The Top Albums of 2009

The earliest of my annual top 10 albums of the year lists I can find is from 2002, where my No. 1 album was Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” — also my top album of the decade. Since then, I’ve compiled a musical year-in-review each year, expanding to include honorable mentions and a host of (somewhat quirky) subcategories. I have a lot of fun at the end of each year looking back on the music shaped it (it helped to do a mid-year review — thanks, Dave!), and hopefully this list is fun for those of you taking the time to read it. Some of the best compliments I’ve gotten are when people say they look forward to it each year. That means a lot to me. I also love hearing people’s reactions — in agreement or otherwise! So please, comment below. And stay tuned later this week for a top songs of 2009 post, as well!

Without further ado…

Honorable Mentions

20. Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come

I have to admit that I don’t think this album has fully sunk in enough for me to appreciate it fully or perhaps even rank it fairly, but with John Darnielle, I’ve come to assume a certain level of awesomeness. So I’ll take that gamble here.

19. The Hidden Cameras – Origin: Orphan

I feel like these guys are one of the greater sleeper bands of modern rock. They continue to release inventive, charismatic and delightfully lewd music.

18. Girlyman – Everything’s Easy

I was hoping this would be in the top 10, but the studio versions of some of these tracks fall far short of the live versions I’d heard previously. Some of the sameness in the album’s sound dissipates over repeated listens, but still a bit of a disappointment.

17. Wilco – Wilco (the album)

It’s amusing that this jokingly self-referential album (along with the song therein) comes from a group that has quietly become one of the most influential and important in the American rock music world.

16. Mike Doughty – Sad Man Happy Man

I keep on hoping for another “Haughty Melodic” or “Skittish,” but this is still another quality record by Mr. Doughty. Some elements of his Soul Coughing days creep back to the fore, which is intriguing.

15. Bob Mould – Life and Times

It’s a treat to have a second Bob Mould just a year after the fantastic “District Line,” though this perhaps could have been seasoned a bit more.

14. The Swell Season – Strict Joy

They may be broken up, but Glen and Marketa show they will know how to do something right together.

13. AC Newman – Get Guilty

His second solo effort shows greater definition of what Carl is outside of the Pornographers.

12. A Camp – Colonia

Not sure if this means the end of the Cardigans, but if these lush melodies are the new vessels for Nina Persson’s sweet songs, I’ll take it.

11. Bishop Allen – Grrr….

This album was actually in my top 10 before I remembered Tegan and Sara. After what I felt was a disappointing follow-up to their EP-a-month project with “The Broken String” (many of the EP versions of songs outshone their more polished album versions) this is a thorough return to form for one of the best classic pop bands out there.

The Top Ten

10. Wild Light – Adult Nights

My friend Dave introduced me to these guys, and it’s been an album I’ve found myself turning to over and over again this year. Its placement here surprised even myself, but this is simply a fun, engaging record to listen to.

9. Langhorne Slim – Be Set Free

One of the most dynamic live performers you can ever hope to see, I am glad this guy is gaining additional listeners. A few commercials help, sure, but nothing works like a delightful, engaging album. His voice has a twang that makes me sit up and pay attention.

8. Tegan and Sara – Sainthood

This dynamic duo continues to mature, and this album adds to a growing edge and sense of urgency in their compelling indie rock.

7. Passion Pit – Manners

This Boston group shone leadman Michael Angelakos’ falsetto like a spotlight to show the way to stardom, spewing dangerously infectious beats and melodies along the way.

6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

What can be said about Karen O. and co. except that they are among the best at what they do? They continue to prove themselves as one of the defining rock bands of the decade.

5. Hello Saferide – More Modern Short Stories from…

As I wrote in July, “My favorite quirky Swedish chanteuse spins more tantalizing yarns.” It takes real talent to combine quirkiness with solid songcraft, but that’s what she does, time after time.

4. Eels – Hombre Lobo

This album was a grower, but once it settled it, it wouldn’t leave. It’s a desperate, romantic, heartbroken album, but it seems that’s how Mr. E is the most comfortable. Good news: he’s got another album coming out in just a couple of weeks.

3. John Wesley Harding – Who was Changed and Who was Dead

I just discovered this guy this year, and it turns out that he makes exactly my favorite kind of music—the kind dripping in early 90s melody and story. Luckily, he had a new release this year. It’s like 1992 all over again (in a good way).

2. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

Whether she’s covering an obscure band like Sparks or taking on the personality of a weather phenomenon, Neko Case reminded us that she is more than a musician; she is a force of nature.

1. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

This album snuck up on me with a song. That song tied a loop around my heart that pulled me toward the full album, which proved to be just as delightful. And that album led me to a promising back catalog full of similar country-tinged ballads and romps. The best discoveries are those that only lead you to even more.

Certificate of Participation

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – s/t

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeux Phoenix

M. Ward – Hold Time

Islands – Vapours

Built to Spill – There Is No Enemy

Biggest Disappointments

Works Progress Administration – s/t

I’ve hard Glen Phillips and Nickel Creek independently, as well as their collaboration as the Mutual Admiration Society, so I was pretty excited for this so-called “supergroup” effort. But—as with most supergroup efforts, in my estimation—this album fell short. It lacked verve and fell flat.

Stars of Track & Field – A Time for Lions

Their first album, “Centuries Before Love and War,” was a masterpiece, so perhaps I had irrationally high expectations. This album is fine, but not nearly as magical.

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

I really, really just don’t get it.

Best Albums I Didn’t Buy… (though I perhaps downloaded many free MP3s from)

St. Vincent – Actor

Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

Discovery – LP

Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Sea Wolf – White Water, White Bloom

Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

Telekinesis! – Telekinesis!

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down – Know Better Learn Faster

The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa

…or Bought but Did Not Hear Enough Of (the Underlistened)

Brendan Benson – My Old, Familiar Friend

Hallelujah the Hills – Colonial Drones

White Rabbits – It’s Frightening

Metric – Fantasies

Asobi Seksu – Hush

Best Albums of 2010

Laura Veirs

Vampire Weekend – Contra

Spoon – Transference

Watson Twins – Talking to You, Talking to Me

Eels – End Times


Freedy Johnston – Rain on the City


New Pornographers

The Shins


4 responses to “The Top Albums of 2009

  1. Pingback: Top Songs of 2009 « Safe Digression

  2. Re. Girlyman: One of my enduring disappointments as a music critic was folk acts’ total inability to create good studio albums. So many took on this slick, mildly poppy production–just the worst taste.

    • I actually like their other albums quite a bit; this one suffered some a sameness that washed over all the songs. It was their first time recording/producing a record themselves, so perhaps that was part of it.

  3. Pingback: PLAIN PICTURE PARADE » Blog Archive » A Camp in top 20 albums of 2009

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