To be honest if I did not have this blog, I probably would have never made this list. A friend of mine that knows I Tweet a lot about music asked me if I was doing one. I hadn’t thought about it previously, but decided it would give me something to write about, so I set about compiling my Top 10 Albums of 2009.
#10 Momento Mori – Flyleaf
Flyleaf burst on the scene like the NEW big thing. Their videos were all over the place, and the media was in love with lead singer Lacey Mosey. Then the most tragic thing that can happen in Modern Rock music occurred, people figured out they were Christian. DOH! And much like Jars of Clay they sort of fell off the map. Well 4 years after their first release, they are back! Now, from the moment I heard “All Around Me” I knew they were Christian, and I am shocked and embarrassed for early listeners that no one else seemed to catch on to that, but I have never been opposed to Christian music. I mean, I am a Christian, why would I not listen to Christian music. I am, however, very anti poorly written Christian music (or poorly written music of any kind for that matter), but Flyleaf does it right. Their self-titled release was amazing, and Momento Mori pick-ups where they left off in 2005. It is more contemplative and a bit more rebellious, as if they were snubbing the establishment that snubbed them, but it has all the energy, passion, thick guitars, and amazing vocals that lovers of the first album will appreciate.
#9 Swoon – Silversun Pickups
I am going to be honest, as much as I love to be the person that finds the new band, that has been following them since they were playing small local clubs and doing regional tours, Silversun Pickups was a late find for me, but I am on board now and continually blown away by what I hear. I realize some bands hate comparisons, but for people that are unfamiliar with Silversun Pickups, I would be remiss for not mentioning a distinct similarity to Smashing Pumpkins. I can confidently say if you love the Pumpkins you will love the Pickups. Swoon is a masterpiece, combining thoughtful lyrics with the best dynamics I have heard on an album since Transatlanticism. There is a droning energy that carries through the entire disc, but each song moves in amazing musical directions, pulls when you should be pulled and pets you when your heart has had enough.
#8 The Fray – The Fray
As I was pre-tweeting these albums, posting one per day for the last 10 days, I called this a guilty pleasure. It is unfortunate that the pools I swim in are full of music elitists that scoff at anything that has mass appeal…more unfortunate that I allowed myself to kowtow to them and lost my authenticity. The reality is I LOVE the Fray, and I will not feel guilty for it. Isaac Slade has a very distinct voice which is instantly recognizable; their lyrics are personal yet universal; the music is solid and layered; they create great musical textures, offering harmonies and separation which allows the listener to hear everything in space…frankly, I am not sure why everyone doesn’t love this band.
#7 Brand New Eyes – Paramore
I started listening to Paramore back in 2005, right around the same time that I was turned on to Flyleaf. Actually I got into Paramore because I liked Flyleaf so much. Without a doubt Paramore and Flyleaf are as similar as two bands can be, but I do not fault either one of them. Much like Pearl Jam and STP, sometimes there is this cosmic energy that can have guys in Seattle and San Diego creating music at the same time that seems as if it fell from the same pen, or in this case some Christians in Texas and some teens in Tennessee both deciding it is okay to be fronted by a female and still rock, provided she has an amazing voice, and like Lacey, Hayley William’s voice is extremely powerful and expressive. She lets you know how and what she is feeling in her tone. The main reason Brand New Eyes is #7 and Momento Mori is #10 is because Brand New Eyes is Paramore’s 3rd album. Every signed band gets 2 shots, but that 3rd album…that third album determines if you are going to disintegrate into mythic statements as people remember how good you were (aka STP) or firmly plant yourself on the road to longevity. This album is so solid; I cannot imagine Paramore not being around for a long time.
#6 Strict Joy – Swell Season
What an amazing story, one small independent movie that they thought no one would see, breaks through all the glitz and glitter of big budget Hollywood to touch millions of people that had been begging for something real, something with feeling, something that was honest and pure…Swell Season was born. As longtime frontman of the Frames, Glen Hansard went from relative obscurity to one of the most respected singer/songwriters of our time, and with an album that opens with:
I wanna sit you down and talk
I wanna pull back the veils
And find out what it is I’ve done wrong
I wanna tear these curtains down
I want you to meet me somewhere
Tonight in this old tourist town
It is easy to see why. He is able to say what all of our hearts have wanted to say at some point. I mean who hasn’t felt that they were born to hold you in these arms? If based on lyrics and vocals alone, this would have been #2 for me, but I miss the rawness of the Once Soundtrack. I do not fault Glen or Marketa. They probably had legitimate studio money for the first time in their lives, how do you not get all wrapped up in slick production? But for me it loses a little something.
#5 Songs in the Night – Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers
Samantha was one of my serendipitous finds…when you are going to see one band and the opener happens to be as amazing as the headliner. Rarely will I buy an album at a show, for lack of cash on me or just inconvenience of the moment, but when I saw Samantha open for Thao I knew I had to leave with some of her music. Songs in the Night has everything that I am looking for in an album, great lyrics, distinct and resounding vocals, and stripped instrumentation with subtle layers. Although a very clean album, its lack of super shiny production put it just slightly above Strict Joy.
#4 The Fall – Norah Jones
Norah Jones is one of those artists that is so damn good that you want new music from her constantly, like it should just never stop coming. Even though there was only two years between Not too Late and The Fall, it seamed like an eternity. What I loved about the release of this album is they did it with quiet confidence. I just stumbled upon it at Best Buy one day. They knew people that love Norah would find it, and they were right. The Fall is very different from Norah’s previous releases. They are all quintessential Norah, but the others seem to have a Jazz undercurrent. This disc comes off as being a bit more experimental and has a solid bass groove that carries each piece, as opposed to the constant reliance on Norah’s keys.
#3 American Central Dust – Son Volt
Without Son Volt there would have been no Whiskey Daydream. Jay Farrar continues to be one of the most inspiring singer/songwriters and biggest influences on me. He can turn a phrase like few others, and the career he carved out from Uncle Tupelo to Son Volt with solo work in the middle is everything I dream of. American Central Dust is a return to Son Volt’s earlier work, more stripped, sparse, and open, but it still carries the same energy as Okemah and The Search. As far as I am concerned, there isn’t a false move on the disc. The instrumentation is perfect. Jay’s voice continues to be stark and emotive. There is melancholy and hope, introspection and revelation…with each tremolo’d strum and twanged chorus American Central Dust introduces its new listeners to a genre of music that Farrar created and reminds fans why Alt-Country is so powerful and moving.
#2 One Last Century – The Damnwells
I have spent the better part of the year talking up this band. I know I have converted some of you, and many of you have downloaded this album as a result of my posts, but recently my efforts were rewarded when my great friend Rob Woerther proclaimed One Last Century to be a Top 5. I respect Rob more than just about anyone when it comes to songwriting and overall music knowledge, and while we may have divergent opinions on certain artists (he is a Wilco devotee where I took the Son Volt road) we both recognize great songs, and One Last Century is filled with them. I drug my friend Stephanie on a 4 day roadtrip through 6 states just to see this band, and we are heading up to Chicago next week to get in another Damnwells show. They need no pretty adjectives to describe them. The Damnwells are amazing, and you should love them and this album…the end.
#1 One Fast Move or I'm Gone – Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard
Jay Farrar, Ben Gibbard, and Jack Kerouac, really that is all I am going to say. If you want more go read One Fast Move