Here they be: my picks for the ten best albums of 2009. A varied lot, as usual. Some disappointments, as usual. But there ended up being much more good music this year than I initially thought there was going to be. Let's get into it.
10. Eminem - Relapse
We all tried to like this album, didn't we? I know I gave it plenty of chances to finally get under my skin, but I was left fairly disappointed. Still, there were some good things about this spotty collection. "Underground" was the Em from the days of wayback, and that track at least gave me some hope. And an Eminem album has never been without some great lyrics. It's just that this time around, they were delivered in that accent that he just can't let go of. I'd like to see him outgrow the murder fantasies, but I don't think it's going to happen. Still, it was nice to see the dude put out an album after so long without a proper one.
09. 50 Cent - Before I Self Destruct
This album is so front-loaded it's ridiculous. This thing starts so strong, then just gradually decreases in quality over the course of its 16 tracks. "The Invitation" is the strongest Fiddy track since "Heat," and the four songs that follow it are almost as good. But somewhere in the middle, things get a little dicey, and by the end, it's all fallen apart. The good: No skits, dope beats, and Fiddy sounding meaner than he has in years. The not good: songs like "Baby By Me" and "Do You Think About Me." And the R. Kelly guest spot on "Could've Been You." But, seriously: The first eight or nine songs on this thing are the best shit 50 Cent's done in a while.
"Death to My Enemies"
08. Ghostface Killah - Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City
Ghost has become such a critic's darling in the last decade that it's hard to believe anything you read about him anymore. And while this album isn't quite as great as some publications would like you to believe, it is good. When Ghost announced he was going to make an album for the ladies (or whatever he considers this), I was a little confused. Seems like he's done a lot of that over the years, and I wasn't really looking forward to a whole album's worth of songs about fucking. Given, he could have reined himself in a little more, but it's Ghost, so we give him plenty of leeway. I think I'll like this album a lot more in about two years.
07. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young
I started out with high hopes for this record, but web previews and early reviews didn't show much promise. I lowered my expectations, heard bits and pieces here and there, and eventually just decided to listen to the whole damn thing. I'm glad I did. This album is the logical continuation of all the weird shit from the last Strokes album, and it makes for some great music. Casablancas is a master of melody, and things get more complex here than they ever have on any of his work with his band. I'll concede that this record may not be for everyone, but I think it's fucking fantastic.
06. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
Was there any chance that this wasn't going to be good? I have to admit, this album didn't rip my face off like I thought it might, but it's been growing on me good and steady. While there are certainly QOTSA vibes running throughout, this doesn't feel like one of their albums. Instead, it feels like exactly what it is: three dudes who like to rock, rocking out with each other, all for the sake of rock. You can study the nuances of JPJ's bass playing, or you can just sit back and listen to Dave Grohl beat the living shit out of his drum kit. Either one is fun.
05. Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
Do the Arctic Monkeys ever rest? They're like a throwback to the sixties. They put out a new record every year, and each one gets more mature and completely different than the one that preceded it. This is their slowest one yet, and also their thickest. The songs are great, but they're shocking for being so pensive and, well, un-fast. But the change is nice. This band is going in the right direction, and there's still no reason to think they won't be one of the best bands in the world in about three more years. After three more albums.
04. Built to Spill - There Is No Enemy
They've still got it, folks. And lest you fret that they've diverted from the now-classic BTS formula, let me assure you that not much has changed. There's four songs over the six-minute mark on this bad boy, and yes, they get wanky. There's also a bunch of three-and-four-minute songs that are incredibly melodic, washed over with guitar, and really fun to listen to. Doug's lyrics are still as morose-yet-hopeful as ever, and his vocals are still some of the best in the biz. I'm so glad I remembered to buy this.
03. Sonic Youth - The Eternal
When are Sonic Youth going to stop being good? As soon as things started to dip in quality (2000's NYC Ghosts & Flowers was a low point), they came back and released four great albums between '02 and '09. This one is just as good as its predecessor, and proves that SY still have plenty to say. Did the addition of Mark Ibold have anything to do with it? Or was it the departure of Jim O'Rourke? Or are Thurston and Lee just completely untouchable when they decide to turn it on? Who knows. Who cares. This album is awesome. You should listen to it.
02. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II
Well Rae, you did it. You proved me wrong. You put out the solid solo album that we once thought you had in you, but had since given up on. How you did it, I'll never know. When you announced the sequel to your first LP (one of my favorite hip hop albums ever), I shuddered. This would be the nail in your coffin. But you got your shit together. Now, let's not get crazy. This album is nowhere near as good as the original Cuban Linx album. But for just being good, sometimes great, it captured my attention. In fact, it still has it. I stand corrected, Raekwon. Now don't let it go to your head.
01. Busdriver - Jhelli Beam
Busdriver is pulling so far and away from any other rapper on the planet that I'm not sure how much longer our earth can contain him. Clearly I enjoy the hyperbole, but this album is nothing short of incredible. The way Busdriver weaves words together will make your head spin, but if you take the time to get to know these songs, they'll give you a shit-ton of pleasure. The man's big with the quickness, but he can also sing-rap a chorus that'll get stuck in your head for days. One of the most individual artists making hip hop right now, and we should all be taking notice. Get on the bus, punks.