Best Music 2009: Albums

Welcome to the Best of 2009: the 11 months hindsight edition. In preparation for my 2010 best, I stumbled (OK maybe I knew it was still here) onto the crumbs of my 2009 list. Honestly, my heart wasn't into the ranking music thing last year, so after exhausting all my efforts into my songs of the year list, this one just seemed like one more thing to process, analyze and rate. Here's a brief recap of how it went down, because, dammit, I've got to do it:

20 Morrissey Years of Refusal This album was sort of "Moz By Numbers" but still built on the resurgence of Morrissey in the 00s. He also had a difficult 2009 (after collapsing on stage, the British press attacked his subsequent performances, calling him "bloated" among other things), and that earned him a sympathy spot.

19 Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavillion This was tops on the list of most of your modern musical publications. I liked it all right. I think it helps to think of them as a warped, modern Beach Boys.

18 Yo La Tengo Popular Songs Perhaps there are some unseen circumstances that I don't know about it, but every year Yo La Tengo puts out a proper album, I imagine it will land in my top 20 favorites by the end of the year.

17 Atlas Sound Logos Bradford Cox is a prolific and consistent musician of this generation. You might not always be able to pick out an absolute favorite, but most of his albums effortlessly wash over you. No effort needed, just relax and enjoy.

16 Wilco Wilco (The Album) I think with this pick, I was just happy to see Jeff Tweedy making decent music. Over 2010, this album faded away, but listening to it again I remembered why I charted it so high - it's an enjoyable (if maybe not too challenging) album, that recalls the finer moments on Being There. Clearly being compared to the Eagles was somewhat of a wake-up call, even if it's unclear (on many levels) what being compared to the Eagles means.

15 The Dead Weather Horehound In some situations doing a year recap with some perspective can be a handicap (shocking, I know). The Dead Weather (featuring 2009's illustration visage Jack White) followed up this album with a less impressive album this year. Did it taint their overall rating here - I think so, as much as I love the songs "Treat Me Like Your Mother" and "I Cut Like A Buffalo" I'm starting to see a pattern in non-Stripes White material. I like it all, but it's missing some of the experimental flourish of his main project. That said, I still had more fun with this album than any Raconteurs release, and 75 percent of anything else released in 09.

14 Wussy Wussy Until about mid-2009, part of my job was commenting on Cincinnati's music scene. It was great fun, however it did start to bias my feelings toward Cincinnati music. Well maybe. That's a conversation for another blog post. Anyway, a few years ago I decided I would resolve this bias by only including my absolute favorite Cincinnati release in this year end list. I couldn't do that in 09. I could try to explain that music would end up on my list no matter where I was living - these albums are just that good - buuuuut since I'm living in Cincinnati, you probably wouldn't believe me. Anyway, I do love this album and, sure, I've definitely seen this band play many, many times. I really think that if they toured outside of Cincy, they'd legitimately be considered a "National" act. And that's all I got.

 13 Bill Callahan Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle Sometimes the reason I do these lists is to try to highlight an artist I'm almost certain will get overlooked. Formerly Smog, and the first time releasing an album under his own name, I was floored by the stark beauty of this record. Easily his best since he almost, very barely reached the public consciousness with Knock Knock. Simple, artistic and deep, this is the only kind of "singer/songwriter" music I can get into these days.

12 Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix And so Phoenix blew up in 2009, impressively they didn't have to mess with their formula too much. Lisztomania/1901/Fences is the strongest start to any album in 09. They did that thing where they ended up on the cover of Spin and appeared on SNL making them at least as important as to Americans as Vampire Weekend or Muse, and the most U.S.-accepted French band since Air. I still prefer It's Never Been Like That, but what can you do.

11 Neko Case Middle Cyclone Neko came back with another round of songs about awkward relationships and female gigolos (is there a word for female gigolos?). I liked it a whole lot.

 10 DOOM Born Like This 2009 was kind of an off-year for hip-hop. (I don't know why I didn't include Method Man and Redman's Blackout! 2 on here - it was easily one of my favorites of the year. Oh well) I asked too much out of Jay-Z's Blueprint 3, so there were only 2 hip-hop albums that made a real impression on me. Another year, another reinvention for MF DOOM, simply going by DOOM on this album to further complicate your iTunes organization. Born Like This is sinister, not very jokey like other DOOM incarnations, as if the low profile he's been keeping for five years was warping him even more than his initial post-KMD retreat from the public eye. It's an intriguing album - more "rap" than "hip-hop" - DOOM has no interest in making you dance, he just wants you to listen.

9 Brian Olive Brian Olive In early 2009, I stood alone in an audience of around 30 in Shake It Records for an in-store performance of former Greenhorne Brian Olive after hearing his album in the store about a week before. He basically performed every song on the album and when he was finished, I had become a devoted fan. Equal parts garage and britpop, this debut is the much-needed twist that a lot of 60s garage band acolytes need to listen to (Cincinnati is full of these bands). It's not enough to faithfully reproduce these sounds, it's about taking them to another level, and that's what Olive did for me in this debut. Highly recommended for Cincinnatians and beyond.

8 DangerMouse and Sparklehorse Dark Night of the Soul When I was lucky enough to get the download of this album of the Internet last year, it catapulted to the top of my listening list. Generating a fair amount of hype for being kept from release by Capitol records (it was initially speculated that DangerMouse's Grey Album still pissed off the label, but later revealed that it was less interestingly about getting proper clearance for one of the samples), that a lot of critical sources were wary of being swept up and unfortunately therefore I believe slept on this album. Why? It's the best use of a variety of voices (Julian Casablancas, Frank Black, James Mercer, Vic Chesnutt, Suzanne Vega, a surprisingly good pair of performances by David Lynch) to an effect that actually makes sense within the album. Adding to it, the suicides of two of the performers (Mark Linkous and Chesnutt) before its proper release this year should make it a dark horse candidate for album of the year. Instead, it received middling praise and criticisms for being uneven. Maybe it gets lost in its ambition and is too high concept to be a true "album of the year," but at the end of the year, it still holds up as one of the most unique, cohesive albums I heard in either 2009 or 2010.

7 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart The Pains of Being Pure at Heart Almost crushed by its own affable good nature, TPoBPaH (yeah, that's awk) is a excellent debut that owes a debt to alternative 80s bands, but adds enough spin to avoid being another retread. They also might be able to sneak under the radar enough to avoid the pressure of a follow-up thanks to the next band on this list.

6 The xx xx I got this album for Christmas last year, I knew a lot about the band and had heard some of the songs, so I knew I'd like it. I only found out as much in January of this year. So, up it jumps to number six on this list. Haunting and beautiful, listening to The xx is like listening to a lost band from 1987 that recorded a song for a John Hughes movie, then dropped off the planet. As the year went along, the band's popularity exploded, winning the Mercury Prize and - a mark of mainstream acceptance in my book - being sold in Target stores. "VCR" and "Crystalised" still pop up on my mixes and I can see listening to them for years to come.

5 The Flaming Lips Embryonic I love this sprawling, dark album deciding to change their formula again was the best thing The Flaming Lips could do in 2009. It makes an impression in the same way their last great album - The Soft Bulletin - did 10 years ago - even if that impression is much scarier and bleak than the more optimistic Bulletin. I've tried to decipher it -and have decided that's pretty much impossible. Fortunately it keeps you entertained. I regret not being able to put "Watching The Planets" on my favorite songs of 09 list. Trance-y, in a good way. I know, I didn't think that was possible either.

4 Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz My lineup for the top 5 in 09 is constantly shuffling in my head, but I'm satisfied with the picks themselves. Like everyone, I loved Phoenix and (eventually, begrudgingly) began to grow more impressed with Animal Collective, but for me - it was difficult to ignore what is the YYY's best album, which one rarely says about a band's 3rd proper album. Easy to listen to on repeat with instantly alluring singles ("Zero" and "Heads Will Roll") I thought for awhile nothing would top this album in early 2009.

3 St. Vincent Actor Resisting acclaimed artists is what I do well. I skipped Annie Clark's debut Marry Me, despite its sparkling reviews, dismissing it as another album filled with neurotic songwriting backed by pretty vocals and precious accompaniment. I was waaaay wrong. And fortunately, her follow-up is equally strong, so I can use this as an opportunity to take back those misconceptions. Actor is an amazing album - I believe I listened to it more than any other album in 2009, it contains the best 2-3-4-5-6 run of any album I've heard in awhile. The are guitar freak-outs, dark humor, an emotional core, and each song tops the one before. It also acts as an "album" - breaking it apart can only weaken it. I went back and bought Marry Me earlier this year, and can officially stand by my claim: my previous, St. Vincent-disliking self was an idiot.

2 Raekwon Only Built for Cuban Linx... Pt. II Another album that I really only started listening to in 2010, I wondered, after all the build up, how good could this actually be? Well, the answer turns out to be "way effing beyond good." I have never understood the hype behind the first album, preferring the debuts of GZA, ODB and Method Man - Cuban Linx: The Orig (my title) ranks 4th. But this album is an instant classic, way further in its cinematic scope than the first, actually working well as an "album sequel" (which generally seems impossible) and loaded with guest appearances (everyone from Busta Rhymes to Slick Rick) that keep things fresh through it's massive 22-song scope. Believe me, I've listened to 22-song albums before - you're not getting more, you're just getting more filler. This album is lean and it had impact from the first time I listened to it. An outstanding achievement and definitely one of the best in 2009. It's influenced rolled over into 2010 - and has re-established Raekwon as someone I get excited to see popping up as a guest verse. He's on a roll.

1 Grizzly Bear Veckatimest As I've established a number of times throughout this review, one great album can completely revise your opinion on an artist. For me, this was 2008's In Ear Park by Grizzly Bear offshoot, Department of Eagles. It managed to hit #2 on my 2008 best album list and made me seriously re-evaluate Grizzly Bear, a band I had written off for reasons I can't really remember at this time. While my ear is drawn to a lot of different types of music, I'm still a sucker for a strong indie rock album with song after song revealing more as you listen to them again and again. Veckatimest, ridiculous album title and all, was that record for me in 2009.

It was a weird year for me, and I found myself drawn to songs that comfort and gave me some sense that things would get better. I'm happy that I'm able to say that I've since rebounded. My confidence rebounded in 2010 and was able to get back into artists like Raekwon and The xx. But in the time when I didn't have the cash to buy new albums and found myself more dealing with real life than with the world of music, I found what I needed in the music I already had. And Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest was always tops among those albums. Although, um... I must admit - I wasn't crazy about their performance Pitchfork Festival that year - but that can't really be blamed on them - my view was terrible, the sound was wrong... OK well anyway, you get the idea.

So there you have it. Thanks for reading, if you haven't heard/bought all these albums yet...what's wrong with you!? It's been, like, over a year now. Hopefully next year's lists won't be quite so delayed.