2009 was a great year for music. There were artists that delivered great comeback albums or returned to form, bands that finally hit their full potential, and new faces who arrived on the scene with their sound fully formed. Indie rock became ubiquitous to the point were calling it indie rock almost seemed like a misnomer. The mainstream airwaves were filled with more quality than filler as well.
Here is my top ten list of the year.
A.C. Newman – Get Guilty
When it comes to pure power-pop nobody can compete with A.C. Newman right now. This album is classic in both style and execution. The guitars are crunchy, the bass lines are melodic, the vocals are light and double tracked, and the drums play simple classic rock beats. This a collection of twelve pop gems.
Eminem – Relapse
Eminem’s comeback album is a rare thing – an actual comeback. His flow is as great as ever, he can still tell a captivating story, and his production from Dr. Dre is still unmatchable in rap. Em is still out to shock, offend, and disturb. What makes the album even scarier and more interesting lyrically than his old work is the autobiographical raps. His tales about his drug addiction, parental neglect, and childhood abuse shed a light on where the misogynistic, homophobic, and psychotic Slim Shady character came from. The fact that the songs are still catchy enough to get stuck in your head is simultaneously impressive and troubling.
Girls – Album
This analogy has already been made countless times, but Girls sounds like a more intimate Beach Boys. It is true that there are no complex harmonies and that Girls is an indie-rock band not a psychedelic-surf rock band. But there are gorgeous melodies, a sad wistfulness to the lyrics, and slight touches of psychedelica to the layers of instrumentation. While Album is made from borrowed parts, it is easily the most original sounding record of the year.
Kelly Clarkson – All I Ever Wanted
Kelly is a rare artist who can kill a ballad or a rocky pop song with her big voice. This album showcases both of these sides better than any of her previous albums. It also feels like her most genuine since her debut. She comes across as real girl on this album, one who is tough and independent and vulnerable and heartbroken at the same time. Kelly is a likable as she as ever been on this album. It does not hurt that it opens with a pair of her hookiest songs, “My Life Would Suck Without You” and “I Do Not Hook Up”.
Norah Jones – The Fall
We knew that Norah had a great jazz voice, a talent for a sultry adult-contemporary song, and could play a mean piano. What we did not know is that Norah also happens to be one of the best singer-songwriter voices of her generation. Her “guitar” album shows she is as capable of the genre as her contemporaries and has a quirky, original voice that sets her apart from them as well. Read the Full EC Review.
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Phoenix plays lazily catchy, mid-tempo indie rock. The songs burrow into your brain and stay there. Guitar riffs, synths, slow bass lines, and whispery shouty vocals layer onto and off of each other perfectly. This would almost be a perfect emo album, except there is nothing whiny about it.
The Swell Season – Strict Joy
A band that is a low-key singer songwriter duo that plays mainly acoustic guitar and piano could describe countless coffeehouse bands around the world. The Swell Season does not do anything that is particularly unique musically either. What makes Strict Joy so good then? One reason is that The Swell Season have perfected their craft. Another reason is the sincerity, every word sung sounds like it is actually meant. Listening to it you feel like the singers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova have lived through these songs. That is what elevates the Swell Season from all others in the genre.
Weezer – Raditude
This is the best Weezer album since Maladroit and the most fun album Weezer ever made. The band mostly eschews their sappy emotionless “romantic” and experimental songs that Weezer 2.0 have often gotten bogged down in. Most of the songs reflect Weezer’s more playful persona with songs like “I Can’t Stop Partying” and “The Girl Got Hot.” The music also returns to what Weezer is best at, punky power-pop.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
This is the art-punkers best collection of songs. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs move to a more traditional rock and roll sound with heavy dose of 80s New Wave influence. It may not be as tough or as unpredictable as their old work, but their song craft has improved immensely.
XX – XX
The XX are technically an indie rock band. The music does not feel like typical indie rock though. The band sounds more influenced by electronica and songs you hear on soft rock stations. The result sounds almost like ambient music being played by live instruments. That could be gimmicky, but it ends up being incredibly chill.
Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown, Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3, M. Ward – Hold Time, Regina Spektor – Far, St. Vincent – Actor