Sure, there’s something to be said for pushing boundaries, constantly seeking out strange new sounds, and generally compiling the ephemera of the musical universe. But if there’s one thing any music fan with a taste for hooks knows, it’s that the folks at Pitchfork have a habit of often missing the forest for the trees. While the online indie-music kings at the site spend their days approaching music from a nigh-on scientific standpoint, some of the year’s best music can end up getting the shaft, simply because it isn’t weird or progressive enough. So, we weren’t all that surprised to see that a lot of our favorite albums of 2009 were omitted from Pitchfork’s top 10 albums of the year list. However, the fact that many of them not only also failed to appear in the site’s top 50, but even the honorable mentions, was a little too much to let slide.
Of course, we have nothing against Pitchfork. We love the folks over there, and we think they perform a valuable service. But we like to think of ourselves as a bit more populist, and great songwriting and recordings are enough to get us excited. With that said, we present our list of the top 10 albums of 2009 that didn’t make Pitchfork’s rundown — all of which would have appeared in our own top 50, if not top 10.
While London’s White Lies have had accusations of Joy Divison imitation thrown their way since day one, their debut album is a towering accomplishment, blending dark imagery and brooding melancholy with the trappings of arena-ready anthems. This is pretty much the only band that can have you enthusiastically belting out the chorus to a catchy single titled “Death” and get away with it. Plus, Interpol faced similar finger-pointing early on (and perhaps still), and it didn’t hurt them much.
Canadian twin duo Tegan and Sara’s last album, 2007’s The Con, really threw us for a loop. We’ve always been fans of the pair, but we didn’t expect anything quite as masterful or complex as what they delivered. While they took a step back and approached their latest release from a more straightforward perspective, it still delivers beautifully, especially in the form of “Hell,” another song whose dark title belies its bright sing-along potential.
Granted, Muse have already reached arena status, which pretty much guaranteed off the bat they’d get snubbed in the Pitchfork rundown. However, the bigger the modern prog-rock trio gets, the more it pushes the envelope. This time around, Matt Bellamy and co. not only upped the Queen-tastic operatics, but also went so far as to create a three-part rock symphony called “Exogenesis” to close out the album. We’re not sure how much more over-the-top they can get, but we’re excited to find out.
For their third album, the UK’s biggest new stars of the ’00s took a left turn and went off to the desert to work with Queens of the Stone Age man Josh Homme. The results were polarizing to be sure, with many fans of the Monkeys’ bouncy art-pop scratching their heads at the echoes of stoner rock that had leaked into their sound. However, that’s the whole thing with progression: it’s trying new things that keeps you interesting, and Humbug is nothing if not compelling.
At first glance, La Roux’s Elly Jackson may appear to have stepped straight out of a Human League video, and at first listen, her ’80s influences comprise most of what you’ll hear. The kicker is that the tracks on the self-titled debut album she constructed with studio partner Ben Langmaid are some of the most perfect synthpop gems you’ll hear this side of the 21st century. With songs like “Bulletproof” and “In for the Kill,” La Roux have made the most successful argument for ’80s revivalism we’ve heard pretty much ever.
While Kasabian’s second album had some great moments, the band seemed content to sit atop its rock throne and survey what it had built without spending too much time on redecoration. Clearly the boys became a bit antsy though, because West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum is almost as mental as the institution it takes its name from. Riffing off the psychedelia of ’60s bands like the Pretty Things, Kasabian outdid themselves on this one, nailing everything from the fire-starting “Fast Fuse” to the downtempo acid-rock of “Happiness.”
When it comes to acts that caught us off-guard in 2009, Jamie T pretty much takes the cake. We loved his 2007 debut, Panic Prevention, but we weren’t expecting him to produce a follow-up that wowed not just with its playability, but with its sheer diversity. This is the guy who was originally pegged as a cross between Mike Skinner and Kate Nash, after all, so his production of one of the year’s most unforgettable singles, “Sticks ‘N’ Stones,” was a welcome treat in a record that was simply bursting with them.
Florence Welch is another artist who won us over early on with her lush arrangements, commanding stage presence, and updated take on the sounds of Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, and Fiona Apple. She received an extra career boost from the XX remix of her single “You’ve Got the Love,” but Lungs is a debut album that speaks for itself, especially on emotionally laden tracks like “Dogs Days Are Over” and our favorite, “Cosmic Love.”
Obviously this man needs no introduction. While the other members of the Strokes have been releasing side projects and solo albums over the past few years, the band’s high-profile frontman kept an unusually low profile. Fittingly, his re-emergence was the next-best thing to an actual new Strokes record, bringing a short-but-sweet solo effort that trumps his bandmates’ output by a mile. Leaving this record off any year-end list seems nothing short of an intentional slight, as it’s a welcome reminder of what Casablancas’ songwriting means in the legacy of the Strokes (ie, a lot).
Which brings us nicely to the union of Jack White and Alison Mosshart under the Dead Weather moniker. To be fair, we’re of the opinion that neither the White Stripes nor the Kills have ever made a misstep, but unlike the Raconteurs, this group effort is far more than the sum of its parts. Edgy, eclectic, and seething with primal energy, Horehound is an album that not only belongs near the top of any year-end list, but will likely rip you to shreds for trying to ignore it. Not that Pitchfork did — the site gave the album a 7.5. In fact, a number of the records on this list received similarly glowing reviews from our brethren in Chicago. Which only begs the question, how could they be left off a list that includes 75 other, often much less-deserving, records from the year that was?
So, what do you think? Are there other albums Pitchfork overlooked that you feel got the shaft? Do you think they made the right choice excluding any or all of these releases? Tell us in the comments below.