The Year In Review: The Top 50 Best Albums of 2009

Dec 30, 2009 9:31pm

As we end 2009, it’s that time again to count off my picks for the Top 50 best albums of the year.  Sure, some may disagree with my choices, but here is a sampling of records I think are worthy of celebrating.   50.   ELIZABETH & THE CATAPULT – “TALLER CHILDREN” – Elizabeth Ziman leads this eclectic Brooklyn trio on this, their impressive first full-length.  The album should mostly please the coffee-house hipster set, but the truth is, stylistically, it’s all over the place.  The title track sounds like a strong counterpoint to the Bird and the Bee, while “Right Next To You” verges on smooth-lovin’ R&B.  There’s also an interesting cover of Leonard Cohen’s classic, “Everybody Knows,” which possibly bests Concrete Blonde’s 1990 take. Best of all is the album’s opener where Ziman chastises a “Momma’s Boy.”  Elizabeth & the Catapult are indeed worth your attention. Favorite Tracks “Momma’s Boy” “Right Next To You” “Taller Children” “Complimentary Me” “Apathy”   49. N.A.S.A. – “THE SPIRT OF APOLLO” – Reminiscent of the two great albums by the Handsome Boy Modeling School, N.A.S.A’s “Spirit Of Apollo” is the rare kind of genre-mashing hip-hop record.  N.A.S.A. in this case stands for North America South America.  It’s a collaborative effort from Squeak E. Clean, (Sam Spiegel, film-maker Spike Jonze’s brother) and South American DJ, D.J. Zegon.  Together they rustle up an allstar cast of folks you never thought you’d ever hear on the same record.  The guests are numerous and fascinating. (Santigold, Method Man, Brazilian singer [and onetime Portuguese David Bowie translator] Seu Jorge, David Byrne, Tom Waits, Spankrock and Del the Funky Homosapien among others.)  The message, no doubt is one of global unity and inspiration.  I must admit, I don’t understand and am troubled by the album’s strange cover art, but there’s no doubt that this record is intended as a sonically unifying force and a celebration of cultural and musical diversity. This is a record for open-minded hip-hop heads. Favorite Tracks “Money” (with David Byrne, Chuck D., Ras Congo, Seu Jorge & Z-Trip) “Spacious Thoughts” (with Tom Waits and Kool Keith) “Samba Soul” (with Del the Funky Homosapien and DJ Q-Bert) “Gifted” (with Santigold, Kanye West & Lykke Li) “Way Down” (RZA, Barbie Hatch and John Frusciante)   48. BUILT TO SPILL – “THERE IS NO ENEMY” – Doug Martsch still represents Idaho proudly, proving once again he’s one of indie-rock’s major guitarists.  “There Is No Enemy” finds these veterans matching their chops with excellently accessible tunes.  In fact, “Things Fall Apart” is easily one of their strongest tracks to date and is alone worth a good hundred listens.  Favorite Tracks “Things Fall Apart” “Life’s A Dream” “Done” “Aisle 13″ “Good Ol’ Boredom”   47. HARPER SIMON – “HARPER SIMON” – Paul Simon’s 37 year-old son finally makes his solo debut with an appealing, thirty minute set.  On the haunting “The Audit” he clearly casts his own shadow, but on other tracks like the countrified “Tennessee,” he sounds exactly like his dad. (EXACTLY!)  He’s inherited everything he needs. This album is a bafflingly both brash and subtle, balancing big-league guests with timeless charm.   Favorite Tracks “The Audit” “Tennessee” “Shooting Star” “The Shine” “Ha Ha”   46. MOBY – “WAIT FOR ME” – If Moby’s 2008 landmark, “Last Night” was a celebration of eighties dance music, his 2009 record is a much more subdued, almost ambient effort as if designed to nurse a hangover.  Using mostly guest vocalists, Richard Melville Hall delivers a powerful, stirring record.  “Pale Horses,” with its synth-string orchestration and its really old-school gospel blues vibe could’ve easily been on the second half of “Play,” while the instrumental, “Shot In The Back Of The Head” uses backwards notes and weeping guitars to deliver a muted dose of post-punk fury that would probably make the members of New Order proud. In any case, ten years after his long overdue commercial breakthrough, Moby is still a vital, meaningful artist.   Favorite Tracks “Shot In The Back Of The Head” “Pale Horses” “Scream Pilots” “Wait For Me” “Mistake”
 45. MISSION OF BURMA – “THE SOUND THE SPEED THE LIGHT” – Mission of Burma emerged out of Boston in the early eighties and released two well-respected, critically acclaimed records.  Most famous for their 1985 single, “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver,” the band helped establish Boston as a critical center for eighties alternative rock.  The band broke up after their second record, only to return nineteen years later.  “The Sound The Speed The Light” is the bands fifth album, thus, in this decade, the band has released more music than in their early heyday.  Listening to those early records along with the three in this decade,  it’s as if there was no time gap at all.  Mission Of Burma are still a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners band, possessing a dark, dense, punked-out sound.  Favorite Tracks “1,2,3, Partyy!” “Forget Yourself” “Comes Undone” “Feed” “Possession”    44. RODRIGO Y GABRIELA – “11:11″ – Mexico City’s Rodrigo y Gabriela take flamenco guitar playing to new rocking levels on “11:11.”  It’s a fast-paced instrumental record. This acoustic guitar-wielding duo plays with an open-minded experimental edge, using filters and wah-wah effects to add texture.  The disc’s highlight is their bluesy Hendrix tribute, “Buster Voodoo.” “11:11″ should indeed bring them some good luck.  Favorite Tracks “Buster Voodoo” “Savitri” “Hanuman” “Santo Domingo” “Logos”   43. NORAH JONES – “THE FALL” – “The Fall” is the strongest, most solidly entertaining album Norah Jones has ever recorded.  Leaving behind the coffee house jazz of her first two records, while expanding on the experiments found on her last album, “Not Too Late,” Jones has come up with a unique, genre defying, high-quality record. Jones wrote or co-wrote every track.  She wrote highlight, “Light As A Feather” with Ryan Adams. “Chasing Pirates” sounds like AM radio seventies pop gold.  “The Fall” should hopefully please Jones’ old fans as well as gaining her some new ones.  “Come Away With Me” may have been the record that sold through the roof, but “The Fall” is the kind of record that places the artistic foundation for a long career.     Favorite Tracks “Light As A Feather” “You’ve Ruined Me” “Young Blood” “Stuck” “Chasing Pirates”    42. LIVING COLOUR – “THE CHAIR IN THE DOORWAY” – One of the year’s best but commercially ignored records came from Living Colour. “The Chair In The Doorway” is their second record since reforming in the early part of this decade, and it’s every bit as powerful as early albums, “Vivid” and “Time’s Up.” In fact, I would argue that Living Colour are now more skilled and confident than they’ve ever been.  Elements of metal, blues and funk collide in an appealing mixture.  Vernon Reid still is one of the most skilled guitarists around and Corey Glover’s voice still possesses copious amounts of soul.  “Behind The Sun” should’ve been a big radio hit and “Bless Those (Little Annie’s Prayer)” delivers a dose of hard-edged blues-rock which far bests anything Jack White has produced in the last couple of years. If you liked Living Colour two decades ago, you should pick up this record.  Favorite Tracks “Behind The Sun” “Bless Those (Little Annie’s Prayer”) “Method” “Burned Bridges” “Not Tomorrow”   41. FEVER RAY – “FEVER RAY” – Fever Ray is the solo project from Karin Dreijer-Andersson of the Swedish electro duo, the Knife.  Here, she creates an experimental, occasionally disturbing mix of electronic beats, ambient soundscapes and slowed down voices. In the end, this is a groundbreaking record, which ends up sounding like a cross between Bjork, Kate Bush and the spookiest part of soundtrack to “Eyes Wide Shut.”  Favorite Tracks “When I Grow Up” “Triangle Walks” “If I Had A Heart” “I’m Not Done” “Seven”   40. CRYSTAL ANTLERS – “TENTICLES” – Garage rock lives.  Long Beach, California’s Crystal Antlers should be put on a Nuggets compilation they make when they decide to chronicle the music of this generation.  That being said, Crystal Antlers’ music is much louder and more aggressive than the garage rock of the past.  Organs are pounded with force and guitars crash as lead singer, Jonny Bell yelps with every muscle in his body.  Like the Walkmen, Crystal Antlers deliver dusty gems delivered with an intense level of urgency. It’s really loud.  It’s really messy.  It’s downright incredible.  Favorite Tracks “Andrew” “Dust” “Time Erased” “Glacier” “Memorized”   39. THE LOW ANTHEM – “OH MY GOD, CHARLIE DARWIN” – The Low Anthem are a  folk-driven group from Providence, RI. They deliver soft, angelic, melodic songs one moment and Tom Waits-ian, dirty-sounding blues the next. The most obvious highlight is the gorgeous album opener, “Charlie Darwin.”  Indeed, the members of the Low Anthem are among the fittest.   Favorite Tracks “Charlie Darwin” “To Ohio (Reprise)” “The Horizon Is A Beltway” “Ticket Taker” “Champion Angel”   38. VIVA VOCE – “ROSE CITY” – A married couple from Alabama, Kevin and Anita Robinson deliver high-quality inter-gender indie rock like it was still the early nineties.  It’s densely-textured alt-rock with a slight saloon swagger.   Favorite Tracks “Good As Gold” “Devotion” “Die A Little” “Red Letter Day” “Tornado Alley”   37. EELS – “HOMBRE LOBO” – Mark Oliver Everett (A.K.A. E) has taken his band Eels a long way since “Novocaine For The Soul” gave them MTV buzz-band status in 1996.  The last Eels record was the sprawling, critically acclaimed double disc, “Blinking Lights And Other Revelations.”  On “Hombre Lobo,” E alternates between over-modulated blues numbers, sweet, sincere love songs and hand-clapping rave-ups.  E remains one of the most under-rated songwriters working today.  He’s prolific, too.  A follow-up is on its way.  In a couple of weeks, we’re getting another Eels record, “End Of Days.”  Favorite Tracks “Fresh Blood” “Lilac Breeze” “Tremendous Dynamite” “The Look You Gave That Guy” “Prizefighter”   36. JILL SOBULE – “CALIFORNIA YEARS” – Jill Sobule moved to California and recorded a record using fan support and donations.  Here, the writer of the original (and superior) song called, “I Kissed A Girl” shows that her wit is still truly intact.  She’s at her best when criticizing a “dying record company” on “Nothing To Prove” or wondering about past, lost loves on “Wendell Lee.”  Even better, she’s nice enough to list some of the fans by name who made the record possible on the last track. This album displays Jill Sobule at her biting best.  Favorite Tracks “Nothing To Prove” “Wendell Lee” “San Francisco” “Empty Glass” “Mexican Pharmacy”   35. THE BIG PINK – “A BRIEF HISTORY OF LOVE” – Combining elements of shoegaze with some electro-clash touches, The Big Pink deliver some bright, immense-sounding Brit-rock.  “Dominos,” is so insistent for instance that it hits you square across the face with its chorus.  Does it matter that the song has an alarmingly simple tune? No, actually.  It’s one of the most striking singles of the year.  Are they cocky? Yes, indeed.  Is this album worthy of such a swagger? Yes it is.  Favorite Tracks “Dominos” “Count Backwards From Ten” “Love In Vain” “Velvet” “Crystal Visions”   34. BAT FOR LASHES – “TWO SUNS” – “Two Suns” is Natasha Khan’s second album under her Bat For Lashes  moniker.  Like Fever Ray, she recalls the work of Kate Bush. This album is boldly appealing and has pop potential. “Daniel,” for instance is one of the year’s biggest standout singles. The kind of gripping single you can listen to ten times in a row without blinking.  That strength is shown throughout the rest of the record.  This is an eager, well-crafted disc which burrows its way to your soul.   Favorite Tracks “Daniel” “Siren Song” “Glass” “Moon And Moon” “Pearl’s Dream”   33. THE ANTLERS – “HOSPICE” – On “Hospice,” the Antlers create a masterpiece of heartbreak and dissatisfaction. Leader, Peter Silberman meditates on a sour relationship, using imagery of hospitals, sickness and death.  It’s not an uplifting record, but it’s a morbid, beautiful, gentle slice of indie-rock.  Favorite Tracks “Bear” “Wake” “Two” “Atrophy” “Sylvia”   32. THE FLAMING LIPS – “EMBRYONIC” – Wayne Coyne and company still can deliver dynamic space rock.  On their best album since “The Soft Bulletin,” they create a murky, freaked out soundscape. Those listeners who are enemies of the music industry’s “loudness war” may not appreciate this record completely, since it’s over-modulated and distorted all the way through, but there’s something incredible about listening to a record that can cause the whole room to vibrate. This is a gloriously unsettled mess.   Favorite Tracks ‘Worm Mountain” “Watching The Planets” “Convinced Of The Hex” “Powerless” “See The Leaves”   31.  …AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD – “CENTURY OF SELF” – On their sixth studio album, this Austin, TX band delivers another serving of hard-edged, complex dream-pop.  “Century Of Self” puts equal emphasis on sonic texture and melody.  Tempos shift left and right, fast and slow and the end product winds up owing simultaneous allegiance to prog-rock, moody eighties synth rock and hard-edged punk. It’s a potent, aggressive, compelling concoction, indeed.    Favorite Tracks “Far Pavilions” “Isis Unveiled” “Pictures Of An Only Child” “Fields Of Coal” “Halcyon Days”   30. NEKO CASE - “MIDDLE CYCLONE” – Neko Case has one of the most soulful voices in alt-country.  Her throaty rasp is endlessly expressive.  She also has great range.  She can handle a down-and-out country song just as well as she can handle an infectious pop tune.  Anyone who has ever compared her solo work to her records with the New Pornographers knows that she can really balance both sides well.  She has a rare gift as a vocalist.  She can set up incredible peripheral context. You believe her in “This Tornado Loves You” when she sings the line, “I left the motherless fatherless.”  There’s so much built into that line.  Does it mean she’s a killer or just a heartbreaker? (Is her character seducing widowers?) A lesser vocalist might not be able to make so much of one line. Neko Case is a true professional and thus a tremendous storyteller as well.   Favorite Tracks “This Tornado Loves You” “People Got A Lot Of Nerve” “Middle Cyclone” “Don’t Forget Me” “Vengeance Is Sleeping”   29. JEEPSTER – “WHAT IF ALL THE REBELS DIED?” – Jeepster is a band from California signed to a French label.  In the U.S., their album, “What If All The Rebels Died?” appears to mainly be available as a digital download.  At ten tracks and only twenty-nine minutes, the album is lightning quick, leaving you wanting more.  Imagine a cross between the Stills and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with a slightly quirky twist and you have a decent idea of their core sound. This band deserves a wider audience.  Favorite Tracks “Ex Oh” “Sweet 1:23″ “Don’t Go Too Far” “A Day In The Dark” “Fiction Fiction”   28. MARCY PLAYGROUND – “LEAVING WONDERLAND…IN A FIT OF RAGE” – This album has perhaps the funniest album title of the year.  You’d expect that from a band that called their breakout hit “Sex And Candy.”  What you wouldn’t expect is that this album is for the most part full of slightly more mature acoustic numbers.  “Irene” sounds like some back porch gospel blues, while “Star Baby” has a retro-sixties psychedelic pop feel. When they rock out, it’s triumphant.  Every cutting edge rock station should’ve added “Emperor.” This record has been a long time coming.  They should not be a one-hit-wonder.  Like Nada Surf , Fountains of Wayne and Eels  before them, after fleeting nineties success, they are beginning a second stage where they should be earning critical respect.  This album may very well surprise you.  Favorite Tracks “Emperor” “I Burned The Bed” “Irene” “Star Baby” “Good Times”   27.  NOAH AND THE WHALE – “THE FIRST DAYS OF SPRING” – Heartbreak is terrible but it makes for great art.  Take for instance the likable but not outstanding album Noah and the Whale released in 2008, “Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down.” Sure, it spawned the hipster single, “Five Years Time,” but for the most part, it was too peppy for its own good. So peppy that it wasn’t believable.  Well, now 2009 comes around and leader Charlie Fink is singing a whole different, somber tune.  Once co-vocalist Laura Marling has left the band to continue her buzz-worthy solo career, and Charlie is left picking up the ashes of their failed romance.  Not since Beck’s “Sea Change” has heartbreak sounded so alluring.  You can feel his pain on every track, and the fact that the tempos are now much slower allows each song to build and wash over you.  This is no mere album.  This is a mood-driven piece of art.  Favorite Tracks “Blue Skies” “Stranger” “The First Days Of Spring” “My Broken Heart” “Our Window”    26. JULIAN PLENTI – “JILIAN PLENTI IS…SKYSCRAPER” – Why Interpol vocalist Paul Banks decided to release his debut solo record under a pseudonym is anyone’s guess. What really matters is that “Julian Plenti is..Skyscraper” is a smart, spiky collection of bright rock tunes.  “Only If You Run” is one of the most indelible, infectious songs of the year.  Favorite Tracks “Only If You Run” “Games For Days” “No Chance Survival” “Fun That We Have” “Unwind”   25. FANFARLO – “RESERVOIR” – A British band with a love for spacey indie-rock fused folky bits of Americana, Fanfarlo expertly mine territory close to that of Gomez and Travis.  Vocalist Simon Balthazer’s voice is operatic and driven with a gentle hint of vibrato, sounding like a cross between Thom Yorke and Antony of Antony and the Johnsons. “Reservoir” is the work of a band of musicians destined to help redefine their genre.  Favorite Tracks “The Walls Are Coming Down” “Fire Escape” “Ghosts” “I’m A Pilot” “Harold T. Wilkins, Or How To Wait A Very Long Time”   24. HEARTLESS BASTARDS – “THE MOUNTAIN” – Heartless Bastards’ leader, Erika Wennerstrom sings like she’s channeling old souls from the past.  She can wail with the best of them usually backed by her own bluesy guitar wall. Her voice is a low and full of character, but when she decides to belt, it’s as if something amazing has entered the room.  “The Mountain” isn’t necessarily as immediate as the band’s last record, “All This Time,” but given a few spins, it proves to be just as strong. “Hold Your Head High” and the title track should be considered immediate classics.  Like the Black Keys and the White Stripes, Wennerstrom is out to reinvent classic blues rock for a new generation.   Favorite Tracks “Hold Your Head High” “The Mountain” “Early In The Morning” “Wide Awake” “Could Be So Happy”   23. BEN HARPER & RELENTLESS7 – “WHITE LIES FOR DARK TIMES” – Ben Harper has always had a decent spark, but his albums often tend to be uneven. This is not the case with “White Lies For Dark Times” and perhaps that’s due to his excellent new backup band, Relentless7.  Workouts like “Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)” and “Shimmer and Shine” are among the best work Harper has ever done. Here, he’s made a solid classic. Here he’s found a good balance between classic rock, groovy soul and dusty blues.  This sounds like the record Lenny Kravitz has unsuccessfully been trying to make for the last twenty years. Harper is highly skilled as both a player and a writer. Here, all systems are go!  Favorite Tracks “Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)” “Shimmer and Shine” “Skin Thin” “Faithfully Remain’ “Why Must You Always Dress In Black”   22. IMOGEN HEAP – “ELLIPSE” – While not quite as addictive as her last record, “Speak For Yourself,” “Ellipse” continues to establish Imogen Heap as a one-woman electronic orchestra and as one of the most innovative pop artists working today. This is a pop record for people who are fed up with pop records.  Heap approaches her keyboards and drum machines as if she’s creating timeless symphonies.  “Little Bird” is quiet, haunting and a work of instant mastery, while  “Bad Body Double” is an intense lyrical bender about putting on makeup. The deluxe two-disc version of this album is highly recommended.  The second disc is an instrumental version of the complete album.  In this form, one can hear the exact complexity of Heap’s heavily spliced and pasted grooves.   Favorite Tracks “Little Bird” “Bad Body Double” “Wait It Out” “First Train Home” “Earth”   21. WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS – “THESE FOUR WALLS” – A thunderous Scottish band, We Were Promised Jetpacks fit in well with their peers, Frightened Rabbit and the Twilight Sad, while no doubt building on some heavy Idlewild influence.  This is a wonderfully unsettled, pensive record built upon the ever-reliable bounce between quiet and loud, pounding drums and guitars taken to their limit.  When “It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning” hits its peak, it fully explodes, but its slow climb is equally enthralling.   Favorite Tracks “It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning” “Moving Clocks Run Slow” “Quiet Little Voices” “Ships With Holes Will Sink” “Roll Up Your Sleeves”   20. LILY ALLEN – “IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU” – Just as bold and uniquely sarcastic as her first record, “Alright, Still,” Lily Allen’s second album finds her in a softer, gentler place. There are more ballads here, but they are smartly written.  This is not pop drivel.  Elsewhere, she discusses heavy issues like our consumerism culture and our society’s heavy reliance on drugs.  It turns out, she is more than just a brash starlet.  She’s a keen, outspoken observer as well.  Read My Original Review Of Lily Allen's "It's Not Me, It's You"
Favorite Tracks
“Who’d Have Known” “Back To The Start” “The Fear” “Everyone’s At It” “Chinese”   19. P.O.S. – “NEVER BETTER” – P.O.S. is not your typical rapper.  He’s a former hardcore punk from Minneapolis. He plays a variety of instruments and fuels his hip-hop with punk knowhow.  Many have tried to fuse rap and rock, but few have had the background and the skill to successfully fuse the two genres.  P.O.S.’s flow can bring to mind Nas at his peak form… if Nas gave shoutouts to Fugazi! Imagine pure, rapid-fire hip-hop with a healthy dose of aggressive guitar fuzz.  Favorite Tracks “Savion Glover” “Low Light, Low Life” “Get Smokes” “Out Of Category” “Been Afraid”   18. THEM CROOKED VULTURES – “THEM CROOKED VULTURES” – Them Crooked Vultures is one of the few supergroups that actually fulfills its potential.  The band is an actual sum of its parts.  The members are Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and Foo Fighters) on drums, John Paul Jones (from Led Zeppelin) on bass and Josh Homme from (Queens of the Stone Age) on guitar and vocals. Interestingly they sound most like Zeppelin, though standout, “Scumbag Blues” sounds an awful lot like Cream.  This is a classic hard rock record of the highest order.   Favorite Tracks “Scumbag Blues” “Gunman” “Elephants” “New Fang” “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I”   17. PETER BJORN & JOHN – “LIVING THING” – Peter Bjorn & John make a sparse, rhythm-centered record on “Living Thing.” Standouts like “Nothing To Worry About” and “Lay It Down” pulse with sugary pop goodness, while the title track seems to have a South African influence.  Read My Original Review Of Peter Bjorn & John's "Living Thing"
Favorite Tracks
“Nothing To Worry About” “Living Thing” “Lay It Down” “Stay This Way” “It Don’t Move Me”   16. THE LEGENDS – “OVER AND OVER” – Johan Angergård is a famous rock star in Sweden.  Here, not so much, but his latest album under his Legends moniker should make him one. With a good pop sense, he frequently adds on layer after layer of Jesus and Mary Chain style guitar and feedback.  If you like your noise rock with a good melody and with occasional electronic flourishes, this just might be the album for you.   Favorite Tracks “Always The Same” “You Won” “Touch” “Monday To Saturday” “Seconds Away”   15. ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN – “THE FOUNTAIN” – Ian McCullough is still a great frontman and “The Fountain” is Echo & the Bunnymen’s strongest record in quite a few years.  Somehow they figured out a way to sound fresh without tinkering with their signature sound.  If you are a fan of the band’s earlier classics, pick this one up now!  Favorite Tracks “Do You Know Who I Am?” “The Fountain” “Forgotten Fields” “Shroud Of Turin” “Drivetime”   14. WHITE RABBITS – “IT’S FRIGHTENING”  - White Rabbits’ second record was produced by Spoon’s Britt Daniel. The band has two drummers and favors flinching rhythms and experimental guitar and piano tones.  Perhaps it’s no coincidence given Daniel’s involvement that the band winds up sounding a little like Spoon informed by bits of vintage Radiohead.  (It’s a great formula!) “Percussion Gun” is an essential single of 2009.  Favorite Tracks “Percussion Gun” “Rudie Fails” “Company I Keep” “Leave It At The Door” “The Salesman (Tramp Life)”   13. CAMERA OBSCURA – “MY MAUDLIN CAREER” – The fourth album by Camera Obscura continues where the third one left off, building on classic production and orchestration. This is Scottish dream pop at its best, especially on sad, folky standout, “James.” Tracyanne Campbell and company borrow from classic Motown and Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound to make something timeless.  Read My Original Review Of Camera Obscura's "My Maudlin Career"
 Favorite Tracks “James” “French Navy” “Careless Love” “The Sweetest Thing” “You Told A Lie”   12. MAXIMO PARK- “QUICKEN THE HEART” – Maxïmo Park’s third full length is just as spiky and intriguing as their first two, but it seems to be their most focused and least eclectic effort.  Here is a studied exercise in literate post-punk from one of the U.K.’s best recent bands. Read My Original Review Of Maxïmo Park's "Quicken The Heart"
 Favorite Tracks: “Calm” “In Another World (You Would’ve Found Yourself By Now)” “The Kids Are Sick Again” “The Penultimate Clinch” “I Haven’t Seen Her In Ages”   11. Q-TIP – “KAMAAL THE ABSTRACT” – This record was supposed to come out in 2002 but was shelved because the record label feared it was too experimental.  This is not like any hip-hop album I’ve ever heard and for that reason it sounds downright innovative.  Fusing elements of R&B and jazz with occasional bits of guitar, Tip sings his way through a huge portion of the record.  He raps occasionally and long sections are sprawling instrumental experiments.  No doubt, this is a genre-defining record, owing a great deal to organic records by Prince and Marvin Gaye while simultaneously mining the more spacious territory of bands like Pink Floyd and Radiohead.  This is an unusual record, which is why it took seven years to release.  But in the end, it still has that classic Q-Tip/A Tribe Called Quest vibe, and that balance is everything.  Favorite Tracks “Do You Dig U?” “A Million Times” “Feelin’” “Make It Work” “Blue Girl”   10. REGINA SPEKTOR – “FAR” – It took me a few months to enjoy this record as much as I do now, but somewhere along the line something clicked.  Continuing the thread she was working on “Begin To Hope,” Spektor has created a delicate, touching, haunting record.  If the images of loss in “Laughing With” don’t make you get even the slightest bit emotional, you may be slowly dying inside, whereas, “The Calculation” is bouncy, quirky fun and “Eet” is a thing of pure operatic beauty.  Regina Spektor isn’t going away anytime soon, and as a writer and performer, she is continually getting stronger. At its core, “Far” is an intensely mournful record, meant for snowy days and haunted nights. Beneath the images of depression and death are hints of humor and great beauty. Favorite Tracks “Laughing With” “The Calculation” “Eet” “Human Of The Year” “Man Of A Thousand Faces”   9. MIKE DOUGHTY – “SAD MAN HAPPY MAN”- “Sad Man Happy Man” fuses everything Mike Doughty has done as a solo artist and as the leader of Soul Coughing into the best solo set he has ever recorded.  He’s made the best possible album he can make using elements of everything he’s ever done.  This album is recommended for anyone has ever enjoyed anything Doughty has ever touched! Read My Original Review Of Mike Doughty's "Sad Man Happy Man"
Favorite Tracks
“Pleasure On Credit” “(I Keep On) Rising Up” “(I Want To) Burn You (Down)” “(When I) Box The Days (Up)” “Nectarine (Part Two)”   8. A.C. NEWMAN -"GET GUILTY" –  A.C. Newman is a master artisan when it comes to perfect power pop, and as on his albums with the New Pornographers, his second solo album, "Get Guilty," truly  finds him in peak form.  Read My Original Review Of A.C. Newman's "Get Guilty"
Favorite Tracks
“There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve” “Prophets” “The Heartbreak Rides” “The Changeling (Get Guilty)” “Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer”   7.  A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS – “EXPLODING HEAD” – If Bauhaus and My Bloody Valentine had a kid who liked shoegazer levels of static fuzz, than that kid would be A Place To Bury Strangers.  Leader Oliver Ackermann makes his own guitar pedals and it shows.  He’s able to make some immense and truly amazing sounds.  This is a record meant for blasting! Favorite Tracks “Keep Slipping Away” “It Is Nothing” “I Lived My Life To Stand In The Shadow Of Your Heart” “Smile When You Smile” “Exploding Head”   6. THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES – “COMMUNION” – “Communion” is a sprawling double album and an impressive, essential work from  Swedish veterans, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives. This album stylistically summons the ghosts of (mainly British) rock from the last forty years, But the most beautiful track is the album’s closer, “The Passover.” This is arguably the best double album of the decade.  Favorite Tracks “The Passover” “Mensa’s Marauders” “Everything Beautiful Must Die” “Flipside” “The Ego Delusion”   5. JAPANDROIDS – “POST-NOTHING” – This is a jaw-dropping record of noise and propulsion. Again, distortion levels are heavy and lyrics are shouted, but it’s a very pleasurable attack.  This is immense and amazing at the same time.  If all goes to plan your fist will be pumping and you’ll be shouting along by the time you reach your second time through.  At only eight tracks in thirty-six minutes, the album leaves you craving for more. Favorite Tracks “The Boys Are Leaving Town” “Wet Hair” “Young Hearts Spark Fire” “Heart Sweats” “I Quit Girls”   4. MOS DEF – “THE ECSTATIC” – Ten years ago, Mos Def delivered the classic, “Black On Both Sides,” a record no self-respecting hip-hop fan should be without.  He has created another masterpiece here.  Like Q-Tip, Mos obviously wants to make a classic, different record. Here he fully succeeds in making thought-provoking, dense hip-hop that isn’t too commercial and isn’t too self-conscious.  It’s an earthy record, fusing an Indian vibe with elements of classic soul.   Read My Original Review Of Mos Def's "The Ecstatic"
Favorite Tracks “Revelations” “Auditorium” (w/ Slick Rick) “Priority” “Quiet Dog Bite Hard” “Casa Bey”   3. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART – “THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART” – Sometimes all you need is a simple set-up.  The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are just a bunch of young people from Brooklyn writing muted fuzz-pop anthems about teenage angst.  This is a record I wish I had during my teen years.  Read My Original Review Of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart's "The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart" Favorite Tracks
“Young Adult Friction” “Come Saturday” “Stay Alive” “Everything With You” “The Tenure Itch”   2. METRIC – “FANTASIES”/”PLUG IN PLUG OUT” EP – Emily Haines has keenly hit her stride as a performer and a songwriter. “Fantasies” sounds larger than life. This is a band ready to bubble to the surface of the mainstream after years in the hipster underground.  “Help I’m Alive” is an amazing, shape-shifting hit. The “Plug In Plug Out” EP consists of acoustic versions of some of the songs on “Fantasies.”  Both are discs essential listening. Read My Original Review Of Metric's "Fantasies"
Read My Original Review Of Metric's "Plug In Plug Out" EP
 Favorite Tracks “Help I’m Alive” “Satellite Mind” “Sick Muse” “Gimme Sympathy” “Front Row”   1.  DINOSAUR JR. – “FARM” – No album this year impressed me more or caught me off guard more than Dinosaur Jr.’s “Farm.”  I have always respected them, but this album put them in a whole new class.  “Farm” is the best work of their twenty-five year career.  It’s the kind of bold surprise you never expect.  All of their nineties buzz-bin peers had their classics long ago.  It’s nice to see Dinosaur Jr. finally get theirs.  (Please Note: Bassist, Lou Barlow also issued a very fine solo record, “Goodnight Unknown,” which is also highly worth your time. Read My Original Review Of Dinosaur Jr.'s "Farm"
 Favorite Tracks: "Plans" "I Don't Wanna Go There" "Pieces" "I Want You To Know" "Over It" In closing, as 2009 comes to a close, I anticipate 2010 will bring us even more surprises!   Here Are My Picks From 2008 – PART 1 (50-26) PART 2 (25-1) Here Are My Picks From back in 2007
Happy listening!

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