Listing one's favorite albums of the year indeed proves a cathartic and enjoyable task—there's no question about that. But questions arise in the process—big-picture questions, real head-scratchers.
Like, say, this one: Was 2009 a really good year for music? Or just a really deep year for above-average music? I'm inclined to argue for the former, actually.
But maybe I'm just biased. As I detailed on page 51, where I ran down my picks of the best music the Dallas-Fort Worth region had to offer in 2009, this has been a massive year for local music. So much so that, because they're so honest-to-goodness enjoyable, two albums from that local list also pop up in my Overall Best Albums of 2009 list—and a third, Teenage Cool Kids' Foreign Lands, just barely missed the cut.
Go ahead and call me a homer if you like, but I honestly don't think that has anything to do with it. Besides, I'm not alone in this conviction. As part of our year-end coverage, we polled a handful of our music writers and asked them to submit their favorite releases of 2009. Of the four lists we're running, three of them included not one, but two records with deep local ties. Because, damn it, they're all just really great records. And three of us, at least, are staking our reputations on it.
So check out our lists of the year's best albums; for convenience's sake, we've marked locally produced ones with an asterisk. —Pete Freedman
Pete Freedman's Top 10 of '09
1. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
No other record from 2009 so brilliantly melds critical and commercial acclaim as this French quartet does with its fourth studio output. The former is the result of well-crafted dance-pop perfectly suited to the band's strengths, not the least of which are frontman Thomas Mars' delicate lead vocals. The latter, meanwhile, has found this previously relatively obscure act popping up on modern rock stations and on television commercials for Cadillac crossover vehicles. Consider it a comforting reassurance: The best music always finds a way to be heard.
2. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
3. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It's Blitz!
5. Passion Pit, Manners
If 2009 has a lasting legacy, it's to be found in the mainstreaming of indie electro-pop, which, thanks to the recent successes of acts like MGMT, has proven itself a heavy influence on even Top 40 radio. But no other act so cleverly constructed its sound for mass consumption as Boston's Passion Pit did in 2009 with its incessantly catchy synth pop.
6. Grizzy Bear, Veckatimest
7. Telegraph Canyon, The Tide and the Current*
8. St. Vincent, Actor*
9. Manchester Orchestra, Mean Everything to Nothing
10. The Big Pink, A Brief History of Love
Merritt Martin's Top 10 of '09
1. Phosphorescent, To Willie
2. Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse, Dark Night of the Soul
The controversial collaboration of Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse leader Mark Linkous is more than a soundtrack to a book of David Lynch photographs. It's a lush, weighty and mesmerizing thing—something that's transcended its would-be LP status. Because of a legal dispute with label EMI, this album never saw an official release—although, thankfully, National Public Radio stepped in and offered to stream the output on its Web site. Featuring a guest roster of indie rock's elite (Jason Lytle, Iggy Pop, The Flaming Lips, Nina Persson, Frank Black and Vic Chesnutt, to name a few), this album stands as one of the best albums that no one can truly own...yet.
3. Magnolia Electric Co., Josephine
4. PJ Harvey & John Parish, A Woman A Man Walked By
Perhaps it was the "official" teaming up of Harvey with Parish that allowed for this album to stylistically stretch out as far as it does; A Woman A Man Walked By represents as much of Harvey's earlier raucous and brash rock star as it does the strong folk angel Parish helped unleash before Harvey's 2007 album White Chalk. The two longtime collaborators previously released Dance Hall at Louse Point, under the PJ and JP name, but that release doesn't have the guts or the charismatic sensuality of this effort. Single "Black Hearted Love" is—on its own—worth its weight in vinyl.
5. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, White Lunar
6. Mos Def, The Ecstatic
7. Jarvis Cocker, Further Complications
8. Double Dagger, More
9. Buddy & Julie Miller, Written in Chalk
10. 7 Worlds Collide, The Sun Came Out
Nic Hernandez's Top 10 of '09
1. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest
2. Memory Tapes, Seek Magic
3. The xx, The xx
4. St. Vincent, Actor*
5. Nite Jewel, Good Evening
Nite Jewel successfully—through the use of vintage sounds; lo-fi production; and eerie, ghost-like vocals—transports us to another era in ways that few in the history of music have been able to. In an age that gives even the most amateur musician the ability to achieve a crisp and professional gleam to their music, Good Evening recalls a 1980s post-disco period when file-sharing consisted of huddling around record players with friends.
6. Passion Pit, Manners
7. Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms*
8. The Sandwitches, How to Make Ambient Sadcake
9. Blakroc, Blakroc
10. Mos Def, The Ecstatic
His career can be described as spotty at best for an MC whose skill we've rarely seen matched in the rap world. But The Ecstatic shows Mos Def finally approaching the potential we saw a decade ago on his solo debut, Black on Both Sides. The variety of styles used makes his creative wanderlust apparent, and Mos was able to create a cohesive enough album to fly in the face of those trumpeting hip-hop's demise.
Noah W. Bailey's Top 10 of '09
1. Phosphorescent, To Willie
2. Lee Fields and the Expressions, My World
For my money, "Do You Love Me (Like You Say You Do)" and "Love Comes and Goes" is the best one-two opening punch of any album this year, as the 57-year-old Fields and his young, hip backing band set a gritty new apex for the late-aughts soul revival.
3. Justin Townes Earle, Midnight at the Movies
4. Alela Diane, To Be Still
5. The Low Anthem, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
6. Telegraph Canyon, The Tide and the Current*
7. Teenage Cool Kids, Foreign Lands*
8. Son Volt, American Central Dust
9. Reigning Sound, Love and Curses
The Boss may have laid an aural turd back in January with his horrid Working on a Dream. But Springsteen fans need look no further than Reigning Sound's Love and Curses for their yearly fix of River-esque rock and roll. Just try not to pump your fist to Greg Cartwright and Co.'s cover of Glass Sun's "Stick Up for Me," a raw-voiced '60s anthem that somehow feels even more relevant in 2009.
10. Jim O' Rourke, The Visitor