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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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.”

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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

The Swell Season: Strict Joy

Strict Joy is the recently released sophomore album by The Swell Season. If you don’t recognize the name, The Swell Season is composed of Glen Hansard and other members of The Frames, along with Marketa Irglova of the film Once (the soundtrack of which was on my 2007 Top Albums list). The Swell Season derive their name from Hansard’s favourite novel by Josef Škvorecký, and the album’s title refers to the poem “Strict Joy” by Irish poet James Stephens.

there’s diamonds growing in the mountain
beneath the pressure of all time
they grow in hope and expectation
waiting for your hands to find

I’m very torn on how to review this album. I wish so much that I could gush and rave about it, because I think the band is truly talented and they all seem like such nice, humble people. And had I never heard Glen Hansard’s music before, I might have a higher opinion of this release.

But it’s difficult to avoid disappointment when comparing these new songs to his previous efforts, all of which featured dramatic, intricate arrangements and incredibly emotional vocals. Maybe I’ve been spoiled in the past by the instant gratification of songs like “Revelate” and “Falling Slowly.” I suppose I just miss the sound of Glen wailing his heart out of his chest as the music quaked and soared beneath his vocals.

This time around the heartache seeps out in a gentle, gradual manner with a much simpler, mellow acoustic sound. Songs like “Low Rising” in particular seem to imitate but don’t quite capture the breezy romantic style of Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic,” a song The Swell Season has covered several times in the past two years. Being likened to Morrison is certainly a compliment and “Into The Mystic” is one of my favorite songs of all time, but Strict Joy is just not the immediately mesmeric and moving experience I’ve come to expect from a Hansard album.

Still, Glen Hansard at his weakest is light years ahead of every other artist, so take the preceding paragraphs with the proverbial grain of salt. I realize I tend to hold my favorite artists to a higher standard than others, and this may be a little unfair.

I think perhaps Strict Joy is a grower. The more urgent pace of “Feeling The Pull” and the quiet tension of “In These Arms” definitely have that crawl under your skin potential.

And the album is a lyrical masterpiece from beginning to end. The delicate, melancholy ballad “Fantasy Man,” in which Marketa takes lead vocal, is the stand out in this regard.

Ultimately, I hope this will be taken as a positive, but balanced review. If you can listen to the album without expectation, it’s beautiful in its own way. But if you go into it with memories of what once (no pun intended) was, it’s solid but slightly unsatisfactory.

The Swell Season – Low Rising (mp3 expired) *

*mp3 posted w/ permission of band’s PR rep

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The Swell Season - Strict Joy (Deluxe Edition)

The Swell Season Official Site
The Swell Season Myspace

Interference: Live In Dingle

Interference‘s Live In Dingle album was recorded live in 2003 at St. James Church in Dingle, Ireland for RTÉ’s Other Voices: Songs From A Room. Once star and The Frames frontman Glen Hansard again joins the band.

The heartfelt condemnations of war “American Townland” and “Nowhere” open Live In Dingle on a much more serious tone than their previous release, with the music taking a backseat to Fergus’ soulful vocals. “I Was Looking For Someone” is a softer, wistful ballad that finally allows the strings to rise with O’Farrell’s voice.

The disc includes idyllic acoustic renditions of “Cain & Abel”, “Prayer For A Voyage”, “Vaj Vaj”, and “Gold” – all from Interference’s self-titled album. Glen Hansard contributes his voice and guitar to “Gold” and the striking wailer “Breaking Out”.

Though I favor the studio album, this live set is well worth obtaining if only for the two opening songs, the Hansard collaborations, and the ravishinge finale “I’m Your Man”.

Interference – American Townland (mp3 expired)
Interference (feat. Glen Hansard) – Breaking Out (mp3 expired)

Interference Official Site

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If you’ve seen Once, you’ve already heard the music of Interference. The Irish band sang with The FramesGlen Hansard in the pub scene of Once and their song “Gold” also appears on the movie’s soundtrack. The tune was originally featured on Interference’s 2003 self-titled release, on which Glen Hansard guests. If you like that song, you will love their album. And even if you somehow don’t like the song, you still might love the album. Interference is led by singer-songwriter Fergus O’Farrell of County Cork, Ireland, and their music jumps from traditional Irish and folk balladry to pop and classic rock glamour.

Though I enjoyed the Once version of “Gold”, I think I prefer the original take. The band’s vocal harmony ebbs and flows flawlessly on the timeless melody underpinned by a mix of violin, bongos, and electric guitar. The string accented “Prayer Before A Voyage” is even more lovely, sounding like a Ziggy Stardust cover of a traditional sea chantey. “Vaj Vaj” is an atmospheric piano ballad.

The catchy pop ditty “Vinegar Girl” was co-written by Glen Hansard, who sings and plays guitar on the track. The classic rock doused “Wild Cat Strutting Thing” is as cool as it title suggests, and the Bowiesque “Chow Mein” is both funky and funny. The influence of Thin Lizzy seems apparent, but I also wonder if Fergus is a fan of Ted Nugent and Talking Heads. “Wild Bill’s Circus Scene” flows back into a softer folk sound zested with trombone and violin, then the moody “Too Many Paths” swirls into uncharted territory.

Every track on the album is fantastic, but the real stunner is “Psycho Jill”. The title is interesting enough, but Fergus alternates between eerie singing, haunting whistles, and horripilating spoken word verses while the ominous bass guitar, strings, and piano build into a crescendo of creepiness. The song would make a good companion to “Greatest Show On Earth” by Felice Brothers.

Usually, my problem is being denied permission to share even one mp3 in a review. This time, Fergus kindly gave me permission to share any tracks but “Gold”. It was nearly impossible to narrow it down to just two songs. I cannot recommend and praise this album enough.

Interference – Psycho Jill (mp3 expired)

Interference Official Site

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Music on TV: Once, A Fine Frenzy, Plant/Krauss, Fisher

Congratulations to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova on winning the Oscar for Best Original Song! For the few who hadn’t heard “Falling Slowly” before the award show performance, the ballad is on the brilliant Once soundtrack. It was #4 on my Top Albums of 2007 list. I thought the Hansard/Irglova/Stewart interaction last night was adorable.


I occasionally get asked about songs played in tv shows or commercials. Most of these questions pertain to Kate Voegele‘s role as Mia on One Tree Hill. If you’re curious about the song playing in the final scene of this week’s episode of OTH, it was “Ashes And Wine” from A Fine Frenzy’s One Cell In The Sea.


The new JC Penney American Living commercial features “Killing The Blues” from Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – #7 on my Top of ’07 list.


And the song in the animated CVS Pharmacy commercial is a cover of Sarah Mclachlan’s “Ordinary Miracle” performed by Kathy Fisher of the band Fisher, an old online acquaintance of mine. Fisher’s “I Will Love You” (which she was kind enough to dedicate to my hubby & me at Mountain Stage in 2001) was the first mp3 I ever downloaded. It’s on her debut album One.