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Music » CD Reviews

Best Albums of 2009

Silver linings in sound abounded in '09.


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2009 was rough. It started off with hope for change and ended with, “Well, this will do for now.” But you know that theory linking suffering to good art? Turns out there might be something to it. Judging by the sheer volume of amazing music produced this year, sour times must do something for the creative process. Things were so good, in fact, that none of City Weekly’s listmakers put the same Top 5 albums on its year-end lists. Hopefully at least one of these picks will strike your fancy and if so, do your part to stoke the economy. Don’t download. Buy local. Start off the new decade right. —Jamie Gadette

Best Albums of 2009
By Jamie Gadette, Ryan Bradford & Brian Staker

Hopewell, Good Good Desperation (Tee Pee)
They had me at Fitzcarraldo. On their latest release, New York City’s psychedelic rockers, Hopewell, pay homage to Werner Herzog’s 1982 film about a power-hungry rubber baron who exploits a Peruvian village to pull his steamship over a mountain. Jason Russo’s war cry dances with crashing piano and tribal percussion to propel the track that, along with the rest of the album, makes me wonder why these guys are still sleeping on my friend’s couch when they come through on tour. (JG)
Alexis Gideon, Video Musics (Sick Room)
Two words: “Brimstone Blaine.” Once you hear the song, the name will always bring a smile to your face. Alexis Gideon is a brilliant multimedia artist based in Portland, Ore. In another lifetime, he composed one-half of famed Chicago underground cross-dressing hip-hop duo, Princess. On Video Musics, he displays his lyrical prowess and unleashed blistering guitar solos in a hip-hop opera loosely based on Hungarian mythology that’s best experienced while watching the claymation/animation scenes he created to accompany the five-track album. Gideon thinks outside the box then takes two giant steps beyond your wildest dreams. (JG)
Lightning Dust, Infinite Light (Jagjaguwar)
If I could have any woman’s voice it would be Amber Webber’s. Man, can she wail. The Canadian siren is perhaps best known for her role in heavy rock outfit Black Mountain and its spin-off Pink Mountaintops, but Lightning Dust allows her pipes to take center stage for track after track of heart-stopping magic. (JG)
Dan Auerbach, Keep It Hid (Nonesuch)
A lot of folks forgot about this album, which came out at the beginning of ’09, but nothing can erase the memory of seeing Dan Auerbach performing with Hacienda as his backing band at The Parish during South by Southwest. Live, songs off The Black Keys’ singer/guitarist’s solo debut turn from hot to hot damn! Keep It Hid is one of the sexiest blues albums to come out in years. Swoon. (JG)
Mayer Hawthorne, A Strange Arrangement (Stones Throw)
When Peanut Butter Wolf first heard Mayer Hawthorne’s debut, he assumed the white boy from Michigan sampled most of the album’s content—and for good reason. Hawthorne sounds like an old-soul legend, and his original songs have as much classic flavor as his cover of The Holidays’ “Maybe So, Maybe No.” (JG)
Sunset Rubdown, Dragonslayer (Jagjaguwar)
There’s no denying that Sunset Rubdown is a nerdy band. Complex instrumentation, ridiculous song titles (“Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!”) and frontman/yodeler Spencer Krug’s penchant for medieval/ cosmic imagery (oh, and that title) not only make Dragonslayer their nerdiest release, but their most accessible. Listen to it, and we’ll discuss its genius over a game of D&D. (Ryan Bradford)
Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest (Warp)
I didn’t get it at first. I initially thought Veckatimest was boring. I became frustrated. I tried again. After a couple more listens, I could finally hear the Pet Sounds influence; after a couple more, I couldn’t hear them anymore. It sounded like everything and nothing I’d heard before, simultaneously. Good art challenges you. (RB)
Japandroids, Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl)
If there was an album that could return emo to its Husker Du and Jawbreaker heyday, Post-Nothing comes pretty damn close. Like The Hold Steady, Japandroids make music about being young and all the energy, happiness, sadness, incoherency that goes along with it, but they do it with more distortion. In a perfect world “Young Hearts Spark Fire” would accompany high-school-grad slideshows instead of Green Day’s “Time of Your Life.” (RB)
Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? No other band has been on such a creative roll their entire career, constantly upping themselves with each release. And no other band has challenged and smashed our notions of what popular music—or any music, for that matter— can sound like. (RB)
Future of the Left, Travels With Myself and Another (4AD)
It’s hard to pinpoint why Travels is such a good album. Sure, it rocks, but that doesn’t justify the darkness lurking underneath Andy Falco’s hideous scream and cleverer-than-thou, Joseph Heller wordplay. It rocks—like Satanic music, in that somebody must’ve sold their soul to achieve such a garish masterpiece. I’m just going to award it with the number-one spot because not only do I think it’ll outlast the world exploding in 2012, but it’ll provide the soundtrack to it. (RB)
Polvo, In Prism (Merge)
In Prism’s finely focused lens is the accumulation of the pent-up energy of a group (name = ‘dust’ in Spanish, that sand here polished to create the glass of fine optics) reunited after 10 years, a prog-rock pile-driver still full of plenty of finesse and just sheer chops, rockin’ out without a shade of irony. (Brian Staker)
Sonic Youth, The Eternal (Matador)
The New York City noise progenitors’ move back to an indie label gave them a newfound freedom that nevertheless produced a collection that recapitulated sounds from their entire career, from violent to sublime, and one of the most raucous local live shows of the year, outside at the Gallivan Center. (BS)
Circus Devils, A Riot of Gold Teeth (Happy Jack Rock Records)
This decade-long best-of compilation drawn from eight albums, including the upcoming Mother Skinny is a way to keep track of one branch of the manytentacled tree that is Robert Pollard’s post-GBV output: the experimental sound sculptures that are still melodic, unafraid to pursue any creative path including Gringo’s spaghetti-western soundtrack and Ataxia’s faux-goth nightmares. (BS)
Soulsavers, Broken (Columbia)
Mark Lanegan has one of the most underrated indie voices; since '90s grunge band Screaming Trees, he’s produced a number of fascinating projects, including solo albums on the new ‘folksier’ Sub Pop, a duet album with Isobel Campbell (formerly of Belle & Sebastian) and the Gutter Twins with Greg Dulli. This group is his most intriguing, his post-Jim Morrison howl backed with orchestral cloudbanks and western-tinged guitars. (BS)
Six Organs of Admittance, Luminous Night (Drag City)
Among a slew of releases from members of the ‘new folk’ movement this year, this one shone above the rest, a lyrical North Star leading a pilgrimage through a wilderness of fable and stunning beauty. (BS)