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WTT: Top 100 Albums of 2009 (20-11)

January 14, 2010
11. John Frusciante – The Empyrean
[Psychedelic rock, singer-songwriter]
Myspace | Try It

For those of you who don’t understand John Frusciante’s recent announcement that he has officially left Red Hot Chili Peppers, I’ll put it pretty plainly; he left because with the Chilis, he could never make music like this. The Empyrean is a sprawling psychedelic adventure into the mind of one of music’s most unique and unwavering talents. Whether he’s covering Tim Buckley or crafting roaring, anthemic epics like “Central”, Frusciante never – NEVER – falters on this album. His previous solo work has all been incredible, but there’s always been a sense that he’s been torn between that work and his commitment to RHCP. Without that restraint upon him, his creativity has been totally unleashed, and he’s given us the first glimpse into what he can achieve without anything tying him down. John Frusciante is in the process of turning from a celebrated guitarist into nothing short of a modern artistic legend.

12. Say Anything – Say Anything
[Pop-punk, alt rock]
Myspace | Try It

Is this album …is a Real Boy? No, it’s not. Do I care? No, not really. Say Anything’s self-titled fourth album may be a disappointment to some, but to me it’s a sign that one of my favorite bands is coming back down to earth, after swimming around in the mucks of obnoxious bloat that plagued their last album. Full of ripping guitars, catchy hooks and the awesome lines we can always count on from Max Bemis, Say Anything is one of the most addicting albums I’ve heard in a long time (this would be even higher on the list if I were going by playcount, perhaps at the top). If you’ve written this band off as mindless pop-punk, listen to them. If you’ve written this album off as not worth the time, stop being a jackass and listen to it.

13. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
[Art rock]
Myspace | Try It

This album has been tragically caught up in a legal standstill brought about by record label bullshit, a situation which will probably keep it from ever being officially released, but which hasn’t kept it from being spread wildly across the internet (especially after this was not-so-subtly encouraged by Danger Mouse). A curious and haunting collaboration, Dark Night of the Soul features an all-star cast of guest vocalists, among them Wayne Coyne, Frank Black, Iggy Pop, Vic Chesnutt, Julian Casablancas, James Mercer and David Lynch (yeah, that David Lynch – he also contributed a 100-page book of photos to the album’s doomed release). Almost impossible to pin down in a genre, this album is a far-reaching affair of lush, artsy alternative rock, taken again and again in different directions by the myriad of performers and styles that all came together for this unbelievable release.

14. Eyedea & Abilities – By the Throat
[Hip-hop]
Myspace | Try It

By the Throat shows this hip-hop duo making a pretty large shift stylistically, leading to it being called by some “Eyedea & Abilities’ Radiohead album”. While I, admittedly, do not really know what the fuck this means, perhaps it means something to you, or at least motivates you to check out the album, which is of course the goal of me writing this at all. I suppose it has something to do with the abstract feel given to a lot of the album, carried along by Abilities’ incredible production skills and Eyedea’s passionate verses about women and pain and death. But don’t worry, because it’s not all gloom and doom – “Smile” is an uplifting call-to-arms for happiness and contentment, and it’s remained one of my favorite songs of the year since the first time I heard it.

15. Eels – Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire
[Alt rock, singer-songwriter]
Myspace | Try It

It took four years for Mark Oliver Everett’s band Eels to follow up 2005’s mammoth double-album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, but it’s finally here and it doesn’t disappoint. Hombre Lobo, a contrast album about desire, shows the group contrasting their ballsy rock ‘n roll with the slow, sad songs of longing and loss that have arguably put Eels where they are. A lot of you probably have very limited exposure to this band, an album or two or perhaps only a song or two, so if you’re looking for more, this isn’t a bad place to start.

16. My Heart to Joy – Seasons in Verse
[Emo, post-hardcore]
Myspace | Try It

This jammy, emotional, intense post-hardcore album has been getting a fair amount of attention in certain circles, and seems poised to even have some potential breakthrough success. The debut full-length of Connecticut group My Heart to Joy, Seasons in Verse is a rollercoaster ride of pain and heartbreak that knows how to keep its own spirits up, never ceasing to be, for lack of a more poignant term, fun. There are a lot of bands like this that are essentially faceless and nameless and soundless, but My Heart to Joy is a group that might really be headed somewhere.

17. John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey – A Woman A Man Walked By
[Alt rock, singer-songwriter]
Myspace | Try It

When two artists as brilliant as PJ Harvey and John Parish collide into one another, it’s hard for the resulting record to even contain the artistic strength that results from that collision. The first – and until now, last – time that the two artists did a collaboration together was almost fifteen years ago, with Dance Hall at Louse Point. If you thought that album was great (it was), get ready to have your mind blown by A Woman A Man Walked By. With Harvey writing all lyrics and performing all vocals, and most instrumentation being handled by Parish, this album highlights the contrasts between these two very different artists. There are times when John’s strange, out-there instrumental interludes flourish, and in other moments (such as the downright-frightening “Pig Will Not”) the trademark freeform insanity and rock experimentation present on PJ’s earlier work (an era that echoes strongly throughout the entire release) is allowed to dominate. This album is playful, dangerous, powerful, and totally unlike just about anything else you’ve ever heard.

18. A Place to Bury Strangers – Exploding Head
[Shoegaze, noise rock]
Myspace | Try It

This noisy, psychedelic group of Brooklyn shoegazers bring a gritty and dirty sound to a genre that is far too often obsessed with sounding pretty. I’d recommend seeing them live to really get a full appreciation for how great they are, but until your next opportunity to do so rolls around, make do with drowning yourself in their dense, layered wall of sound. While their debut was more abstract and spacey, on Exploding Head A Place to Bury Strangers heap mountains of noise and distortion onto things that if you strip everything away, could probably make it as pop songs. They’re one hell of a band, and they’re just getting better and better.

19. Brand New – Daisy
[Alt rock, emo]
Myspace | Try It

Brand New’s fanbase seems to be divided in an odd, three-way split. There are people who love their 2006 epic The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, and see its brilliance as an excuse to discount their two earlier albums. There are other people, caught up in the nostalgia of their youth, who like to claim that Deja Entendu is basically the greatest album ever made, while The Devil and God simply tried – and failed – to emulate it. Then in the third group are the tattooed pop-punk kids who worship the band’s debut Your Favorite Weapon, bemoaning the (fairly accurate) assumption that Brand New sorta grew out of their own music. Well, fuck all those people. The band’s newest album apparently has gotten caught up in the dust of this never-ending conflict, because no one really seems to care about it. So let me join the lone and scattered voices recognizing Daisy for what it is – a massive, complex, thundering addition to an incredible catalog of an incredible band. No matter your opinion on this band, you should experience this album.

20. Tegan and Sara – Sainthood

[Indie pop, new wave]
Myspace | Try It

Tegan and Sara reached the height of their girly poppiness with 2007’s The Con, and on their new album this Canadian twin sister duo remembered how to rock out. Of course, Sainthood is still a pop album, and their new wave guitars and keyboards are still front and center. But this album rattles along at an often breakneck speed, exploring their most common theme of love – and all its emotional twists and turns – frantically searching for answers and usually just finding more questions and complications. C’est la vie.

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