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Home » Music » Best Music of ’09: Auerbach, Brendan Benson, Howling Bells, Knopfler, Barrett Martin, Nick Moss, Petty, R.E.M., Switchfoot, U2

Best Music of ’09: Auerbach, Brendan Benson, Howling Bells, Knopfler, Barrett Martin, Nick Moss, Petty, R.E.M., Switchfoot, U2

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So that was 2009, and what has it done?  I differ from a fair number of the cognoscenti in that I refuse to dismiss each passing year as yet another in a long line of musical disappointments.  Some years do offer more and some better than others, but every year offers something worthwhile and 2009 is no different.  

What is different is this year I'm not crowing a #1 album of the year.  I heard several great records this year and spent a lot of time with several.  I'm just not able to decide on one record to put at the top of my list.  Believe me, I tried.  I started making a case for one of the albums I didn't choose every time I thought I'd solved the riddle, so instead I'm submitting my Top 10 Albums of 2009 as a group.  I'm presenting them alphabetically with a few words of praise for each of them.  

If you're curious, you can revisit my Top 10 of 2008 before digging in to the cream of this year's crop.  Let the disagreements begin:
  • Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid
  • Brendan Benson – My Old Familiar Friend
  • Howling Bells – Radio Wars
  • Mark Knopfler – Get Lucky
  • Barrett Martin – Zenga
  • Nick Moss & The Flip Tops – Live at Chan's: Combo Platter No. 2
  • Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – The Live Anthology
  • R.E.M. – Live at The Olympia
  • Switchfoot – Hello Hurricane
  • U2 – No Line On The Horizon
Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid:  I didn't spend as much time with this record as I probably should have. Yet every time I listened to this solo debut from The Black Keys' frontman, I marveled at how great the best of its moments are.  Auerbach's understanding of deep blues, garage, and rock are on full display.  "When The Night Comes" is lovely and "Heartbroken, In Disrepair" has a monster groove.
Brendan Benson – My Old Familiar Friend:  It's sprawling, messy, and sometimes maddeningly uneven but Brendan Benson's first solo album in four years has moments of power-pop perfection.  "Eyes On The Horizon" rates among the best melodies I heard all year.  "Garbage Day" mixes Motown and ELO.  The highlights of this record are very, very worth your time.
Howling Bells – Radio Wars: Juanita Stein's purr is one of my happiest discoveries of the year and I'm ecstatic they got U.S. distribution for their marvelous sophomore album, Radio Wars.  There are so many fine songs on this record.  You have the mysterious "Cities Burning Down" and the Tears For Fears-esque "Let's Be Kids Again."  The undisputed highlight is the impossibly gorgeous "Nightingale."  Chris Martin encouraged everyone to download that track and I second the recommendation.
Mark Knopfler – Get Lucky:  I proclaimed this a contender for Album of The Year in September upon its release and I'm pleased to announce I was right.  I don't think he'll ever get the acclaim he's earned for the fine work he's done with and since Dire Straits but it won't be because I didn't try.  Expert craftsmanship and mature, understated storytelling put this among the finest things he's ever done and the best 2009 had to offer.  "Monteleone" is wonderfully affecting and "Can't Beat The House" rocks on its own terms.
Barrett Martin – Zenga:  Type the word 'Zenga' in the search engine of your choice (I'm sorry but I'm old school and vehemently object to turning "Google" into a verb) and odds are you'll find 1,000 entries written by me.  I can think of few albums I've followed more closely from creation to release and beyond.  As I wrote in my initial review, Zenga is an album about journeys for me, and I'm still taking them.  I don't "understand" jazz, but I feel this.
Nick Moss & The Flip Tops – Live at Chan's: Combo Platter No. 2:  This is the album that dispels the notion of too much of a good thing.  You could argue Live at Chan's was so good you don't want to mess with perfection but like the first two Godfather movies it doesn't matter which is better; you have to have them both.  The inclusion of Chicago blues legend Lurrie Bell adds grit and glory to the evening.  This is Chicago blues at its finest!  If Moss & Co. return to Chan's for a third installment, it's going to beat the hell out of Godfather III.  Bet that.  Download "Spareribs & Chopsticks" and delight in Moss' epic leads and Bob Carter's brilliantly understated drum fills.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – The Live Anthology:  This feels like cheating in selecting a massive package like this with so many goodies recorded over a 30-year period, but as 2009 ends and 2010 begins I know I'll still be mining this fertile ground.  The Live Anthology doesn't feel like a souvenir or spring cleaning.  The music sounds and feels vital, simultaneously timeless and immediate.  I'd pay $100 for it again tomorrow.

R.E.M. – Live at The Olympia:  So let's dispense with the "cheating" all at once.  This is less egregious than Petty because these live performances were taken from a brief residency in Dublin, but it does function as something of a compilation.  What makes this so great is it's not a greatest hits collection but rather a rarities and fan favorites compilation, performed live by an energized band with a deeper catalog than many of their contemporaries.

Switchfoot – Hello Hurricane:  It's the New Kid in Town.  The main reason I didn't crown this #1 is because it came out so late in the year and I wanted to be sure I wasn't getting carried away with a rush of euphoria at year's end.  That may be the only reason I didn't crown it #1 because this is a powerful record filled with great songs and important ideas.  They spent two years making the record and it was time well spent.  There are some great singles on Hello Hurricane, but this is an album in every sense.  Tracks are sequenced to strengthen the themes explored.  
U2 – No Line On The Horizon:  This one takes me by surprise a bit.  I feel as though I like this album more and less than it deserves, and that doesn't seem like it should be possible.  There are moments that really, really work, that are incredible and powerful and profound ("Magnifient" and "Cedars of Lebanon" among them).  There are moments that are loud and sonically engaging.  Unfortunately that doesn't describe the entire album.  There are some disposable, bullshit moments as well.
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About Josh Hathaway

  • crisco disco

    horrible list. the eels should have been on there. mos def ecstatic should have been on there, but you’re so white god forbid anything culturally different. even eminem’s album was amazing.

    where is phoenix – wolfgang amadeus phoenix? if that album, mos def or eminem, lady gaga or taylor swift isn’t on there you are saying people don’t know music, you know music. you’re wrong.

    people are the new a&r, take a look at the uk and rage against the machine winning the christmas song.

    look at drake. the guy sold 200k albums in 3 weeks with no label, no management, no agent, just himself, a recording studio and someone to re-master the tracks and then a cdbaby, bandbox or tunecore to upload the stuff and distribute it. people did the rest. drake had a great year yet nary a mention of anyone even close to someone like him. i suggest you take some time off from writing, a month or two – it won’t kill you – and get in touch with the music industry and music again.

    people dont buy albums much anymore, they buy singles. that is how it will be, the fact you dont mention the power of the masses shows a huge disconnect. fans matter.

    that is why sister hazel can still make music for a 3rd decade, and im not endorsing their album, which wasnt that bad i hear, but it shows fans are in charge not critics with egos, nor record labels that are dying a fun death, nor the a&r folks who have to surf myspace 24/7 just to keep a job. sister hazel was number 1 on itunes sales when their album dropped, but again this is your best list, not THE best list.

    this list should have been the “top post-indie, i still wish it was 1995 when i was young and better looking best albums of 2009″.

    you didn’t even put the yo la tengo album on there which is a disgrace to your “indie” posing. the decemberists and hazards of love also falls into that group, as does sufjan stevens bqe.

    really this list was the weakest ive seen. you don’t address country, hip-hop or a lot of genres. george strait’s – twang was awesome.

    this is like a list of someone trying to be so cool they forget what the point of the list is about. tom petty, love him, but is he top album of 2009, is rem a top album of 2009? it’s not even one of their top albums yet its the year’s best.

    no good.

    here are some lists that have tracks worth listening to, spin’s in particular has the lala widgets on every one of their 40 picks.

    i can’t say they are all good. cmt’s listing of jimmy wayne esp. his sara smile redo with hall and oates helping out does not an album make. one song does not carry 10 or 11 others, but i will forgive you for your list. your other posts tend to be better, schizophrenic and a lot like popdose magazine with an overly lustful wish that it was 1993-1996 or 1974-1982. the music can reflect on the past, but we don’t have to live there, eventually we have to get over the girl who broke our hearts. im not shrink but i stayed at a holiday inn once and i say let her go, let the love in.

    anyhow thanks for the effort, while i def. disagree i think the debate is one like saying who’s the best bballer of all-time. im guessing and hoping that was the point of these picks versus clearly better albums like some i mentioned above and some mentioned below.

    here’s to 2010 and def. to old acquaintances being forgotten lol like the time warp of rem, u2, tom petty, mark knopfler as 40% of best of 2009?!?!

    NME 50 Best Albums of 2009

    Rollo Grady 25 Best Albums of 2009

    Pitchfork’sTop 50 Albums of 2009

    The Boot Top Country Music Albums of 2009

    Spin 40 Best Albums of 2009

  • 11

    Yeah, poser. You didn’t even mention The Blaze-Up Band or Fishnipple. :)

  • Sterfish

    It’s no fun when everybody’s lists are alike, right? Not a single album on this list appears on mine and I like that.