Top Ten Albums of 2009
10. Tegan and Sara- Sainthood
Ah, the band that helped turned the Metalsetlists year-end voting upside down. 2007's The Con found the Canadian twins stepping out of cutesy pop-rock and heading towards a more experimental, dark and heart-wrenching sound. It's hands-down one of my favorite albums of the decade, so I had extremely high hopes for Sainthood, and they were met. Mostly. There's even more musical experimentation on this album, especially with electronic beats and the like. As usual, I found myself enjoying Tegan's songs the most, with my favorite tracks being the insanely catchy "Hell" and album closer "Someday." The album drags a bit in the second half and there were a couple of songs I just couldn't get into at all, particularly "Paperback Head." Overall, though, it's another exceptional effort, and in a weaker year it would probably be near the top of my list.
9. Polar Bear Club- Chasing Hamburg
This Rochester, NY band first caught my attention when I heard their debut full length, Sometimes Things Just Disappear, and their stellar EP The Redder, The Better, and this album quickly became one of my most anticipated releases of the year. Their diminutive frontman bellows out a powerful-yet-melodic roar over well-crafted post-hardcore anthems like song of the year candidate "Living Saints" and "One Hit Back," a rallying cry against the band's detractors. Earnest punk rock bands with emotional lyrics might be a dime a dozen these days, but Polar Bear Club manage to rise to the top, and I'm looking forward to even more greatness from them.
8. Converge- Axe To Fall
This was another release that had me so anxious that I was foaming at the mouth. Ever since their masterpiece Jane Doe, Converge have become arguably the best and most exciting band in extreme music. Are they hardcore? Are they metal? Who gives a shit? They'll tear your throat out either way. Their ferocity is unmatched, as shown by 2006's No Heroes, and Axe To Fall continues that tradition, but there is something about this album that keeps me from ranking it higher, and I can't quite put my finger on it. There are a few longer, slower songs that, while still great, bring the energy down a notch, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. I enjoy Converge the most when they're unrelenting. Still, with amazing tracks like "Dark Horse" and "Wishing Well," it's no slouch by any means, just a bit lacking compared to their last few albums.
7. Brand New-Daisy
This was one of the biggest and best surprises of the year for me. Their previous album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside of Me took them even further away from their pop-punk roots, trading snarky break-up anthems for brooding, atmospheric rock. The opening track, "Vices," is so jarringly loud and ferocious that I literally thought my (pirated) copy was mislabled or fake. Things calm down significantly from there, but even if the songs slow down, the intensity is constant. It's a dark and nervous-sounding album, and would probably make a good soundtrack to going insane. Some other standout tracks are "Bought a Bride" (with the great line "She's walking down the aisle while the horns play taps"), the title track, and "Noro."
6. Baroness-Blue Record
Back when everyone was wetting their pants over The Red Album, I was still a bit hesitant about this band. Maybe I was feeling burnt out on similar-sounding bands or something, but it just didn't fully click with me. Well, they must have sensed my apprehension, because Blue Record is a much more fully-realized and confident record. The riffs are bigger, the vocals are better, and there are even a few hooks here and there. That, and it has "A Horse Called Golgotha," which is one of the best metal songs I've heard in years. I can't help but headbang and sing along every time the chorus comes up. This album really made me a believer in this band, and I can't wait to see what they do next. Oh, and I'm still not sick of John Baizley's artwork.
5. Mastodon-Crack the Skye
Oh how I love Mastodon. Even while some people are tiring of them, I'm not. It was inevitable that after Blood Mountain they would get even more proggy, and sure enough that's what happened. The prog influences come at an increased cost to heaviness, but it feels organic and not forced. Initially, I was skeptical about another obviously drug-fueled concept from Brent, but the Rasputin and mysticism theme ends up working pretty well. "Divinations" is classic Mastodon, and although I think "The Czar" is a bit plodding, the album picks right up after that with the excellent "Ghost of Karelia." And I'm sorry Brad, but "The Last Baron" is the best epic Mastodon song, not the worst. It's one of the few 10 minute plus songs I can listen to over and over again. It's flat-out awesome, and that goes for the rest of the album as well.
4. Gallows-Grey Britain
Hands-down the best surprise of the year, and my award for best "new" band. A lot of punk bands these days have gone a bit soft, and the piss and vinegar has mostly drained away. Not so with Gallows. These guys are fucking pissed off, and the target of their venom is mostly their homeland. This album reminds me a lot of the first two Maiden records. Not musically, but in the way it conjures up images of London as a labyrinth of dark, rain-soaked alleys where violence is always lurking in the shadows. Their dissatisfaction is readily apparent in the opening salvo of "The Riverbank" and "London Is the Reason." The songs manage to stay catchy even underneath the vicious guitar riffs and (heavily accented) vocals, as evidenced by the apocalyptic "Death Voices" and "The Vulture Pts. I and II." These guys probably scared the shit out of the 14 year old Hot Topic crowd that saw them open for AFI earlier this fall, but I'm sure they won over a lot of people with little bit of the good ol' fashioned British ultraviolence.
3. Banner Pilot-Collapser
If there's one genre of music I have a huge weakness for, it's pop-punk. The age of juvenile bands like Sum-41 and Blink 182 are over, and the genre is much more underground now, and better than ever. Banner Pilot are nothing new or groundbreaking at all, but I've listened to this album more times than any other this year by a wide margin. They took something that dozens of bands are already doing and somehow made it memorable and goddamn fun. The lyrics are standard fare (unrequited love, touring, that Springsteenian ideal of just hitting the road without looking back), but they're honest and heartfelt. Songs like "Central Standard," "Northern Skyline," and "Drains To the Mississippi" are some of my favorites to blast in the car and sing along to at the top of my lungs. These guys certainly won't win any awards for originality, but they get a perfect score for execution.
2. Bob Mould-Life and Times
I've been a Husker Du fan for quite a while, but this year I've delved deeper into their catalog and discovered Bob Mould's extensive discography of solo albums and side projects. He's quickly become one of my favorite songwriters of all time, and this album shows that he's not losing his touch with age. The opening title track is sung with such heartbreaking emotion that I get goosebumps every time. As usual, his love life is the main topic, for better or worse (usually worse), and the fact that he is a gay man adds another level of complexity to his words. "Baby, You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore" is the perfect soundtrack to any failing relationship, and the bittersweet "Lifetime" closes the album on an exceptional note.
1. Propagandhi-Supporting Caste
Propangandhi are the best punk band around right now. There, I said it. No one can even come close to their musicianship, songwriting, and lyrical complexity. I always go through two phases when I hear a new Propagandhi album: the first go around is just to enjoy the music, but I'll hear lines here and there that pique my interest, and after that I delve deeper into the lyrics, and that's where their greatness truely shines. I still think they wrote the greatest political punk song of all time with "Die Jugend Marschiert (America's Army)," from their album Potemkin City Limits. It's an absolutely scathing treatise on the military's use of video games as propaganda tools to target children, drawing parallels to Ender's Game in the process. It's a quintessential Propagandhi song: the lyrics make no sense until you get off your ass and do some research into the topic. This trend continues on Supporting Caste (great title, BTW), especially on "Dear Coaches' Corner." "What? Why are there guys talking about hockey at the beginning? Why do the lyrics compare hockey games to the Nuremburg trials?" Not a lot of bands have the balls to connect the dots on such obscure topics, but these Canucks do it on a regular basis. Less obtuse are songs like "Tertium Non Datur," which is one of the most eloquent anti-religion songs I've ever heard. "Potemkin City Limits" tells the story of a pig (no, really) that escaped from a Canadian slaughterhouse. Militantly pro-animal rights, the band naturally hail this as a story of heroism. In "Human(e) Meat (The Flensing of Sandor Katz)," the band fantasizes about cooking and eating a food critic notorious for his defense of meat. These viewpoints may not appeal to everyone (including me), but you can't deny their conviction and passion for their causes. Unlike even the most "radical" punk bands, they are absolutely fearless about expressing the opinions. I suppose I should also mention the music. The aforementioned "Dear Coaches' Corner" starts off with a thrash riff that's more awesome than any I've heard from an actual metal band in years, and the guitar playing throughout is stellar. Bottom line: If you haven't checked this band out, get off your ass. If you don't get it on the first try, give it another chance. Most of their albums are growers, so don't give up or you'll miss out on one of the most talented bands of the decade.
"COLONEL KLINK, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?!"
Last edited by powerslave_85; 12-30-2009 at 11:55 AM.