15 December 2009

Top 25 Best Albums of 2009

The year itself felt like it went by fast but somehow so much good music had time to be brought into the world over the past twelve months and I am so thankful for every sound. These are my top 25 albums of 2009. I had some difficulty getting past twenty at first and then some difficulty cutting it down to just twenty-five so it definitely went back and forth. I think the final list has a little something for everyone and while I'll probably regret leaving this one out or adding that one, I believe this is an honest account of my year with music. This is in correct order based on my appreciation of each album and the timelessness I believe them to have. A trendy album can make the list but that doesn't mean it won't have an expiration date at some point. For right now though, this is my 25 and I couldn't be happier that I had a chance to hear all of this music that contributed to the quality of my life.

01 John Mayer - Battle Studies
No surprise here. John Mayer came out with not only the best album of his career but the best album of the year last month. Battle Studies marks a change in direction for Mayer that sees him going from precocious youngster in the pit of a self-affirmed "quarter-life crisis" to a grown-up, not yet at the wake of a mid-life crisis but certainly watching for it at the top of the hill. In the midst of the endless, hard-to-escape speculation surrounding his personal life, Mayer has managed with this album to somehow turn the attention back to his music career, the reason we care about him in the first place. Songs like "Heartbreak Warfare", "Perfectly Lonely", "Assassin" and "Half of My Heart" fit perfectly into the John Mayer catalog while still allowing space for his sophisticated, adult contemporary sound to grow - this growth is due in huge part to percussionist and co-producer Steve Jordan (1/3 of the bluesier John Mayer Trio), who lends R&B feel and plenty of soulful, almost non-John Mayer beats to the record. If you put this side by side with Room For Squares, you're still aware it's the same person but even more aware that it's been a long decade between the two.
Best Tracks: Assassin, Heartbreak Warfare, Perfectly Lonely, Half of My Heart, War of My Life

02 Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk
When asked last month in Rolling Stone Magazine what he was currently listening to, Tom Petty said only one name first: Monsters of Folk. The supergroup, composed of Bright Eyes members Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, and singer-songwriter M. Ward (also of She & Him), have outdone themselves with this debut album that blew my mind more than any other record this year or possibly even in the past half decade. Every song on this record has the potential of being an instant classic and I can't readily choose one as better than another. Mixing four dynamic personalities together who are actually able to play all their own instruments and do all their producing is impressive enough but the craftsmanship on this self-titled record really proves that the efforts put forth by all far exceeded any expectations. While it's easy to call them out as a modern day Traveling Wilburys, the main difference lies in the balance of songs: all three main singers get a few songs each to shine on and all create their own characters within. If you check out only one album off this list, let this be it.
Best Tracks: Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.), Whole Lotta Losin', Man Named Truth, The Right Place

03 Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
While they may be the darling of everybody's end-of-year lists, Phoenix has actually been around for over a decade as a full band and officially released their debut album, United, in 2000 with the superb single "If I Ever Feel Better". Five albums later and we find them finally coming into mega success in the U.S. with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, a nice, little sarcastic, poppy, indie monster that every girl with a pair of Converse and every boy with a pair of skinny jeans loves. I love them too. Maybe even your mom would love them if given a chance. This is a band that is sort of undenaible and overly infectious. Strangely, I feel they've been this way for awhile but something just started to click. With songs like "1901" (constantly playing on that car commercial) and "Lisztomania", an ode to composer Frank Liszt, the world finally took note and not a minute too soon. This is one of those strange addiction albums that you can't easily shake from your brain or your cd player. There are only two things that would make Phoenix's rise to success that much sweeter: a look back at their catalog of other phenomenal songs and some continuing excitement for their next project that I'm sure will be just as delicious.
Best Tracks: Countdown, Girlfriend, 1901, Lisztomania

04 Mayer Hawthorne - A Strange Arrangement
I am so excited to discuss Mayer Hawthorne for this next paragraph. I had a strange arrangement of my own with this album. Let me start from the beginning: I first heard of Hawthorne from John Mayer's Twitter page months ago where he declared that this was the greatest album of the year (all the way back in the summer I believe). From there it was on to Perez Hilton that immediately followed suit by saying anyone into throwback R&B would love Hawthorne's Amy Winehouse-esque sound and finally, after weeks of avoiding my first real listen, I had to check it out for myself. Usually over the top buzz makes me nervous to check out a new artist but in this case it couldn't have been more correct. As the iTunes review notes, Mayer Hawthorne is like a Raphael Saadiq that can't sing as well but can write better songs (some may remember that Saadiq's old school R&B album was my #1 choice for 2008). A Strange Arrangement is one of those albums that sneaks up on you when you're not looking - it is so perfect in its execution that you need a minute to question whether or not it's intentions are pure. Is this just a cheap rip-off of an album Marvin Gaye did way better 30 years ago or is it something entirely new that could start a revolution all its own? It took me a while to clear this up for myself and let me save you the hassle: This is definitely the latter. We live in a day and age where buying an entire album is a thing of the past and even as a true believer in new music, I typically can't get myself to spend more than $4 on a few songs off a new record - I bought this entire thing and didn't regret a penny. I'm totally in love with album and proud to have in my top five of 2009.
Best Tracks: Just Ain't Working Out, Maybe So, Maybe No, Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'

05 Passion Pit - Manners
Manners is another rarity on this list (and one of the last before we get to the end): it can be listened to from beginning to end without a clunker to be found. I'm fully aware that Passion Pit and their high-pitched, indie-rock, strange world of electronics and synth bass is not for everyone but once you get that initial taste in your ears and develop your tastebuds to their kooky world, I have a feeling it will be difficult to get enough. In many respects, their light hooks and kid-tested appeal are reminiscent of Phoenix but what Passion Pit brings to the table in terms of darker, edgier fare makes them a band of their own accord. Since their incredible EP "Chunk of Change" arrived in 2008, it was obvious that this was something that was going to catch on quick and with Manners, they have confirmed that in a big way.
Best Tracks: The Reeling, Sleepyhead, Little Secrets, Moth's Wings

06 M. Ward - Hold Time
For anyone that has even read Music Mavens casually, it may be obvious that I have a soft spot for M. Ward, one of the greatest singer/songwriters of this or any other generation. M. Ward has proven time and time again that he understands not only how to write about the turmoils of life but sing about them in a way that grips at the soul and makes a permanent nest there. Yes, that's dramatic but so are most of his songs. Strangely, Hold Time seems to start a venture into lighter tunes for the usually deeper Ward with a cover of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" and a guest appearance by She & Him bandmate Zooey Deschanel for the carefree "Never Had Nobody Like You". I am continuously in awe of what M. Ward is capable of doing in any fashion. If you don't already know him, stop reading and go find out.
Best Tracks: Jailbird, Never Had Nobody Like You, Rave On, Epistemology

07 Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
This album is special to the list because it has the good fortune of containing the greatest song of the year and possibly one of the greatest I've ever heard. "Two Weeks", track two, on Grizzly Bear's third full length album, is so soaring and bittersweet that it became the reason I like this band. Over a year ago now I saw Grizzly Bear open for The National at a party for New York Magazine at Roseland Ballroom in NYC. The room was packed and the second they went onstage it was as if the "Talk" sign went up and more than half the people around me began their own conversations either about the poor quality of the band's performance or some other drunken dribble. I'm not saying there weren't tons of people there that probably loved them but I just didn't see any of them. All of their songs sounded the same and I was immensely disappointed. Fast forward to 2009 and this album comes out. I am blown away and willing to give them a second chance (as if they care what I think at all). Grizzly Bear is now one of my current favorite bands and that terrible concert memory is long behind us. Rarely does a song come along like "Two Weeks" that encompasses everything good and right with music. Thank you, Grizzly Bear. You made my autumn shine.
Best Tracks: Two Weeks, While You Wait For the Others, Southern Point

08 Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
A lot of times when an album comes out in January you're apt to forget about it by the time December rolls around and you're considering all the other great music that has come out since but Andrew Bird managed to make his album not only relevant throughout the entire year but continuously surprising. I don't know if I caught a repeat or if his appearance was oddly placed but just a couple months ago he was on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon singing "Anoanimal" in such a way that I couldn't get it out of my head ever since. Add that to the other songs I've been playing since the record came out and you get one of the top 10 albums of the year. Andrew Bird has to be one of the most experimental, versatile artists on this list and Noble Beast incorporates all the parts of him that are the most well-tuned. I feel like this album will be around for a while.
Best Tracks: Anoanimal, Tenuousness, Fitz and Dizzyspells

09 Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
I don't think I'm experienced enough to discuss this album the way it rightfully deserves. All I can say is I was lucky enough to catch a deal on iTunes before the arrival of this album earlier this year when they were giving away "Mind Eraser, No Chaser" for free and it made my night. Them Crooked Vultures marks the second supergroup on this list composed of Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), and Mr. John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. Grohl himself stated in a Rolling Stone interview that occasionally Jones will play something in concert that destroys him so much he has to stop and admit that he doesn't know how to follow it up. That is how crazy this band is. It is experimental rock that brings back the true edge and meaning of rock music all at once. To me it genuinely sounds like a combination of all the bands these members bring with them. It is so deeply rooted in the classic but still brings the biggest hope of the future.
Best Tracks: New Fang, Mind Eraser, No Chaser

10 Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon: The End of Day
When I first heard "Day 'n Nite" then saw the genius video that followed, it was difficult for me to believe that this guy didn't even have a debut album out yet. How could I get my hands on more material? In the meantime I did some research and it was not much of a surprise that he had helped write the two best tracks on Kanye West's 808's and Heartbreak ("Heartless" and "Paranoid"). Once his album was on the verge of coming out and I saw the video for "Make Her Say" for the first time where he generously gives Kanye and Common one verse each, I was hooked. I know he's been fodder for some "emo/rap" jokes (as in Rolling Stone: "rap is going emo and this is the fall out, boyee.") but he's a hell of a lot more than a passing fad.
Best Tracks: Day 'n Nite, Make Her Say

11 Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
As with a couple others on the list, it took me a long time to appreciate Karen O and company for the superb artists they are. As the first female in a collection of only three that made the list, it's obvious that Karen O has a gift that cannot be denied. Her voice is gorgeous and on this album in particular the entire band goes in a different direction with their sound that maybe is a little less hard but still completely independent of all other music stylings, if you know what I mean. They are not trying to be anything they're not. This album, the band's third, kind of scares me. There is nothing warm about it and it's been said that the production of it was quite unusual because throughout the several months it took to complete, the band would take short breaks from recording songs "to get inspired". It seems like all the extra time definitely paid off. This record is an unusual masterpiece.
Best Tracks: Zero, Heads Will Roll, Skeletons, Dull Life

12 Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
The Blueprint 3 is Jay-Z's eleventh studio album and probably his sixth since his supposed retirement. Luckily for us he's a liar. This is the final installment of the critically acclaimed Blueprint triolgy that began in 2001. This particular record sold nearly 500,000 copies in its first week alone making it Jay-Z's eleventh consecutive number one album and breaking the record held by Elvis Presley for number one albums by a single artist. It is probably the most noteworthy, historic album on the entire list.
Best Tracks: Empire State of Mind, D.O.A., Run This Town

13 Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream
Another January album, this one by Mr. Bruce Springsteen is his 16th studio album and has already sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide this year alone. This album also turned me into a full-on believer in what Springsteen can do and holds another of the greatest songs of 2009: "The Wrestler". I might be a late-bloomer on the whole Springsteen bit, especially coming from New Jersey, but better late than never. While I wasn't a fan of his previous album "Magic", I found this one to be relatable on a lot more levels and felt like it really took me to a place a lot of other music doesn't have the ability to - whether I'm making too much out of one album has yet to be determined. I'm still nowhere near the diehard level of many other Springsteen fans and still can't grasp that "boss" title just yet... but I'm getting there.
Best Tracks: The Wrestler, Tomorrow Never Knows, Surprise, Surprise

14 The Dead Weather - Horehound
Jack White, one of the craziest workaholics I've ever heard of, has truly done it again. Whether it's The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, or The Dead Weather, White is out there making more music than most musicians do in an entire career and making most of it better than the others. It took me a long time to come around to this kind of crazy, throwback, experimental, blues/pop/rock sound that is none of that and all of that all at once but out of all of White's ventures thus far, The Dead Weather has been the easiest to swallow. The creativity of this band is outstanding - and if you're counting, the third supergroup to make it on the list (Alison Mosshart of The Kills, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age, and of course Jack White, the leader of the pack).
Best Tracks: I Cut Like a Buffalo, Hang You From the Heavens

15 Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young
Although I'm putting this excellent album on the list and firmly believe that Julian Casablancas probably was the heart of The Strokes, I must say that this is only one in the long line of superb solo albums from various members of that band. This happens to be the one that came out this year and therefore, here it is, but if you love The Strokes as much as me and want to hear what the others have been up to you will check out Albert Hammond Jr.'s solo disc "Yours to Keep" and Fabrizio's band Little Joy's self-titled debut that are really unique and worth their own praise. Phrazes for the Young, an album that consists of only eight songs (unless you purchase the complete album on iTunes) is definitely unique and worthy of its own praise as well but if I'm being honest here, none of the songs live up to the genius single "11th Dimension" that I've had on repeat for the past month. Casablancas' voice is eternally enticing and exciting and his signature style is all over the place but in the end these tracks leave me wanting more Strokes and less EPs masquerading as full length albums.
Best Tracks: 11th Dimension

16 Michael Johns - Hold Back My Heart
Throughout the year I had high hopes that I would have to look at this list and be embarrassed that I had three American Idols on it: Kris Allen, Adam Lambert, and Michael Johns. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending how you look at it), two of those Idols failed to deliver on their promise of excellent music, and while Lambert is still the one that will come out on top in the end, it is Johns that successfully created an album that is listenable from start to finish. If you had the statistics on the table: Top 100 Billboard album in its first week, on the same label as Cold War Kids and Santigold, and touring across country on a semi-successful concert trek, I don't think Michael Johns would be the first guy to come to mind. Even if he gets dropped from the record label (or maybe already has as almost all American Idols are proned to do), he has a lot of accomplishments under his belt, the greatest of which being this old school soul record that truly lives up to its "Otis Redding/Marvin Gaye" promise. Although I loved him from the minute he stepped foot on that stage, I didn't truly believe he could pull it off. This is the proof. Support him and listen to this album - it could be his last.
Best Tracks: Little Bear, Mountains, Fire, Feeling Alright

17 Lady Gaga - The Fame Monster
Fun, weird, trippy, beautiful, underrated (for the singing), overrated (for the theatrics), crazy, wonderful, dancy, freaky, not-so-freaky, poppy, Top 40, silly, stupid, Madonna, not-Madonna, controversial, perfect, lovely, soft, hard, different, great, Lady Gaga.
Best Tracks: Bad Romance, Speechless, Telephone

18 Train - Save Me, San Francisco
I was obsessed with Train this year mostly because of the silly glory that was "Hey, Soul Sister", their first single off Save Me, San Francisco, the band's fifth album. This folk-rock band has consistently been full of surprises whether it's their long breaks away from the music industry after extremely successful albums or their strange lyrics ("Ain't that Mister Mister on the radio, stereo/the way you move ain't fair you know") that completely boggle my mind long after I've changed the station on the radio dial. I'm a little infatuated with this band and their frontman Pat Monahan that kind of looks like a possessed Muppet in every one of their music videos. I always like a band with a little personality and guts - this one has plenty (you may remember them primarily for their smash hit "Drops of Jupiter"?)
Best Tracks: Hey Soul Sister, Save Me, San Francisco

19 Pete Yorn - Back and Fourth
Produced by Mike Mogis (of Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk), this is Yorn's fourth full-length release and the follow-up to the end of his "day" trilogy that was completed in 2006 with "Nightcrawler". Pete Yorn is the reason I love singer/songwriters as much as I do. My story of picking up his debut cd at The Wiz way back when has been told more times than the story of my own birth at this point. It was the defining moment for my love of music. I will be forever in debt to Mr. Yorn and while I don't think this is his greatest work, the first single, "Don't Wanna Cry", is one of the most beautiful songs of the year by far and touches me every time I hear it. Pete Yorn can do very little wrong in my eyes. If you haven't yet, check out "musicforthemorningafter" to be blown away by what Yorn can do when he sets his mind to it.
Best Tracks: Don't Wanna Cry

20 Devendra Banhart - What Will We Be
Although this is Banhart's seventh studio album, it is my first foray into his music after hearing good things about him for years. This is another artist I was a little scared to get into but my half-hearted attempt to listen to his single "Baby" when it became available on iTunes ended up being the first step to my newfound appreciation for all things Devendra. I continued to buy this album track by track until I realized that I had almost the complete package and stood back to take in what had happened: I'm a real fan now. I'm just sorry it took me so long to realize it. He's a nut but this is one of the best albums you're going to find all year, I promise. Of course it doesn't hurt that track two is named after me.
Best Tracks: Baby, Angelika

21 Silversun Pickups - Swoon
I don't know if you recall awhile ago when MTV was hawking this band like it was the next Beatles but that made me sick. I felt like they were everywhere all at once and I didn't understand why MTV, a channel that hasn't played music in 100 years chose this band over all the other deserving bands to promote in between every commercial break for their crappy shows. Now that is just a faded memory and the Silversun Pickups are back with Swoon, their second album that has really won me over in a short time. Lead vocalist Brian Aubert's soothing, albeit whiny voice is slightly reminiscent of a young Billy Corgan and their songs are a mixture of alternative '90's rock and modern indie stylings. I look forward to seeing what else they can do.
Best Tracks: Substitution, Panic Switch

22 Sondre Lerche - Heartbeat Radio
Let me try to keep this short: Sondre Lerche is in the league of M. Ward and Pete Yorn, that is artists that will always be perfect to me. Lerche's mix of worldly pop, stylish jazz, Elvis Costello rock, and a personal dash of wonderful, yet-to-be-defined Lercheness, make his work incomparable. While this particular album doesn't hold the key to the world for me, it is still ten times better than most of the mumble jumble on the radio today. Luckily Lerche is 150% dedicated to his craft and comes out with an album or two almost every year so I can't even begin to guess what he has cooked up next. Heartbeat Radio got very little recognition or promotion this year which could be why I see it as a little less glossy than his other recordings but I assure you, this is something you have to hear to understand. Sondre Lerche is a true troubadour of excellence.
Best Tracks: Don't Look Now, Heartbeat Radio

23 Will Dailey - Torrent, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2
Will Dailey. Wow. Everything about time spent with Will Dailey will surprise you. If you want to know about my time spent with Will Dailey, just click on the link that will lead you to all my posts about him but for now take these words and search for his music on iTunes: He is an artist in progress. I know a lot of music blogs out there are popular primarily because they hold the secret to finding artists before anyone else and bringing them to the masses at just the right moment. Of course this blog is nothing like that but I do believe I found Will Dailey at just the right time - I have never had the good fortune of seeing an artist grow right before my eyes the way I have with him and do believe I can honestly say he is getting better with every song and performance put out there. This is a guy that works his tail off to make good music and every inch of his sweat is visible for anyone that wants to come out and revel in it. He's a sweet, genuine guy that is making a name for himself the good, old fashioned way - no strings attached. I'm in awe of his motivated, ambitious nature and really hope he blows up the way he so desperately wants to. He's got charisma coming out of every pore and you'd be a fool not to get on board right away.
Best Tracks: How Can I Make You Happy, Tomorrow Still Comes, Never Be Your Baby

24 Regina Spektor - Far
This is Regina Spektor's fifth studio album and the first that I gave a chance. Maybe it was Spektor's overly cute ways or her overly sweet voice but I never particularly warmed to her style the way so many others around me were in the past few years. It took her performance this year on Saturday Night Live to change my mind. When I heard her sing "Eet" off this album I knew that I had to find out more. The lyrics, feeling, and piano drove me crazy. It was so beautiful and moving and I began to wonder if her other songs were anything like this. Turns out they were and once again, I had probably been missing out for quite some time. There is an otherworldy current in Regina Spektor's voice and this album showcases that perfectly.
Best Tracks: Eet, Laughing With

25 Various Artists - Dark Was the Night
Although it falls at number 25, the end of the list, this record is entirely -if not more so- deserving of your listen as any other. Compiled by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National as a charity project to get funding for AIDS research and awareness, they called on all their most talented friends to donate songs that when combined, filled two full albums and contained some of the artists' best works. Some of the greatest names in the business today, from Sharon Jones to Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire and My Morning Jacket, can be found on here performing songs exculsively for this album. Of course the best song you'll find is my ringtone, "So Far Around the Bend", performed by the most generous, most amazing band on the planet: The National. This is a one of a kind treat for all music lovers.
Best Tracks: So Far Around the Bend

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey A.D.!

Wanted to apologise for upsetting you, but there was no viciousness intended.

The reason I followed your blog was because it's helped me discover a lot of great music I didn't know about. I just stumbled on here through Twitter a long time ago and I think I've commented a total of two or three times.

If you're going to put yourself "out there" to communicate your thoughts with people, you'll find they have an unnerving habit of communicating right back at you, and they're not always going to agree with you. Sadly, nobody writes in ivory towers any more.

I think you were right to delete the post, but I never asked you to do that or suggested you should. That was a decision you made on your own.

I'll get out of your hair now. Good luck with the site and I hope you get a break in journalism. Your writing has always been interesting and very engaging.