December 17, 2009

Best Albums of 2009

11 - Yeah Ghost, Zero 7

Zero 7 is back with their fourth album,
Yeah Ghost. While I still think that their best album is their first, Simple Things, Yeah Ghost feels different from the start and continues throughout. For this album, they've worked with a largely new group of people - larger stars such as Sia and Jose Gonzalez aren't present here, but the new vocal talent, especially Eska Mtungwazi, who sings on Mr. McGee and Medicine Man. Furthermore, there's a real split in the sound of this album, ranging from fast to slow, which really makes the ever track interesting to listen to, and it adds a fantastic set of music to their already great lineup of songs.

10 - Magnolia, The Wooden Birds

The Wooden Birds were one of the best artists of 2009, so it stands to reason that
Magnolia, their first, is one of the better albums of the year. In this instance, their first album has a great sound right off the bat with False Alarm and going through the next forty minutes. The album is wonderfully consistent, with a constant, driving beat running through the length of the entire record; the album feels very structured, even and laidback throughout, and while it's repetitive, it's not boring. Combining influences from country, folk and rock, this indie record has an interesting sound that's worth repeating several times.

9 - A Sucker's Dream, The Alternate Routes

I really dug the Alternate Route's first album,
Good and Reckless and True, but A Sucker's Dream jumps out of the gate with On and On We Whisper, bringing back the same energy and passion that I've seen live at their concerts. This is repeated throughout the album, such as with Toe The Line and The Future Is Nothing New. After seeing these guys several times live, it's outstanding to see some of their live tracks become studio ones, and to watch the band improve quite a bit since their first album. A Sucker's Dream is refined, energetic and above all, fun. In the months that I've been listening to this work, I haven't gotten tired of it. I still get a huge burst of energy and a grin when I hear the opening track, and generally, when I'm driving, it means a burst of speed as well.

8 - Bring Back Love, Glide & Swerve

Glide & Swerve was listed as one of my best new artists of this year, and their album is likewise amongst my favorites for the year.
Bring Back Love is much like what Simple Things was for Zero 7 - low-key, unassuming, interesting and laid back, with a fantastic overall tone and feel. Electronic down-tempo is a genre that is growing on me, and I really like the easy going, ambient nature that this album has. Each track is a joy to listen to, and as I listen to a lot of these albums when driving, it's the perfect soundtrack for driving home in the evening. Plus, while it's not connected to the music, they've got a fantastic cover for this album.

7 - Tarpits And Canyonlands, Bombadil

Bombadil is back with their quirky indie rock with
Tarpits and Canyonlands. Like their first album, A Buzz, A Buzz, this is a refinement, but at the same time, they retained everything that made their first album so much fun to listen to - weird arrangements, sounds and bursts of energy that just add to the quirk factor. Every song is a pleasant surprise, almost like being thrust into a fantasy carnival. Seeing them in person this year was a treat as well - their stage performances have been great, not only to listen to, but to watch as well.

6 - The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists

The Decemberists have always been a weird band to listen to, and a difficult one at best, but
The Hazards Of Love is by far their most ambitious and interesting album to listen to. Looking back to progressive and conceptual albums for some sort of inspiration, as well as the desire to do a stage musical, the Decemberists have put together an album that tells a story, making this album a rich, three course meal to be enjoyed. The downside is that the album can't really be listened to piecemeal - it's pretty much all or nothing, but with the right effort, this album's worth it.

5 - Middle Cyclone, Neko Case

Neko Case is an artist that has slowly crept onto my musical radar over the past couple of years, and
Middle Cyclone is the best that I've heard from her thus far. The album is a rich, vibrant effort, one that just begs for one more listen. There's a lot going on with each song, from the lyrics to the sound, coupled with Case's absolutely fantastic voice that just moves from song to song. By a far margin, this is her best album, and one that will remain on my favorites list for a long time.

4 - Nothing Rhymes with Woman, Carbon Leaf

Carbon Leaf returned this year with their latest studio album,
Nothing Rhymes With Woman to mixed expectations. By far and wide, they're one of my absolute favorite bands, but comparatively, their last album hasn't held up to its earlier predecessors, Indian Summer and Echo Echo. Nothing Rhymes With Woman, however, harkens back to their independent days, but with the sound that they've been polishing over the past couple of years. This album reminded me why I loved their music so much - the band tells stories, and there's an incredible effort here, with some of their best songs, from the opening track, Indecision, Lake of Silver Bells, Mexico and Pink. Carbon Leaf's always been good with evocative music before - I dare you to listen to Pink and not be moved, or to Lake of Silver Bells and not feel good.

3 - Bible Belt, Diane Birch

Diane Birch burst onto the music scene in grand fashion this year with her first album
Bible Belt. I caught her this year in Burlington for a free show, picked up her album and simply could not stop listening to it. Her indie soul sound is both nostalgic and refreshing at the same time, with an incredible voice that sweeps across the album, full of energy and zest. Very song on this album just nails the quality level here, sounding perfect almost across the board. Furthermore, Birch is able to navigate the delicate maze of lyrics, telling stories of love and loss, of childhood fun, all without labeling the album as any particular sound or theme. Rather, she puts together an album that sounds, feels and says all the right things.

2 - Death Won't Send A Letter, Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons

Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons have put together an absolute masterpiece of an album, one that I cannot stop listening to.
Death Won't Send A Letter is a dark, emotional and absolutely fantastic record - it is both rich and textured throughout. Chisel brings out influences from country/folk rock and Baptist music, woven together to bring out a unique sound. The album ebbs and flows between tracks - starting off with the mind-blowing Born Again and cooling down on the aptly named second track Calm Down. This is an artist to watch in the singer/songwriter market, because I don't think that we've heard the last from these guys. I certainly don't want to.

1- Crooked Measures, Myra Flynn

Vermont singer/songwriter Myra Flynn takes my top spot for the album of the year with her first album, Crooked Measures. Of the numerous new artists and albums that I've been able to listen to over 2009, Flynn has put together a highly emotional, driven and exceptional album that demonstrates her skill as a singer/songwriter. I hate to keep repeating it, but each song is richly conceived and executed, making a wonderful and memorable album to listen to. Crooked Measures is by far and wide the best album that I've listened to all year, and I hope that we will hear more from her in the very, very near future.

Medicine Man - Zero 7
Hometown Fantasy - The Wooden Birds
On and On We Whisper - The Alternate Routes
Healing Overture - Glide & Swerve
Sad Birthday - Bombadil
The Rake's Song - The Decemberists
Magpie To The Morning - Neko Case
Indecision - Carbon Leaf
Don't Wait Up - Diane Birch
My Heart Would Be There - Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons
Sunshine - Myra Flynn