Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009: 10 - 1

The best of the best albums released this year in my humble by usually correct opinion:

10: Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

Veckatimest is the second great album by Grizzly Bear and - in some ways - a more ambitious work than its predecessor (though it's difficult to say which is really better). With its detailed arrangements, mind-blowing vocal harmony and just exceptional songwriting, Veckatimest is a truly accomplished album.


9: Wildbirds & Peacedrums - The Snake

There's a certain primal element to the music of husband and wife duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums that isn't capture often in music. Their limited palette of drums and vocals (mostly) is striking, and somehow never feels lacking or bare on The Snake, which is a uniquely fantastic record. (More from me)

There Is No Light (MP3)


8: Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer

Dragonslayer is Sunset Rubdown's most epic statement yet, an indie rock album made in the fashion of late 80s metal records - eight songs totaling 48 minutes of grandiosity and excess. Yet somehow it doesn't seem too over-the-top or dramatic, it's just a thoroughly compelling experience. (More from me)

Idiot Heart (MP3 via Pitchfork)


7: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz

A divisive record among fans of the band, Yeah Yeah Yeahs' It's Blitz is, to me, their most accomplished record yet, despite the very different approach used here. Instead of jagged guitar lines and yelping, we mostly get a mixture of synths and beautiful melodies - I'll take it. (More from me)


6: Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

Another band that broke out in a big way this year is Dirty Projectors, who had previously existed more on the fringe before vaulting themselves into the indie spotlight with tunes like "Stillness is the Move." Bitte Orca finds just the right balance between the group's avant-garde style and pop accessibility.

Solange Knowles' cover of "Stillness is the Move" (via Stereogum)


5: P.O.S. - Never Better

Stefon Alexander (P.O.S.) hasn't really made a rap-rock album with Never Better, he just bleeds a punk attitude into his stellar rhymes and organic beats. He's ferocious yet positive, abrasive yet approachable, disgusted at the current state of affairs but hopeful for a better future. Simply amazing. (More from me)


4: St. Vincent - Actor

Annie Clark, a former Polyphonic Spree member, has made serious headway with her sophomore solo effort, Actor. The arrangements are strange, but entrancing, and her lovely voice adds a layer of mystique to the music that begs for repeated and careful listens. It's a wholly absorbing and beautiful album. (More from me)


3: The Antlers - Hospice

I just kept coming back to Hospice, the latest from indie newcomers The Antlers, coming away each time feeling more affected by the experience than the last. From the opening wash of "Prologue" to the echoed refrain of "Epilogue," it is a haunting and emotionally rich listen unlike any other.


2: DM Stith - Heavy Ghost

It's difficult for me to overstate how much I love this album. DM Stith's debut, Heavy Ghost, sounds like nothing I've heard before. It's dark and moody, yet expressive and full of life - and full of remarkable musicianship from a guy I hope to hear much more from in the future. (More from me)

Pity Dance (MP3 via Asthmatic Kitty, upper right corner)


1: Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

I'm kinda tired of writing about Animal Collective, but they deserve all the praise they've received for this truly special album and their great EP, Fall Be Kind, which came out late this year. Released in January, the LP remains the best of this year and one of my favorite of the decade. (More from me)

@In Review Online: While We Were Sleeping

Because our modestly sized staff can't get to everything noteworthy during the year, we've posted a feature over at In Review Online that covers a selection of records we missed over this year with our thoughts on each - briefly. I did a good chunk of the writing on this one, especially on a bunch of albums by emerging artists out of the U.K. (La Roux, Florence + The Machine, Biffy Clyro, etc) that don't get nearly as much attention in the States. So check out the feature and enjoy!

Full Article

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009: 20 - 11

More great albums!

20: Fanfarlo - Reservoir

Newcomers Fanfarlo are off to a very hot start with Reservoir, an epic indie-rock album that I think was criminally overlooked this year by most everyone. Between the strings, the horns, and the anthematic choruses, it's about impossible to find something to dislike in the well-crafted songs on their debut. (More from me)

Mp3s via Obscure Sound


19: Sissy Wish - Beauties Never Die

Norwegian singer Siri Ã…lberg, or Sissy Wish, is another of those artists I feel has been criminally overlooked in 2009. Beauties Never Die showcases her inventive pop style, covering a variety of territory over ten tracks that add up to one of the best pure pop records released this year. (More from me)


18: Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains

Though sometimes reminiscent of groups like Pavement and Built to Spill, Cymbals Eat Guitars have established their own remarkable identity on their debut, Why There Are Mountains. It's an indie rock record like they used to make 'em, but with a decidedly modern twist - and it's great. (More from me)


17: Romona Falls - Intuit

I didn't hear this until late in the year, but Intuit, the first effort from Ramona Falls (the side project from Menomena member Brent Knopf) is an absolute stunner. The exquisite arrangements and spectacular melodies show Knopf has plenty to offer both with and without his bandmates.


16: Miranda Lambert - Revolution

So I'm not typically much of a country fan, but it's impossible to deny that Miranda Lambert's Revolution is anything but an outstanding record. Her gorgeous voice and strong songwriting makes this 15-track sprawl of her latest work (and work very well) in all its excess and eclecticism.


15: fun. - Aim and Ignite

Ex-Format member Nate Ruess' new band is one I suspected I'd like just fine, but I'm now certain that Aim and Ignite is the best work Ruess has yet done. The orchestral indie music comprising this debut more than lives up to the goofy band name, with ten unabashedly sunny pop tunes. (More from me)


14: Will Stratton - No Wonder

Singer/songwriter Will Stratton has released his second great album in a row at the age of only 22, establishing himself as a genuine and bright new talent. His writing is superb, his delivery mature and poised, and his musical talent quite apparent on the beautiful No Wonder (More from me)

Who Will (MP3)


13: Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

I still think I prefer Phoenix's previous effort, It's Never Been Like That, but the many strengths of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix makes that difficult to say definitively. Besides sporting a couple of this year's biggest singles, the entire album fits together smoothly for one great pop-rock record. (More from me)


12: Mos Def - The Ecstatic

Mos Def's The Ecstatic is a wealth of ideas and styles, but in many ways it seems to be without many distractions, a pure rap album with a clear sense of purpose. Sure it has 16 tracks, but it's still lean, mean and wholly absorbing - a near masterpiece as far as I'm concerned.


11: Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

Neko Case has been so solid this decade, and Middle Cyclone is yet another example of her genuine talent and inimitable style. With an impressive supporting cast, Case offers a varied and consistently enthralling set of folk-r0ck tunes that compare well with her best work. (More from me)


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best of 2009: 30 - 21

Numbers 30-31 of my favorite/the best albums of the year - enjoy!

30: Deastro - Moondagger

Randolph Chabot, the man behind Deastro, is a sci-fi nerd with a love of synthetic-meets-organic electropop music. His debut, Moondagger, is such an excellent album because he takes all his quirks and uses them to create tunes that are unique, heartfelt, and very, very cool. (More from me)


29: Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

Andrew Bird didn't make his best album with Noble Beast, but it may be his most adventurous effort and ultimately, it's a very rewarding experience. It's a sprawling record that has goes in many different directions, and the results are - more often than not - wonderful. (More from me)


28: Tiny Vipers - Life on Earth

Songwriter Jesy Fortino's moniker, Tiny Vipers, may seem like a strange title at first glance, yet her meandering, delicate songs somehow fit such a name. Life on Earth is an emotionally powerful folk album that will certainly be a little sparse for some tastes, but for me it's truly captivating. (More from me)

Dreamer (MP3)


27: Rock Central Plaza - ...At the Moment of Our Most Needing

Rock Central Plaza frontman Chris Eaton is really more of a storyteller than he is a a vocalist, but his roughly sung lyrics find a place in the often ornate yet gritty arrangements of his bandmates, and the result on their latest record is superb. An excellent and unfortunately overlooked folk album. (More from me)

(Don't You Believe the Words of) Handsome Men


26: The Thermals - Now We Can See

The fourth Thermals record is perhaps their most melodic and "pop" effort, but despite a little more introspection and less political commentary, they still know how to make a fantastic punk album. Now We Can See is my favorite from the Portland natives. (More from me)


25: Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid

Dan Auerbach made a great album with Patrick Carney as The Black Keys in 2008, then turned around and made another amazing rock record under his own name this year. Of course it kinda sounds like a Black Keys album some of the time, but the breadth of styles here makes this Auerbach's own. (More from me)


24: Rubik - Dada Bandits

Finnish indie-rockers Rubik were one of this year's best surprises for me. Their sophomore effort, Dada Bandits, is an experimentally-minded pop album that came - seemingly - out of nowhere, thrilling me upon first listen and just getting better the more time I spent with it. (More from me)



23: Atlas Sound - Logos

Logos is a great deal more expansive and compelling than its predecessor and just fantastic overall record, making Bradford Cox's Atlas Sound project the most interesting thing he's yet done (an opinion I know not everyone shares). Also, "Walkabout," with Noah Lennox, is one of this year's best tracks. (More from me)

Deerhunter/Atlas Sound homepage

22: Megafaun - Gather, Form and Fly

Megafaun - the group who used to record with Justin Vernon under the title DeYarmond Edison - have let everyone know that they're doing just fine without their former frontman, thank you very much. Gather, Form and Fly is a striking folk record with an intriguingly experimental edge that deserves every ounce of praise it has received. (More from me)

Kaufman's Ballad (MP3)


21: Memory Tapes - Seek Magic

Dayve Hawk's Memory Tapes project finally saw a debut album, Seek Magic, released this year, and what a first effort it is - a beautifully crafted electronica album full of twists, turns, and just generally spectacular music. Not only one of the year's best debuts, but one of the year's more notable albums. (More from me)

Band Blog (with free tunes)


Best of 2009: 40 - 31

Continuing the list of the best (read: my favorite) albums of the year:

40: Delorean - Ayrton Senna (EP)

Spanish dance-rockers Delorean are another group I don't know much about, but this EP, Ayrton Senna, is fantastic. Smooth beats, shimmering guitars, and more hooks than you can count make this an easy choice for this list despite its fairly brief length. (More from me)

Seasun (MP3 via Pitchfork)

39: Visqueen - Message to Garcia

I found out about this album fairly late in the year, but I immediately fell in love with frontwoman Rachel Flotard and company. Visqueen makes big, crunchy guitar rock that spans the past couple decades yet feels fresh despite its familiarity. Put simply, Message to Garcia is an absolute blast.


38: The Lonely Forest - We Sing the Body Electric

This is an album that has continually grown on me throughout the year. We Sing the Body Electric is, in some ways, a throwback to 90s alt-rock, but The Lonely Forest provide plenty of their own personalty over the course of 15 eclectic and energetic tunes. (More From Me)

We Sing in Time (MP3)


37: Mirah - (A)Spera

Mirah's (A)spera impressed me upon first listen, but nearly got lost in the shuffle for me this year. Luckily, I managed to spend some more time with it later on and remembered immediately why I loved it; beautiful vocals, exquisite arrangements, and fine lyricism. A wonderful record. (More from me)


36: Joshua James - Build Me This

Joshua James isn't exactly a local boy, but he did spend quite a bit of time here in Utah while growing his career. He's an amazing performer and gifted songwriter, and on Build Me This, he raises the bar set by his debut with 13 emotionally-charged folk-rock tunes. (More from me)

Magazine (MP3)


35: Mount Eerie - Wind's Poem

Ever the adventurous type, Phil Elverum's newest project, Mount Eerie, is perhaps his most ambitious and startling yet. Wind's Poem is something like a metal-folk album, with dense drones and thunderous bouts of noise blended in with more acoustic guitar interludes for a unique and truly compelling experience.

MySpace (I think)

34: Polvo - In Prism

Though 12 years separates In Prism from its predecessor, you wouldn't know it just by hearing the record. Polvo sounds invigorated and inspired, crafting a very strong set of nine rock tracks that should be a delight for both longtime fans and newcomers alike. Would that all comeback albums were this great.


33: Roman Candle - Oh Tall Tree In The Ear

Roman Candle's Oh Tall Tree In The Ear is a simple and even modest records in many respects, but the songwriting here is anything but ordinary. The band's earnest brand of pop-rock is straightforward and mostly gimmick-free, with lyrics that provide the assurance that great storytelling can still be found in rock 'n' roll.


32: The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come

Josh Darnielle maintains his status as one of indie rock's greatest songwriters on the Bible and faith-based The Life of the World to Come. It's a more mellow record (often, anyway) than most of his previous efforts, but it's no less engaging or powerfully personal.


31: jj - jj n° 2

With heavenly female vocals, sunny, relaxed beats, and sharp production, jj n° 2 is a brief but absolutely gorgeous record that effectively puts jj on the map, whoever they are. The anonymous Swedish artists already have another one in the works, so prepare accordingly. (More from me)

Ecstasy (MP3)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Best of 2009: 50 - 41

I've realized that if I'm going to get this list done by the end of the year (or so), I've got to write less and post more, so let's get started with the bottom of my top 50 for the year, posted in reverse order. More to come soon!

50. White Denim - Fits

After falling hard for their previous effort, I found White Denim's Fits to be a welcome return for the Texas trio. Their strange and eclectic brand of rock 'n' roll is refined and - in some ways - improved here, making for some spectacular moments and a generally great time. Definitely one of 2009's overlooked rock records.


49. Pictureplane - Dark Rift

Dark Rift, is a sprawling collection of avant-garde loops and scratchy production that somehow form cohesive and engaging songs that have certainly made the man behind the music, Travis Egedy, a one-man band to watch down the road. (More from me)


48. Shuta Hasunuma - Pop Ooga

I'm not entirely sure when the original release date of Pop Ooga was, but I'm gonna go ahead and count this as an 09 release. Japanese glitch electronica artist Shuta Hasunuma has crafted something truly unique and gorgeous here, a record that is challenging, surprising and consistently rewarding. (More from me)

Power Osci (MP3)


47. Handsome Furs - Face Control

Face Control is an album that, despite its faults, I return to time and time again. It's leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor, and the best songs on this record (especially, "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything") are among my favorites for the year. (More from me)

I'm Confused (MP3)


46. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk

This collection of tunes from the collective mind of Conor Oberst, Jim James, M. Ward and Mike Mogis could have been a real mess, but instead it's a relatively cohesive and consistently strong set of folk-rock songs featuring some great contributions from each of the three indie superstars. (More from me)

45. Fruit Bats - The Ruminant Band

I confess, I didn't really know much at all about Fruit Bats until this year, but their latest, The Ruminant Band, is an undeniably solid and occasionally spectacular indie rock album that has given me cause to check out the rest of their catalog.


44. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers

Wild Beasts' quick followup to their acclaimed debut is just as odd and lovely as their first effort, thanks mostly in part to singer Hayden Thorpe's flamboyant falsetto vocals and a more cohesive approach to the album. It certainly establishes these boys as notable newcomers to the indie scene. (More from me)


43. Capybara - Try Brothers

Capybara deserve more credit than they've been given for crafting this enjoyably avant-garde folk album (their first record), which is hopefull a sign of even better things to come. Try Brother may have slipped well under the radar this year, but that doesn't mean you should pass it up. (More from me)

Soft (MP3)


42. The xx - xx

The xx's sparse, dark indie-pop sound made some serious waves this year, and though I'm not a big a fan of their debut as some, it's difficult to deny the strength and beauty of this record. Behind vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, this group has shown a unique and captivating kind of magic. (More from me)


41. Sonya Cotton - Red River

It's a wonder to me that Sonya Cotton could stay so unnoticed in 2009 with this wonderful record. Red River flows gently with Cotton's soft yet strong voice and gorgeous folk instrumentation, creating a spell over the listener as it goes. This is truly beautiful stuff. (More from me)

Red River (MP3)