20. Litmus—Aurora (Rise Above) Space rituals for the information age. Review here.
19. Baroness—The Blue Record (Relapse) I’m not a production Nazi, but the snare sound on The Blue Record drives me nuts. Smack-smack-smack. Baroness are still a brilliant band, and The Blue Record shows them developing their songwriting and guitar harmonies to manic new heights. If Chuck (Stairway to Hell) Eddy is still obsessing over metal/disco fusion, he’d love this—it shakes and grooves like no other metal album this year. If only the backbeat didn’t grate on me so much...
18. Firebird—Grand Union (Rise Above) Bill Steer is still the coolest. Review here.
17. SUNN O)))—Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord) I bought Earth 2 ’round the year punk broke, so I didn’t see much point in getting into SUNN O))) when they droned to life in 1999. The press for Monoliths and Dimensions was so persuasive, however, that I went for it the day it was released. While I can take or leave Attila Csihar’s contributions, “Big Church,” with its choir arrangements (inspired by guest guitarist Dylan Carlson of Earth), and the majestically orchestrated “Alice” took drone to new and ingenious realms. The latter was one of the best pieces of music I heard all year.
16. Sonic Youth—The Eternal (Matador) A similar case to Clutch here: a band with a string of great albums through the 2000s (Murray Street especially), switching labels (retreating from Geffen to Matador), and dropping a non-core member (Jim O’Rourke, replaced by Mark Ibold). Like Clutch, Sonic Youth just did their thing in 2009. The Eternal took a while to warm up to, but I couldn't help but feel at home with those familiar Moore/Ranaldo guitar conversations and songs like “Antenna” and Ranaldo’s kick-ass “What We Know” that rang with confidence and artistry. Funny; I won’t run out for Rush or Neil Young every time, but I’ll do it for Sonic Youth, and never regret it.