10. Far - Regina Spektor -- That 4.8 rating from Pitchfork I think put an unfair snuf on the buzz surrounding this album. And I kind of liken her to the Weezer of the indie world. Soviet Kitsch was amazing and quirky and one-of-a-kind, just like the Blue Album and Pinkerton. And now, I think all the fans of Soviet Kitsch kind of feel jilted after every subsequent release because it doesn't sound like Soviet Kitsch. They'll still buy the albums, but be disappointed because there aren't any songs that sound like "Poor Little Rich Boy". Boo freaking hoo. Get over it. She's evolved since 2004. The songs on Far are great pop songs that come with the special touch that only Regina can provide. Whether backed by a band or just solo with her piano, these songs are great additions to her catalogue, and I look forward to seeing them played live some day.
9. Still Night, Still Light - Au Revoir Simone -- Three keyboardists and a drum machine. A great premise, and fortunately, the songs deliver too. In this world where it's so much easier to go the pre-programmed route, the three play their keyboards live, and really have a unique sound. The versitility of the keyboard is featured front and center, and it doesn't leave you longing for any kind of extended guitar solo. The song that I fell in love with was "Shadows". All three ladies spend some time on vocals, and their vocal style is more likely to be compared to Khaela from The Blow than the girls from the Dirty Projectors. Very sweet and soft, just letting the microphone do all the heavy lifting.
8. "Phrazes For The Young - Julian Casablancas -- This is what a side project should be -- an album that you couldn't make with your day job. While there are certainly parts that sound a bit Strokes-ish, the new wave influences and synths might stick out like a sore thumb on a Strokes record. You can hear remnants of "Don't You Want Me Baby" in the song "11th Dimension", and remnants of "I Ran" in "Left And Right In The Dark". These aren't guitar-driven 2:30 long songs....the shortest song on the album is 4:05, with most of them clocking in around the 5 minute mark. A lot of thought went into these songs, and while the risks he took certainly had the potential to be disasterous, I found this album to be extraordinarily fun. I'm a child of the 80s.....this stuff is great.
7. Dark Was The Night - Various Artists -- What an amazing compilation, and what a great cause. For the guys from the National to do the legwork and all these artists on board for this compilation...that's a feat in itself. It's a slew of artists that have been mentioned plenty of times on this blog over the last few years. And it's not a bunch of throw-away songs from the artists either. This was an essential album this year. It was great to get new music from bands like Arcade Fire, The National, My Morning Jacket and others while we wait for new proper albums from them, hopefully in 2010 sometime. The Dirty Projectors duet with David Byrne was one of the best songs of the year.
6. The XX - The XX -- It doesn't need to be loud to be great. It doesn't need to have wacky time signatures to be unique. This album was a breath of fresh air. I'm happy to see that this made a lot of other people's lists, and I don't have much to add that hasn't already been said. I would nominate "Crystalised" as one of the songs of the year.
5. Fantasies - Metric -- A solid album start to finish from a band that has been doing this sort of thing for awhile, but not really been recognized for it. "Help, I'm Alive" started out on Indie Soundcheck, and then got picked up into regular rotation, and is currnetly the 11th most played song on WLUM this year. Once it did go to regular rotation, the question for me wasn't if we were going to play another song from the record on my show...the question was which song was it going to be. I'm not an Emily Haines tire-pumper....I didn't think her solo/side project was very good at all, but I loved this Metric album. I knew early on that this was going to be on my list.
4. The Hazards Of Love - The Decemberists -- It's all about execution with the Decemberists. They wanted to do a concept album with a weird story line, and then came the Crane Wife. Mission accompished. They wanted to do a rock opera with a weird story line, and then came The Hazards Of Love. Mission accomplished. I'm not really sure why it wasn't met with the same critical priase that the Crane Wife received. So there wasn't a big radio single to rally behind. Big deal. I admire that they challenge themselves and stand behind the finished product. Even if you don't follow the storyline, the music is still the Decemberists at their best and most creative. Shara Worden steals the show with her part in "The Wanting Comes In Waves - Repaid". I still have not gotten tired of that song. And I can't wait to see what the band does next.
3. Manners - Passion Pit -- I didn't catch on right away. The voice....there was something about the voice that took awhile to click for me. "Sleepyhead" was the first song I had heard after the EP was released last year, and I was focusing too much on the voice instead of the song as a whole. Once I was able to not be so short-sighted, I was able to get behind that song, and then the entire Manners CD once it was released. It's an album of songs that could all be singles. "The Reeling" and "Little Secrets" are both among my favorites of the year. And then what solidified everything was their performance at Lollapalooza on one of the side stages. While Cold War Kids had the privledge of playing to empty softball diamonds on the south end of Grant Park, the street was packed for the Passion Pit show. It was an amazing rush. As tightly packed as we were, everybody seemed to have the biggest smiles on their face during their set. And the crowd surfers....I don't go to a lot of shows where that sort of thing happens....and if I am at one, I'm not usually close enough that I have to be on the lookout so I don't get kicked in the back of the head. But man, that show was the highlight of the entire festival.
2. Lungs - Florence + The Machine -- I saw Matty B took a shot at her in his top 10 writeup, and I'm not sure what his gripe with her is (and not to take anything away from the point he was trying to make...that Bat For Lashes is pretty awesome...I definitely agree)....but I look forward to having that conversation at the listening party. I thought this album displayed a very versatile singer/songwriter, blessed with a set of vocal chords that were designed to make music. The interesting instrumentation (love the harp) and the great hooks caught my ears immediately. She wrote songs....not verses and chorus and more verses. The attention to detail is incredible, and her producer deserves a ton of credit too. The record promoter was pushing "Kiss With A Fist", which really isn't that representative of the whole album. In fact, it was probably the least unique and interesting song on the album, as it sounded a whole lot like Ida Maria. At the same time, the song displays an edge that further illustrates her versitility, and makes her a whole lot more interesting. She's sweet, but she might throw your TV out the window if you do her wrong. "Dog Days Are Over", "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)", and her take on "You've Got The Love" are more representative of the finer points of the album. The XX actually put together a remix/remake of "You've Got The Love", which is outstanding in its own right.
1. Junior - Royksopp -- I'll probably be the only person with this on my list...but there isn't a record that I listened to more and enjoyed more than the record from this electronica duo from Norway. They don't do a ton of their own singing on the record, and the folks that they got to help out where casted perfectly. Karin from The Knife and Fever Ray takes the lead on a pair of songs. Robyn and Lykke Li both have contributions with fantastic results. The first single, "Happy Up Here" borrowed a riff from an old Parliament/Funkadelic song, and had a music video that referenced the old Space Invaders video game. Fun, right?! Yes it is! Robyn sings on "The Girl And The Robot", which the Pitchfork reviewer described like so: "...accounting not only for the best track on the album, but possibly of the year: Influenced in equal parts by Italo disco and "Blue Monday", "The Girl and the Robot" is a frigid, winding bit of electro that combines a powerhouse vocal with some slippery chord changes and one of the biggest choruses of 2009 so far." I don't always agree with Pitchfork, but I think they are spot on in that assessment, (and they wrote it a lot more eloquently than I could have. ) Karin's best moment came on the 4th track, "This Must Be It", and should be considered as some of her best work. I don't even care for Lykke Li all that much, but she was perfect for her song. Great songs, great production, great result. #1 for me.
Thanks for reading. See you in a couple weeks.