Dylan, Etc's Top 40 Albums of 2009
Part 1: #21-40
2009 was the year of the three S’s. Side projects, solo discs, and supergroups. While big names like Green Day, U2 and Pearl Jam released new material, more than ever artists found ways to break out of the usual 9-to-5. Everyone from the Strokes to the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the year off to let members pursue solo work while indie mainstays like Sigur Rós and Bon Iver went into hibernation as new groups arose from their shadows. Plus, every month seemed to bring a new band with a wet-dream lineup. What other year has brought us a rock supergroup (The Dead Weather), a folk supergroup (Monsters of Folk) and the most super supergroup since the Traveling Wilburies (Them Crooked Vultures)?
Below, Dylan, Etc presents our top forty albums of 2009. The first twenty are here, the top twenty are coming tomorrow. Each album has a sample MP3 to download - or you can snag 'em all at once from the link at the bottom [all links removed by RIAA - sorry]. Since the main point of these lists seems to be to piss people off when their favorite band didn’t make it, feel free to vent (or, just maybe, agree) in the comments.
40. Pearl Jam – BackspacerThe cry of “sell out” rang louder than ever when Pearl Jam announced an exclusive partnership with Target to promote this album, and for good reason. Eddie Vedder and co. have built a career on sticking in to the man, be that man Bush or Ticketmaster. Times may have changed, but the Pearl Jam sound hasn’t. The grunge quintet rock harder than they have in years, pumping out balls-to-the-wall stomps like it was 1992 all over again.
39. Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked VulturesIf a band featuring John Paul Jones only managed to create the second best Led Zeppelin album of the year (see #17 for the best), it’s because Jones has broadened the Zep palatte. With a little help from his friends Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) he soundtracks a demon apocalypse with thunderous riffs, monster drums and a supergroup with a lot to prove.
38. Bell X1 – Blue Lights on the RunwayBell X1 may worship at the alter of the Talking Heads, but frontman Paul Noonan is sick of hearing the comparisons. “"They're good footsteps to follow,” he cagily told NPR, “if that's what we're doing." Face it, Paul, it is, but at least you do it brilliantly.
The Great Defector
37. Frankmuzik – Complete MeSorry Gaga, it takes more than bizarre outfits a great electropop album to make. Whatever that “it” factor is though (talent?), Victor Frank has it in spades, churning out infectious club jams about love lost, found, and lost again. “Poker Face” be damned; ”Gotta Boyfriend?” should have been the sassy dance hit of the year.
36. Bat for Lashes – Two SunsTwo Suns may be number 36 here, but it’s number one in the category of Most Pretentious Press Release. “Two Suns digs deeply into the philosophy of the self and duality…touching on metaphysical ideas concerning the connections between all existence”? Please. If the themes sound like the work of an overeager Philosophy major though, the sound is dreamy pop perfection, most notably on song-of-the-year contender “Daniel.”
35. The xx – xxThis band should have added a third X to their name, because they sound like the soundtrack to an arty porno. Thumping beats and sultry vocals get submerged under layers of reverb in what Rolling Stone recently called “booty-call music for the indie-rock set.”
34. A Place to Bury Strangers – Exploding Head“Exploding head syndrome is a condition that causes the sufferer to occasionally experience a tremendously loud noise as originating from within his or her own head, usually described as the sound of an explosion, roar, waves crashing against rocks, loud voices or screams, a ringing noise, or the sound of an electrical short circuit (buzzing),” says Wikipedia. That sounds about right. Exploding Head’s waves of sound hit like a fire hose, drenching the listener so thoroughly in reverb it takes a few listens to discover the pop nuggets buried in the noise.
In Your Heart
33. Mark Knopfler – Get LuckyThe ex-rock god continues to pretend he’s never heard the phrase “Dire Straits.” Knopfler’s always had traditional balladry in his blood though (see “So Far Away”) so these delicate folk gems come second-nature. Sultan of Swing? Try Baron of Waltz.
32. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s BlitzWhen Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their acclaimed debut Fever To Tell in 2003, they had all the markings of being a flash in the proverbial pan. Six years later, their edgy art-punk hits as hard as ever. Karen O still belts like Siouxsie on speed while Nick Zinner and Brian Chase take no prisoners with jittery beats and twisty guitar lines. As the album’s second single proclaims, “Heads Will Roll.”
Heads Will Roll
31. U.S.E. – LOVEWORLDStanding for United State of Electronica, U.S.E. gets the blood pumping and booty shaking on club-ready nuggets like the throbbing “Dance With Me” or the Mr. Roboto-esq “Beat of My Heart.” To pinch another group's acronym, U.S.E. brings the D.A.N.C.E.
Dance With Me
30. Franz Nicolay – Major GeneralHold Steady keyboard player, Best Mustache in Rock winner, and now bar-ballad songwriter…is there anything Franz Nicolay can’t do? On his solo debut Nicolay adds a cabaret twist to the wordy Hold Steady sound, offering his own chapters in the perpetual soap opera of drunken fights, burnt-out teens and existential quests.
29. Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange ArrangementLeave it to a Jewish kid from Michigan to be the next Barry White. You keep expecting a tongue-in-cheek twist during A Strange Arrangement as if to say, “It’s ok, hipsters, I’m just kidding,” but these soul jams don’t lie. John Mayer called this his record of the year -- either he has surprisingly good taste or he just like the guy's name.
Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out
28. Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s YouLily Allen is a tabloid fixture for getting wasted, doing drugs, and chasing boys, but perhaps that’s why she makes such excellent music about just those things. On her second album Lily moans about everything from the Bush administration (“Fuck You”) to a guy who’s bad in the sack (“Not Fair”). Needless to say, the Queen of TMI goes into exquisite detail about each.
27. Noisettes – Wild Young HeartsZimbabwean singer Shingai Shoniwa helms this soul-rock three-piece, belting out Aretha-esq choruses over thumping guitar grooves. “Don’t Upset the Rhythm” blew up thanks to auspicious placement in a Mazda ad, but a thirty-second jingle doesn’t do justice to the deep R&B swagger of Wild Young Hearts.
Never Forget You
26. N.A.S.A. – The Spirit of ApolloEven if this record stank, the guest list alone would make it notable. Tom Waits with Kool Keith, Karen O with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, David Bynre with Chuck D. L.A. DJ duo N.A.S.A. offers more than an enviable Rolodex though, putting innovative soul-hop beats behind all the top-of-their-game performances.
Spacious Thoughts (ft. Tom Waits & Kool Keith)
25. Fanfarlo – ReservoirIt’s hard to hear this majestic album without thinking of Iceland’s Sigur Rós, and for good reason: Sigur singer Jón Þór Birgisson helped guide this London quintet in releasing their debut, even volunteering a picture of his sister (name: Sigurrós) for the cover art. If Sigur Rós come from the heavens, though, Fanfarlo is solidly rooted in the earth, tempering their epic ambitions with a rootsy grit.
I'm a Pilot
24. Bruce Springsteen – Working on a DreamBruce Springsteen forgoing his rock roots for a Beach Boys-influenced pop album seems a shaky career move, but the Boss bridges the gap between Brian Wilson and Wilson Pickett in his most hopeful record in decades. Getting your guy in the White House can have that effect.
What Love Can Do
23. King Khan & BBQ – Invisible GirlSixties nostalgia runs thick these days, but lose amidst the Beatles and Stones idolizations are the vast numbers of equally hungry but less successful bands. King Khan is here to remind us. His garage assault recalls the Seeds, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Swingin’ Medallions, and all the other three-chord artists that went from parents’ basements to bargain bins in less time than it takes to say “one-hit wonder.”
22. Muse – The ResistanceMuse frontman Matt Bellamy is sick of talking about the lizards. You say one time that you think an underground race descended from reptiles secretly controls the world and no one ever wants to talk about something else. It’d be easier to ignore Bellamy’s bizarre political theories though if they didn’t seep into his lyrics. “Interchanging mind control,” he sings in “Uprising.” “Come let the revolution take its toll.” Political paranoia is a dish best served loud, and with Muse’s swaggering Brit-prog beat behind him Bellamy just might incite the mass insurgence he so craves.
21. Anchor & Braille – FeltWhen Anberlin lead singer Stephen Christian announced his ambient-pop side project, fans’ first thought was: The Postal Service. When the record finally dropped, fans’ second thought was: The Postal Service. The songs on Felt are like eleven gorgeous dreams though, falsetto choruses and piano codas building up to such great heights (har!) you never want to come down.
Like Steps in a Dance
Albums 1-20 coming tomorrow...
Download all MP3s featured in this post here [link removed].