(Editors note, this is coming out in late January due to being on the road.)

This is going to be a long post.  Get some popcorn, I would, but I don’t care for it.  It takes me a LONG time to write this.  It’s Friday, I’m listening to Get Lonely by the Mountain Goats and am making a pot of coffee.  Life is really good this year, so thanks for being a part of my world, friends and family and even those of you just reading.  I toyed with the idea of breaking it up into a countdown, but I link to it so often throughout the following year that it’s nice to have in one post.  I’ve been thinking about it for about a month already and narrowed down the albums to 15 or so.  It’s a very difficult thing for me, because so many albums are worthwhile.  Additionally, I have to figure out the format for speaking about albums and why certain albums make a bigger impact than others.

At the end of the day it’s a very subjective idea of what my best finds in music was over the year.  I use Last.fm to measure the most listens, but I my car gets a ton of play too, so I have to do that math as well.  Here’s a list of my recorded songs over the last year or so.  It’s  not perfect, but points out what I’ve listened to A LOT over the year.  It’s also deceiving.  Bright Eyes and Dylan are the top two entries, but neither have a place on the list.  My artist of the year is likely Conor Oberst, I’ve listened to a ton of his music, from Bright Eyes to his self titled to Mystic Valley Band to Desaparacidos to Monsters of Folk, but Bright Eyes isn’t here.  Albums are what are important here, for good reason.  These lists are about discovery and new music, not the best music in my collection that gets repeat play.  There are a few artists here that could have a few albums on the list, but I refrain from it to point out other artists.  It’s also easy to be biased towards albums purchased recently, so I strive to record more of my listening habits.  Next year I’m starting a database of all the music I buy to further refine this process.  We’ll see how well I can stick to it.

I’ll be putting an album cover and Amazon link to the album, a Last.fm profile of the band and potentially Youtube video of standout songs for your pleasure.  As always, this is what I listened to, NOT what came out in 2009; although there are new albums.  Without further ado…

Honorable Mentions:

Artist: Phoenix, Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.phoenix-wolfgang-amadeus-phoenix-302x302

This album was in the top ten for some time, but it’s just not robust enough to break in to the finals.  There are three songs on here that are ridiculously fun to listen to.  It’s a pop album at it’s finest: fast, fun and melodic.  The only problem for me is that there isn’t much continuity to it, although some would likely disagree.  They are simple songs with energy and I’d highly recommend purchasing this, regardless of what music you usually get into.  It’s infectious.  Here’s a video for 1901:

nekomiddlecycloneArtist: Neko Case, Album: Middle Cyclone.

Ooooooof.  This was incredibly difficult to do.  I’ve been a Neko Case fan for about three years now and she is easily one of the most unique and talented artists I know of.  Her voice is as deep and gorgeous as any I’ve ever heard.  This was the first album that she had produced in real time since I’ve started listening to her, and it does not disappoint.  It’s easily as good as any of her other studio albums.  Neko is different in that I’ve actually normally enjoyed her live performances more than her studio albums.  That is not the case here, it’s a higher tempo and more “indie” sounding than her previous efforts, which have skewed more so toward alt country or deep soul.

Not having this in the top ten is pretty ridiculous, but I didn’t spend as much time on this album as others.  That being said, I could easily see many people calling it their favorite of the year, it’s her finest.  This is an album I put on later at night for calm while winding down.  It’s blissful and current while still being retrospective about life and love.  You should get it if you don’t have it yet.  Here’s an obscure fan video of “I’m an Animal.”

arctic-monkeysNumber 10!  Artist: Arctic Monkeys, Album: Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not

The Monkeys got a ton of play this year.  Unfortunately, it’s gone down hill from the start of the year.  This album was their debut of sorts, and it was simply uncanny.  I hadn’t heard something this energetic in some time and they put everything together very well.  Fast, hard drumming with fast hard guitars and a GREAT lead singer.  This album had a few slower songs, but overall just ripped into you with song after song of gnarly riffs and vocals.  I had never heard anything like them and their sound was f*&$in’ terrif, mate.  The only reason this album isn’t higher is that it overlapped with the last year and for that reason didn’t get more play.  The reason I say things have gone downhill is that their second album was a little slower (although really still very good) and their latest album was kind of “meh.”

That doesn’t penalize them though.  I saw their live show and it was just OK.  It was packed, cost too much for what we got (two bands and short sets).  Besides all that noise of a band dealing with incredible popularity and slowing their sounds, this album was oh so real.  Just raw as hell and uncompromising.  It’s a shame they’ve slowed a bit, but this is still well worth the money, you lousy slag.  Video is the opening track on “Whatever..”

conormysticvalleyNumber 9!  Artist: Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band, Album: Outer South

To say that Conor is prolific is a large understatement.  It sounds like 2010 will see one last Bright Eyes album before that moniker is set to rest and he focuses on self titled stuff.  At least that’s what I’d presume.  Come to think of it, the older statesmen of music all went by their names (or most?) and so many of today’s musicians have bands and names alongside.  It’s probably a good idea to start going by his real name.  The reason?  He’s the single most talented writing musician working today.  Tough pill to swallow for most people, but his work is really something else compared to his peers.  Mark my words, Oberst will go down as the songwriter of his generation and will have a catalog similar to that of Dylan in it’s scope, though likely not his skill.  They are different and it’s unfair to use Zimm as a measuring stick, but Oberst truly does exude a similar ability.  I wrote on it a while ago.

This particular album is different than the last self titled in that other band members do a few numbers.  “Difference is Time” and “Down the Bloodline” are really good tracks, but the real show stoppers belong to Oberst.  The band is very good here, but it’s a solid way away from Bright Eyes material and should be approached as such.  The album caught a lot of flack right away, but I thought it was really solid off the bat.  I think a lot of people came around to it in time.  It’s a fun album with enough alterations to keep you busy for a good week.  There are a ton of good live performances, but the best song on the album (which admittedly takes time to understand and become favorable toward) is “To All The Lights In The Windows,”  which can be heard here.

shakethesheetsNumber 8!  Artist: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Album: Shake The Sheets

Ted Leo has a handful of really solid albums.  I bought three this year, but spent the majority of time listening to this one.  It has some phenomenal, up tempo tracks and overall is probably his best album to date.  Some probably disagree with that.  Ted is from Jersey and has a pretty distinguished career already.  I listened to this a lot in South Korea and in the latter parts of summer here.  I spent quite a few nights driving back from school midsummer with the windows downand yelling along to the “Little Dawn.”

All parts of this album are indie rock.  This is a three piece and there isn’t a ton of layering to the music; it’s pretty straight forward musically, but there are still a few variations on how they build up songs and the cadence of refrains and chorus.  It’s far from predictable, but wouldn’t win accolades from all of those people collectively anointing Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective as the best of the year.  It’s fast, raw sounding and prominently displays Leo as a vocalist.  He does an admirable job, with very fast songs and sing along lyrics that typically border on intricacy instead of obvious.  The energy displayed here will catch you off guard and win you over.  Though I haven’t heard all of their albums, this one is by far the winner for me over “Hearts of Oak” and “The Tyranny of Distance.”  Though I’d recommend the latter of those two if you were to choose.  Leo has a new album dropping sometime soon as well, so this might offer a good start for you if so inclined.  Here’s the official video for the hit single of the album, a fast paced plea for abolition from a debilitating eating disorder for a friend named Mia.  It’s good.  Really good.

PicaresqueNumber 7!  Artist: The Decemberists, Album: Picaresque

The Decemberists made a really big impact with me this year.  I have maybe five of their albums now?  Two years ago, I really got into the Crane Wife (which would have made a top albums of that year, but I didn’t do it.)  I also picked up Hazards of Love this year, which was pretty good in its own right.  The truth of the matter is that one of their albums had to make the cut, for the simple fact that I’ve listened to them nearly as much as any other band.  It was actually a pretty tough decision, because many of their albums are good.

Picaresque stood out for the fact that it had so many good songs on it and is an album you can listen to throughout without changing a song.  They are a funnier sounding band, they are purposefully anachronistic and have multiple tunes oriented around older times.  They do so uncannily well and open up imagination for being part of another generation.

I also saw them live at Rock the Garden and they stole the show.  It was truly a wonderful experience; they played through the entirety of Hazards of Love, a prog rock opera that takes over an hour.  That alone could have gotten them here, but their outstanding musicianship and lyrics only add to the Decemberist experience.  This album would be a good start for someone unfamiliar with the band. Here’s a random video of the Engine Driver, one of the better slow tracks housed in Picaresque.

in_an_aeroplane_over_the_seaNumber 6!  Artist: Neutral Milk Hotel, Album: In An Aeroplane Over The Sea

This is an older CD.  It came out North of ten years ago and many would argue is the peak of “indie” music.  Jeff Mangum is the mastermind behind it and has been somewhat off the radar since the release.  This is the only NMH recording I own, though that will likely be remedied in the future.  It’s said to be an allegorical rendering to Anne Frank and the Holocaust.  If that isn’t intriguing, then I’m not sure what is.  Yeah, there’s something to that, but the album is pure beauty.  You should own this.

So where to start.  The start of this album is actually different for me.  When I first converted it to my iMac, it cut off two of the starting songs, one of which is a slower ballad and the other which I forget.  So the album actually opened with the title track, which is an incredible opener as it were.  Mangum’s vocals open with a softer acoustic strumming and the band rejoins with a slow heightening whistle to accompany his high song.  A trumpet comes in from the darkness to illuminate a dreamy sequence and the song slowly fades out.

The work continues with incredibly creative and altered songs that are indicative of Mangum’s ability to articulate in obscure terms and something not easily understood.  It is a fast and lovely album with a sound unlike anything I’d heard previous.  Unless, of course, you count the hundreds of bands that they’d influenced with this piece.  I can’t really describe it beyond the fact that it’s well paced and flies by due to the interest it generates.  There are peaks and valleys, along with instrumentals that make this release completely their own.  Scary good.  Of all the albums on this list, this is likely the most important in developing a genre and laying the groundwork for where others would attempt to further.  The closer, “Two Headed Boy Part II” is my favorite.  Here’s a live set that was recorded, he sounds remarkable in person.

wolf-parade-apologies-to-the-queen-maryNumber 5!  Artist: Wolf Parade, Album: Apologies to the Queen Mary

Brutal.  That’s what it is to put this album at number five.  I was completely obsessed with this album (which was, btw, named for demolishing the Queen Mary hotel room they stayed in) for about a month.  It took a while though.

Spencer Krug, the lead singer and keyboardist for the band, has a different style of delivery that makes his lyrics tough to pick apart at first listen.  Once you start to unravel them though, they are quite good and mix incredibly well with the synth heavy, guitar ruckus they rip into.  There are so many songs here that could serve as singles, there are about two slower songs, which some might favor over anything else on the album, but mostly it’s an up tempo journey with instruments that I hadn’t heard as the centerpiece for a band.  It’s tough for me to describe further than that, other than my opinion that this was worth every penny and anyone who remotely likes alternative or indie rock should probably pony up the cash.  It’s well worth it.  Don’t believe me?  OK, watch this video.

mountaingoats_sunsettreeNumber 4!  Artist: Mountain Goats, Album: Sunset Tree

This album changed a lot of things for me musically.  John Darnielle, the lead singer and realistically the reason d’etre of the band, is something completely different in an otherwise crowded, swaying group of performers.  He has a huge catalog of music (one album per year for the last 18 years) and writes in such a nonchalant manner.  Yet his ability to write is not hindered by the simplicity, it enhances it.  This is not Hemingway’s simplicity either.  His vocabulary is quite profound, but is used intriguingly; the every day man would not begrudge him his prose.

The Mountian Goats offer a softer sound.  Their earlier recordings were centered around very lo-fi recordings, often using just a tape player and the band, or whatever it consisted of.  This album was my first exposure to them and it was epic.  What I didn’t know was that this is particularly fast and loud for the band.  Everything else I’ve purchased of theirs has been slower and often whisper quiet.  Previously, I wouldn’t have taken the time to listen for such soft recordings (Bon Iver and Iron & Wine aside) but over the months have amassed five of their albums.  Their music is such that listening to one album is seldom enough, it can play quietly in the background or be the centerpiece of a softly raining Saturday.

This was another choice of which album to choose.  The artist being new, it was between Sunset Tree and Tallahassee.  Either would serve as a good starting point, but I went with the latter for it being the first on my radar and having a few untouchable songs such as the video of “Love, Love, Love” below.  As a cohesive unit, Tallahassee may be the better of the two, with songs that just seem to belong together.  Darnielle does well to keep most of his albums of pure building where the melody seems in line, but that one in particular just flows.  It’s lazy and dreamlike and comfortable during warmer months especially, as the Florida moniker would entail.  Regardless, here’s one of the best songs on the album.

desaperacidosNumber 3!  Artist: Desaparecidos, Album: Read Music / Speak Spanish

This was a one time side project for Conor Oberst.  It came out in early 2002 before Lifted, so it was relatively early in his career and kind of a large step away from his more popular mainstay, Bright Eyes.

Something there is left to me that still needs some raw sounding rock and roll.  I grew up listening to punk music and it always fueled my anxiety ridden, politically derisive existence throughout adolescence.  NOFX and other Fat Wreck and Epitaph bands were big influences on me and back then it seemed it would never change.  It did though.  During college, I’d still buy punk albums every now and then but they were getting closer and closer to indie.  Whereas my youth was pop punk, the later years were harder stuff and that was slowly morphing into softer stuff again.  Dashboard Confessional was actually a pretty big step toward indie rock.  Slowly, after college indie bands started creeping into my catalog.  Rilo Kiley and Elliott Smith and, yes, Bright Eyes became mainstays.  This all happened over the course of a few years mostly because of my infatuation with Bob Dylan.  Anyone you hear today in indie rock is a direct descendant of him.  Nowadays, Wilco and Of Montreal and weird shit like Grizzly Bear get spins (I still can’t get into that new album though, no matter how much praise is heaped.)

Still, every year I listen to older catalog albums and throwbacks from the 90’s like Pinkerton or Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?  This year, this album took that role.  Neutral Milk Hotel is actually an older offering, but this one got more play.

It’s raw.  Super raw and I love it.  Most of the tracks are spent deriding the current state of money driven lives of Americans.  Misunderstanding of the rat race and why we choose to live our lives in constant search of monetary gains is highlighted by post metal guitar riffs and occasionally screamed vocals.  Though the overall sound is a bit distorted, the anger and veracity of the albums reasons for existence is made clear often.  It took me some time to really understand the lyrics and why I liked it.  At first, only four or so tracks appealed to me and now the majority are all worth listening to.  Musically it gives me something to yell to occasionally and in terms of subject manner, it was a  good reflection on the state of affairs for someone who still struggles with defining the good and bad of capitalism while navigating its ocean.  I need more records like this that get mad, but for good reason.  I’d like to play “$$$$$$” but don’t have a video for it, so I’ll settle for “Man and Wife, the Latter.”

okkervilNumber 2!  Artist: Okkervil River, Album: The Stand Ins

I purchased this due it being named number one on a few other blog lists last year and it is ridiculous.  Lyricism drives my musical tastes for the most part, and Will Sheff, the lead singer has it in spades.  That, coupled with his voice, a deep and smooth sounding country lull, they sound like something else entirely.  Arrangements are centered mostly around guitar and offer a lot of intricacy as well.

Every year, a few bands get to certain status levels that I have to go back and buy most of their albums.  The Mountain Goats, Decemberists, Wolf Parade and Okkervil River are those bands.  This, out of all of them, is the best individual disc of any of them.  They just put everything together and, though the album may lag a bit in the middle with “Pop Lie” sounding out of place, it’s an epic introduction to a massively talented band.

This more than anything else on the list is likely to go over well.  It’s relatively straight forward for people who enjoy rock of all kinds and will give you hours of entertainment. Here’s a live performance of “Starry Stairs,” one of the prime cuts.

rural(AT LONG LAST) Number 1!  Artist: Rural Alberta Advantage, Album: Hometowns

Well, this is it.  I got this album in the middle of summer and it blew me away right away.  Some albums just hit you directly, while others take time to settle in.  This was put together so well, there is no point where you want to skip tracks.  It just flows perfectly.

I’ve listened to this band for over 1,000 tracks according to last.fm.  That’s for one album of 13 tracks.  Which equates to listening to this cd 77 times over the course of three months.  It was completely submersive and addicting.  Biking around uptown in the summer, cranking this album made me happy.  I can only hope that their next album is as well constructed.  What’s really mind boggling is that this is only a three piece and is primarily oriented around the lead singer/guitarist and the drummer.  The third member of the band adds a lot of nice sounds to the mix through drums, vocals and a few other things.  That they made an album like this with such simplicity blows my mind.  It’s very straight forward, but there is so much to it!

The title, Hometowns, adequately describes the content, which is more about love found and lost and small towns in Alberta than anything.  It reminds me of home, which is a good thing.  It’s a softer indie rock, so if you are at all into that, this is for you.  Here is my favorite track on the album, played live, “Edmonton.”

That’s all.  Next year I’ll tinker with the formatting to get it a bit smaller, but music is a really big deal to me and I’d like to write more on it.  Potentially reviewing albums more during the year and summarizing the best of them at the end.