Yes, 2008 was an underwhelming year in music. But 2009 more than made up for it, giving us music from brilliant new artists and established bands alike. Not only were we presented with many great singles, but many artists succeeded in making whole albums that are best listened to in their entirety, front to back. The year’s best records ranged from FM-radio hit-makers to indie sleepers.
Below is my Top 10 of 2009 list, followed by Top 10 lists from Reverb co-editor John Wenzel and various Reverb contributing writers and photographers. Thanks for reading us throughout the year — and here’s looking forward to a kickass (or at the very least, entertaining) 2010.
— Ricardo Baca
Denver Post pop music critic / Reverb co-editor
1. The Avett Brothers, “I and Love and You” (American)
The Rick Rubin-produced title track captured a nation’s attention – and launched this rootsy North Carolina quartet onto the FM airwaves. These folksy brothers deserve everything coming their way.
2. Lily Allen, “It’s Not Me, It’s You” (Capitol)
Pop isn’t usually smart and literate, but we’ve come to expect such qualities from Allen. From the naked charm of “The Fear” to the unabashed humor of “Not Fair,” Allen is a lock.
3. The Dutchess & the Duke, “Sunset/Sunrise” (Hardly Art)
Jesse Lortz is an anachronism, a songwriter focusing on the craft and not the unnecessary minutia. His songs fill out this sophomore record lushly, connecting with listeners as if he was singing them to them personally.
4. Girls, “Album” (Matador)
Lovers of garage rock — the violent fuzzed-out kind and the sentimental-melodic variety — will find a lot to appreciate in this “Album.”
5. Silversun Pickups, “Swoon” (Dangerbird)
“Panic Switch” was the best FM rock radio single of the year, and this whole LP is a solid listen of alt-rock that transcends all the Smashing Pumpkins comparisons.
6. Deer Tick, “Born on Flag Day” (Partisan)
Fans of early Dylan and, more recently, Joe Pug will appreciate John McCauley’s prose set to music. (Yes, and his voice.) Deer Tick is the face of alt-country in 2009 just as Ryan Adams was 10 years ago.
7. Bear Cat, “Xiong Mao” (Bear Cat)
This self-released, Moldy Peachesesque gem is the year’s best indie pop release. This Auckland, New Zealand-based duo rocks without pretense, and they get extra points for writing an entire album about a panda.
8. The Decemberists, “Hazards of Love” (Capitol)
This sweeping epic positions Colin Meloy and his gang at the top of their chamber pop game.
9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart” (Slumberland)
It’s been called pop, shoegaze and twee. And they’re all delightfully on-point. These Pains are a pleasure.
10. Elvis Costello, “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane” (Hear Music)
Something magical happens when you set Costello’s vocals — and some of his old songs — amid bluegrass instrumentation. Thank you, T Bone Burnett.
Denver Post A&E reporter / Reverb co-editor
Bouncy pop anthems, auto-tuned hip-hop, beard-stroking folk and experimental rock battled it out for our attention in this musically lean year, but only a few releases dominated my iPod. Below are my top ten most-listened-to records of 2009.
1. Metric, “Fantasies” (PIAS/Metric)
Like a damaged supermodel, “Fantasies” is unabashedly glossy and desperate for approval, but no other dance-rock platter grabs you so immediately and refuses to let go. Emily Haines’ songwriting skills are now officially intimidating.
2. Smug Brothers, “Fortune Rumors” (self-released EP series)
The literal and figurative descendants of a long line of fantastic indie rock bands from Dayton, Ohio (Guided by Voices, the Breeders, etc.), the Smug Brothers’ “Fortune Rumors” EP series provided regular doses of 2009’s most addictive lo-fi rock. Look for more from this band in 2010.
3. The Flaming Lips, “Embryonic” (Warner Bros.)
Few artists make chaos and darkness as palatable as the Lips, and here the long-running Oklahoma act blesses us with their most evil, stripped-down collection.
4. Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” (Glass Note)
These French pop-rockers were impossible to escape in 2009, and this slick opus justifies that ubiquity with ass-tight production and the performances and songwriting to match.
5. Siriusmo, “The Uninvited Guest” (Monkeytown Records)
German electro music has never been known for its warmth, but Siriusmo (a.k.a. Moritz Friedrich) proved that experimental impulses fit seamlessly with fizzing, dance-oriented disco.
6. Tortoise, “Beacons of Ancestorship” (Thrill Jockey)
The Chicago jazz-rock godfathers returned to the schizophrenic waters that nurtured them and found themselves sounding more upbeat than ever.
7. Camera Obscura, “My Maudlin Career” (Merge)
Aching melodies and sentiments find each other on this devastatingly sad, pretty disc from this reliably awesome Scottish indie-pop act.
8. Telekinesis, “Telekinesis” (Merge)
Derivative but undeniably melodic and pregnant with promise, Michael Benjamin Lerner’s out-of-the-gate statement is better than many artists’ career highs.
9. The Thermals, “Now We Can See” (Kill Rock Stars)
Most of the songs on this Portland, Ore. punk trio’s fourth album sound (and feel) better in concert, but the trick is writing such killer songs to begin with.
10. Heartless Bastards, “The Mountain” (Fat Possum)
Erika Wennerstrom’s old-soul blues voice continues to stun and motivate on the Bastards’ third and most mature outing.
John Wenzel’s favorite Colorado releases
1. The Jim Jims, “Bottom of the City EP”
2. Everything Absent or Distorted, “The Great Collapse”
3. Wentworth Kersey, “(O) EP”
4. Bad Weather California, “Young Punks”
5. Houses, “Summer EP”
6. Aakash Mittal, “Videsh”
7. Pacific Pride, “Pacific Pride”
8. Meese, “Broadcast”
9. Pretty Lights, “Passing Behind Your Eyes”
10. d. biddle, “Beds and Monsters”
Reverb contributing writer / editor of Aversion.com
1. Neko Case, “Middle Cyclone” (Anti)
2. Future of the Left, “Travels with Myself and Another” (4AD)
3. The Thermals, “Now We Can See” (Kill Rock Stars)
4. The Twilight Sad, “Forget the Night Ahead” (FatCat)
5. The Horrors, “Primary Colours” (XL)
6. Bob Mould, “Life and Times” (Anti)
7. Art Brut, “Art Brut vs. Satan” (Downwn)
8. The Big Pink, “A Brief History of Love” (4AD)
9. Mission of Burma, “The Horrible Truth About Burma” (Matador)
10. Fell, “A Farewell to Echoes” (Vacant Songs)
Reverb contributing writer / editor of Cause=Time
1. Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”
2. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, “Up from Below”
3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “It’s a Blitz”
4. The xx, “The xx”
5. Japandroids, “Post Nothing”
6. Dirty Projectors, “Bitte Orca”
7. Bat for Lashes, “Two Suns”
8. Grizzly Bear, “Veckatimest”
9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart”
10. Ducktails, “Landscapes”
Reverb contributing writer / editor of I Am Fuel, You Are Friends
(In no particular order)
The xx, “The xx”
Mumford & Sons, “Sigh No More”
Handsome Furs, “Face Control”
Roman Candle, “Oh Tall Tree in the Ear”
Langhorne Slim, “Be Set Free”
Lisa Hannigan, “Sea Sew”
Karen O and he Kids, “Where the Wild Things Are” OST
Mayer Hawthorne, “A Strange Arrangement”
Various Artists, “Dark Was the Night”
Reverb contributing photographer
1. Pissed Jeans, “King of Jeans”
2. Cult Ritual, “Cult Ritual”
3. Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, “Up From Below”
4. Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”
5. Marked Men, “Ghosts”
6. Propagandhi, “Supporting Caste”
7. Japandroids, “Post-Nothing”
8. Baroness, “The Blue Album”
9. The xx, “The xx”
10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “It’s A Blitz”
Reverb contributing photographer
1. Steve Martin, “The Crow”
2. Regina Spektor, “Far”
3. Rodrigo y Gabriela, “11:11″
4. Yusuf, “Roadsinger”
5. Assembly of Dust, “Some Assembly Required”
6. Dr. Lonnie Smith, “Rise Up”
7. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, “Up from Below”
8. Sarah Jarosz, “Song Up in Her Head”
9. Antony and the Johnsons, “The Crying Light”
10. Boulder Acoustic Society, “Punchline”
Reverb contributing writer
1. Shackleton, “Three EPs”
2. Oneida, “Rated O”
3. Brother Ali, “Us”
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “It’s Blitz”
5. Sleepy Sun, “Embrace”
6. Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, “When Sweet Sleep Returned”
7. Fever Ray, “Fever Ray”
8. Dave Rempis & Frank Rosaly, “Cyrillic”
9. Sonic Youth, “The Eternal”
10. Pretty Lights, “Passing Behind Your Eyes”
Reverb contributing writer
1. The Flaming Lips, “Embryonic”
2. Animal Collective, “Merriweather Post Pavilion”
3. Neko Case, “Middle Cyclone”
4. Andrew Bird, “Noble Beast”
5. The Avett Brothers, “I And Love And You”
6. The Swell Season, “Strict Joy”
7. The Dirty Projectors, “Bitte Orca”
8. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse, “Dark Night of the Soul”
9. K’Naan, “Troubadour”
10. Tord Gustavsen Trio, “Being There”
Reverb contributing writer
1. Super Furry Animals. “Dark Days/Light Years”
2. Sleepy Sun. “Embrace”
3. Oneida. “Rated O”
4. Peter Doherty. “Grace/Wastelands”
5. Camera Obscura. “My Maudlin Career”
6. Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound. “When Sweet Sleep Returned”
7. Grizzly Bear. “Veckatimest”
8. Faust. “C’est com…comm…complique”
9. James Blackshaw. “The Glass Bead Game”
10.Sonic Youth. “The Eternal”
Reverb contributing writer
1: 30 Seconds to Mars, “This is War”
2: Joan Red, “Side Effects of You”
3: Muse, “The Resistance”
4: Papercut Massacre, “If These Scars Could Talk”
5: Three Days Grace, “Life Starts Now”
6: Papa Roach, “Metamorphosis”
7: Wolfmother, “Cosmic Egg”
8: Atreyu, “Congregation of the Damned”
9: The Sleeping, “What it Takes”
10: Nova, “Nepenthe”
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Ricardo Baca is the founder and co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post. He is also the executive director of the Underground Music Showcase, Colorado’s premier indie music festival. Follow his whimsies at Twitter, his live music habit at Gigbot and his iTunes addictions at Last.fm.
John Wenzel is the co-editor of Reverb, editor of the Get Real Denver blog and an A&E reporter for The Denver Post. His book “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” was recently published by Speck Press. He also maintains a Twitter feed of random song titles.
Matt Schild is co-founder and editor of Aversion.com, which has been grumpily chronicling the underground since 1999. He’s also written for most all of Denver’s weeklies at one point or another, as well as wracking up bylines in an ominous number of failed glossy music rags.
Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and occasional Reverb contributor. He frequently lies down on Broadway.
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and is currently finishing his second novel.
Heather Browne is the Colorado Springs-based editor of the I Am Fuel, You Are Friends music blog and a regular contributor to Reverb.
Paige Montgomery is a Denver-based freelance writer. Check out more of her work on MySpace.
Julio Enriquez is a Denver writer and photographer, editor of the Cause=Time blog and a regular contributor to Reverb.
Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.
Joshua Elioseff is a Boulder-based freelance photographer and new contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.