Best Albums of 2009 (#50 – #41)

As this year and this decade come to a close, we begin first by taking a look back at some of our favorite albums of 2009 at DOA. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to many of you that the album at the top of this list is pretty much a forgone conclusion since it topped nearly all of the lists that I saw in every other publication print and online as well. It’s a fantastic album by a band that will most certainly be seen as one of this generation’s most definitive acts. The most fun I had reading these other “Best of 2009″ type lists this year was seeing all of the other albums that ended up making the cut. Hopefully you’ll see some things here that will turn you on to something else new. – Joe Davenport

mr gnome

50. Mr. Gnome – Heave Yr Skeleton

Mr. Gnome casts a surreal spell, creating an eerie, unsettled atmosphere where songs segue from reverie to nightmare and back again, conjuring up a (dis)enchanted Alice lost deep in Wonderland, sipping from the “Drink Me” bottle and hallucinating white rabbits. Singer and guitarist Nicole vocally goes from breathy and ethereal to bristling and razor-sharp in an instant, striking out with serrated guitar riffs while drummer (and keyboardist) Sam reins it in or rocks out with quicksilver timing, unleashing battering drum and cymbal upheaval or tempering the tempo to a pervasively hazy sway. The best songs, like “Spain,” “Slow Slide,” Plastic Shadow,” and “Sit Up & Hum” commandingly meld equal measures of the soft and the rough, with the mercurial Nicole’s dreamy, airy singing shifting to fiery cries amid fuzzed-out guitar lines, galloping drum beat, and cymbal swells. Like Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, Nicole and Sam know when to hold back and when to charge ahead full force, carving out foreboding lulls that heighten the impact of the ensuing turmoil. – Jen Stratosphere Fanzine

glen johnson

49. Glen Johnson – Details Not Recorded

Glen Johnson has appeared so regularly on this writer’s pages across DOA over the last year or so, that it’s almost embarrassing.  But then we shouldn’t be self-conscious about digging-up the rich produce of a fertile creative mind, however prolific.  Through scribing his still passionate/provocative Anything But Silence blog, leading yet another spine-tingling Piano Magic LP, sneaking out blink-and-never-hear-‘em wares from his electro-ornithological Textile Ranch project and co-founding DIY boutique label Second Language, Johnson hasn’t wasted a nanosecond in the last 12 months.  On top of all this, the crowning glory of Johnson’s illustrious ongoing reign as a quiet Renaissance man is undoubtedly his long-awaited solo debut, Details Not Recorded.  Recorded mostly at home, the long-player adroitly takes in skeletal Kraftwerkian electronica, Leonard Cohen-indebted folk-noire and dreamy ‘80s 4ADisms to paint from a peerless lyrical palette infused with venom, wit, romance and brutal honesty.  It’s the kind of modern day classic that may only be properly recognised in twenty years time, but should be snapped-up now, so you can feel heartily smug about it come the day.  Masterfully, Details Not Recorded also in avertedly includes the best line to describe Glen Johnson’s overlooked omnipresence in 2009; “The one who leads the way, is leading from the back.” – Adrian Pannett

odawas

48. Odawas – The Blue Depths

Ever felt like you might enjoy the sounds of new age but didn’t want to be lulled into a healing fugue, become one with anything, or feel like a shamanistic flautist was pushing you toward a heightened state of awareness? If you said yes, the Odawas ‘ fourth album, The Blue Depths, is just the thing for you. Taking the essence of the disturbed-mystic songwriting of their past work, boiling off the left-field freakouts, and moving forward with a full commitment to a production aesthetic aiming to integrate far-flung inspirations like Vangelis, Dennis Wilson, and ’80s mood music, Odawas succeed in repurposing new age-isms to meet the needs of their songwriting style, and make one of the most gently gorgeous records in recent memory. Theirs is a fantasy world constructed of lush strings and radiant synths, where one muses on thoughts light and heavy, about “picking the turnip of our dreams” and the thought that “we all must die for anyone to survive.” Both surreal and comforting, The Blue Depths envelopes the listener as it soundtracks a dazed float through the deepest ocean and widest skies. – Greg Argo

leyland kirby

47. Leyland Kirby – Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was

For the better part of this decade, James Kirby has been recording under the moniker of The Caretaker. It’s a reference to the Stanley Kubrick film version of Stephen King’s The Shining. Just as a scene from that movie combined disturbing imagery of Jack Nicholson slowly losing his mind with blurry ballroom dance music from the beginning of the 20th century so did Kirby smear old ballroom LPs using modern software to create a drift of fog that barely resembled the original recordings. Taking his grandfather’s name as Leyland Kirby, this time he has created every sound on this six LP set himself. It’s the kind of modern ambient music that can lean heavily into a vast cavern of noise without giving up the ability to be both haunting and sad. It’s a monumental statement of intent from a musician at the peak of his powers. – Joe Davenport

nirvana

46. Nirvana – Live At Reading 1992

I clearly remember the summer of Nevermind back in my adolescence. My friends and I spent a significant portion of 1991 and 1992 basking in the glow of that album’s rough and tumble jams. Needless to say, I loved that album and that goes double for its successor, the incalculably brilliant In Utero. Hearing Nirvana performing songs from these albums as well as tracks from both Bleach and Incesticide here on Live At Reading serves as yet another in a series of exclamation points that highlight a career ended too soon. It would be impossible at this point to individually name the extremely important lessons that myself and many others learned from this band. I could easily call them the gateway drug that lead me starting at age eleven down a path from which I never turned away. It’s less telling to me that Nirvana managed to knock Michael Jackson from the top of the pop charts than that I learned about hardcore punk and twee from Kurt Cobain. If From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah was kind of a let down when it came out, this should serve to put things right. Live At Reading is Nirvana real and raw. And as those who were  old enough to remember at least some of it as it happened, an accurate depiction of one of the greatest groups of all time. – Joe Davenport

circulatory system

45. Circulatory System – Signal Morning

Eight years! I still find it hard to believe we got an album out of them at all! Circulatory System’s self-titled album was released to much fanfare in 2001, and the years following were replete with rumor, false release dates, and unbearable delays. So, it’s odd that the band’s most grand irony, having made the passage of time such a notable aspect of the recording process, is that this album, finally released in September, sounds positively timeless. Signal Morning is 46 minutes of jittery, wide-awake goodness. Will Cullen Hart – mastermind of this group, and previously Olivia Tremor Control – peppers the album with ho-hum pantheistic platitudes (“let’s try breathing along with the universe”), but even such lyrical missteps can’t falter his ear for a powerful pop melody or a truly affecting voice with whom few frontmen in the underground can compete. Fuzzy but not incoherent, Signal Morning summons ’60s psychedelia and ’90s tape-based indie experimentation into one of the year’s more uplifting records, even if the circumstances under which it was recorded were painful. – Jacob Price

wilco

44. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)

Following the sleepy and lackluster Sky Blue Sky, Wilco needed to change things up once again. Sure, it had its moments, but there was something missing and that something was the actual Wilco touch. Wilco (The Album) is a step in the right direction with an album that features their playfully heartfelt side (“Wilco the Song”), further experimentation with sound, a la “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” (“Bull Black Nova”), and a sincere ode to the military (“I’ll Fight”). And still, we find touches of that older Wilco with various shades of genius interspersed throughout the album. The metaphorically creative “One Wing” follows a relationship that is slowly breaking down and before you know it, “we can only wave goodbye” and at the end, on “Everlasting,” the band glows with influence from none other than The Beatles. Everything from the piano, to the guitars’ sound, to the way the drums come from around the corner the way Ringo’s did on “A Day in the Life,” you’d swear it was them. Maybe they’ve re-found something or maybe they’re just content with their arch but whatever it is, Wilco (The Album) is a welcoming and welcome album to love. – Bryan Sanchez

arctic monkeys

43. Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

There’s nothing wrong with changing up your sound, especially when you have impressive musicianship in your band. After two raucous, upbeat, storming albums of frenetic music, England’s Arctic Monkeys significantly alleviated their sound on Humbug. Mostly recorded with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, the album features a distinct difference from what had made the Monkeys such a loveable act. Yet, even with these kinds of changes, there is nothing that can deter them from still being able to write marvelous music – loud or not. Attracted by the atmospherics, they filled the spaces on the outside with somewhat cloudy production that only back-dropped their goal with tremendous results. Still, the novelty of the Monkeys is Alex Turner’s compelling accent; whether he’s singing about a torrid love game on “Crying Lightning,” or asking all of his new affairs if he can call them by ‘her’ name on “Cornerstone,” this is gripping music. And that’s just it, very few bands have this kind of stellar musicianship and too bad because it makes Arctic Monkeys that much better and Humbug’s the proof. – Bryan Sanchez

lightning bolt

42. Lightning Bolt – Earthly Delights

Lightning Bolt’s previous four album titles – Lightning Bolt, Ride the Skies, Wonderful Rainbow, and Hypermagic Mountain each reached skyward from our paltry terra firma, as if the two Brians (Chippendale on drums, Gibson on bass) harbored some sort of heavenly aspirations that only punky, proggy rock could substantiate. A big deal, here, then: Earthly Delights. Do these words portend some sort of stylistic sea change (Ooh, the sea! That’d be a prime idea for the next record!) for our favorite disorderly duo, a monkey wrench in the aloof machinery? Ha ha, no, and we’re probably fortunate for it. Earthly Delights is, save a few refinements and tweaks to the group’s standard operating procedure, the same album they’d already recorded numerous times in the past. Lightning Bolt still present an unabashed, unpretentious barrage of instrumental noise (aside from Chippendale’s incomprehensible caterwauls), and the results couldn’t be better. – Jacob Price

mos def

41. Mos Def – The Ecstatic

Dante Terrell Smith-Bey had an interesting decade. Amazing with 1999’s Black on Both Sides, the future appeared promising. But, on the contrary, the decade was mired with an album that was criticized for its genre-blurring (The New Danger) and another album that was poorly constructed and released amidst a label dispute (True Magic.) But even with the aforementioned negatives, there was no reason why Mos Def wouldn’t come up swinging with a decade-ending triumph in The Ecstatic. For the first time in almost ten years, Mos Def sounds exuberantly alive, fully displaying his skills for all to admire. Whether he’s touting his Boogie Man demeanor with the ominously looming “Twilite Speedball” or channeling his inner Casanova with his Spanish-versed “No Hay Nada Mas,” there is an incredible amount of brilliance sprinkled all over. Assured and full of swagger, there is no better way for The Ecstatic to close than with the speedy, white-hot and nostalgic “Casa Bey.” Mr. Smith-Bey leaves us with a strong foray of creativity – as if we actually needed to be reminded of his capability. – Bryan Sanchez

View albums #40 – #31>