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.

Rykarda Parasol: For Blood and Wine

Rykarda Parasol just released For Blood and Wine at the end of October. Much like her debut Our Hearts First Meet (one of my Top 2006 albums), the new song set delves into a noirish rock sound with lyrics that alternate between whiskey-splashed cabaret and blood-soaked Gothic poetry. In addition to writing and producing the new disc, Parasol has also independently released it as she searches for a new label.

the ivory lace was woven as a crawler’s web
the dress be bone, though my sash was rose-ed red
white henry in my hair and sapporo lily in my hand
at twenty and one hope is plenty – unrest hard to fathom

From the eerie opening wails of “The Road is Long” through the gritty rock of “A Drinking Song,” For Blood and Wine is propelled by the dusky power of Rykarda’s voice.

Delicate piano winds through the beautiful and menacing “Widow in White,” which calls to mind Nick Cave’s murder ballad “Where the Wild Roses Grow.” Militant drum and a backing choir of male voices help shape the stunning “One For Joy!” into an ominous sea chantey. The two songs are my personal favorites on the album.

Just when tracks like “Oh My Blood” push the album to the edge of the blackest abyss, the sweet tones of “My Spirit Lives in Shadows” and “Je Suis Une Fleur” bring it back into murky light. Then the finale “Kindness, You’re Killing Me” breaks free of the album’s prevailing darkness with a gentle, melancholic folk strum.

I was not granted permission to share a full mp3 from the album, but Rykarda did provide the following mp3 clip and video. You can also hear more samples at the links below.

Rykarda Parasol – A Drinking Song (mp3) *

Rykarda Parasol – Je Suis Une Fleur (YouTube Video)

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist

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Rykarda Parasol - For Blood and Wine

Rykarda Parasol Official Site
Rykarda Parasol MySpace

Rykarda Parasol: Our Hearts First Meet

Rykarda Parasol is a modern day Marlene Deitrich. With a resonate vocal depth that rivals Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano and a bluesy Gothic cabaret style that calls to mind the murder ballads of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Rykarda’s Our Hearts First Meet is a dark and haunting rock noir masterpiece. Parasol has shared the stage with Frank Black, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Kristen Hersh‘s 50 Foot Wave, Jolie Holland, and the aforementioned Johnette Napolitano. Concrete Blonde has long been one of my favourite bands, and it’s almost unnerving how much Parasol’s husky, detached voice sounds like Napolitano.

The moody “Hannah Leah” creeps in with a languid guitar strum beneath Rykarda’s rich voice before unleashing a choir of ghostly wails. “Arrival, A Rival” is another highlight with a sparse tumbleweed guitar twang churning with elegant piano into an eerie crescendo that would do Siouxsie Sioux & The Banshees proud.

“Night on Red River” kicks up the rock rhythm for a wailing PJ Harvey sound, while songs like “Lullaby for Blacktail” and “Candy Gold” barely lighten the mood with swaying and swaggering beats.

Parasol’s lyrics are poetic, ominous, and often morbid. The funeral of a friend in “En Route” and the racial violence of the Langston Hughes inspired “Lonesome Place” each paint a vivid portrait of death. But it’s Rykarda’s slinky, smokey voice that holds you captive, particularly when she plays the love-scorned narrator of “How Does A Woman Fall?” and the world-weary traveller in “Texas Midnight Radio”.

Rykarda Parasol – Hannah Leah (mp3)
Rykarda Parasol – Lullaby for Blacktail (mp3)

Rykarda Parasol Official Site
Rykarda on MySpace

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