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Top Albums of 2009

1. Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Elvis Perkins in Dearland (XL)

On his second album, this extraordinarily talented songwriter assembled a full-time band to perfect a ramshackle folk sound—full of horns, organ and unorthodox percussion—that updates The Band by way of Neutral Milk Hotel. “Doomsday” is the song of the year, with an exultant horn intro becoming a stomping celebration of life, defiant even against doomsday.

2. Sunset Rubdown, Dragonslayer (Jagjaguwar)

Spencer Krug is at his best crafting intense and pummeling music, but by backing away slightly from his more experimental impulses, Krug has made his best album yet. Dragonslayer‘s greatest achievement is its taut focus that makes bombastic, lengthy and relentlessly twisting songs nonetheless accessible and catchy throughout.

3. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone (ANTI-)

Taking inspiration from nature’s tumultuous power, Neko Case has written her most-assured, least-enigmatic batch of songs yet. Anchored by her soaring, radiant voice, the record updates Case’s usual dreamy atmospheric sound with catchier songs like “People Got a Lotta Nerve” and “I’m an Animal.”

4. Magnolia Electric Co., Josephine (Secretly Canadian)

Jason Molina’s reedy, wounded voice gives this record a piercing, lonesome sorrow, matched impeccably by lyrics drenched in images of the open sky, deep shadows, ghosts and the faraway horizon.

5. The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You (American/Sony)

With major-label polish from Rick Rubin, the Avett Brothers reach toward both rowdier rock songs and tender ballads, leaving their rootsy bluegrass as background accents. But it is versatility, talent and honest songwriting that carry the day for the Avetts, who offer musical abundance like few others.

6. Fruit Bats, The Ruminant Band (Sub Pop)

The Fruit Bats turn out 11 songs of blissful, sunny rock music. This is the best Beatles-influenced album of the year, full of the quirky enthusiasm that sparked labels like “zoology rock,” “bootgazer” and “rustic pop.”

7. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Slumberland)

This flawless debut cradles starry-eyed romance in fuzzy guitars, driving beats and boy-girl harmonies, a winning aesthetic for a band that wears both hearts and influences on its sleeve.

8. The Lone Wolf, Sum and Belief Are the Lone Wolf (Worker B)

The beats weave in acoustic guitar, piano, banjo and harmonica, and the lyrics are imaginative, poetic storytelling. Sum and Belief’s first collaborative album sounds like what hip-hop might have been in the 1960s, mixing with blues, R&B and soul.

9. Metric, Fantasies (Metric)

This electrifying dance record stacks high-wire guitar riffs, surging keyboards and heavy bass on driving beats, but it’s Emily Haines’ spellbinding vocals that provide the irresistible charm.

10. Wilco, Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)

Hardly complacent with its most stable lineup in 15 years, Wilco’s latest features mesmerizing guitar freak-outs, sweet ballads and jaunty piano rock. It’s more proof that Wilco is the best band working today.

Published Dec. 24, 2009 in the Tucson Weekly.

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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