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WTT: Top 100 Albums of 2009 (10-2)

January 14, 2010
2. Eminem – Relapse
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I know some shit’s so tough to swallow / but I can’t just sit back and wallow in my own sorrow / but I know one fact / I’ll be one tough act to follow

After disappearing into drug addiction and personal demons for five years, Eminem came back in 2009 with Relapse to tell us all about it, and also to catch the tail-end of a decade in which he was the most consistent and most important hip-hop artist in music – a statement I say without hyperbole. Gone are the politics and self-righteousness that dragged down his most recent album Encore, replaced with the return of his Slim Shady alter-ago. Eminem is back to writing songs about doing drugs and killing people, and while it’s a welcome return, the difference is that this album also offers some clear insight into Mathers’ life, especially in the second half, where the accented lunatic largely takes a backseat once again to the ‘real’ Marshall. Relapse is an album of contrasts that Eminem typically has avoided in the past, because rather than splitting the Slim tracks and the Marshall tracks into two albums like he would have done seven or eight years ago, he lines them up right next to each other and celebrates the comparisons that can be drawn and highlights where the real-life inspiration for his alter-ego tracks comes from. Some artists can’t ever return from such a long break and be intact, and while Eminem has certainly had some falters and mistakes, this album proves that he’s not even close to being done. Shady’s back.

3. k-os – Yes!
[Hip-hop, reggae]
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I’m just a man / who spent a hundred grand / on a bottle of wine / I’m just a man / who knows a plan / to get rid of time

On his latest album, k-os is equal parts soulful, longing crooner and rapid-fire rhyme-spitter. Yes! is an album that revels in these contrasts, speeding along unexplored paths and maintaining a sense of coherency despite the many directions he takes. People who are bored with the typical hip-hop sound would be wise to indulge themselves this album, with its incorporation of funk, soul, reggae, pop and rock that blend together into a mature, focused, polished work that stands shoulder to shoulder with the strongest hip-hop albums of the past decade.

4. Tommy Sparks – Tommy Sparks
[New wave, pop]
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Well these things happen / when you look at someone / and it gets too precious to you / This must be love again / I feel much better than I have in a long, long time

It wasn’t really that long ago that I was driving around in the middle of the night to and from who knows where, blasting this album with the windows down and my shitty stereo system hissing at me threateningly, wondering why the hell nobody but me seemed to be paying attention to Tommy Sparks. I guess that didn’t last long though, because now I can’t go two days without hearing “She’s Got Me Dancing” on an iTouch commercial. Unfortunately the rest of the album hasn’t quite caught up with that song’s hype, so here I am doing my small part to help the cause. This Swedish newcomer has released a debut album of insanely dancey, ’80s-worshiping new wave pop that will have you bobbing your head and tapping your feet and singing along for days. Turn it up, and get down.

5. Bomb the Music Industry! – Scrambles
[Punk rock]
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I’m twenty-five / and I still act like I am TEN GODDAMN YEARS OLD

Jeff Rosenstock, will you ever stop being great? I don’t believe so. Who’d have thought that this band that basically consists of a bunch of assholes who like to do drunken singalongs instead of actual shows could make one of the best albums of the year? Okay, I probably would have thought that, but that’s just me. Scrambles is the best Bomb the Music Industry! album yet, released as always for free on Quote Unquote Records. On this album, they drop all the hints of their ska past, and go for broke (literally) with piano and ballads and pseudo-death growls about shitty bands. The dosage of charming personality that holds together BtMI!’s drunken insanity is stronger than ever here, which is what makes this album such a cut above their previous work (which, for the record, I loved). Sloppy and silly and heartwarmingly honest, Scrambles is what punk rock is all about. Punk is dead? Not fucking quite.

6. fun. – Aim and Ignite
[Indie pop, baroque pop]
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Come on with me, sing along with me / let the wind catch your feet / If you love somebody / you better let them know

If Freddie Mercury rose from the dead and reformed Queen for a new generation (none of that Paul Rodgers shit), this might be what they’d sound like. Defining the term ‘anthemic’, Aim and Ignite is, to put it simply, a bombastic masterpiece of orchestral pop. Shamelessly ostentatious and gloriously over the top, this album lives up to its band’s name and then some; it’s probably the most fun I’ve had listening to music in the past year. From the roaring opener of “Be Calm” to the heart-stopping eight-minute closer “Take Your Time (Coming Home)”, the band urges you to not get caught up in a lot of unnecessary bullshit, but instead of sounding mindlessly optimistic and shallow, there’s something about their message that strikes home and you can’t help but want to do what they say. This album makes you want to stop and feel the breeze rush over your face, slow down and smell the the scents of the trees, stroll through the halls of the world holding onto the friends who are with you on this crazy journey of life. Life-affirming doesn’t even begin to cover it.

7. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
[Psychedelic rock]
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See, the sun’s gonna rise / and take your fears away

Music like this is why it’s almost cool to live in Oklahoma. Just when we thought we were starting to figure these guys out, they go and drop an album like Embryonic on us, and force us to throw out all our expectations. So it goes. Gone are the pretty synth-prog sounds of their past few albums; this double-album is an absolutely mammoth release of dirty psych rock. While this is certainly their most inaccessible album to date, and is totally overwhelming even after multiple listens, it’s also one of their best. The sheer density of this release is enough to scare away a lot of listeners, who might skim through it once and run back to Yoshimi and The Soft Bulletin, but when you take the time to absorb it, soak it in and embrace it, this album proves itself to be almost endlessly rewarding. Every listen tunes you in to a whole new set of quirks and little sonic experiments that went totally unnoticed the last time around. This is really an album for the ages.

8. P.O.S – Never Better
[Alternative hip-hop]
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Sugar in the gas tank / nothing in the cash box / thought that we were so sick, looking like it’s small pox / The bullets are still on the shelves / but when the armory empties, we’re melting down the bells

It’s always a fun ride to see an artist go from good to great, which is what happened between P.O.S’s debut and sophomore releases. But it’s really something special when that same artist then proceeds to get even better, which is exactly what this Minneapolis rapper of the Doomtree collective did on Never Better, his third album – he’s never been better than this, and he knows it. Intelligent, politicized, humanistic hip-hop, this album is the type of artistic statement that’s getting rarer and rarer; not very often is an artist’s music so simultaneously honest, meaningful, and overwhelmingly passionate. With lyrics that will continually floor you and beats that will make sure you don’t forget his words anytime soon, Never Better is the kind of album that turns up the heat on that flickering little flame buried deep down in everyone’s chest.

9. The Matches – the Matches album 4, unreleased; graphics? title? or not needed?
[Pop-punk, alt rock]
Myspace | Try It

Either someone shot the duke / or I’m talking scrambled eggs / either I been let down easy / or these shoes done stole my legs

The high placement of this album might seem biased after the ubiquitous praise I’ve heaped onto the Matches, especially in the last four or five months, but dammit, it deserves to be here. As a ‘final’ farewell to their fans, this Oakland pop-punk (this term still feels lacking for them and probably always will) group gathered together the remains of their unfinished fourth album and quickly gave it a digital release through Bandcamp. A grower like all their others, album 4 contains the first material the band recorded new bassist Dylan Rowe, and the kid fits right in, bringing out a jamminess in the group’s sound that hasn’t been there since the were called the Locals and played ska punk. I’m pretty sure I listened to this album more than any other last year, thanks in no small part to its near-constant rotation during an 18-hour road trip. I’ve done enough singing of the Matches’ praises in the past, so I’ll try to not turn this little blurb into a sprawling mess; if this really does turn out to be the final release from the Matches, I think I’ll be okay with it, because I can’t think of a more satisfying end-piece to their fabulous career.

10. Slow Club – Yeah So

[Twee, folk]
Myspace | Try It

We wrote these songs / and we lost our minds / and all our most brilliant friends / are doubting themselves

Well, Slow Club certainly took their sweet time releasing their debut album after a string of EPs and singles, but it was worth the wait. This duo from Sheffield, if you don’t know by now, make lovely twee pop that is simply impossible to resist. Taking on the harsh realities of love from the naive, hopeful perspective of youthful optimists, Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor are simply impossible to resist. Yeah So is a magnificently joyous album of brave, raucous, heartfelt tunes that strike a chord with everyone who hears them.

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