Last week, I got my 2009 Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll ballot, which means it is officially, finally, not too early for me craft my list of the 10 best albums of 2009. Naturally, this is a list I have been compiling literally all year long, and of course, I’ve listened to, and loved, a lot of albums this year—way too many to fit into a Top 10. So, I’m expanding my definition of Top 10…and making it a Top 30! Well, not really. But with two weeks to go till my Best of 2009 is officially released, I’m using what’s left of the year to cover the albums that didn’t make it into my Top 10. I’ll cover 10 this week, 10 next, and these will be presented in no particular order. (When we get to 10 through 1, I’ll put numbers on these things, goddamnit.) And even in this fashion, I’ll be leaving out something. Lots of things. Goddamnit.
Brand New — Daisy (Interscope)
The best band on Long Island has continually adapted, stretched and changed their sound since emerging in the late ’90s as a very good pop-punk act, but Daisy is their first resoundingly successful experimental leap: a thorny, scarred, brutal excursion into abrasive sonic and emotional depths. It’s also their first undisputed, across-the-board masterpiece.
Krallice — Dimensional Bleedthrough (Profound Lore)
The best band in New York City built on the avant-garde black metal of their stunning 2008 debut and crafted something richer, more vast, more extreme. Few acts so heavy also boast such technical prowess, and more satisfyingly, such a willingness to use those abilities for exploration and experimentation rather than just plain slaying. (Which, BTW, Krallice are also very good at.) Yet for all its ferocious, kingdom-conquering urban brutality, Dimensional Bleedthrough offers some moments of extraordinary beauty and magnificent scenery.
Sonic Youth — The Eternal (Matador)
The other best band in New York City came back to an indie for the first time since 1988 (leaving Geffen for Matador) and just continued their DiMaggio-esque hit streak. The title here says it all. Fact: No other band in the history of rock ’n’ roll has been this good for this long. Are we witnessing an anomaly, a miracle, or the Darwinian evolution of the “rock band”?
Mos Def — The Ecstatic (Downtown)
Anyone who wrote off Mos Def after The New Danger or True Magic or The Italian Job or whatever is forgiven—but get back here now. The Ecstatic was so loose, so confident, so daring and so fresh that it felt like a revelation; one of the most exciting records to emerge—and artists to reemerge—in 2009. (Also, slightly OT here, but those who slept on Be Kind Rewind might do themselves a favor and give that a spin, too. It was pretty funny!)
Soulsavers — Broken (V2)
Mark Lanegan has worn a variety of hats, and he always looks damn good—his ragged Waits-ian croon and death obsession play equally well with Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, Twilight Singers, Gutter Twins, Isobel Campbell… So it’s high praise to say his work on Broken is the best of his career. But it is. The drugged-out downtempo drama offered herein is truly epic in scope, cinematic in nature—but Lanegan’s grave, gravelly voice makes it human, and heartbreaking.
Biffy Clyro — Only Revolutions (14th Floor Records)
This Scottish post-emo trio is, like, incredibly huge in the U.K., but I don’t even think they have a deal in the States. And if they do, their label is not doing a great job of breaking them—because this should be the face of mainstream rock, circa 2009, and the fact that it continues to be some cute curiosity from across the pond (especially while Muse are somehow packing stadia) is insane. Exactly what in these massive, melodic, arena-ready guitar anthems is keeping Biffy Clyro from conquering the States? Unless it’s the band’s name, in which case: You may have a point.
The Swell Season — Strict Joy (Anti-)
Look, I’ve got a corny side, I admit it. And yes, I loved Once. I even loved the music from Once, or I loved the music from Once as it appeared in Once, although I didn’t much want to listen to it after the credits had rolled. So I anticipated The Swell Season’s follow-up to the Once soundtrack to be more of the same, more scattered acoustic wailing, and not especially my thing. Wrong on all counts. Strict Joy is beautiful, full-bodied, Morrison-esque laments—these are mature, expansive, devastating songs from a writer who knows his craft, who has suffered loss, and who has the words and music to express it.
Magrudergrind — Magrudergrind (Willowtip Records)
The “grind” in Magrudergrind is a reference to grindcore, of course—the crossroads of death metal and hardcore, arguably the most extreme point ever reached by rock music—but Magrudergrind’s sick blend of fuzzy Gothenburg guitars, spleen-rupturing blast beats, oddball samples and early-Carcass-style back-and-forth vocals makes for an especially inviting brew. It’s catchy as hell, really. But much, much heavier.
Jesu — Opiate Sun EP (Caldo Verde)
Over the course of his career as Jesu, it has been proven time and again that Justin Broadrick’s best work comes in EP form—cf. Lifeline, Why Are We Not Perfect, and now, Opiate Sun. Released on Caldo Verde—the label owned by Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon main man Mark Kozelek—Opiate Sun betrays a certain Kozelek-ian bent: The songs are enormous, intimidating and deeply, deeply sad, but they’re also filled with hooks and shot through with sunlight.
Graham Coxon — The Spinning Top (101 Distribution)
Blur reunited in 2009—temporarily, naturally, and they didn’t bother coming to America, of course—but for my money, getting back with Damon was only the second best thing Graham Coxon did this year. The first is The Spinning Top, a plaintive, masterful collection that displays a muted side to the brilliant guitarist only hinted at in the past. Really, nothing on Coxon’s previous solo albums—which were, at best, a weak Buzzcocks/Jam rip—suggested an artist capable of such fragile, melancholy work. Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives. But he didn’t say nuthin’ about the Brits, did he?