No longer playing second fiddle to country and hip-hop (or would that be second turntable?), rock music once again seems vital and viable.
It's not that there weren't exceptional records released in other genres: Jay-Z is still working at a very high level, and the new Nashville traditionalists such as Jamey Johnson are doing interesting things. But broadly speaking, the year belonged to bands that gravitate toward a big back beat and electric guitar.
Here are my 10 favorite rock records from 2009:
MUSE -- THE RESISTANCE
This is not the prog-rock record that most critics (who clearly can't be trusted) tagged it as. Sure, there's an occasional lapse into progressive technique -- an odd time change here, a classical motif there -- but those are not the most compelling components. This is a surprisingly heavy and unabashedly tuneful affair that, despite the occasional homage to Queen, feels complete and original.
Part Bear -- Part Bear
I had no knowledge of this Athens, Ga.-based band before this CD crossed my desk. Now it gets pretty consistent spin. Here's a trio we could potentially see play Augusta. Muse -- probably not.
Phoenix -- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I think these sticky sweet hooks might be illegal in some states. Clearly not in France, though. It's a great record that manages to indulge in classic pop-rock styles without seeming indulgent, irrelevant or under the influences.
Neko Case -- Middle Cyclone
Neko Case has always been a hard one to classify. Is she a rock act? Perhaps. She certainly can bring that sense of urgency to a tune. How about country? Tougher, but there's a lot of high lonesome in that voice. In the end, it doesn't matter. She has made yet another beautiful record, full of rock and pop, soul and country. Incredible.
Mastodon -- Crack the Skye
My patience for proggy concept albums is minimal, at best. Still, I can't seem to get enough of this record. This band has an innate understanding of when heavy riffs should be augmented by the perfect hook, when the screwy time signature should be released in favor of a soaring middle eight. I'm still not sure what this record is about, but I know I love it.
Grizzly Bear -- Veckatimest
I found myself continuing to give this CD opportunities to impress, and, over time, it did. This is an incredibly subtle collection of tunes, and, like all the very best art, it continues to reveal and impress.
The Avett Brothers -- I and Love and You
A lot of fans were skeptical of the Avetts stepping into a studio with uber-producer Rick Rubin. I think it was absolutely the correct thing to do. This record finds the band's music cleaner while preserving the rough edges that make it interesting. This represents a real evolution for a band focused on remaining true to its roots. You have to love the dichotomy of it all.
Dinosaur Jr. -- Farm
I've loved this band, in theory, for years, but there was a significant drop in quality after the departure of Lou Barlow in the late 1980s. It took awhile to ramp it back up after his return a few years back. This, however, is the real deal -- a Dinosaur to be loved. Play it loud.
Arctic Monkeys -- Humbug
A surprisingly personal record from a band best known for its somewhat snotty (albeit still excellent) take on living the nightlife. This is what a band sounds like when it grows up. This is what a band sounds like when it discovers itself. This is what a band sounds like during that brief moment before it becomes very important. I can hardly wait to hear what's next.
Thee American Revolution -- Buddha Electrostorm
I've taken a small survey and discovered something -- nobody was listening to this record this year. That's a shame. Big, strong and solid, it manages to hit more rock sweet spots than any record in 2009. Heavy and hooky, retro and forward-thinking, it's the kind of album most bands think they are making when they deem it appropriate to crank, but very rarely are.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.