While some of the choices may come as a surprise to those who regularly follow AtomicNed.com, the variety of favorites shouldn’t be shocking. While I certainly have been much more of a trendfollower than a trendsetter over the course of my music listening history, it comes down to liking what I like and not always liking what the masses of respected music writers/bloggers like. I mean, how many other writers do you think have both Slayer and Taylor Swift on their year-end favorites list?
1. Danger Danger – Revolve
The best CD of 1989 was released 20 years late! This b-list hair metal band brought original singer Ted Poley back for a reunion album filled with big hooks (“Hearts on the Highway”), bigger choruses (“That’s What I’m Talking About”), songs about girls (“Rocket to Your Heart”), guitar solos (“Ghost of Love”), and power ballads (“Fugitive”). Def Leppard and Bon Jovi’s recent efforts didn’t sound nearly this good.
Listen: Keep On Keepin’ On
2. Ray West – All Pointz West
Spread Eagle’s Ray West was my favorite singer from the sleaze-glam era (early ’90s). His solo debut may have been 15+ years in the making, but it was worth it as he updates Spread Eagle’s sound (which was similar to Skid Row, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue) by making it heavier and more aggressive (ala Godsmack, Disturbed, Killswitch Engage). I listened to this CD more than anything else this past summer.
3. The Damnwells – One Last Century
My fears that The Damnwells were done were unjustified and proven false when the band released this FREE album in February. The older carryovers (“55 Pictures”, “Bastards of Midnight”, “Down with the Ship”) were my favorites initially but I grew to love the collaborations Alex Dezen did with his wife, Angela (“Dandelion”, “Like it Is”), just as much as anything the band has previously done.
Download:One Last Century (full CD)
4. Jason Lytle – Yours Truly, The Commuter
Halfway through 2009, this album was my favorite. Though it’s billed under Lytle’s name, it’s really just an extension of the singer’s Grandaddy sound (spacey/dreamy indie-pop) and “Brand New Sun” may be one of the best, simplest pop songs released this year.
Watch: Brand New Sun
5. The Prairie Cartel – Where Did All My People Go?
Blake Smith and Mike Willison hinted at their electro-pop/sample fascination as members of the short-lived alt.rock band Caviar but bring that fascination to full fruition (along with Local H’s Scott Lucas) on The Prairie Cartel’s long overdue debut (most of these songs were on a demo CD the guys gave me at SXSW back in ’07). The versatility of the music allows The Prairie Cartel to perform it live as either a full band or in a DJ setting with Lucas singing over pre-recorded sounds loaded onto an iPod.
Download: Beautiful Shadow
6. Alberta Cross – Broken Side of Time
This swirling and noisy blend of dark, gothic southern-rock and psychedelic-tinged grunge evokes comparisons to artists such as Blind Melon, Dead Confederate, Mother Love Bone, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Kings of Leon.
7. Wye Oak – The Knot
Within the first 5 minutes of listening to The Knot, I emailed the band’s publicist and said something like, “Is it possible to fall in love with an entire CD before the second song has even ended? If so, I’ll drop to one knee and propose to Wye Oak on the spot.” With most songs going from soft to loud and then loud to soft, it’s little wonder that Wye Oak’s earned comparisons to Yo La Tengo, My Morning Jacket, and The Spinanes. The Knot is a beautiful sounding, and at time loud and chaotic, CD that knocked me out from the get-go.
Download: Take It In
8. Crippled Black Phoenix – The Resurrectionists / Night Raider
This collective of UK musicians was assembled by ex-Electric Wizard drummer Justin Greaves who was encouraged by Mogwai bassist (and CBP contributor) Dominic Aitchison to record the “endtime ballads” he’d been writing for years. Though you can pick up an abbreviated compilation of these 2 CDs boiled down into one package (200 Tons of Bad Luck), it’s worth spending a few extra bucks for both CDs that I’ve described as “Mogwai covering Pink Floyd for a movie soundtrack”.
Listen: Rise Up and Fight
9. Slayer – World Painted Blood
Tom Araya may feel like he’s closing in on retirement age but you couldn’t tell by the breakneck thrashing Araya, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo serve up on Slayer’s 10th studio album, their best since 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss. Typical subject matter is tackled throughout World Painted Blood (death, blood, war, evil) and Araya comes off as the creepy vocal counterpart to real-life villains like Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy.
Listen: World Painted Blood
10. Great Northern – Remind Me Where the Light Is
At it’s songwriting core (Solon Bixler, Rachel Stolte), Great Northern is still the same band that topped my “Favorites of 2007” list; however, the departure of the rhythm section during the construction of this sophomore release may be partially responsible for the darker turn Great Northern took in 2009. If 2007’s Trading Twilight for Daylight was the soundtrack to a late Friday afternoon, then Remind Me Where the Light Is is the soundtrack to driving home after a night of indulgence.
11. Alice in Chains – Black Gives Way to Blue
Skeptics (myself included) be damned – Alice in Chains can continue on without Layne Staley. No doubt, Staley’s vocals were an integral part of the band’s grunge sound but they found a suitable replacement in William DuVall and guitarist Jerry Cantrell continues to lend his vocals which makes the 2009 Alice in Chains sound pretty damn similar to the 1992 Alice in Chains. The album runs the gamut of AIC’s styles, from the wicked guitar riffs of “Check My Brain” to the slow burning, foreboding “Your Decision” (which sounds like something from the Jar of Flies EP).
Watch: Check My Brain
12. Taylor Swift – Fearless
This is what happens when you’ve got a house full of daughters under the age of 10. Not only was Taylor Swift’s second CD on heavy rotation throughout the year, I’m not ashamed to admit that I know most of the words to this crossover country release. I suppose the Dixie Chicks were my gateway drug into Taylor Swift and Taylor Swift has led me to Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood.
Watch: Picture to Burn (Taylor Swift and Def Leppard)
13. Nebula – Heavy Psych
The 38-year-old me wants to hop into the time machine and land back in ‘87 where the 16-year-old me is taking his first sip of Natty Light from an aluminum can in the back seat of Rob’s ‘75 Lincoln Continental. I want to slip a dubbed copy of Heavy Psych into the tape player and watch how the spacey/stoner funk grooves completely blow our fucking minds and make us do even stupider shit than we would normally do on a boring summer night.
Download: The Dagger
14. Division Day – Visitation
Division Day hasn’t completely reinvented itself though the band made a more consistent release than 2007’s Beartrap Island. Visitation ventures into a dark and distorted space, both musically and lyrically, and is a more synthetic-sounding album due to the production assistance of Justin Meldal-Johnson (Nine Inch Nails). There are times when the drums sound overmixed and too machine-like (“Malachite”) but it lends to the industrial-type feel, reflective of the cold place this record seems to have been born in. Division Day seems to have settled into a sound they’re happy with even if it’s not as bright and shiny as their past work.
15. The Willowz – Everyone
As with previous Willowz material, the new stuff is heavy on the bluesy, hard garage rock which I’ve often compared to the White Stripes. When trying to sell a co-worker on going to the show by giving her a copy of Everyone, she said their stuff reminded her of Led Zeppelin and Wolfmother, neither of which I would have compared The Willowz to but after seeing them live for the first time, I think I can kind of see where that comparison was coming from.
16. The Twilight Sad – Forget the Night Ahead
The Twilight Sad is quickly putting Scotland back on the musical map when it comes to producing exceptionally talented bands. Influenced by the previous class of Scottish exports like The Delgados, Arab Strap, and Idlewild, The Twilight Sad bring something more to the table, namely the visceral wall of guitar noise (ala My Bloody Valentine) that Andy MacFarlane constructs on nearly every song on Forget the Night Ahead. While the band’s 2007 Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters was one of the most impressive debuts of the decade, there is more depth and maturity on the new one. The Twilight Sad have never sounded better than they do on “I Became a Prostitute” which, like a roller coaster, has high and noisy highs and low and quiet lows not unlike my favorite songs by another Scottish export, Aereogramme (RIP).
Watch: I Became a Prostitute
17. It Hugs Back – Inside Your Guitar
Had Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist been set in England, it wouldn’t have seemed odd to see Michael Cera’s Nick character sporting an It Hugs Back t-shirt under a cardigan sweater. The British quartet delivers fey, twee pop – with bits of unexpected, but welcomed, guitar noise (ala Sonic Youth, MBV) – that NME readers of the ’90s filled mix CDs with. There’s not a lot of variation between the songs – there are dreamy numbers that build momentum but never break the surface (“Q”, “Soon”) and bouncy mid-tempo tracks (“Work Day”, “Don’t Know”) that show charisma even if the whispery vocals are buried deep in the mix. But it’s easy enough to digest the 11 tracks in one sitting rather than hitting the forward button looking for the “single”.
Download: Work Day
18. Gliss – Devotion Implosion
Bliss is more like it (yeah, I’m sure they haven’t heard that one before!). The spacey, fuzzed-out, bass heavy, guitar-pop recalls early BRMC (by way of the Jesus & Mary Chain) and Silversun Pickups, which makes sense since both bands were spawned from the Silverlake, California scene (though, guess which one Billy Corgan personally invited to open for the Smashing Pumpkins?).
Listen: Sad Eyes
19. O + S – O + S
A different twist for singer Orenda Fink (Little Red Rocket, Azure Ray) who teamed up with ex-Remy Zero (and fellow Alabama ex-pat) bassist Cedric LeMoyne (credited on this project as Scapelist) for this studio-based trip-hop collaboration. At times, O+S reminds me of mid-90s “where are they now” bands like Morcheeba and the Sneaker Pimps like on the smoking “Permanent Scar” (why do I keep singing “Here’s your chance to do the hump …” when I listen to this song?) and “Haunts”, which is as haunting as it’s title. At other times, I’m reminded of O+S tour mates, Great Northern (Fink and GN’s Rachel Stolte both sound a bit like Veruca Salt’s Nina Gordon, a band I love).
Watch: Permanent Scar
20. BM Linx – Black Entertainment
Talk about not judging a book by it’s cover – I thought this trio was a stoner rock, Sabbath-worshipping band when I saw a photo. How wrong I was. While there is definitely a late-90s heavy guitar rock influence, there’s also an over-the-top dance club beat (heavy on the synths and electronic drums) that keeps things interesting on the 11 tracks. If I didn’t know any better, you probably could have passed this off to me as The Prairie Cartel (see #5) and I would have believed this was the side project of Local H’s Scott Lucas.
21. Spiral Stairs – The Reel Feel
The first solo release from ex-Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg after a handful of releases under the name Preston School of Industry. It’s a shame that this Pavement-inspired (how could it not be?) release came out so close to the Pavement-reunion announcement. The sleepy “Call the Ceasefire”, with the pedal steel, is a beautiful song (fans of The Court and Spark should check this one out) but is not indicative of the quirky pop found on the rest of the album. I hate to call this one the “sleeper of 2009” but since I haven’t seen it on other “Favorites of 2009” lists, it might very well be an apropos term.
Download: Maltese T
22. Visqueen – Message to Garcia
Whoa! Rachel Flotard makes a welcomed comeback in 2009 after a 5-year absence. This is the album I always wished the critics darling Liz Phair would make – it reminds me of the female-fronted stuff I was listening to in the mid-90s (Veruca Salt, Madder Rose, The Breeders, The Muffs). It might be a stretch to call this pop-punk but there is an unrelenting energy on this tribute to Flotard’s father who passed away from cancer during the writing of these songs.
Download: Beautiful Amnesia
23. Wild Light – Adult Nights
I think I listened to “California on My Mind” about 1,421 times this summer. There’s a certain Ivy League pretentiousness to this band and it’s not surprising to learn they formed in New Hampshire and are pals with Arcade Fire (singer/guitarist Tim Kyle once roomed with AF’s Win Butler and was in an early version of that band) but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this CD way more than I ever believed I would have.
Watch: California on My Mind
24. Or, The Whale – Or, The Whale
I picked Or, The Whale over The Avett Brothers for this spot though they both dabble in folky, bluegrass-influenced music (Or, The Whale’s more varied sound – punctuated by male/female vocals – gave them the advantage). There’s a backwoods Southern twang in this San Francisco-based band though an easy-going AM radio pop-rock sound is there as well (The Eagles, The Byrds, Led Zeppelin!).
Download: Rusty Gold
25. Vic Chesnutt – At the Cut
In hindsight, this seems like a suicide note set to music. Chesnutt’s later-day offerings were darker and more intimate than ever before and, despite the eventual outcome of Chesnutt’s own problems, were so stark and raw that they had a sense of beauty in a gray and bleak world. With backing musicians from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt. Zion, and Fugazi, At the Cut revels in much the same passion (and perhaps even more so) than The Frames most stark work. I only wish it hadn’t taken Chesnutt’s death to make me listen to his music, I would have definitely made the effort to see him on his most recent tour.