2009 was a big year for music. It saw folk/punk road-warriors catching the attention of none other than Rick Rubin. Underground indie rappers were popping up everywhere, on the albums of hiphop legends and all over the radio waves. Folk monsters shared an album, and a stage on several occasions. It saw a rapper from Brooklyn top rock and roll legend Elvis Presley as well as indie-godfathers make an extremely accessible album, arguably for their first time. It also saw a jazz pianist embrace wonderful musicians new and old, and newcomers make beautiful roots-rock that would have made Dylan and The Band very, very proud. Ladies and gentleman, here are the top 10 albums of 2009:
1. Dawes - North Hills
These newcomers from California put out a record that hits you from the first listen. It feels like The Band froze some of their creativity from "Music From Big Pink" and donated it willingly to Dawes. Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith's voice encapsulates the soul of Rick Danko while still remaining completely his own. The album is roots-rock at its finest. The production is minimal yet extremely crisp, and every instrument and voice simply shines. The band writes songs that rock veterans may hope to someday write, and this is their debut album. Simply put, grab it now and see what you were missing, I promise you won't be dissapointed.
Key Tracks: When My Time Comes, Peace In The Valley, That Western Skyline
Live Track: Peace In The Valley
2. Phish - Joy
Phish made every hippies dream come true when they decided to re-unite at Hampton Coliseum in 2009. Let's be honest, every fan new that Coventry would not be the band's true farewell, partially because the whole event itself was a trainwreck, and so was lead guitarist and singer Trey Anastasio. Anastasio saw the error of his ways, got clean and got the old band back together. The boys enlisted producer-extraordinaire Steve Lillywhite to produce "Joy", the first Phish album in far too long. Playful tunes such as "Ocelet" and heartfelt lyrics such as those on the title track make this album a strong return from a band who is just beginning to get their groove back.
Key Tracks: Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Ocelot, Backwards Down The Number Line
3. Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
Jigga drops another album full of instant classics. He enlists the help of up-and-comers such as Toronto born Drake and Kid Cudi. Jay also happens to make New York's unofficial anthem with Alicia Keys at his side and proves that none of us have to grow up on "Forever Young". The Blueprint 3 is easily the best rap album of 2009 and helped rekindle my love for hip hop.
Key Tracks: Empire State of Mind, Already Home, Thank You
4. Marco Benevento - Me Not Me
Marco may be one of the busiest men in the music industry today. He plays in like 5 different groups and still manages to put out incredible solo records. Enlisting the help of Reed Mathis (JFJO, Tea Leaf Green) and Andrew Barr (The Slip, Surprise Me Mr. Davis, Land of Talk) doesn't hurt either. Marco covers indie-favourites My Morning Jacket, classic rockers Led Zeppelin and even George Harrison. He also sprinkles in a few of his own sonic gems as well.
Key Tracks: Golden, Call Home, Mephisto
Live Track: Heartbeats
5. The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
In 2009 the Avett Brothers proved that hard work and determination (as cliche as it sounds) pays off. Rick Rubin, arguably the biggest record producer in the world produced their latest album, and the boys played on national television on several occasions. I and Love and You is poetic and poppy while still remaining true to the signature sound of the Avetts.
Key Tracks: I and Love and You, Laundry Room, Kick Drum Heart
Live Track: Laundry Room
6. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
Wilco probably pissed off quite a few fans with their latest, humorously self-titled album. At first I kind of felt betrayed too. The album is undeniably poppy on first listen. But like all good Wilco albums, the subtle nuances and instrumental intricacies seep in upon numerous listens. The lyrics are dark (listen to Bull Black Nova), but their is plenty of sunlight on the album as well, as can be hard on You and I (featuring Leslie Feist of Broken Social Scene) and Sunny Feeling. Not to mention, the songs completely blow you away live.
Key Tracks: I'll Fight, You Never Know, One Wing
7. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk
This super group made up of Jim James (My Morning Jacket), M. Ward, Conor Oberst & Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) could simply never live up to the hype. That being said, the album is pretty good. It may be a little heavy on Oberst's "i'm holding back the tears" singing style, but it is rich and texture and has a nice old timey feel to it that would make The Travelling Wilburys or even CSNY take notice.
Key Tracks: Temazacal, Baby Boomer, Man Named Truth
Live Track: Temazacal
8. The Black Keys - BlakRoc
Leave it to blues duo The Black Keys to finally get the recipe for a rock meets rap album right. The low-fi guitar and drums combo enlist the help of some of the best rappers out there including Mos Def, Jim Jones, Raekwon and Ludacris to put together a seriously interesting album. The beats are heavy and trippy and it seems that the rappers really dig the bluesy vibe of the Keys. Check out the webisodes which document the whole making of the album, which took an astonishing 11 days to complete!
Key Tracks: Why Can't I Forget Him, Ain't Nothing Like You, Stay off the Fuckin Flowers
Live Track: Ain't Nothing Like You
9. Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon: The End Of Day
Cudi reached the public ear with virtually endless remixes of his standout hit "Day N Nite". The young MC redefined what a hip hop album should be, enlisting indie-rockers and rapping over seriously unique beats. He also had some of the biggest and best in hiphop lend a hand on a few tracks.
Key Tracks: Simple As, Day N Nite, Make Her Say
Live Track: Make Her Say (feat. Common)
10. The Felice Brothers - Yonder Is The Clock
These roots-rockers bring a vaudeville like quality to their latest release. The group can make things dark and minimalist as can be heard on the track "The Big Surprise" and create an interesting juxtaposition of dark lyrics and upbeat rock on "Penn Station". Yonder Is The Clock is just a great, down home style album that really works and shows the potential of this band.
Key Tracks: Penn Station, The Big Surprise, All When We Were Young
Live Track: Penn Station
Surprise Me Mr. Davis - Demo
With the addition of Marco Benevento to the group, Surprise Me Mr. Davis' new album which will likely be released in 2010 (its now streaming on their website) is sure to be a winner. This is a band that deserves wide spread recognition and I think they may just find it with this up-coming album. Expecting big things from this band in the new year.
Key Tracks: That's The Way, One Sick Knave, Sleepyhead
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
The French indie-rock band put out a highly danceable album, and the tracks "Listzomania" and "1901" could literally be heard everywhere, clubs, radio-stations, television shows and commercials and movies since their release. That being said, most of the songs follow a very similar rhythmic formula which to me, grows tiresome. I can pick and choose some of the songs I love and I do thoroughly enjoy listening to them, but I can't listen to the album all the way through, which is problematic for me. All in all, W.A.P. is still a very strong album and people seem to love it so it deserves special mention in this list.
There you have it folks. My favourite 10 albums of 2009. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.