Paste has weighed in with its 25 Best Albums of 2009, but over the holiday break, each of our editorial staffers is giving us a glimpse of his or her personal favorites from the year. Here’s associate editor Steve LaBate’s favorite albums of 2009.
Even though it was—musically speaking—my least favorite year of the decade, there were still some great records that came out in 2009; albums I’ll have in my permanent collection for years to come.
On the cusp of a new decade, here are my personal favorites for the final year of the aughties…
1. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
As I wrote earlier this year, “Few bands can imbue a line like, ‘You make me go oooh with the things that you do,’ with much feeling and subtle emotion, but Camera Obscura could sing stereo instructions and it’d still make your skin tighten and tingle.” With My Maudlin Career, Tracyanne Campbell and company have made a near-perfect pop record. Essential Track: French Navy
2. R.E.M. – Live at the Olympia
After all these years, R.E.M. is still one of the best live bands around, and this release stands alongside the greatest concert recordings in rock history. Listening, you can hear how deep the band’s catalog runs. Also notable is how much better (and suddenly more relevant) late-period R.E.M. seems when you hear the recent tunes shot full of adrenaline and purpose as they’re delivered from the stage. Plus, the band can still rock even its earliest material at full-tilt. Essential Track: Wolves, Lower
3. Sonic Youth – The Eternal
Sledgehammer noise rock of the highest order from the band that perfected it. The fact that—after nearly three decades together—Sonic Youth still brings such freshness and urgency to its music is inspiring; when Kim Gordon sings, “I want you to levitate me” on “Sacred Trickster,” you know she’s not fucking around. Essential Track: Sacred Trickster
4. David Bazan – Curse Your Branches
Dave Bazan’s songs are so achingly beautiful, honest and sincere that sometimes it hurts to listen. You have to respect the depth of the songwriting on this record, the stark beauty of the somber melodies and the thought-provoking lyrics Bazan rattles off as he undergoes what amounts to a crisis of faith—at least, as he’d experienced it thus far in life. Much great art in history has come from such life-changing epiphanies. This is part of that long tradition. Essential Track: Curse Your Branches
5. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
Sure, they’re on my list every year they make a record—because they’re that good. Not voting for Wilco in the aughties is like not voting for the Stones or The Beatles in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. You could be contrarian just to be contrarian, but what’s the point? At first, this record’s self-referential tendencies made me a bit hesitant to dive in, but really, it just ends up being infinitely charming. Essential Track: Wilco the Song