I feel almost unqualified to make a year-end list for 2009. I've been slowly working my way back into music, and I barely scratched the surface of what was released this year. So, consider this a partial list, and please feel free to tell me about someone I'm missing, or leave your own lists in the comments.
01. As Tall As Lions - You Can't Take It With You
As Tall As Lions have long been branded "the American Radiohead," and with this album they have taken that title and run with it. YCTIWY is highly atmospheric, deeply introspective, and extraordinarily beautiful. They've expanded their sound to create a world of their own, and this album invites you along for the trip.
02. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything To Nothing
To be honest, it took a long time for me to like this album. I am so attached to I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child that it was difficult to let new MO songs in. Once I got it, I got it though. Careening between calm and rabid, METN is a dirty, messy rock album about things that shake your core. I am so excited to watch these guys get better and better.
03. fun. - Aim & Ignite
I'm pretty much on board with anything that former Format members are up to, but fun's debut album also makes my list on its own accord. Though not musically that far removed from Dog Problems, this album is clearly a separate entity. The creative instrumentation and the way Nate Ruess deftly guides the listener through his wide range of emotions is what makes this album great.
04. Brand New - Daisy
Continuing in the vein of The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, Brand New gives us a darker album, full of ruminations on marriage, death, and learning how to grow up. Jesse Lacey does less and less actual singing with each album, but it works here. His raw emotion is what carries this album, and you can't help but feel like you're falling down the rabbit hole with him.
05. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
In the past, I've always liked what I heard from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but never enough to latch onto a whole album. With It's Blitz!, Karen O gives us a few of the ragged songs she is known for, but she also shows us a more focused side of herself. The band easily could have gotten stuck in a rut, but instead they tried some new things and polished older ideas into something new and exciting. This album isn't perfect, but it sets the stage for something great.
06. Avett Brothers - I And Love And You
This band came way out of left field, at least for me. I'm a relative newcomer to the stripped down, folky sound, and the Avett Brothers show everyone how it's done with this album. So many songs on the record are just completely heartbreaking, and that's a good thing.
07. Thrice - Beggars
Thrice could have continued in a thousand directions after The Alchemy Index, but they chose to start anew. The band is working as a tight, cohesive unit, while opening up to a broader rock sound. Thrice have always pushed their limits to make themselves better, and Beggars is no exception.
08. Sherwood - Qu
Listening to Qu feels like hugging an old friend. Sherwood took everything that worked for them in the past and dropped everything that didn't (cough "Alley Cat" cough). It's clearly crafted with love, and sounds just like an evening bonfire on a California beach - warm and inviting.
09. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
I think Wilco finally stopped trying to find a niche, and instead just decided this is who they are and they're sticking to it. Wilco recalls the pre-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot days, but this time the band appears to actually be enjoying it. Sure, everyone's saying But It's Not Perfect...but who cares? It's a good album with good songs, and as long as Jeff Tweedy's happy, so am I.
10. Portugal. The Man - The Satanic Satanist
I wasn't thrilled with last year's Censored Colors, but this album restored my faith in this band. Intricately wrought instrumentation combined with John Gourley's vocal acrobatics create P.TM's trademark acid trip of a style. Their winding, erratic songs make this album easy to get lost in.