MySpace Musicâ€™s 50 Albums You Should Know From 2009
Wolfing down a McRib at 2:00 AM. Re-watching the season premiere of Jersey Shore. Going to see Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen… on opening night. In 2009 there was no shortage of guilty pleasures to go around, but few were as good as listening to the first album by LMFAO. Oh sure, you can pretend you spent all year in your apartment reading The New Yorker while waxing poetic about the new record by Grizzly Bear. But everyone knows that when you were getting ready to go out on a Saturday night, you actually cued up â€œIâ€™m In Miami Bitchâ€ and sang along to every word. And why wouldnâ€™t you? Like the rest of Party Rock, â€œMiamiâ€ was an irresistible combination of rap, pop and rock that made LMFAO the one band in 2009 that you hated to love, but who you loved all the same.
When Asher Roth went from being an unknown rapper pushing his demo tape on MySpace to one of the fastest rising stars of 2009, it was easy to write him off. After all, once â€œI Love Collegeâ€ began blaring out of dorm rooms across the country, he seemed too much like an Eminem knock-off (or, worse yet, the kind of forgettable MC who exclusively wrote songs about getting wasted). But then came Asleep In The Bread Aisle and suddenly things began to change: Jay-Z gave him props in an interview and, soon, even Eminem admitted that he was a fan. Now, months after the heat around Asher has cooled, itâ€™s easy to see what all the fuss was about: As songs like â€œBe By Myselfâ€ and â€œLark On My Go-Kartâ€ prove, this is one kid who can rhyme circles around whatever criticism you may have of him.
Simian Mobile Disco is a band that knows how to soundtrack a party, no one would question that. But with Temporary Pleasure they set out to prove that they know how to partyâ€”period. In turn, many of the lyrics throughout this vicious song cycle examine the highs and eventual lows that so many of their fans experience once the drugs have worn off. But Temporary Pleasure wasn’t just a hedonistic affair. Like 2007′s Attack Decay Sustain Release, James Ford and Jas Shaw stick to their winning formula on Temporary Pleasure, slowly building self-recorded rythmns until they explode into instantly enjoyable choruses. Wisely, they also enlist vocal cameos from an all-star cast including Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and Beth Ditto from the Gossip, who struts through “Cruel Intentions” like she’s the fiercest diva on the planet.
Fifteen years ago, Bjork left the Sugarcubes to pursue a solo career that was more creative, more groundbreaking and more weird than pretty much anyone would have expected when she was still playing charming indie rock songs. Not to draw too strong of a parallel here, but that’s essentially what happened with Karin Dreijer Andersson in 2009, as she took a break from electro-pop favorites The Knife to explore world beat rhythms, minimalist techno beats and even primal chanting on Fever Ray’s incredibly inventive debut. The end result was a leftfield hit that drew an extremely diverse, not to mention unbelievably devoted, fanbase. But best of all, it also made face painting a completely acceptable look for female singers across the world.
For much of the last year, Jason Schwartzman played a writer on the show Bored To Death who was so uninspired by his day job that he decided to re-invent himself as a private detective. In the process his character accidentally became one of the most eager unlicensed cops in Brooklyn. That’s sort of what happened with Coconut Records this year, too. Not that he’s bored with acting. Or on the verge of performing a citizen’s arrest. But as Schwartzman continues to moonlight as a one-man band, he has turned into a excellent songwriter who is anxious to prove he’s more than just an actor. Which, on Davy, was exactly what he managed to do: From the vintage sleigh bells and horns on “Saint Jerome” to the warm melodies of “Drummer,” this is no vanity project. It’s a gorgeous pop album that will stand the tests of time.
A couple of underground veterans get into a room to record an album together. They’ve all dealt with major labels, so when it comes time to release the fruits of their labor they say to hell with the suits and leak the album onto the internet. Within months, a sizable fanbase is born and, as the year comes to a close, their name is on the lips of people who make lists like this one. No, this isn’t the story of Wilco. It’s actually the tale of Joe Budden, Crooked J, Royce Da 5’9″ and Joell Ortizâ€”four MCs who have spent the past 15 years floating beneath the mainstream’s radar, but who easily made one of the best rap records of the year. And not just for underground fans, either: In a just world, Hot 97 would be playing “The One” every 15 minutes while “Cut You Loose” serves as a friendly reminder that the key to any good hip-hop song is the art of telling a story.
Ten years ago, no one would have predicted how this decade would have turned out for Morrissey. When the â€™00s kicked off, the semi-retired singer was living as a recluse in the Hollywood Hills, only coming out in daylight to take his pinstriped suits to the cleaners. But ever since he released You Are The Quarry in 2004, the former Smiths frontman has been on a undeniable roll, banging out triumphant albums like Years Of Refusal that are filled with the sort of punchy alt-rock tunes that should belong to artists half his age. (Seriously, if it werenâ€™t for his theatrical singing on â€œSomething Is Squeezing My Skullâ€ you might confuse it for something by the Alkaline Trio.) But in 2009, that is exactly what made Morrissey so cool: He knows now that itâ€™s practically his duty to emerge every few years and, with both style and grace, show the rest of us how itâ€™s done.
A funny thing happened to Pearl Jam as they began writing their ninth album together: The world that they spent most of the â€™90s rebelling against had practically disappeared. Think about it: In 2009, there was no finite version of what â€œselling outâ€ or â€œcorporate rockâ€ actually meant. So what did that leave Eddie Vedder and company to cry about? Not much, really. But it turns out that was actually a good thing because, throughout Backspacer, the lyrics are more optimistic and the guitars are once again cranked up to 11, especially on rollicking tracks like â€œGot Someâ€ and â€œThe Fixer.â€ Granted, Pearl Jam werenâ€™t the only grunge Gods who mounted a comeback this year. (Unfortunately, we also had to suffer through Alice In Chains.) But in the end, Eddie and the boys were the only ones who actually got it right.
You know who likes Mayer Hawthorne? Questlove, Justin Timberlake and John Mayer. This probably doesnâ€™t seem like a big deal, but it is: You see, whenever Mayer or Questlove talk about their favorite artists, itâ€™s not some new band that your little sister is bumping while she cruises the local food court. If you had the opportunity to ask JT who was on his iPod, he would never tell you All Time Low. Chances are he would say he was listening to Al Green. Or Sam Cooke. Or Otis Redding. Or, as it turns out, Mayer Hawthorne who in 2009 put out a record so filled with blue-eyed soul and jazz-inflected balladry that he may one day join the prestigious list of names mentioned here. Bonus points for playing every instrument on it, too.
Now we know that some people may argue that 21st Century Breakdown wasnâ€™t as good as Green Dayâ€™s last album, 2004â€™s American Idiot. But then again how could it be? If it were, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong would have probably had to unscrew two bolts from his neck and reveal that he was actually a robot. What he did instead was work up a handful of songs that still manage to rank among his bandâ€™s best: The guitar flameout of â€œRestless Heart Syndromeâ€ was an obvious highlight, but really it was the epic ballad â€œ21 Gunsâ€ that set the bar. After all, this was a song so note-perfect that it found Green Day practically begging any other group going on 25 years to match it. And guess what? This time next year theyâ€™ll probably still be waiting for anyone to come close.
Here’s a question: Was 2009 the year of the supergroup? Maybe. But if not, then it was definitely the year of totally bizarre collaborations. After all, in November we were presented the head-scratching news that a couple of guys from Mew and Coldplay started a new band with some geezer from A-ha. Then there was Scott Ian from Anthrax who, through some unexplainable force of nature, decided to start a band with two dudes from Fall Out Boy. Thank God then for The Dead Weather, a supergroup that actually made sense: Combining the sauntering vocals of Alison Mosshart of The Kills with the throwback riffs of Jack White, the newly christened group instantly gelled and, with Horehound, made a witchy psych-rock record that didnâ€™t feel overly dated or aged. Oh yeah, they looked pretty sweet in their leather jackets, too.
In 2009 it seems fair to say that Brand New lived so much in their own world, that they probably had no idea what was going on with the sort of mainstream emo bands that they used to call their contemporaries. But was that really such a bad thing? Sure, on the one hand it meant that they didn’t write a bunch of blog posts about how much they hated Brokencyde. But on the other, it meant that they were actually able to isolate themselves and write a dark masterpiece like Daisy, which simultaneously channeled the post-hardcore and grunge pioneers that frontman Jesse Lacey grew up on, while still honing in on the feelings of loneliness and confusion that one can experience as they enter adulthood. The result: An album that could be both angry and beautiful at the same time.
It was obvious how much this record was gonna rule from the cover alone. Really, how can you not love a psychedelic field filled with a group of shortys? But leave it to Ghostface, the Wu-Tang Clanâ€™s most artistically enduring solo member, to craft an eighth solo album that somehow managed to live up to such a priceless image. Ghostdini was his stab at a full-on R&B discâ€”hence the contributions from John Legend, Lloyd and Raheem DeVaughnâ€”and the results were no less unique than youâ€™d expect. Throughout, X-rated rhymes rub up against sweet slow jams like “Baby,” where Ghost sings about bringing home Popeyeâ€™s for his pregnant girlfriend. If that wasn’t proof that romance was alive and well in 2009, than we don’t what is.
Too often when the members of a dearly beloved band reunite they also feel the need to reinvent themselves, which only ends up disappointing their original fans. But that, my friends, is why J. Mascis is a genius. On Dinosaur Jr.’s second album with their recently reunited original line-up, the indie rock guitar God mercifully skips dubstep in favor of a dozen old-school jams that sound like they could have been recorded long before Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow started their legendary feud. Whatâ€™s even more remarkable is that Farm actually improved upon 2007â€™s excellent comeback Beyond, suggesting that this is more than just a reunion. It’s a second life.
You have to love the latest album from Muse just for the part in â€œUprisingâ€ when frontman Matt Bellamy announces, â€œItâ€™s time the fat cats had a heart attack,â€ over a thumping disco-glam groove that Adam Lambert would trade his favorite pair of leather jeans for. It’s a surprising momentâ€”with Bellamy tackling a deadly serious topic in a way that sounds like he’s getting ready to make out with his lady at an Usher concertâ€”but then again, The Resistance has no shortage of them. Throughout there are sleek future-soul jams (â€œUndisclosed Desiresâ€), Arabian-accented orchestral freak-outs (â€œUnited States of Eurasiaâ€) and straight-up three-part symphonies (â€œExogenesisâ€). All of which begs the question: What more did you need?
Unless weâ€™re forgetting someone, this Minneapolis MC had to be the only hip-hop artist to sample D.C. punk greats Fugazi this yearâ€”and for that alone, we would have shouted out this accurately titled third album. But the truth is, Never Better was one of the year’s best albums for plenty of other reasons: Stefon â€œP.O.S.â€ Alexanderâ€™s nimble flow. His sharp political mind. And a taut punk rock-style of production that he honed all on his own. Add that up and what you are left with is an indie rap masterpiece with a rock ‘n’ roll heart.
With a dude from Nirvana (drummer Dave Grohl), a dude from Queens Of The Stone Age (singer-guitarist Josh Homme) and a dude from friggin’ Led Zeppelin (bassist John Paul Jones), Them Crooked Vultures would have had to work overtime to suck. Fortunately, these laidback monsters of rock took it easy instead, as they churned out this killer slab of lean-and-mean party-metal jams. If new acts like Them Crooked Vultures and The Dead Weather suggested that supergroups are gonna crop up as regularly in 2010 as they did in 2009, then they can at least have the decency to be this awesome.
For his band’s first record under the name Girls, frontman Christopher Owens decided on a pretty simple title: He called it Album. But the truth is Owens couldâ€™ve just as easily dubbed it The Album That 456,732 Indie Blogs Will Spend The Next Year Drooling Over, because thatâ€™s exactly what occurred. All those tastemakers had a point, of course: Throughout Album, Owens packed these songs with off-kilter melodies and unlikely genre nods. (On â€œBig Bad Mean Motherf**erâ€ he even delivered the only surf rock guitar solo of 2009 that wasnâ€™t performed on a cruise ship.) But in the end, it was Owens intimate lyrics that made this such an endearing affair. When he sings about his tumultuous childhood on â€œLust For Life,â€ youâ€™ll want to give the guy a beerâ€”or a hug.
Seven months ago, when Miike Snow’s debut hit stores, most consumers didn’t know what to make of it. In fact, for a while their label had a hard time convincing people it wasn’t a rap album. That seems weird, sure, but it also gets to the root of what made this band so special: For most of this year, Miike Snow seemed like a mystery. Were they a meticulous pop band created by two Swedish studio pros? Or were they a bizarre cult that dressed up in surgeon masks? In the end, they were a little of both. But more importantly, they were also three old-fashioned music junkies and, whether it was in the Peter Gabriel like-vocals on “Animal” or the Orbital-esque atmospherics employed on “Silvia,” their expansive knowledge of both melody and rhythm always shined through.
Fans of this Chicago MCâ€™s infectious (and Kanye-approved 2007) single â€œPro Nailsâ€ had plenty of time to work up an appetite for Kid Sisterâ€™s debut album, which was originally supposed to come out last year. Fortunately, Ultraviolet was worth the wait: Itâ€™s a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed hip-house effort with block-rocking beats (“Right Hand Hi”) and ultra-goofy rhymes (“Life On TV”) that made us all wonder what happened to those rad pre-electronica outfits like Technotronic and C+C Music Factory. Cee-Lo joins Kid Sister on â€œDaydreamingâ€ and that seems to be a pretty apt song title: Dreaming is exactly what she was doing here.
This year the world lost John Hughes and, to put it mildly, that blew. But you know who on this list probably took it the hardest? Karen O. Not only did the flamboyantly attired frontwoman grow up in the Hughes-saturated â€™80s, but her songs have always shared an affinity for the subject matter that Hughes focused on in his films. From â€œMapsâ€ to â€œZero,â€ O has consistently told stories from the perspective of someone who feels like an outsider, even though they are clearly the coolest person in the room. On Itâ€™s Blitz! that tradition continues, especially on the albumâ€™s aching centerpiece â€œSkeletons.â€ But throughout, Oâ€™s tales of alienation and doubt are also given a dance pop makeover, all dressed up in throbbing synth lines and sparkly guitars. Somewhere in heaven, John is smiling down.
We all know how Weezer spent their 2009: Covering Lady Gaga, bouncing around on trampolines and forking over a suitcase of cash to Lil Wayne. But this year, Manchester Orchestra were more interested in how Weezer spent their 1996 as they channeled the alt-rock pioneerâ€™s second album, Pinkerton, to make this extremely bold sophomore set. The influence of Pinkerton as well as Nirvanaâ€™s In Utero can be heard throughout Mean Everything To Nothing, whether itâ€™s in the vulnerable lyrics of â€œI Can Feel A Hot Oneâ€ or the post-grunge guitars of â€œIn My Teeth.â€ But by the time that frontman Andy Hull gets to â€œThe River,â€ and it feels like every Marshall in the room is about to blow, there is no point in talking about â€œinfluences.â€ Because this is clearly the work of a songwriter who is coming into his own.
The first album in eight years from this neo-soul pioneer would have made our list based on the ethereal beauty of lead single â€œPretty Wingsâ€ alone. Yet BLACKsummersâ€™nightâ€”the first installment in a planned trilogy that the singer says will take him through 2011â€”actually worked wonders from beginning to end. And not just in the bedroom, either: Maxwellâ€™s knack for studio-rat texture and beat-fiend grooves has never been sharper than it is throughout these nine songs. As for the bedroom, well, the guy routinely pulled off a version of pillow talk that would make a lesser man blush. Like on the album’s opener â€œBad Habits,â€ where he sings, â€œI want you to prove it to me in the nudeâ€ and it sounded like he was doing you a solid.
When you grow up in a desolate town like Ealing, West London, you’re probably not going to spend your adolescence listening to Britney Spears. Instead, you might end up obsessing over Ian Curtis and figuring out ways not to freeze to death. Just ask the members of White Lies. Throughout their powerful debut, the burgeoning quartet channeled that urban emptiness while marrying their twin loves for late â€™70s post-punk (think Joy Division) and early â€™00s Brit-rock (think any band that has been on the cover of NME this decade). They also sang about death. A lot. But even if their fixation on mortality seemed odd for a group of kids fresh out of high school, their cascading songs gave us plenty of reasons to live.
With the emergence of style-conscious rappers like Kid Cudi and Drake, 2009 might not have seemed like a great year for meat-and-potatoes MCs like Jadakiss. Never the less, the Yonkers native decided to let the rest of the world wear skinny jeans as he once again delivered an album full of hard-hitting rhymes and even harder-hitting beats. No, there weren’t a lot of emotionally sung confessions or sugary grooves on The Last Kiss, but Jada still managed to make a stir by returning to rap’s tried-and-true roots. â€œIf youâ€™re real and you know it, clap your hands,â€ he demanded on â€œWhoâ€™s Real.â€ And, the more you sat with The Last Kiss, the harder it was not to give him a round of applause.
Extreme-metal fanatics have known of the fury of Boston’s Converge for well over a decade now. (In fact, these brainy monsters released their first masterpiece, Jane Doe, all the way back in 2001.) But Axe to Fall still felt like a new peak for the longstanding band, as guitarist Kurt Ballou wilded out in a noise-punk kamikaze fashion while singer Jacob Bannon yowled hideously about how the worms will feed and the rats will feast. Itâ€™s not often that the underground metal scene produces an act with Convergeâ€™s dedication to creativity and evolution. Needless to say, we cannot wait to see where they go next.
This was an insanely great year for indie-psych bands from Brooklyn. (For even further proof of this point, youâ€™ll have to wait until we get to the end of this list.) But even if the Dirty Projectorsâ€™ second album didnâ€™t quite scale the pop-cultural that heights that Grizzly Bear and Animal Collectiveâ€™s records did (well, unless you count having Beyonceâ€™s sister cover one of your tunes), the bracingly weird Bitte Orca definitely deserves a place beside Veckatimest and Merriweather Post Pavilion in any year-end review. After all, who else had the gumptionâ€”or the know-howâ€”to combine Mariah Carey-style wailing with knotty African-inspired guitar wizardry? Exactly.
There’s emo rap and then there’s seriously, somebody get this guy to a therapist rap. On his excellent third album Depart From Me, Cage fell squarely into the latter category. Throughout, the New York-based MC examined the wreckage of his twisted childhoodâ€”letâ€™s just say that his dad wonâ€™t be winning any Father Of The Year awards anytime soonâ€”while a slew of A-List collaborators created dark, discordant rap-rock soundscapes beneath him. You might think that the damaged-white-guy-with-psychological-issues thing would have been done to death, especially in a year in which we were also given a new album by Eminem. But as Depart From Me proved, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Between all their legend-building festival appearances and five-star album reviews, the one thing that has been most overlooked about Veckatimest is that this was the work of a real deal band. That may seem like an obvious point, but it’s actually more profound than you might think: You see, five years ago Grizzly Bear was nothing more than a guy playing his songs into an iMac in his Brooklyn bedroom. But over the course of three albums their line-up has expanded and now they actually feel and, more importantly, sound like a legitimate group. They harmonize like the Beach Boys. They dress the same like the Ramones. (Sweet bowties!) But above anything else, they also create sweetly lilting art-rock that, as Veckatimest proves, only they could dream up together.
On their highly anticipated follow-up to 2007â€™s buzz-building Red Album, this Savannah-bred metal act injected their slow-and-low riffs with passionate singing, pretty guitar textures and even the occasional folk-pop melody. (Seriously, â€œBlackpowder Orchardâ€ could pass for something off of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrackâ€”at least until the prog-rock guitars come in.) But donâ€™t think that Blue Record couldnâ€™t slay. During â€œOâ€™er Hell And Hide,â€ guitarists John Baizley and Peter Adams put you at ease with a nice acoustic intro before dropping the hellhound hammer on your ass. The best new band in metal? You’re looking at them.
This delay-plagued follow-up to the Virginia Beach duoâ€™s beloved 2006 album Hell Hath No Fury represented the first time Clipse worked with producers other than their old pals the Neptunes (who nonetheless helmed half the tracks here). So consider it a testament to the razor-sharp lyrical skills of Malice and Pusha T that Til The Casket Drops still feels like a classic Clipse album. Throughout there is great offhanded bragging, insider drug talk and punch lines so well honed that theyâ€™d work even without the beats beneath them. Plus a killer Kanye feature on â€œKinda Like a Big Dealâ€ sealed it. Our only complaint: Where’d those much-whispered-about Rick Rubin
If having people dress up like you on Halloween was one of the determining factors for making it onto this list, then Lady Gaga would have easily cruised to the top. (As a side note, can someone tell the fat guy we saw strutting around West Hollywood to lose the halter-top next year?) Unfortunately, Gaga only released a scant eight songs in 2009, but they were still compelling enough to rank among the yearâ€™s best. Throughout, the petite star dabbles with all sorts of genres that normally wouldnâ€™t mixâ€”from deep house (â€œMonsterâ€) to brassy cabaret (â€œSpeechlessâ€). Hell, â€œBad Romanceâ€ even sounds like a combination of late â€™90s Madonna pop and a Ricola ad. But in the end, thatâ€™s exactly what makes this abridged album work: On paper, these songs should be incredibly weird. Instead, theyâ€™re just incredibly good.
Admittedly, unless you spent most of the â€™90s reading back issues of Chickfactor or attending college in Dearborn, Michigan then most of the musical reference points on The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart probably wouldnâ€™t make sense to you. The Ropers? Chapterhouse? Another Sunny Day? Who were all of these bands that frontman Kip Berman kept talking about in interviews? But really, the most admirable thing about the first album from The Pains is that, even if you had grown up buying seven inches from the Sarah Records mail order catalog, Berman and his grinning bandmates were still able to make wonderfully obscure genres like â€œtwee-popâ€ and â€œshoegazeâ€ sound refreshing and new.
Over the past few years, it has often felt like Mos Def couldnâ€™t take time out from his busy acting career to focus on creating another classic album like 1999′s Black On Both Sides. But frankly, The Ecstatic changed all of that. With it, Mos revealed how deeply engaged he still is in the game that first made him a star, with the MC dropping all sorts of political and social science over a nonstop barrage of brainy beats. (Props must also be given to the man for connecting with indie greats like Madlib, Oh No and the late, great J Dilla.) â€œSimmer down now,â€ Mos raps in â€œQuiet Dog,â€ but if anything, The Ecstatic finds him firing at full blast.
Thereâ€™s no denying that the first thing you notice about Elly Jackson is her hairâ€”that bright-red Flock Of Seagulls swoop that seems to defy gravity and the passage of a single year since 1982. But listen to her and computer guru Ben Langmaidâ€™s debut as La Roux and your attention is instantly drawn elsewhere. With this set, La Roux showed their uncanny flair for not only retro-â€™80s sounds, but for the kind of heartrending melodies that once made songs like â€œDonâ€™t You (Forget About Me)â€ feel like the soundtrack for an entire generation. La Rouxâ€™s breakthrough single was also called â€œBulletproof,â€ but like many of the sentimental songs here, it proved that they were anything but.
Releasing the sequel to an album that came out 14 years ago seems like an unexpected move from an MC that has been in the game as long as Raekwon has. But to have that sequel be every bit as solid as its seemingly one-of-a-kind companion is straight up unprecedented. And yet Cuban Linxâ€¦ Pt. II did just that this year, as it traced the contours of New York City criminal life in vivid and sometimes excruciating detail. (At one point during â€œSonnyâ€™s Missing,â€ Rae even talks about cutting up some dude’s cheek.) But that kind of raw delivery only helped Cuban Linxâ€¦ Pt. II channel that classic Wu-Tang feel. All of which is to say that we look forward to Part IIIâ€¦ due out at some point in 2023.
We still havenâ€™t figured out what exactly the concept was behind this banging electro-dancehall act, which was made up of white-hot producers Diplo and Switch. Apparently Major Lazer is a Jamaican military leader who fights zombies? Oh, and he might be a cartoon, too? Whatever the real back-story is, Guns Donâ€™t Kill Peopleâ€¦ Lazers Do provided some of 2009â€™s finest and funniest dance-party fodder, with a motley crew of guest rappers and singers (including Vybz Kartel, Nina Sky and Amanda Blank) working their frantic magic over furious beats. Was this the collaboration of the year? Maybe. But if not, it was definitely the most unique.
On-air radio appearances. Hearing their song in the background of a very special episode of Gossip Girl. Having actual catering at their shows. None of these things must have seemed even remotely possible when Emily Haines and her sharply dressed bandmates literally mortgaged their houses so that they could scrape together enough money to not only record, but release, Fantasies on their own dime. The result was by far the most successful record of Metricâ€™s career, but the monetary long shot wouldn’t have paid off had the songsâ€”glammed up anthems like “Gimme Sympathy” and strutting pop rock dirges such as “Satellite Mind”â€”not been so seducing or strong. Take a bow, Ms. Haines. Take a bow.
When writing about Mastodon’s fourth record, Crack The Skye, itâ€™s hard not to discuss all the totally effed up things that went into making it. Like frontman Brent Hinds almost dying. Or drummer Brann Dailor coming to terms with his sister committing suicide at the age of 14. Yeah dude, this was heavy. But out of such bleak moments often come the kind of life-altering artistic statements that bands make maybe once in their career. For Mastodon, Crack The Skye was that moment and, as it moved in its dark and meticulous hard rock suites, it stood tall as not only one of the most forward thinking metal albums of 2009, but of the past 10 years.
Legal and label issues kept this Lil Wayne protÃ©gÃ© from releasing his full-length debut in 2009, but this seven track mini-album announced the arrival of a major new talent all on its own. So Far Gone shared some highlights from Drakeâ€™s stunning mixtape of the same nameâ€”including â€œBest I Ever Had,â€ a masterful swirl of sensitivity and swaggerâ€”as well as a pair of fresh cuts that demonstrated just how capable this one-time blog star is of competing in the big leagues. But what’s most stunning about So Far Gone is that even for those who were in the underground know, you couldnâ€™t have possibly seen this perfect storm coming.
Even now when the everydude members of Animal Collective are asked why Merriweather Post Pavilion seemed to resonate with so many people in 2009, they merely shove their hands into the pockets of their RVCA hoodies and shrug their shoulders. And they’re not being humble, either: They really have no idea. Was it the spaced out melodies? The diversions into big beat rave? The hypnotic vocal tracks that Panda Bear and Avey Tare seemed to lace into every song? For these experimental indie dreamers, it was all a mystery. But for the rest of us, the reason seemed perfectly clear: In a year as musically adventurous as 2009, there was no other record that sounded even remotely like it.
Okay, so he didnâ€™t quite succeed in dealing a deathblow to Auto-Tune. (Hell, in 2009 even Andy Samberg used it.) But in a year free of new albums by Kanye West and Lil Wayne, someone had to step up as the King Of All Things Hip-Hopâ€”and who better than the guy whoâ€™s worn the crown several times before? Hitting digital retailers exactly eight years to the day after the first album in this game-changing franchise, The Blueprint 3 gave us Jay-Z as we havenâ€™t heard him since the glory days of â€œIzzo (H.O.V.A.)â€ and â€œEncore,â€ with his incomparable balance of humor, pathos and sex appeal all set against primetime beats by some of the best in the biz. â€œRun This Townâ€? Yeah, you could say he did just that.
They were no music industry giants. They didnâ€™t come out first week, blow doors open with a Best Buy exclusive, and then saunter to the top of the Billboard albums charts. Hell, once they finally did crash the Top 40 their singer didnâ€™t even bother to buy a new Oxford shirt. Yet, as unassuming as they may have been, Phoenix still managed to make hands down the best album of 2009, a charming romp that was so full of heart and hooks that it managed to follow us everywhere this year.
Kicking things off with â€œLiztomania,â€ quite possibly the most infectious song about an 18th Century pianist ever written, and following it with the instant classic â€œ1901,â€ Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix suggested that it may have been 2009â€™s crowning achievementâ€”after two songs. But Phoenixâ€™s fourth full-length was a far more rounded affair, balancing irresistible pop-rock singles with quiet, atmospheric comedowns and thoughtful odes to hard-fought love. Even now, as the year winds to a close, itâ€™s clear that a band hasnâ€™t been this on point since The Strokes with Is This It or, to really push the analogy, Radiohead with OK Computer.
And, like both of those fiercely respected artists, Phoenix made their definitive album at a time when they couldnâ€™t have seemed more out of place. After all, this was a year dominated by superstars like Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, two artists who toured the world with $1000-a-day stylists and elaborate laser light shows. But ultimately it was four unassuming French dudes who proved they were the real pop stars of 2009. And they did so while reminding everyone of the fact that pop music can only be larger than life, when you donâ€™t forget about the songs.