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The Top 50 Albums of 2009

By ; December 21, 2009 at 12:01 AM 

The Top 50 Albums of 2009

Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains

10. Cymbals Eat Guitars

Why There Are Mountains


The prophetic Charles Bissel once said, “I’ll be the first to go on record saying that Cymbals Eat Guitars will end up indie famous within the year.” Now if he would just go out and say that a new Wrens album was coming in 2010, I would be a happy man. As someone who has been following the band all year, it’s been incredible to see the leaps that they’ve made. Their debut album, Why There Are Mountains, has gone from being mailed out by the band, to being sold in independent music shops, to being distributed by EMI. The band itself has gone from playing shows in Staten Island and Brooklyn to playing full tours in Europe. The fact that they’ve done this all without a label makes them the true breakthrough indie act of 2009.

It’s often difficult to pinpoint what makes Why There Are Mountains great. Being an amalgamation of ’90s indie rock during a time in which Pavement, Modest Mouse, and even Built to Spill are either nonexistent or not putting out the same types of albums sure helps, but there’s something more to it. The album has a wide range of sound, being solemn and atmospheric at one moment, then monumentally anthemic the next, all while remaining inspiring. One thing is for certain: whatever the band records after this is sure to be even more prodigious – that is, if they ever decide to stop touring. –Evan Kaloudis

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It’s Blitz!

09. Yeah Yeah Yeahs

It’s Blitz!


With It’s Blitz!, Karen O and company largely ditch the garage guitars they’d built their reputation on in favor of electro-dance synths. Punk rhythms are replaced with stomping disco beats. Karen O’s voice is often sultry and sweet, losing some of its edge from previous Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums and sounding more like Goldfrapp than art punk. Some of the tracks also invite comparisons to Siouxsie and the Banshees. Album opener “Zero” is an instantly memorable toe-tapper, while “Dull Life” fuses the band’s newfound dance sound with its dirtier rock roots. There are even ballads to showcase Karen O’s newfound vocal tenderness. “Skeletons” begins as a sweet ballad and morphs into electronic Celtic folk, complete with marching drums and a synthesizer line that echoes bagpipes. Though It’s Blitz! bogs down in its waning tracks, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ decision to branch out paid off in 2009. –Andrew Steadman

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II

08. Raekwon

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II

[EMI/Ice H20]

No one expected the next Raekwon album to be any good. Yes, seeing that the original Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… was considered a classic by many, the title sparked some excitement, but all anticipation was subsequently cancelled out by the flops known as Immobilarity and The Lex Diamond Story .

Against all odds, Raekwon created a classic modern day rap album – perhaps the greatest Wu-related release of the decade. Cuban Linx II‘s all-star production team not only corrected the errors of his past two poorly produced albums, but has also managed to stay true to the sound of the original Cuban Linx. If Raekwon’s track from BlakRoc and the leaked “Chef vs. Meth 2” from the upcoming Raekwon, Ghostface and Method Man album, Wu-Massacre, say anything, it’s that Cuban Linx II was far from a fluke. Whatever he puts out next is sure to be worthwhile, especially if he decides to collaborate with Nas again or rap over Dilla’s “Last Donut of the Night.” Chef, I hope you’re reading. –Evan Kaloudis

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

Them Crooked Vultures

07. Them Crooked Vultures

Them Crooked Vultures


The rare supergroup that sounds as good on record as it looks on paper. Old collaborators Josh Homme and Dave Grohl are audibly relishing the opportunity to jam with idol John Paul Jones, with the three pushing each other to come up with their sharpest riffs in years. Homme handles most of the lead vocals on Them Crooked Vultures’ self-titled debut, and a lot of these songs sound like they could be Queens of the Stone Age tracks, but Jones’ snake-like basslines and Grohl’s Bonham-sized drum work give this material a Zeppelin kick. “Reptiles” and “Gunman” groove with a machine-like precision and leave room elsewhere for all three members to flex their considerable musical muscle. Simply put, there is no reason that any fan of QOTSA, Nirvana, or Led Zeppelin should not love Them Crooked Vultures – it fulfills every expectation that could possibly be had about a group with this lofty pedigree, drawing from the best elements of all three groups with the three musicians consistently bringing out the best in each other. It’s a rare case where the most promising supergroup lineup of the year actually makes the best hard rock record of the year. –Sean Highkin

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

06. The Flaming Lips


[Warner Bros.]

Embryonic resets the clock for the Flaming Lips. After a decade of functioning as a studio three-piece and turning out highly orchestrated albums with Wayne’s voice and lyrics firmly in the foreground, the band has gone back to being a band again. It would be easy to imagine that a back-to-basics approach would result in an album that sounded like it could be the follow-up to 1993’s Transmissions From The Satellite Heart, but this is the Flaming Lips. They’re anything but predictable, although they probably needed to remind themselves of that after the relatively tame At War With The Mystics.

Constructing songs primarily upon a tapestry of drum and bass patterns, Embryonic is also their first so-called double album, even though it fits on a single disc and doesn’t run much longer than some of their previous records. Like the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, the record goes for a sustained mood over individual songs. Which is not to say there aren’t some gems on here. Embryonic takes you on an organic journey through a range of styles including free jazz and psychedelia, and because the vocals are pushed to the back, the themes of power and astrology only emerge over time. But on a sprawling record like this, uncovering the rewards is what it’s all about. –Todd Norem

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

05. Animal Collective

Merriweather Post Pavilion


Merriweather Post Pavilion was the standard for 2009 from start to finish, setting an aesthetic bar when it leaked in December that combined limitless sonic ambition with sincere accessibility. While some (including this list) came to rank others above it, it was impossible to have a discussion about a relevant album this year without measuring it against some element of Merriweather Post Pavilion. Personal taste accounts for the deviation in this record’s place in the year-end hierarchy, but an objective observer cannot deny there wasn’t anything as capital-“I” Important in 2009.

Think about how much you’ve read about Animal Collective in the past 12 months, and think about how little of that even bothered to mention what they sound like in terms any more concrete than “avant garde” or “creatively fecund.” Think about how we’re now more than 100 words into this blurb, and I haven’t even said anything as concrete as that. And think about how little that matters. –Adam Clair

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

04. Arctic Monkeys



Having already recorded two albums in the murky climate of their native England, Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys decided for their third album to decamp to the desert with one of their favourite sons, Josh Homme, at the mastering helm. Always ones to be inspired by the things around them, Arctic Monkeys proceeded to create a fully-fledged rock album, full of swaggering guitar riffs and heavy drumming, which Homme surely had a part in influencing. Thematically, Humbug takes a look at several different areas; of course there’s love involved as well as tales of mischief – one of Turner’s favourite subjects – but on top of that there are more obscure stories being told here. The creepy “Pretty Visitors” and the hazy “Potion Approaching” are just two examples of songs that are not as straightforward and honest as those on their debut, when they were barely out of their teens. The fact is that the boys from Sheffield are now men of the world; they have a wider range of influences and they have the talent to express themselves in any way they feel comfortable. They hinted at it on their second album, it became clearer with Turner’s 2008 side project, The Last Shadow Puppets, and this album confirms it – Arctic Monkeys have grown up, and they don’t care if you like it or not. –Rob Hakimian

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

03. Phoenix

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


At least once a year, a good-not-great band that you’re following makes the leap with a new release. And it might be one of the more satisfying events in a music geek’s year, really. You invest your time in some band you heard about from a friend or through the Internet, and you’re not exactly blown away but you hear something in there. You stroke your chin beard and say, “Good, not great, but good. Keep me in the loop, Band – you’ve got moxie,” and wait impatiently for that next release, the one to prove your instincts are pitched and prescient – the record that proves you can sniff out “good” without a previously discernible consensus. That moment of truth. Sad to say, this affirmative rush didn’t seize me many times this year, but when it did, it did so completely. And that happened when I first heard the first single off of Phoenix’s new release, “1901.” “1901” is the kind of song that immediately announces itself as a classic – as soon as you hear it, you know it’ll soundtrack more than a few moments of your life henceforth. It’s that good. And while the rest of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix may never reach the rarified air of Phoenix’s best song, it’s no small consolation to say that many of them come damned close. Yes, that may be because Phoenix has a tendency to write the same song in different ways, but when a sound is this infectious, I’ll take it as many ways as these fine Frenchmen are serving. –Elias Isquith

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

02. Grizzly Bear



Veckatimest is named after Veckatimest Island, one of the Elizabeth Islands in Dukes County, Massachusetts. The 17-acre island is uninhabited. I learned this after my initial listen of Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest and instantly declared that the title was an ill fit. How could you title such a lively album after an island that is, well, lifeless?

Instead of brashly getting its point across, Grizzly Bear values elegance over aggression. These songs are intricately constructed and dutifully performed, as if the band is hesitant to disturb its own fragile creations. But deep, searching listens reveal nothing close to fragility, but rather airy constructions with deceptively solid foundations – songs that exist regardless of their performers and independent of their listeners. Veckatimest is a a quivering, constantly on-the-cusp exercise in tasteful restraint, but it’s remarkably affecting in surprisingly visceral ways. Whether it’s the casual lope of “Two Weeks,” the uneasy march of “Cheerleader,” the glacial stateliness of “Foreground,” or the quietly burning intensity of “While You Wait For The Others,” it pulls you in all directions. The tension, however, is never overwhelming or unpleasant – it’s rather like the conflicting feeling of being alone in an uninhabited place: lonely, peaceful, and worrying all at once. Perhaps the title isn’t so ill-fitting after all. –Andrew Ryce

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

The Antlers - Hospice

01. The Antlers



Ever since The Antlers self-released this album back in March there has been a buzz surrounding it. This buzz came in the form of one person recommending it to another, and then in turn recommending it to someone else. This chain has continued to grow through the re-release on Frenchkiss in August, and it’s still going now at the end of 2009 and it will continue through 2010. When you first hear of this album you will hear three things: firstly it’s a concept album, secondly it’s about a doomed relationship wherein the girl has cancer, and finally that the album ends with the girl’s death. This will make you wary on your first listen, but the lush instrumentation and arrangements will get you through. The vocals of Peter Silberman, strained at the tough moments and soft at the tender ones, will bring the story to life and keep you coming back for more. On repeated listens you’ll realise that there is more depth to the story than you at first realised, and perhaps those three things you were told going into it aren’t necessarily true after all. You can take the story as given or you can look at each aspect as a metaphor for something else. This album can be interpreted in infinite different ways, and each of them is as valid as the next. With Hospice The Antlers have created the most special sort of album, one that you can relate to even in the most abstract of ways. In the end you can’t help but become emotionally attached to this record, and you too will want to tell your friends about it. –Rob Hakimian

Listen to the album on Lala | onethirtybpm Review

Upon finding the results of list, we were able to arrange an interview with Peter Silberman of The Antlers. You can read the interview here.


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