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Best Albums of 2009

The Top of the Class

2009 was year the world went goo goo for Gaga, Taylor Swift-ly became the media’s musical darling and Kanye was further vilified for his ridiculous ego. Jay Z put New York back on the map, U2 went super-size, and the Kings of Leon’s sex was on fire. But, lurking mostly in the space just between mainstream appeal and obscurity were a great collection of artists who stole our ears with excellent albums. 2009, we salute you!

Matt Crawford

1. Album - Girls
Girls, the breakout band from San Francisco this year, have every thing a modern rock act should have: dynamics, an eclectic mix of styles, and an interesting backstory.

2. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix
In a year characterized by doom and gloom, Phoenix emerged from France after years of success in Europe to pep up American boys and girls — at least for a little while — with upbeat and light songs.

3. Self-Titled - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Good, fuzzy, guitar-driven songs from a Brooklyn band that wears its heart on its sleeve.

4. Self-Title - Monsters of Folk
Monsters of Folk offer a beautiful collection of songs with their debut. What else would you expect from the dream team of Conor Oberst, M Ward, Jim James, and Mike Mogis?

5. My Maudlin Career - Camera Obscura
Heartache rarely sounds so good.

David Johnson-Igra

1. Actor - St. Vincent
In a predominantly male indie rock scene, St. Vincent is more than just in a group of her own — she's on top.

2. Vecktameist - Grizzly Bear
Their dynamic sound is haunting and comforting. Ed Droste has one of
the best voices in indie rock.

3. Moondagger - Deastro
On "Vermillion Plaza," Deastro sings "Will you beat our drum, because God is on our side," now that's "change."

4. Boy Meets World - Fashawn
One of the most promising hip-hop debuts, and he is only 21 years old.

5. Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective
A no-brainer from a band redefining pop, and continuing along their own path.

Lynne Angel

1. Acoustic EP II - Low Red Land
A softer side of this San Francisco trio, but every bit as dynamic and fluid as their electric releases. Four tracks of solid songwriting and craftsmanship where every song sounds as amazing unplugged as it does when cranked up to 11. A truly moving release. I love every ounce of these guys.

2. Upper Air - Bowerbirds
Though they are not necessarily covering any new territory in their latest release, Bowerbirds certainly have their sound down to a science — gorgeous harmonies and intuitive arrangements that make for a surprisingly addictive listen. Even if they do often rely upon the same formula and structure, it proves to be a worthwhile support to their heady and lush compositions.

3. Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective
"In The Flowers", the first track off this raucous gem, literally shakes every window, loose bolt and unglued piece of fake wood paneling in my van when I listen to it at what seems like a reasonable volume. The entire album makes the hairs stand up on my arms. It’s like being trapped in the cone of an 18-inch speaker and sealing the exit route up with pure, gummy glee. Believe the hype; this band is great.

4. Bitte Orca - Dirty Projectors
As much as I didn't want to be a believer and buy into the gush that surrounded and still surrounds this album, the damn thing is inventive. It one of the most creative blends of sound I have heard in years. If David Byrne is a believer, I say don the robe and drink the Kool-Aid.

5. Know Better Learn Faster - Thao with the Get Down Stay Down
Most uplifting breakup album of 2009. A totally unassuming and unpretentious approach to a strong indie album riding a solid pop sound.

Jeff Kingsbury

1. Hombre Lobo - Eels
This is an album that howls and scratches at your Freudian Id. Mark Oliver Everett releases this wonderful work, do not hide.

2. A Brief History of Love - The Big Pink
If you are not staring at your shoes, then this UK duo will blow them off. Tie those laces tight because the looping dance beats will leave them ragged.

3. XX - The XX
This South London twosome is so distinct and eXXcellent this spot needs to be marked twice.

4. Sun Gangs - The Veils
Roaring like a fire on an abandoned house, this album smolders, burns and rages leaving just a frame skeleton to then build again.

5. The Resistance - Muse
Heavy and full of reverb, these British lads dropped their album from across the pond and the ripples have created waves ascending the lofty U.S. shores. It will be assimilated.

Chris Ellis

1. Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective
The rough psychedelic vibrations of voice, drums and synth on previous AC albums serve as a generous backstory to Merriweather, an album that shows off the maturity and realized perfection of their artistic vision.

2. Elvis Perkins In Dearland - Elvis Perkins
Elvis created a collection of celebratory and sometimes melancholic observations about love and loss, all of which seem to take place in a time and place long forgotten.

3. Dr. Boondigga & The Big BW - Fat Freddy's Drop
Another release in a year of releases that have no hesitations crossing multiple genre's, this time mixing reggae, dub, deep house, soul, and more. It’s a refreshing and successful cross section from a group to watch out for in 2010 and beyond.

4. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix
A youthful, upbeat and poppy album that has had it's share of remix madness, and for good reason. It succeeds in tapping into the hopeful and dreamlike consciousness that other acts like Passion Pit, Miike Snow, MGMT and Empire of the Sun have championed.

5. Machine Dreams - Little Dragon
So you might be asking, "Where is the Swedish album on the list?!" Well ... here it is! Apparently, these tunes have been floating around a few years but thankfully Little D wanted to revamp their old songs and make them danceable — adding some tried and true 80s beats — thus making the album an entirely new experience with surprising depth.

Martin Malloy

1. Keep an Eye on the Sky - Big Star
A much-deserved box set of rock’s greatest lost band was finally issued. Aside from unreleased tracks, demos and alternate versions, the true gem of this set is the first ever released live set from the original group’s lineup.

2. My Old, Familiar Friend - Brendan Benson
He’s not that old, and he may not necessarily be familiar, but Brendan Benson has been making catchy rock music for over a decade. He took a few years off to collaborate with Jack White in The Raconteurs, but he returned with his most stripped down and forceful album of his career in 2009.

3. 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
The Bay Area punks went operatic with American Idiot.

4. Hombre Lobo - Eels
Eels front man E has been ubiquitous for the last few years despite not having a proper album since 2005. He returned this year with his most raunchy, balls-out record of his career. It may not be his best but it proves he’s got many sides still unturned.

5. Album - Girls
San Francisco’s Chris Owens background growing up in a cult was just as newsworthy as his band’s debut album. Good thing the music he makes trumps any stories of his childhood.

Christina Li

1. XX - The XX
This album epitomizes minimalism at its finest. With dreamy guitar notes, boy/girl androgynous lyrics, and melodies for every dramatic mood, The XX exemplify cross blending genres with delicate intricacy. Get on their hype.

2. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix
It took America long enough to catch onto these guys, but they seemed to appear out of nowhere and are now everywhere. From Cadillac commercials to movie trailers, these French boys are catchy, cool, and awesome live. How many times can you remix "Lisztomania”?

3. It’s Blitz! – The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
With a departure from their previous albums, which featured more garage-band sounds and raw guitar riffs, this dreamy electro-filled album is nothing short of amazing. The YYYs managed to mature their sound without disappointing longtime fans. A truly timeless band with chameleon-like abilities.

Music for Men – Gossip
Seeing them live twice in a span of three months, I can honestly say Beth Ditto puts on a hell of a show with one of the best voices I’ve heard. From righteous songs like “Men in Love” to the mean buildup in “Heavy Cross,” there’s only one word for this album: badass.

No Ceilings Mixtape – Lil’ Wayne
Weezy F. Baby. Making songs sound better since 1997. Free the alien.