Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Ten Albums of 2009: Part I

For me, 2009 brought a much expanded palette and appreciation for mellower music, folk, acoustic, indie, and Americana with a twinge of country or gospel. These trends reflect highly in my countdown of the Top Ten Albums of 2009. To me, 2009 beats out 2008 hands down, and I think many of these albums will stick with me my whole life long, as they defined some pivotal moments in my life this year. I hope you enjoy the list. Give these artists a try, and I'm sure you won't go wrong. 
First, let's start off with the albums were that good showings and in heavy rotation for me this year but just didn't crack the top ten...

"Dumpster Generation" by A Billion Ernies
After many years of trying to see these guys live, I finally had the chance, and it was rocking and loud. The pride of Hemet, CA, ABE infuses ska and reggae with metal and hardcore. Not to mention, they are just a great group of down-to-earth guys.

"Be Set Free" by Langhorne Slim
A fun third showing by a great singer/songwriter. With catchy hooks, endearing lyrics of love and lost love, and smooth vocals, many songs standout and make this Langhorne Slim's best album to date, and most likely to be his breakout record.

"I and Love and You" by The Avett Brothers
Another album that garnered much attention and a bigger fanbase, finally breaking The Avett Brothers into the spotlight. Without leaving their country folk roots, these guys wrote and record a strong set of songs for their first major label debut.

"Sigh No More" by Mumford & Sons 
More folk music that I latched onto this year, Mumford & Sons is rocking one moment and melancholy the next.  The album was released in October of this year, but I didn't hear it until late November. I thoroughly expect to see them fill up venues throughout 2010.

"Church Music" by David Crowder Band
After their rather humdrum previous release "Remedy," I was worried about DCB. However, my fears were quelled with "Church Music." Despite the extreme shift in musical direction (much more synth and techno electronics here), the catchy worship songs shine, and are anchored by two fantastic cover songs of Flyleaf and John Mark McMillan.

And NOW, on to the main event!

10.) "This Empty Northern Hemisphere" by Gregory Alan Isakov

If you click the album cover to see it bigger, you will be able to see how this album sounds. The  man with the old fashioned telephone, the crinkled golden moon, the perfect star-filled night sky. The album is an escape into a time away from the busyness and fast pace of life and technology nowadays. The songs are painted pictures, sung delicately and orchestrated peacefully. Isakov teams up with Brandi Carlile for backing vocals on several tracks, including the romantic and lonely "That Moon Song." Lush with beautiful guitar work, a calm lyrical delivery, and overlaid occasionally with strings, "This Empty Northern Hemisphere" is a work of art through and through. Don't miss this 2009 gem if you need some calm and beautiful songwriting in your life.

9.) "Daisy" by Brand New 

I was fully prepared to be let down by this album. I think their 2006 album "The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me" is near perfect, so how could they follow it? Well, let me start by saying that "Daisy" does not trump its predecessor. However, it is still a wonderfully dense and difficult album to understand while being easy to love. These New Jersey fellas get weirder and more complex with every recording, and "Daisy" is heavier and harsher than anything they've done. The album's analogies of beds, trees, and burning are dark, and I bet they lost a lot of fans this year from Jesse's new found screams. But I have all the more respect for them. The intensity of songs like "Vices," "In a Jar," and "Gasoline" will throw you for a auditory loop, and you'll be wondering where the pop-punk "Jude Law..." days went (without missing them at all).

8.) "Animals in the Dark" by William Elliott Whitmore

William Elliott Whitmore is an old southern gentleman in a young body. This young 30s Iowan sings with a gruff passion, like he has a handle of Jack Daniels in one hand and a cigarette in the other. (I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case!) Nevertheless, this album seethes and boils over with soul. The opener "Mutiny" starts with Whitmore and some friends shouting over a single driving snare drum, and you know you're going to have a good time. The earnestness in Whitmore's voice throughout the desperate "Who Stole the Soul" or the uplifting "There's Hope for You" will sweep over your body and bring you comfort. There are playful banjo tunes to tie all the fun and folk together nicely. I cannot wait until Whitmore comes through town so I can sing along to these tasty jams.

7.) "Where the Wild Things Are (Motion Picture Soundtrack)" by Karen O and the Kids

As if Spike Jonze's wonderful adaptation to the book was not enough, the splashy indie soundtrack that highlighted the film was the icing on the cake for me. Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs shines on the soundtrack, making it a joyful romp through the mind of a child, as if she was able to channel little Max from the story. The fact that many of the songs include groups of actual kids singing and shouting background vocals makes it all the more real and, dare I say, cute. All smiles and giggles aside, the album also encompasses some of the more fearful or lonely moments of being a kid, highlighted on the frenzied "Animal" or the heart wrenching cover of Daniel Johnston's "Worried Shoes." Absolutely wonderful.

 6.) "Aim and Ignite" by fun.

fun. (funky lower-case and punctuation on purpose) is an indie pop super group, if there ever was one. Take the best parts from Anathallo, The Format, and Steel Train, mix it all together and you get a theatrical piece of musicianship, pushing the limits of contemporary pop music. With all three members being extremely talented, two of whom are master multi-instrumentalists, you get a album full of songs that only the band name itself can describe, fun! Many songs sound like they could come straight out of a musical, with classical breakdowns with cleverly written horn, string, and organ parts, frequently disregarding the guitar and drum of pop rock. Being their first full length release, I expect a long career ahead for these gents. When you spin this record, don't hesitate to get up and dance.

Download (One song from each album)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Songs for Christmas

I have nothing new to add to last year's post about what Christmas means to me. I won't be another voice in the never ending discourse on the political correctness of this time of year or anything menial or silly like that. I'm just going to celebrate, remember, and worship my Savior, who with this holiday we remember His coming to earth. Here are some Christmas songs you may or may not like.

1.) O Holy Night - Anathallo
2.) Christmastime is Here - Belle and Sebastian
3.) Frosty the Snowman - A Billion Ernies
4.) Silver Bells - Bright Eyes
5.) Go Tell It On The Mountain - Desert Noises
6.) Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! - Gary Hoey
7.) Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - James Taylor
8.) O Come, O Come Emmanuel - Joshua James
9.) Punk Rawk Christmas - MXPX
10.) Oi to the World - No Doubt
11.) 12 Days of Christmas - Relient K
12.) Joy to the World - Sojourn
13.) I Saw Three Ships - Sufjan Stevens
14.) The Christmas Song - Vince Guaraldi Trio
15.) Wonderful - Watashi Wa

(Download here!)