Thursday, December 24, 2009

Songswithoutwords Best Albums of 2009

Songswithoutwords Best Albums of 2009

Since I actually published something of substance, now I feel worthy of posting my favorite albums of 2009. Let me know what you do or don't agree with in the comments, I always love some good dialogue. Sorry for using the word "nuance" twice.

1) St. Vincent - Actor
This is the standout album of the year for me. Unafraid of taking risks, the music of Annie Clark and her band is sexy and smart. Orchestration is a strong point for this band, experimenting with effects on woodwinds, electric instruments and vocals.

2) The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
After finally negotiating their bluegrass roots with music for a wider audience, this could prove to be the group's lasting masterpiece. With heartfelt lyrics and versatility that makes them hard to pigeonhole, the Avett Brothers have finally come into their own. Have I mentioned that "Laundry Room" is perhaps the most beautiful thing that I have heard all year?

3) Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Case's voice is one of the strongest in indie music today. Her range and expression, both in vocals and guitar playing, is second to none.

4) Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
This album ranges from driving to delicate, touching on every nuance between. Bird's violin playing and grasp of live looping has lent his music depth and the subtle assurance that comes with time and experience.

5) Beat Circus - The Boy From Black Mountain
This band is seeking to unearth the strange and beautiful subtleties of "weird American gothic" and succeeding at every turn. I think of them as the sonic equivalent of Carnivale. Give it a listen and maybe you'll agree. This was perhaps the most under appreciated of the year amongst what appears on my list.

6) Matt & Kim - Grand
Released at the very beginning of the year, Grand remained my favorite pop album of the year. "Daylight," "Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare" and "I'll Take Us Home" are always just right when I need a pick me up.

7) Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Another catchy, no-nonsense record that gave a long-established band the bump they needed to find their way into my heart and many others'. "1901" is my indie hipster jam of the year.

8) Jason Lytle - Yours Truly, the Commuter
I first heard this album after succumbing to NPR All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton's infinite praise got to me. While I have to admit that I've never listened to Grandaddy, I fell in love with Lytle's solo work immediately. I can imagine the music echoing around me, filling cavernous spaces with each nuance. A good album to ruminate on alone in a quiet, dark room (like most everything Robin Hilton likes...)

9) Why? - Eskimo Snow
With an unusual voice reminiscent of They Might Be Giants, the recurrence of exuberant arpeggio'd keyboard/mallets, and layering of sonic textures that could only be their own, this album keeps me engaged from start to finish. Is it just me, or does it sound a bit like Christmas?

10) Pearl and the Beard - God Bless Your Weary Soul, Amanda Richardson
A late discovery for me this year, I love the breadth of textures this trio is able to produce. The anthemic "Oh, Death!" just rips at my heart. Most of all, Pearl and the Beard prove that there is indeed life after music school--it is anything and everything you choose to make of it.

Honorable mentions: Samtidigt Som - Flykt, Karlek & Broderskap, The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love, Fanfarlo - Reservoir, Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

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