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.”

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

Buy @ Artist’s Site

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.”

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

20. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones

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

Buy @ Amazon

19. Hem: Funnel Cloud

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

Buy @ Amazon

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.”

Buy @ Amazon

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.”

Buy @ Amazon

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.”

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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.”

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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)*

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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!

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

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…

Buy @ Amazon

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.

Buy @ Amazon

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist

Muruch’s Top 15 Albums of 2009

It’s that time of year again! Following are my Top 15 Albums of 2009. As usual, I tried to balance the order of the list between what I personally perceive as artistic merit (quality of songwriting, vocals, and instrumentation) and basic listenability (how many times I played the album throughout the year). I’ve included some new commentary and brief quotes from the original reviews. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and in some cases download mp3s…

Muruch’s Top 15 Albums of 2009

15. Joshua James: Build Me This

…all dusty roads and sunsets buoyed by rock guitar and drum crashes that eventually give way to sprawling piano and mournful strings” – As his previous release did on 2008’s list, Joshua’s album pushed its way onto this list at the last minute. I suppose it’s the subtlety of his music that prevents it from being more prominent in my memory, but it wasn’t until I listened to the album again that I remembered its excellence.

14. Rykarda Parasol: For Blood and Wine

…noirish rock sound with lyrics that alternate between whiskey-splashed cabaret and blood-soaked Gothic poetry” – I haven’t had much time to get to know this new release, but it’s already a favorite. I hope more people pay attention to Rykarda’s unique talent.

13. Sharon Isbin: Journey to the New World

… elegant, Medieval chamber-folk instrumentals and haunting traditional vocal pieces ” – This was a surprise. My enjoyment of instrumental music has grown tremendously this year, but I usually place a higher value on vocals. But this lovely album has been one that I’ve returned to and enjoyed many times over the year.

12. Maura O’Connell: Naked With Friends

…Maura O’Connell’s unparalleled vocal power is beautifully displayed in her impressive new album” – This one was sabotaged by the amount of emotion Maura’s voice rips out of me. It’s a gorgeous album from beginning to end, I just have to be in a particular mood to listen to it.

11. Luminescent Orchestrii: Neptune’s Daughter

…filled to the brim with the kind of warped traditional Eastern European music that made me love Luminescent Orchestrii in the first place” – I really expected this to be #1 when I first reviewed it and the stand out tracks are absolutely stunning, but overall I don’t listen to it nearly as much as the albums below.

10. White Lies: To Lose My Life

…dark, catchy synth-rock with a slight retro Goth feel…think “Blue Monday” by New Order” – This ominously infectious little album worked its way up the list throughout the year. The title track in particular is one that echoes in my head long after the music has stopped.

9. The Decemberists: Hazards of Love

…The Decemberists transformed themselves into the hard rock progeny of Led Zeppelin for portions of the album” – This magnificent concept album may be #1 when it comes to artistic merit, but it lacks the overall listenability of others on the list. Still, it’s one of the more impressive projects of the year.

8. Morrissey: Years of Refusal

…finally puts his pipes to good use over soaring rock arrangements” – I loved this album when I first reviewed it and put it on heavy rotation last winter, but hadn’t listened to it much since then. Playing it again made me wonder why I neglected it for so long. If albums have personalities, it has the strongest of the year.

7. Sonos: Sonosings

…whether humming in such hushed tones or belting to the rafters as in latter tracks, there’s an elegance to each note the sextet sings” – This was another release that faded in my memory until I dug it out again and rediscovered how wonderful it is. Now I love it even more than I did when I reviewed it. The duet with Sara Bareilles on “Gravity” is very moving, and their a cappella cover of “White Winter Hymnal” is one of the loveliest recordings I’ve ever heard.

6. Muse: The Resistance

…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” – The brilliance and complexity of Muse’s album still surprises me every time I listen to it. Not only do I love this album, but it’s the one that everyone I know immediately asks about when I play it.

5. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is

…the kind of guttural, robust, bluesy soul of James Brown and Screaming Jay Hawkins” – I’ve played this countless times and it’s probably the most fun listen of the year.

4. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Meet Rabbit

…marries foreboding metal guitar and militant drums to pretty piano and angelic backing vocals, reminding us of Gaba’s fondness for Iron Maiden” – The Top 4 albums on this list are pretty much interchangeable. This is probably the most unusual and creative album on my list. I’ve known Gaba for almost a decade now, and I was happy to see her popularity in Poland skyrocket this year. I think she’s going to be a huge international star someday.

3. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory

…a breathtaking blend of militant beats and orchestral strings” – I loved this album from the beginning, but it also turned out to be a grower as repeated listens revealed even more layers to its beauty. It is definitely the most beautiful release of the year, but there are two albums I’ve listened to more…

2. Great Northern – Remind Me Where The Light Is

…Ominous instrumentation is barely restrained as Stolte’s sultry croon initially floats in” – If the order of this list was based solely on the number of times I’ve listened to an album this year, Great Northern would’ve been #1 by a landslide since I’ve played the album nearly every day since March. It may not be the innovative recording on this list, but it is certainly the most addictive. Only one man could keep it from the top spot…

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

…I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time” – The quote says it all. This album had an edge since it was based on my favorite book (Cat’s Cradle) and featured my favorite author (Vonnegut), but Soldier’s innovative compositions helped push it to the top of the list. If my imagination had a soundtrack, this would be it.

Luminescent Orchestrii: Neptune’s Daughter

I’ve waited in eager anticipation for new music by Luminescent Orchestrii, and Neptune’s Daughter will finally be released on January 20th! Since I reviewed the band’s previous album Too Hot To Sleep two years ago, they have signed to Nile Mile Records – also home to The Zydepunks. I was first introduced to the music of Luminescent Orchestrii when they performed with The Dresden Dolls. Their sound dances between “world” music and what I call the demented circus genre. At times their songs are similar to the twisted Roma acoustics of 17 Hippies, yet there’s a deranged frenzy to the Orchestrii’s music that sets them apart.

Luminescent Orchestrii are violinists Sarah Alden and Rima Fand, guitarist and harmonica player Sxip Shirey, and Benji Fox Rosen on double bass. Neptune’s Daughter features guest musicians Greg Squared on clarinet, percussionist Mathias Kunzli, and human beat box Adam Matta. All of the core band members share vocal duties, often simultaneously.

The frenetic instrumental “Moldavian” sets the deliciously bizarre stage for this unique song cycle before Sarah and Rima’s haunting vocals churn up a wicked phantasmal rendering of “Mur Stojmeno”, a traditional Bulgarian song.

“Nasty Tasty” (first posted on Songs: Illinois) is a sexy, trippy little number featuring Matta’s human beat box. Yet Neptune’s Daughter is otherwise filled to the brim with the kind of warped traditional Eastern European music that made me love Luminescent Orchestrii in the first place.

The ominous instrumental “How To Play Romanian” creaks, groans, and lurches about for the first two and a half minutes until a whirlwind of demonic strings drags it into the underworld. The album falls into a churchyard hush with the lovely Jewish folk song “Di Zun Vet Aruntergeyn”.

The ladies croon seductively on the eerie “What The Water Said”, belt out the whizzing gypsy tune “Jarba”, then wail and hum the Cuban ballad “La Tarde”. Exotic percussion faces off with exuberant strings in the stunning “Dreaming In Turkish” and rabid “Militsa”. Finally, Sxip Shirey snarls verses while the girls play The Andrews Sisters on the diabolically romantic title track.

At best, I thought I would like this album as much as Too Hot To Sleep, but Luminescent Orchestrii have grandly outdone themselves here. Neptune’s Daughter is the first release of 2009 that I expect to list as a favorite at the end of the year. It also doesn’t hurt that the album’s cover features a mermaid (the English translation of “Murúch”).

Luminescent Orchestrii – Moldavian (mp3 expired) *
Luminescent Orchestrii – Nasty Tasty (mp3 expired) *

*mp3s posted w/ permission of record label

Luminescent Orchestrii Official Site

Buy @ Amazon

The Dresden Dolls: Roundhouse DVD

The DVD of The Dresden Dolls’ performance at London’s Roundhouse theatre on November 3rd and 4th, 2006 features band members Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, their artistic fan Brigade, comedian Margaret Cho, Luminescent Orchestrii‘s Sxip Shirey, Jason Webley, Lene Lovich, Reggie Watts, and other singers, musicians, and performance artists. The Roundhouse production was a much larger and more theatrical event than the more intimate Paradise DVD.

The concert begins with an introduction by Margaret Cho, clad only in red burlesque feather fans. Then the Dresden Dolls take the stage to perform “Sex Changes”. Amanda was surprisingly covered up in a large tshirt rather than her signature velvet mini dress, but that was the only variant in their presentation. An impressive curtain climbing acrobat and dancers put on a punk-goth Vaudevillian Cirque de Soleilesque show during “Gravity”. Amanda and Brian ask the audience to sing along to “Modern Moonlight”, then slide into “Mrs. O” to better showcase Amanda’s limitless pipes. “Backstabber” is followed by “Coin-Operated Boy”, the latter causing the crowd to erupt into cheers and applause.

The Dolls emerge from behind their respective instruments for a cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Two-Headed Boy”, during which Brian plays acoustic guitar. They return to the piano and drum set for “Mandy Goes To Med School”. Performance group Zen Zen Zo entertains the audience during “Slide”, and a colourful selection from The Brigade sing backup on “The Jeep Song”. The Dolls round out the main set with “Dirty Business”, the catchy “Shores Of California”, and Brian’s acoustic guitar as well as The Brigade return for the so-called finale “Sing”.

But of course there was more. The three song encore began with a mesmeric performance of “Mein Herr” that finally revealed the cabaret corset that had been hiding beneath Amanda’s tshirt. Trash McSweeney of Australian band The Red Paintings and some actual painters joined the duo for “Mad World”, which sounded more like a tribute to the Gary Jules cover rather than the Tears For Fears original. The true finale of the evening was my favourite Dolls tune (and second fave song ever) “Girl Anachronism”.

The Roundhouse DVD also includes two bonus duets (trios?) – “Missed Me” with Edward Ka-Spel of Legendary Pink Dots and “Delilah” with the magnificent Lene Lovich. There are also interviews with the various performers and extra footage from the concert, during which we finally see clips of Sxip Shirey’s noisy circus act and Margaret Cho’s bizarre burlesque number with Jason Webley.

One might expect my adoration of the Dolls to fade now that they have gained some relative fame, but I felt just as giddily fangirlish watching the Roundhouse performance as I did when I first heard their music years ago.

The Dresden Dolls Official Site

Buy the DVD

Luminescent Orchestrii: Too Hot To Sleep

Attention! This is my new favourite band. Luminescent Orchestrii came to my attention in the same way that Elizabeth & The Catapult did, by playing with The Dresden Dolls. Apparently if Amanda Palmer likes a band, I will love them. The band’s press release describes their music as “circus musicians, punk rockers, Appalachian fiddlers, audio tweakers, irreverent composers, Romanian gypsy melodies, punk frenzy, salty tangos, saucy lyrics, unexpected haunting harmony, hip-hop beats, music to make you dance and kiss and scream”. They are all of this and more, their sound truly defying category. The vocals at times recall the Mediaeval Baebes cover from The Wicker Man, and 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.

The Luminescent Orchestrii is composed of Sxip Shirey on resophonic guitar, bullhorn harmonicas, and melodica, Aaron Goldsmith on guitarrin, Rima Fand on violin and viola, Adam Matta supplying human beatbox, and Sarah Alden, Kaia Wong, and Julianna Carney on violin. Males and females alike lend their vocal talents to the mix.

“Amaritsi” begins with acapella female vocals before the strings kick up into a catchy, spicy, upbeat tune that I can’t get out of my head. The screeching strings on “Stranger” remind me when the Devil plays his fiddle in Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down To Georgia”.

The band’s take on the traditional instrumentals “Freilach/Rabbi in Palestine” and “Cohen/Kolemeike” are exotic, spirited, and beautifully captivating. “Warsaw” could be an Appalachian folk tune if not for the seductive vocals and passionate music.

Songs like “Knockin” and “Too Hot To Sleep” sound like they could have been lifted from the Roma centuries ago, yet Sxip Shirey wrote them himself. The title track also has a hint of jazz mixed into its gypsy sound. “Tango du Réve” is the above referenced saucy tango.

There are so many genres in “Tea”, I don’t know where to begin. The track starts sounding like a Tom Waits song then switches to an ominously dark semi-bluegrass sound with female harmonies on the chorus before sliding into speak-sing blues and bursting into screaming strings that finally culminate in a chaotic explosion of sound. It’s mind-blowingly awesome, what else can I say.

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a hip-hop fiddle tune until now. “She’s A Brick” bends genres with a mix of human beatbox and singing strings. The pretty closing track, “Sweet”, is the most peaceful that the album ever gets.

I haven’t been this excited about a new musical discovery since author Caitlín R. Kiernan first introduced me to The Dresden Dolls. Luminescent Orchestrii’s Too Hot To Sleep would unquestionably be my #1 album of 2007, except for the fact that it was released in 2005.

Buy @ Amazon

Buy directly from band