Brian - Best of 2009 (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Best of 2009 (2009)

staff picks

Brian Shultz is the reviews editor here at He's held down the fort now for five years. Sayin'.


I've come to suspect two things with these introductions:

  1. If you know me personally, you generally already know what goes on in my life, so you don't really need to read this, right?
  2. If you don't know me personally, you probably don't give a shit. That's totally understandable! And it's why my Twitter account is largely an inactive and worthless waste of bandwidth.

Great! If you're still reading, thanks for your interest, and one more thing. The numbers indicate what number studio full-length it is for the artist or band, as well as what consecutive album it is for that label. For example, Set Your Goals' This Will Be the Death of Us is their second full-length overall, and first for Epitaph. A lone numeral indicates they've been with that label all along. Sorry; I'm obsessed with context.

Here we go.

Honorable Mentions

Set Your Goals: This Will Be the Death of Us (Epitaph Records) [2;1]; We Were Promised Jetpacks: These Four Walls (Fat Cat Records) [1]; Morrisey: Years of Refusal (Attack Records / Lost Highway Records) [9;3]; mewithoutYou: It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright (Tooth & Nail Records) [4]; Soul Control: Cycles (Bridge Nine Records) [1]; My Heart to Joy: Seasons in Verse (Topshelf Records) [1]; Attack in Black: Years (By One Thousand Fingertips) (Dine Alone Records) [3]; Strike Anywhere: Iron Front (Bridge Nine Records) [4;1]; Juvenescent Beat!: One Day We're Gonna Fall Through This Roof (Ghidorah Records) [1]; Person L: The Positives (Academy Fight Song / Human Interest) [2;1].

Top 20 Albums of 2009


Incendiary: Crusade

Springtime on Eternal Hope Records

Prime, heavy hardcore that actually finds sensible reasoning for being so pissed off. Crusade just rages from start to finish with a sense of unrelenting outrage, but it's almost always in a smart fashion while exploring the dynamics even Snapcase and Strife couldn't always comfortably fit into. [1]


Gifts from Enola: From Fathoms

June 9 on The Mylene Sheath

The most compelling post-rock release of the year for me (apologies to Junius and Do Make Say Think). It's got those familiar, cascading waves of sound that signal the more modern, lush interpretations, but also the beauty of the genre's gods (y'know, Sigur Rós). From Fathoms does lose some steam in its second half, but it's sustained by a sonic scope that's always interesting. [2;1]


Mansions: New Best Friends

March 3 on Doghouse Records

Brilliant singer/songwriter fare that panders to absolute zero trends. Okay, so brainchild Christopher Browder does seem to love anything released between the years of 1994-2000 that zines might have referred to as "emo," but his bleeding-earnest and dynamic yet immanently melodic compositions are given a wondrous, layered spark by underrated genius producer Mike Sapone that make them hit all the harder. [1]


Every Time I Die: New Junk Aesthetic

September 15 on Epitaph Records

Every Time I Die once again realized that their mode is in best form when the southern rock flair is subtle and the intensity is kicked up a notch. Blends of hardcore and metal tend to be woeful in this day and age, but Every Time I Die's Epitaph debut sarcastically shrugs the trends off its shoulders and instead rolls with frenetic aggression, pulsing guitars and acidic bombast. [5;1]


This Town Needs Guns: Animals

March 10 on Sargent House

Essentially the UK's answer to Look Mexico, This Town Needs Guns' first full-length receives a well-warranted Stateside release that exposes the band's brand of smooth, plaintive vocals and billowy, noodly guitars to American American football fans. There are miniature moments of just breathtaking atmosphere here and melodies that stick like Post-Its, notes well worth looking back to repeatedly. [1]


Cursive: Mama, I'm Swollen

May 19 on Saddle Creek Records

Cursive proved with 2006's Happy Hollow that even a sub-par release of theirs would carry some worth. The themes aren't as cohesive and the songwriting isn't quite as exciting here, but Mama, I'm Swollen reassures fans that the band remain one of indie rock's nonetheless captivating acts, in part thanks to cuts like the frantic "In the Now" and the shimmeringly jaunty and wonderfully explosive "I Couldn't Love You Anymore." [6;5]


Weatherbox: The Cosmic Drama

September 22 on Doghouse Records

Brian Warren loves The Moon & Antarctica. I know this because he told me directly, but even if you didn't know more about his album obsessions than what might be deemed healthy, it'd be easy to figure after one listen of Weatherbox's sophomore full-length. The Cosmic Drama's first half is stooped in the plaintive and mildly bizarre acoustic wandering that produced the worldly moments from Modest Mouse's 2000 debut in the majors, as well as the earnest, fumbling admissions of their preceding indie favoite, 1997's The Lonesome Crowded West. Moreover, the quirky riff-rockers composing Drama's second half make for a perhaps uneven album, but this is nonetheless an expansive, coherent take on Warren's curious thought process -- as well as his incredibly fond love for PacNorthwest indie rock. [Read my full review I wrote for Alternative Press.] [2]


Thursday: Common Existence

March 10 on Epitaph Records

Factually (at least, the most direct expression of such an opinion), Common Existence is Thursday's "worst" album since their debut. But those quotation marks -- not the scarlet mark of vastly inferior quality -- should be bolded, italicized and emphasized. Let's try it again. "Worst." That's a little better. Despite Common Existence's fairly lulling midsection, Thursday offer some of their more flexible and overall best songs to date on their fifth full-length, from the cauterizing "Friends in the Armed Forces" to the beauty-in-minimalism of "Love Has Led Us Astray," the latter a moment of controlled lump-in-throat desperation where the band really do earn their long-standing Cure comparison. And cacophonous closer "You Were the Cancer" harkens back to 2003's War All the Time with darker strokes, acting as the corrosively gloomy counterpart to that album's finale "Tomorrow I'll Be You." [5;1]


O Pioneers!!!: Neon Creeps

February 17 on Asian Man Records

As a semi-professional music critic, I shouldn't like this. It's so simple. So straightforward. And the lyrics are incredibly repetitive. But as a life-long punk fan, I love Neon Creeps. It's catchy as syphilis and begs to be sung along to at full, hollered volume as if said trait was discovered. Plus, the bass addition gives O Pioneers!!! a fullness and much more dynamic sense of melody that was sorely lacking on their first full-length, 2006's Black Mambas. If all bands could start jocking early Against Me! the world might be a better place. [2;1]


Thrice: Beggars

September 15 on Vagrant Records

Thrice flexed their chops with their ambitious Alchemy Index project, ranging from the meaty metallic post-hardcore cuts of Fire and the flowing electro-indie of Water to the grounded, rustic folk of Earth and emo-indebted post-rock of Air. Beggars comes only a year after the last installment of that four-EP series, yet surprises everyone by straying from all these schools, instead offering a cohesive, jaunty journey atop a foundation that's both inherently groovy and mindful of Radiohead-style restraint. The self-production touches bear subtlety and nuance and the songwriting ensures anthemic forms of unhinged dementia ("All the World Is Mad"), lingering, meditative excursions ("Wood & Wire") and sprawling, picturesque declarations ("In Exile"). Just try not to notice the possibly pro-life subtext ("Circles"). [7;3]


Lewd Acts: Black Eye Blues

September 1 on Deathwish Inc.

Effortlessly scrappy, blisteringly intense and laced with a caustic layer of gravel, Lewd Acts boast a first LP that takes hardcore back to the blues era. Hardcore acts that take on the lumbering choice of interweaving heavy themes and noticeable aesthetics run the risk of damaging the actual songwriting, but Black Eye Blues bears enough hooks and pleasantly shocking changes that fault is at a minimum and fractures are shamelessly on display. [1]


Shook Ones: The Unquotable A.M.H.

July 28 on Paper + Plastick

Shook Ones are still panicked about growing up, as well as, perhaps, growing up in front of us. But it's a stress mark that stretches across the hard pop of their third full-length in searing, melodic form. There's more of a joy and sense of humor to The Unquotable A.M.H. than the Washington state act have been prone to admit on record, but it retains the emotional resonance that made their debut such a Yemin-biting heartbreaker. [3;1]


Polar Bear Club: Chasing Hamburg

September 8 on Bridge Nine Records

Have Polar Bear Club's releases become less consistent as one follows the other? Even their most professed fanboys might hesitantly answer with an unfortunate affirmation. But one listen to Chasing Hamburg and evidence persists that the band remain able in writing dynamic, devastating compositions that register high levels of melody, burliness and introspection. And where last year's Sometimes Things Just Disappear clearly resonated with the vertically inclinated guitars of Third Eye Blind's first record and the gruff sincerity of Small Brown Bike, Chasing Hamburg relies less on those influences and involves more of Polar Bear Club's clearly unique traits in the pleasurable process. [2;1]


Blacklisted: No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me

November 30 on Deathwish Inc.

Blacklisted is changing the rules of how hardcore can both sound and be promoted. The band's at a level that seems to demand all the current industry standards: interviews with multiple publications; special pre-orders; full-scale touring packages. And yet, they've shunned every practice in favor of simply releasing a vinyl-only full-length that speaks for itself: grunge and indie folk-influenced experimentations with the heaviness that's been their standard all along. [3]


Touché Amoré: ...To the Beat of a Dead Horse

August 4 on 6131 Records / Collect Records

Touché Amoré know the way to developing a personal sound. ...To the Beat of a Dead Horse borrows ideas from both '90s screamo and stripped-down, mid-tempo hardcore without becoming fully indebted to either. It's unfettered and brilliantly curtailed, congested with raw personal narratives spelling out exactly what frontman Jeremy believes and why he's so goddamned frustrated about it. [1]


The Swellers: Ups and Downsizing

September 25 on Fueled by Ramen

The Swellers boast some serious symmetry on what one may as well call their major label debut; Ups and Downsizing tiptoes that line between the band's melodic skatepunk roots and the alternative rock landscape they may be destined for with stunning aplomb. Vocalist/guitarist Nick Diener somehow causes the saccharine from lines like "Don't fall asleep tonight, because I won't fall asleep tonight" in "Sleeper" to sap with some sincerity, yet the band mix those FUSE-pop jams amongst speedier, carefully technical material like "2009," "The Iron" and "Dirt." [3;1]


Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion

January 6 on Domino Recording Company

Admittedly, this was the first Animal Collective album this writer had actually bothered to invest in. Needless to say, returns were high. Some call it the band's most accessible effort to date; others, their most realized. One senses they're both right. Meriweather Post Pavilion hustles and bustles with burst after burst of kaleidoscopic, colorful melody transposed in layered pop patterns, psychedelic loops, stunning blips and funky bloops, yet with an innate sense of joy and celebration. While the sense of true improvisation that hounded the band's earlier and more raw, so-called freak folk albums is largely toned down, the focus and drive here is undeniable and it results in a consistently enjoyable long-player long on repeat value. [8;2]


Tegan and Sara: Sainthood

October 27 on Sire Records

Tegan and Sara have always been an infectious pair -- especially since their 2003 alignment with rejeuvenated major label tastemaker Sire -- but Sainthood is the H1N1 of 2009. Tight, precise and billowy indie pop tracks twist and turn delicately as the Quinn twins dissect their lives in stereo, some bathing lightly in the the synthetic wonder of '80s electronic tricks ("Arrow") and others benefitting from producer and Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla's treatment emphasizing heartaching, core emotion ("The Ocean"). [6;3]


Brand New: Daisy

September 22 on Interscope Records / DGC Records / Procrastinate! Music Traitors

While Brand New mostly forewent the beautifully sad brood of their previous LPs (2003's Deja Entendu, 2006's The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me) for their fourth full-length, Daisy is a comparative strip-down that teases enough to please regardless. Noisy and misanthropic, cribbing off-kilter riffs from Modest Mouse's This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About and the tempermental bi-polar disorder of Nirvana's In Utero, Brand New's next evolutionary step isn't likely to break the bank or inspire an entirely new wave. But it does prove that Brand New do as much justice to ragged, truncated fits as they did to arena-indie rockers and buoyant pop-punk. [4;2]


Manchester Orchestra: Mean Everything to Nothing

April 21 on Favorite Gentlemen Recordings / Canvasback Music

Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull revealed in an interview with Alternative Press earlier this year that the overwhelmingly bearded, frog-voiced singer/guitarist has actually written 38 complete full-length albums. Hull, if you're curious, is 23 years old. If there's a definition for prolific, this, perhaps, is it (Jandek released his debut at what, 23?).
But that just makes it all the more curious that Mean Everything to Nothing wasn't released until nearly three years after the band's powerhouse debut, 2006's I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child, and goes to show how painstakingly deliberate and methodical the thought is that go into the band's emotionally detailed and incredibly well-structured songs. And that's precisely what Mean Everything to Nothing provides, ensuring a complete experience that channels the ghosts of Nirvana, early Weezer and Neutral Milk Hotel while pondering burning questions of faith, relation and personal meaning.

If Manchester Orchestra never become the next great set of thoughtful alternative rockers critics and fans fully expect them to be, John Darnielle better watch his coattails. [2]

Top 10 EPs of 2009


Defeater: Lost Ground

November 17 on Bridge Nine Records

It feels weird raggedly shouting back "We ain't seen no Germans today" in a crowded furnished basement in 2009, but this is more or less the precedent Defeater is trying to set with their aesthetic. Lost Ground is a linear, cohesive tale of a World War I-era soldier backed by forward-thinking hardcore compositions, ranging the gamut from impressive, nearly mathy procedure ("The Bite and the Sting") to hoarse anthems ("A Wound and a Scar"). And the storytelling slant feels real -- all the while Defeater somehow sound more passionate than most hardcore bands singing about things they've actually experienced first-hand.


Paint It Black: Amnesia 7"

June 23 on Bridge Nine Records

Only Dan Yemin would figure out how to express pure rage in a number of different ways and Paint It Black's discography is a testament to that versatility. Amnesia is only another example of it, pairing their rumbling hardcore with Kurt Ballou's sinister touch that's ultimately so furious and aggressive--well, our reviewer noticied it first-hand: "Dr. Dan yells so hard that by the end of 'Salem,' he's actually developed a lisp."


Capital: Blind Faith 7"

May 26 on Iron Pier Records / Just a Audial

Capital had played these songs live so often by the time this 7" was actually released I'd already known them like the back of my hand. Fair enough, though -- these tracks were originally recorded forever ago for a split with Crime in Stereo that never saw the light of day. The two originals here are well-conceived blasts of the band's signature gruff melodic hardcore, and their cover of Dag Nasty's "I've Heard" kills it every time.

6 / 7

Soul Control: Like Spiders / Fundamental Forces 7"s

February 24 on TDB Records / January 13 on Dead But Dreaming Records

Soul Control re-recorded their entire Four Singles Series for their first official studio album, Cycles. On that album, the songs are transformed by Jay Maas into rumbling, towering beasts that blend into a solid, flowing full-length, but the original versions of "Like Spiders" and "Fundamental Forces" were great in a different way. These early takes are choppier and give more space to breathe, and lets the immense breakdown in "Like Spiders" punch through that much sharper and more effectively.


Agent: Awake in Their World 7"

April 21 on Run for Cover Records

Awake in Their World is the long-awaited next chapter in the Agent's frustratingly dragged-out story. We waited almost two and a half years from the band's last EP and got four measly songs this time around, but they're as scrappy and earnest as the Agent have always been, leveling their effortless melodic hardcore songs with a more organic recording and plenty of Promise Ring and Texas Is the Reason-style emo-pop grit. With as many new songs as they've been playing live it seems the LP should be out next year and be a versatile expansion on this assuring teaser.


Balance and Composure: Only Boundaries 12"

August 11 on No Sleep Records

There's a sonic breadth and ambitious scope to Only Boundaries that's simply flooring. The juxtaposition of confident narration with hallowed depression is fresh and the EP manages to find some hope in its bleakness as it progresses. The smart triple-guitar utilization also helps find Balance and Composure hitting their stride in strident form. A major improvement and spells out some big promises for their releases lined up for next year.


The Republic of Wolves: His Old Branches.

self-released December 12

While I love the idea of my favorite band exploring exciting and striking new terrain with every passing album, the fact that Brand New limits themselves to testing territory for just one album at a time is teasing in a way. The Republic of Wolves essentially pick up the slack for them as far as The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is concerned, so it's purely acceptable in a way; and also because this is an incredibly new but exceedingly focused act composing moody, haunting passages full of bone-chilling atmospheres. That this is their first real stab at it and comes only months after their first fistful of demos is just scary.


Nightmares for a Week: A Flood Tomorrow

July 23 on Music for End Times / Broken English Records

There's a restrained desperation to A Flood Tomorrow that allows Nightmares for a Week's towering sense of melody and heart-fluttering yearning to really come to life. But really, the Get Up Kids' On a Wire is my favorite album of theirs, and while I really enjoyed Attack in Black's Years (By One Thousand Fingertips), I miss the grown-up melodic punk angst of Marriage; frankly, A Flood Tomorrow is just satisfying some of my favorite things about both those personally important albums.


Transit: Stay Home

April 14 on Run for Cover Records

Transit is writing some of the most devastatingly dynamic and successfully adventurous material around for what they do. Stay Home gives me hope that pop-punk, melodic hardcore and emo influences can be combined into something that not only has real emotional impact, truly talented musicianship and sincere creative ambition, but that it can sound completely genuine in the process, too.

Honorable Mentions

Daylight: Demo (self-released); Make Do and Mend: Bodies of Water (self-released/Panic Records); Title Fight: The Last Thing You Forget 7" (Run for Cover Records); Cave In: Planets of Old 12" (Hydra Head Records); ROBBERS: FLESH (UNICRONS).

Top 10 Shows

  1. 10/30 - The Fest (Friday) in Gainesville, FL (does this really count as a show?): A Wilhelm Scream / Small Brown Bike at The Venue; Torche / The Catalyst at Common Grounds; The Ghost at The Atlantic; Crime in Stereo / Defeater / Ruiner at 1982; O Pioneers!!! / Crime in Stereo / Stolen Parts at Failsafe Warehouse
  2. 4/26 - Club Europa in Brooklyn, NY: Crime in Stereo / Bane / Have Heart / Capital / Agent
  3. 5/1 - Blender Theatre @ Gramercy in New York, NY: The Get Up Kids / Brand New (secret set)
  4. 9/12 - Stelton Church in Edison, NJ: Have Heart (last NJ show) / Title Fight / Justice (secret 3-song set) / Cruel Hand / Crime in Stereo / Foundation / End of a Year / Blacklisted
  5. 11/28 - Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY: Brand New / Glassjaw / Thrice / Manchester Orchestra / Kevin Devine
  6. 5/23 - AS220 in Providence, RI: Verse (last show) / Soul Control / Crime in Stereo / The Body / Wasteland
  7. 7/11 - Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY: Brand New / Robbers
  8. 2/21 - Club Oasis in Worcester, MA: Last Lights (last show) / Paint It Black / No Trigger / Outbreak / I Rise / A Loss for Words (acoustic)
  9. 6/13 - Lindenhurst Moose Lodge in Lindenhurst, NY: Crime in Stereo / Paint It Black (record release) / Ceremony / Fireworks / Title Fight / Incendiary
  10. 3/13 - Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY: Propagandhi / Paint It Black / Bridge and Tunnel

Best Record of 2008 I Didn't Hear Until 2009

Moving Mountains: Foreword

November 26, 2008 on Caetera Recordings

Reaction seemed largely mixed to this expansive, 36-minute "EP" from Purchase, NY's Moving Mountains, but this writer thought it was just a brilliantly progressive step from their prior release, Pneuma. Foreword is breathtaking, emotive indie rock rooted in the ambtious eras of 'scene ambassadors' like Thursday, Thrice and Engine Down with pitch-perfect post-rock execution and atmosphere. Word on the street is these kids are trimming it down to make the songs more conducive to live shows, but if they left it as is I'd register zero complaints.


* - Please don't sue me, Brian Wiliams. You were awesome in that one episode of 30 Rock this season.

Disc 1

  1. Last Lights - Love + Rent
  2. Vicious Cycle - Blur
  3. Bridge and Tunnel - Loss Leaders
  4. Title Fight - Symmetry
  5. Make Do and Mend - Winter Wasteland
  6. Polar Bear Club - Boxes
  7. My Heart to Joy - All of Life Is Coming Home
  8. Broadway Calls - Be All You Can't Be
  9. Set Your Goals - The Fallen...
  10. Such Gold - What's Left of You
  11. Crime in Stereo - war
  12. Daylight - Sinking
  13. The Menzingers - Sunday Morning
  14. The Lawrence Arms - The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day
  15. Bomb the Music Industry! - Cold Chillin' Cold Chillin'
  16. A Wilhelm Scream - Skid Rock
  17. End of a Year - Robert E. Howard
  18. Juvenescent Beat! - Somewhere Between Lion's Strength and Reckless Vulnerability
  19. Pianos Become the Teeth - Filial

Disc 2

  1. A Body in Motion - Play the Aggressor
  2. Attack in Black - Years (By One Thousand Fingertips)
  3. Vampire Weekend - Cousins
  4. We Were Promised Jetpacks - Quiet Little Voices
  5. Chuck Ragan - For Goodness Sake
  6. Jeremy Enigk - Mind Idea
  7. Robbers - Eager
  8. Morrissey - I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
  9. Animal Collective - My Girls
  10. Manchester Orchestra - It's OK with Me
  11. Tigers Jaw - Spirit Desire
  12. mewithoutYou - Every Thought a Thought of You
  13. Person L - Hole in the Fence
  14. Thursday - Love Has Led Us Astray
  15. Tegan and Sara - The Ocean
  16. Kevin Devine - Brother's Blood
  17. A Body in Motion - Impermanence

It Hurts

I tend to put every year's handful of band breakups into three categories. The first involve acts I think I'll live without, but wrote what I sincerely think are some enjoyable tunes and it's a bummer to see them go: Kane Hodder, Small Arms Dealer, Thorns of Life, North Lincoln, the Number Twelve Looks Like You, Deathcycle and the Flaming Tsunamis.

The second category: bands that were really on the verge of something great and who I wish had stuck around longer to realize said greatness. Goodbye to the Steal, Braindead, As Cities Burn, No Harm Done and the Serious Geniuses.

And finally, two bands who over time became some of my favorite hardcore acts of all time, past or present, and will really be missed, elitists be damned -- Have Heart and Verse.

Most Anticipated of 2010

Crime in Stereo's I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone was easily my most anticipated record of next year until I actually got to hear it. That sounds negative, but it's not at all -- it's more or less been the soundtrack to my December. Get stoked for its February 23rd release.

Otherwise, Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull recently announced a number of recording projects slated for release next year, including a respective collaborative album and split with Kevin Devine. But what I'm most amped for from Hull and co.? MO's third full-length, which they'll already begin recording in June. See what I mean about that prolificness?

I'm also hoping for great full-lengths from Bridge and Tunnel, Transit, the Republic of Wolves, Balance and Composure (plus their split with Tigers Jaw), Agent, the Gaslight Anthem, Moving Mountains, Vampire Weekend, All Get Out, 108, Anthony Green and a pair of elusive 7-inch releases -- the debut from forgetters and the finale from Have Heart -- among a mind-boggling (blogging?) number of others.