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The Top 50 Albums of 2009

By ; December 21, 2009 at 12:01 AM 

The Top 50 Albums of 2009

Muse - The Resistance

30. Muse

The Resistance

[Warner Bros. / Helium 3]

How does a band follow up something as over-the-top and ridiculous as “Knights of Cydonia” – a galloping space western? With a 12-minute-plus symphony suite, of course. The Resistance sees the british trio taking their bombastics to new heights. Unfortunately, with that, the album also suffers from some real cheeseball moments. The band has never been shy about their tongue-in-cheek nature (see “Eur-ASIA AHH AHHH!”), but they are also a band that shows a lot of promise. Bellamy has always been a piano virtuoso, and this album really lets him shine. But this is also the biggest gripe fans have with The Resistance. The album focuses more on orchestral/piano moments than it does guitar solos and crunching riffs. This is not to say the album is without its rock moments – because most of it is. But compared to past records, the balance isn’t quit there. With that said, the album clearly shows a band that is getting better with each release (even if the improvements are in moments vs full albums).

Cheesy moments aside, the album has a lot of great ones. The “Exogenesis” suites have some of Bellamy’s best vocals/piano playing to date. Clearly the highlight of the album is the “Exogenesis” suites, and in the grand scheme of things the songs that come before it aren’t as good. Like Black Holes & Revelations, the band has a lot of ideas, but not all of them are fleshed out. So while they haven’t actually made an album front to back that is as good as Absolution, they have a lot moments that show they are progressing. They just need to find a way to harness that and make a full album. Most of the songs translate really well live, and Muse has always been a live band. So if you weren’t a big fan of this album, you might be surprised at how some of these songs sound during their live performances (even if you have to endure Bellamy making his scrunched up face). Let’s just face it already – Muse is the new Rush. -Brent Koepp

Listen to the album on Lala


Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk

29. Monsters of Folk

Monsters of Folk

[Shangri-La Music]

The collaborative result of four Americana folk legends. M. Ward, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) finally managed to find the time to get together and release this baby in 2009 after a long three-year wait since their first live shows as a four-piece. Yet, they kept to their promise and it was well worth our patience.

In this lengthy collection of music, displayed are the uncompromising talents of all parties, each bringing their unique musical styles and preferences to the table. Whether that be beautifully entrancing vocals or a damned fine pedal steel performance, it’s all in there. Whilst one can easily identify the songs of each member, this record is not necessarily just an album for the fan, but for the band too. All evidently in admiration of each others’ work, this album has an endearing quality of just four pals having a nice time making music together – and not just because they are expected to. Sure, it came with the sellable “supergroup” label, but it is its honest approach that makes it so successful and a lovely listen, too. –David Breese

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Doves - Kingdom of Rust

28. Doves

Kingdom of Rust

[Heavenly]

Doves sprang from the sweeping, atmospheric rock style pioneered by fellow British groups Radiohead and The Verve in the late ’90s. Since then, Radiohead has expanded its vision and The Verve have mostly dissolved, leaving Doves at the forefront of the genre. With Kingdom of Rust, the band stays true to form. There’s a good deal of melancholy woven into the record’s 11 tracks, ensuring the vast landscapes suggested by songs like “Kingdom of Rust” and “Winter Hill” exist under leaden skies. The title track in particular evokes a world well past its prime. Zombieland used the song for a scene featuring a city almost devoid of human life, where abandoned cars are left to rust on creaking suspension bridges. That image is spot on for the tone of the song – a haunting melody, miles of echo and a constant reminder of decay. The rest of the emotionally affecting disc plays like variations on that theme, with Doves painting in shades of grey. Don’t listen to Kingdom of Rust and expect a pick-me-up, but listen all the same. –Andrew Steadman

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer

27. Sunset Rubdown

Dragonslayer

[Jagjaguwar]

With Dragonslayer, Spencer Krug has cut away at some of the thick forest obscuring his songs and presented us with an album of clean-cut indie-prog. It isn’t as daunting or difficult as last album Random Spirit Lover, but it’s not exactly forgiving either. Krug’s lyrics are as cryptic, self-referential and labyrinthine as ever, and the songs churn and whir fervently independent of any external forces. The colourful artwork is starkly contrasted by the suddenly barebones music, but it’s a welcome change that reveals the expertise of Krug’s songcraft, previously hidden by extraneous layers of pretension and needless instrumentation. Perhaps most surprising is that this is a guitar lover’s album; the instrument is the driving force in almost every song, irreverently stealing the spotlight from everything else. And the songwriting is as strong as ever – the propulsive, almost post-punk “Idiot Heart” never stops restlessly moving forward in its six-minute entirety, and the epic “Black Swan” is unashamedly classic rock. Accessible enough for newcomers and inaccessible enough to satisfy stalwart fans, Dragonslayer is a refinement of Sunset Rubdown’s aesthetic, where the band defiantly proves itself as something other than just a side project. –Andrew Ryce

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Dinosaur Jr. - Farm

26. Dinosaur Jr.

Farm

[Jagjaguwar/PIAS]

On Farm’s first single, “Over It”, J Mascis asks himself, “Can I make it here?” It seems like a question that any member of a band would face before deciding to team up again – except for perhaps Mascis. After all, he’s…over it. And he should be. 2007’s Beyond was met with a great deal of critical praise, cementing Dinosaur Jr. as one of the few bands in recent years that actually lived up to their reuniting hype (I still can’t scrub the stench of Corgan off my skin). Farm only continues to harden their reputation as one of the most consistent rock groups in the past 25 years, and for good reason. Hell, some of the album’s tracks are as good as anything off You’re Living All Over Me or Bug. You don’t normally see that with a lineup that’s technically been on hiatus since 1988. –Brendan Fitzgerald

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Manic Street Preachers - Journal for Plague Lovers

25. Manic Street Preachers

Journal for Plague Lovers

[Columbia]

Manic Street Preachers lyricist Richey Edwards disappeared in 1995, leaving no trace. He was officially presumed dead in 2008 after years of searching turned up nothing. The band carried on without the self-destructive Edwards, whose ghost lingered on subsequent recordings. It only made sense when the group decided to record a full album of songs using only lyrics Edwards had written prior to vanishing. Edwards’ role in the band before his disappearance was as principal lyricist. He played rhythm guitar, but his musical ability was limited. Because he mostly wrote the words, an album like Journal for Plague Lovers was hardly a stretch for Manic Street Preachers’ remaining members. After all, with Edwards’ lyrics in hand, recording this record must have been just like old times, almost as if Edwards was involved. Journal for Plague Lovers has Edwards’ trademark stamped all over it. The record is muscular rock music holding up Edwards’ literarily inclined lyrics. Lines like “Oh mommy, what’s a sex pistol?” retain his customary wit, though the impact may have aged a bit over 14 years. And though the record’s main storyline may be Edwards, the music is just as powerful. See “Facing Page: Top Left” for a wonderfully sedate acoustic guitar line that contrasts with the post-punk theme of the album. –Andrew Steadman

Listen to the album on Lala


The Decemberists - Hazards of Love

24. The Decemberists

Hazards of Love

[Columbia]

For their fifth studio album, literary Portland indie-pop outfit the Decemberists tone down the overt pop gestures and plays up the moody drama. The Hazards of Love is a typically high-concept affair from frontman Colin Meloy (to be honest, the story is pretty much incomprehensible – download the just-released cartoon version, Here Come the Waves, if you’re so inclined), but it’s an album that’s better listened to by paying attention to the sound over the words.Hazards is a full-blown exploration of the band’s prog inclinations, which mostly fall near the Yes/Jethro Tull end of the genre. In a few places (notably album highlights “The Wanting Comes in Waves” and “The Queen’s Rebuke), the Decemberists embrace full-on classic rock riffs, but aside from the brutal wit of “The Rake’s Song,” there is not much in the way of hooks. This is a masterwork of the difficult Tales From Topographic Oceans variety, one that’s impossible to listen to in fragments but that rewards repeat listens in a huge way. If anything, they’ve gotten even more ambitious since ditching the indie label game for Columbia Records in 2006. –Sean Highkin

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

23. Dirty Projectors

Bitte Orca

[Domino]

Opinions on this album have been divided amongst the onethirtybpm staff from the time it was initially released in June. Over the course of the last five months I’ve found myself wavering between both schools of thought. My initial reaction was decidedly negative – I couldn’t get on board with the idiosyncratic polyrhythms found throughout the record (in both the vocals and guitar parts). It’s certainly a difficult listen, not because the music is grating or annoying, but because it’s difficult to establish memorable moments on an album that relies on its exploration of atypical sounds to achieve its goal. I say all this because I certainly wasn’t alone in my initial reaction.

As the year progressed it seemed that Bitte Orca began to join the likes of Veckatimest and Merriweather Post Pavilion as an album that all other releases were compared with. This praise is certainly warranted – the album manages to go from the R&B-influenced falsettos of “The Stillness is the Move” into the heartbreakingly simple “Two Doves” with relative ease. Bitte Orca isn’t without it’s moments of bombast, either. For what it’s worth, the sections of music from 2:43-3:05 and 5:22-6:28 in “Useful Chamber” are two of the greatest moments in any song released this year. It’s rare that any band are able to achieve the climaxes they reach – it’s even rarer that they’re able to achieve two of those moments in the same song. –Larry Weaver

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown

22. Green Day

21st Century Breakdown

[Reprise]

How do you top one of the landmark rock albums of the decade? Green Day took their sweet time on the follow-up to 2004’s American Idiot, and aimed even higher for their encore. And while 21st Century Breakdown doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor (there are a few too many mid-tempo ballads, and the storyline is nowhere near as compelling as Idiot’s), its best moments hold their own against anything on that album. By this point, Green Day are consummate professionals, capable of cranking out memorable songs in several different modes (three-chord pop-punk anthems like “Know Your Enemy” and “East Jesus Nowhere,” epic ballads like “Last Night on Earth” and “21 Guns,” the joyous power-pop of “Last of the American Girls), and the full range of their talents are on display here. Green Day’s late-career reinvention as successors to the Quadrophenia-era Who is proving to be one of the great rock comebacks in recent memory. Simply put, they are one of the most consistently engaging bands in modern rock, something that would have been unthinkable five years ago when their career seemed to be at an impasse. –Sean Highkin

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review


Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young

21. Julian Casablancas

Phrazes for the Young

[RCA]

It may not be quite the rumored Strokes comeback fans were hoping for this past year, but Julian Casablancas’ solo debut Phrazes for the Young was well worth a wait of its own. In today’s musical sphere where phrases (sorry) like “synth-fueled” and “heavily layered” make all but the most Marchese-esque of critics cringe, tracks like “Left & Right in the Dark” and “11th Dimension” prove that they don’t always need to be taken with such trepidation. The addition of Casablancas’ instantly recognizable snarl (ok, not quite a snarl this time around) and Bright Eyes/Monsters of Folk’s Mike Mogis’ guest production demonstrate that “dork disco” doesn’t have to be, well – dorky. Yes, there a number of duds scattered throughout the record, most notably the “wtf moment”-inducing “River of Brakelights.” But take it or leave it (ok I’ll stop), Casablancas is telling his fans that he is not afraid to take at least some stylistic liberties – a rare thing to do these days within the already microscopic niche of contemporary rock personas. –Brendan Fitzgerald

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

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