The Best 50 Albums of 2009

This year, I have written monthly editions (except for a few months I missed) of my music reviews.  Those reviews contain more detailed descriptions of the albums and many included mp3 downloads.  To read them in more detail, see the Best Albums of 2009 monthly editions.

50. Dark was the Night (Red Hot Compilation) 
49. Drew Danburry – Geraniums [EP] 
48. Blue Scholars – OOF! [EP]

 For our top album, I am actually pairing up both of J. Tillman’s LP’s that he released this year.  They are VERY different, but I really think they are best digested when taken in tandem.

1.  J. Tillman – Year in the Kingdom + J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues

Best Albums of 2009: October Edition

Best Albums of 2009

October Edition

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I’m going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year – month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

1.



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Needless to say, a new Mountain Goats album is always a welcome treat. With much hype, including an appearance on The Colbert Report, I came to this album with a little trepidation. The last release, a split EP with John Vanderslice entitled Moon Colony Bloodbath was ok, but not great. The Life of the World to Come is not a dramatic departure from regular Darnielle & Co. affairs. All of the song titles are Bible verses, and it makes for an interesting project to sit down, crack open your King James and ponder the verse while listening to Darnielle’s lyrics. This is not a concept album though. Furthermore it is not overtly religious. He said the songs are inspired by tough lessons the Bible and his life have taught him. The album is great. But, it is not my favorite Mountain Goats release. On a side note, the intro to Genesis 3:23 sounds an awful lot like the intro to the Doogie Howser theme. Just a thought. Top tracks include Genesis 2:23 [download mp3], 1 John 4:16, and Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace.

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R.E.M.’s return from the brink of insignificance, last years Accelerate, got me really excited about the band again. They were the bedrock of my high school music experience, and I loved most everything they did up through New Adventures in Hi Fi. This Live album comes from a rehearsal, not concert, and is absolutely fabulous. It is HEAVY on their 1980s releases and boast 39 tracks. Here’s a rough breakdown of the number of songs from which albums:
  • 8 songs: Accelerate (2008)
  • 6 songs: Reckoning (1984)
  • 4 songs: Chronic Town (1982)
  • 4 songs: Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
  • 2 songs: Murmer (1983)
  • 2 songs: Life’s Rich Pageant (1986)
  • 2 songs: Document (1987)
  • 2 songs: New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
  • 2 songs: Automatic for the People (1992)
  • 1 song: Monster (1994)
  • 1 song: Reveal (2001)
  • 1 song: Around the Sun (2004)
There is no need to list top tracks, because you will recognize many of the song titles.
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Built to Spill albums have been too few in his decade, if you ask me. Ancient Melodies of the Future in 2001, You in Reverse in 2006 and There is no Enemy in 2009. This band seldom disappoints. Martsch’s guitar chops are as meaty and dazzling as ever. There is No Enemy does feature the band playing with a few new sounds and styles. A welcome addition to an already impressive discography. Top tracks are Hindsight, Done and Tomorrow.
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After the break up of Mike Doughty’s previous act, Soul Coughing, in 2000, Doughty hit the road on extensive solo acoustic tours. Since then, his releases have remained largely acoustic in essence, but have explored a variety of different sounds and levels of production and instrumentation. Generally speaking, Doughty’s releases have been increasingly more polished from year to year. Sad Man Happy Man is an aburpt return to his earliest solo acoustic efforts. Most songs are simply him, his guitar and touring-mate Andrew Scrap Livington on cello. A few other instruments and percussion make appearances, but are largely peripheral to the core thrust of the album. I think this is a fabulous triumph! I could have, however, done without the excessive use of parenthetical phrasing in the song titles. A bit trite. Top Tracks are (You Should be) Doubly (Gratified) and (When I) Box the Day (Up).



5.



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If you were a fan of Andrew Kinney’s previous musical outlet, American Analog Set, then you will love The Wooden Birds. Whether or not he intended for it to feel like a direct extension of AAS’s solid tradition, that is the way it comes off. The Wooden Birds pick up where AAS left off, and evolve his unique mellow, plodding, melodic songwriting and performance. Top Tracks are False Alarm [download mp3], Sugar and Hometown Fantasy.


6.
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I am always happy to see more Ben Gibbard. Perhaps I should have taken notice that he is listed 2nd on the album. This release feels much more like a Jay Farrar product with Gibbard playing 2nd fiddle. Heavy on the alt-country sound, take it for what it is. It is part of a film project. For more info see, their website. I prefer the Gibbard tracks such as California Zephyr, All in One and The Void.

EPs
1.
Geraniums
Drew has been putting out DIY acoustic tunes for a few years now. With 2 LPs on the horizon (Goodnight Dannii and Goodnight Gary) Danburry recently offered up a free EP to the masses. Please visit his site and donate some money for the download. The highpoint is Lynette, I Love You [download mp3].

2.
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Mmm… tasty! With the eminent future of Radiohead releases or LPs a bit murky, I will gladly take some solo Thom Yorke. This was released as a double A-side. Greenwood’s involvement is evident as well, so stating them as a “solo Yorke” project is problematic.

Running LP List
  1. J. Tillman – Year in the Kingdom (September)
  2. Joshua James – Build me This (September)
  3. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  4. Brendan Benson – My Old Familiar Friend (August)
  5. Owen – New Leaves (September)
  6. fun. – Aim and Ignite (August)
  7. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (May)
  8. The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come (October)
  9. Shark Speed – Sea Sick Music (April)
  10. Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (February)
  11. The Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (March)
  12. R.E.M. – Live at the Olympia in Dublin (October)
  13. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (January)
  14. Iron & Wine – Around the Well (May)
  15. David Bazan – Curse Your Branches (August)
  16. Mike Doughty – Sad Man Happy Man (October)
  17. The Wooden Birds – Magnolia (October)
  18. Built to Spill – There is no Enemy (October)
  19. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (March)
  20. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South (May)
  21. Fruit Bats – The Ruminant Band (August)
  22. Volcano Choir – Unmap (September)
  23. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (June + July)
  24. Before Braille – Spring Cleaning (June + July)
  25. A.A. Bondy – When the Devil’s Loose (September)
  26. Art for Starters – Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  27. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  28. Jeremy Enigk – OK Bear (May)
  29. Coconut Records – Davy (January)
  30. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity Live (April)
  31. Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots (April)
  32. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha (February)
  33. John Vanderslice – Romanian Names (May)
  34. Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing (March)
  35. Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard – One Fast Move or I’m Gone (October)
  36. Jonsi and Alex – Rice Boy Sleeps (June + July)
  37. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (May)
  38. Grand Archives – Keep in Mind Frankenstein (September)
  39. Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  40. Vetiver – Tight Knit (March)
  41. General Elektriks – Good City for Dreamers (February)
  42. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  43. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market – The Winter’s End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie – Open Door (March)
  3. Owen – The Seaside (August)
  4. Joshua James – Sing Songs (May)
  5. Drew Danburry – Geraniums (October)
  6. Andrew Bird – Fitz and the Dizzyspells (August)
  7. Thom Yorke – Feelingpulledapartbyhorses/the Hollow Earth (October)
  8. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)
  9. Blue Scholars – OOF! (August)

Best Albums of 2009: September Edition

Best Albums of 2009

September Edition (a bit late, sorry)

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I’m going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year – month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

1.
J. Tillman
Year in the Kingdom


Two LPs in one year – not too shabby. Tillman’s 2nd offering of 2009 is hands down, one of the best indie-acoustic-folk releases in a long time, if not ever. It features his familiar dark, brooding, mellow vocals, quiet guitar strumming, and richly overlain harmonized oooings and aaahings in the background. There are some great string arrangements backing these tracks as well. And, it appears that Tillman has discovered the dulcimer, which adds a unique new texture to his music -giving Year in the Kingdom a distinct feel. Top Tracks are all of them. Seriously. Try these out though: Though I have Wronged You [download mp3] and Earthly Bodies [download mp3] via stereogum.

2.
Joshua James

Build Me This


I wrote quite a lengty review on this album last month as a stand-alone review. It is quite lengthy, so I’ll just direct you there. On that review I had originally posted a sample mp3 of Coal War – the albums opening track. Joshua had given me express written permisison to do so, but his record label disagreed and made blogger disable the post TWICE. I took the mp3 down immediately, but they felt it necessary to flag it for abuse a 2nd time (even though the link was gone). Bummer.

3.
Owen
New Leaves


Mike Kinsella’s now multi-year solo project, Owen, simply does not disappoint. I can’t get enough of his brand of indie-acoustic slowjam! New Leaves is marked by his now very well established noodly acoustic guitar tracking, oft-hesitant vocals, painful lyrics and interspersed lead electric guitar. Reportedly, this album still contains some material recorded in his mother’s basement – as per tradition – but clearly features a more well-developed writing and production process than previous releases. It follows in the footsteps of “At Home with Owen” in this regard. Great strings and other backing instrumentaiton abound. Top tracks include New Leaves and A Trenchant Critique [download mp3].

4.
A.A. Bondy
When the Devil’s Loose

I have just recently gotten into A.A. Bondy. The new album is good, but some of the alt-county production turned me off. I think I liked his 2007 American Hearts a lot more. I do appreciate his gravely vox though. Mmm Mmm. Loves me some good ‘ol fashioned gravely vox!

5.
Volcano Choir
Unmap


I have been a fan of Pele, and their later reincarnaiton as Collections of Colonies of Bees for quite a while. Avant-garde, experimental, noodly-guitar rock. When I heard they teamed up with Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon to form Volcano Choir, I was intruiged. I’m not a huge bon Iver fan, but his falsetto vox prove a great addition to the experimental Wisconsinites’ sound. In deed, many of the lyrics are indiscernable anyways, and his voice serves as another layer of instrumentation. Very nicely done boys. Top tracks include Island, IS [download mp3] and Still.

6.
Grand Archives
Keep in Mind Frankenstein



Grand Archives’ 2008 self-titled LP still stands as one of my favorites. It set the standard pretty high for their sophomore release. Even with mediocre expectations, however, Keep in Mind Frankenstein is disappointing. There are a few good tracks, but much of the album is simply boring. Dig That Crazy Grave is a travesty of alt-country devolution/digression. According to their label profile at subpop.com, they originally recorded a much more raucous album, but scrapped it, wrote this one on the spot, and recorded it. I think I would like to hear the more raucous one. The redeemable tracks are Topsy’s Revenge, Silver among the Gold [download mp3] and Witchy Park/Tomorrow Will.

Running LP List

  1. J. Tillman – Year in the Kingdom (September)
  2. Joshua James – Build me This (September)
  3. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  4. Brendan Benson – My Old Familiar Friend (August)
  5. fun. – Aim and Ignite (August)
  6. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (May)
  7. Shark Speed – Sea Sick Music (April)
  8. Owen – New Leaves (September)
  9. Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (February)
  10. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (January)
  11. Iron & Wine – Around the Well (May)
  12. David Bazan – Curse Your Branches (August)
  13. Before Braille – Spring Cleaning (June + July)
  14. Art for Starters – Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  15. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (March)
  16. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South (May)
  17. Fruit Bats – The Ruminant Band (August)
  18. The Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (March)
  19. A.A. Bondy – When the Devil’s Loose (September)
  20. Volcano Choir – Unmap (September)
  21. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (June + July)
  22. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  23. Jeremy Enigk – OK Bear (May)
  24. Coconut Records – Davy (January)
  25. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity Live (April)
  26. Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots (April)
  27. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha (February)
  28. John Vanderslice – Romanian Names (May)
  29. Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing (March)
  30. Jonsi and Alex – Rice Boy Sleeps (June + July)
  31. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (May)
  32. Grand Archives – Keep in Mind Frankenstein (September)
  33. Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  34. Vetiver – Tight Knit (March)
  35. General Elektriks – Good City for Dreamers (February)
  36. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  37. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market – The Winter’s End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie – Open Door (March)
  3. Owen – The Seaside (August)
  4. Joshua James – Sing Songs (May)
  5. Andrew Bird – Fitz and the Dizzyspells (August)
  6. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)
  7. Blue Scholars – OOF! (August)

Best Albums of 2009: August Edition

Best Albums of 2009

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I’m going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year – month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

1.
Brendan Benson
My Old Familiar Friend


Every once in a while I get down about the indie music scene because it seems like every band is trying so hard to forge a unique indie sound that will get them recognition as doing something groundbreaking. In the process, however, too many veer off into genres and sounds that just aren’t listenable. This is one reason for why I have always loved Brendan Benson. There is no shtick here. He just makes good ‘ol fahsioned indie-rock albums. I really wish he would dedicate more time to his solo ventures than what he was doing with Jack White and the Ranconteurs. My Old Familiar Friend has been a long time coming too. His last solo release, Alternative to Love, was in 2005! It was a phenomenal album and set the bar fairly high for this new LP. Since then, and especially over the last 12 months a good batch of new demos have been floating around, whetting our appetites. The resulting LP is great. However, there are a few misteps – Garbage Day is a travesty. A few other tracks are good, but not great, and I wonder why some of the really stellar demos I had collected didn’t make the cut. In any case. Benson’s mix of indie-rock with classic southern rock sounds and tight harmonies is great. No frills rock. I love it. Top tracks include a Whole Lot Better and Misery.

2.
fun.
Aim and Ignite

I was saddened when The Format broke up. I had followed them since their first EP was produced by Bob Hoag at Flying Blanket Studio and I was so excited when their 2nd LP, Dog Problems, did so well. In the wake of the break up, lead-singer Nate formed a new band – fun. If you liked The Format, you will like fun. There are quite a few moments on the album where direct links to the Dog Problems sound can be traced. The multi-phase pacing of At Least I’m Not as Sad (as I used to be) is a direct translation of things they did on Dog Problems. There is a greater reliance on string arrangments, rather than brass and woodwinds, throughout Aim and Ignite that signal a new direction. The album is good, but disappointing at times. 4 of the songs are honestly some of the best tracks from any album this year. Some of the others, however, are just “ok.” When the good tracks are good, though, they are REALLY good. Consider Be Calm, Benson Hedges, At Least I’m Not as Sad (as I used to be) [download mp3] and Walk the Dog.

3.
David Bazan
Curse Your Branches

Pedro the Lion’s frontman (and only man in some ways) David Bazan is now releasing his brand of acoustic indie-rock under his own name. Must be a trend – Conor Oberst, Matt Pryor, etc . . . In any case, I saw Bazan do an acoustic set last year and was very excited to see how the songs he played would translate into studio tracks. It is great in its simplicity – as always. Even when there is full instrumentation to his songs, there always seems to be a very streamlined approach to his music. A welcome addition to an already prolific discography. Top tracks include Hard to Be, Curse Your Branches, Bless This Mess [download mp3] and Please, Baby, Please.


4.

Fruit Bats
The Ruminant Band

Sub Pop’s Fruit Bats have taken quite a break since their 2005 Spelled in Bones. The new album is good, consistent and introduces some new sounds to their alt-folk repertoire. Few tracks leap out as amazing masterpieces, but the album as a whole holds together very well. Top tracks are Primitive Man, Being on Our Own and Feather Bed.

5.
Owen
The Seaside [EP]

The Seaside EP includes a grouping of songs that had been previously released on splits, 7″s and compilations. While I had already dug most of them up, having them in one place is nice. It has gotten me excited about Owen’s upcoming LP New Leaves as well. A good addition to your Owen library. Top tracks are Head Will Ache and I’m Not Seventeen.

6.
Blue Scholars
OOF! [EP]

Blue Scholars MC Geologic grew up in Hawaii in the 1980s before transplanting to Seattle. This EP is all about the island and would have been a better release for the early summer – that way I could have listened to the island-inspired beats and rhymes all summer long! Sabzi’s production and beats feature a host of new sounds and tricks. In many ways, the rhymes are secondary to the beats on this EP – which is usually not the case. As a matter of fact, the lyrics are pretty horrible in parts. It seems to me that Sabzi had some new beats he had worked out, and Geologic quickly slapped together some inane verses on top of them. They really lack the sophistication, poetic quality and complex syncopation of the Blue Scholars that have won me over in the past. Come to think of it, “New People” is all around horrible. A few somewhat redeemable tracks are HI-808 and Cruz.

7.
Andrew Bird
Fitz and the Dizzyspells [EP]


This EP came out back in May and features one track off of Noble Beast, with 4 new songs. It is classic Andrew Bird. Not much commentary to make. Favorite track was Ten-You-Us.

Running LP List

  1. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  2. Brendan Benson – My Old Familiar Friend (August)
  3. fun. – Aim and Ignite (August)
  4. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (May)
  5. Shark Speed – Sea Sick Music (April)
  6. Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (February)
  7. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (January)
  8. Iron & Wine – Around the Well (May)
  9. David Bazan – Curse Your Branches (August)
  10. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (March)
  11. Before Braille – Spring Cleaning (June + July)
  12. Art for Starters – Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  13. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South (May)
  14. Fruit Bats – The Ruminant Band (August)
  15. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (June + July)
  16. Jeremy Enigk – OK Bear (May)
  17. The Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (March)
  18. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  19. Coconut Records – Davy (January)
  20. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity Live (April)
  21. Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots (April)
  22. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha (February)
  23. John Vanderslice – Romanian Names (May)
  24. Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing (March)
  25. Jonsi and Alex – Rice Boy Sleeps (June + July)
  26. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (May)
  27. Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  28. Vetiver – Tight Knit (March)
  29. General Elektriks – Good City for Dreamers (February)
  30. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  31. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market – The Winter’s End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie – Open Door (March)
  3. Owen – The Seaside (August)
  4. Joshua James – Sing Songs (May)
  5. Andrew Bird – Fitz and the Dizzyspells (August)
  6. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)
  7. Blue Scholars – OOF! (August)

Best Albums of 2009 June + July Edition

Best Albums of 2009

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I’m going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year – month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

For some weird reason, my June/July post got deleted by blogger. I am too lazy to redo it completely, but here are the albums that were on it.

1.
Mos Def:
The Ecstatic

A huge improvement from his other solo efforts. Not quite Black Star, but very good.

2.
Before Braille:
Spring Cleaning

Dave finished cleaning out his old Before Braille unreleased (or hard to find) catalog. Much is rerecorded and sound diff. than some of the original tracks. A great conclusion to the band’s catalog. Here’s a sample – Elected to Die [download mp3]

3.
Jonsi and Alex:
Riceboy Sleeps

Project of Sigur Ros frontman. Ethereal. Less cohesive than Sigur Ros’ recent (and old) material. Worth listening to though.

Running LP List

  1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (May)
  2. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  3. Shark Speed – Sea Sick Music (April)
  4. Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (February)
  5. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (January)
  6. Iron & Wine – Around the Well (May)
  7. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (March)
  8. Before Braille – Spring Cleaning (June + July)
  9. Art for Starters – Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  10. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South (May)
  11. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (June + July)
  12. Jeremy Enigk – OK Bear (May)
  13. The Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (March)
  14. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  15. Coconut Records – Davy (January)
  16. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity Live (April)
  17. Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots (April)
  18. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha (February)
  19. John Vanderslice – Romanian Names (May)
  20. Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing (March)
  21. Jonsi and Alex – Rice Boy Sleeps (June + July)
  22. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (May)
  23. Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  24. Vetiver – Tight Knit (March)
  25. General Elektriks – Good City for Dreamers (February)
  26. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  27. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market – The Winter’s End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie – Open Door (March)
  3. Joshua James – Sing Songs (May)
  4. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)

Best Albums of 2009: May

Best Albums of 2009

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I’m going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year – month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

May Edition

1.
Phoenix:
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


Phoenix has been on my shortlist of bands that I have been meaning to try out for quite some time. Boy am I glad that I finally did. First, I saw that they were playing on SNL, so I gave the performances a look and was just blown away. Check them out here and here. This album is so full of energy and is a great blend of electronica without getting overbearing in attempts to be experimental (as it seems SOOOO MUCH of the electronica genre does). This is well crafted indie-pop that is fresh and original while seeming very familiar at the same time. There were no tracks that I had to go back and relisten to because I didn’t quite get it. Yet, I didn’t find myself getting bored with any of the tracks either. An all around awesome, very fun, high engery album. Officially my favorite French band now. Top tracks include all, but certainly check out the 2 singles that have been put out so far: Lisztomania [download mp3] and 1901.


2.
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band:
Outer South


I first heard Oberst’s “solo” debut last summer while on a long solo road trip in Montana. I downloaded it while sitting in the Montana State University Archives and since I only had my laptop with me, could not load it onto my iPod to listen to while driving – so I stuck an audio cable from my laptop to the aux port in my car. Awkward, but satisfying. I found that album refreshing. Distinct from Bright Eyes, but recognizably Oberst (not just the vox, but lyrics and style as well). Coming off of that, Outer South is a little disappointing. I don’t care for any of the songs sung by other band members, and it is clear which songs were not written by Oberst. There are clear deliniations of quality in song-writing throughout the album. I think those songs should have been excised. The album seems a bit bloated and the fat which could be trimmed easy to identify. The songs that are good, however, are very good. Top tracks include Slowly (Oh so Slowly) [download mp3], Ten Women, Nikorette and Roosevelt Room.

Also consider Conor’s previous venture, Bright Eyes

3.
Iron & Wine:
Around the Well


It is hard to believe that an Iron & Wine double-disc (triple vinyl LP) isn’t at the top of this months list! For Iron & Wine fans, it is definitely worth picking up! However, if you are extremely OCD like me and have to collect every single last rarity track of the bands you like, you probably already had most of the songs from Around the Well. With the exception of God Make the Automobile, I had already dug these up. So, if you haven’t dug them up and especially if you like the more lo-fi end of Iron & Wine’s discography, this is a must buy. And, don’t worry, there are plenty of more hi-fi tracks as well. My favorites (which have been played quite a bit on my iPod for the last couple years) are Dearest Forsaken, Communion Cups and Someone’s Coat [download mp3], Sinning Hands and The Trapeze Swinger.

4.
Jeremy Enigk:
OK Bear


First – I would like a pair of the sweet kicks that the kid is wearing on the albums cover. Nice! As Enigk himself has explained, this LP is a bit more similar to Sunny Day Real Estate than his previous solo efforts. That is both good and bad. I like hearing Enigk with a little bit of edge. The Fire Theft was very satisfying in that way. However, I (and my wife) became very attached to the lush strings and acoustics of World Waits, The Missing Link and the United States of Leland soundtrack. I like OK Bear, but if I had my pick, I would plunge Enigk deep back into his most latest styles – rich with strings, piano, acoustic guitars and quite harmonies. Top tracks include Just a State of Mind [download mp3], Same Side Imaginary and Vale Oso.

5.
Joshua James:
Sing Songs [EP]

Joshua James is quickly rising on my list of bands that I sincerely hope break it huge! His songs are intimate, passionate and sincere. His voice took a little getting used to, but now it has really grown on me. This new little 5 song EP is great and combined with Crash This Train/The Garden mini EP from last year spells good things for his upcoming 2nd full length LP. I hate to try and make comparisons, but something like a mix of Elliott Smith, J. Tillman, Bright Eyes, etc . . . You get the general idea. Go buy everything this guy has put out. Support local musicians! Here’s a sample: Baby Boy [download mp3].

6.
John Vanderslice:
Romanian Names

Oh Mr. Vanderslice. I really liked Pixel Revolt. I liked it a lot. I also enjoyed Emerald City, but not quite as much. Romanian Names disappoints me. First, I am fluent in Romanian, so I had high hopes for this LP. I’m not sure why that would make the album inherently better, but I thought, “Holy Crap! Someone other than me mentioned Romania! Awesome!” The album seemed inconsistent. It didn’t hold together well. Some of the better tracks were Fetal Horses [download mp3], D.I.A.L.O. and Carina Constellation.

7.
Grizzly Bear
Veckatimest

After much prodding from friends, I reluctantly gave Grizzly Bear another try. I had given some of their previous work a few listens and really didn’t like what I heard. Veckatimest is better, but not by much. I don’t know what you call this style of vox – but it seems to be spreading like wildfire. Indie band after indie band has singers sounding like this, and I’m not a fan. This said, its not absolutely horrible. There are a few tracks that I enjoyed, but the majority of the album simply bored me. If I was on a road trip and a friend put this in, I wouldn’t be gritting my teeth the whole time, but I probably wouldn’t ask for a repeat spin. Top tracks include Two Weeks [download mp3], Ready, Able and While you were Waiting for Others.

Running LP List

  1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (May)
  2. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  3. Shark Speed – Sea Sick Music (April)
  4. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (March)
  5. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (January)
  6. Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (February)
  7. Art for Starters – Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  8. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South (May)
  9. Iron & Wine – Around the Well (May)
  10. Jeremy Enigk – OK Bear (May)
  11. The Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (March)
  12. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  13. Coconut Records – Davy (January)
  14. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity Live (April)
  15. Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots (April)
  16. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha (February)
  17. John Vanderslice – Romanian Names (May)
  18. Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing (March)
  19. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (May)
  20. Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  21. Vetiver – Tight Knit (March)
  22. General Elektriks – Good City for Dreamers (February)
  23. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  24. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market – The Winter’s End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie – Open Door (March)
  3. Joshua James – Sing Songs (May)
  4. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)

Best of 2009: April

Best Albums of 2009

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I’m going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year – month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

April Edition

1.
Shark Speed
Sea Sick Music


Local bands are a dime a dozen. We have all been to so many small local shows that go something like this: 1. Music starts. 2. We think to ourselves, “Yeah – these few opening chords and riffs sound great . . . these guys have a great sound . . . ” 3. Then, invariably, the singer opens his mouth and ruins the whole thing. SO many local bands with great musicians are ruined by horrible vox. Well, when I came across Shark Speed – a band from Provo, UT (go Cougs!), a place I spent a few years, I was excited. Here’s how I happened upon them: 1. Former Before Braille guitarist Hans Ringger pops up on the “people you may know” feature on Facebook. 2. I send him a note to see if he is still playing music. 3. He replies, Yes, and directs me to Shark Speed. 4. I listen, am impressed and then find the added bonus that they recorded their debut album, Seasick Music with none other than Bob Hoag of the Flying Blanket Studio in Mesa, AZ.

Long story short, when I hit play on the album, I was blown away. They had a great sound – somewhere between Minus the Bear and the Long Winters – and the singer could sing! YES! The Long Winters comparison is apt not only because of overall tone, instrumentaion and style, but the guy’s lead vocals are VERY reminiscent of The Long Winters. If you had given me the album and said, “Here’s the new Long Winters album,” I would have believed you. Hooray for freaking awesome local music! Top tracks are And You’re In the Band, Cast off Dance Off [download mp3] and Deep South Detox.

2.
Art for Starters
Drugs Made my Favorite Bands/Drugs Ruined my Favorite People


Coincidentally, this album comes from my same penchant for local bands and again, Bob Hoag’s Flying Blanket Studio. After the demise of Before Braille a few years back, lead singer Dave Jensen started doing some songs on his own and in some crazy late-night sessions with Bob, recorded them. Then he went to Korea. Eventually he made his way back to AZ and finally released his new material as a 2-CD set. Dave was kind enough to send me quite a few of these songs a couple years back in their demo mixes, and it is great to hear the fully polished versions. The 1st disc – Drugs Made My Favorite Bands is largely electric and the 2ns disc – Drugs Ruined my Favorite People is mostly acoustic. It is similar to his previous Before Braille work, but distinct. The math-rock and heavy guitar noodling of Rajiv Patel and others is gone. More pronounced are thick layering of Jensen’s vocals. Complex harmonies with various vocal tracks and lines interweaving pervade the songs. As a music snob, its good to have the fully polished discs in my collection. Self-released on his own record label – Sunset Alliance. Top tracks include I Hope Ants Crawl Under Your Eyelids (On a Saturday Night) [download mp3], You Deserve a Disease, Pinprick by Prick [download mp3] and Diction.

3.
Jimmy Eat World
Clarity Live

Clarity (1999) still ranks high on my favorite albums of all time. To celebrate the 10th year anniversay, Jimmy Eat World did a short tour where they played the album straight through, plus an encore. This is a live CD of the last show on the tour at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe, AZ. As good as it ever was! Top tracks include . . . well, just take your favorite from the originals and listen to its live version.

4.
The Mountain Goats & John Vanderslice
Moon Colony Bloodbath EP

Yet another Mountain Goats EP. I really like John Darnielle. I really like John Vanderslice as well, but am increasingly thinking that his music is a somewhat hit and miss for me. This is a good solid EP that deserves a listen for fans of both artists. My top tracks are Darnielle’s Satori in Denver [download mp3] and Surrounded.

5.
Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots


Iain Archer has been way off my radar for quite sometime, and it was a somewhat random coincidence that I even stumbled across this album. I’m glad I did. His stripped down indie sounds are straightforward and presented with a marked degree of earnestness. I know that sounds like really schticky reviewer nonsense – “earnestness” – but it really is fitting. Top Tracks are Black Mountain Quarry, Everest and Frozen Lake [download mp3].

6.
Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love mixtape
Oh Quannum! Lateef, why do you keep on teasing me with mixtapes?! I want a full length, full production album of new material! I want Lateef & the Cheif’s follow-up to Maroons: Ambush – I want Ashe! Well, this will have to suffice for now. There are some great tracks and bumps that I had yet to collect from disparate sources, some new takes on things I already had and a few brand new tracks all together. Some great collaborations with Headnotic, General Elektriks / Herve Salters and Fat Boy Slim. The mix blends together well – better than many mixtapes do. Top

7.
Dark was the Night Compilation

I’m sure we’ve all heard more than enough about this indie compilation to end all compilations – ad naseum almost. I think it fine and all. A good number of the artists are ones that I don’t care for. And, even with some of the artists I do like – (The National, Sufjan Stevens, Spoon) – I wasn’t impressed with their contributions. I did like the Andrew Bird track The Giant of Illinois, but already had it from his Daytrotter session. Conor Oberst’s reinterpretation of Lua was interesting, but not needed. Iron and Wine’s Stolen Houses (Die) was phenomonal – but only 1:07 long.

Running LP List

  1. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  2. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (March)
  3. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (January)
  4. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  5. Shark Speed – Sea Sick Music (April)
  6. Art for Starters – Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  7. The Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (March)
  8. Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (February)
  9. Coconut Records – Davy (January)
  10. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity Live (April)
  11. Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots (April)
  12. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha (February)
  13. Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing (March)
  14. Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  15. Vetiver – Tight Knit (March)
  16. General Elektriks – Good City for Dreamers (February)
  17. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  18. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market – The Winter’s End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie – Open Door (March)
  3. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)