(05) Raekwon, "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx ... Pt. II" (EMI)
In a year when hip-hop was dominated by Gucci Mane's prolific neanderthal swagger, Jay-Z's stadium-sized ego and the Drake/Kid Cudi combo's mopey, post-808s and Heartbreak emo rap, Raekwon shined brightest for the genre with a schizoid, down-and-dirty throwback to Wu-Tang's glory days. By all means, call it a comeback.
(04) The Lonely Island, "Incredibad" (Universal)
I don't remember who said it first, but there hasn't been this much consensus on a comedy album since the world's sixth graders unanimously approved Adam Sandler's "What the Hell Happened to Me?" (I haven't forgotten Flight of the Conchords, but Bret and Jemaine still seem like more of a niche interest compared to SNL-sponsored mega-hits like "Lunch Lady Land" and "Jizz in My Pants.") Still, this is a music list, and while Andy, Jorm and 'Kiv are some of the savviest pop parodists in history, they're also prodigiously adept at writing knockout tunes as backdrops for their punch lines. "I'm On a Boat" is intentionally obnoxious, but it's as much of an earworm as the unintentionally obnoxious "Crank That." The beat behind "Santana DVX" is one of hip-hop's sickest productions of the year. And don't even get me started on the synthetic glories of "Space Olympics."
(03) Animal Collective, "Merriweather Post Pavilion" (Domino)
It's not Animal Collective's best album ("Sung Tongs") or the group's most accessible ("Feels"). But "Merriweather Post Pavilion" synthesized the Brooklyn experimentalists' entire career into an electronic pop pleasure dome at once more mystical and more rooted in reality than anything they'd previously developed, cerebral and saccharine and plenty welcoming for the group's ever-expanding flock of fans. By the time the mist cleared for "Brothersport," listeners knew they'd experienced something monumental.
(02) Dirty Projectors, "Bitte Orca" (Domino)
With Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors made the jump from one of the world's most accessible avant-rock bands to one of its strangest pop acts. These nine songs are bubblegum at heart, but it's chewed up and twisted into intricate sculptures that defy categorization. Snaking riffs and brain-bending vocals set to unwieldy time signatures and African rhythms are not your average tools of the trade, but there's nothing average about these weirdos.
(01) Phoenix, "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" (Glassnote)
Phoenix provided the year's purest pop pleasure, never sacrificing their sophisticated ambitions but always putting populist thrills first. In 2009, no band was more fun and no album more satisfying.