Top Five Albums of 2009

January 14, 2010

It’s been a long time coming since my last post. Almost four months. But in my defense, I haven’t had internet at my house since I moved from Chicago back to Charleston in mid-October. Kinda hard to maintain a blog when you can’t get online for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

So, I am easing back into this whole blog thing again, and  I am going to start with something fun and easy – my favorite albums of the year.

*Disclaimer: I only check out certain bands and certain types of music. I am not a music critic that has CDs delivered in bunches to his doorstep for review. So take that into account when reading over these selections…

1. Mastodon – Crack the Skye

The kings of progressive stoner metal had a lot to live up to after 2007’s Blood Mountain pushed them to the forefront of the burgeoning prog-metal scene. After all, that record showed up on a lot of year-end lists, made Mastodon a household name for metal heads the world over and provided a blueprint for younger bands to strive for. Crack the Skye lives up to the hype. Reportedly a concept album built around a spirit that travels through dimensions before landing in Czarist Russia and saving Rasputin from an untimely demise, this mind-spinning  opus starts out with the catchy and harmonious  “Oblivion” and tickles the listener’s earballs throughout its 52 minutes. The majority of the album was penned by guitarist/lead singer Brent Hinds as he lay in a hospital, ailing from head wounds suffered in a drunken brawl, and explores rich textures and (gasp) clean, layered vocals. The album takes a few listens to truly “get” and it’s a pretty far cry from Remission, but the amazing guitar work and  drumming that Mastodon is known for is still clearly the band’s forte. ‘The band undoubtedly stretches itself to its very limits, and succeeds wildly in doing so. ‘The Last Baron’, the stunning final track on the album, might be their greatest musical achievement yet. And if you purchase the deluxe album edition, you get the whole album again – minus the lyrics. Another sonic treat.

2. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

The Flaming Lips have always been best known for creating artsy space rock, mixing booming bass, fuzzy guitars, electronica and layered vocal harmonies to create some of the more interesting music you can find in the mainstream. They’ve come a long way from “Vasoline”. Remember that little ditty? Embyronic finds the Oklahoma natives treading unchartered territory, forgoing their pep and gloss and exploring some very dark and brooding territory – only a handful of the songs have a real backbeat to them. There are lots of little blips, beeps and noises sprinkled throughout the album and the listener almost forgets where one track ends and the next begins. Again, and as with most good music, the album takes a few spins to leave its mark. It is best experienced through headphones and from start to finish.

3. Every Time I Die – New Junk Aesthetic

The best thing to come out of Buffalo since the hot wing, Every Time I Die takes the best traits from metal, hardcore, southern rock and grunge and blend it into their own dirty mixture. The album is built around elastic riffs and breakdowns, but the most notable aspect on their newest effort is the amazing transformation of singer Keith Buckley. Over the past few albums, the former high school english teacher has gone from spazzoid screamer to more of  a hardcore crooner. Buckley has become one of metal’s best frontmen, with his ability to seamlessly transition between throaty screams and clean vocals, all the while spinning his yarns with an uncompromising wit. NJA is the next logical step in this band’s career and offers a great overview of one of the genre’s most promising and fun groups.

4. Eminem – Relapse

Eminem, no stranger to controversy and contempt, comes out swinging harder than ever with his latest effort. Fueled by his failed marriage and the murder of his best friend, Eminem spent the better part of the past three years in exile, mired in drug addiction and depression. Now he’s back and at the top of his game again. Using his sharp wit, dark humor and robust rap skills, Em had already cemented himself as one of the genre’s finest MCs and this album strongly reinforces that. Blunt as a broadsword, Eminem dips and dives through scathing raps, attacking and mowing down anyone in his way. His delivery is unparalleled and some of his most humorous and sadistic flows to date are found sprinkled throughout. Having Dr. Dre has your producer and collaborator doesn’t hurt either. However, the most revealing and compelling aspect of Relapse is the fact that, for the first time, Eminem points the finger at himself.

5. Baroness – Blue Record

Straight from the swamps of Savannah come Baroness. Although they have stood in the shadow’s of genre buddies and local stalwarts Kylesa, Baroness came into their own with 2008’s outstanding Red Album and became more than just the heir apparent to the throne currently owned by Mastodon. The compositions that Baroness produce are not as challenging as that of Mastodon, nor are they as heavy as Kylesa. Their strength lies in their craftsmanship of exploring every riff to its fullest capacity. Jumping from sludge to jam-band in a mere matter of seconds is a tough task to pull off, but the transitions are seamless throughout their work. The fact that the band perseveres through constant lineup changes and through the burden having to play second fiddle to Georgia’s other hard rock royalty is a testament to the band’s vision. Singer/songwriter John Baizley, who also does all the cover art for his band and a slew of other acts, is one of music’s most underrated frontmen.

Honorable Mention: Isis – Wavering Radiant; Pelican – What We All Come to Need; Suicide Silence – No Time to Bleed; Mos Def – The Ecstatic; Jay Z – The Blueprint 3; Converge – Axe to Fall.

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2 Responses to “Top Five Albums of 2009”

  1. Matt Chapman said

    The Baroness album is amazing!!

    A buddy of mine runs a kickass music blog called Sound As Language, Will Miller is his name. He knows all about all, as far as music and the indie scene goes. Check out some of his pics for the year.

    http://www.soundaslanguage.com

    • chriswillemse said

      Thanks for reading Matt. He’s got a good looking site. Hopefully I can get mine to be as thorough and engaging in the near future.

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