Narrowcast's Top 50 Albums of 2009 (Part 2)

2009 was a hugely eventful year for me personally, which probably means that the music I listened to this year will have some added resonance in the future, and that’s a good thing since this was a pretty great year for music too. Only the top 4 records here ended up with spots on my top 100 albums of the decade, but that number’s only so low because the year wasn’t over yet when I finalized that list; this might be one of my favorite years for albums in a while.

1. Electrik Red - How To Be A Lady: Volume 1 (Radio Killa/Def Jam Records)

2009 will go down as the year when The-Dream could do no wrong, but let’s be honest: he wrote some real turds this year, many of them singles for huge stars like Rihanna and Mariah and Ciara. And somehow, he also wrote an incredible, damn near flawless, hilarious and seductive and endlessly listenable album for a no-name girl group that ended up selling only 5 thousand copies in its first week and completely disappearing from the public eye immediately thereafter, aside from its small, loyal cult of critics and R&B nerds like me.

2. DJ Quik & Kurupt - BlaQKout (Mad Science/Fontana Distribution)

In a year when West coast rap was supposedly revitlized by a ‘jerk’ movement that basically sounded like a more bored and boring version of ATL snap music, a couple of old-ass Cali gangsta rap vets went and made an actual fun creative party record with more colorful beats and off the wall concepts than any album from either coast in a while.

3. Nels Cline - Coward (Cryptogramophone Records)

I love that after dozens of albums with countless of different bands and collaborators, one of the most varied and inventive albums Nels Cline has ever done is the one that’s just him in a room with his guitar. The gentle balladry of “The Divine Homegirl,” the chugging riffage of “Thurston County,” the jarring drum loops of “Onan Suite: V. Seedcaster” and the fluttering acoustic improv of “X Change(s)” all hang together as a singular, damn near perfect body of work from one of the world’s greatest living guitarists.

4. Jarvis Cocker - ”Further Complications.” (Rough Trade)

Of all the people that have, could or should use Steve Albini’s ultra-dry recording style as a musical statement or career move, it never would’ve occurred to me in a million years that one of them would be a fey, bespectacled Britpop icon heading into middle age, nor could I have expected it to turn out so good. But all the dirt under the fingernails that Cocker’s been detailing in song for the last couple decades finally has a sonic equivalent in his music, and amazingly it works just as well as a lot of his slick synth pop did. The two 6+ minute epics that close the album, “Slush” and “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong),” are what fully take this from a good record to a great one.

5. Eleni Mandell - Artificial Fire (Zedtone Records)

Eleni Mandell’s previous albums traded heavily on a sleepy-eyed charm and Tom Waits-ish noir atmosphere, and really she could’ve kept making records in that vein forever and they’d all be good. But this year, she and her band’s guitarist Jeremy Drake strapped on electric six-strings and turned out something off a rock record, with staggeringly great results. Every single time I listen to this I have a different favorite song, whether it’s the gorgeous “Personal,” the smoldering “Two Faces,” or the astonishing This Years Model-era Elvis Costello-style raveup “Cracked” that closes the album.

6. Maxwell - BLACKsummers’night (Columbia Records)

It’s all too easy to typecast Maxwell as the standard bearer for old fashioned R&B in this crazy modern era, the old neo-soul albatross still dangling from his neck, especially with “Pretty Wings” and “Bad Habits” being virtually the only songs with live drums on a lot of radio stations this year. But to his credit, he doesn’t sound stuck in the past, and even though I have no idea what he was listening to when making this album, there’s something about tracks like “Help Somebody” and “Love You” that feels firmly 2009, so crisp and fresh and new.

7. Sonic Youth - The Eternal (Matador Records)

I would never accuse Sonic Youth of making the same record over and over, but the similarities between their last four are perfectly welcome because they’re all so good. And the uniformity of sound makes it easier to pinpoint what’s uniquely enjoyable about each, and in this case it’s the especially sharp chick-a-chick texture of Thurston’s rhythm guitar parts, and the surprisingly danceable groove that Mark Ibold brings to the bassplayer spot, something I only realized once I heard them play the album live, and now can’t ignore every time I listen to the record.

8. Lil Boosie - Superbad: The Return of Boosie Bad Azz (Trill Ent./Asylum/Warner Bros. Records)

A few weeks ago when Lil Boosie did an interview throwing his label under the bus for fucking up his album, mainly by throwing the CEO’s talentless son Lil Phat on no less than 5 songs, it was the rare occasion when airing out that kind of dirty laundry seemed completely justified and appropriate. This is a great album from one of the South’s best and most prolific MCs of the past few years, and it’s a shame that it quietly stumbled out of the gate after a 3-year wait, bogged down with a bunch of shitty guest verses. But those don’t really stop this from being pretty much the Boosie album I’d been anticipating all that time.

9. 8Ball - Memphis All-Stars: Cars, Clubs & Strip Clubs (8 Wayz Ent.)

8Ball and MJG release independent projects, solo albums and EPs and wide-ranging compilation projects like this, virtually every year that come and go with little notice. And that’s a shame, because this one in particular has some of the best beats, the best collaborations, and most of all the best atmosphere, of any rap record I heard this year, letting a little bit of that Memphis blues’n’barbecue dripping over a classic Ball & G sound that’s influenced so many current popular artists that it can’t help but feel contemporary and relevant to all the listeners out there who have no idea it exists.

10. Gucci Mane - The Movie 3-D: The Burrprint (DJ Drama)

It’s hard to really say what Gucci Mane’s best release was in a year that included a retail album, 6 official mixtapes, and countless unofficial ones, and in a way I feel like this isn’t the most representative one of his appeal since it feels a little darker and a little more trap-oriented. But it also has the best title and cover, and the greatest number of songs I like.

11. Birds And Arrows - Starmaker (307 Knox Records)

A little husband-and-wife duo from North Carolina that I caught live a few months ago that just about knocked me out, and left me anticipating an album that I’m pleased to report sounds just like their live show, with gorgeous twangy guitars, propulsive drums, great male-female harmonies, and songs that I can’t stop listening to.

12. Jeremih - Jeremih (Def Jam Records)

“Birthday Sex” had many pegging Jeremih as a sleazy The-Dream or R. Kelly wannabe, but the more I listen to his self-titled debut, the more I hear a joyful sweetness in his high voice that more often brings to mind Raphael Saadiq or, dare I say it, Stevie Wonder. That he’s lending that voice to more contemporary material like the bragging “Imma Star” or the sleazier sex songs might make those comparisons seem heretical, but it’s that contradiction that makes him interesting, and makes the love songs so disarmingly effective.

13. DJ Paul - Scale-A-Ton (Hypnotize Minds)

The list of collaborators for Three 6 Mafia’s next album (Flo Rida, Slash, ICP, Tiesto, Rodney Jerkins, Dr. Luke) is proof positive that they lost their damn minds after the Oscar and are determined to crash and burn with the most misguided attempt at pop crossover in rap history. But this year they also churned out solo albums by Project Pat, Lil Wyte, Juicy J and DJ Paul that were all far more true to the traditional HCP sound, and the latter in particular has some incredible beats and is just full of Paul’s awesome knucklehead hooks.

14. Say Anything - Say Anything (RCA Records)

It’s maybe a little bit corny when the refrain “you can do better, you can be the greatest man in the world” turns into “we can do better, we can be the greatest band in the world” by the end of “Do Better,” but the thing is, I really think Say Anything still do have a shot at maybe being the greatest band in the world. This might not be the album that puts them there, but it proves they’ve still got the genius spark of Is A Real Boy that could do it someday.

15. Freeway - Month Of Mania: The Mixtape (no label)

In December 2008, when Freeway gave away 31 songs for free on his website, most people thought he was blowing his load and just squandering all the material he had on a web stunt. After dropping nearly 100 more songs during 2009, it’s clear that wasn’t the case, but that initial opening salvo remains a highlight from his continuing flood of new material. If you like one Freeway song you pretty much like them all, and I’m glad there’s so many lately.

16. Dinosaur Jr. - Farm (Jagjaguwar)

I’m almost resentful of all the love the reunited Dinosaur’s new records have been getting, since they’re not really any better than the J Mascis & The Fog stuff from the beginning of the decade and it’s all really about the name. That said, J is ridiculously consistent, and even though the mix and the guitar sound on this record are kinda fucked and really hindered my enjoyment of it at first, this album is as full of riffs and choruses that’ll worm their way into your brain as any other he’s made.

17. The-Dream - Love Vs. Money (Radio Killa/Def Jam Records)

Even though I obviously much prefer the Electrik Red album, and would generally rather hear The-Dream write songs for other artists than sing them with his weird queasy high voice and sleazy persona, I gotta give it to dude, he made a solid album, “Right Side Of My Brain” and “Take U Home To My Mama” and “Mr. Yeah” are so great.

18. UGK - UGK 4 Life (Jive Records)

I bumped this up a few spots on the list just in the course of listening to the album this week. I think I kind of decided early on that it wasn’t quite as good as Underground Kingz and didn’t give it a lot of attention after that, but really this is a pretty great record, certainly one of the best posthumous rap records ever.

19. Paramore - brand new eyes (Feuled By Ramen)

I’m seeing this on a lot more year-end lists than the superior Riot!, which was in my top 10 in ‘07, and for that I’m tempted to be a corporate rock snob and accuse other critics of being johnny come latelies. But you know what? This is a damn good record, too, and I’m glad Paramore are starting to get some of the respect they deserve.

20. Playboy Tre - Liquor Store Mascot (DJ Swatts)

The trend of press-savvy traditional Southern rappers getting buzz through critics and blogs instead of radio and clubs was a weird one in 2009, if only for the way it made fans reconsider what they think of as ‘legitimate’ means of getting a listener’s attention. But while I could give a damn about Pill’s gimmicky YouTube videos for his utterly generic songs, Playboy Tre is one guy out of this wave that I’m keeping an eye on and enjoying for his kind of downtrodden, self-deprecating sense of humor on this mixtape.

21. The Lonely Island - Incredibad (Universal Republic Records)

For a long time I was pretty hot and cold on the SNL digital shorts, and thought maybe these guys were leaning too hard on the lol white guys rapping schtick (and including “Lazy Sunday” and “Natalie’s Rap” on the album doesn’t help in that respect). But considering how much they made me laugh with both this and Hot Rod throughout 2009, I gotta give it to the Lonely Island, they’re pretty effective at what they do and have a flair for escalating every premise beyond its initial joke.

22. Gucci Mane - The State Vs. Radric Davis (So Icey/Asylum/Warner Bros. Records)

“Spotlight” isn’t the only garbage R&B song and constant Mike Epps skits stop this album in its track worse than they ever did on T.I.’s King, but for the most part Gucci avoids the mixtapes-to-album growing pains of Tha Carter III and turned in about as solid a major label record as any rapper did this year, and “Lemonade” and “Classical” and “Worst Enemy” are up their with the best of his ‘09 mixtape output.

23. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II (EMI Records)

Nostalgic Wu Tang stans have vastly inflated this album’s worth as anything other than a way to trumpet your taste in ‘90s hip hop on a 2009 list, but I’m not gonna act for a second like there aren’t some bangers on here, “10 Bricks” especially.

24. Keri Hilson - ...In A Perfect World ( Records)

I probably expected too much of this album before it dropped, and felt a bit underwhelmed when it finally did. But months later, I gotta say it’s really pretty solid, a couple generic Timbaland duds aside, and has got a good number of non-singles I still bump for an album that’s had so many hits.

25. Demi Lovato - Here We Go Again (Hollywood Records)

I don’t like this as much as her ‘08 debut Don’t Forget, which I also heard for the first time this year, but this is still a pretty killer pop/rock album, particularly for “U Got Nothin’ On Me.”
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