1. Dinosaur Jr, Farm
At first the songs seemed too long, the lyrics lazy even by Mascis standards. But beneath his slacker veneer, J has always been a perfectionist, a weird visionary for a sugary thrash no other band even dares attempt. Turns out the extended jams and warm production just give Dinosaur--as good a trio as has ever lumbered--more room to soar.
2. The-Dream, Love Vs. Money
An update of Dirty Mind in the post-crunk era. Unlike the Purple One, Dream isn't a game-changer, but he and collaborator Tricky Stewart's lavish, gorgeous songwriting--interlocking beds of synths, loverman coos, gang chants, and elastic rhythms--is miles ahead of the competition.
3. Wye Oak, The Knot
Wye Oak's 2007 debut was an often beautiful, occasionally awkward shotgun marriage of folk and shoegaze. The Baltimore duo's second disc tends towards the latter, and goes places the band simply couldn't two years ago. Jenn Wasner's plaintive vocals still keep both feet on the ground. Her guitar's mournful too, but the fucking thing sounds massive.
4. Morrissey, Years Of Refusal
"All you need is me," our hero intones, brashly. I believe him. As a vocalist, he's untouchable--operatic, masculine, nimble--and his band powers through the album's fantastic rockers and only slightly less-great ballads with aplomb. Oscar Wilde's favorite album of 2009.
5. Amadou and Mariam, Welcome To Mali
Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Amadou Bagayoko and his vocalist/songwriter wife Mariam write songs completely their own--ringing and clear, with melodies at once accessible and elusive. An all-world set of collaborators help bring their visions to vivid life.
6. Sonic Youth, The Eternal
No new tricks here, but SY sound fiercer than they have in ages. Thurston Moore and Lee Ronaldo's fuzz-squall alchemy continues, with some typically cool-sounding vocals on top.
7. Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Part II
Unlike many of his peers, Rae has never been a natural on the mic. But what he lacks in the agility department he makes up with pure grit. OB4CL2 is miles better than its predecessor, just harder, with better beats, ace guest rappers, and some brutal OG wisdom.
8. Flaming Lips, Embryonic
Mindfuck music, in the form of an unexpected and very welcome left turn. Shit, it's not anthemic even once! While one of your speakers spools out bad-trip synths, the other blasts nightmare bass and spider guitar.
9. The xx, The xx
The sound of slow burn. These absurdly young upstarts make lust music, somehow synthesizing the aims of Sparhawk and Timbaland while infusing their songs with a potent negative space.
10. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career
Expert indie-pop. Tracyanne and Co. have spent as much time studying the C86 songbook as their purely heart-pained colleagues, but The Obscura have evolved into a symphonic, even muscular mope-rock outfit.