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Top Ten

The Year in Music

Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion

Top Ten 2009

The Year in News Our mayor was indicted and convicted of embezzlement this year. We learned just how deeply a violen... | By Edward Ericson Jr., Van Smith, and Erin Sullivan

The Year in Movies No, you're not hallucinating. Revanche, an Austrian crime flick that starts off in somewhat grim qu...

The Year in Television Raise your hand if you still have cable. As in, that overpriced digital teat that pipes into your h...

The Year in Music We do this because, between the 15 or so of us, we listen to a lot of music, we think a lot about m...

The Year in Local Music The thing that unites Baltimore music is Baltimore the city, a geographic place with a good number ...

The Year in Books No idea why there's such a strong turnout of speculative/sci-fi-ish titles in this year's Top 10. P...

The Year on Stage Local stage talent might be the last untapped well of local greatness. Local music is already an an...

The Year in Visual Art The past 12 months really delivered a blow to the arts--you know, the stuff and ideas that comes fr...

The Year in DVDs 1) Deadly Sweet (Cult Epics) Italian writer/director Tinto Brass' loose 1967 adaptation of a Serg... | By Lee Gardner and Bret McCabe

The Year In Tracks . . . just in the case the album really is dead. | By Michael Byrne and Lee Gardner

Posted 12/9/2009

We do this because, between the 15 or so of us, we listen to a lot of music, we think a lot about music--like, all of the goddamn time--and like to imagine we know not what makes something trend-setting or hip, but simply what makes a song or composition great. So, based on that, we've once again compiled a list of the year's 10 best albums, a smattering of the usual indie-pop and art-rock, along with superb standouts in avant-composition, hip-hop, and punk. Our list of voters, all City Paper contributors, includes Judy Berman, Raymond Cummings, Neil Ferguson, Lee Gardner, Geoffrey Himes, Marc Masters, Bret McCabe, Michaelangelo Matos, Brandon Soderberg, Al Shipley, Jason Simms, Joe Tropea, Tony Ware, and Erich Wagner.

1 Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

Who didn't see this one coming? In addition to AC's right-there-in-the-title Baltimore-area roots, MPP is the perennial indie fave's sunniest, poppiest, most polished release to date. Way-back fans are sure to bemoan (as only way-back fans can) the left-behind gnarlier sonics and darker vibes, but who wants someone's dad getting all gnarly and dark. Yes, this is one of those rare pop records--and even rarer indie-pop records--where the "girl" mentioned in the lyrics could as easily be a daughter as a girlfriend. The pleasures of domesticity and the ever-present low-grade terrors of the paterfamilias underpin the lyrics of these deceptively breezy, sleekly harmonized tunes, giving them the kind of hand-over-heart poignancy that sounded especially sweet in the dark days of January '09 when the album dropped. (Lee Gardner)

2 Double Dagger: More (Thrill Jockey)

Local albums typically get ghettoized to their own list in the yearly top 10, but the response from this year's voters to More was overwhelming, whether those voters lived in Baltimore or not. Double Dagger, the bass (totally reinvented in the DD universe), drums, and bark-punk trio of Bruce Willen, Nolen Strals, and Denny Bowen (the former two erstwhile City Paper contributors), outdid itself it every way. From the daring build-to-burst of "Vivre Sans Temps Mort" to the absolutely crushing anthem "No Allies" to incisive call-to-arms "We Are the Ones," the band's third full-length and first for Chicago standard Thrill Jockey destroys. Frankly, "punk" is a stand-in here, because this blasts through punk, hardcore, "post-hardcore," and the rest of it into its own field of non-stop revolution. (Michael Byrne)

3 DJ Quik and Kurupt: BlaQKout (Mad Science)

Hip-hop has seldom seemed as bifurcated as it did in 2009. The mainstream basically stunk, the vast middle seemed drab, and the most vibrant records tended to be by either dirty-mouthed teenagers LOL'ing @ "skills" (Los Angeles' "jerkin'" movement) or from veterans with something to prove. No one in the latter camp did a more thorough job of proving it than these two West Coast vets. Quik, always a great producer, took his vintage gangsta sound to the moon with the bionic "Cream N Ya Panties," followed up his classic beat for Truth Hurts' "Addictive" with the juicy Middle Eastern-flavored "Hey Playa! (Moroccan Blues)," and explored just how much you could do with huge, dry drums and little else with the fierce "9X's Outta 10," on which Kurupt cut his lines into angles so pointed they nearly cut your eardrums. (Michaelangelo Matos)

4 Fuck Buttons: Tarot Sport (All Tomorrow's Parties)

What started out as a poppy, baldly Black Dice-esque instrumental mash-up of laptop noise and couch-dancing beats on the 2008 debut has come into its own on the UK duo's second album. Sheets of pulsing, squalling electronic sound form themselves into chords that resolve in some very ordinary but very gratifying ways over the bump and hustle of galumphing rhythms, even a few marches. In fact, whole stretches of Tarot Sport sound like a vintage rave re-imagined as a graduation ceremony, with the sounds of the last decade-and-a-half's repurposed spaces and dingy basements altered into unhurried, elegiac, piercingly lovely forms. (LG)

5 Cass McCombs: Catacombs (Domino)

Interplanetary singer/songwriter Cass McCombs--something of a nomad, based for a time in Baltimore--makes dark, powerful folk-plus songs on the back of subtle, slowly creeping elements and delicate shifts. A song like the surreal "Don't Vote" gains in power on every listen, turning a simple bass line and spare, resonating guitar melody into a somnolent earthquake. And, of course, there's "Dreams Come True Girl," a slow-motion shuffle that tempts overuse of the word "surreal" at every listen, complete with a cameo for amazing Hollywood weirdo-about-town Karen Black. (MB)

6 Future of the Left: Travels With Myself and Another (4AD)

Growling guitars? Check. Bilious lyrics with a wit as yet unseen in American rock music? Check. Future of the Left's sophomore record has the basics of what made singer/guitarist Andy Falkous' previous band Mclusky great, while retaining its own sound and identity. Travels With Myself and Another improves on the band's debut record in every way, from lyrics to song structure and its initially scattershot use of synthesizers. There are even some melodies here, but they're typically destroyed by a blast of guitar out of nowhere midway through the song. Travels is a precise, focused attack on your ear drums, leaving you exhausted by the end of its 30-plus minutes. (Erich Wagner)

7 Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca (Domino)

In a year when Jay-Z and Beyonc%uFFFD drank cheap beer at a Grizzly Bear gig and Jigga sang indie rock's praises in interviews, no artist harnessed the spirit of musical cross-pollination better than Dirty Projectors. The songs on Bitte Orca effortlessly incorporated hip-hop, R&B, and African pop textures and transformed the band's trio of female vocalists into full-fledged divas. And mastermind David Longstreth pulled it off without sacrificing his fascinating philosophical fixations. A few months after the album's release, the circle of influence was complete, as the Roots joined Dirty Projectors onstage and Solange Knowles covered Bitte Orca's brain-infecting single "Stillness Is the Move." (Judy Berman)

8 Black to Comm: Alphabet 1968 (Type)

Currently, Type Records is known best outside of its tight circle of fans for last year's haunted drone-pop masterpiece, Grouper's Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill. This is, however, barely scratching the surface of the label, populated by a great many difficult-to-pronounce artists making ambient and drone music outside much of underground music's swift current. Rising to the top of Type's gentle swell of output this year, Alphabet 1968, is a dense avant-garde composition of crackling tape loops, found sounds, chamber orchestration, drones, and melodies that appear to be conjured by atmosphere. It's stirring and slow-acting, peeling away its onion skins only for the patient, and rewarding them with one of the most strikingly gorgeous pieces of music this year. (MB)

9 Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glass Note)

If you think too much trying to come up with a highfalutin' description of French indie-rock group Phoenix's latest record, you'll be banging your head against the wall for hours. That's because Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix isn't some grand experiment in genre bending or thesis on pop music. It's just a joy to listen to. Perfecting the formula Phoenix has been toying with over its three previous outings, the band has packed this record with catchy songs of the highest order, from opener "Lisztomania" to Cadillac-commercial-bait "1901," as well as more pensive tracks like the brilliant "Love Like a Sunset." Even with corporate advertisers shoving the single in your face at every opportunity, the songs have a subtlety of lyrics and musicianship that set them apart from typical indie-rock fare. (EW)

10 HEALTH: Get Color (Lovepump United)

Los Angeles noisy dance-rock outfit HEALTH had its work cut out for it this year, after the quartet's 2007 debut was outdone by its 2008 remix album. So on Get Color, HEALTH stepped up and perfected its table-saw-like bass sound, round and bright electronic beeps, and high-range, airy vocals, applying precision to the use of each to make songs with a lot of character and a lot of space. Complex, tom-heavy drum beats maintain a ritualistic quality in this music, which has a sort of neon spirituality. The record is clean like a cult compound--an appropriate soundtrack for drug use, prayer, exercise, or murder. (Jason Simms)

The ballots


Judy Berman

1. Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca (Domino)

2. Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

3. Atlas Sound Logos (Kranky)

4. Deastro Moondagger (Ghostly International)

5. The Flaming Lips Embryonic (WEA/Reprise)

6. Eat Skull Wild and Inside (Siltbreeze)

7. Marissa Nadler Little Hells (Kemado)

8. Double Dagger More (Thrill Jockey)

9. Kurt Vile Childish Prodigy (Matador)

10. Pissed Jeans King of Jeans (Sub Pop)


Michael Byrne

Cass McCombs Catacombs (Domino)

Black to Comm Alphabet 1968 (Type)

Ramses III I Could Not Love You More (Type)

Converge Axe to Fall (Epitaph)

Pissed Jeans King of Jeans (Sub Pop)

DJ/rupture and Andy Moor Patches (Unsuitable)

Double Dagger More (Thrill Jockey)

Nudge As Good as Gone (Kranky)

Vic Chesnutt At the Cut (Constellation)

Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Agorapocalypse (Relapse)


Raymond Cummings

1. The-Dream Love vs. Money (Def Jam/Radio Killa)

2. Jason Crumer Walk With Me (Misanthropic Agenda)

3. Acidic Jews Clean Rigs (self-released)

4. Aaron Dilloway Chain Shot (Hanson)

5. Atlas Sound Logos (Kranky)

6. Halflings Self Esteem (RRRecords)

7. Nancy Garcia Be The Climb (Ecstatic Peace!)

8. John Wiese Circle Snare (No Fun)

9. Aquarelle Slow Circles (Rest + Noise)

10. Ascites Incisional Drainage (self-released)


Neil Ferguson

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Slumberland)

Camera Obscura My Maudlin Career (4AD)

Jarvis Cocker Further Complications (Rough Trade)

Lemonheads Varshons (The End)

Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

Flaming Lips Embryonic (WEA/Reprise)

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions Through the Devil Softly (Nettwerk)

Cornershop Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast (101)


Lee Gardner

Fuck Buttons Tarot Sport(ATP)

Henry Threadgill Zooid This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 (Pi)

Altas Sound Logos (Kranky)

Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

Henrik Schwarz, Ame, and Dixon The Grandfather Paradox (BBE)

Sunn 0))) Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)

Nels Cline Coward (Cryptogramophone)

Tinariwen Imidiwan: Companions (World Village)

Oneida Rated O (Jagjaguwar)

Agoraphobic Nosebleed Agorapocalypse (Relapse)


Geoffrey Himes

1. Buddy and Julie Miller Written in Chalk (New West)

2. The Bottle Rockets Lean Forward (Bloodshot)

3. The Decemberists The Hazards of Love (Capitol)

4. Bob Dylan Together Through Life (Columbia)

5. Miranda Lambert Revolution (Columbia)

6. Mika The Boy Who Knew Too Much (Universal Republic)

7. Flight of the Conchords I Told You I Was Freaky (Sub Pop)

8. The Hold Steady A Positive Rage (Vagrant)

9. Rosanne Cash The List (Manhattan)

10.Whitney Houston I Look to You (Arista)


Marc Masters

1. Oneida Rated O (Jagjaguwar)

2. Black Dice Repo (Paw Tracks)

3. The Flaming Lips Embryonic (Warner Bros.)

4. Wolf Eyes Always Wrong (Hospital)

5. TV Ghost Cold Fish (In the Red)

6. Dinosaur Jr. Farm (Jagjaguwar)

7. Talk Normal Sugarland (Rare Book Room)

8. Mi AmiWatersports (Quarterstick)

9. Fuck ButtonsTarot Sport (ATP)

10. Eat SkullWild and Inside (Siltbreeze)


Bret McCabe

1. Fuck Buttons Tarot Sport (ATP)

2. Emptyset Emptyset (Caravan)

3. Future of the Left Travels With Myself and Another (4AD)

4. Tanya Morgan Brooklynati (Interdependent/iM Culture)

5. Ramses III I Could Not Love You More (Type)

6. Converge Axe to Fall (Epitaph)

7. JJ no. 2 (Sincerely Yours)

8. Raekwon Only Built for Cuban Linx, Pt. 2 (EMI)

9. Black to Comm Alphabet 1968 (Type)

10. Vic Chesnutt At the Cut (Constellation)


Michaelangelo Matos

1. DJ Koze Reincarnations: The Remix Chapter 2001-2009 (Get Physical)

2. Art Brut Art Brut vs. Satan (Downtown)

3. DJ Quik and Kurupt, BlaQKout (Mad Science)

4. Tanya Morgan Brooklynati (Interdependent/iM Culture)

5. Various artists The 5th Anniversary of Hyperdub Records (Hyperdub)

6. A-Trak FabricLive 45 (Fabric)

7. Black Moth Super Rainbow Eating Us (Graveface)

8. Bloody Mary Black Pearl (Contexterrior)

9. Syran Mbenza and Ensemble Rumba Kongo Immortal Franco: Africa’s Unrivaled Guitar Legend (Riverboat)

10. Sonic Youth The Eternal (Matador)


Tony Ware

Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glass Note)

JJ no. 2 (Sincerely Yours)

Japandroids Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl)

Idlewild Post Electric Blues (101 Distribution)

HEALTH Get Color (Lovepump United)

Baroness Blue Record (Relapse)

Moderat Moderat (Bpitch Control)

Wye Oak The Knot (Merge)

Raekwon Only Built for Cuban Linx, Pt. 2 (EMI)

Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)


Al Shipley

1. Electrik Red How To Be A Lady: Vol. 1 (Def Jam)

2. DJ Quik and Kurupt BlaQKout (Mad Science)

3. Nels Cline Coward (Cryptogramophone)

4. Jarvis Cocker Further Complications (Rough Trade)

5. Eleni Mandell Artificial Fire (Zedtone)

6. Sonic Youth The Eternal (Matador)

7. Maxwell BLACKsummers’night (Columbia)

8. Lil Boosie SuperBad: The Return of Boosie Bad Azz (Asylum)

9. The-Dream Love vs. Money (Def Jam)

10. DJ Drama and Gucci Mane The Movie 3-D: The Burrprint (So Icey)


Jason Simms

1. Subarachnoid Space Eight Bells (Crucial Blast)

2. HEALTH Get Color (Lovepump United)

3. Evangelista Prince of Truth (Constellation)

4. New York Rifles Make a Wish (In Music We Trust)

5. Mr. Gnome Heave Yer Skeleton (El Marko)

6. YOB The Great Cessation (Profound Lore)

7. Rodriguez Cold Fact (Light in the Attic)

8. Dethklok Dethalbum II (Williams Street)

9. The Mars Volta Octahedron (Warner Bros.)

10. Mastodon Crack the Skye (Reprise)


Brandon Soderburg

1. Ryan Leslie Ryan Leslie (Universal Motown)

2. G-Side Huntsville International (self-released)

3. Maxwell BLACKsummers’night (Columbia)

4. Wavves Wavvves (De Stijl)

5. DJ Quik and Kurupt BlaQKout (Mad Science)

6. Diamond District In the Ruff (Ryko)

7. James Ferraro Edward Flex Presents: Do You Believe in Hawaii? (new age tapes)

8. Jay-Z Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation)

9. Robert Glasper Double Booked (Blue Note)

10. Ryan Leslie Transition (Universal)


Joe Tropea

1. Cass McCombs Catacombs (Domino)

2. Wye Oak The Knot (Merge)

3. Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca (Domino)

4. Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

5. Swims Itemlord (Wallride)

6. Antony and the Johnsons The Crying Light (Secretly Canadian)

7. Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 Goodnight Oslo (Yep Roc)

8. Handsome Furs Face Control (Sub Pop)

9. The Tragically Hip We Are the Same (Universal/Zoe)

10. Dan Deacon Bromst (Carpark)


Erich Wagner

1. Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glass Note)

2. Future of the Left Travels With Myself and Another (4AD)

3. Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

4. Double Dagger More (Thrill Jockey)

5. HEALTH Get Color (Lovepump United)

6. Lightning Bolt Earthly Delights (Load)

7. Times New Viking Stay Awake EP/ Born Again Revisited (Matador)

8. DOOM Born Like This (Lex)

9. Black Dice Repo (Paw Tracks)

10. Japandroids Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl)

Related stories

Top Ten archives

More Stories

The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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