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Staff Pick


Best of 2009 (2009)

staff picks

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Welcome to the Monkey House

Not much to say about 2009. We had some great books (Iain Banks' Transition, Dan Simmons' Drood) some decent films (District 9, Zombieland) and some pretty great video games (Uncharted 2, Dragon Age, Assassin's Creed II). It was a big year for reissues and I spent a considerable portion of my time with the Beatles (mono) box set, Beastie Boys' reissues, Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary, Pearl Jam's Ten, Jawbox's For Your Own Special Sweetheart and the second set of Radiohead reissues.

Thankfully, a number of bands brought their best to 2009 as well so there was no shortage of worthy new releases as well. I look forward to repurchasing them all soon in some sort of deluxe package which will appeal to my sense of nostalgia and my inability to judge the value of "remastering."

Armageddon in Retrospect


A Place to Bury Strangers: Exploding Head


Aggressive, reverb-drenched and shoegaze-influenced noise rock. Their debut was good, but this one is better. For the essence of the band, check out "Deadbeat" and you'll understand.


The Mars Volta: Octahedron

Warner Bros.

The band's best record in a number of years and the most coherent songs since De-Loused in the Comatorium. They still spend a little too much time noodling around, but the concise, efficient songs have improved the band's sound considerably.


Gallows: Grey Britain


Like many, I didn't quite grasp the hype around the band's serviceable and solid debut. But the release of Grey Britain not handily surpassed any expectations I had. The record is astoundingly creative, unflinching and nihilistic.


Frank Turner: Poetry of the Deed


While it's become quite popular for members of hardcore and punk bands to pursue a solo project, few have approached it with the vigour and energy of Mr. Turner. The sentiments are genuine, the songs are rocking and the spirit is infectious.


Russian Circles: Geneva

Suicide Squeeze

One of the most prolific of the instrumental "post-metal" acts, Geneva sees Russian Circles further broadening their sound with more atmosphere and a more cohesive, album-spanning narrative. While a few of the staples either sat this year out (Explosions in the Sky) or disappointed (Pelican), Geneva is exactly what you'd look forward to.


Pearl Jam: Backspacer


Pearl Jam's departure from Sony after more than a decade has led to their most urgent and tightly composed music since 1994's Vitalogy. Over the record's relatively short 36-minute running time, the band wastes neither breath nor minute of running time on filler.


Paramore: brand new eyes

Fueled by Ramen

This choice, tucked in the teens, is likely to earn me more scorn than anything in the list but the (iTunes) statistics don't lie. Hayley is an astounding singer and managed to elevate the band's serviceable songwriting into something special. "Brick by Boring Brick" is one of my favourite songs of 2009.


We Were Promised Jetpacks: These Four Walls

Fat Cat

With a terrific name like this one, it was hard not to give the band a listen. Passionate, angsty vocals over crashing drums, and a pop sensibility layered over an '80s-era post-punk foundation.


Banner Pilot: Collapser

Fat Wreck Chords

Just a blast from beginning to end.


Converge: Axe to Fall


One of the most consistently creative and expansive hardcore bands around continues their streak of progressive and astounding hardcore.


Dinosaur Jr.: Farm


Post-reunion albums are supposed to be tired, hackneyed and embarrassing, so why are Dinosaur Jr. continuing to put out ever better albums and maximizing every one of their strengths?


Blacklisted: No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me


One of the most creative and fearless hardcore bands around continue to impress.


Fuck Buttons: Tarot Sport


Noisy and beautiful mixture of electronic and post-rock elements. It's less abrasive then last year's Street Horrrsing but still hypnotic and engrossing.


Lazarus A.D.: The Onslaught

Metal Blade

Vicious retro-thrash with a snarling punk edge. Each song seems to raise the stakes with more aggressive tempos and more ridiculously fast riffing.


P.O.S.: Never Better


The angriest and yet most compassionate hip-hop record I've heard in a long time. Stef allows his punk and hardcore influences to maximize the impact of dynamic shifts while allowing drum and bass-tinged rhythms to drive the record forward. Highly recommended.


Future of the Left: Travels with Myself and Another


Just awesome. Snarling, witty and loud, loud, loud.


Silversun Pickups: Swoon


This choice is likely to earn me a little scorn, but I know what I like and I really liked this. The band still throws all of its influences (Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana) up front, but the songs are still great and their combination of modern songwriting and retro-'90s rock appeal is refreshing and just plain fun.


Propagandhi: Supporting Caste


This was a record that almost completely dominated my playlists this year. Every time I got on my bike for the month of July, it was accompanied by this album. Some of Chris' finest and most melodic riffs, some wickedly clever lyrics and the purest distillation of what Propagandhi is 16 years after How to Clean Everything. Don't miss it.


Lucero: 1372 Overton Park

Universal Republic

Despite a three-year break full of side projects, television shows and more, the return of Lucero was unquestionably great. The judicious addition of horns did nothing but accentuate the emotional impact of the band's broken-hearted sound. Hell, I have never felt as much sympathy for a muppet as I did watching "Darken My Door." Beautiful and heartbreaking through and through.


Biffy Clyro: Only Revolutions

14th Floor

While they're a long way from the scream-filled mathy sound of Infinity Land, Biffy Clyro still retains that experimental streak but now plays it against wickedly catchy hooks, odd lyrics and incredibiy satisfying musicianship. This was a definitely surprise for me but it bubbled to near the top of my "Most Played" list in the barely two months since it was released.

Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons

In the past, I have avoided EPs since they always felt like teasers for albums. However, in the past two years, as musicians experiment with formats -- from monthly singles to EPs -- it seems more appropriate to consider them as unique artistic statements on their own.


A Wilhelm Scream: A Wilhelm Scream 12"

Paper + Plastick

Another worthy entry from one of the most consistently entertaining and musically challenging punk bands around.


No Age: Losing Feeling 12"

Sub Pop

Terrific, noisy punky pop with a perfect melodic core.


This Is Hell: Warbirds 7"

Think Fast!

One great reason to release a 7-inch or EP is to take the opportunity to play around with your sound and try new things. While it isn't always well-received, in this case, it was great to see the band exploring more of their sound.


Defeater: Lost Ground

Bridge Nine

One of my favorite hardcore bands running right now. Consistently creative with amazing musicianship and genuine and heartfelt emotion.


The Menzingers: Hold on Dodge 7"

Red Scare

Some of the best melodies I've heard in ages came from the Menzingers' full-length, A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology and this EP. The opening harmonies of "Lillith Avi" are so flawlessly composed and performed that no pop-punk band this year even came close.

Look at the Birdie

Thanks for reading this list and for continuing to check out