachu - Jewellry: The most positive thing I can say about Micachu is that she reminds of The Raincoats on downers. The simplest tracks tend to be the best. Luckily for us, she keeps most of it fairly simple.
5. Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum: There's nothing extraordinary about this album, but it's fun picking out their influences. Everything from Paul Revere & The Raiders and early Zeppelin to the techno bullshit of today is hinted at in their songs. It's more interesting than it is good.
6. Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions - Through the Devil Softly: This album makes the cut only because Hope Sandoval has the most awesomely haunting voice ever. Although both of her post-Mazzy Star albums sound pretty much like Mazzy Star albums, they lack some intangible quality that made the originals classics. As such, this isn't a bad album, but it's no Mazzy Star.
7. The Dead Weather - Horehound: This is really close to being a great album. Unfortunately, it's weighted down with too many songs full of obnoxious frat boy-style choruses that are reminiscent of the dark days of Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock.
8. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures: Who knew if you took a guy from Led Zeppelin, a guy from Queens of the Stone Age, and a guy from Nirvana that you'd get the best Alice In Chains album since Facelift?
9. The xx - xx: If your album cover consists only of a giant 'X', I'm going to assume that the criminally underrated Los Angeles punk band came out with a new album, and track it down. When I finally discovered that this was some new band, I decided to give them a day in court anyway. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what I think of the album. The first time I listened to it, I was underwhelmed. The second time, it blew me away. The third time, I hated it. Subsequent listening evoked the same range of emotions.
10. Girls - Girls: I was lamenting how my taste in music seems to be permanently stuck in the punk/post-punk era of the 70's and 80's, and a friend suggested I go on Pitchfork to see what bands the cool kids were currently raving about. At the time, they were raving about this album. I have no idea why. Whereas I thought Kasabian was interesting because they borrowed from their influences, Girls goes out of their way to copy every nuance from their heroes and we're left with a predictable and jumbled album. But goddamn it if it isn't full of catchy songs. Fuck you, self-titled debut from Girls!
Chaim Witz - His ten favorite of 2009, aside from Cymbals Eat Guitars of course.
1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz! - The punky rockers deliver a imminently danceable yet utterly rocking masterpiece. Kicks yours ass and then kisses you on the mouth, without a false note.
Choice Cuts: Heads Will Roll, Dull Life, Hysteric
2. KISS - Sonic Boom - The face painted rockers eschew musical growth for an a throwback album of good time party rock, with blistering Ace Frehley solos not performed by Ace Frehley. If you can get past the dilemma of hearing a 60 year old man sing, "Baby feel my tower of power", you're in for a treat.
Choice Cuts: Modern Day Delilah, Russian Roulette, Say Yeah
3. Pearl Jam - Backspacer - The newly gregarious Eddie Vedder and his gang of flannel wearing Neil Young proteges deliver their best album of the decade. Upbeat and energetic, it contains the secret ingredient that was sorely lacking from their last few albums: memorable hooks.
Choice Cuts: Speed of Sound, The End, Got Some
4. Them Crooked Vultures - Self Titled - Probably not as kick ass it should be, but sometimes 'good enough' is still great. The good stuff is really, really good.
Choice Cuts: Mind Eraser/No Chaser, New Fang, Elephants
5. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young - The Strokes frontman puts together a crafty album of electro pop-rock (Strokes style), that is equal parts dance rock and music for the morning after. Beware of this post-hype sleeper.
Choice Cuts: 11th Dimension, Ludlow Street, Tourist
6. XX - Self Titled - Yet another dude/chick combo, but this one is British, ambient and not nearly as good looking as Pete and Scarlett. None-the-less, this hauntingly sparse production is chill in the best sense of the word.
Choice Cuts: Crystalised, Islands, Basic Space
Choice Cuts: Lisztomania, 1901, Fences
8 Ace Frehley - Anomaly - Ace counters KISS with an album with fewer Ace Frehley solos than the KISS album he didn't play on, and instead delivers a (relatively) mature, polished album.
Choice Cuts: Change the World, Sister, It's A Great Life
9. Alice in Chains - Black Gives Way to Blue - No Layne Staley, no problem. AICN don't miss a beat on their latest gem, delivering the sludge-y yet melodic sound that made them everyone's favorite Nirvana alternative in the mid-90's.
Choice Cuts: Check My Brain, A Looking In View, Private Hell
Choice Cuts: Realtor, I Don't Know What to Do, Wear and Tear
Other albums I enjoyed to an extent:
Silversun Pickups - Swoon - Choice Cut: Panic Switch
The Black Crowes - Before the Frost...Until the Freeze - Choice Cut: Been a Long Time
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest - Choice Cut: Two Weeks
Muse - The Resistence - I hoped this would grow on me, I really did. I loved Black Holes and Revelations like an adopted son, but besides Uprising, none of these songs make my privates tingle.
The Swell Season - Strict Joy - Once is one of my favorite movies of the decade, possibly ever, so I had high hopes for the follow up from Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Alas, it's all pretty same-y, uninspired and quite frankly, boring.
U2 - No Line on the Horizon - Apparently all of Bono's efforts went into saving Africa and not writing good music.
Chip Wesley - Because I was told putting "New Moon" down 20 times wasn't acceptable.
1. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest: Overall an outstanding album. Hauntingly beautiful, it's a great album to relax with.
2. White Denim - Fits: More kick ass tracks from White Denim. Unlike last year's release Exposion, Fits is not compiled from various EP tracks and singles they had previously released. Therefore as an album it's much more cohesive. I highly recommend you check them out. If you hate it whatever, but at least you heard them.
3. The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns: I'm sure no one will notice, or most likely care, but I had this album on my 2008 list ranked 17th. However, since it was still relatively new at that time and that it had an official U.S. release in 2009 I decided to include it again and give it the proper recognition it deserves. Definitely another one to seriously seek out.
4. Richard Swift - The Atlantic Ocean: Another great release from Swift. Who knew depressing sad bastard music could be so damn fun?
5. Radio Moscow - Brain Cycles: Seriously heavy psychedelic blues rock from a two-man outfit from the middle of Iowa. Their debut album two years ago was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. If you dig the Keys then you'll certainly dig Radio Moscow.
6. The Dead Weather - Horehound: "It's not like the Raconteurs." That was one excuse I heard as to why someone didn't like Horehound. Seriously? Why on Earth would they assemble a new band to sound just like the one they were just in? This album is an all-around badass mix of sleazy rock and grimy blues.
7. Scott H. Biram - Something's Wrong/Lost Forever: If you haven't experienced the awesomeness of Scott H. Biram yet then it's about high time you did. This is the way I wish all country music today sounded.
8. Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid: Speak of the devil. Auerbach's solo album doesn't steer too far from the Black Keys sound we've grown to love, but there's hints of a softer more personal side to this album that really make it a nice listen.
9. Sonic Youth - The Eternal: Honest to God fact: I have never fully listened to a Sonic Youth album until this one. I can't say I fell in love with it right away, but after a couple listens I started to realize how much The Eternal really fucking rocks. With so many indie acts doing throwbacks to post-punk 80's sounds, Sonic Youth does a throwback as well, except that it's a throwback to Sonic Youth.
10. White Rabbits - It's Frightening: Being a fan of Spoon it only seems fitting that I would enjoy this album as well. The opening track, "Percussion Gun" may well be the best song of 2009.
OK, I'm not going to bore you more with writeups for the rest of my list, so here they are in simple list form.
11. Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
12. Mos Def - The Ecstatic
13. The Veils - Sun Gangs
14. Beirut - March of the Zapotec and Realpeople: Holland
15. Wolfmother - Cosmic Egg
16. Royal Bangs - Let It Beep
17. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
18. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
19. M. Ward - Hold Time
20. Bowerbirds - Upper Air
William Elliott Whitmore - Animals in the Dark
Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
Gomez - A New Tide
Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
Albums that I just never got around to giving them enough of a listen to rank them but would have likely made the list if I had:
The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
Langhorne Slim - Be Set Free
Heartless Bastards - The Mountain
The 'I was wrong about this album last year' Award: Fleet Foxes. I just didn't care for this album at all and noted it last year by awarding it with the Interpol Award for the band the critics adore but I don't get the big deal. Well after several more listens the album really grew on me and I would like to retract my previous statements.
2009 Interpol Award: Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. I have this album in my top 20 I know. It's a good album but I'm seeing this make #1 on a lot of lists, even making some best of the decade lists. Seriously? It's got some great tracks on it but it's really not that much different than Oracular Spectacular from MGMT. It opens strong with some great songs but completely fizzles out in the second half of the album. I guess I just don't see how it can be considered that great when half of it seems like filler.
Biggest Disappointment: Wilco - Wilco. What's the sound of thousands of listeners being bored to death? I'm by no means a Wilco hater either. I liked Sky Blue Sky. But this last album seems to really only appeal to Brant Brown and hipster dads in their late 30s that have lost any sense of being edgy.
Best Album Reissue of 2009: Beck - One Foot in the Grave. Recorded before Mellow Gold, this awesome lo-fi basement folk gem got a deluxe re-release this year with a whole second disc full of tracks.