In the end, it just comes down to the good stuff. Here are TimeOut reviewers' picks for the best albums of 2009 ...
1 THEM CROOKED VULTURES
Them Crooked Vultures
In a year when rock 'n' roll, in its many different guises, was well and truly back on top, it took a super group to come up with the album of the year. Them Crooked Vultures is made up of Dave Grohl, one of the biggest rock stars of the modern era, his cult music mate Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, and Led Zeppelin bassist and innovator John Paul Jones, a bloke who helped write the book on rock 'n' roll.
TimeOut gave the album four stars the week of its release, and two weeks later regretted not giving it the luxury five star treatment it deserves. It's one of those albums that reveals more and more of itself on repeat listens because there's so much going on. There's the contrast of Homme's sweet and spacey voice alongside his twisted desert-boogie guitar work; Grohl's lucid and ruthless drumming style is a relentless force; and Jones not only plays some wildly solid bass lines but comes up with weird and wonderful instrumental flourishes, like the Superstition-style keyboard on Scumbag Blues and the sick eerie sounds of Caligulove.
As we said upon its release, "it's a powerful, cocky, and gutsy record" - and it just gets better and better. One supergroup, one mighty super record - and they play at Vector Arena on January 30. (SK)
Degrees of Existence
Maybe it was the effect of his old band, Straitjacket Fits, still getting kudos for their brief time in the sun, but Shayne Carter's fourth post-SJF album was a leap from the artful restraint of past Dimmer sets to something more urgent and aggressive. It might, on songs like the surging Cold Water and the title track, contain echoes of his earlier days, but this album also came with askew pop, dreamy tunes and on Nowhere I Want one excellent whistling solo. A career best. (RB)
Kingdom of Rust
In a bit of an off year for Britrock, these Manchester dark horses (and longstayers) came up trumps on their largely overlooked fourth album which managed to deliver music of wide horizons and history (referencing everything from Krautrock, Johnny Cash, Blondie and the Beach Boys) behind songs containing heroic levels of melancholy. (RB)
4 ANIMAL COLLECTIVE
Merriweather Post Pavillion
Released way back in January, this challenging psychedelic folk-pop masterpiece, was always going to maintain a position near the top of the best of the year list. Spectral synthesisers, off-kilter rhythms, demented hand claps, pulsing house beats, staccato percussion - and that's only on opening track In the Flowers. And listening to My Girls makes you wonder, not only how they actually come up with tunes like these, but how they make them so joyous and transcendental. (SK)
5 FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE
Britain's much-fussed over Florence Welch more than delivered when she released her fun, yet mysteriously seductive, debut album. She managed to rein her madness into an enchanting piece of indie-pop, and moved from one-to-watch to one-to-have. (JS)
Crack the Skye
The Atlanta metal band had boldly gone where no band had gone before on their previous two albums. This time they achieved the impossible, entwining the story of an Icarus-like figure who travels back in time to Czarist-era Russia with unbridled metal mayhem and three-part vocal collisions, to come up with their most accessible album yet. Eleven-minute centrepiece, The Czar, takes in everything from P-funk to towering progressive metal and has to heard to be believed. Brutal brilliance. (SK)
7 GRIZZLY BEAR
A magical, intriguing and lush folk-pop album that's relentless in its experimental endeavours, so no wonder it sounds different every time you listen to it. The third long-player from the New York-based quartet constantly reveals different layers and textures, be it the lo-fi guitar chug of Ready, Able, or a dulcet harp here and a wistful fragility there. Two Weeks is also one of, if not the most beautiful song of the year, with its school boy choir harmonies and a simple quavering piano chord. (SK)
8 JAN HELLRIEGEL
All Grown Up
(Blind Date Records)
Auckland singer-songwriter Jan Hellriegel returned 14 years after her second album with a third which was anything but a one-more-for-old-times'-sake afterthought. With a sizeable slab of anguish running through much of its songs, All Grown Up swung neatly from sweetness to scorch taking in poignant balladry, symphonic pop and guitar-fired rock. (RB)
9 MAYER HAWTHORNE
A Strange Arrangement
This lad sounds like he's black and from the mid-60s. In fact, the DJ, producer, and hip-hop-head-turned-golden-voiced-singer is a 30-something white boy from Michigan armed with a whole lot of heart and, most importantly, some serious soul. There are many sugar pie honey moments on his debut album, but as well as the toe-tapping, suave soul like the Four Tops he also channels the trippier and dreamier side of Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes. This is new 60s soul for today. (SK)
10 LAWRENCE ARABIA
(Honorary Bedouin/Rhythm Method)
Mr Arabia - James Milne - was the rightful winner of this year's Apra Silver Scroll for his beyond-catchy Apple Pie Bed with co-writer, The Phoenix Foundation's Luke Buda. There's plenty more tunes just as infectious on this, his second solo album of sexy, funny geekpop. (RB)
11 DIRTY PROJECTORS
In what was a vintage year for New York art-rock oddballs, Dirty Projectors reined in their previous abstract tendencies for a fascinating album which sported the sort of fractured funkiness which suggested them as the era's answer to Talking Heads. They too have a singular frontman called David (Longstreth) and here his acrobatic androgynous singing - and harmonies with co-vocalists Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian - added to its abundant askew charms.
Who Said You Can't Dance 2 Misery?
With creepy and tense beats, an ominous atmosphere, and rib-rattling laughs throughout, with the snippet "he's my boyfriend and I think he's an arsehole" a particular highlight, this album sets a new benchmark for local hip-hop. There are catchy, clip-cloppy pop moments too, like Helper Monkey and Almost Out Of Water both featuring the wistful vocals of Anna Coddington. But it's the darker more propulsive tracks, like the oppressive title track, where Tourettes is at his best. (SK)
13 THE XX
A hushed, quiet and minimal rock debut from a young London trio who play Auckland's Laneway Festival on February 1. It would be very easy to pass this album by because it is shy and bashful on first impressions, but songs like the steely jaunt of Crystalised and the heart-wrenching Shelter creep up on you and evolve into powerful yet beautifully understated objects of sound. (SK)
Brand New Eyes
(Fueled By Ramen)
They started making waves with 2007's Riot!, hit the big time off the back of lead single Decode from last year's Twilight soundtrack, but with their third album, and songs like Ignorance, the Tennessee five piece take their slamming pop rock to a higher, more chunky and furious level. The special quality this band has is that they play pop songs - with the occasional ballad thrown in - like they're in a hardcore band. All this and front woman Hayley Williams is still only 20. It's nice to meet you, indeed. (SK)
15 LA ROUX
Elly Jackson burst on the scene like a blast from the past - all bright red coif, synthetic pop and dressed in geometric outfits. The loveable Brit has thrown us wickedly catchy songs, climbed the singles charts and earned a nomination for this year's Mercury Prize. (JS)
16 AMADOU & MARIAM
Welcome To Mali
The blind husband and wife duo of guitarist Amadou and singer Mariam have been making music together since the mid-70s. Bringing together a whimsical traditional sound, hints of reggae, some desert rock trance, and bouncy party grooves, this album is the joyous and magical sound of pop music coming straight out of Malina, capital city Bamako. It also features the cheery programmed beats and keys of Gorillaz leader, Blur frontman and Mali convert Damon Albarn. (SK)
17 YEAH YEAH YEAHS
New York indie rockers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs performed a hat-trick of cool albums when they released It's Blitz! This third album calls listeners to carve up the dance floor - mixing human with electronic and new age with retro. (JS)
Only Built 4 Cuba Linx Pt 2
This sequel to the Wu Tang Clan members debut album from 15 years ago is sinister, soulful and hip-hop storytelling at its best. While there are guests galore, Raekwon steers the ship with a vision that takes in everything from gospel to a pulsing and futuristic brand of heavyweight hip-hop on tracks like Penitentiary. Plus, just like Grand Theft Auto, it also means you can be a bad arse street thug because the menacing mood the music conjures up is the real deal. (SK)
19 GIN WIGMORE
Devonport darling Gin Wigmore moved on from the theatre showtune pop of her ad jingle, Under My Skin, when she teamed up with The Cardinals to release her debut album Holy Smoke. While it's more polished than her rustic EP, it is just as beautifully written, and is packed with singalongs. (JS)
Wilco (The Album)
Not their most radical record but the great American band's self-titled set reveals itself as a spread of what Wilco do best: write great songs and fill them with intriguing detail. Which means some rustic knockabouts, a few heart-bruised pop anthems and a few chances for resident guitar whiz Nels Cline to set off his fretboard rockets again. (RB)
21 THE DEAD WEATHER
Not quite as super as Them Crooked Vultures but still a super group, made up of Jack White (White Stripes), singer Alison Mosshart (the Kills), bass player Jack Lawrence (Greenhornes, The Raconteurs), and guitarist Dean Fertita. Squally blues soaked in psychedelic freak rock and played with a deranged freedom, Horehound combines the noisiest porch songs you're ever likely to hear. (SK)
22 THE FLAMING LIPS
After the song-oriented efforts of their previous noughties albums At War With The Mystics and Yoshimi, the veteran American psychedelicists returned to full freak-out mode on this sprawling but captivating double set. It might have have some silly edges - the astrological song titles and Karen O's animal noises guest spot on I Can Be A Frog - but the album's OTT approach reminded of the Lips' mad sonic genius. (RB)
23 M WARD
He hitched his wagon to the enjoyable monsters of folk supergroup this year, but the sixth solo album from the American singer-songwriter and deft acoustic guitarist had better songs (even if some were borrowed from Buddy Holly and Don Gibson) and sweeter harmonies (from Lucinda Williams and Zooey Deschanel). But mostly this was the sound of a lonesome man saving his best conversations for himself. (RB)
What makes Kiwi rapper PNC's second album a gripping, smooth and fun listen is the unashamed influence of 80s synth pop and cheesy rock - the sneaky sample of Eddie Money's Take Me Home Tonight is the best example - and how it comes together seamlessly with his stylish hip-hop to create something stealth, clever, and, quite often, devilishly cheeky. They don't call him Bazooka Kid for nothing. (SK)
25 MIRIAM CLANCY
The second album from the Auckland singer-songwriter had her spreading her wings from her alt-country debut, offering everything from Radiohead-ish rock to sunny pop and on best track Ghost Town, an acutely observed lyric about life on the dead end streets of smalltown New Zealand. (RB)
26 JOE HENRY
Blood From the Stars
Consistently under-appreciated American singer-songwriter Joe Henry's 11th album brought an old-world sophistication of jazz, blues, and gospel touches to bear on his idiosyncratic literate songs. The result was an album cinematic in its scope but intimate in its delivery. (RB)
27 THE CHECKS
Alice By the Moon
(Pie Club Records)
They got their influences out of their system on debut album, Hunting Whales, and came strutting back with a more refined and distinctly Checks sounding record. There's still a blues swagger, and a dynamism inspired by The Who, but here they work up mantra-like tunes (You and Me), expand their instrumentation, with brassy bursts on opener Bagheera, and singer Ed Knowles reveals a fine voice and range rather simply hootin' and yowlin' like he did previously. (SK)
28 BOB DYLAN
Together Through Life
This one might lack the resonance of its superb predecessor Modern Times, but here the old troubador still offered much to enjoy on a musical level on this relaxed set, one which still offered disconcerting moodiness, tension and sarcastic wit. (GR)
29 GREEN DAY
21st Century Breakdown
It's similar to 2004's rock opera American Idiot, only this time around it was about two kids who are in love and on the run rather than a single anti-hero. And while 21st Century Breakdown doesn't have the number of catchy hits, it's still flamboyant, melodic and heavy punk rock that takes this traditionally snappy style of music and makes it brilliantly over the top.
Another thrilling ride for the kids and their folks alike. (SK)
30 THE VEILS
The third album by the gloomy young outfit led by yet another former North Shore-ite, Finn Andrews, showed their developing flair for the dreamy, dramatic and occasionally deranged on a strong set of songs showing Andrews' voice as an increasingly expressive instrument with lyrics to match. (RB)
Reviews by Scott Kara, Russell Baille, Jacqueline Smith, Graham Reid
* * *
The defining hits of the year
Brother - Smashproof (featuring Gin)
It knocked America's Cup song Sailing Away out of the record books and for that we salute you brothers (and sister).
I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
As if it wasn't enough to listen to it on the radio each day, people all over the world set it as their ringtone.
Sexy Bitch - David Guetta feat. Akon
Something about the way the word "sexy" was used on this night-clubbers' hit prompts even the biggest prude to crank up the volume.
I Dreamed A Dream - Susan Boyle
Who didn't watch our-Susan sing this song on YouTube?
Paparazzi - Lady Gaga
The crude rumours only fuelled the fascination for the boyfriend-killing fame-seeker in this music vid.
Halo - Beyonce
While she's not far away from sounding like a small whinging child, we can't help but like it, love it even.
TikTok - Ke$ha
Not a day goes past without this catchy number blasting from the girly chain stores.
I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
As blue-eyed soul guitar ballads go they don't get much bigger than this one from the American singer/songwriter.
Delirium - Ladyhawke
Our quirky Masterton blonde came up with the ultimate party mixer. Great for air-guitar.
Bonkers - Dizzee Rascal (featuring Armand Van Helden)
This track by the little Rascal and his dance mogul mate gets even the most demur among us bouncing like a lunatic.