(feat. track – Dashboard Confessional – “The Motions”)

My #1 pick of the year will be along tomorrow.  But first…

I’ve never really done this before on my lists, but as I was narrowing down my selections at the end of the year I realized that there have been an inordinate number of really excellent albums released in the last year.  Often, while the top of my list kind of puts itself together without much work, the bottom feels a bit like grasping at straws. 2009 was just the opposite – there wasn’t one album that completely blew me away to the degree that, say, The Gaslight Anthem’s “The ‘59 Sound” did in 2008, but at the same time I had the hardest time chopping my list down to 10.  I know I’ve listed a few near-misses in the past, but I figured this year I’d try and at least say a sentence or two about those albums that came awful close, because a) there were so many of them and b) so many of them were truly deserving candidates.  In alphabetical order:

Aiden – Knives – Tossing aside the synth-pop experiments of their last album, Knives features some of the most fierce, incisive, gut-churning cuts in Aiden’s discography.  The one-two punch of “Let The Right One In” and “Scavengers Of The Damned” is about as good as punk rock gets.  (As a side note, make sure you get the bonus acoustic demo tracks as well, they’re absolutely essential).

Artist Vs. Poet – Damn Rough Night EP – If this is just a preview of the album to come, 2010 is gonna be a big year for AvP.  They’re not breaking any new ground here, but they’re  doing what they do (straightforward late-decade pop-punk) awful well.

Brand New – Daisy – A grinding, churning, angry morass of an album that sadly sacrificed a degree of listenability from the apex that was The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me.  If Brand New are following the Radiohead career track step for step, this is their Kid A, and like that album, I seem to love it a little less than everyone else does.  That said, it’s still better than 90% of what’s out there.

Cartel – Cycles – The guys behind my Top Album of 2005 have never let me down, but I know a lot of people were less than satisfied with their last, self-titled album.  This is the one that should please both them and me.  I’m leaving these pics unranked, but if I had to choose a #11, this would probably be it.  Hell, it gets there almost on the strength of “27 Steps” alone.

Cobra Starship – Hot Mess  – Hot Mess isn’t merely an album, its an entire wild and woolly world of barfighting b-boys and gum-poppin’ gossip girls dirty dancing ’til daybreak.  That it probably only exists in Gabe Saporta’s head is beside the point; man oh man would I love to visit!

Dashboard Confessional
– Alter The Ending – I tend to find Dashboard Confessional’s full-band albums to be sort of scattershot; always a couple of essential tracks, but bogged down by filler.  This may be the first time I’ve loved a full Dashboard disc from start to finish since the solo days, and “The Motions” might be my favorite Dashboard song since that era.

fun. – Aim And Ignite – Nate Ruess’ post-Format project (which also features Jack Antonoff of Steel Train, a perennial live favorite of mine) is rich in buoyant, lighthearted, indulgent orchestral pop.  Sounds for the 21st Century, with a big debt to the ’70s.

Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown – If American Idiot was Green Day’s Tommy, this is their Quadrophenia: more elaborate, more ambitious, and more indulgent.  Much more of a complete story than the previous album, it misses the mark on occasion, but it’s far from the misstep others have characterized it as.  A truly worthy part of the Green Day catalogue.

Matisyahu – Light – Matis continues the remarkable maturation he began on last year’s Shattered EP (most of which is included here).  With production to match his ever-growing mic skills, this is the album we’ve been waiting for Matisyahu to make, his immense potential finally realized.

My Favorite Highway – How To Call A Bluff – How those fools in The Fray are bigger than these guys is beyond me.  A splendid piano rock disc with choruses built for pop radio.

Nickasaur! – Attention To Detail – Nicholas Joseph’s raggedy blip-pop is just dripping with handcrafted charm and such explosive overearnestness that it couldn’t be anything but honest.

Passion Pit – Manners – I feel like this album was so played to death in the beginning of the year that it’s almost been forgotten by the end.  To be sure, it loses a bit of its luster after too much repeat listening, but it’s still one of the year’s musical highlights.

Placebo – Battle For The Sun – Honestly, this album was too inconsistent to ever really have had a shot at making my Top 10.  But when it’s good, its really really good; tracks like “Devil In The Details” and “Bright Lights” are among the best in Placebo’s catalogue, and that’s saying something this far into their career.

A Rocket To The Moon – On Your Side – Nick Santino keeps his pop just a hair stragglier than his peers, and the fact that you can hear his voice strain a touch at times lends it a charm that it would lack autotuned into place.  He’s also got a knack for clever wordplay and big bright melodies, and On Your Side is chock full of winning charm.

So Many Dynamos – The Loud Wars – If Minus The Bear and The Dismemberment Plan had a baby, it would be this album.  Densely technical and precisely composed, but catchy as hell, and always propulsive.

The Summer Set – Love Like This – The Summer Set could not have picked a more appropriate name for themselves.  Love Like This is positively bursting with sunny choruses and breezy harmony.  A great great feel-good album.

Third Eye Blind – Ursa Major – I was skeptical after Out Of The Vein disappointed me so badly, but this is a true return to form for Stephen Jenkins and Co.  Everything you’d expect out of a classic 3EB album, and one of the nicest surprises of 2009.

Thrice – Beggars – Thrice’s albums always take a while to sink in with me.  If this one goes anything like their last 4, check back with me in a year and it’ll be my favorite album.

Unicorn Kid – Lion Hat single, Wee Monsters single – Unicorn Kid blew me away in a live performance earlier this year, and his recorded output is every bit as stellar.  Chiptunes often feel gimmicky, but these singles are vital, vibrant, and propulsive, meant for the dancefloor more than the bedroom.  At times it reminds me of the Prodigy’s debut album Experience, in the best of ways.

Visqueen – Message To Garcia – An excellent album that also seems to be a critical fave this year.  I think I’ve probably downgraded it a touch simply because I can’t help but compare it to one of my all-time favorite albums – their debut, King Me.