2009 was a great year for music, which makes coming up with a “Top 10” list pretty hard, but I’ll give it a shot. I’ve mentioned a few of these bands on Facebook, so hopefully you’ve been able to check them out. If not, now is a great time to ring in the new year with the best of the last.
1.) The Hazards of Love – The Decemberists
I had the pleasure of seeing this album performed twice last year. First at Rock the Garden, an outdoor concert on a beautiful June day next to the Walker Art Center and then at the State Theater, a wonderful sit down venue. Individually the songs are great, but only when played together do you truly get to appreciate this album. “Rock opera” is the term most use to capture the album’s essence. As with all of The Decemberists work, the lyrics are depressingly morbid. Definitely my favorite album of theirs so far and one of my favorite albums of all time. I can’t recommend this enough!
2.) Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons
This album is so good that it almost made the top spot. It has everything that I love about modern folk music. More banjo! White Blank Page swells with emotion and like many of their songs, has brilliant dynamics. Going from soft and subtle to loud and powerful and back again. The US release of the album is scheduled for March of this next year (does that mean I’ll get to rank it again next year?) and you should definitely grab it if you like any sort of folk and/or bluegrass inspired music. I’m really looking forward to seeing them live.
3.) Middle Cyclone – Neko Case
Neko Case has long been a favorite of mine, almost a guilty pleasure considering her early country style (anyone who knows me can tell you how I feel about “country/western” music). She keeps getting better with each new album, with her amazing voice as the constant thread connecting them. On this album, my favorite songs don’t get much time on the radio, so be sure to give them a listen if you don’t have the album: Magpie to the Morning, The Pharaohs, and Red Tide. Better yet, just get the album and thank me later. She’s even better at a live show, although venue choice is important. I enjoyed her show far more at the State Theater than at First Avenue.
4.) Up From Below – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Possibly the best song of the year, Home stands out from the other tracks on the album. My favorite description of the song comes from one of the hosts on our local indie music station, The Current. As she puts it, the song “is in widescreen.” With epic scope, this song knocks you back and makes you listen in wonder. The whole band has this early ’70s revival feel to it that one could imagine would happen if you combined Jefferson Airplane with The Moody Blues. My only complaint is that I didn’t hear about this band before they came to Minneapolis for a show. I’ll definitely be there for the next one.
5.) Hometowns – The Rural Alberta Advantage
It seems like cheating to put this album in a “best of 2009” list, since the album was originally released in the summer of 2008. It’s re-release on Saddle Creek Records this past summer seems like when most people found out about this excellent new Canadian band, so I’ll gladly include them here. I’ve seen them twice at the 7th Street Entry (very small venue, seems like it could fit in your house) and they’ve been excellent both times. They are starting another tour now, so I’d highly recommend you see their show if you can. They have an amazing amount of energy for just a three person band. Hard to pick a favorite song, but both Don’t Haunt This Place and Frank, A.B. are excellent and can be found for free on their audio page.
6.) Keep It Hid – Dan Auerbach
If you didn’t know, Dan Auerbach is the vocalist/guitarist of The Black Keys and this album is his first solo release. Although that’s somewhat of a misnomer, since he actually has a full backup band playing on the album and during his tour. I had planned seeing his show back in early December, but it was canceled at the last minute. I hope it’s rescheduled soon as I really like this album. Like The Black Keys, the album is a great set of blues and garage band rock, but with a greater sound due to the full band.
7.) Around the Well – Iron & Wine
My first introduction to modern folk music, Iron & Wine started off simply as Sam Beam recording by himself in his basement and now tours with an entire band. This album is a collection of songs that never made it onto any of his albums and provides a wonderful overview of his work. While probably not the album to start with if you’ve never heard any of the music, it’s filled with some really great songs such as Arms of a Thief, Love Vigilantes, and The Trapeze Swinger. Another great band to see live. If you’re starting to think that seeing a band live influences my rankings, you’d probably be right.
8.) I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose – Bombay Bicycle Club
Hard to imagine that these guys are a bunch of teenagers just out of school, but these Brits sure can rock. Pretty standard indie rock music, but the songs Evening/Morning and especially Always Like This really stand out. Makes you want to put your hands in the air and clap along. Reminds me of the good Modest Mouse songs. The acoustic song The Giantess was a pleasant surprise to end the album. If you like British indie rock, you’re missing out if you haven’t listened to this album yet.
9.) Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre
I feel bad not putting this album higher, but not nearly as bad as I feel for not listening to this excellent album more this year. This is something that you’ve probably not heard before and you should immediately rectify that problem. It’s amazing how powerful the songs are while being so quiet. Unlike how Iron & Wine has happy sounding songs about macabre topics, Timber Timbre sounds as eerie and soulful as it’s lyrical content.
10.) Tree of Life – Yodelice
Probably another band that you haven’t heard before, they hail from France but sing in English. With catchy lyrics and melodies, this is a fun album that provides for easy listening. Sunday With the Flu is the signature piece of the album. Definitely not the most sophisticated album you’ll ever hear, but well worth a listen as he plays a mean acoustic guitar.
- West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum – Kasabian
- Another great Brit-rock album. This would like be ranked higher if I had listened to it more than twice.
- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – Phoenix
- This album has been well received by a number of critics and I’ve really enjoyed it the few times I’ve listened to it. Like the Kasabian album, this would be higher if I had discovered it more than two weeks ago.
- XX – The XX
- Another British band, but more electronic than rock. A good change of pace album for me, so I don’t overexpose on all that folk music. Like Phoenix, this album was huge among critics this year. Highly recommended if you’re looking for something mellow.
- It’s Blitz! – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- I’ve never been a huge fan, but Heads Will Roll is just such a fun song. Good album for dancing but not one that I listen to regularly. Now to get some video of the kids rocking out to it…
- Gather Form And Fly – Megafaun
- Some really good folk songs intermixed with some stuff that’s just a bit too weird for me. Kaufman’s Ballad stands out for me as the best on the album. Impressions of the Past, The Process, Darkest Hour, etc. dives into Animal Collective territory, which conflicts with the other, more standard folk songs on the album (The Longest Day is very, very good). If you like Animal Collective, you’ll probably enjoy more of this album than I did.