10. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
With a name like Surfer Blood and being from Florida, the unfamiliar listener might think these four dudes are another reverb-drenched outfit pining for the sunshine and skipping classes with the girl that got away. Thankfully, none of that is true, as this band sticks out of the scrap heap by cranking up their amps. Colossal sounding tunes like "Swim" and "Twin Peaks" are stadium-ready, and "Floating Vibes" has towering guitar riffs and possibly the best kiss-off line of the year: "When you wake up in the morning and hear the awful applause/Put it in your fucking napkin/And watch it dissolve."
9. The National - High Violet
The National's ride to the top didn't really surprise anybody this year who listened to the band's previous efforts, but thankfully the album that broke them is just as engrossing as anything they've done. Matt Berninger's stories of the downtrodden sound haunting on tracks like "Anyone's Ghost" and "Conversation 16." The thundering drums and biting cymbals that have become the band's signature sound pound out the bottom end, and Berninger even takes his baritone up to an alto on a record that sounds best on a ride through the city at 2:00 am.
8. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Wasn't this supposed to come out, like, three years ago? Yeah, something like that. Much like Clipse and their classic Hell Hath No Fury, Outkast's more-gangsta half had to fight his label and dropped Lucious Left Foot years later. Much like the Clipse record, it was worth the wait. "Shutterbug" is perfect for both dancehalls and subwoofers in a Cadillac, "General Patton" is all Southern bombast, and "Be Still" collaborates with Janelle Monae to make the best hand-clapping, sing-along song of the year that isn't "Fuck You."
7. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
James Murphy better have been kidding when he said that this, LCD's third album, would be their last. Then again, they've already made one of the best albums of all time and have the respect of just about everyone in the industry. Maybe he's thinking in Seinfeldian terms, as to go out after This Is Happening couldn't be more grandiose. Once "Dance Yrself Clean" kicks in, the whole album is a momentous joyride, concluding with "Home," which plays off of the melody that started the album. Murphy may have been serious, as in the song's final moments he realizes he's reached his pinnacle: "Look around you/You're surrounded/It won't get any better." For the most part, it really doesn't.
6. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz/All Delighted People EP
I'll be completely honest: Until the out-of-the-blue release of the All Delighted People EP in September, I thought I would never hear from the Michigan songsmith again. Stevens comes out of hiding and completely re-invents himself by doing the one thing necessary that would make his listeners come back - dismissing his '50 States' project. All Delighted People features his Vince Guaraldi-style ballads like "From The Mouth of Gabriel," 17-minute world chants on "Djohariah," and quotes Simon and Garfunkel on "All Delighted People (Classic Rock Version)". The epic Age of Adz showcases Stevens' intricate bedroom electronica, from the wild "Too Much" to the even crazier "I Want To Be Well." It's the latter that we understand exactly where he's coming from as he yelps "I'm not fucking around!"
5. Sleigh Bells - Treats
Ever since hearing "Crown on the Ground" after this band broke out at CMJ 2009, the indie world had been holding their breath to see what Sleigh Bells would do on their debut album. Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller had a simple answer: obliterate eardrums. A completely original and necessary fusion of distortion and dance tracks, Treats is all hooks and happiness. In a perfect world, every car I passed last summer would have also been blasting "Rill Rill" and snapping along as they "wondered what their boyfriends thought about their braces." An exhausting listen in the best sense of the word.
4. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
The first song I had ever heard by Titus Andronicus is called "Upon Viewing Brueghel's 'Landscape'" and I immediately lost my shit because 1) that's one piece of art I actually really like and 2) it sounded like Conor Oberst singing on Zen Arcade. Frontman Patrick Stickles is one smart guy, from his incredibly personal lyrics to the more-punk bar band sound. The Monitor brilliantly compares realtionships to the Civil War, a concept that sounds like it would be corny if any other band had tried to do it. Thankfully Stickles' warbly scream is the epitome of sympathy and honesty, as it's hard not to feel bad for the wounded twenty-something finding his way back from Somerville to New Jersey on "A More Perfect Union." "Theme From 'Cheers'" is a night with friends as you try to drown your sorrows, and the 14-minute "The Battle of Hampton Roads" is all overcoming heatrache and starting over. If you haven't heard this record yet, Google the lyrics first and you'll be convinced.
3. Vampire Weekend - Contra
Ezra Koenig and friends were poised to become the next Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! after the overwhelming success of their first album, but instead fully embraced their own sound and reminded everyone that they're all talented musicians. Oh yeah, and they have the catchiest songs on the planet. Contra is the happiest record of the year, as it's impossible not to smile hearing "White Sky," "Holiday" and "Run." Their secret weapon is keyboardist/producer Rostam Batmanglij, who adds trip-hop codas to "Diplomat's Son" and African drums on "Giving Up The Gun." A band with a sense of awareness for other world music picks out the good bits and makes the sounds all their own. Keep it up, fellas.
2. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Mr. West is the biggest musician of our time. With every outburst and piece of publicity he gets, it seems he just feeds off the negative reactions and puts out the best song he's ever done. We all know how he lost his mother and split with his fiance, then did the whole Taylor Swift thing, then just kinda went into hiding. Little did everyone know he was reinventing himself again and collaborating with everyone from RZA to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, creating an instant classic. There isn't an unnecessary track on MBDTF, and even his leftovers are delicious: songs that didn't make the album that were part of his GOOD FRIDAY download series and are available for free on his website. He really is as good as he says he is. All the time. Thank God for Kanye West keeping hard-work, craziness and creativity in the mainstream.
1. The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
This time last year, I was thinking about not only my favorite albums from 2009 but of the entire decade. Boys and Girls In America, Kid A, Reconstruction Site...and the Arcade Fire's Funeral. The album still blows my mind six years later, and I remember how word spread like wildfire when that album was released in the fall of 2004. I was immediately under its spell, and the Arcade Fire became my new favorite band. When Neon Bible came out a few years later, I skipped my college class to go buy it and sat in the basement with it on repeat the entire day. As I thought about all of this I began to wonder, 'where is the Arcade Fire?'
The band was relatively quiet, and they only broke the news on their new album in May with snippets of the songs that would later become 'The Suburbs' and 'Month of May.' Word got out, anticipation built, and The Suburbs was released in August at the top of the Billboard charts. Win Butler crafted a concept album about the small towns in America and the feelings that come out of them: resentment, fear, and the need to get away. Every single song has a hook, if its right out front as in "City With No Children In It" or if its more subtle and strummed as in "Wasted Hours." Rene Chassagne takes vocal duties on several tracks as well, including the band's new signiture song "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)." An exhilarating listen that becomes more and more personal with each listen, the Arcade Fire have done it again and have made the most rewarding record of the year.