Shut up. It’s better than you thought it was going to be, and you know it.
9. Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band – S/T
If you ever forget that rock and roll is supposed to be fun, pull out this record. MSHVB hardly holds back their energy on this 10-song set, and when they do (“Albatross, Albatross, Albatross”), it results in an epic trip though space, time, and random chicks playing instruments that aren’t really instruments.
8. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
It’s not quite Fox Confessor, but it’s damn close. Though she’s clearly grown into an excellent songwriter (“This Tornado Loves You” and “People Got A Lotta Nerve”), Neko’s golden pipes are best in use on covers “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” (Sparks) and “Don’t Forget Me” (the legendary Harry Nilsson).
7. Monsters of Folk – S/T
Hey look, it’s The Traveling Wilburys, but with infinitely less famous members and definitely better tunes. Jim James plays George Harrison (because he’s the MVP), M. Ward is Tom Petty (best songwriter), Mike Mogis is Jeff Lynne (for the “Who the hell is that guy?” factor), and Conor Oberst is Bob Dylan (Get it? Because both have annoying, impossible to enjoy vocal deliveries). In spite of Oberst (can you tell I don’t like him?), the dudes put together the perfect CD for this era. And despite their name, they stray away from the folk tag just enough on the catchy “Say Please” and the amazing “Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.)” to keep you interested through a set of 15.
6. The Decemberists – Hazards of Love
It’s one of those love it or hate it situations, and personally, I can’t get enough of 2009’s best rock opera (take that, Green Day). The key to Hazards of Love isn’t the story or the progginess or the fact that Colin Meloy somehow manages to sound even more bookish than normal. No, the key is that you can pull out songs like “The Rake’s Song” or “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid,” and they well stand on their own. Well, the Black Mountain-esque guitar heaviness during the second half of the album is pretty sweet, too.
5. Arctic Monkeys – Humbug
The band that every NME-reading indie kid gets a boner about ditched their foppish style from their first two albums, instead enlisting Josh Homme to produce and add some desert swagger to their sound. Mission accomplished. The riffs and atmospherics on “My Propeller,” “Crying Lightning” and, most importantly, “Pretty Visitors” are without comparison in this day and age. Before, Arctic Monkeys were good. Now they’re badass.
4. Them Crooked Vultures – S/T
Dave Grohl Josh Homme John Paul Jones. OK, there, I said their names. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s just get it over with — this album rocks a shit-ton more than … um, everything. Ever. I’m not saying any more. You already know the rest.
3. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
If this chamber-folk-pop explosion of the past few years starts to die down soon, Veckatimest will be the reason why. Grizzly Bear outdid themselves and every other nu-folk act, taking the Beach Boys-on-downers harmonies and reverbed-soaked everything to an extreme. But even with all the minor-key magnificence that dominates the album (“All You Ask,” “While You Wait For the Others”), it’s the sunny, keyboard-driven “Two Weeks” that steals the show. Veckatimest is either the turning point of the genre, or the point when everybody else throws up their hands in submission. I believe the ball is in your court, Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes.
2. Mastodon – Crack the Skye
Metal finally made its triumphant return to relevancy this year in the form of the high-concept Crack the Skye. Though the group has yet to establish a concrete frontman since its 1999 inception, the members found a way to get around that — write crazy-ass riff ragers that have plenty of prog influence, but also a few vocal melodies that are impossible to deny. Case in point: album-opener “Oblivion,” which twists and turns from a Gary Numan-style verse, to an Ozzy-worthy chorus, to a minute-long rock god solo from Brent Hinds. And don’t forget “The Czar” and “The Last Baron,” a pair of otherworldy epics that extend over 10 minutes. Thank God for Mastodon — metal lives!
1. The Maldives – Listen to the Thunder
I haven’t been able to pull myself away from the full-length debut bySeattle’s best nine-piece country rock outfit since it came out late this summer. Sounding like a mix between Drive-By Truckers, “When the Thunder Rolls”-style Garth Brooks, and At Dawn-era My Morning Jacket, The Maldives strut, saunter, and mozy their way through 11 of the most twang-a-riffic cuts of the year. The best of the bunch? The final three — slow-burn rockers “Blood Relations” and “Walk Away,” and “Going Home,” a beautifully bittersweet acoustic number that sounds like the only way to begin a painful morning after.
Honorable mention: Metric – Fantasies
, Bon Iver – Blood Bank (EP), St. Vincent – Actor, Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns, Andrew Bird – Noble Beast, Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown, Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid
Dishonorable mention: Wilco – Wilco (the album)
Half awesome, half not: Blakroc – S/T, Pearl Jam – Backspacer