10. RAEKWON- ONLY BUILT FOR CUBAN LINX, PART II
Buy AmazonOnly Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2
Rap album of the year and throwback to the mid-nineties mafia-rap created by Raekwon and the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan. II is not really a sequel to 1995’s brilliant “Only Built for Cuban Linx”- at least not conceptually. It’s almost as if Raekwon decided to give it the same name (and very similar album cover) as his first legendary solo album to make sure both he and his guest rappers and producers are completely on their game. He sets the bar high but fully delivers. “Linx II” features guest turns from fellow Wu-Tang members Inspektah Deck, RZA, GZA, Method Man, Masta Killa, Capadonna and of course his #1 collaborator Ghostface and is the strongest non-Ghostface album Wu release in a long time- maybe even a decade. Also features the best beats I’ve heard all year. One of the few rap albums that justifies its seventy minute length.
Buy “10 Bricks (Feat. Capadonna & Ghostface Killah)”
Buy “House of Flying Daggers (Feat. Inspektah Deck, Ghostface Killah & Method Man)”
9. MASTODON- CRACK THE SKYE
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“Crack the Skye” is my metal album of the year which is not saying much. Though my first huge musical love was metal back in the mid eighties, my metal fandom has slipped since at least the early nineties (yeah… right around the time of grunge). Though I no longer listen to much metal, I like to think I recognize a great metal album when I hear it and this is it! It’s Mastodon’s second masterpiece in a row (many will say third but I have still yet to hear 2004’s “Leviathan”). CTS is much proggier than their previous album “Blood Mountain”, making it perhaps even more epic, while rocking just as hard. Mastodon’s rhythm section is just unbelievable. You have to travel back to the seventies to find a drummer in such a heavy band that can swing so hard- see thirteen minute album closer “The Last Baron” for proof.
Buy “The Last Baron”
8. THE FLAMING LIPS- EMBRYONIC
Twenty + year indie-rock vets from Oklahoma City return with a big left turn after 2006’s fairly disappointing “At War with the Mystics”. “Embryonic” is a modern day psychedelic mind-frak. Though the sound is unmistakably Lips, they also add heaps and globs of free jazz, noise-rock (a throw-back to their early to mid 90’s period), and dub reggae. This is an old fashioned double album with two distinct cd’s each lasting slightly over thirty minutes. Hopefully the teenagers of today and tomorrow will spin this album enough times so that the tracks become as familar to them as “Dark Side of the Moon” is to my generation. This has the feel of an album that has many secrets needing to be unlocked.
*The Lips recently covered “Dark Side” in its entirety and are releasing it on digitally and on cd.
Buy “Watching the Planets”
Buy “Silver Trembling Hands”
7. PASSION PIT- MANNERS
“Manners” is the the full length debut for Boston’s Passion Pit, after their very promising “Chunk of Change” EP from 2008. The Pit began as a one man band fronted by helium voiced Michael Angelakos, who still writes and sings all of the songs on the album but now surrounds himself with three other band members. Their music recalls the 80’s with sugary synths and Angelakos’s other-worldly falsetto. The majority of the songs could be released as singles and the album is enjoyable from start to finish. If you’re only a fan of meat and potatoes rock though do not come here! “Manners” also contains “Sleepyhead” which was the best song on their EP and is one of the best on “Manners”.
Buy “Little Secrets”
Buy “The Reeling”
6. YEAH YEAH YEAHS- IT’S BLITZ!
Buy AmazonIt’s Blitz!
The Northeast trio (New Jersey & Brooklyn) trio moves to L.A. and trades in their guitars for synthesizers. Well that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but synths are now responsible for many of the main hooks on “Blitz” and most of the noisy skronks found on their first two albums and various EP’s have been stripped away. Karen O still oozes sex appeal and is one of the best frontperson in rock. “It’s Blitz!” delivers the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s most consistently great set of songs and with “Zero” they have their first anthem that comes anywhere close to equaling the glorious “Maps” from 2003’s “Fever to Tell”.
Buy “Dragon Queen”
5. PHOENIX- WOLFGANG AMADEUS PHOENIX
Buy AmazonWolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
French band strikes critical and commercial gold with their fourth album release. The lead single “1901” has been inescapable all year- on radio, commercials and tons of television promos but I’m miraculously still not sick of it- a testament to these guys who somehow manage to write hooks that can make you both dance and rock out. Their songs are filled with immediacy and accessibility and beg to be played again and again. It was a long time coming but I’m glad Phoenix has finally arrived. The music industry needs them.
4. GRIZZLY BEAR- VECKATIMEST
The surprise hit of the year. You know 2009 was an interesting year when an extremely musical, somewhat sleepy Brooklyn group like Grizzly Bear was able to debut in the top ten, sell over a hundred thousand albums and count Jay-Z & Beyonce as fans. Grizzly Bear is another band that requires multiple plays before finally breaking through to the listener. There is nary a danceable beat on the album- it’s music for the head not the body, and “Veckatimest” is filled with songs of intense beauty- particularly at the beginning and end of the album (the middle lags a bit). Should be a classic for years to come- a serious grower.
Buy “Two Weeks”
Buy “While You Wait for the Others”
3. DIRTY PROJECTORS- BITTE ORCA
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Dirty Projectors are a collective of musicians helmed by Yale music school graduate and current Brooklynite Dave Longstreth. The Projector’s are a very experimental band who combine seemingly disparate musical genres such as noise rock with modern R&B with a 70’s classic rock groove, all laden with beautiful harmonies between male (read: Longstreth) & female vocals. The band’s influences crazily seem to range from Led Zeppelin to Timbaland to Steve Reich This may take a few listens to get use to but it’s well worth the effort.
Buy “Stillness is the Move”
Buy “Two Doves”
2. GIRLS- ALBUM
Psychedelic, lo-fi duo from San Francisco makes album of sun drenched, yet heartbreaking tunes for surprise album of the year. I caught wind of pre-album single release “Hellhole Ratrace” early this year. I liked it then but loved it after buying the full length album last fall. The songs, about love, freedom & being broke in your twenties are messy, free-spirited and filled with heartache. Even the sunniest songs have a hint of sadness at the bottom of them. The passionate yet snotty vocals brings to mind the Violent Femmes.
Buy “Lust for Life”
1. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE- MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION
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The Brooklyn by way of Baltimore freak folk-techno-jam band’s finest & most accessible album is far and away my top choice for 2009’s album of the year. AC forgoes choruses and traditional song structure and focuses on sonic experimentation and repetition tying it all together in a way that’s extremely pleasing to the ear. Though no song is over six minutes four or five tracks have an epic feel to them. There is not a bad moment on the album. AC has improves exponentially with each album release. It’s a wonder where they will go next.
Buy “Summertime Clothes”
Buy “My Girls”