Monday, December 14, 2009

Best Albums of 2009 - Numbers 50 to 31

It was once again an excellent year for music, here’s my list of my top 50 albums for 2010, with one exception.

I’ll preface the list by explaining my rules once again. I (with extremely few exceptions) will never pay more than $10 for a cd. I’ve got very stores and website I purchase from, and my view is that if a band/label isn’t willing to make the effort to put their cd out for $10 or less, then I’m not going to bother picking it up.

I also don’t believe in just downloading albums/mp3’s, since this takes away a certain degree of ownership and investment in the music to me. I’ve probably downloaded hundreds of songs, but honestly only listen to a small fraction of them. I’ve downloaded two brand new songs by my favorite band, Radiohead, this year, but have honestly only listened to each song a small number of times, since they’re only stored on my computer. Call me old fashioned that way I guess.

On to the list….

50. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago – This is the exception. The album was actually released in early 2008, but didn’t find a wide release and audience until early this year. The story behind the album is well documented, singer/guitarist/songwriter Justin Vernon was in another band which broke up, so he moved a bunch of gear and recording equipment into a cabin in Wisconsin, and over a winter wrote and recorded this masterpiece. It perfectly captures the feeling of sitting by a warm fire in the middle of a cold, snowy winter day, with gorgeous and unforgettable songs like “Skinny Love” and “Re: Stacks” throughout. Since this missed my 2008 list, this gets tacked on to this year since I enjoyed it throughout the year. On a side note, you can download the entire final show of the band's tour for free, which has every song on "For Emma," here.

49. PJ Harvey and John Parish – A Woman A Man Walked By – This one still doesn’t live up to the majesty of Harvey’s previous masterpiece, To Bring You My Love, but it’s a thousand times better than her last album at least.

48. Chevelle – Sci-Fi Crimes – The metal-esque Illinois band put together another respectable collection of songs, and thankfully they’re getting away from the heavy Tool influence that dominated their early music.

47. The Hold Steady – A Positive Rage – I usually don’t put live albums on my best of the year lists, but I was happy to make an exception in this case. This disc very well captured a great Halloween performance at the Metro in Chicago by the formerly Minneapolis based rockers, the only drawback is that it was recorded before the tour for their great album Stay Positive, so only one track from that album was played there.

46. White Rabbits – It’s Frightening – The debut album by White Rabbits is a nice appetizer to the next album by Spoon, since the cd was produced by Spoon’s main man Britt Daniel. The lead track “Percussion Gun” is one of the best double-drummer tracks of the year.

45. Titus Andronicus – Airing of Grievances – This New Jersey band owes a great debt to the most famous rocker from their state, as they infuse the Boss’s anthemic rock with a healthy dose of punk spirit.

44. Silversun Pickups – Swoon – I had such high expectations for this album, based of their previous great breakthrough, Carnavas, that I was setting myself up for a letdown. There’s still some good songs, and “Panic Switch” is actually one of my favorites of the year.

43. M. Ward – Hold Time – The half of the band She & Him that I’m not in love with released another solid album this year, with his distinctive voice shining through his folky rock.

42. Muse – The Resistance – This was another album that I had massively high expectations for, but unfortunately it was a bit of a letdown as well. “Uprising” still probably has my favorite bass line from 2009 at least. Very appropriate that they will be touring with the Silversun Pickups in 2010, I believe they are calling it the “We Let Scott Pacyna Down” tour. I can’t wait to see the shirts…

41. Tom Waits – Glitter and Doom – Another exception to my “no live albums on my list” rule, this is a great collection of performances from Waits’s last trek, with his grumbling, growling voice sounding as great as ever. The bonus disc of him telling his rambling stories (along with the special bonus hidden track “Picture in a Frame”) make it worth the purchase alone.

40. Julian Plenti – Julian Pletnti is Skyscraper – The solo debut project by the lead singer from Interpol sounds, well, exactly like Interpol. It’s a pretty good appetizer for their next cd, whenever that will happen.

39. Compilation – Dark Was the Night – This disc is a who’s who of the indie rock world at the moment, including several of the bands near the top of my list for this year. The only drawback is that it was SO light and fluffy that it could be dangerously close to being a cure for insomnia.

38. Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You – Thankfully Allen moved away from the heavy ska influence of her first album, and is starting to carve out more of an identity for herself. Despite the fact that it might be her last album, depending on who you believe.

37. St. Vincent – Actor – An album that is a imaginative rework of a soundtrack to the old Disney movies, this shows great potential for the songwriting and musicianship of main member Annie Clark.

36. Tinted Windows – Tinted Windows – The power-pop “supergroup” featuring members of Smashing Pumpkins, Fountains of Wayne and, um, Hanson, gels really well and crafts some solid rockers.

35. Living Things – Habeas Corpus – A great set of pissed off, fist pumping, stomping blues from the left-leaning St. Louis band.

34. The Thermals – Now We Can See – This Portland punk trio put together another rumbling, powerful album, supposedly from the perspective of a corpse.

33. Bob Mould – Life and Times – The quality of Mould’s solo releases was declining in recent years, but thankfully this year’s cd reversed that trend, with Mould’s best set of songs this decade.

32. A Camp – A Camp – Nina Persson, normally the lead singer of the extremely underrated the Cardigans, is one of those singers who I could listen to while they were singing the phone book, and I would love it. Thankfully, in her side project with her husband here, the songs were much more interesting than that, giving her strong material to shine through.

31. Owl City – Ocean Eyes – I, like many people, have been anxiously waiting for 6 years for the Postal Service to finally make a follow-up to their incredible debut, Give Up. Sadly, since Ben Gibbard has been busy with Death Cab for Cutie, among other things, that hasn’t happened. Apparently Adam Young, who basically is Owl City, has been anxiously waiting too, so much so that he created an album that could easily be the follow up to Give Up. The only flaw with this disc is the extremely cheesy lyrics, which get in the way of the otherwise great music.

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