Best Albums 2009 (11-15)

15. Shakira – She Wolf

Clocking in at barely more than a half hour (Spanish-lyric versions, label add-ons and all), Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s favorite pop star scales back her pretensions so drastically I worry that she’s come to accept that polyglot dance-pop won’t change the world after all. Whether insisting that lycanthropy is no laughing matter or grudgingly accepting that California ain’t for her, she’s getting in touch with her inner timidity. But just because she’s feeling her age more than a thirty-two year-old bombshell should doesn’t mean she feels it any more than her less-famous female contemporaries do – in fact, that’s kind of the point. Anyone who can score four great tracks from the Neptunes in 2009 must know what she’s doing.

14. Yonlu — A Society in Which No Tear Is Shed Is Inconceivably Mediocre

If Elliott Smith had been a sad Brazilian kid, he might have sounded something like Vinicius Gageiro Marques. But while Yonlu shared Smith’s becalmed vocal chill, he thankfully lacked the petulant undertow. For indie-rock depressives (and, more importantly, their non-clinical admirers) who get off on the supposed beauty of sadness, the clincher is Marques’ creepy back story—he not only threatened suicide online, he followed through. But though Yonlu relished his sensitivity, but he didn’t wallow in his despair, and he knew how to talk sense to his fellow sufferers: “Katie don’t be depressed/ Seriously I mean what the fuck.”

13. A Place to Bury Strangers — Exploding Head

Oliver Ackermann, the founder of effects-pedal design firm Death by Audio, is noise-rock’s answer to Tom Scholz. Shoegaze comparisons may be inevitable, given the surface clamor and structural undergirding, but they’re off the mark – Ackermann has no interest in either the girl-group prettiness of JAMC or the Pre-Raphaelite preciousness of MBV. The sound here is bigger and uglier than on the band’s self-titled debut, but the songwriting is also more streamlined, which very much disturbs fans of perpetual disorder. But any clod can mimic chaos. Crafting a discrete art object and then splattering its contents all over your speakers—that takes skill. I mean, what part of “exploding head” don’t you understand?

12. Doom — Born Like This

As though his metal-masked supervillain persona wasn’t concept enough, Doom couldn’t resist piling on aliases and gimmicks throughout his comeback decade. But while the Madlib collab Madvillainy focused him, the Adult Swim tie-in The Mask and the Mouse diluted colorful interactions with suitable sidekick Danger Mouse by ceding so much time to lesser comics, and the Victor Vaughn discs, apparently designed to prove his illimitability, were too slight by half. After a four-year hiatus, though, his word power felt as pent-up as it had when he first returned in ’99; it hardly matters whether he flows over his own recycled beats of vault material from Dilla and Madlib. Not the “real” Doom, maybe, whatever that means, but the uncut shit, for sure.

11. PJ Harvey & John Parish — A Woman a Man Walked By

Not a “real” PJ Harvey album, if you insist–and maybe, by delegating the music to longtime collaborator Parish, Harvey intended to agree with you. But though Uh Huh Her reassured goth grownups she wouldn’t be happy forever and the drab White Chalk mysteriously beguiled fans of quiet piano, this side project sounds less minor than the supposedly major efforts that followed Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. For someone who values Harvey foremost as a performer, the screeches, bellows, wails and other vocal effects she hauls out of her old bag of domina-tricks are welcome reminders that what she had to say was always less important than how she said it.

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