2009 is coming to a close, which means that it's time to check in on what the favorite albums, artists, songs and moments were among the fine folks in the MTV Newsroom. Be sure to check out James Montgomery's definitive year-end list for 2009, and enjoy the "10 In 2009" series that will be running over the next two weeks.
It was a weird year for me, as I was unemployed for the first part of it. So I went from not thinking at all about music to only thinking about music all the time. So it took me a while to even remember what happened in February (a lot, as it turned out). But anyway, here's the list.
10. 50 Cent, War Angel
Drake may have had the mixtape of the year, but 50 had an amazing return to form with his pair of independent releases. War Angel reminded everybody why we fell in love with 50 in the first place, as it was equal parts tough and catchy. There are no radio singles, but in a perfect world, "Redrum (Murder)" would have been a radio smash.
9. Jarvis Cocker, Further Complications
The former Pulp frontman augmented his brand of posh Britpop with a bit of savagery care of producer Steve Albini (the noisy mastermind behind Nirvana's In Utero). The new level of guts only added to the grooviness of tunes like "Angela" and "I Never Said I Was Deep."
8. Viva Voce, Rose City
Remember when Scarlett Johansson sang back-up for the Jesus & Mary Chain at Coachella in 2007? This is what a whole album of that would sound like (except, you know, better). "Red Letter Day" has been one of the most played songs on my iPod this year, and for good reason: It's got a groove so sinister that it probably freaks out Nick Cave.
7. Double Dagger, More
In the manic stew that is the Baltimore music scene, Double Dagger stands above everyone else. The awesome noise generated on More is almost childlike in its exuberance, as if it was recorded on a playground full of kicked-in amplifiers. "No Allies" is the best first track on any album released this year.
6. Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster
"Bad Romance" is obviously one of the best singles of the year, but the amazing thing about The Fame Monster is that it contains seven more songs that are just as good. "Alejandro" should be burrowing its way to the top of the charts by the end of January 2010, and "Speechless" is simultaneously heartfelt and insane. Gaga bears the mark of true genius: She makes everything look easy.
5. Them Crooked Vultures, Them Crooked Vultures
In recreating the frontman/drummer combination that gave the world Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf (one of the best albums of the decade), Them Crooked Vultures made something that was instantly nostalgic and forward-looking. Best played at maximum volume, then at one louder.
4. The Flaming Lips, Embryonic
With all the tricks in the psychedelic cookbook already done to death, Wayne Coyne and his band of freaked-out men went ahead and invented new ones. Embryonic is trippy and weird but doesn't sacrifice melody or groove, and even the most consciously odd tracks on the album (like the Karen O-assisted "I Can Be a Frog") end up lodged deep in your grey matter.
3. R. Kelly, Untitled / The Demo Tape
Obviously I'm a big fan of Untitled, but I also have to give props to Kelly's mixtape, which featured a tune called "Tip the Waiter" that was probably my favorite single of the year. It contains everything great about an R. Kelly tune: It takes place in a club, it mentions Patron and it ends with Kelly going home with a woman. My favorite bit in the lyrics comes at the end, where he's narrating the end of his night: "Six o'clock/ I step to her/ Six thirty/ I say 'I'm the R.'" Here's the question: What happens in that half hour between the time he walks up to her and the time he actually says hello? That is why he is a genius.
2. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
The best Neko Case songs have a brutal climax, an incredible snatch of melody or a melancholy comedown. Every single song on Middle Cyclone — including "Marais la Nuit," which is just a half hour of crickets — has all three. There's a moment in "This Tornado Loves You" when Case's voice jumps way up in the mix and she bellows "What will make you believe me?" It's as honest, naked and heartbreaking as any moment recorded all year.
1. Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2
Consider this the Godfather: Part II of albums, as it's the rare sequel that surpasses the original. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is an amazing album, but the new one provides much more sonic range and provides a comeback forum for a lot of guys in the Wuniverse who were otherwise left for dead. Obviously Raekwon sounds like a stud, but Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2 also contains some of the best recent verses from Ghostface, Inspectah Deck, Method Man, Jadakiss and Cappadonna. Everybody sounds hungry, just like they did in '95. And even after playing it over 70 times on my iTunes at work, I am still floored every time I hear "Kiss the Ring."