The Best Albums of 2009

  • Publish Date: December 29, 2009
  • Comments: ↓ 35 user comments

Our top album of the year is from Animal Collective

High Scoring Albums by Year
2009 Merriweather Post Pavilion
by Animal Collective 89
2008 London Zoo by The Bug 90
2007 From Here We Go Sublime by The Field 90
2006 Savane by Ali Farka Toure 94
2005 Illinois by Sufjan Stevens 90

Will 2009 go down as the least memorable year in music of the past decade? Despite having many more albums to choose from (Metacritic scored 892 albums this year, up from 805 last year and well up from the 400-600 per year we averaged in earlier years), not a single qualifying new studio album achieved a score of 90 or above -- the first time in our 10-year history that has happened. And only six of the 100 highest-scoring albums of the past decade were released in 2009.

(Several live albums and compilations released in 2009 did surpass the 90 mark, but such releases are excluded from this article, which centers only on new studio albums.)

Having said that (sorry, Larry David), at least there's a chance you may have heard of our top-ranking album of 2009, which cannot always be said about our year-end high score lists. Animal Collective may not be a household name, but in indie music circles, their whimsical landmark Merriweather Post Pavilion actually qualifies as a high-profile release. With a Metascore of 89, it's our top album of 2009, and it's one that people could still be listening to in the years to come.

Later in this article, we'll look at the albums singled out by critics as the year's best. First, let's take a look at the best albums of the year (in Metacritic's database) as determined by their Metascores -- an average of all reviews given by those same critics at the time of each album's original release.

The 50 Best-Reviewed Albums of 2009
    Album Genre Metascore Users
1Merriweather Post Pavilion
by Animal Collective
While the Collective may still be a little too "out there" to seep into the collective consciousness, their amalgam of indie rock, twisted folk, and Beach Boys harmonies reached its finest expression yet in Merriweather Post Pavilion, an album that earned a 90 or higher from 19 of the 36 critics from whom we have a review.
2Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II
by Raekwon
The Wu-Tang member's long-delayed sequel to 1995's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx finally emerged in 2009, but it was worth the wait: it's the best-reviewed rap album of the year.
3Blue Record
by Baroness
Metal 889.1
A somewhat obscure hard rock band out of Georgia, Baroness impressed enough critics with this sophomore release to place third on our list.
4Monoliths & Dimensions
by Sunn O)))
The veteran drone metal duo Sunn O))) returned in 2009 with an avant garde 4-song album both intricate and epic. And loud.
5American Saturday Night
by Brad Paisley
Both critically acclaimed and designed for maximum commercial appeal, Night is also our highest-ranked country album of 2009.
6Welcome To Mali
by Amadou & Mariam
This married African couple reached a worldwide audience with their 2005 breakthrough Dimanche À Bamako, and their follow-up has proved to be equally well-received by critics.
by The Antlers
The first full-length from the Brooklyn five-piece as a full band (rather than as a Peter Silberman solo project) is this highly personal concept album about losing a loved one to cancer.
by Grizzly Bear
Fresh from opening for Radiohead, Grizzly Bear returned to the studio and emerged with their best-received (and probably their most accessible) album to date, although it didn't quite achieve the heights of the similarly collage-y Animal Collective release.
9Wind's Poem
by Mount Eerie
One of several solo projects for Washington state artist Phil Elverum, Mount Eerie echoes at times the same mysterious Northwestern vibe heard on the Twin Peaks soundtrack on this, its best-reviewed release to date.
10Journal For Plague Lovers
by Manic Street Preachers
The Steve Albini-produced Journal is intended by the radical Welsh band as a sequel to their third and best album, 1994's The Holy Bible.
11Bitte Orca
by Dirty Projectors
One of a number of acclaimed 2009 albums (see also: Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, et al) that veer toward the experimental end of indie rock, Bitte Orca may be the most genre-bending and strange of them all.
by Miranda Lambert
The mainstream country star's third album managed to match the stellar Metascore of its predecessor, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
13Axe To Fall
by Converge
The Massachusetts metalcore band returned in '09 with perhaps their best album since their career-defining 2001 effort Jane Doe.
by Maxwell
The top R&B album on our Best of 2009 chart, BLACKsummers'night is Maxwell's first release in eight years. But there will be more soon; it's the first disc in a planned trilogy.
15Yonder Is The Clock
by The Felice Brothers
The New York state folk/Americana band won over critics with their sense of playfulness on this fourth release.
16Electric Dirt
by Levon Helm
Roots Rock848.6
A former member of The Band, the 69-year-old Helm has experienced a career resurgence after a bout with throat cancer, following 2007's Dirt Farmer with this more plugged-in solo effort.
17Imidiwan: Companions
by Tinariwen
The 30-year-old band from Mali released just their fourth album in 2009, a disc that once again highlighted their mastery of African blues.
18Dark Days/Light Years
by Super Furry Animals
Indie/Alternative84 8.0
Dark Days is just another in a string of critically-acclaimed albums for the Welsh outfit fronted by Gruff Rhys.
19Heavy Ghost
by DM Stith
The Indiana singer-songwriter might be one of the least-known artists on this list, but critics knew that this debut album was a success.
by The xx
It's rare enough to find an album that echoes Young Marble Giants in its sophisticated and moody minimalism, let alone one that is a debut from a band as young as London's The xx.
21Bonfires On The Heath
by The Clientele
One of the most consistent bands of the past decade, England's The Clientele equaled their high Metascore with this fourth studio album of melancholic, '60s-influenced indie rock.
22UGK 4 Life
by UGK
The rap duo's seventh and final album was partially recorded before the death of member Pimp C, and serves as a fitting tribute rather than an exploitative cash-in.
23Two Dancers
by Wild Beasts
While the vocals might be an acquired taste for some, this second album from the dynamic English band sounded great to most critics.
24The Excitement Plan
by Todd Snider
Alt-Country83 9.0
Don Was produced this latest release from the alt-country singer-songwriter known for his storytelling skills and sense of humor.
by Japandroids
The Canadian duo made their full-length debut with this blast of fuzzy, sludgy indie punk rock.
by Brother Ali
Rap83 9.0
This fourth album of thought-provoking rap from the Minnesota-based Brother Ali was produced by Atmosphere's Ant.
27The Bright Mississippi
by Allen Toussaint
This mostly instrumental set from the legendary New Orleans musician was produced by Joe Henry.
28Between My Head and the Sky
by Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band
As The Observer wrote in September, Sky -- recorded in part with Japan's Cornelius -- was "easily the best LP to be released by a 76-year-old this month." Of course, it was also the worst.
29 BlaQKout
by DJ Quik & Kurupt
Blaqkout is the first full-length collaboration between former Dogg Pound member Kurupt and Compton hip-hop producer DJ Quik.
30Tarot Sport
by Fuck Buttons
Electronic 837.9
Andrew Weatherall produced this second release for the Bristol, England-based Fuck Buttons, who take an electronic approach to post-rock.
by Mountains
One of countless Brooklyn-based artists appearing on this chart (and we say "countless" only because we are too lazy to tally them), Mountains moved critics with their third album of indie drone.
32Love vs Money
by The-Dream
Singer-songwriter Terius Youngdell Nash managed to take time out from his successful career as a producer to record his second album, which also placed second among all R&B albums on Metacritic in '09.
33The List
by Rosanne Cash
Country83 10.0
Cash drew on a list of essential American songs given to her by her father (the late Johnny Cash) for this covers album, which includes collaborations with Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen.
by Zu
The Italian trio's 2009 album is the rare metal release to draw comparisons to avant-garde composer John Zorn.
35East Of Eden
by Taken By Trees
Indie/Alternative83 9.0
Eden, the second solo release for former Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman, incorporates musical influences from the country where it was recorded: Pakistan.
by Nosaj Thing
Electronic/Rap83 9.0
Los Angeles-based instrumental hip-hop artist Jason Chung drew positive notices for this debut release.
by Mirah
The sophisticated fourth album for the Portland, Ore.-based singer-songwriter was co-produced by Phil Elverum, who was also responsible for entry #9 on this list.
38Crack The Skye
by Mastodon
An 82 is nothing to be ashamed of, but subtract a few mediocre reviews and this blistering metal album soars even higher.
39The Glass Bead Game
by James Blackshaw
A talented 12-string guitarist, the London-based Blackshaw also showcases his piano skills on Game, the rare folk album to include 18-minute songs.
40Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
by Phoenix
If you've watched TV at all in the past year, you've heard bits of at least one track (and likely more) from this unbelievably catchy fourth album from the French band.
41Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
by Bill Callahan
Now recording under his own name rather than as Smog, Callahan soared to one of his highest Metascores with Eagle, although some critics disliked portions of the disc.
by Atlas Sound
A side project for Deerhunter leader Bradford Cox, Atlas Sound wavers between experimental and accessible -- and usually toward the former, except when Animal Collective's Noah Lennox and Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier lend a hand.
43Earthly Delights
by Lightning Bolt
Indie/Alternative82 7.0
The abrasive experimental rock duo from Rhode Island expand their sound -- to a degree -- on this fifth release, but it's still not for everyone.
44King Of Jeans
by Pissed Jeans
The third album for the Pennsylvania hardcore punk band is both heavy and humorous.
by Steve Earle
The veteran guitarist -- always a favorite of critics -- returned in 2009 with an album of Townes Van Zandt covers.
46Midnight At The Movies
by Justin Townes Earle
Country82 9.0
Like father, like son: Earle follows his dad on our chart with his own 2009 release, a set of Americana tunes that proved equally popular with critics.
47It's Blitz
by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
A departure for the Karen O-fronted band, It's Blitz ditched the guitar-driven sound of previous efforts -- to an extent -- in favor of a surprisingly effective synth-pop groove.
48Primary Colours
by The Horrors
The English band surprised critics by following up their unremarkable debut Strange House with this quantum leap forward in songwriting and sound -- one of our favorites of 2009.
49Written In Chalk
by Buddy & Julie Miller
The married duo's first album together since 2001 featured a number of all-star guests, including Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris.
50Fever Ray
by Fever Ray
The Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson followed that band's acclaimed 2006 release Silent Shout with this, her equally chilly solo debut.

Albums released between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009 and having 7 or more reviews in Metacritic's database were eligible for the above list. Reissues, EPs, live albums, holiday albums, greatest hits albums, multi-artist soundtracks, and other compilations are excluded. All Metascore data is from December 28, 2009. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). User scores represent an average of scores assigned by site visitors, from 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

Next, we have a few more of the year's best albums, listed by category and genre. Note that when it comes to genres, some (e.g., indie/alternative) are covered on Metacritic with much greater frequency than others (e.g., jazz).

High-Scoring 2009 Releases by Category
Category Top Album Metascore
January Release Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective 89
February Release Choral by Mountains 83
March Release Welcome To Mali by Amadou & Mariam 86
April Release Yonder Is The Clock by The Felice Brothers 84
May Release Monoliths & Dimensions by Sunn O))) 88
June Release American Saturday Night by Brad Paisley 86
July Release BLACKsummers'night by Maxwell 85
August Release Hospice by The Antlers 86
September Release Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II by Raekwon 88
October Release Blue Record by Baroness 88
November Release World Painted Blood by Slayer 80
December Release The Element of Freedom by Alicia Keys 71
Debut Album Hospice by The Antlers* 86
Live Album The Live Anthology by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 94
Compilation/Box Set Keep an Eye on the Sky by Big Star 96
Indie/Alternative Album Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective 89
Rap Album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II by Raekwon 88
Electronic/Dance Album Tarot Sport by Fuck Buttons 83
Pop/R&B Album BLACKsummers'night by Maxwell 85
Country Album American Saturday Night by Brad Paisley 86
Metal Album Blue Record by Baroness 88
Jazz Album The Bright Mississippi by Allen Toussaint 83
World Music Album Welcome To Mali by Amadou & Mariam 86

* Several solo albums have previously come under the Antlers name, but this is their first full-length release after becoming a full band.

On Metacritic, we consider "great" albums -- those we label as having "universal acclaim" from critics -- to be those with a Metascore of 81 or greater. In 2009, a total of 63 out of 667 qualifying albums (studio recordings with seven or more reviews), or 9.4%, could be considered "great" in this way. How were these highest-scoring albums distributed throughout the year? Mainly in the spring and fall, it appears:

Great Albums (Metascore ≥ 81) by Month of Release, 2009

More Collective thinking: A roundup of music critic top ten lists

While the music critics collectively determined Animal Collective to have the top album of the year at the time of its release, where did Merriweather Post Pavilion rate at the end of the year? To find out, we have tallied each publication's Best of 2009 lists to determine the albums appearing most frequently in the Top 10 (and those most frequently crowned the best album of the year). We have even expanded our usual selection of publications to include several magazines, websites, and newspapers whose reviews don't normally appear on our pages.

Note that the list below is not weighted or scored in any way; albums are simply ranked by the frequency with which they appear in critic Top 10 lists, in any position on those lists. (The number of times they appear in the #1 position is indicated as a convenience.) A full list of publications used -- with links to many of the individual lists -- appears beneath the table.

View a full listing of each publication's Top 10 lists in Metacritic's Music section.

Albums with Most Mentions in Critic Top 10 Lists, 2009
  Album # 1's Top Ten Lists Metascore
1 Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective 16 32 89
2 Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear 2 26 85
3 Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix 3 25 82
4 It's Blitz by Yeah Yeah Yeahs 0 19 82
5 Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors 0 18 85
6 Middle Cyclone by Neko Case 2 15 79
7 xx by The xx 1 10 84
8 Embryonic by The Flaming Lips 0 8 79
8 Fever Ray by Fever Ray 0 8 81
8 Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II by Raekwon 1 8 88
8 Two Dancers by Wild Beasts 1 8 83
12 Tarot Sport by Fuck Buttons 0 7 83
13 I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers 3 6 77
13 Lungs by Florence and The Machine 0 6 79
13 Post-Nothing by Japandroids 0 6 83
13 Two Suns by Bat For Lashes 0 6 76
17 Actor by St. Vincent 1 5 81
17 Album by Girls 0 5 79
17 Primary Colours by The Horrors 1 5 82
17 The Blueprint 3 by Jay-Z 1 5 65
17 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart 0 5 76
17 Wilco (The Album) by Wilco 0 5 76
23 American Saturday Night by Brad Paisley 2 4 86
23 BLACKsummers'night by Maxwell 2 4 85
23 Hospice by The Antlers 0 4 86
23 Logos by Atlas Sound 0 4 82
23 My Maudlin Career by Camera Obscura 0 4 80
23 No Line on the Horizon by U2 1 4 72
23 The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists 0 4 74
30 21st Century Breakdown by Green Day 0 3 70
30 brand new eyes by Paramore 0 3 73
30 Crack The Skye by Mastodon 0 3 82
30 Love vs Money by The-Dream 0 3 83
30 Manners by Passion Pit 0 3 76
30 Rated R by Rihanna 0 3 76
30 Revolution by Miranda Lambert 0 3 85
Other albums receiving at least one #1 ranking:
  Because I Was In Love by Sharon Van Etten 1 1 xx
  Fortress Around My Heart by Ida Maria 1 2 74
  Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age by Broadcast And The Focus Group 1 1 74
  So Far Gone by Drake 1 2 xx
  Toeachizown by Dam-Funk 1 1 xx
  Travail, Transformation and Flow by Steve Lehman Octet 1 1 xx
  West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum by Kasabian 1 1 68

The 44 individual Best of 2009 lists used to compile the above data were from (with their #1 picks in parentheses):

You can view the top 10 picks from most of these sources in Metacritic Music. Of course, we've only scratched the surface; for a far more complete list of links to lists, here is a link to a list of links to lists: Largehearted Boy. And, over at Acclaimed Music, Excel fans can even download a spreadsheet with rankings from dozens of publications.

What are your favorites?

What are your picks for the best albums of 2009? Let us know in the comments section below, or join the discussion in our forums.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (35)

  • Benneton  

    Thank you very much for this service. This is a fantastic compilation of lists.

  • Lance  

    Uh, where the hell is Between the Buried and Me's THE GREAT MISDIRECT? it easily would have been scored over 90%

  • juss fly  

    thanks "your mom" for the good laugh
    you represent a large faction of the world that must to be spoon fed your music and movies and make next to no effort to find great art -- because you have no idea what it really is
    just stay on that side of the fence -- it is no doubt where you belong. it is your home, so to speak.
    funniest thing i have read in a bit! thanks again

  • Jonno  

    I think the Frankmusik album "Complete Me" was one of the highlights of 2009...

  • Your Mom  

    All of that "music" sucks and is not even real music. I LOVE music and listen to all kinds and have a huge music library but I have never heard of any of those so-called artists on this list so what does that say... There is not enough pop, and electronic music on this list. Metacritic is absolutely wrong, The best releases of 2009 are from artists like Lady Gaga, Basshunter, Cascada, Britney Spears, Colbie Caillat, Akon, La Roux, Hey Monday, Green Day, The Veronicas, OneRepublic, Jessica Jarrell, Taylor Swift, Ameerah, Paul Van Dykand, Rhianna, Tokio Hotel, We The Kings, Beyoncé, Jason Nevins, P!nk and so many many more... Independent artist suck. It is only real music if it come from an artist who is signed to a major label just like how low budget independent movies are not real movies. I seem to be the only one who knows good music, I am so awesome and you all suck.

  • Top Albums of 2009:  

    [...] one month in.  And when all was said and done for 2009, Merriweather Post Pavilion reigned as the best reviewed studio album of the year according to Metacritic.  So 9 albums in, what is it that sets this AC release apart [...]

  • Mike Skip  

    The albums by Animal Collective, Baroness, Sunn o))), Pissed Jeans, Mastodon, Zu, Phoenix, Lightning Bolt, Grizzly Bear, Converge were all fantastic. Glad to see most critics and fans felt the same way.

  • Brandon  

    The Incident by Porcupine Tree was amazing. I'm very surprised it didn't make this list. It's my favorite album in years.

  • Metacritic’s B  

    [...] Metacritic Best Music of 2009 Posted by kmartini at 11:17 am [...]

  • Geoff  

    Surprised to see few if any mentions of Cage the Elephant's debut. Really like that album.

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