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.

Great Northern: Story Mp3

Eenie Meenie Records is what we call blogger friendly. “Story” is the third mp3 from Great Northern’s upcoming release Remind Me Where The Light Is that the label has made available as a free and legal download. I am not exaggerating by saying that I have listened to the album at least once every day since I received my copy at the beginning of March.

I only had permission to post “Fingers” for two weeks, so sorry if you missed it. However, you can still nab the “Houses” mp3s from my album review.

Great Northern – Story (mp3) *

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of Eenie Meenie Records

Buy @ Amazon

Mp3 Menagerie: Great Northern, Nyle Wolfe, XTC, Jill Sobule

Great Northern – Fingers (mp3 expired)

As promised, here is the second mp3 I was granted permission to share from Great Northern’s upcoming release Remind Me Where The Light Is. The album is sure to be on my favorites list this year. If you happen to pass my car on any given day of the week, you just may hear me singing (badly) along with it. Check out my rave review for an mp3 of “Houses”. Both tracks will be taken down in two weeks. Apparently the band was played in a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Buy @ Amazon

Nyle Wolfe – Maire My Girl (mp3 expired)

Irish opera singer Nyle Wolfe is currently working on a new album, and sent me this Irish ballad to share. I reviewed Wolfe’s previous release last year.

The Duke’s of Stratosphear – My Love Explodes (mp3)

The Duke’s of Stratosphear – Brainiac’s Daughter (mp3)

The Duke’s of Stratosphear were XTC masquerading as a 1960s inspired psychedelic folk band. Their albums will be re-released on April 6th.

Buy @ Amazon

Jill Sobule – A Good Life (mp3)

Quirky singer-songwriter Jill Sobule is probably best known for “I Kissed A Girl” (far superior to the Katy Perry song of the same name), but most of her catalogue is more folk than kitsch. Particularly her upcoming album California Years, which will be released on April 14th.

Buy @ Amazon

Great Northern: Remind Me Where The Light Is

Great Northern will release their sophomore album Remind Me Where The Light Is on April 28th. I personally did not find their previous release to be very memorable, which is obviously why I can’t recall much about it. However, Remind Me Where The Light Is has a much more captivating sound. Los Angeles duo Rachel Stolte and Solon Bixler finally seem to have embraced the eerie darkness suggested by their moniker, which I assume is an homage to the hotel in Twin Peaks.

“Story” is the atmospheric, call and response pop-rock opener. There’s a darker undertone to the opening verse of “Houses” despite Rachel Stolte’s melodic vocal. A burst of guitar ushers in the chorus, then recedes behind the duo’s intertwined harmonies. Stolte claims “Houses” speaks of accepting the truth of your life no matter how painful, while the more melancholy “Driveway” expresses the longing to be adored to the point of obsession (or as one of my favorite novels says: “to be loved to madness”).

“Fingers” is the true beginning of the album for me. Ominous instrumentation is barely restrained as Stolte’s sultry croon initially floats in, then haunting sonic waves spur the song onto a lighter cloud of pop.

“Snakes” is a soaring pop-rock number that I suspect would produce chills in a live performance. Hopefully Great Northern will play Mountain Stage so I can test that theory out. Solon Bixler takes the lead on “Stop” and has just enough spirit in his voice to make the song sound more like Grant Lee Buffalo than the current bland indie-boys.

The darkly seductive sound of “New Tricks” is another stand out moment on Remind Me Where The Light Is. The song would fit well in any of David Lynch’s projects, particularly the afore-mentioned Twin Peaks. And “Numbers” has the slow-building tension of Motorcycle’s “As The Rush Comes“. Every time I listen to this album, I like it even more.

Eenie Meenie Records were kind enough to grant me permission to offer the following mp3 for two weeks, and have also given advance authorization for me to share “Fingers” later this month. So if you like what you hear, check back in a few weeks for the other mp3.

Great Northern – Story (mp3) *

Great Northern – Houses (mp3) *

*mp3s hosted by & posted w/ permission of Eenie Meenie Records & Magnum PR

Great Northern – Fingers (mp3 expired)

Great Northern Official Site
Great Northern MySpace

Buy CD @ Amazon

Buy Mp3s @ Amazon