Jesse - Best of 2009 (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Best of 2009 (2009)

staff picks

What Did I Do?

This year's been a strange one. Moved back to Chicago, gained multiple writing projects in which I was an editor, left most of them again due to time constraints, got married, bought a house, took on some paying freelance gigs, quit my job for a dream job in coffee that has terrible hours and not enough pay, and way too much time discovering the back catalogs of bands that I'd somehow missed over the years. Going through the Honorable Mentions makes me feel like this list is somehow rated wrong, but what's done is done, and these twenty represent the albums I listened to the most just as much as they represent the albums I thought deserved the highest artistic merit. Now, there are albums in Honorable Mentions that just didn't get enough plays but have a high artistic merit, and albums that got a lot of plays but didn't have a high enough artistic merit, and some of them I feel like deserved a spot in this top twenty list. Either way, hopefully I'll be on my game better for 2010, ‘cause 2008 was a rad year and I'm looking forward to topping it next.

Top 20 Albums


Owen: New Leaves


Mike Kinsella settled down and wrote in slightly new directions without betraying his back catalog. Some might say more of the same, but his crafty wordplay never ceases to please.


Converge : Axe to Fall


Haven't had a lot of time with this one, but so far it sounds like Bannon and Co. have found the balance between tech and straightforward hardcore. This band really does break down barriers.


Loney Dear: Dear John


Dark, orchestral Swedish dance pop. Like Abba arranged by Stravinsky, with that special Polyvinyl flavor.


Kylesa: Static Tensions


The band cut the chaff and etched out sharp riffs with a laser beam cutter.


Evangelista: Prince of Truth


It's hard to describe this album. Carla Bozulich runs the gamut from free jazz-inspired goth rock to kitchen sink-style noise exploration.


The Antlers: Hospice

French Kiss

A quiet, brooding album about medical stuff that reaches peak with the best pop tune about unwanted pregnancy.


Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca


This band has a lot of hype behind them, but they also have a storied history and some of the best arrangements and vocal ideas around these days. Plus, the album is good.


Junior Boys: Begone Dull Care


If Depeche Mode had a better ear for pop music instead of mopiness, they'd have been Junior Boys.


The King Khan & BBQ Show: Invisible Girl

In The Red

The bare minimum for classic rock and roll and garage soul nuggets and a band that really understands how to have fun.


Lord Mantis: Spawning the Nephilim

Seventh Rule

Death crust from the Windy City, and the only reason it isn't higher on the list is that it's even a bit too hardcore for me to listen to that often.


Akron/Family: Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free

Dead Oceans

A modern folk album rife with experimentalism, deep seeded lyrics, acoustic guitars, electronic binges, and noisy feedback.


Mr. Lif: I Heard It Today

Bloodbot Tactical

Boston's premier master of ceremonies departs from Def Jux to release a topical rap album on his own imprint. A great hip-hop reflection of the times, but will it hold up five years from now?


Faunts: Feel.Love.Thinking.Of.

Friendly Fire

Electro shoegaze folk? Eh, it's really well put together, and I can't stop listening to it. So sue me.


Red Fang: Red Fang

Sargent House

A big riffin' album of big riffs and major riffitude. Plus, the video for "Prehistoric Dog" has some of the best D&D beer armor I've ever seen.


Arbouretum: Song of the Pearl

Thrill Jockey

Arbouretum sort of sounds like if Randy California of Spirit was backed by Neil Young's backing band, Crazy Horse. Awesome.


Big Business: Mind the Drift

Hydra Head

The addition of a guitar player, a shift towards classical music instead of hardcore, and an extended stay in the Melvins made for interesting work, but nothing quite to the genius of Here Come the Waterworks. Still, it's fucking Big Business. These guys rule.


The Thermals: Now We Can See

Kill Rock Stars

One of the tightest pop records ever written. Rough-edged, great attention paid to form, and fun lyrics. It's hard to hate this album.


Mos Def: The Ecstatic


Mos Def got himself some great producers (including the magical Madlib), and got back to rapping. The result is an album full of solid hip-hop jams with big hooks and great rhymes. Doesn't have the impact of Black on Both Sides or even the much-maligned The New Danger, but sometimes social agendas don't make listenable albums, and The Ecstatic is easily Mos Def's most listenable.


Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Beware

Drag City

Will Oldham wrote a classic country album, stripped his poetic lyrics into straightforward deliveries, and didn't once sacrifice on his beautiful gift for melody or emotional content. Brilliant.


Sonya Cotton: Red River


The best record of the year is a self-released acoustic folk throwback album that conjures up all the power and glory of layered vocal harmonies from the '60s and '70s, stripped-down arrangements and modern mysticism. As a manifestation of Ms. Cotton's recurring nightmares about a red river rising in the middle of her living room, Red River is something truly worth a close listen.

Honourable Mentions

I'm notoriously bad for not getting into albums at the right point in time. That's why this list is a bit scattershot. So there are a few albums that I could have spent more time with: The Almighty Defenders, which is the lo-fi garage super group of super groups, for one. Or the Black Lips album. I gave it a few listens, shelved it, but am finding more and more to like now. Ancient Sky put out a great album this year, but for some reason it just didn't chart. I also enjoyed FOOD, Goes Cube, Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, Dethklok and Gwynbleidd. Just didn't get enough time with them. Not to mention Iron Age, Lightning Bolt, Millions and Monotonix. Pink Mountaintops and Reigning Sound too. Finally, I end this section with Magnolia Electric Co.. They've been the band I've listened to most this year, but mainly mining their back catalog, to which Josephine just doesn't stack up as dynamically. So sadly, it didn't chart.