A few days ago I posted a small but select survey of the top 10 indie rock albums of 2009 by folks in the know about such things in Cleveland. There was a lot of diversity, but some amount of overlap. The one thing missing, of course, was my own list. I wasn't dodging the bullet or sloughing the critical weight onto the shoulders of others. Rather, I was biding my time, waiting to drop my favorite TWENTY-FIVE albums of 2009 on you at the right time.
The time has come.
What you'll find below, beginning with my favorite album of 2009 (Ramona Falls - Intuit), is a listing with a small amount of commentary about each track and links, where they exist, to reviews and/or other posts I've written about each band, either here or on Citizen Dick. I hope you enjoy and, more than that, I hope you get turned on to something new. And I really hope you have your own top 10s (or, why not, 25s) that you'll share with us in the comments section.
With that, onward!
1. Ramona Falls - Intuit (Barsuk) The best album of the year belongs to that prince of indie rock, Brent Knopf. His non-Menomena debut, Intuit is intricate and dense and lush. You can certainly hear a bit of Menomena in the band, but there is something new and different about it that makes it easy to classify as something altogether unique. Add to that the fact that Knopf is a really cool and decent guy and you have a best album of the year by the kind of person you want winning such a thing. In many ways, this could be the year of Knopf, at least for Cleveland, from coming to play a solo in-store at the Music Saves birthday party (his first ever Ramona Falls performance, by the way) to a killer show with a band behind him at the Beachland in September. Add to that the wonderful interview he gave me and this video for "Fever" and you have an artist we should all be eager to follow closely from here on out.
2. Sholi - Sholi (Quarterstick) This band makes me think of The Pixies. Now, anyone familiar with Sholi is like "Wha?..." I guess what I'm getting at is the whole "loud quiet loud" aspect of The Pixies, since Sholi is way more technically proficient than Black Francis and company. This record, Sholi's full-length debut, is alternately gentle and vicious, with an ever-present tension bursting at the seams. When I finally get around to my 2009 mix, it'll be a difficult decision between including either "Tourniquet" or "November through June" - both songs are killer. However that decision ends up, I hope they continue to get more buzz - it'd be nice to see the San Francisco group make it to the Rust Belt for a tour.
3. The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (Nonesuch) This year, NPR's All Songs Considered became one of my most valued sources for information on new indie rock. I loved the way host Bob Boilen talked about music, warm and affectionate yet critically evaluative at the same time, and his taste overlaps pretty well with my own. However, sometimes I disagree, and his early championing of the opening track on this album didn't agree with me at all. In fact, a good stretch of time went by before I gave the rest of the album a try. Once I did, I was in forehead-smacking mode for a while, as it proves to be one of the most beautiful old world bar-room rock I've ever heard. The show they put on in August only made me dig the band even more (the tear-inducing live version of "To Ohio" was an incredibly memorable moment), and this awesome video put the icing on the cake. The Low Anthem is a new favorite band of mine and I can't wait till they play the House of Blues with The Avett Brothers in February.
4. The Modern Electric - The Modern Electric (self-released) Let me put it like this - if I have a big birthday party next year, The Modern Electric is the band I'd ask to play it. Fun, raucous, and stunningly talented, this band (and especially frontman Garrett Komyati) is here for the long haul and I, for one, am stoked about it. In the very best way, this is a Gen Y band, making the most of its ADD and turning it into a fluid multi-media approach that entices audiences from all sensory corners. I expect very big things from this group and look forward to bragging about how I was there when ...
5. Floating Action - Floating Action (Park the Van) This is a band I totally can't brag about discovering in any organic way. A friend of mine burned me a CD, and then when I fell in love, I mentioned them to another friend of mine, who turned out to be the one who burned the same CD for the friend who gave it to me in the first place! The album is wonderful, a one-man band who sounds like the best Caribbean-influenced indie pop quintet you've ever heard or ever will. (Think Dent May but way less gimmicky.) I cannot wait for the day this act makes its way to Clevelandland. Until then, I'll continue to assuage my free cd guilt by telling anyone and everyone about the record.
6. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros - Up From Below (Vagrant) I first heard mumblings about these guys when I was at SXSW in March. Later, when I was listening to the NPR All Songs Considered SXSW wrap-up podcast, they confirmed what I'd heard. I eventually ordered the album through Music Saves, got it in a short time later, and immediately fell in love. "Home" has gotta be in the running for the best song of 2009, and the rest of the band is spectacle, brilliance, and killer hooks. Some (including occasionally myself) get hung up on the sincerity of the effort (particularly the hard pivot frontman Alex Ebert made from LA coke-rock band Ima Robot to this neo-hippie-ster outfit), but once you reconcile that question in your mind, you gotta believe they are wonderful. Of course, seeing them live (as I did in November) helps tremendously.
7. Iji - In Celebration (Self-Released) Oh, Iji. I love this band. I first saw them at bela dubby when I was there to see Afternoon Naps play and fell in love with the band's quirky yet full vibe. (Here's the show review.) I picked up the record and could barely take it out of my cd player in the car for a month. That good, for real. Since then I've been telling everyone about it and have probably burned more copies for friends than karma will indulge. But whatever - the word about these folks has to get out!
8. The High Strung - Ode to the Inverse of the Dude (Park the Van Records) This is the record I find myself turning to when I'm being a shit and I don't want to be. Lithe and peppy and genius, this album is exactly what I need to hear when I need to get up and/or stay up. Stuffed to the gills with killer tunes, some of the particularly noteworthy tracks include album opener "Standing at the Door of Self Discovery," "Out of Character," "Rope," and album closer "House Party." That being said, this isn't a record you are gonna want to be choosey with on itunes. Buy the whole mother trucker. You'll thank me.
9. Pains of Being Pure At Heart - Pains of Being Pure At Heart (Slumberland) Oddly, I get a lot of static from folks when I mention this album is in my top 10. Maybe because it is so obvious. Who knows? But I stand by it - a perfect pairing of JAMC, My Bloody Valentine, and bubblegum pop. And who could hate on that? For those of you still uncertain, I encourage you to see them live. They freaking ruled when they played the Beachland Tavern this past April and totally changed the way I listened to them.
10. Abe Vigoda - Reviver (PPM) The only true EP on this list, this album has stuck with me all through the year. The blistering set they put on in the middle of an Austin park during SXSW helped, of course, but the five tracks on Reviver stand alone. Desperate and sad yet jagged, this is a band to be reckoned with. After this one and 2008's Skeleton LP, I can't wait to see what comes next.
11. Monogold - We Animals (Self-released) One of my proudest finds of the year, all I can really lay claim to is the fact that I checked my email when one of the dudes in this band sent along an EP and asked I take a listen. This happens all the freaking time, but rarely (very very very rarely) is the music I receive on the level of this album. I originally described it as "vintage post-college Liberal Arts major/music minor indie pop" - a description that is very complimentary in my world. Along with Suckers, a band whose 2009 release I didn't include on this list because it was only 4 tracks, and The Modern Electric, this band is one of the new favorites I have thanks to discoveries this calendar year. I still find myself checking the band's myspace page to see if they have NYC gigs that my calendar could accommodate a quick trip over to catch. Some day soon, I hope.
12. Cotton Jones - Paranoid Cocoon (Suicide Squeeze) As much as I try to remember great albums and key details about them, my brain really works better when it events cement memories. For Cotton Jones, it was the killer in-store they put on at Music Saves last March (sponsored by my Citizen Dick brethren before they invited me to join the team). Seeing the concentrated grimace of Michael Nau and the shy yet effortless grace of Whitney McGraw turned this band and definitely this album into something new for me, and I've not been able to listen to the record in an indifferent way since. Instead, this is an album I put on when I'm sitting at my desk and my new pup insists on climbing into my lap for a nap. I order it up on my computer, lean back, and relax to the beautiful sounds and my dog's deep dream breaths.
13. Jason Lytle - Yours Truly, the Commuter (Anti) He's baaack. Thank god. Ex-Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle returned from a self-imposed mountain exile this year with gusto and it was about time. His solo record is imbued with a sense of reflection and integrity, and also leaves me with a sense (though perhaps it is wishful thinking) that homeboy is itching to get back in the rock game. Does this mean a Grandaddy reunion (oh please let it be so) or just another solo tour (I'll take it!). Whatever it is, I'm just happy I have this one AND the new free instrumental piano album (download here for free, thanks to Jason) to listen to while it all works itself out.
14. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career (4AD) Have you heard my long, convoluted, and most likely incorrect conspiracy theory about how the lyrics to one of the songs on this album proves that lead siren Tracyanne Campbell is actually in love with me? No? Well, remind me next time I see you and I'll fill you in. Just promise not to call the mental ward folks on me. In the meantime, this is the most coo-worthy pop album you could've possibly heard in 2009, and I think this band is poised for bigger things to come in the next decade. Much bigger.
15. Art Brut - Art Brut vs Satan (Downtown) I think I'm a moderately funny guy, sometimes anyway. I mean, I can make people laugh. I'm not good at telling regular jokes, but give me a little bit of space and the right kind of mood and I'll get some chuckles. (It helps if the person listening is drunk and the subject of the joke is myself, of course.) Anyway, I know that I'm only kinda funny and the man who was the level of hilarity that I deeply envy and resent is Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos. This goofy tall clown of a dude is the funniest person in indie rock today, with timing that any pro comic would kill for. The fact that he has a rocking band behind him and a penchant for spectacular live performances makes him a can't-miss artist and live act. The band's most recent record continues where the others left off, and while some songs (especially "Alcoholics Unanimous," "What A Rush," and "Mysterious Bruises") work better than others, the whole thing rules. Interested parties can check out my interview with Argos here and my review of their BRILLIANT live show at Oberlin this fall (with the also impressive Surfer Blood) here.
16. Lake - Let's Build A Roof (K Records) I am happy to admit that every ounce of appreciation I have for this band is due to Tom DeChristofaro, Afternoon Naps vocalist and guitarist and, dare I say, my pal. One Sunday afternoon at the Beachland Brunch, Tom mentions that he's sticking around the neighborhood to see "a couple K Records bands" and, if I'm not doing anything, I ought to consider checking them out. Casual like that. Later on, I'm antsy at home, and decide to walk down, with no clue what awaited me. I didn't download any tracks, didn't stream anything on myspace, just walked on down. When the band went on and snapped into this completely fucking brilliant 70s pop guise, I couldn't believe it. It was one of those dream moments, when you realize in an instant that you just found one of your favorite new bands. I got home, listened to the record, and continued to fall deeper in love. So, with that, thanks Tom.
17. Hush Arbors - Yankee Reality (Ecstatic Peace) When I tell people about this record, I describe it as something J Mascis would make if he was in a puppy dog stage of love. Full and fuzzy like the best kind of Dinosaur Jr ballad, this record has a gentleness and peace about it that can only be explained by some sort internal jubilation. Album closer "Devil Made You High" is particularly brilliant.
18. Telekinesis! - Telekinesis! (Merge) An album that is simply full of wonderful songs, there are a few here that should be classics. I'm particularly thinking here of tunes like "Coast of Carolina," "Look East," and "Awkward Kisser." They all combine a nice grungy guitar with a chill tenor vocalist and a nice hook-oriented set of songwriting. I love it.
19. Mount Eerie - Wind's Poem (P.W. Elverum & Sun) Oh my goodness, this is beautiful. I remember getting this album in the mail, wrapped in Phil Elverum's homemade packing and tape, thinking that if the mailing materials were that artistic, what the album must be like. The album is Elverum's interpretation of black metal, and while it first appears to be to gorgeous and delicate to be tagged with that label, once you confront the orchestral offerings that can be found on the outskirts of the genre, you see it fits.
20. Vetiver - Tight Knit (Sub Pop) Patient and subtle, this is an album easy to dismiss if you don't pay it the kind of attention it needs and deserves. I was nearly guilty of this, before seeing the band play a couple times down at SXSW this past March. Those performances, especially frontman Andy Cabic, sold me, now and forever.
21. Peekers - Life in the Air (Park the Van Records) This is an album that I never spent much concentrated time with at any point in the year. I never listened closely like I do when I write a review, it never was one of the 3-4 albums I bring with me on a long driving trip, I never got to know it in any kind of intimate way. Yet ... it is one of my favorite of the year, one of the handful of records I turn to when I need something smart and enjoyable to put on while I write. In fact, I'm listening to it right now, even as I write nutshell descriptions of all these other bands. Sweet and slow pop with a rural feel, a little more energetic and light-hearted Cotton Jones, if you will, this is a keeper. Ha. Peekers are a keeper. That wasn't even on purpose!
22. Bishop Allen - Grrr... (Dead Oceans) Though I've long had a casual smittance with this New York cute-pop band, seeing Justin Rice in Joe Swanberg's Alexander the Last at the Cleveland Film Festival in March reunited my appreciation of the band and charged my embrace of the band in the springtime. Though it gradually slipped in the rankings as the year went on, mostly because I found myself gravitating to music that was more dense and complex, Grrr... still stands as a pretty cool and fun album, perfect to put on to ignore raindrops falling on the windowpane or as a soundtrack for a summertime picnic. Check out this link for a fun video from the album.
23. Crocodiles - Summer of Hate (Fat Possum) Along with records by Wavves and Japandroids, this was the lo-fi masterpiece of the summer. Of the three, I picked the Crocodiles release for this list, if only for the opening track (which I refer to in my original review as "Abe Vigoda playing a church organ tithing processional"). The rest of the record is just as good, but I think the band still has a way to go before it is firing on all cylinders. They strike a peculiar blend of prima donna and crowing stoner, making it clear in the interview I did with them how much they like to party and how much sound guys suck. This seems to be a theme with them, as the only thing more noteworthy about their live performances (check out my review of one of their two Cleveland shows in 2009 here) than the surprising brevity of their set lengths is the frequency of their catfights with sound guys. Still, they got some chops, so I'll be picking up their next release for sure.
24. Califone - All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (Dead Oceans) An amazingly smart and challenging record that goes with an even more ambitious film, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers is the most accessible Califone record yet. I chatted with frontman Tim Rutilli about that and other things in an interview you can find here.
25. I Was A King - I Was A King (Control Group) A great fuzz-pop rocker out of Norway, this record didn't seem terribly complete to me - more like the album was a first draft and the songs on it mere sketches. After seeing them live at the Beachland Tavern in late May, I was convinced. For my review of the show, check out this link. And if you like your indie rock commentary a little creepy, here's a blurb celebrating one of the IWAK stalwart's (Anne Lise Frøkedal) ascension to my then-indie crush.