My favorite albums of 2009

Finally getting around to compiling this list of my favorites from 2009.  I decided to include EP’s with the list because there were just a bunch of really good ones this year.

Before we get into the top 10, I thought I’d briefly make mention of a couple other good collections of music:

  • Horse Feathers – House With No Name (Came out in 2008.  I didn’t listen to it until this year though.)
  • The Panic Division – Sleepwalker (Nothing groundbreaking and the songs all kinda sound the same.  All that aside, this is just fun to listen to in the car.)
  • Portugal. The Man – The Satanic Satanist (Not as good as last year’s effort, Censored Colors, but still trippy and beautiful.)
  • Rx Bandits – Mandala (Everything these guys do takes me at least a year to dig into properly.  It’s always amazing and always initially over my head.)
  • ***Click on the album cover to buy album from the iTunes store!***

    10.  The Elms – The Great American Midrange

    This is not a thinkpiece.  This is a rock and roll album.  It lives up to that billing through and through.  While the album is largely a glimpse into the band’s midwestern backdrop, they do a solid job of diluting the “times are tough” context with a healthy dose of fat, tasty riffs that make your ass jiggle.  If you’re into Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, I’ve got good news; these guys are too.  Add a dash of southern gospel choir and a truckload of vintage gear and you’ve got a good idea of The Great American Midrange brings to the table.

    What surprised me is how many great songs didn’t end up on this album.  Rumored to have demoed almost a hundred songs for TGAM, the Elms left off a handful of tunes that I had the pleasure of hearing before the album’s release.  I was shocked that “Bring a Little Love”, “Promises” and “Miracle” didn’t make the cut.  I’m hoping that they’ll make it onto the Elm’s subsequent release.

    9. Anamanaguchi – Dawn Metropolis (EP)

    Punk rock 8-bit instrumentals?  It’s kind of a niche market, but this 7-song EP packs a lot of hooks.  When you walk around with this playing on your iPod, it almost feels like you’re living a video game.  This album is just fun.  Some of the jams rival your favorite game soundtracks from the original NES (actually… the band uses a hacked NES to make their songs!).  Take a listen to “Overarrow”, “Danger Mountain” and “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues” (by far the best song on the album… and maybe one of my favorites from the entire year!).  There are a lot of bands that play covers of their favorite old Nintendo songs (the Mini Bosses come to mind) but as far as I can tell – Anamanaguchi are the best at taking 8-bit sounds out of the dustbin and creating brand new music with it.

    8. Cassino – kingprince

    Cassino is the remnant piece of one of my favorite bands, Northstar.  Unlike some of my other favorite bands that have since broken up, Cassino continues to make compelling if not entirely original music.

    It’s true.  Several other bands have trodden the emo-turned-alt country path as a way of breaking ties with a scene and declaring a new found maturity:  Dustin Kensrue, Dallas Greeen, Chuck Ragan (all of which cranked out dynamite albums, mind you!)  But Nick Torres’ slow Alabama drawl sounds at home surrounded by acoustic guitars, banjos and fiddles.  Fortunately, this second album features a more varied assortment of folk instrumentation (and everything was recorded in Nick’s apartment).

    This album includes 3 songs (“Ice Factory”, “Gin War” and “Boomerang”) that have been reworked from the band’s last album (2007’s Sounds of Salvation), which might sound like a cop out.  Truthfully, the newer versions are so drastically different that they feel brand new though.  Of the rest of the albums all-new tracks, my favorites are “Cannonball” and the final track, “The Levee”.

    What makes kingprince a standout album is the storytelling.  Nick’s taking a few notes from Bruce Springsteen’s page.  Lyrics have always been a strong point on Northstar albums, but they’re more focused here.  There’s a sense of restraint in the phrasing and an emphasis on the instruments.

    7. Mae – (m)orning (EP)

    Mae’s last album, Singularity, was just an awful piece of trash.  I was shocked because I loved their previous efforts, but Singularity was full of alternative rock anthems that seemed so atypical from a band that had formerly set their focus on making delicate, melodic and contemplative music.

    Then I got an urge to listen to their new EP, (m)orning, the first of a trilogy – (m)orning, (a)fternoon, and (e)vening).  This is a pleasant return to form for Mae (bands often talk about returning to an earlier sound, but rarely deliver).  They hit you with a quick intro track and then it’s onto the epic track, “The Fisherman Song”.  It’s one of those songs that switches directions at least 4 times (and the “bridge” from 4:20 – 5:44 completely slays me – it’s the drums).  Other highlights include “A Melody, A Memory” – which could’ve easily been a lost track from The Everglow – and “Night/Day”.  With any Mae release, I expect at least one song that can slide right onto my bedtime mix, and “Night/Day” is that song.  It’s the most chill and evening-friendly song on the EP.

    So Mae is back from the dead.  That’s good news!  There are two more EPs that will round out this collection and I’m really excited to hear them now.

    6. Vedera – Stages

    I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I was listening to most of Stages in 2008.  It may have ended up on my “Best of the year” list last year, actually.  But this year, the band finally released the album to the public with some new tracks.  This album is better than last year’s version by leaps and bounds.  Some of the weaker tracks were removed and replaced by the stellar tracks:  “Loving Ghosts”, “Goodbye My Love” and “Even I”.

    Stages is an entirely different direction for Vedera.  Their last album, The Weight of an Empty Room, bordered on prog rock.  Kristen May’s airy vocals teased with hooks, but they never seemed deliberate.  Stages is a pop record.  The choruses are catchier, the songs are lighter, and the band has never sounded better.

    I think long-term fans might have a hard time accepting the bands newer songs (and the fact that some of the old choruses found new homes on Stages) but Vedera is one of those gems that need to shine on a bigger stage (pun intended).  There isn’t a vocalist on American Idol with as much talent as Kristen May – and she’s the frontwoman of a very organic, real band (writing their own songs).

    When compared to all the phony, pre-fabricated, image-obsessed music we’re bombarded with – Stages is the pop album you NEED.

    5. The Swellers – Ups and Downsizing

    A lot of bands are trying to keep punk music alive.  Set Your Goals was touted as the savior of the genre this year, but This Will Be the Death of Us was largely disappointing.  Veterans, New Found Glory, tried their hand with Not Without A Fight, but aside from a few gems – the album fell flat.  The Dangerous Summer put out an album that almost quenched my thirst for a new Starting Line album (the singers sound exactly the same), but alas – it wasn’t the same.

    And then the Swellers released Ups and Downsizing.

    This album is a pop punk classic.  You can sing along with every chorus.  The guitars and drums clip along at a blistering pace.  The vocals don’t make your balls switch sides and the lyrical content has actual substance.  The Swellers hail from Detroit, and the album is thematically centered around the regional economic downturn.  Sounds like a bummer, but it’s from the heart.

    I will be listening to Ups and Downsizing for years to come.  At least for the Swellers, the future is looking bright.

    4. Thrice – Beggars

    Thrice will never make a metal record again.  Make of that what you will.  The band’s collection of elemental EPs showcased just how diverse they can be.

    Beggars is the culmination of that diversity and the result is expectedly brilliant.  The music is at times anthemic and at times very minimalistic.  (“The Weight” and “In Exile” are respective examples of each.)  Dustin Kensrue’s voice is just vastly powerful and his lyrics always seem to have the heft to deserve that power.

    In terms of instrumentation – Beggars is the most uniform release Thrice has completed yet.  In the past, the band seemed focused on highlighting how many different types of music they could feel comfortable creating.  On Beggars, they don’t vary stylistically as much.  Instead, you get the feeling that they found a sound and embraced it.

    But this is Thrice – and I’m sure their next album will sound entirely different… and just as brilliant.  For the time being, Beggars is as stunning an album as Thrice has ever made.

    3. Metric – Fantasies

    This album reeks of sex and loneliness.  Emily Haines has the voice of a lolitaand Metric always has this very urban, gritty feeling in their music.  Fantasies is their best album yet – it’s one of those releases you can listen to the entire way through without skipping a song.  The tracks flow perfectly.

    Just imagine that it’s 2am in New York City, and the streets are wet and steamy (because it’s August… and it’s just rained).  You’ve most likely snorted your dinner and you’re headed to a hipster dance party.  Fantasies is the soundtrack of your life right now.  You just get that feeling when you listen to the album.  It’s shady music for shady dealings.

    …Or shady music for cleaning your new apartment with your roommate.  Still – 3rd favorite album of the year.  This one bangs pretty hard.

    2. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha

    I liked a song by the Appleseed Cast a lot in highschool.  It was called “Marigold and Patchwork” and I heard it on a Deep Elm compilation.  Other than that, I just don’t know a ton of their music.

    Sagarmatha was one of the last releases on the now-defunct Militia Group record label, and it’s incredible.  It’s a mostly instrumental album that reminds me of the best moments of an Explosions in the Sky album.

    The vocals on the album sound like inaudible droning – almost like another instrument… but that’s not really important.  It’s the music that really matters.  The tight rhythm section and the airy, spacy guitars, the experimentation with electronic sounds…

    I honestly don’t know how else to sell this album besides saying that you really need to listen to it.  Preferably in the dark while staring at a visualizer.

    1. Propagandhi – Supporting Caste

    If you know me, then you know I’ve been sweating this album since it came out in March.  This is the best album of the year by miles.  This is punk fucking rock, and it’s here to choke you out and then sodomize your corpse.

    Every song on Supporting Caste is a different rant.  There might be one song with a chorus where lyrics repeat, but generally there are only thematic melodies.  The music is spastic and sonically amazing.  Big, splashy chords and lightning-speed picking.  As a guitarist, I’ll be chewing through how to play this for the next decade (most likely with minimal results).

    It’s mathy and catchy.

    Most of the songs are preachy – but at least one (“The Banger’s Embrace”) is all about the great feeling of seeing your favorite bands play live.  It’s palpable nostalgia.  Two songs are completely brutal (“This is Your Life” and “Incalcuable Effects”) and they make you feel like trashing your house and punching your loved ones in the teeth.  Most of the songs are just so cleverly written that it would take a band like Propagandhi – with 23 years under their belt – to write them… and yet I can’t believe that a group of middle-aged punkers cranked out something to relevant and so substantial.

    I can’t pick a favorite song anymore.  They’ve all had a turn.  This album renewed my faith in a genre I thought had faded out.  Propagandhi FTW.


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