Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Albums

In addition to my usual year end lists, I’ve also compiled Best of the Decade lists. Following are my favorite albums that were released between 2000-2009…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Albums

25. Muse: The Resistance

This is one of those albums that has classic potential, and I expect to move its way up the list as the years go by. A quote from my review: “Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard.”

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24. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Rabbit

It was difficult to narrow how Gaba’s releases to just one, but I think her latest is her strongest to date. As I said when I named it #4 on my Top Albums list, it is “probably the most unusual and creative album” of 2009.

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23. Soundtrack: Once

The soundtrack to the Irish independent film Once features The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I said in my 2007 review that Hansard’s “lyrics are deeply poetic, his music is heart-wrenchingly lovely, and his beautifully raw voice conveys emotion as if the man were literally ripping his own chest open as he sings.”

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22. Antony & The Johnsons: Antony & The Johnsons

Instead of a best of 2005 list, I deemed it The Year of the Bird and that post says everything about how Antony’s music made me feel when I first heard it. While I Am A Bird Now was their more popular release, I’ve always favored their self-titled 2000 album.

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21. Pina: Quick Look

Pina sadly remains my best kept secret. I discovered her in the early aughts when a French pal shared mp3s of “I Loved the Way” and “Bring Me a Biscuit.” I also love Pina’s 2005 release Guess You Got It, but the rougher edges of Quick Look‘s production fit better with her “Gothic folk” style.

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20. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones

My 2008 review summed it up: “The flawless beauty of this album is almost beyond my comprehension.

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19. Hem: Funnel Cloud

I like this album even more now than when I called it a “nearly perfect album” in my 2007 review.

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18. Damien Dempsey: To Hell or Barbados

As I stated in my 2007 review, the album is a “genre-hop through folk, rock, electronica, and reggae…but the genre gymnastics still take a back seat to the stunning quality of Dempsey’s voice.”

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17. Anais Mitchell: The Brightness

My 2007 review said: “Like the greatest of classic literature, the compositions on The Brightness are the kind that softly seep through your skin and slowly make their way into your heart and mind before exploding in dazzling display of amazement.”

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14. Xavier Rudd: Dark Shades of Blue

Xavier has quickly become my favorite male artist in recent years, and as I said in my 2008 review: “the astounding quality of his songs make me wonder if future generations might consider Xavier Rudd to be the greatest artist of this era.”

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15. Mavis Staples: Never Turn Back

I’m almost ashamed not to put this at #1, because in many ways this is the greatest album of the past two or three decades. I simply don’t listen to it often as the albums listed below. I suppose this is because the weighty subject matter requires a certain mood. But as I said when I reviewed it two years ago: “We’ll Never Turn Back is what music should be. Gut-wrenching blues, earth shaking beats, hip swaying rhythms, deeply moving lyrics, and a rich voice that defies description.

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14. Luminescent Orchestrii: Too Hot to Sleep

I deemed 2005 “the year of the bird,” but that’s only because I didn’t hear Luminescent Orchestrii until 2007 when I said: “there’s a definite connection between their frenzied, violent approach to orchestral instruments and the punk cabaret of The Dresden Dolls, but neither description fully captures their unique and unearthly sound.

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13. Flogging Molly: Swagger

This album ushered in the Celtic Punk craze of the decade. There’s no such thing as a bad Flogging Molly album, but this one was definitely their best.

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12. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory

In my review I called Inland Territory a grand “display of Vienna Teng’s brilliance, grace, and talent.” I continue to fall more and more in love with this album with each listen.

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11. Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads

My #1 album of 2009. As I said in my review: “I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time.”

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10. Mary Timony: Mountains

I had never heard of former Helium singer Mary Timony until a friend sent me this album shortly after its 2000 release. Mary’s unusual mix of Medieval folk, chamber pop, and indie-rock was unlike anything I’d heard before, and it remains one of the most strangely beautiful recordings I’ve ever heard.

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9. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band: The Whole Fam Damnily

My #1 album of 2008. In my review, I called it an “inebriating concoction of swamp stomp and backwoods pluck.” But in subsequent listens I’ve found myself drawn more to The Rev’s lyrics, which accurately capture the perils of modern rural life.

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8. Allison Crowe: Live at Wood Hall

Oh that voice! Still gives me chills. I’ve posted about Allison Crowe so many times over the years that I consider her Muruch’s musical mascot. As I said in my 2007 review: “there’s really no way to convey through mere words how much the music on Allison Crowe’s Live At Wood Hall moves me” Forget Susan Boyle, Allison sang the definitive cover of “I Dreamed a Dream.” (mp3)*

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7. Soundtrack: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling

I always call it the “Buffy Musical” rather than its proper title Once More With Feeling.” Years before Dr. Horrible, Joss Whedon wrote a hilarious, poignant, and very catchy musical for an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I don’t know how well the songs translate if you never watched the Buffy series, but I still love singing along to the soundtrack. The album features vocals by actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Allison Hannigan, Michelle Trachtenberg, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters, and Anthony Stewart Head. This is an example of why file sharing works – I and several friends burned our own soundtracks from mp3s recorded directly from the televised episode long before the soundtrack was released, yet we all purchased the official album once it became available.

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6. Xavier Rudd: White Moth

I could easily include all of Xavier Rudd’s albums on this list, but I tried to limit myself to just two. My 2008 review said: “Rudd deems the album his “proudest work” and it’s easy to understand why.” But it’s really only been with repeated listens over the past two years that I’ve grown to love and truly appreciate its magnificence. And nothing speaks to the greatness of an album like having a panic attack when you think you’ve lost it and knowing you must replace it immediately. Fortunately, I found my copy!

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5. Damien Rice: O

Unlike most Americans, I heard and fell in love with O when it was originally released in Ireland in 2001. My clothbound first edition of the album is a collector’s item now, but I wouldn’t part with it for anything. Rice seems to have faced some post-hype backlash in recent years, but that doesn’t erase the brilliance of this album. Most remember it for Lisa Hannigan’s delicate harmonies, but Rice’s use of strings and opera music were also very unique at the time. And the album as a whole has withstood changing trends in music over the years.

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4. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine

This is another example of why file sharing can have a positive effect on album sales. Remember “Free Fiona”? If you don’t, Fiona recorded a version of this album with producer Jon Brion and her label initially refused to release it. Mp3s of the demos were leaked online, the fans loved them, and a huge campaign called “Free Fiona” was launched in hopes of getting the album released. It worked, though Fiona re-recorded most of the album for the official release. I was one of many who purchased the album even though I had the demo mp3s. My 2005 review also shifted the focus of this site from simply sharing music to encouraging people to purchase albums. It has since become one of my favorite albums ever, and I hope Fiona decides to grace us with another release in the near future.

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3. Soundtrack: Hedwig & The Angry Inch

Among the 2000-04 archives of this site that have been lost were my reviewes of the movie Hedwig & The Angry Inch (which I saw in a double bill with The Anniversary Party at a local film festival) and its soundtrack. Whether or not you’re familiar with John Cameron Mitchell’s awesome musical about a German transgender rocker, the soundtrack is one of the best rock albums of all time. There are thunderous punk rock numbers like “Angry Inch” and heart-melting ballads like “Origin of Love.” Why Mitchell continues to act instead of record music is a mystery to me.

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2. Old Crow Medicine Show: Big Iron World

In my November, 2006 review, I said “I don’t believe I’ve ever said this about an album before, but I think Old Crow Medicine Show’s Big Iron World is just about perfect.” I stand by that statement. I’ve played this album more than any other released in the past three years, and only one band could keep it from the number 1 spot…

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1. The Dresden Dolls: The Dresden Dolls

Anyone who knows me or has been a longtime reader of this site knows that The Dresden Dolls are/were my favorite band. My posts about their self-titled debut (and the live A Is For Accident album that preceded it) were also lost with early archives of this site, but I’ve raved every other Dresden Dolls release since then. After “Over the Rainbow”, The Dresden Doll’s “Girl Anachronism” is my favorite song and this is possibly my all-time favorite album. Amanda Palmer proves without a doubt that – in the right hands – the piano is the most punk rock of all instruments.

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*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist

Damien Dempsey: The Rocky Road

Irish singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey is a smart man. Instead of trying to top or even replicate last year’s insanely brilliant To Hell Or Barbados – which at my second favorite album of 2007 – Dempsey went in a completely different direction for his fifth studio album The Rocky Road. A collection of eleven traditional and contemporary Irish covers, the album features guests John Sheahan and Barney McKenna of The Dubliners and serves as tribute to Irish singers like Christy Moore, Pecker Dunne, Frank Harte, Luke Kelly, and Shane McGowan of The Pogues. Damien’s deep, melodic voice is perfectly suited to these classic tunes.


then off to reap the corn, leave where I was born
cut a stout black thorn to banish ghost & goblins
me brand new pair of brogues I rattled o’er the bogs
& frightened all the dogs on the rocky road to Dublin

In addition to singing lead vocal, Dempsey plays guitar, banjo, and bouzouki. Sheahan lends his fiddle to the album, while McKenna contributes banjo and mandolin. Both provide backing vocals. Sharon Shannon and other musicians toss in fiddle, whistle, flute, bodhrán, harmonium, and other traditional Irish instruments.

My favorite version of “Rocky Road To Dublin” is the high octane Celtic Punk twist by Dropkick Murphys. But the rhythmic title track to Damo’s album is definitely my favorite of the more traditional takes. A soulful vocal on Ewan MacColl’s “Schooldays Over” is followed by a beautiful rendition of The Pogues’ “A Rainy Night In Soho”.

Damien’s a cappella performance of “The Twang Man” is so powerful and resonant that I think the entire album would be even more captivating without any musical accompaniment at all. His hearty vocal of the Wexford rebellion anthem “Kelly From Killian” merges with the livelier instrumental “The Teetotaler”, while the moody “Hackler From Grouse Hall” is paired with “The Monaghan Jig”.

It would be difficult for even the weakest of voices to mar the timeless “The Foggy Dew”, but the astounding potency of Dempsey’s vocal grants the haunting classic even more integrity and beauty. The mandolin steals the spotlight on the lovely “Night Visiting Song”, and a subdued but hypnotic rendering of “Madam I’m A Darlin'” serves as the album’s finale.

the bravest feel & the requiem bell rang mournfully & clear
for those who died at the Eastertide in the spring time of the year
the world did gaze with deep amaze at those fearless men, but few
who bore the fight so that freedom’s light
might shine through the foggy dew

Damien Dempsey – The Rocky Road To Dublin (mp3 expired)

Damien Dempsey Official Site

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Damien Dempsey

Damien Dempsey: Shots

Damien Dempsey’s 2006 release Shots isn’t as stylistically impressive as his latest genre-bending effort To Hell Or Barbados, but the fervent strength, incredible range, and robustly multi-faceted tone of his voice give even his simplest tunes a magnetic quality. And some of his best acoustic work and vocal performances were on the decidedly more Irish sounding Shots.

Dempsey’s voice soars on the softly atmospheric “Sing All Our Cares Away”, scrapes the depths of his vocal chasm in “Not On Your Own Tonight”, and floats back up into a sweeter pitch on the ballad “Hold Me”. The beats of the growling “Patience” foreshadow the reggae experimentation of To Hell Or Barbados.

The epic vocals, haunting Celtic instrumentation, and historically dramatic lyrics of “St. Patrick’s Day”, “Colony”, and “Choctaw Nation” lift the album up into a cinematically opulent realm. Listening to those three songs, it’s no wonder that Damo is becoming such a star in Ireland. If the rest of the world has any taste at all, they’ll soon follow suit.

The US release of Shots also includes three tracks recorded live at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre in 2005, including Damo’s catchy Caribbean sing-a-long ode to optimism “Negative Vibes”. Some of the other tracks are a little lackluster in comparison to the more dramatic cuts on both albums, but even Dempsey’s weaker tracks could wipe the floor with most other artists.

Damien Dempsey – Cursed With A Brain (mp3)
Damien Dempsey – St. Patrick’s Day (mp3)

You can also watch Damien’s half-hour acoustic performance on RTÉ.

Damien Dempsey Official Site
Damien on MySpace
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Damien Dempsey: To Hell Or Barbados

Damien Dempsey’s vocal and songwriting talent would have made To Hell Or Barbados astonishingly good enough even if he had only stayed in acoustic guitar mode. But the Dublin native – often referred to as “Damo” in Ireland – didn’t stop there. Instead, the ten tracks on the album genre-hop through folk, rock, electronica, and reggae. Yes, I said reggae. Not something you would expect to hear from someone who otherwise sounds more like traditional Irish troubadours. This experimental blend of what may seem like opposing musical styles results in a very interesting and exciting aural journey. And the genre gymnastics still take a back seat to the stunning quality of Dempsey’s voice. No wonder his fans include Shane McGowan and Sinéad O’Connor.

The liner notes include a small glossary of Irish phrases such as “eejit”, lyrics, and the historical inspiration behind the album’s title. Like Flogging Molly‘s “Tobacco Island”, To Hell Or Barbados refers to Oliver Cromwell’s campaign that shipped Irish citizens to Barbados as slaves in the 17th century.

There are too many brilliant tracks here to choose from. But the ones that stand out the most to me personally are “Maasai”, “How Strange”, and “To Hell Or Barbados”. The songs are in some ways very different from each other. “Maasai” has a somewhat exotic style and was inspired by the music and spirituality of African tribes, while “How Strange” and the title track are among the more basic acoustic tunes. Yet Dempsey’s plaintive wailing and stirring arrangements elevate each song to a dramatic level.

“Kilburn Stroll” is another acoustic track, named for Dempsey’s nightly walking route in north London. These simpler tunes show off the beautiful timbre and range of Damien’s outstanding voice. The spoken verses of “Serious” are pure Dublin and illustrate the pressure drug dealers put on their clients.

The hints at reggae begin to show in “Chase The Light” and are let loose in “Teachers”, which name checks Billie Holiday and Nina Simone among others. And the closing track “The City” mixes the Irish, African, and reggae elements with an electronic beat.

I was not granted permission to share an mp3 from this album, but here are two tracks from Dempsey’s previous release Shots:

Damien Dempsey – Cursed With A Brain (mp3)
Damien Dempsey – St. Patrick’s Day (mp3)

You can also watch Damien’s half-hour acoustic performance on RTÉ.

Damien Dempsey Official Site
Damien on MySpace
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