Thursday, December 24, 2009

Best of 2009: Honorable Mentions

I've listened to more music this year than any other by far, so making a top 50 list was an especially difficult and time-consuming process, though it was certainly rewarding as well. But before I change it again, I think it's time to start presenting my favorite records of 2009. The following are 11 albums that I feel deserve mention this year but fell just outside my top 50, some getting bumped quite late in the process. I just couldn't let them go without a mention on the blog, so, in alphabetical order, here we go:

Akron/Family - Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free

Down one of their four original members, Akron/Family still managed to create one of their best records this year with Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free. Shifting between melodic folk tunes and explosive bursts of weirdness, the band both continued their evolution into new territory and made us remember why we loved them in the first place. Despite it being somewhat uneven, this record from one of the freak-folk genre's mainstays has been one I've returned to frequently. (MySpace)

Apse - Climb Up

In only a few years, Apse has undergone a serious transformation, and Climb Up is hard evidence that said transition has been in a decidedly upward direction. The record is a more cohesive and structured effort than their last, a set of psychedelically-inclined indie tunes filled with spacey guitar riffs, haunting high vocals, and dark lyrics that fit the musical setting perfectly. Climb Up may take a few spins to fully reveal itself, but the time spent is richly rewarded in the end. (MySpace)

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

I know I'm in the minority here, but Arctic Monkeys' latest, Humbug, is my favorite album from the English group previously known primarily for their sharp wit and danceable post-punk rock. With their latest effort, the quartet's drum/guitar/bass attack is made heavier and denser than before, with a tempo well-below the band's usual. Though this would seem to play against some of the band's strengths, the results - whether heavy rock tune or stirring ballad - are frequently amazing. (MySpace)

The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You

I was first introduced to The Avett Brothers with their 2007 release, Emotionalism, a rough, endearing folk-rock album that quickly made me a fan of brothers Scott and Seth and company. I and Love and You didn't hit me in quite the same way as its predecessor, but its sincere and mostly introspective lyricism and engaging melodies make for a worthy addition to their catalog - one that should do wonders to increase the general awareness of a band that deserves more attention than they've been given. (MySpace)

Dead Man's Bones - Dead Man's Bones

Ryan Gosling (yes, THAT Ryan Gosling) and friend Zach Shields created perhaps the most adventurous and interesting album ever to feature a popular movie star (the competition, admittedly is slight), but Dead Man's Bones is more than just a novelty. The record is appropriately titled for its dark, haunted musical and lyrical themes, with Gosling and Shields covering most all the instrumentation (Gosling even taught himself cello for one track) and sharing vocal duties with a children's choir. Weird, beautiful, and very impressive. (MySpace)

Florence + The Machine - Lungs

English newcomer Florence Welch and her revolving cast of supporters created more than a little noise overseas, though their debut album, Lungs, didn't have much of an impact here. Known for its obnoxious first single, "Kiss With a Fist," the record actually has a great deal more to offer - soaring epics, intimate ballads, and an inventive outlook that makes the entire album a continuous adventure. It's a little Bat for Lashes, a little Lily Allen, but mostly its a fantastic introduction to an exciting new talent. (MySpace)

Ganglians - Monster Head Room

Monster Head Room's noisy psychedelic nature wasn't immediately attractive to me, but Ganglians' debut won me over with its playful and exploratory nature that resulted in songs that are well-crafted and enjoyably strange but rarely heavy-handed or dramatic. The album ranges from meandering, outlandish rock tunes to eerie folk songs with a little of everything in between, yet somehow Ganglians manage to pull it all together in one cohesive and captivating whole. (MySpace)

Lissie - Why You Runnin' (EP)

Midwestern songstress Lissie made a great first impression with her debut EP, Why You Runnin', sounding like a cross between late-period Joan Baez and Stevie Nicks with her strong, emotional voice and rough folk style. I always have a difficult time holding EPs in as high esteem as LPs when it comes to the year's best kind of lists, but this 20 minutes record is absolutely stellar. Look out for Lissie in the near future, I imagine we'll be hearing much more about and from her.(MySpace)

Everywhere I Go (MP3)

Pomegranates - Everybody, Come Outside!

This is one album I think has been woefully underrated this year. Pomegranates' latest, Everybody, Come Outside! is a joyously upbeat pop record with an experimental streak that sets them apart from their peers. With twisty guitar riffs, insistent percussion, and big choruses, the music Pomegranates create is comprised of many familiar elements but constructed in a way that is often unexpected and truly unique. People have been sleeping on this one for months, but it deserves better. (MySpace)

The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns

Another criminally overlooked band this year is The Rural Alberta Advantage, who released a very strong debut (falling just outside my top debuts of 2009 list) of Americana-intensive pop music that received only moderate attention from the critical community. The Canadian indie-rockers' earnest instrumental presentation and sincere, personal lyrics give this record a certain appeal so often missing from bands attempting a similar musical approach - making this one to hear from 2009. (MySpace)

Don't Haunt This Place

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down - Know Better Learn Faster

Thao and her two-man crew, The Get Down Stay Down, made serious progress on their latest LP, Know Better Learn Faster. The familiar elements, including Thao's signature vox and impressive guitar work, are enhanced by a more adventurous stylistic approach and songs that simply hold up better both in the context of the album and alone. It may be a break-up album, but Thao has created one of the most fun rock records of the year with Know Better Learn Faster. (MySpace)

Alright, look for more of this year's greatest soon!