2009 really was a remarkable year. Things that shouldn’t have succeeded did; we saw a rap-rock album, a long-anticipated sequel, yet another Jack White side project, and a “hot” rapper release a much-hyped debut. Those things shouldn’t have worked, yet they were all really impressive.
So here’s my belated “Ten Best Albums of 2009″ (as always, in alphabetical order).
Wale – Attention Deficit
Yes, some of the songs that didn’t make the cut would have been the album stronger, but Wale’s debut isn’t weak by any stretch of the imagination. The trademark wit is there, and so is the lyricism and thought provoking content. Attention Deficit also features some left-of-center producers, some of whom really deserve to be noticed. Wale is one of the few “next big things” in recent memory that actually comes close to delivering on the promise. And Wale gets huge props for keeping the go-go-inspired beats.
Blakroc – Blakroc
Did the world really need another rap-rock album? Not really, but that doesn’t make Blakroc’s self-titled debut any less enjoyable. On paper Damon Dash teaming with Black Keys sounds absurd, but in reality, is an album that feels true to both visions. The beats have appropriate grit and grime and the lyrics don’t depress. Seriously, any album that boasts Jim Jones rhymes that are actually worth listening to has got to have some serious mojo.
The Dead Weather – Horehound
Another year… another awesome Jack White side project. The true start of The Dead Weather is Alison Mosshart. Her voice is haunting, like a character in a horror movie warning of danger or evil spirits—there’s so much experience there and it’s mesmerizing. If Jack White is involved, so are the blues, but with The Dead Weather, White seems more focused on vibe than tradition. Horehound is full of tunes that, despite being foreboding, never skimp on the rocking.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
Not that there’s anything wrong with being art-rockers, but on It’s Blitz!, it finally sounds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are having fun, and it’s refreshing. The album is full of songs that provide an excellent soundtrack to activities that work up a sweat, be it via dancing, exercising or even bedroom activities. It’s Blitz! is overflowing with energy and it’s the best kind of energy… the contagious kind.
J-Dilla – Jay Stay Paid
Thankfully, Jay Stay Paid wasn’t a cash grab trying to milk Dilla fans of their money. Instead it’s a fitting tribute full of “donuts” and emcees spitting over Dilla beats. There are even candid moments of Dilla and those remembering him. Of course, the album also serves as a reminder that Dilla’s gone and there’s only a finite amount of his material left.
Doves – Kingdom of Rust
If there’s one thing that Doves know to convey, it’s melancholy. They make music that sad, but never oppressively dreary. Kingdom of Rust is no exception. Their musical tapestry is more fleshed out and the songs have more layers than previous outings. For instance, the title track has a hint of rockabilly, which only makes it more mournful. Still, there are fewer bands that make better music for train rides and overcast afternoons.
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
This is alt-country from Canada, and it works. Anthropomorphism rarely works, especially on meteorological events, yet somehow Neko Case pulls it off. With her powerful voice full of lamentation and yearning, she manages to capture both attention and imagination. Even the briefest songs are still full of emotion. This is an album that makes the listener feel alive.
Sa-Ra Creative Partners – Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love
It may not be Black Fuzz, but it’s still Sa-Ra. The spacey/funky production, the acid trip lyrics, the sonic journeys that warp the mind to the point that one could actually get lost in the songs, are still present. Sa-Ra makes music that makes altered states seem desirable. Nuclear Evolution is an excellent way to spend a couple of hours, just listening to artists create as opposed to artists trying to sell.
Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx… Pt. II
Raekwon did something that seemed impossible: he delivered a successful sequel, to a classic album, over a decade after the original was released. Cuban Linx II managed to capture both the energy and aesthetic of a bygone era. None of the guest stars seemed out of place. More so, the guest producers fill the album with era-perfect beats. Cuban Linx II is a reminder of when hip-hop was great, and reminds us of what hip-hop’s missing now. This was, hands down, 2009’s greatest musical accomplishment.
Tegan & Sara – Sainthood
As a general rule, albums devoted to the concept of love are either going to be great or cliché; Sainthood is the former. Love is never easy for Tegan or Sara yet their conflicts produce such great songs. It’s actually a treat to listen to them struggle. The sisters continue to produce songs with content that’s concise, yet never feels like it’s lacking. For an album that’s generally about the dark side of love, Sainthood is also full of immensely catchy songs.
There you have it, my top ten albums of 2009. I just hope it was worth the wait.
Tags: Dilla, J. Dilla, Jack White, Wale