Making More Lists

Our critics keep on sharing their thoughts on the best of 2009

Our annual saga of music Top 10 lists kicked off last week, and now we present to you the thrilling conclusion of Our Favorite Albums of 2009.


(in no particular order)

A.A. Bondy, When the Devil's Loose (Fat Possum)

Christ-haunted doom-folk with one hand on the Bible and the other on a loaded .357. Bondy's sophomore folk release is bolstered by the addition of Crazy Horse-esque bass and drums.

Heaven and Hell, The Devil You Know (Rhino)

Don't let the plodding, heavier-than-brimstone rhythms of what's essentially a Black Sabbath reunion effort discourage you. Ronnie James Dio's lyrics and voice—and Tony Iommi's deadly riffs—have never sounded more inspired.

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, Through the Devil Softly (Nettwerk)

Teaming up with My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig is the smartest thing ex-Mazzy Star frontwoman Sandoval ever did, resulting in a dreamy, drug-tinged plea for love and redemption in a pitiless world.

Gallows, Grey Britain (Reprise)

Forget Green Day. This year, England's Gallows unleashed the most anarchic, pissed-off blast of punk and metal since Never Mind the Bollocks. If "I Dread the Night" doesn't give you clammy nightmares, nothing will.

Tom Russell, Blood and Candle Smoke (Shout! Factory)

Recorded at Tucson's Wavelab Studio, Russell's 24th album is a watershed moment in Americana music. One listen to the achingly beautiful "Santa Ana Wind" should convince you: Russell is among the greatest living songwriters.

Kirby Krackle, Kirby Krackle (self-released)

Novelty music doesn't get much better than these 10 tracks of pop-culture-fueled hilarity and warm tributes penned by a duo of hard-core comics geeks. Catchy tunes about everything from the Fantastic Four's Thing to zombie-apocalypse movies.

Dâm-Funk, Toeachizown (Stones Throw)

The analog-synth '80s never sounded so thoroughly re-imagined and spiritually affecting than in this electro-space funk masterpiece by a weird Los Angeles DJ with an audible hard-on for early Prince. This CD will get you laid, guaranteed.

Red State Soundsystem, Ghosts in a Burning City (self-released)

Straight out of the economic dust storm of Las Vegas comes Joshua Ellis (a former colleague of the Tucson Weekly's editor and mine) and his rocked-up torch songs for watching the world slowly expire. For fans of Lou Reed and Radiohead.

Altar of Plagues, White Tomb (Profound Lore)

The most terrifying blend of ambient black metal and epic post-rock ever created. This Irish trio makes Godspeed You! Black Emperor sound like Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

The Swell Season, Strict Joy (ANTI-)

For the NPR crowd, sure, but still possessing an emotional edge lacking in most indie-folk. Songwriting partners and ex-lovers Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová have re-written Shoot Out the Lights for the Y Generation. "I Have Loved You Wrong" will demolish your heart.


(in no particular order)

White Rabbits, It's Frightening (TBD)

Sure, you could call them Spoon sound-alikes, and you'd be accurate if not precise. But It's Frightening possesses frighteningly catchy hooks that I dare you to not fall in love with.

The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You (American/Sony)

On the Avetts' Rick Rubin-produced major-label debut, the rawness that was a hallmark of earlier efforts is absent, replaced with the sophistication of simplicity befitting a band that just stepped over the threshold of greatness.

Lee Fields and the Expressions, My World (Truth and Soul)

A modern soul record that has Motown DNA. The title track, a cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic "My World Is Empty Without You," is so authentically realized that I had to double-check that this was released in 2009 and wasn't some Supremes-contemporary reissue.

Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation)

Some people don't really get Jay-Z, which is difficult to understand given that he can release an album so replete with finesse and bravado in the year he turns 40. Rap is a young man's game, but Jigga is the exception that proves the rule.

Dan Auerbach, Keep It Hid (Nonesuch)

Auerbach, minus Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, gets to explore his gentler side to great effect, but Keep It Hid rocks as well. (See "Street Walkin'. ")

Vic Chesnutt, At the Cut (Constellation) and Skitter on Take-Off (Vapor)

These two (!) 2009 albums are comprehensively beautiful and tragic. It pains me to write that as I was doing a bit of reading on Vic for this entry, the news broke that he was in a coma. Words fail.

Volcano Choir, Unmap (Jagjaguwar)

This Justin Vernon side project (with members of Collections of Colonies of Bees) can't help but sound like Bon Iver, but eschews the sparseness Vernon embraced on For Emma, Forever Ago, and to these ears is a more fully realized work as a result.

The Mountain Goats, The Life of the World to Come (4AD)

Tapping biblical verses for inspiration, John Darnielle again captures angsty, overwrought beauty with lyrical turns that would sound forced coming from another singer's mouth, but delivered in his trademark quaver, sound like the voice of emo God.

Felt, Felt 3: Tribute to Rosie Perez (Rhymesayers)

Slug (of Atmosphere) and Murs (of Murs) get together for a third time to record an album-length appreciation of an undersung female cultural icon. It's far from the tossed-off piss-take you might expect.

Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Elvis Perkins in Dearland (XL)

Perkins' maturation as a songwriter is perfectly expressed in the majestic "Shampoo," which alone qualifies this record for Top 10 status in this here book.

Honorable mention: Polvo, In Prism; Mayer Hawthorne, A Strange Arrangement; Espers, III; The Lonely Island, Incredibad; Dengue Fever, Sleepwalking Through the Mekong; St. Vincent, Actor.


(in order of preference)

1. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

A lush album that transforms tinny electronics, vocal harmonies and rich production into an immersive masterpiece celebrating domesticity and simple pleasures. Check "Daily Routine."

2. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca (Domino)

A brilliant, idiosyncratic pop album that balances reckless riffing with crafted rhythms to create a dreamy, expansive sound. Check "Stillness Is the Move."

3. Girls, Album (True Panther)

The year's best debut. This comprehensive stroll through American music explores everything from sunny melodies buried in fuzz to feral punk enriched with harmonics. Check "Lauren Marie."

4. Sonic Youth, The Eternal (Matador)

Indie's elder statesmen (and stateswoman) managed to cap off a fantastic decade with maybe their best release: an album built on ferocious hooks and hypnotic noodling. Check "Sacred Trickster."

5. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone (ANTI-)

Hot damn, that voice. What's more impressive is Case's ability to write beguiling songs to wrap her tremendous vocals around, making for another stunning outing of rickety folk and gutsy rock. Check "I'm an Animal."

6. Bob Dylan, Together Through Life (Columbia)

The old grizzled veteran returns with a Tex-Mex sound that nicely underwrites his acidic and witty ballads and paeans. Check the steely "Life Is Hard."

7. The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love (Capitol)

A masterful rock opera by indie's brainiest set. This musical mélange combines British folk, country and Western, and prog-rock to tell an antiquated story of love, jealousy and vengeance. Check "The Rake's Song."

8. WHY?, Eskimo Snow (Anticon)

WHY? ditched the hip-hop flourishes in favor of live recording, which provides a perfect, loose swagger for vocalist Yoni Wolf's deadpan delivery of his dark, uncomfortable lyrics. Check "Against Me."

9. Swan Lake, Enemy Mine (Jagjaguwar)

Another overlooked album by this indie supergroup (Krug, Mercer and Bejar). A mysterious blend of cryptic lyrics, beautiful melodies and vocals that moan and caterwaul. Check "Warlock Psychologist."

10. White Rabbits, It's Frightening (TBD)

A skeletal album of elliptical wizardry (thanks in no small part to producer Britt Daniel of Spoon), this sophomore success was both sanguinary and wistful. Check "Percussion Gun."

Best EP: Modest Mouse, No One's First, and You're Next (Epic).

Best Reissues: The Beatles catalog (EMI), Neil Young's first four albums (Reprise), Nirvana, Bleach (Sub Pop) and Pearl Jam, Ten (Epic/Legacy).

Best Live Album: Tom Waits, Glitter and Doom Live (ANTI-).

Near Misses: Sunset Rubdown, Dragonslayer; Mount Eerie, Wind's Poem; Handsome Furs, Face Control; Wilco, Wilco (The Album); Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It's Blitz!; Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; Cymbals Eat Guitars, Why There Are Mountains; Pearl Jam, Backspacer; The Flaming Lips, Embryonic.


(in alphabetical order)

Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

No, they didn't reinvent music, as a lot of people would have you believe. But they did invent a unique sound that merges folk harmonies, dance beats, electronic psychedelia and hypnotic repetition. And this is their best album yet.

The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You (American/Sony)

While longtime fans may be a bit put off by this less-raucous version of the Avetts, in which Rick Rubin has largely sheared off the rough-hewn edges, he's also placed more focus on the songwriting—which is where these guys shine the brightest anyway.

Vic Chesnutt, At the Cut (Constellation) and Skitter on Take-Off (Vapor)

I had to amend this entry to reflect his suicide last week, and now I honestly don't know when I'll be able to listen to these again, especially At the Cut's "Flirted With You All My Life," a song in which he believably "breaks up" with death ("O' Death, I'm not ready").

DePedro, DePedro (Nat Geo)

Joey and John from Calexico back a Spaniard songsmith, and the results are sublime. Even if you're not normally a fan of world music—whatever that is—do yourself a favor, and check it out. Just plain beautiful.

Girls, Album (True Panther)

From opener "Lust for Life," which finds Christopher Owens pining for a boyfriend, a father, "a suntan, a pizza and a bottle of wine," to the dreamy, seven-minute "Hellhole Ratrace," in which he sings, utterly believably, "I don't wanna cry my whole life through / I wanna do some dancing, too," no other album in recent memory balances world-weary ennui with such an innocent, wide-eyed optimism.

Golden Boots, The Winter of Our Discotheque (Park the Van)

On their second album for New Orleans-based Park the Van Records, Tucson's Golden Boots retain their ramshackle, desert-fried country-pop sound while upping the psychedelia factor to tremendous effect. One of a few albums I simply couldn't stop listening to this year.

Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest (Warp)

Aside from appreciating a song or two, I never really got Grizzly Bear until I saw them open for Wilco at Centennial Hall in June. Once I did, I really did: transcendent harmonies and classic song structures tweaked with just enough twists to keep it interesting.

Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Loyauté/Glassnote)

The best Brit-pop album in years. What? They're French?!

Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse, Dark Night of the Soul (unreleased)

If you don't know the story of this album, Googling it will give you a bit of background, but it still won't solve the mystery of why it was never given a proper release. The list of unlikely collaborators to which the album is credited is only the start. There are some great guest singers, too, including Frank Black, Vic Chesnutt, Iggy Pop and Wayne Coyne. Projects this ambitious usually fail; this one, happily, did not.

Wilco, Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)

Just another great Wilco album, this one with an added bonus: the reassurance that Wilco loves you back.

Honorable mention: Neko Case, Middle Cyclone; Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Elvis Perkins in Dearland; Lily Allen, It's Not Me, It's You; Grand Archives, Keep in Mind Frankenstein.

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