It’s the first night of a brand new year (and a new decade!), and I lay on the couch (which A lovingly calls “my throne”) watching my beloved watch his “Glee” DVDs and ruminating on the year just ended. Musically speaking, the aughts produced far stronger slates than what was offered up in 2009, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that any of what follows won’t stand proudly alongside any previous year’s diamonds.



1. MAT KEARNEY City of Black and White


I had a keen sense when I first listened to this back in May that the race for album of the year had just come to an abrupt conclusion, and so it did. Kearney’s debut album, 2006’s Nothing Left to Lose, gleamed with intermittent flashes of brilliance, but his spectacular second effort finds him truly coming into his own, as a songwriter and as a singer. Confident yet vulnerable, assured yet curious, he nails it to the wall with calm, cool grace. Yo, Mat: can’t wait to hear what’s next.


KEY TRACKS: “New York to California,” without question 2009’s most gloriously wrenching love song — “Closer to Love” — “All I Have”



2. THE FRAY The Fray


Isaac and the boys had a steep hill to climb in trying to follow up their sterling debut, 2005’s How to Save a Life. Having spent the past eleven months enthralled by the fruits of that labor, allow me to say a hearty “mission accomplished.” From “You Found Me,” a bold, brilliant excoriation of God himself, to “Never Say Never,” a devastating chronicle of a couple on the brink but still managing to hold it together, and all the magic in between, this was easily the strongest sophomore album from an already-great band since Train unleashed Drops of Jupiter nearly a decade ago. Utterly breathtaking.


KEY TRACKS: “You Found Me,” as ambitious and riveting a pop song as you’ll ever hear on top 40 radio — “Never Say Never” — “Syndicate”



3. KELLY CLARKSON All I Ever Wanted


Clarkson’s dull, disastrous 2007 misfire My December was so horrendous, we all wondered if her theretofore success was nothing but a quirky fluke. Bump that jazz: Clive Davis reined his favorite spunky spitfire back in, hooked her up with the likes of ace producers Ryan Tedder, Katy Perry, and Max Martin, and elicited a minor pop masterpiece. Excepting anything sung by Caleb Followill, I guarantee you didn’t hear a better tune than “Long Shot” — which pounds with as much pure energy as “Since U Been Gone,” only with a catchier chorus — all year long.


KEY TRACKS: “Long Shot” — “Ready” — “Tip of My Tongue”





Country radio remains halfway afraid of Lambert, a fact that she seems none too concerned with on her beautifully messy third album. The shattering lead single “Dead Flowers” was a brash I fucking DARE you to play this tune move — fear not, they didn’t — which cemented her status as Nashville’s gutsiest gambler, and the fact that she’s well on her way to becoming a superstar without their help makes her the town’s most marvelous maverick.


KEY TRACKS: You could literally throw all the song titles in a hat and pick three at random — I swear not a clunker in the bunch — but don’t miss
“The House That Built Me” — “Dead Flowers” — “Heart Like Mine”



5. TRAIN Save Me, San Francisco


Much like Clarkson above, Train had a lot of ground to make up in the wake of For Me, It’s You, their meek, meandering last record. Thirty seconds or so into song number one — the blisteringly brilliant title track, a rowdy, raucous ode to the band’s beloved home base — are all you need to hear to know they’re right back where they belong: creating terrific, radio-friendly fare that makes your soul soar. From Pat Monahan and company, a ballsy bullseye.


KEY TRACKS: “Save Me, San Francisco” — “Parachute” —
“Breakfast in Bed”





STILL TO COME: the best of the decade.


1 response to “2009’s finest albums:
a brandon’s buzz post-mortem”

  1. the buzz from A.:

    Before we begin, a true story: every year since I met Brandon, I have been privileged to listen to his take on the top songs and albums of the year; this tradition takes place along a multi-hour drive and is something of a mix of listening to multiple radio stations and books on tape, but all narrated by one remarkable host.

    Although you may be fortunate that you did not join us on this winter’s drive through the great and snowy, icy, and occasionally impassable state of Texas, you certainly missed a great review of this year’s best music. On the other hand, you do get this summary of the top ten albums of this year, and for the most part, Brandon got them right!

    Indeed, add my vote for Mat Kearney’s “City of Black and White” for top album of the year. As I wrote in my original Mat Kearney accolade in August, this album is excellent and sets a tough standard for 2010. Kudos also to Kelly Clarkson, Train, Whitney Houston, and Wynonna for delivering some of the year’s best albums — I’d put them in the top ten too.

    Our only point of vehement disagreement is on The Fray. Even after almost a whole year of listening to them (check out previous comments here and here), I am only a tiny bit closer to “getting” them — I may have warmed to “Never Say Never” but “You Found Me” continues to elude me…

    Here’s hoping that 2010 is musically great and that the Buzz continues to enlighten us about all the music that is coming forth!