Of all the year-end music lists out there full of odd-bird indie-cred bullshit, we couldn’t find a single one that even remotely echoed our own tastes. But amidst the sea of inferior selections, there’s one general consensus: 2009 was a great year for music. So once again, in the spirit of wanting things done right, we’re doing it ourselves. Welcome to our Ten Best Albums of 2009.
Click the album cover on each album to read the original review, as well as maybe and audio/video sampling of the goodness you’re about to behold.
1. Them Crooked Vultures
Them Crooked Vultures
Them Crooked Vultures’ debut album was one of the main sources of year/decade-end list time agony, as it’s only been out for five weeks and there’s still plenty of dust in the air from the hype explosion. With that said, it’s a rare occurrence when a band lives up to the ‘supergroup’ predesignation so much that it deserves to be free of it. And this is one such band.
Josh Homme has said in a few interviews (not just ours) that the greatest thing in life is to be understood, and that musically, he and Dave Grohl have always had a special, rare understanding. That unique chemistry was a key ingredient of Queens Of The Stone Age’s 2002 album Songs For The Deaf. That album is a classic among its still-young generation, and yet Them Crooked Vultures was a one-upping follow-up from the moment it descended, with the extraordinary talents of John Paul Jones and Alain Johannes added into the mix.
Nothing short of a landmark album of explosive intergenerational talent, Them Crooked Vultures is a planet of popped-collar reptilian kings with wild eyes, razor teeth and twitching, rampant hard-ons, getting themselves off on the groove for the fun and the fuck of it, Rock doctrines be damned. For once, finally, a band has come along that makes the term ’supergroup’ its whimpering bitch, in all its terrible glory.
2. The Decemberists
The Hazards Of Love
The Decemberists have somehow outdone their phenomenal Crane Wife album, against all odds, with this grand, inspired vision of a narrative album that borders on a masterpiece. A seventeen-track supernatural love story of a jealous forest queen, a malicious shape-shifter, a child-killing rogue, and two ill-fated lovers, it’s a concept album with a devoted storyline and rich, full-throated characters. If you’re hungry for something new, something to believe in among the “hits” and shits on the FM dial, The Hazards of Love is not to be missed.
3. Brother Ali
For the first time on record, Brother Ali fully shifts his focus from the autobiographical to a social narrative, entirely abandoning the self-prosthelytizing helium swagger that most emcees ride through their entire careers. Doing so is a literal unshackling of bonds for Ali, who sets upon this remarkable collection of stories like a seasoned street preacher. This time around, the hooks aren’t just head-nodders – they’re wrecking balls. Anthony “Ant” Davis of Atmosphere returns to the knobs, but concerns of repetition are quickly laid to rest as the album overflows with live beats and strings, as well as a real-live full horn section and the lush, soulful sound of an actual church choir in St. Paul, Minnesota. Reeking of truth and authenticity, Us is a dense sociopolitical masterpiece.
4. Dead Weather
As much as we dig The White Stripes and the second Raconteurs album, as in awe as we often find ourselves of Jack White’s guitar playing, none of us were asking him for another band this year. It didn’t even seem like a third full-time obsession was even feasible, and so most of us assumed it would be merely a side dish, a half-assed garage jam one-off for kicks and nothing more. And maybe the original plan wasn’t any more ambitious than that, but what climbed out of our speakers in July was more formidable than we were prepared for. Horehound is a killer album, lean and mean, light on fluff and heavy on experienced songwriting from all members, including but in no way limited to (or by) Mr. White.
5. Mariachi El Bronx
Mariachi El Bronx
The shitkickers behind our pick for 2008’s album of the year pulled a bait-and-switch with Mariachi El Bronx, an album of English-vocal Mariachi songs. It’s a flamboyant step outside the box of what anyone might expect from one of the hardest-hitting hardcore punk bands to ever come out of Los Angeles. The taste of Mexican culture is strong, and the octane undercurrent that’s closer to the band’s original sound threatens to shake loose at any given moment – yet it never does. It’s a dangerously enticing flirtation with the punk aesthetic, and pogoes a remarkably thin line between tribute and all-out immersion.
6. The Company Band
The Company Band
It’s no secret that we consider Clutch one of the most badass rock n’ roll acts working today, and we don’t mean to disrespect their Strange Cousins From The West by giving the big nod to this sibling, featuring Neil Fallon backed by members of Fireball Ministry, CKY, and Fu Manchu. Strange Cousins is highly recommended if you don’t have it already. With that said, The Company Band is a flawless album in its own right, and a cocky display of swagger and gnashing teeth.
7. Portugal. The Man
The Satanic Satanist
When we first discovered Portugal. The Man in 2007, we were impressed. 2008’s Censored Colors convinced us that they had true staying power. And then this year’s Satanic Satanist blew us away. Recorded in less than two weeks in Boston, the album is a rich, layered, inspired work of true art (as is its packaging, though I wouldn’t want to suggest that anything other than the quality of the music earned the album its spot in our top 10 list). Portugal. The Man reportedly already have another album slated for Spring 2010, entitled American Ghetto. This band fully deserves all the recognition we have given them over the past year or two, and more.
8. Arctic Monkeys
Producer Josh Homme (who’s responsible for the #1 spot on this list) explained early on that “this is the record where they get weird, grow up and trip out.” And he’s right. The songs on Humbug are rarely very straightforward, running through several changes in both tone and tempo in a stark departure from the band’s previous full length albums. With Homme’s style stamp and the boys’ own desire to rise to the occasion, these young Brits have proven that there’s a lot more to their story than looking good on the dancefloor. After being taken under the wing of their rock n’ roll big brother, the Monkeys have learned how to fly.
The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion
When I reviewed Pariah in May, a few commenters took issue with my declaration that it’s a more mature and complete album than any of the band’s previous, and some made good cases for their points. El Cielo was called their “masterpiece,” and their comparatively poppier new direction seems to have disappointed some. In hindsight, El Cielo and Leitmotif may have deserved more credit at that time, but we stand by the claim that the band has developed impressively since, and that The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion is a true accomplishment. The production is refreshingly even-handed, and throughout an 18-track, 60-minute journey, all the characters encountered along the way are beautifully rendered with lush colors, from the background rhythms to the crisp percussion.
10. William Elliott Whitmore
Animals In The Dark
As we said in our review, “Whitmore’s the type of cat who can win over a room of people who’ve never heard of him in thirty seconds flat, and be shitfaced on shots of whiskey bought by his newfound fans before the show’s over.” We’ve seen it with our own eyes. This year’s Animals In The Dark couldn’t possibly have been quite as surprising as his debut was to us- By now we’ve come to terms with the fact that this white guy, barely over 30, sings like he’s walking around with the reincarnated soul of Howlin’ Wolf. But the sheer force of the songs on the album make it one of the finest of his catalog, and of any this year.