Top 10 Albums of 2009: Mike R. Meyer
Up on the Sun is counting down the days until the unveiling of music editor Martin Cizmar's personal Best of 2009 list with some other lists from Phoenix New Times' stable of excellent freelancers. Today we bring you a list from Mike R. Meyer, a New Times contributor, wannabe musician, video game enthusiast and pizza guy with a Master's degree. He doesn't have a personal blog because he's old.
There was pretty much no way that the debut album by Them Crooked Vultures could possibly live up to the hype (and expectations) that preceded it. After all, the principles involved - Josh Homme (Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), John Paul Jones (Led freakin' Zeppelin) - have sold more than a quarter-billion albums total and played in bands so groundbreaking that new genres of music - stoner rock, grunge, heavy freakin' metal - were invented to describe them. So when the end result sounds like nothing more than a really, really good QOTSA record, it's probably inevitable that some folks are going to be disappointed. I admit, I was a little disappointed myself. Then I realized that it's been almost a decade since I heard a really, really good QOTSA record, and my appreciation for this album began to grow. Them Crooked Vultures isn't going to make anyone forget about Nirvana or Led Zeppelin, but it's a far cry better than Lullabies to Paralyze or In Your Honor (or freakin' Presence, for that matter).
9. Church of Misery - Houses of the Unholy
Sabbath-worshipping Japanese heshers play six songs about notorious serial killers, plus a Sir Lord Baltimore cover. What's not to like here?
8. John Fogerty - The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again
It probably seemed like a questionable career move back in 1973. After five years and seven albums as the gravel-voiced frontman of wildly popular Bay Area blues rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty chose to make his first post-CCR project an album of country, bluegrass and gospel covers. He released it under the name The Blue Ridge Rangers, although the "s" at the end is somewhat deceptive (ever the control freak, Fogerty played every instrument on the album himself). Although it never approached the popularity of CCR or Fogerty's later solo work, the album held a special place in the hearts of country music fans and CCR diehards. Thirty-six years later, Fogerty has finally seen fit to revisit his country roots, but this time he brought along some friends. The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again features duets with Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen, as well as a bevy of Nashville session musicians, but it's still Fogerty's iconic voice that carries the project.
7. Wolfmother - Cosmic Egg
Call Wolfmother the anti-Them Crooked Vultures. After generating considerable buzz in 2005 with their self-titled, retro-fuzz debut, Wolfmother seemed like a leading candidate for "Next Big Thing" status. Then singer/guitarist Andrew Stockdale fired the rest of the band and waited four years (a virtual eternity in modern music) to release a follow-up. Expectations were understandably low, which is what makes Cosmic Egg the most pleasant surprise of 2009. Not only has Stockdale recaptured the epic, psych-rock vibe of Wolfmother's debut, he's actually managed to surpass it. Cosmic Egg sounds simultaneously more lean and more ambitious than it's predecessor. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another four years for album No. 3.
6. Clutch -
Strange Cousins from the West
Reason No. 47 why Clutch is better than your favorite band: Strange Cousins from the West, the Maryland quartet's ninth studio effort, might not even rank this high on a list of Top Clutch Albums of All-Time.
5. Brother Ali- Us
2009 might have been a down year for hip-hop, but Brother Ali seems to be recession-proof. The Minneapolis MC's fourth album, Us, begins with a symbolic passing of the torch, as Public Enemy's Chuck D (backed by a soul-clapping gospel choir) introduces Ali as a "soldier in the war for love." Ali's politically charged lyrics might not seem as revolutionary as Chuck's call to arms two decades ago, but in an era of hip-hop where rims and ringtones reign supreme, it's nice to know that someone is still willing to fight the power.
4. Gifts from Enola - From Fathoms
With strong releases from the likes of Isis, Pelican, Baroness, Caspian and A Storm of Light (not to mention my soon-to-be-revealed Album of the Year), 2009 might go down as the year of "smart metal." And it doesn't get much smarter than Gifts from Enola. The mostly instrumental, Virginia-based band hasn't even gotten big enough to warrant their own Wikipedia entry yet, but that hasn't kept them from thinking big. Soaring, majestic riffs give way to acoustic interludes; atmospheric keyboard passages and cascading guitar solos intertwine over complex time signatures; yet none of it feels forced or overwrought. This is post-metal without pretense, and it's fucking amazing.
3. Portugal. The Man - The Satanic Satanist
At this point, Portugal. The Man must be wondering if the old adage about any publicity being good publicity is actually true. Last year, the Wasilla, Alaska band's brilliant album, Censored Colors, was overshadowed by the fact that they shared a hometown with a certain beauty-queen-turned-vice-presidential-candidate. This year, their equally brilliant follow-up, The Satanic Satanist, was overshadowed by the fact that the band members were among the last people to see Scottsdale resident Devon Hollahan alive. Now that Hollahan's body has been recovered by German police and Sarah Palin has become a political footnote, hopefully Portugal. The Man will start making headlines simply for being one of the best indie rock bands in existence right now.
2. Built to Spill - There is No Enemy
Doug Martsch and company return with their strongest effort since 1999's Keep it Like a Secret. From Band of Horses and Iron & Wine to Fleet Foxes and Grand Archives, there have been many challengers to Built to Spill's sensitive-bearded-guys-from-the-Northwest throne in recent years, but on There is No Enemy, Martsch make a strong case that the grizzled veteran still has enough gas in the tank to keep the contenders at bay for a few more years, at least.
1. Mastodon - Crack the Skye
Wormholes. Astral travel. An 11-minute song (in
four acts, no less) set in Tsarist Russia. Crack the Skye is every metal dork's
dream come true. I think I already said as much as I could possibly say about
this album here, but since it way only May at the time, I stopped short of
calling it the Album of the Year. Now that it's December, let's make it
official: Mastodon pwns 2009.