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…
“…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.
“…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.
“… 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.
“…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.
“…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.
“…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.
“…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.
“…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.
“…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.
“…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.
“…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.
“…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.
“…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…
“…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…
“…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.
I have an extra copy of Morrissey’s brilliant Years of Refusal CD to give away. You can read my rave review of the album here and the contest details are below.
1 copy of Morrissey’s Years of Refusal CD
Comment to this entry with your email address. You can also email me to enter, but comments are preferred.
Note: This contest is only open to people who live within the continental U.S. (sorry but I’m paying postage on this one!), and all contestants must enter with a valid email address in order to qualify. The winner of the contest will also be required to provide me with their full name and postal address for shipping purposes.
The contest will end on Friday, March 20th. The winner will be chosen at random and contacted via email.
Go now go! And tell others.
Morrissey’s ninth solo album Years Of Refusal was released on February 17th and I love it! So much so that despite my vow not to write reviews during the arduous moving process, I was compelled to purge the following into type last week. After years of bland indie-rock, quiet singer-songwriters, and soft jazz crooners, it is so refreshing to hear a male singer belt out in a truly good, robust voice.
I’ve always liked Morrissey’s voice, but must admit I’m not a hardcore fan of his solo career or his work with The Smiths. There are several songs that I adore (“Asleep“, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out “, “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get“, just to name a few), but in general I’ve felt that Morrissey’s rich voice has been wasted in nice but lackluster melodies. Not so now. Years Of Refusal finally puts his pipes to good use over soaring rock arrangements.
I can’t definitely describe the inspirations behind the songs, or the album’s title and cover art. Morrissey himself insists “I like everything to be a discovery for the person listening. I don’t want to explain how anything happened. I don’t want to be forced to say the same thing all the time, about why I did this, or didn’t do that.”
But as he also states: “I started to love how the singer can be singing about something sad or horrible but singing it in such a way that the listener can be hypnotised.” And that is exactly the appeal of Morrissey’s music to me, this album in particular. I like lyrics to be deep and poignant, but I think such serious content is better served over bold arrangements than somber ones. Which is what I love most about Years of Refusal.
Tracks like the brilliant and bombastic opener “Something Is Squeezing My Skull” (during which Morrissey pleads to be free of medication), “Black Cloud” (featuring legendary guitarist Jeff Beck), and the soaring pop single “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” address such serious subjects as depression and abandonment, yet this pathos is wrapped in vocals and melodies that are full of life and power. This is far more attractive and inspiring than limp emo ballads.
That’s not to say that there aren’t revisits to the melancholy sound of Morrissey’s past, such as in “Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed” and “One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell”. But more often there is a delightfully acerbic humor present that is pointed directly and mercilessly at lovers past and present: “All You Need Is Me”, “When Last I Spoke To Carol”, and my personal favorite, “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore”.
And while songs like “That’s How People Grow Up” (to me, a followup to “There is a Light…”) and the finale “I’m OK By Myself” seem to reflect self-acceptance and maturity, lines like “This might make you throw up in your bed” show that Morrissey’s emotional growth thankfully hasn’t dampened his sarcasm one bit.
I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples and watch a video at the links below.
Morrissey – I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris (YouTube Video)