Best of Album List (A-Z) from the First Half 2009


RSL Album Buyer's Guide - 2009 Volume I

Welcome! You have just found one of the most exhaustive and well-considered lists of quality, new music available in 2009. We don't promise to have everything that's out there but what is comes in one easy-to-digest package!

Read on below: there's an mp3 or video from each of the 33 best music projects RSL has come across in 2009. Ultimately, this A-Z shopping list (we have great confidence that any and all of these belong in your permanent collection) is a reflection of our own personal tastes. (Accordingly - there are some rather prominent omissions from this list - and we stand firmly by these selections. We didn't always agree - so there are some debated entries here!)

Enjoy the fruits of our labor & invest in the artist material. We all need to support the works of musicians and artists whose work we enjoy. With that in mind, here are the 2009 Volume I album recommendations from Ryan's Smashing Life....

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

"Maestro Andrew Bird has proven himself yet again on Noble Beast. And what he does is make beautiful sound arrangements framed in his witty, poetic lyrics. Bird has found his place amongst the leaders in classic instrument fusion with independent rock. Noble Beast is a beautiful album," - Ryan.

Bitter Tears - Jam Tarts in the Jakehouse

"The Bitter Tears are not your standard indie rock. They use many instruments, well placed harmonies and a variety of sonic flavors to engage and entertain. Imagine a rock version of Beirut or an updated Squirrel Nut Zippers with a little Cracker," - Sean.

Black Gold - Rush

"One of my favorite live shows of the year was Black Gold at the Middle East. A powerful and succinct touring bed Black Gold are led by the dynamic duo of Eric Ronick (credits include: Ambulance Ltd and Panic at the Disco) and Than Luu (credits include: M Ward, Shushshush and Rachel Yamagata). Their performance proved to be both analog and totally electric. Than Luu was the best drummer I saw all year long," - Ryan.

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career

"Highly orchestrated with lots of reverb, My Maudlin Career still has a sweet simplicity that just sucks you in and keeps you bopping in your chair," - Sean.

Chairlift - Does You Inspire You?

"This band was one of my constant companions on the road in 2009 - I don't listen daily, but I always end up coming back. A complete pick me up... In Does You Inspire You listeners get the full tradition of good pop music: creative, jetty songcraft, unusual, quirky presentations and no fear of simplicity. Give Chairlift a listen." - Ryan.

Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid

"Deep dirty blues with a dash of Southern Rock. Now, toss in a couple slow tunes to keep you on your toes and Dan Auerbach has put together one hell of an album," - Sean. "Sean and I were lucky enough to both be at the Dan Auerbach show at the Paradise here in Boston. The man has a spirit about him - an eye-opening show! - Ryan

Decemberists - Hazards of Love

"The Decemberists infuse their traditional British-inspired folk(tale) sound with, of all, things, metal riffs that can tear through this 17-song album at break-neck speed. There are still moments of soft beauty, but the album's strongest when Meloy's slightly sinister vocals are finally accompanied by the hard and jagged guitar work--not to mention the guest vocals from totally badass Shara Worden," - Nikhil.

Doves - Kingdom of Rust

"Doves have been away from the studio, and from Boston, for a few years now, but they returned with a very strong album last month. They play great mood music, and Kingdom of Rust is the dark horse candidate for best album of the first half of the year," - Nick.

Great Northern - Show Me Where the Light Is

"I asked the others at RSL if they only had three albums to put on the list who would be on it. Remind Me Where the Light Is was one of my three. Great Northern was a very good band that got better and more passionate this year. (Read our full review, here.) This is must-have stuff," - Ryan.

Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown

"I wrestled with nominating Green Day, I mean its Green Day. But seriously, the intensity and variety of the songs on this CD make it a definite best for the first half of 2009," - Sean.

Heartless Bastards - The Mountain

HB's Erika Wennerstrom

"Heartless Bastard's CD release party at Great Scott's was a highpoint of this year's live shows. The album too, is a great mix of blues and rock behind Erika Wennerstrom's unique vocal tone," - Nick. "The aching passion behind this album comes through in lyrics and in tone. Rarely does introspection produce results that rock so hard," - Nikhil. "One of my three best records of the year for sure - and possibly the best. Heartless Bastards are one of the best live bands in the country," - Ryan.

Hands and Knees - Et Tu, Fluffy?

The Hands and Knees debut is absolutely one of the best records of '09. Et Tu Fluffy takes on a modern indie/alt-country dance with Hot Little Item, a swirling, slowly climbing homage to a girl that I swear to god could have come from Roy Orbison." - Ryan.

Ian Adams - Stay Up Late

"A new release this month, Ian Adams' Stay Up Late is an incredible album of howling ballads and character stories. Adams is a 15-year veteran of the Boston Music scene, having played most notably with Rock City Crimewave, but finds himself here the subject of a rock and roll baptism. This is the sound of an unraveling soul - Highly Recommend!" - Ryan.

Ida Maria - Fortress Round My Heart

"A total surprise, Ida Maria's debut LP is fun, moving, and invigorating. Her singing sounds like it comes from deep inside, and this blends perfectly with the band's punk sound," - Nikhil.

Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications

Steve Albini's angry production puts a fresh stamp on Cocker's music here. "Further complications" is a bitter pill of sarcasm and wit in equal measure. Cocker’s best work in years," - Nick. "I love this album a lot." - Ryan.

Logan 5 and the Runners - Featurette

"Sharp, punctuated drum driven forward by keys and rythmic bass only to be chopped up by electric guitars - this is the key to success on Featurette, the debut from Logan 5 and the Runners. I am further fueled by frontman David Berndt's voice which seems it was pretty much made for smoky lounge rooms and dark epiphanies," - Ryan.

Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing

"Atlanta’s Manchester Orchestra are on their way to big things, and we can only applaud their efforts. "Mean Everything to Nothing," with its high point. Be Sure to check out the video for "Pride," (full version) - the highlight of the album and its deep rock roots. I love it," - Nick.

Matt & Kim - Grand

"I named Grand the First Must-Have album to be released in 2009 and I stand by those words! Another band that has turned the page and gone on to do some remarkable stuff, Matt & Kim are just wicked on this indie pop record with punk undertones. Highly Recommend." - Ryan.

Maximo Park - Quicken the Heart

" Maximo Park write twenty-first century songs of love and romance. This, their third album, keeps up their tradition of (great) old-fashioned songwriting. Add to this their on-stage energy, which left us breathless when they played in Boston last year, and this album should win over many when they come back to Boston and play the Paradise in September," - Nick.

MEandJOANCOLLINS - Love. Trust. Faith. Lust.

"Storytelling come with relative ease between bombastic rock performances from MEandJOANCOLLINS. You must add Love. Trust. Faith. Lust. to your collection - one of the best new albums of the year!" - Ryan.

Metric - Fantasies

Jenny Lewis photo

"With a bit of a Tegan and Sara flavor, Metric delivers rock electronica that is upbeat without being dancy. Luscious vocals and sweet beats makes you want to hit the road and drive fast (always obey the speed limit people)." - Sean.

Neal Casal - Roots + Wings

Matthieu Zazzo photo

"Neal Casal has made his name by proving to the be the very bedrock of the Cardinals. Now he's out on his own. Roots + Wings is an absolutely amazing album - an unexpected treat out of the world of country," - Ryan.

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

"As her music continues to be increasingly difficult to identify in terms of genre, Neko's Middle Cyclone brings together alt-country, folk, power-pop, and rock. The result is an album that is entirely original and surprising throughout. The vocals here are, as always, hauntingly beautiful and lend a startling strength to each song," - Nikhil.

Passion Pit - Manners

"Boston's own Passion Pit put the bounce back in indie music, and every track reels you in with its catchy mix of electronic music and guitar riffs," - Nikhil. "I have to admit - I have come to love this album despite some minor nagging flaws that bugged me at first. (Not all the intros work well and some of the tracks sound a little enclosed or rushed despite their tone...) But what's here was better than 95% of everybody else's releases this year. One of the most promising band's we've ever heard. If they can jump a few small hurdles, the sky's the limit." - Ryan

Peter, Bjorn and John - Living Thing

"Living Thing really spoke to me this year. I like the fact that PB&J draw from a wide array of influences to achieve their sound. Tons of experimentation and an upbeat live show all lead to one of those 'best of' type years. This one's a winner," - Ryan.

Sam Roberts - Love At The End of The World

"A touch of twang, a dash of psychedelia, a bunch of really good songs and at least three great ones. Oh Maria, this one's for you," - Sean.

Speck Mountain - Some Sweet Relief

"A bit more subtle, but every part as beautiful and unfolding as our other selections, Some Sweet Relief proved to be one of my favorite albums of the year. Speck Mountain have proved themselves on this one; Highly Recommended!" - Ryan

Super Furry Animals - Dark Days / Light Years

"How can you resist an album that features the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand doing a rap, in German? SFA show us once again they really are on a different planet. It's not just funny though - there are lots of SFA's signature harmonies, which make this one of the most beautiful albums of the year so far." - Nick.

The Tragically Hip - We Are The Same

"Vocally, this is The Hip's most complex album, and the songs all push the line between soniforous beauty and guitar-driven outbursts that will rock you out of your seat," - Nikhil. "I am still getting into this album, but love what I've heard. Re-joined the Hip's legion of fans follow's Nik's huge piece that ran earlier this year," - Ryan.

Travels - The Hot Summer

"Anar Badalov (of Baltimore faves Metal Hearts) and Mona Elliott (of Boston's beloved Victory at Sea) are back at it again and the results never sounded better! This creative couple - known as Travels, have released their second remarkable album and it's their best work to date!" - Ryan.

Various Artists - Dark Was the Night Compilation

"This is easily, hands down the best album of the year. (This is where I get to take the role of petty dictator. Last year I restricted our 'Best of Lists' to not include complilations, greatest hits and cover albums -- and our writers complied. I opened it up his year so this album could be included in our list!) A couple of really creative guys from The National put together this Aids benefit CD featuring a 'who's who' of talent. If you don't own it, put it on your music shopping list immediately," - Ryan.

Wild Light - Adult Nights

Ryan Russell photo

"The word, 'Zeitgeist' refers to 'the spirit of the time' that something comes in. I am fairly convinced Wild Light's time is here and they are partially making it their own - and that their success is also due to something greater than themselves... It's impossible to not hear this NH band with Boston-ties and fall in love with their album. (Is California on My Mind a song of the year candidate?) Adult Nights is a spiraling staircase skyward - one step away from utter brilliance at all times," - Ryan.

Wooden Birds - Magnolia

"This is the new project from Andrew Kenny of the American Analog Set. The negative space on this record is just fantastic. Quiet and careful, it's full of lo-fi beauty that uses every note with incredible purpose and effect," - Nikhil.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz

"The album has an amazing arc, and Karen O makes you want to dance and lash out at the same time," - Nikhil. " A disco turn for what is still the best band out of New York of the last decade. Some have doubted this new direction, but I loved "It's Blitz" for it's swagger and it's fun. One of the best albums of this half of the year," - Nick.


March2theSea said…
well done RSL! Many things for me to check out that is for sure. I agree on Manch Orch and Green Day ( i know its mainstream and all..but its great). I gotten in to decemberists recently so I look forward to checking the new one out.

no comment would be complete with out a "Where is _________??" so, my vote is Where is Mastodon?

well done..this took a lot of work!
Roberto Cofresi said…
Great selections. But no M. Ward?
Anonymous said…
could this list be any whiter?
Ryan Spaulding said…
Color has nothing to do with our selections. If you are speaking about the lack of hip-hop and rap - mentions of these projects abound online.

Unless you view yourself as an anonymous racial crusader - blinded by your own fiery quest, we encourage you to listen to some truly great music on this list that isn't age/race/religion specific.
dirkler said…
So happy to see Dark Was the Night on here!
I'm not one for compilations, as you can read here.
But this one blew me away. I agree, put this one on your to purchase list immediately!
miriamwavv said…
green day? LOL
Anonymous said…
This is goodd all my favourites of the year are here well done

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