The Best 60 Albums of 2009

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[18 December 2009]

By PopMatters Staff

PopMatters presents our 60 best albums of 2009, highlighted by a bevy of American indie rock juggernauts, the return of a hip-hop master, and a couple of the finest voices on the planet. Most entries have media to sample the records in the form of video and music streams. U.S. readers can listen to most of these albums in full and Lala has also set up a special page where you can purchase the MP3s for the majority of our top picks.


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Jonsi and Alex

Riceboy Sleeps



Jonsi and Alex
Riceboy Sleeps

If there was an award for the most starkly beautiful record of 2009, it would be difficult for anything to touch Riceboy Sleeps, the collaboration between Jón Pór Bergisson of Sigur Rós and his partner, Alex Somers, of Parachutes. The beauty on the record may only be possible as the product of a young couple in love. Don’t pay attention and Riceboy Sleeps‘s perfection can pass you by as the pair strip Sigur Rós’ rock-based structure and Parachutes’ pop sensibilities back for more free, less structured orchestral compositions of time and space. The record is like listening to the soundtrack of a beautiful dream or memory as it strikes a perfect harmony between ambiance and awe-inspiring crescendos, with the washing choral textures of the Kópavogsdætur Choir overlaid with rich touches of ambient echo, all weaved with the lush strings of long-serving Rós collaborators Amiina. At times introspective, often breathtaking, and executed with meticulous perfection, to the patient listener Riceboy Sleeps is a masterpiece of generative ambiance. Rob McCallum


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Axe to Fall



Axe to Fall

More than eight years after its release, Jane Doe arguably still stands as the finest metal record of the decade. So it would have been understandable had the members of Converge chosen to spend the last few years resting on their laurels. Instead, the Boston four-piece continued to push themselves, breaking down barriers between hardcore and metal and rewriting the rules of heavy music in the process. Bookending the decade with their strongest album since Jane Doe, Converge again summon elemental forces on Axe to Fall. It’s all here: the crushing riffs, the thunderous blast beats, the guitar acrobatics, the breakneck tempos, Jacob Bannon’s impassioned, hoarse barks. And yet there’s more: a Tom Waits-esque saloon ballad, an autumnal, slow burning post-rock number, an attention to texture and detail previously unseen. Even as the band explores slower tempos, two decades in, the sonic maelstrom known as Converge shows no signs of slowing down. Mehan Jayasuriya


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The Dead Weather


(Third Man)


The Dead Weather

Though he is a sideman in the Dead Weather, Jack White’s fingerprints are all over Horehound, their debut album cements his position as one of the last true badasses of rock ‘n’ roll. He and singer Alison Mosshart (on loan from the Kills) conjure up the swagger, menace, and attitude of old-school blues, free of the clichés and processed slickness that plagues the genre these days. The Dead Weather is not a blues band in the conventional sense, but the skuzzy grind of songs like “Hang You from the Heavens” and “Treat Me Like Your Mother” has its origins in the swamps that first birthed this music. The more traditional closing track, “Will There Be Enough Water?”, drives the connection home. The Dead Weather’s music is new and forward-looking, but steeped in the finest traditions of rock. As such, it’s some of the best of 2009. David Gassmann


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Bat for Lashes

Two Suns



Bat for Lashes
Two Suns

Whether intentional or not, with Two Suns Natasha Khan, the enormously talented woman behind Bat for Lashes, has paid the ultimate homage to one of her English foremothers: Kate Bush. The excellent album, Khan’s second Bat for Lashes release, features all the hallmarks that made Bush a global pop sensation: minor key piano chords; moody, reverbed, electronic textures; sweeping strings; emotionally wrought lyrics that ooze imagery; and finally, that voice, with its haunting, trembling, epic-ness. And while it may be Khan’s similarity to Bush that draws you in, it’s Khan’s superb songwriting and arranging and her extraordinary ability to convey intense emotion that stays with you. The world that Khan paints on Two Suns is a frightful place, filled with foreboding, death, and alienation, but with Bat for Lashes as your guide, it’s a world you won’t want to leave anytime soon. Grab a coffin, lie back, and enjoy. Michael Kabran


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jj n°2

(Sincerely Yours)


jj n°2

Sweden’s elusive jj are theoretically on the cusp of revelation, having announced in November that they’ll be touring the United States with fellow lowercase letters, the xx. They haven’t been anonymous for very long, and there was never the sense that they treated their secrecy like a big deal. ‘You know who we are?’ they might have asked us if they were into speaking on record, ‘Cool, that’s fine.’ Their ostensible attitude toward their personas mirrored the feel of their music: fluid, incidental, naturally occurring, and A-OK. Amongst a host of albums selling summer love this year, jj’s full-length debut was the very best at emulating a tropical breeze, rolling lazily across the landscape and cleansing the body. Yet if jj n°2 sounds innocuous through and through, the music is far more intricate and advanced than I thought, at first. Examining it under scrutiny reveals startling levels of musicianship in the vocal harmonies of “From Africa to Málaga” and the exotic instrumental passages of “Intermezzo”, and it probably required hundreds of takes to get the reverb just right. But the point isn’t to scrutinize it, the point is to enjoy it, and jj worked sedulously to ensure that we can. For the price of a CD, they’ve offered us a paid vacation to the beaches of our fantasies. I must remember to thank them when they finally reach my shores. Mike Newmark


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The Fiery Furnaces

I’m Going Away

(Thrill Jockey)


The Fiery Furnaces
I’m Going Away

Just about every record the Fiery Furnaces have released since their one-two punch of the sprawling Blueberry Boat (2004) followed by the grandma-fronted Rehearsing My Choir (2005) has been tagged as their most accessible work since their debut. For better or for worse, this was rarely true; despite some poppy moments, their records sprawled, dithered, and squealed with noodly keyboard digressions or rapid tempo changes. With I’m Going Away though, siblings Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger have actually done it: they’ve made a record as accessible as their first, and arguably a better one. This is no mainstreaming concession. I’m Going Away maintains the Friedbergers’ idiosyncrasies—Eleanor’s occasionally Dylanesque phrasing, Matthew’s shifting melodies, the repetition that turns the lyrics into surreal mantras—but the songs are catchier and more concise. You’re free to savor the beautiful, strange details: the lovely vocal melody that sneaks into “Drive to Dallas”, the guitar line that soars into “The End is Near”, or the way Eleanor practically interrupts herself on the chorus of “Keep Me in the Dark”. The song titles hint at finality, but the record’s craft signals another new beginning. Jesse Hassenger


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Mount Eerie

Wind’s Poem

(P.W. Elverum & Sun)


Mount Eerie
Wind’s Poem

The introspective lyrics and rough, yet complex, sonic textures of Phil Elverum’s Microphones output reached an unparalleled peak with The Glow Pt. 2 in 2001. Now several years and releases into his Mount Eerie incarnation, Elverum has delivered another such defining moment with Wind’s Poem. From a generic starting point of black metal, Elverum combines the despair and spiritual isolation of that musical realm with his own rustic aesthetic. Rather than coming across as a compromised mashup of seemingly incompatible styles, the fusion that permeates Wind’s Poem serves to expand both Elverum’s songwriting and the very boundaries of black metal. An achievement of serious literary and musical depth, Wind’s Poem is the story and sound of man’s relationship to nature and all of the “ancient questions” therein. For those willing to take the journey, this Manichean mission is full of mystery and often overwhelming, yet satisfying and purifying to degrees unprecedented within the genre. Thomas Britt


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Falty DL

Love Is a Liability

(Planet Mu)


Falty DL
Love Is a Liability

After around four and a half minutes of its adjourning production, the last few buzzing synth lines of Love Is a Liability finally splinter and disintegrate. By then, New York City producer Falty DL has been all over the place, exploring UK garage, dubstep, and bleary-eyed, post-midnight broken beat. Love is his ornate debut LP, a missive so rife with rhythm experiments and left-field style shifts that it captivates wholly, but doesn’t overwhelm. Sullen melodies and siren keyboard squelches streak across Falty’s “Winter Sole” at a convulsive pace—minutes later, “To New York” calls from another planet system entirely, with oily grooves, snaps, and frenetic pitch shifts. And those vocal cutups… whoa, man. For something of a newcomer (albeit a busy one), Falty DL exhibits an artful sampling proficiency over all of Love Is a Liability. Those who like their beat-driven evening records peppered with gorgeous, resonant verse fragments shouldn’t pass this one up. Dominic Umile


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Sunset Rubdown




Sunset Rubdown

At this point in the indie rock timeline, I hope we can all agree that Sunset Rubdown is not a “side-project”. Given the fact that Sunset Rubdown has four albums and an EP to its name as well as an enviable consistence of quality, you could make an argument that Wolf Parade is starting to seem like the “side-project”. Trivial tags aside, Spencer Krug is just a guy bursting with so many ideas that he needs an absurd number of avenues to present them all, and Sunset Rubdown has always been the most direct route to Krug’s heart and mind. Dragonslayer may not be the band’s best album, but it’s certainly its most easily digestible. It boasts sharper production, a much-needed low-end (courtesy of new member Marc Nicol) and clocks in with a lean eight tracks. Spencer Krug (in all his various guises) may always be something of an acquired taste, but to his fans, there are few things more compelling than his glam-prog sound-world inhabited by dragons and Greek gods. Ben Schumer


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Songs of Shame



Songs of Shame

Brooklyn has been synonymous with the lo-fi boom in 2009, and this treasure from Woods is one of its greatest exports. The record quickly establishes that something quite special is going on amidst all the tape-hiss with its scuzzy, guitar-driven, psyched out folk music. The trio share in Stephen Malkmus’ lazy sounding perfection masterfully blending a hybrid of influences that possess a kind of futuristic nostalgia. Echoes of a youthful Neil Young can be heard across the record and the cover of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s ‘Military Madness’ is a masterstroke. One minute a melodic freak-folk affair, the next a psychedelic jam, the album continually reinvents itself without sounding at any stage schizophrenic, creating its own brand of free-folk in the process. With a distinct penchant for infectious melody, the only real ever present aspect throughout Songs of Shame is that it’s one of those records that develops each time the LP is played, the sign of a truly great album. Rob McCallum

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Decent choices but I am at a loss as to why Mew’s absolutely dazzling, mindblowing “No More Stories” has been shut out of every list. Most of these albums don’t even compare to it yet it’s like it never existed as I haven’t seen it on one list.

Comment by auteur55 from Ohio — December 14, 2009 @ 7:22 am

Animal Collective
Grizzly Bear
Avett Brothers
Dirty Projectors

Is anybody else as disturbed by the predictablility of these choices? How many of these “masterpieces” will you be hugging next year, and how many will sit on the shelves unplayed. The herd mentality seems more at work than personal, idiosyncratic choices here. Maybe it’s just the nature of collective voting to reward better than okay records with votes, but somehow I doubt this is the music you play when you need inspiration, solace, or something to make love to…

Comment by Steve Horowitz — December 14, 2009 @ 8:45 am

Not sure about Animal Collective or Dirty Projecors angular weirdness which I admire but find hard to listen to mr. Steve Horowitz, but I can tell you I still to this day cherish Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House a good 3 years later and I fell even harder for Veckatimest. So yes, I think next year and the year after and for many years to come I will be playing that Grizzly Bear record for myself, friends and family as it seems to grow better with age as opposed to the other way around.

Comment by T. Peters — December 14, 2009 @ 9:59 am

Steve, try FaltyDL (#53) for something to make love to. But yes, I’m in general agreement with you. It looks too expected and blah this year.

Auteur55, I would have liked to see Mew on the list as well. They’re an amazing band and I think they’re taken for granted.

Comment by Mike Newmark from Berkeley / Tarzana, CA — December 14, 2009 @ 10:27 am

Yeah, I mean if they’re really that excellent than we have no right to begrudge their appearances on this or any other list, but I gotta say after the 50th time it’s getting tiresome to find “Merriweather” occupying yet another #1 spot. If something is actually that good, or even great, then a certain grain of objectivity exists and therefore overlap/recurrence of albums across many different lists is inevitable, but considering the vast variety of music out there I’m a little disappointed that there are SO MANY overly familiar albums on this one, particularly in the top tier. I mean this is a fantastic article, don’t get me wrong, and the write-ups are among the most articulate and moving of all those I’ve read from the other music blogs, websites, and such, but, I dunno, maybe I just wish I’d seen more of my own personal faves on here. Pink Martini, The Dutchess & the Duke, The Very Best, Paolo Nutini, The Swell Season, Sufjan Steven’s “BQE”, Loudon Wainwright’s Charlie Poole tribute, Fruit Bats, Julian Casablancas, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Brendan Benson, and YACHT are the main ones I’m sorry not to have been considered good enough by PopMatters. Maybe the fact that they weren’t means I don’t have very good taste. Ah well. Bottom line is, please God don’t let Animal Collective release another album as early as 2010 - I can’t go through this repetition again.

Comment by Michael from Escondido — December 14, 2009 @ 10:37 am

I was happy to see Crack the Skye in the top 10.  It’s one of the few metal albums that I enjoy (I am not a heavy metal fan). 

On the other hand…Green Day?  C’mon, Popmatters, you guys are better than that!

Comment by Bob — December 14, 2009 @ 10:59 am

Ever stop to think that, maybe, the same albums tend to gravitate towards the top of these year-end lists because there’s a general consensus among music fans & critics that they are, in fact, the best albums of the year, the records we all seem to enjoy the most?  What would the point be in choosing some arcane, esoteric album as #1?  Just to be contrarians & throw everyone for a loop?  Awarding some buried, obscure record the #1 spot for the year solely for the purpose of “idiosyncrasy” over other records that are genuinely winning a large portion of critical community’s heart as well as the audience’s seems severely misguided.  Let’s not award the albums that actually merit the top spots due to the overwhelming majority who voted them as such; let’s, instead, choose something to be “different.”  Really?  That’s just as bad - if not worse - than doing something just because everyone else is doing it.  It strikes me as a bit phony & pretentious, actually.

Comment by Anthony Lombardi from Waterbury, Connecticut — December 14, 2009 @ 11:20 am

Are you directing that at me, Anthony? ‘Cuz I’m pretty sure I said the same thing as you: “If something is actually that good, or even great, then a certain grain of objectivity exists and therefore overlap/recurrence of albums across many different lists is inevitable”. My point was only that I keep seeing the same albums on all the year-end lists and they don’t necessarily coincide with my own faves so it’s not that fun to read after the 80th time, not that I’m a wannabe-hipster defiantly promoting no-name musicians (where’d I come up with this “Julian Casablancas” fellow??) to get attention. I know it’s fun to stick that argument to someone - oh, you’re so pretentious, just go with the flow, the mass opinion is always correct - but you gotta know when it’s appropriate. I even acknowledged that my own taste was probably lacking because I didn’t follow PopMatters’ choices, how much more self-effacing can I get? Yet I’m phony and pretentious too. Sorry to offend you

Comment by Michael from Escondido — December 14, 2009 @ 3:34 pm


Comment by Rick Jones from USA — December 14, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

pitchfork,popmatters….....whatever…’s hip to place all(not all) of these records in your year end reviews and let everyone know how cutting edge you are…........bob pollard and anything he releases(boston spaceships etc.) blows these wannabes away…......i guess it’s cool to forget about the guy that as put out more great music than any of these other acts combined

Comment by tom — December 14, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

i made my own list last week//i based it on what albums i could listen to on repeat for weeks at a time while driving around the city mostly ... at one point i had Alela Diane’s, “To Be Still” in for maybe a month…there’s a simplicity and naturalness to those songs that really resonate with me…however, I awarded the top spot to MPP by Animal Collective because ever since Feels, and more noticeably on Strawberry Jam and now MPP their music has created a giddy sense of euphoria and excitement in me - that is rare…they also have continued to do their own thing for 10 years and have never pandered to musical trends.  Their music is highly original in the way they use and layer samples and synths/in their vocal delivery/in the unusual rhythms. (ie. Lion in a Coma - that Avey Tare is able to construct a likeable melody and workable phrasing to a 9/8 time signature is pretty remarkable…the critical and commercial success they are having now is a result of people gravitating towards what they are doing with their music at present…Animal Collective is well deserving of the top spot in my opinion.

1. Animal Collective - MPP
2. Alela Diane - To Be Still
3. Fever Ray - s/t
4. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
5. Junior Boys - Begone Dull Care
6. Antlers - Hospice
7. (tie) Atlas Sound Logos/Papercuts - You Can Have What You Want
8. Timber Timbre - s/t
9. Bruce Peninsula - A Mountain is A Mouth
10. Akron family - set ‘em wild, set ‘em free

Comment by p from toronto, ont. canada — December 14, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

Why is ‘Crack The Skye’ number 13 on the top metal list while it’s 8 on this one?

Comment by Annass Rhammar from Vancouver — December 15, 2009 @ 2:18 am

i’m disappointed that Regina Spektor’s Far didn’t make the top 60, far is her best pop effort imo and she is still very relevant in today’s pop scene, she adds a new level of sophistication to her lyrics with each album and is always sincere in her song writing, qualities lacking in a lot or artistes these days.

Comment by Ben from KL, Malaysia — December 15, 2009 @ 5:01 am


The Best 60 Albums list is a collective list among PopMatters staff, compiled from individual entries voted upon and ranked according to voting weight.  Genre lists are, as identified, the opinions of the individuals or small collaborations of staff writers.

Which is the more polite but more boring way of explaining Anthony’s point about consensus.  (Which I did not take to be a critique of Michael’s above, but hopefully a more general statement.)

Comment by Patrick Schabe — December 15, 2009 @ 10:54 am

Animal collective’s MPP at no.1 again, huh? it’s becoming tiresome. I don’t understand it at all. all I hear is cheesy and boring drivel.

Comment by Mungo C. — December 15, 2009 @ 5:49 pm

— PopMatters sponsor —

Yeah, guys, the way records get to the top of these lists (all of these lists, anywhere) isn’t by being passionately loved by everyone, or even just by some; it’s by being well-liked enough that you find a spot on nearly everyone’s list, even if it’s much further down.  And to take that Mew album as an example, it simply doesn’t matter how good anyone who’s heard it thinks it is if most of the people voting simply haven’t heard it (which I’m betting is the case).  That’s a big part of the reason why you see a lot of similar records on different publications’ lists; even in this new internet world people largely listen to the same stuff.  And writers often feel that they should at least keep up with what’s being talked about (what’s worse, to vote for Grizzly Bear or Phoenix, or to refuse to listen to them because people like them?).

Comment by Ian Mathers from Ontario, Canada — December 15, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

@ Rick Jones: It’s laughable that you think this, of all lists, is “THE KIND OF LIST THAT ELITIST CRITICS PUT TOGETHER TO SHOW YOU HOW COOL THEY ARE.” When people are tying to impress you with how cool they are, they don’t include albums like:
Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
Pearl Jam - Backspacer
Goran Bregović - Alkohol
Miranda Lambert - Revolution

Those albums are there because the people who voted for them actually like those albums. This list is actually the kind of list all critics put together when they write for any publication. It reflects the PopMatters stable of writers, and nothing more. The only agenda behind it is to see what consensus there is among the staff. Don’t take it so seriously. It’s just a bit of fun.

What were your Top 10 albums of 2009?

Comment by Alan Ranta from Vancouver, BC — December 16, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

That Brother Ali review was the single worst review I’ve ever read.

The content wasn’t off, but the writing ... yikes.

Overall, good list.

Comment by Jay M. Boller from Minneapolis — December 16, 2009 @ 10:16 pm

Man, is it just me or is Animal Collective the most over-hyped band…ever?  Tiresome and sophomoric acid-dead neo-prog rock with zero songwriting talent.  What’s the difference between my “neo-prog” and the old stuff from the ‘70s?  Well, although it was just as tiresome back then, at least the original prog dudes actually knew how to play their instruments.  Also, I just don’t see why there has been so much love for the Avetts.  Their songwriting has always been slightly above-average at best and the newer version doesn’t really sound any better than dozens of Americana acts.  Listening to Popmatters list of Ten Best Americana albums, none stood out as particularly brililant and the Avetts didn’t sound any more remarkable than the rest.  Pleasant but forgettable stuff that sounds like it was designed to play as background fodder in Starbucks.  I liked the last Miranda Lambert album a good bit, but I think Popmatters has lost any sense of objectivity over the girl.  This new one is straight-up Nashville product that is as dull, formulaic, and sonically bland as any other top 40 “country” act.  The songwriting is mediocre at best and cringe-wothy at the worst.  Her “bad girl” thing has become complete schtick and the album deserves about as much critical praise as recent releases by Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift.  Also, out of curiosity, how is it that in your “best country albums” list, she was number three but in your final list, the two acts that beat her weren’t even listed?  By your own rankings, shouldn’t Brad and Willie have been higher?  Anyway, enough bitching about your list, at the end of the day it’s music and as fun as it is to critically banter about pop music, it is mostly subjective :)  In terms of glaring omissions though…you were aware that Metric released a monstrously good album this year, right?  I’ve never thought much of Metric until this year, but of the hundred or so releases from 2009 that I played this year it was THE best thing I heard.  Also, surprised to see no mention of The Low Anthem, which was the second best thing I heard all year.  I’d love to hear any reason why Green Day’s latest was better that either of those two.

Comment by The Big Crunch from Bethesda, MD — December 17, 2009 @ 10:22 am

Oh yeah, here’s an alternate 40:

1. Metric; Fantasies
2. The Low Anthem; Oh My God Charlie Darwin
3. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart; s/t
4. Bryan Sutton and Friends; Almost Live
5. Japandroids; Post-Nothing
6. Annie; Don�t Stop
7. Built To Spill; There Is No Enemy
8. A Place to Bury Strangers; Exploding Head
9. Dinosaur Jr.; Farm
10. The David Rawlings Machine; A Friend of a Friend
11. Yeah Yeah Yeahs; It�s Blitz
12. Bear In Heaven; Bear Rest Forth Mouth
13. Band of Skulls; Baby Darling Doll
14. The XX; XX
15. Big Pink; A History of Love
16. Drive-By Truckers; The Fine Print
17. Sonic Youth; The Eternal
18. Phoenix; Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
19. Camera Obscura; My Maudlin Career
20. Ryan Bingham; Roadhouse Sun
21. Various Artists; Chris Gaffney Tribute: The Man of Somebody�s Dreams
22. Levon Helm; Electric Dirt
23. The Atlas Sound; Logos
24. The Raveonettes; In and Out of Control
25. Yo La Tengo; Popular Music
26. Axton Kincaid; Silver Dollars
27. Handsome Furs; Face Control
28. An Horse; Rearrange Beds
29. Wilco; Wilco (The Album)
30. Magnapop; Chase Park
31. Boston Spaceships, Planets Are Blasted
32. Ricky Skaggs;; Songs My Dad Loved
33. Manic Street Preachers; Journal For Plague Lovers
34. We Were Promised Jetpacks; These Four Walls
35. The Smith Westerns; The Smith Westerns
36. Real Estate; s/t
37. Fever Ray; s/t
38. Lightning Dust; Infinite Light
39. St. Vincent; Actor
40. Doves; Kingdon of Rust

Comment by The Big Crunch from Bethesda, MD — December 17, 2009 @ 10:26 am

@ The Big Crunch: Yes, Animal Collective is the most overrated band of 2009. They rank as one of the worst live acts I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing, and the record MPP is not much better than seeing it performed. But I do find it weird that you would think that considering your “alternative” Top 40 is pretty much the same as PopMatters’, just rearranged. This is what an alternative Top 40 looks like:
40. Shitmat - One Foot In The Rave (Planet Mu)
39. Iron & Wine - Around The Well (Sub Pop)
38. Speech Debelle - Speech Therapy (Ninja Tune)
37. Bibio - Vignetting The Compost (Mush)
36. Odd Nosdam - T.I.M.E. Soundtrack (Anticon)
35. Kelly Joe Phelps - Western Bell (Black Hen)
34. Tosca - No Hassle (!K7)
33. Ochre - Like Dust of the Balance (Benbecula)
32. Shpongle - Ineffable Mysteries From Shpongleland (Twisted)
31. Christ. - Distance Lends Enchantment To The View (Benbecula)

30. The Heavy - The House That Dirt Built (Counter)
29. Graham Coxon - The Spinning Top (Transgressive)
28. Venetian Snares - Filth (Planet Mu)
27. Shout Out Out Out Out - Reintegration Time (Normals Welcome)
26. People Under The Stairs - Carried Away (OM)
25. Pink Mountaintops - Outside Love (Jagjaguar)
24. Kleinschmager Audio - Audiology (Rrygular)
23. Boxcutter - Arecibo Message (Planet Mu)
22. Kid606 - Shout at the D�ner (Tigerbeat6)
21. m�m - Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know (Euphono)

20. Fink - Sort Of Revolution (Ninja Tune)
19. Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra - Take Off! (Alien Transistor)
18. Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue (WARP)
17. Prefuse 73 - Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian (WARP)
16. Nosaj Thing - Drift (Alpha Pup)
15. Sufjan Stevens - The BQE (Asthmatic Kitty)
14. The Field - Yesterday and Today (Kompakt)
13. Mirah - (a)spera (K Records)
12. The Balky Mule - The Length Of The Rail (FatCat)
11. Clark - Totems Flare (WARP)

10. Gui Boratto - Take My Breath Away (Kompakt)
09. Sleeper - Behind Every Mask (Mush)
08. Black Moth Super Rainbow - Eating Us (Graveface)
07. Serengeti & Polyphonic - Terradactyl (Anticon)
06. Echaskech - Shatterproof (Just Music)
05. Pontiak - Sea Voids (Thrill Jockey)
04. Spoonbill - Zoomorphic (Omelette)
03. The Lava Children - The Lava Children EP (Graveface)
02. Jon Hopkins - Insides (Domino)
01. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - Here Be Dragons (Ad Noiseam)

Comment by Alan Ranta from Vancouver, BC — December 17, 2009 @ 11:15 am

@Alan - Well, I don’t really see it as an “alternative” top 40 to popmatters.  Those were just my favorite albums of the year.  Deciding to like an album as an opposition statement to some online pub’s EOY list doesn’t make much sense to me.  Or to put it another way, a good album is a good album, no matter who or how many people like it.  My thing about AC and lot of the droning, psych-folk bands is that the songwriting is lousy to nonexistent, and in terms of the music being an interesting soundscape, I still think it falls far short of anything very interesting or appealing.  But, each to their own.

Comment by The Big Crunch from Bethesda, MD — December 17, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

It’s always fascinating to me to see the difference between “educated assesment” and popular demand. It seems like individual listeners vote more for fresh favorites, as opposed to whatever a band that gained notoriety five years ago happened to release this year. (see this wildly different vote-based list:

Comment by Gina — December 17, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

I feel I need to address the elephant in the room, which is that it�s not clear what it means for a set of albums to be the �best.� Choosing the best albums of the year is a procedure with fundamental flaws; chief among them is that there is no such thing as 100% objectivity in music criticism. When we listen to something, we bring so much of our personalities and experiences with us that a piece of music never hits two people in exactly the same way. Certain records become popular and cherished because they seem to access something common to human experience or speak to some need we all have at one time or another�the need to move, the need to emote, and so on�but even they don�t have identical effects on all of us because we�re different from each other. If any of my fellow critics are like me, they hesitate to say too much in unequivocal terms because they know that so many people won�t hear the music the way they do. The line between subjectivity and objectivity gets insanely blurry. We judge things to be the �best� based partly on our subjective appraisals of what we think is objectively wonderful. It�s problematic, but we hope the reviews we offer are informative and entertaining anyhow.

As if that weren�t enough, our entire stable of writers hasn�t heard everything that was released in 2009. So the idea that we have located the best of the entire year�s musical offerings should be taken with a grain of salt, as it should with every publication. The subjectivity and thorniness involved in assessing music, along with the limits of our knowledge, means that we�re often talking past each other. We welcome readers� insights about what deserves to be championed that we forgot this time around, but telling us that we weren�t correct in reporting the �best� is misguided. Maybe none of us have heard that album from Kyrgyzstan that you love, or the one from the breakout singer-songwriter who really needs support. My two favorite records this year were A Sunny Day in Glasgow�s �Ashes Grammar� and Kreng�s �L’autopsie Ph�nom�nale de Dieu,� but neither of them appear here for a number of possible reasons that I have no reasonable choice but to accept. I don�t have the scientific proof that those two records do what they do better than everything else does what it does, and even if I did somehow, I might find a record tomorrow that I like even better. See how messy this can get?

So we do what we can: we have a voting system that reaches a consensus among PopMatters� cohort of adventurous writers.  But even though each of us has distinct tastes, these things tend to get whittled down to the records most everyone has heard, like �Veckatimest� and �Merriweather Post Pavilion�, because that�s what voting does. I wonder if this list would have looked different if everyone had been given the opportunity to listen to all of each other�s favorites before voting. So if this is an imperfect system, if the limits to objectivity mean coming up with the inarguable �best� is impossible, why do we still do this? Because it�s fun, as Alan said up there. Because there is still some measure of objectivity in determining what�s good and what isn�t (let�s agree that My Bloody Valentine is better than Bunnybrains). Because I still bite my nails when I know that a magazine is going to publish its best-of in just a few minutes. Because these lists provide the opportunity for intelligent discussion that furthers the institution of music as a significant cultural force. Let�s acknowledge the limitations involved in appraising the �best� of any art form, recognize the importance of music criticism despite those limitations, and move forward.

Comment by Mike Newmark from Berkeley / Tarzana, CA — December 17, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

Yeah, this list seems very “kid-friendly” with Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear at the top, but it’s good to see stuff like Buddy & Julie Miller mentioned.

I’m more disturbed that the Kate Bush comparison is dropped in short paragraph write-ups of both the Bat for Lashes and Fever Ray (wtf?!) records.  You have one paragraph to write about why these records are among the best of the year, and you resort to this lazy and cliche comparison?  This was old in 94.  Ask Tori and Bjork.  I expect this BS from the boys at Pitchfork, but not Popmatters.

Comment by stever — December 18, 2009 @ 8:34 am

I always enjoy these end of the year lists, because popmatters includes albums that may be outside of the normal genres I gravitate towards. Even if I don’t always agree with the rankings, at least its an opportunity to discover some more good music.

The comments on this page are also very interesting because they give a more personalized look at the best albums of the year. It s good to know that the readers of popmatters really, genuinely care about uncovering the best music.

To the big crunch: I liked many of the albums on your list, including Metric’s Fantasies.

Its too bad that Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse weren’t on this list, but it is probably because of the legal issues surrounding their release…

Comment by Liz A — December 18, 2009 @ 10:05 am

Let us not forget that PopMatters always starts the new year off with the “Slipped Discs” feature, which addresses Mike’s points by offering a counter-balance of sorts where writers get to advocate for personal favorites that didn’t make the list, without the constraints of voting.  And it’s often the more fun and adventurous of the two pieces.  [/shameless plug]

Comment by Patrick Schabe — December 18, 2009 @ 11:26 am

Just want to echo the comment about the Brother Ali review.  It reads like a 12-year old wrote it.  Full of cliches.  Poor punctuation.  Scary stuff.

Comment by Greg — December 18, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

@ Patrick Schabe
Actually, we’re kicking of the new year with the best film, TV and DVDs of the year, but Slipped Discs will follow in mid-January.

Comment by SysAdmin — December 18, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

I, for one, enjoy the irony of a post that decries a review for “poor punctuation” in which four out of its five sentences are grammatically incomplete.

Comment by Alan Ranta from Vancouver, BC — December 18, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

— PopMatters sponsor —

I can’t fathom how Green Day makes this list over what was really the best pop-punk record of 2009, but no one else’s list seems to agree with me. WHERE ARE THE THERMALS?

Comment by Jack from Missouri — December 18, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

um. Mew’s No More Stories…?

probably the most interesting melodies of the year.

certainly holds up to MPP and Veckatimest’s harmonious intrigue.

Comment by common sense — December 18, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

I must be getting older because my best-of and the best-ofs I keep seeing continue to grow so far apart. I have many of these and I find the shambolic noodling that seems to dazzle today’s hipoisie a little annoying. What ever happened to, you know, songs? Sad to see no love this year for David Bazan, cause Curse Your Branches solidifies his rank in the upper echelons of songwriters no matter the genre. No AC Newman? Clem Snide? Lymbyc Systym? Sharon Van Etten? Built to Spill? Mersault’s awesome EP? Polvo? Julian Plenti? The Beatings? Wussy? Lightning Dust? Burma? Tom Thumb? I’d take any one of these over much of the stuff listed. Guess I’m not one of the cool kids anymore.

Comment by Sick Frank from Maine — December 19, 2009 @ 4:58 am

I’m astonished that Why?‘s Eskimo Snow could make this list while fellow Anticon artists Bike For Three! and Themselves are nowhere to be found.

Comment by Andrew Dietzel — December 20, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

I’m surprised PopMatters released a ‘best of’ list without hardly any popular acts. I echo Steve H’s comment, how many of these people will matter in a year? How many will be around in a year? I guess I’m missing the point of PopMatters. I thought it was a site that took popular art more seriously rather than the dismissive attitude taken by other elitists sites.

Here’s my Indie Album of the Year: Lady Gaga - The Fame. The lady’s music is going to have an impact in the Dance, R&B, and Indie world. I’m not talking just about her fans, but among the various artists within each group. I just caught Muse the other night on SNL. I don’t really like them, but I saw the lead singer wearing this ridiculous asymmetrical jacket and I thought: “Man, there goes Gaga. Heh.”

Comment by ToddLuvsLounging from Los Angeles — December 21, 2009 @ 8:47 am

Agree with the comment on the Thermals being overlooked.  Though my most-jaw-dropping album of 2009 was from Future of the Left.

Comment by Greg Smith — December 21, 2009 @ 11:01 am

Needs way more Georgia Anne Muldrow.

Comment by David Amidon — December 22, 2009 @ 9:40 am

Nice to see the Wooden Shjips on the best-of psych list, but it’s absence on the main list is glaring. In The Red had a killer year this year, too, with great records from the Hunches and Thee Oh Sees, and the awesome Kid Congo record being the funkiest garage rock joint I heard all year. And what about Hemlosa Katter by Trad Gras och Stenar? Those Swedish senior citizens made the free jazz-influenced stoner record of the year. If it were on Matador or Mexican Summer or Thrill Jockey, it would be praised to high heaven by everyone. I know it’s all subjective, but Animal Collective at the top? They can’t hold a candle to either TGoS or the mighty Shjips. Awesome to see Buddy & Julie Miller up there, and Ryan Bingham, too. But where’s the Lucero record? It’s like Springsteen went to Memphis to make a country record with a horn section, and the songs just kill. Would have been nice to see it even name-checked on the Americana list. Ah, well. Good fun reading the lists, even if I sit here yelling at my computer about some of the choices. Maybe we can we have an Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and Dirty Projectors-free year in 2010. The ubiquity is getting stifling.

Comment by Jim from Chicago — December 26, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

@David Amidon: I agree that could, at least, use a little more Georgia Anne Muldrow. But I guess she’ll have to settle for her #1 ranking at Exclaim.

Comment by Alan Ranta from Vancouver, BC — January 4, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

Yikes, Green Day and Pearl Jam? How about Built to Spill, Bibio, the Thermals, Art Brut or Cass Mccombs? Still, it’s a pretty good list.

Comment by Lofidelity Radio from Chicago — January 4, 2010 @ 9:42 pm

Animal Collective, again #1 on someone’s list for the Best of 2009, quelle surprise. A friend and co-worker talked me into attending Collective’s concert at the House of Blues in Dallas. If anyone sees blood stains on the floor, about 15 feet out, stage left, their mine. Those stains are from the puddle I left after opening a vein while listening to one of the worst live performances EVER! The vocals were horrendous, how appropriate that their encore was “Bleed”.

Maybe it’s me, I’m older and I am definitely a R&B baby. So what do I know about electronic pop? Enough to know if you can’t bring it live, best to pack up your toys and go home. Studio artist DO NOT interest me.

Glad to see Maxwell’s “BLACKsummers’night” made the cut but #22? Should have been in the Top 10. BLACK is a beautifully crafted album with a very “live” feel. Someone should nickname Maxwell’s band “DAYUM”. Although not his best, this album still took a big steaming dump on 97% of what’s being produced by so-called R&B artist today.

@David Amidon, I agree the list definitely could have used Georgia Anne Muldrow’s “Umsindo”. People just don’t understand but I love her.

@Jack from Missouri, co-sign on The Thermals being overlooked.

And what’s up with no Anthony Hamilton?

Comment by allheavens — January 5, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

Not completely sure why people are surprised to see the same albums at the top of a lot of lists. Surely the very fact that these albums are topping many different blogger’s lists actually justifies their presence at the top of the lists… Right? If every album released this year topped a different end of year list then surely that would be a very non-descript and boring musical year.

On a related note, I’m trying to get some responses together for a dissertation on music and the internet, via an online survey:

please vent your opinions here, i’d be so delighted. it’s not too boring i promise, and i even drew some nice little pictures to help you along…

Comment by Thom A from Cambridge — January 9, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

The bands of 2009, really of the last decade, and sorry to unfairly include a few in this, all remind me of a precocious 12-year-old child who can speak 3 languages fluently, play piano and tennis well, will certainly go to the ivy league school of their (or more likely their parents) choice, and has Absolutely No Individuality and Nothing to Say. Come to think of it: much like the characters in that beloved and completely overrated movie The Royal Tannenbaums. Oh, this poor, sorry generation. They don’t even see it happening, and really it’s not even their fault. No wonder they have to dig up Kurt Cobain and have the puppeteer from John Malkovich up in the rafters working the strings, making him sing Living On a Prayer.

I almost like the Animal Collective song but I don’t respect it, not in light of its #1 status and their #1 status which makes it reek of denial of its rightful place in the world. It is not, they are not, supposed to be the best thing that happened this year. Either I’m living in an alternate universe (as of…? Maybe Cobain shot me too) or- a better guess- music’s progress has eclipsed the artists’ abilities to create anything…. solid (though that’s the wrong word, but this stuff, A.C. and those nancy boys Grizzly Bear, also reminds me of wet sand, the kind I like to use to make Drakula sand castles.) And I do have to say re: Neko Case’s latest album managing to expand her sonic range: how could it not? She sings the same melody in every freakin song I’ve ever heard. It’s as indistinguishable (to the untrained ear of course) as Irish traditional music or most hip hop. To sum up, this whole decade has been weak tea, with a few exceptions surely not mentioned in your top selections and one can only hope it will be remembered as fondly as we remember popular music of the 1940’s or the 1870’s. I’ll be sticking with the great, great latter half of the 20th century thank you very much.

Comment by Cooltapes from Madtown — January 18, 2010 @ 11:47 am

Interesting points (I’d like to subscribe to your newsletter), but I think it’s obviously too broad and reductive a claim to say that the entire year’s (let alone decade’s) worth of music is “weak tea”. Maybe because there wasn’t a real tour de force rock star band/musician that came along and garnered universal critical/popular adoration, that stole the zeitgeist? ‘Cuz the era of that happening seems to have mostly passed…we’re too fragmented now. Otherwise, what is your definition of a musician with individuality and something to say? Because if anything, I’d say that “music’s progress”, as you put it, has enabled an infinitely greater variety of sound and style, not to mention its exponentially increased accessibility to pretty much anyone. Maybe you’re just thinking entirely within the localized microcosm of Internet-hype indie folk? Because you didn’t mention anyone besides A.C., Grizzly Bear, and Neko Case.

(although I do have to agree that while I’m a big fan of Neko’s voice, her albums do often seem repetitive in the sense that she aims for the same melodies/notes most of the time)

Anyway, what great, great bands of the latter half of the 20th century are you referring to? Because I’m sure I could find their 21st century counterparts/equals. No disrespect intended - most of my favorite musicians are from that era, too, but I think you’re drastically selling the oughts short here.

Comment by Michael from Escondido — January 18, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

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