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Lists: Washington Post pop critic Chris Richards picks his top 10 albums of 2009

maxwellNeo-soulman Maxwell's comeback album “BLACKsummers’night” was 2009's best. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

Tis the season for obsessive list making and I’m proud to offer my annual contribution to the pile: The Best Albums of 2009. And while this top ten list doesn’t officially run in the Post until Sunday, we’ve decided to get in the spirit of the piracy-age and leak it early on Click Track.

As an added bonus, I’ve included albums No. 40-No. 11 after the jump. Did I miss your favorite album? Be sure to let us know which discs made your best-of-list in the comments section. Take it away, Maxwell…

1. Maxwell, “BLACKsummers’night”
Maxwell’s R&B masterstroke topped charts with a poise that evoked past, present and futures unknown. And while the neo-soulman’s falsetto can bend time, heartbreak remains inescapable.

Maxwell - "Pretty Wings"

2. jj, “jj no. 2”
From Gaga to Glambert, eccentrics ruled 2009. So it only makes sense that the year’s best debut came from some crypto-genius Swedes who sound like Enya covering Lil Wayne at Lilith Fair 2015. Right?

jj - "Africa to Malaga"

3. Animal Collective, “Merriweather Post Pavillion”
A hallucinogenic formlessness has always throbbed at Animal Collective’s gooey center, but the band’s glorious new album flickered and quaked toward something resembling pop.

Animal Collective - "My Girls"

(Left coast rappers, fab Frenchmen and plenty more, after the jump)

4. DJ Quik & Kurupt, “BlaQKout”
These left coast rap vets didn’t rest on their laurels so much as mutate them into a new g-funk dialect. The masses ignored it, but let’s hope Dr. Dre won’t.

DJ Quik & Kurupt - "Ohh!"

5. Paramore, “Brand New Eyes”
Having survived the teenage wasteland that is Warped Tour, Paramore tackled young adulthood with a snarl that made the pre-fab angst of its peers feel like kid stuff.

Paramore- "Brick By Boring Brick"

6. Brad Paisley, “American Saturday Night”
Hopeless romantic. Unbridled optimist. Caring dad. Carefree dude. With his strongest album yet, country’s leading man felt like a natural in every role.

Brad Paisley - "Welcome to the Future"

7. Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”
Dormez-vous, America? After running a sleeper campaign for rock-band-of-the-decade, these fabulous Frenchmen finally dropped an album that stateside eardrums couldn’t ignore.

Phoenix - "1901"

8. Wale, “Attention Deficit”
After two years of internet hype, the Washington rapper's long-anticipated treatise on beats, rhymes and life in the DMV was totally worth the wait.

Wale - "Pretty Girls"

9. Aventura, “The Last”
Melding traditional Dominican bachata with prickly-sweet pop hooks, this Bronx foursome may have invented a new kind of sugar high.

Aventura - "Por Un Segundo"

10. Jon Hassell, “Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street”
With his 15th studio album, the esteemed jazz trumpeter evaporated Miles Davis’ cosmic slop into a resplendent sonic mist.

Jon Hassell - "Last Night the Moon Came"

Is ten ever enough? Exclusive to Click Track, here are 30 more of my favorite albums released in 2009:

11. Death, "For the Whole World To See”
12. Ryan Leslie, “Ryan Leslie”
13. Baroness, “Blue Record”
14. Them Crooked Vultures, “Them Crooked Vultures”
15. Holly Williams, “Here With Me”
16. Cass McCombs, “Catacombs”
17. Pill, “4180: The Prescription”
18. Real Estate, “Real Estate”
19. Eric Church, “Carolina”
20. Mavado, “Mr. Brooks... A Better Tomorrow”
21. Ida Maria, “Fortress Round My Heart”
22. The-Dream, “Love Vs. Money”
23. XO, “Monumental”
24. SunnO))), “Monoliths and Dimensions”
25. Amerie, “In Love And War”
26. Serani, “No Games”
27. Raekwon, “Only Built For Cuban Linx, Pt. II”
28. Dam Funk, “Toeachizown”
29. Kurt Vile, “Childish Prodigy”
30. Gucci Mane, “The State Vs. Radric Davis”
31. Tabi Bonney, “Dope”
32. Justin Bieber, “My World”
33. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “It's Blitz”
34. Lil Boosie, “Superbad” (mixtape)
35. Miranda Lambert, “Revolution”
36. Shakira, “She Wolf”
37. Wavves, “Wavvves”
38. Brownout, “Aguilas and Cobras”
39. Mambo Sauce, “The Recipe”
40. Kris Kristofferson, “Closer to the Bone”

By Chris Richards  |  December 16, 2009; 7:30 AM ET
Categories:  Lists  | Tags: Animal Collective, Avenutra, Best of 2009, Brad Paisley, DJ Quik, Jon Hassell, Kurupt, Maxwell, Paramore, Phoenix, Wale, jj  
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No down with "21st Centry Breakdown" or "No Line On the Horizon"? Hey, s'all good, just wondering.

Posted by: EricS2 | December 16, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Nope. I thought the Green Day's "21st" was pretty snoozy and U2's "No Line" only had a song or two that got me.

Posted by: ChrisRichards | December 16, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

pains of being pure at heart?
neko case?
future of the left?

at least you left off grizzly bear... zzzz

Posted by: Deceiver | December 16, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Rokia Traore, Amadou and Mariam, Bobby Sanabria, Wisin y Yandel

Posted by: outsider8 | December 16, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

@Deceiver - Grizzzzzzzzzzly Bear, indeed.
@outsider8 - Amadou & Mariam might be #41!

Posted by: ChrisRichards | December 16, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

"Dubsetter" by Adrian Sherwood & Lee Perry (unfortunately was never released outside of Japan).

Posted by: Godfather_of_Goals | December 16, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Kudos to you for putting Baroness on the list in lieu of Mastodon for token heavy album.

Posted by: alexharisiadis | December 16, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

@alex - That Baroness album is really fantastic. But it's no token. SunnO)))'s on there, too.

Posted by: ChrisRichards | December 16, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

True - I've never been a fan of Sunn. My vote for best doom record of 2009 goes to YOB's much-welcomed return album 'The Great Cessation'.

Make sure you get Baroness' Red Album and first two EPs. It's interesting to track their evolution.

Posted by: alexharisiadis | December 16, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Glad to see Them Crooked Vultures made the list!

Posted by: Bouclier | December 16, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

@Alex - I'll keep collecting Baroness albums for the cover art alone. Did you know Baroness singer John Dyer Baizley also did the art for the Flight of the Conchords album? Weird, right?

Posted by: ChrisRichards | December 16, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse


yo la tengo
dinosaur jr.
lou barlow

there's a huge difference between slaes and actual talent.

and kristofferson's album was top 10 as well. no taste.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | December 16, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

what about Trey Songz' mixtape, Anticipation? One of my favorites. So glad to see Maxwell and Wale in the top 10.

Posted by: peachee721 | December 16, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse


Yes I did know that. I've been a fan of Baizley's art for some time now. We've been covering Baroness for some time now over at

Posted by: alexharisiadis | December 16, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Man that Wale album was so mediocre. Blatant case of homerism there.

Posted by: agl132 | December 16, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Ryan Leslie's other release, Transition, should be on the list too. He's arguably the best producer out now. A bit of trivia, he was also born in DC.

Posted by: FromNC2DC | December 16, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree that the Maxwell album is one of the year's best. Top notch from beginning to end and I was never really a big fan of his. I am now. Those other guys--who ever heard of them?

Posted by: PepperDr | December 16, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: keelyhazel | December 16, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Sleepy Sun and Assemble Head are other noted absences.

Shakira? Spare me.

Posted by: keelyhazel | December 16, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

No Avett Brothers?

Posted by: gtrain82 | December 16, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

who told this person he knew anything about music?

Posted by: dataport34 | December 16, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

@NC2DC - Did you ever see our feature on Leslie early in the year?

Posted by: ChrisRichards | December 16, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Another hat tip for Baroness over Mastodon.

I have a genuine, non-snotty question for anyone who loves Sunn's Monoliths and Dimensions: Why? I listen to lots of heavy stuff. I own that CD and am cool with supporting the band. (I even know that you don't write the O))).) But I found the CD pretentious and dull.

To me it seemed like a record people talk themselves into liking because it's weird and pure and signifies Something Big. But once you stop working to convince yourself that you like it, you'll never bother listening to it again. I did that back in the day with Sleep's Jerusalem/Dopesmoker. I convinced myself it was genius and still think fondly of it. But the last time I gave it a listen I lasted about 6 minutes before saying "" It may be Great, but I'm not sure it's actually any Good.

OK, that got a little snotty. But you know what I mean? Do you see yourself five years from now, flipping through your music catalog and saying, "Yes! Monoliths and Dimensions! That's going on repeat." I am dubious. I think in six months it goes into whatever passes for a cut-out bin these days.

Posted by: hubcap | December 16, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Maxwell is just pretty damn boring. In a year with countless Numero Group and Sundazed re-releases, "BLACKsummer'snight" was a snoozefest. I'll give you a masterstroke.

Also: Really? jj? Sincerely Yours was nice and cute when TTA first started, but when it's not the summer and I'm not driving along the cost it's only kind eh. Critics are still talking about this album? And using "OH MY GOD IT'S SO WEEEIIRRRDDDD" as a descriptor? You wanna say it's "drugged-out" too? "Pseudo-hynpnagogic?"

And the Wale record is a major let-down, but I'll give you the DC bias.

Posted by: TheGreatAmericanWest | December 16, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

@hubcap:Your gripes with Sunn [sansO)))] seem pretty common. I still thought the album was a really interesting listen, especially the collabos with jazz dude Julian Priester. I'm really into their pursuit of metal as a texture.

@GreatAmerican: Sorry you're not feeling Maxwell. I think he's up to something incredibly elegant here. As for jj, I just can't deny the music. Sounds like you might be suffering from blog fatigue.

Posted by: ChrisRichards | December 16, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

You should do a "Taking Sides" on whether Wale's album is actually good or what. It seemed as though people either loved it or had to really take time out of their day to hate it.

My preference for "Attention Deficit" would have been 14 songs that sounded approximately like "Pretty Girls," "Pat Your Weave," that amazing track Wale did with Southeast Slim whose name is escaping me right now, etc. Booming go-go samples, over which Wale raps so well. But once I got over the fact that my preference had been ignored, I discovered a really outstanding rap album. From Ben Westhoff's review in City Paper, it seems a number of hipsters also felt defeated in their aspirations for Wale. I'm wondering if this didn't feed some of the critical discontent.

I also agree with Noz' suggestion on Cocaine Blunts that Wale should do a full album with Southeast Slim. I would also like someone to give me a BMW sedan. I realize certain things are not going to happen.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | December 17, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Lindemann:Good idea! Stay tuned on that...

Posted by: ChrisRichards | December 17, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse


Not many artist could fall WAY back like Maxwell and come back with such universal acclaim. I agree Maxwell is up to something. He produced a live studio album that is at once elegant but gritty, polished but soulful. But I think once the other two albums of the trilogy are released we are going to see something pretty monolithic. Maxwell always surprises and never disappoints.

The music industry needed a reality check to show it, young artist and young listeners what R&B is and what it can be. I think Maxwell provided that. So as far as I am concerned he earned the #1 spot.

Posted by: allheavens | December 21, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

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