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The Top 50 Albums of 2009

By ; December 21, 2009 at 12:01 AM 

The Top 50 Albums of 2009

Jim O'Rourke - The Visitor

40. Jim O’Rourke

The Visitor

[Drag City]

Jim O’Rourke is still a force to be reckoned with, despite having isolated himself in Tokyo. The Visitor, which came out on Jim’s stateside label Drag City, is a beautiful piece of movements full of tension and grace, something that only a master of such dynamics like O’Rourke can deliver. The musical landscape herein is a journey for the mind and a feast for the ears. If music came back with Joanna Newom’s Ys, then it’s here to stay with The Visitor. Epic yet intricate and personal, I cannot think of a better reassurance that the man still knows how to execute wonderful sound. Everything in it is at once familiar and mysterious, aged and brand new to the world – so subtle that you won’t realize it’s over until well after the fact. –Rob Galo

onethirtybpm Review

The Dead Weather - Horehound

39. The Dead Weather


[Third Man]

Jack White just can’t stop. If he’s not writing music for a major motion picture, he is either jamming with The Edge and Jimmy Page or in one of his three bands. One might expect that the quality of these releases might be lackluster at best – afterall, how can one man juggle so much? Horehound, however, is actually a good album. It’s not as good as The White Stripes, and there is an argument to be made about whether this is better then the Raconteurs; I personally think it is. Perhaps that has to do with my love for Allison Mosshart. That aside, the fusion of Mosshart and White plays well off of each other. This album is gritty and dirty – and everything you could expect from these two. But it can also cut both ways. Unfortunately, the album tends to blend together; there isn’t much to really seperate the first half of the LP from the second. For a debut, this was a great project, and hopefully the band can come back swinging with the second LP and hopefully take more risks. –Brent Koepp

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

Wild Beasts - Two Dancers

38. Wild Beasts

Two Dancers


Wild Beasts’ debut album Limbo, Panto was wild, ambitious and hugely enjoyable, but Tom Fleming’s melodramatic vocals and their larger than life songs put off a lot of people (song titles such as “Bouncing, Buoyant Clairvoyants” didn’t help). On their second full length, Two Dancers, Wild Beasts have set out to prove that they can produce an album of great quality that’s fun as well. The percussion throughout is marvellous – add to this Hayden Thorpe’s guitar, which bounces around your head, and you’ll find that each song has an individual and undeniable groove to it. The vocal theatrics have been toned down just a little, maybe to allow more attention to be given to the music itself, but lyrically, Fleming still likes to slip in the coyest of sexual references. Rather than be turned off, you’ll smile to yourself and keep nodding your head to this triumphant album. –Rob Hakimian

Listen to the album on Lala

M. Ward - Hold Time

37. M. Ward

Hold Time


The seventh solo studio effort from M. Ward, this guy has been a busy boy this past year. Apart from Hold Time and his joint effort as part of Monster of Folk and subsequent touring duties, he found time to flirt with Zooey Deschanel in preparation for the second album as She & Him as well, expected early next year. Hold Time almost presents an album of songs from other times and puts them into perspective of each other. This is an old-sounding album made with 21st century technologies. The fine production skills on this album can be credited to his Monster of Folk pal Mike Mogis, whose distinctive sound creeps throughout. The usual covers for an M. Ward album on Hold Time bring a countrified rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” as well as Matt Ward’s own version of the country classic “Oh Lonesone Me.” This was the most perfect album for wet summer days in 2009. Perhaps the timeless qualities of M. Ward’s music will in turn make Hold Time – the most successful of his albums – a timeless classic too. –David Breese

Listen to the album on Lala


36. Franz Ferdinand

Tonight: Franz Ferdinand


So maybe Franz Ferdinand’s best album was the self-titled debut. And the band may never match the contagious “Do You Want To,” from its sophomore release. Three years passed between that record and Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. The world almost moved on without Franz Ferdinand, despite the strength of the first two albums. But that doesn’t make Tonight any less catchy. With Tonight, the lads’ pointy dance guitar rhythms are back and joined by some new instrumentation. The smirking smugness in singer Alex Kapranos’ voice returns, along with the pseudo-disco beat that had fueled the band’s most recognizable songs. The band even dials up the danceable attitude of its songs, with disco-ready synths even more prominent than ever before. Album standout “Ulysses” borrows its name from Cream, its dirty lo-fi hook from The White Stripes, and its Polivoks keyboard from Russia. And yet, despite the dance-happy feeling of the record, some of its strongest moments lie in the softer tracks: “Dream Again” and “Katherine Kiss Me.” –Andrew Steadmn

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


35. Antony & the Johnsons

The Crying Light

[Secretly Canadian]

Antony waited almost five years to follow up the massively acclaimed I Am a Bird Now, an album that explored gender issues with an unflinchingly sympathetic (and modern) eye, imbued with a classic rock accessibility that made it a lot easier to swallow. The Crying Light is something else entirely, one glacially paced dirge after another, barely there – and yet completely enveloping. The songs are baroque and rather antiquated in their instrumentation, but the arrangements (courtesy of Nico Muhly) are unapologetically modern, minimal to the point of being unnerving. Strings and horns appear as if out of nowhere, intermittently asserting their presence before once again vanishing into the ether, held together by an ominous, omnipresent uneasiness – when there is no audible rumbling, you’ll feel it anyway. It makes for a record that above all requires patience – but let it unfold and you’ll never want to put it back together. It’s a record that expands infinitely upon itself, its compact package continuously revealing something much larger. Of course, the main feature here is Antony’s bewitching and haunting voice, that quavery thing that interrogates those spaces between the instruments and navigates through the dark, empty chasm, infiltrating every corner and open space until it envelops everything. Oh yeah, he even rocks out on a song. Cool stuff. –Andrew Ryce

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

Metric - Fantasies

34. Metric


[Metric Music International]

Fantasies found Metric doing what they always do – but better. In that way, it’s quite similar, though inferior, to Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz! (and yes, I know that Metric diehards are sick to death of hearing comparisons to YYY – well get over it!). And just as It’s Blitz! found Karen and co. streamlining their sound into prettier ballads and glossier dance songs, Fantasies has a shinier, slicker production style than Metric are used to, one that often keeps the rockers from sounding staid and keeps the ballads from sounding dull. The record is clearly front-loaded – opener “Help I’m Alive” and “Twilight Galaxy” are the record’s standouts – but this overstuffed front-end is probably the best run of the band’s career. And front-woman Emily Haines continues to possess one of the more underrated too-cool-to-care deliveries in a genre overcome lately with a grating earnestness. Fantasies won’t change your life (even if Metric did), but for a year in which it often felt as if the music industry called a timeout without telling anyone, good enough is just that. –Elias Isquith

Listen to the album on Lala

The Horrors - Primary Colours

33. Lady Gaga

The Fame Monster


With her little mini-album, Lady Gaga has suddenly fabricated substance out of her airy existence, finally supplementing her captivating image with some genuinely worthwhile music. Perhaps it’s the increased budget (probably), perhaps it’s practice (definitely), or perhaps it’s just inspiration (who knows), but whatever the cause, she’s deftly appropriating and and regurgitating trends, in turns unforgivingly modern and passé. It’s impressive how she manages to synthesize so many eras and styles on The Fame Monster, and even more so that she manages to fuse them into one believable and uniform sound. When she works with Darkchild on “Telephone,” the result is gripping and for once reveals her true potential freed from her static and drab RedOne prison. But the RedOne tracks here are by no means slouches; they sound like The Fame, only, you know, really great. At any rate, The Fame Monster is a step in the right direction, and when she finally finds the right producer to match her inhuman ambition, maybe we’ll finally get to hear what Lady Gaga hears in her own ridiculous, self-aggrandizing head. –Andrew Ryce

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns

32. Bat For Lashes

Two Suns

[Astralwerks / Parlophone]

The best records have a sort of intangible air about them, something that goes beyond “The songs are good,” or “That guy has a great voice.” Two Suns is one of those records. Every time I hear it, it transforms from just a collection of songs to a map of some sort of mystic island, where the “smell of cinders and rain perfume almost everything.” And much of this is due to the compelling, transcendent vocals of Natasha Khan. Khan has more than just a “good voice” – she has a moving voice, and she squeezes every drop of beauty and emotion out of it and uses it to paint songs that, without her, could have come off as melodramatic or just plain cheesy. Thankfully, they don’t. But it’s a testament to Khan to say that she is the glue that holds these songs together and transforms them from above-average pop songs into spooky, powerful works of art. From the first chilling lines of “Glass” through the swirling “Daniel,” all the way to the ghostly, otherworldly “The Big Sleep,” Khan’s voice is more than just an instrument, and Two Suns is one of the albums of the year because of it. –Ian Baker

Listen to the album on Lala

Wilco - Wilco (the Album)

31. Wilco

Wilco (the Album)


Soft rock sublimity from Jeff Tweedy and his clan of grizzly sound merchants. Wilco (the Album) is arguably one of the more accessible Wilco albums to date, but this does not mean to say it falters in quality. Featuring the guest vocals of Leslie Feist on love song “You and I,” it marks the first ever duet on any Wilco album. Opener “Wilco (the Song)” is one for the fans; in fact, if Wilco released a “best of” in 2010, it’s possible to see many tracks from this record making an appearance. Who doesn’t love some well-executed rock and roll? This album was good enough, and Wilco remain cool enough, to be loved by scenesters, music press and middle-aged parents alike – good luck to them! –David Breese

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


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