This year at Hidden Track, we concocted a little experiment for our year-end Best Albums of 2009 list. Instead of picking the old fashioned way – subjectively – we opted for something a little different: a collaborative, collective list that incorporates the opinions of everybody here at HT.
To begin, we devised an all-encompassing list of around 100 nominees and populated it in a Google spreadsheet – essentially anything that anybody who writes for Hidden Track liked at all, made the list. Then we invited our crew of writers to independently vote on the whole list (omitting anything unfamiliar) on a scale of 1 to 20 (20 = five stars). We ended up with 33 voters with varying degrees of familiarity with the nominees; some folks voted on just about everything, while some just a few. From there, we eliminated anything that did not receive at least three votes, calculated the average scores, and sorted it. We took the top 25 scores and presto: the Hidden Track 25 Best Albums of 2009. No bullshit, no big opinions; just the results.
We’ve come to the end of our week long countdown, let’s check out our Top Five…
Key Tracks: Evil, Gemini Syringes, Watching the Planets, Powerless
Sounds Like: Trent Reznor, Mars Volta
Skinny: Beware Yoshimi fans, there’s a lot less beautiful stuff this time around. Alternatively, what the Flaming Lips forgo in placating, they more than make up for with dark themes, mayhem and a heavy storyline. While at times Embryonic gets weighed down by knobs and buttons (see Aquarius Sabotage), with some fatty basslines, a heavy dousing of effects and a deeply cynical overarching theme, the Lips provide more to think about and less with which to sing along. If there’s a credit to Wayne Coyne and crew, it’s an ability to push way beyond the conventional, while somehow getting through to the conventional.
READ ON to see the final four albums of our Top 25…
Key Tracks: High Brow, All That I Am Now
Sounds Like: Burritos-era Gram Parsons and a lot of the artists who make guest appearances
Skinny: As always, Reid Genauer’s voice goes down like buttery toffee, but adding to the ease this time, the songs are stronger than ever. Coupled with the helping hands (and voices) of some of the finest musicians around, like Mike Gordon, Jon Scofield, Grace Potter, Bela Fleck and standouts from Al Schnier and Richie Havens, Assembly left the jamband stigma in the dust and dropped a widely acclaimed alt-country record.
Key Tracks: My Girls, Summertime Clothes
Sounds Like: The Beach Boys if they grew up in San Francisco in the ’60s
Skinny: After years of being indie cult faves, this Baltimore-bred act finally gained some mainstream success, mostly because their latest album was a bit easier to digest than some of their previous work – which had critics anointing this the record of the year way back in January when it came out. The album – whose name is an ode to the famous Maryland amphitheater – is a heady mix of psychedelic soundscapes, layered acid drenched harmonies and general weirdness that would have given anything The Merry Pranksters put together for their (in)famous Acid Tests a run for their money.
Key Tracks: Good Morning Captain, Appaloosa, So Many Times
Sounds Like: The Band, Shake Your Money Maker-era Crowes
Skinny: Let’s face facts; the Black Crowes got it back. For some, maybe they never lost it, but the addition of Luther Dickinson and an inspired idea for recording their latest album – gather your biggest fans into Levon Helm’s legendary barn and share in the recording process with them - gave them the late career shot in the arm they needed, pulling them out from an “every album sounds the same” funk. The result speaks volumes as the band feels jammy and revived, while Chris Robinson of course ties it together with his signature vocals. Before the Frost proves that there’s a reason the Black Crowes are about the only thing resembling a jamband that ever learned to sell records.
Sounds Like: Americana Ben Folds
Skinny: Super-producer Rick Rubin’s courtship and the major label hit polish paid off – scoring a coveted counter-top display at your local Starbucks – as the Avett Brothers finally put the inaccurate bluegrass tags to bed. Steeped in piano and contemplative one liners, the Avett’s released a gem of a reflective record, whereby those who really like it, love it. People come away with that cathartic feeling of coming out of a great movie (i.e., doing crane kicks or singing Kimya Dawson), taking the widely applicable themes and quasi-cinematic instrumentations and applying them to their own lives. For some fans, they scoff at the departure from the frenetic banjo strums and drunken romps, but bands evolve, and this time it’s for the better as I and Love and You contains nary a bad song and a number of timeless ones.