Part 1: From Lily Allen to Gallows

Artist: Lily Allen

Album: It’s Not Me, It’s You

Label: Capitol

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Lily Allen
It’s Not Me, It’s You

Lily Allen was never particularly easy to like. Surrounded by hype celebrating her prolific blogging and snarky songwriting, she was hastily anointed as the first superstar of the MySpace age by her numerous online fans and an overeager rock press. While she successfully maintained celebrity in the UK, she was soon eclipsed in the states by Amy Winehouse and that whole soul revival thing. Thus, her sophomore effort It’s Not Me, It’s You received relatively little fanfare, which is a damn shame. Allen has evolved tremendously since her debut, her songwriting showing a wider scope and deeper nuance.

Despite the cheeky title, Allen looks beyond unsatisfactory exes as subject matter, focusing her spite on consumerism, patriarchy, drugs, and George Bush over Greg Kurstin’s playful electronic production. Of course, she still has plenty to say about her lovers, improving upon the simplistic vitriol of “Not Big” with the affable country and western bounce of “Not Fair”, in which her lover just can’t please her despite his best efforts. As enjoyable as the first half of the album is, what makes this record great is the second half, when Allen drops the bravado on two great songs, celebrating the simple pleasures of hanging out with her boyfriend, watching television and ordering take-out. “Who’d Have Known” and “Chinese” are direct, perfect love songs without sentiment that highlight Allen’s deep talent and cement It’s Not Me, It’s You as a pop classic. Let’s just hope she isn’t serious about that whole retirement thing. Harry Burson

 

Artist: Dan Auerbach

Album: Keep It Hid

Label: Nonesuch

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Dan Auerbach
Keep It Hid

The year had barely begun when I signed up to review Keep It Hid, and expectations were, shall we say, somewhat stratospheric, considering that the Black Keys’ Attack & Release was one of the better releases of 2008. Incredibly, it turns out that Keep It Hid, Auerbach’s first solo effort, is pretty close to an out-and-out masterpiece. For anyone understandably nostalgic for a time (in the not-too-distant past) when music was more of an experience and less a digital transaction from an à la carte menu, Dan Auerbach may be your man. Keep It Hid is an album you can –- and should —- listen to all the way through. Auerbach’s refreshing DIY ethos results in authentic sounds that manage to invoke the good-old-days while retaining a contemporary edge. Indeed, this is Auerbach’s specialty, and he has been perfecting it for the better part of a decade. Keep It Hid is a reminder of what rock and roll used to be, and the realization of what rock and roll can become. Sean Murphy

 

Artist: David Bazan

Album: Curse Your Branches

Label: Barsuk

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David Bazan
Curse Your Branches

David Bazan has devoted so much energy over the years to picking apart wayward Christians that you had to wonder if he harbored some sort of personal vendetta against them. As it turns out, for the better part of the last decade, Bazan was adrift himself. On Curse Your Branches, Bazan turns his focus inward, documenting his own spiritual crisis, alcoholism and family strife in unflinching detail. In so doing, he invites the listener to not only appreciate the fallibility of the narrator but to also hear his previous records with fresh ears. Taking into account Bazan’s own struggles, it’s hard not to see bits of the author in the contemptible characters that populate his songs. Still, while he might rightfully be called judgmental, with Curse Your Branches, it becomes clear that David Bazan has reserved the most severe judgment for himself. Mehan Jayasuriya

 

Artist: Beat Circus

Album: Boy from Black Mountain

Label: Cuneiform

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Beat Circus
Boy from Black Mountain

For his third album under the Beat Circus name, Brian Carpenter delivered a slice of “Weird American Gothic” (his term) that set the American South of Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner and Carson McCullers to the carnivalesque eclecticism of the Band and the doomed soundworlds of Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, and Tindersticks. Previous album Dreamland had set the Americana-flavored agenda with a sophisticated song suite based on a Coney Island theme park. Boy from Black Mountain upped the ante by offering a set of equally clever and newly infectious songs steeped in the themes of family and place. Carpenter’s responses to his son’s autism provided moving material for tracks such as “Saturn Song”, which dealt with the attempts by ostensibly decent folk to cope with the unfamiliar and disturbing. The title track was a magical realist masterpiece that took in Jonathan Swift, a man on a flying trapeze, and a horse called Buffalo Bill. For anyone still awed by Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, here was an album that promised a similar journey through innocent speculation and otherworldly magic. Great use of harmonium too. Richard Elliott

 

Artist: The Black Crowes

Album: Before the Frost… Until the Freeze

Label: Silver Arrow

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The Black Crowes
Before the Frost… Until the Freeze

Almost 20 years after their defining debut, Shake Your Money Maker, the Black Crowes released probably the finest album in their generally wobbly career. To be sure, the promise, the chops, the live shows, the brotherly squabbles and even a fair part of the music have always been the stuff of a first rate band. But, Before the Frost… fulfills the promise. Recorded in Levon Helm’s studio before a live audience, the sound is wonderful—warm and crisp. The Crowes revamped line-up, with Adam MacDougall on keys and Luther Dickinson on guitars, is even better. The new songs sound familiar and classic, yet, fresh. It’s as though an early 1970s time capsule has been unearthed and this was the damn fine example of the era’s prime recordings. Chris Robinson’s voice has never sounded better, nor has the band. Plus, the downloadable acoustic Until the Freeze is a great bonus. Kevin Ott

 

Artist: A.A. Bondy

Album: When the Devil’s Loose

Label: Fat Possum

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A.A. Bondy
When the Devil’s Loose

A.A. Bondy isn’t re-inventing the wheel; his brand of folk music is familiar and doesn’t immediately demand your attention. Yet, as we wrap up a ten-year period that Time called the “Decade from Hell”, the melancholy poignancy of When the Devil’s Loose perfectly revels in the very, sadness and hardship that label suggests with an unapologetic sincerity. In true Americana fashion, Bondy’s sophomore release documents our tribulations with surreal, apocalyptic fervor without ever falling into clichés or the nostalgic. Instead, his songs remains coolly effectual with a nod to his roots and a foot towards the stark, forecast of the future that maintains a sense of hope with relatable, poetic pragmatism. To Bondy, the devil may be loose, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t kick back a cold one and dance a little to ease our misery. After all, how else can you live in these times? Saxon Baird

 

Artist: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Album: Vs. Children

Label: Tomlab

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Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Vs. Children

True to its provocatively combative title, children, both in their presence and their absence, haunt the stories on this fifth album from Owen Ashworth’s solo recording project. They’re in the foolishly hopeful dreams of a frantic bank robber speeding towards a comfortable family life on “Optimist vs. the Silent Alarm”, the unhappy vacationing couple fleetingly recalling the baby they aborted 15 years prior on “Natural Light”, the narrator contemplating the anxiety and permanency of parenthood on “Killers”, and the single mother stepping hesitantly into her new life in “Harsh the Herald Angels Sing”. Ashworth somehow extracts a startling amount of warmth from his dryly half-spoken vocals and lo-fi keyboards and drum loops, lending further power to the starkly unsentimental poignancy of his lyrics, affirming Vs. Children as 2009’s finest example of pop music as literature. Jer Fairall

 

Vic Chesnutt and more…

Vic Chesnutt

Artist: Vic Chesnutt

Album: Skitter on Take Off

Label: Vapor

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Vic Chesnutt
Skitter on Take Off

Like a light that glows a little brighter before it burns out, the late Vic Chesnutt recorded two excellent albums in 2009. Given the circumstances of Chesnutt’s passing — he died of an overdose of muscle relaxants on Christmas Day — it is not surprising that the first of those records, At the Cut, should garner the most attention. Not only did Vic collaborate with Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and members of Thee Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but the album features the haunting, “Flirted With You All of My Life”, a song in which Chesnutt goes mano-a-mano with death. Regardless, it’s the second album, Skitter on Take Off that is the more satisfying of the two. Producer Jonathan Richman strips away the artifice and bombast and records Chesnutt “live” in the studio with only the most austere accompaniment. The playing is raw, even primitive, as Chesnutt revisits familiar themes: physical frailty, failed relationships, and self-doubt. Skitter on Take Off documents the artist at the absolute peak of expression. Poignant, sometimes disturbing, and a must-have for fans of this great singer-songwriter. Mark Andrew Huddle

 

Artist: Chiddy Bang

Album: The Swelly Express

Label: mixtape

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Chiddy Bang
The Swelly Express

The Swelly Express, a “concept” mixtape from Philadelphia hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang (Chidera Anamege and Xaphoon Jones) plays like a musical revue of hipster jams mashed up with some of the tightest rapping to come out of 2009. Whereas the past few years have seen acts like Girl Talk and the Hood Internet explode, Chiddy Bang is set apart by a real allegiance to the unspoken ethic of classic hip-hop. Instead of using rap as tool in service of some almost ironic agenda, Chiddy Bang’s tracks are homages to their hip-hop and indie roots. The music is genealogical rather than syncretistic. The experience is much like what the first audiences felt at the speakers of Grandmaster Flash. The only thing that has changed is that the samples are Sufjan Stevens and MGMT rather than funk and soul. Erik Hinton

 

Artist: The Church

Album: Untitled 23

Label: Second Motion

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The Church
Untitled 23

Animal Collective’s eighth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion justifiably swept critics’ year-end “best-of” lists. Where will they be in another 18 years and 15 albums? Do they have another masterpiece in them? It’s tough to decide what about Untitled #23 was more astounding. On one hand, there was its incredibly rich, melodic, emotional sonic tapestry, which unfolded over ten indelible, gracefully unhurried tracks. Here was definitive evidence of a band that had played together for so long, it created a near-telepathic synergy, its grand “space rock” taken to new interstellar heights yet firmly grounded in pathos. On the other hand, there was the fact this was the 23rd album by a band that was nearly 30 years old! Far from doing the usual “reunion tours”, nostalgic concerts, or retro package tours, the Australian quartet was supporting some of the best work of its career. The most magical rock album since Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Untitled #23 proved that great indie isn’t always a youth movement. John Bergstrom

 

Artist: Guy Clark

Album: Somedays the Song Writes You

Label: Dualtone

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Guy Clark
Somedays the Song Writes You

Somedays the Song Writes You, Clark’s 13th record (including a couple live ones, and not including reissues and compilations) ranks up among his best since the late 1970s. Featuring spare, farmhouse production which accentuates both voice and lyrics, this is how Clark should always sound. From the subtle reworking of the old adage about the bear and dinner that is the album’s title track to the glorious play on remorse and amends that is the closing anti-anthem (“Maybe I Can Paint Over That”), this is Clark at his tightest, at his whipsmart best. This may be his late-period masterpiece, folks. Stuart Henderson

 

Artist: Slaid Cleaves

Album: Everything You Love Will be Taken Away

Label: Music Road

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Slaid Cleaves
Everything You Love Will be Taken Away

Slaid Cleaves wears his heart tattooed on his sleeve so unashamedly that at first you think he is trying to fool you. He lets you know that the space between a dream and a lie is where your spirit gets crushed, but that life goes on. He observes the lessons experience teaches us and turns us into losers who have somehow gained from the understanding. As a songwriter, his song lyrics are as fined tuned as a race car on the speedway as he rolls out tales of blue collar living. Cleaves’ characters deal with the harshness if hard times, whether he is telling the story of a modern day hangman, a troubled teenager kicked out of school, or a farmwife waiting for news about her soldier husband. The uncluttered musical arrangements allow Cleaves’ weathered voice to speak directly to the listener like a good friend at the bar who has already said the next rounds on him as he bends your ear. Steve Horowitz

 

Artist: Cougar

Album: Patriot

Label: Counter

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Cougar
Patriot

Patriot is an album of instrumental rock that forges its own path without ignoring its immediate forebears. You can hear hints of Explosions in the Sky and even a bit of Lightning Bolt in their sound, but Cougar doesn’t go in for meandering, expansive soundscapes or swirling 10-minute noise-rock jams. Cougar seems much more interested in creating songs with a recognizable center, be it a pretty melody or a chunky guitar riff. There’s a lot of variety on Patriot, from the hard-rocking opener “Stay Famous” to the synth-dominated thump of “Heavy Into Jeff”. The band makes the most of its quieter moments, too, with the acoustic guitar and atmospheric synths of “Pelourinho” and the intertwining clean electric guitars of “This Is an Affadavit”. The latter also adds in brass instruments and bass clarinet for the album’s most robust arrangement. Cougar even goes so far as to recruit a marching band percussion section on “Daunte vs. Armada”. It’s this combination of inventive touches and solid songwriting that makes Patriot such a cool listen. Chris Conaton

 

Artist: Cymbals Eat Guitars

Album: Why There Are Mountains

Label: Sister’s Den

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Cymbals Eat Guitars
Why There Are Mountains

Cymbals Eat Guitars’ singer Joseph D’Agostino is a true renaissance man: he can scream like Black Francis, emote like Doug Martsch, moan like J. Mascis, and snarl like Stephen Malkmus — sometimes all in one song. The album’s appeal, then, is no mystery: Why There Are Mountains encapsulates all my favorite bands — Indie Rock 101, really, from Dinosaur Jr. (“Share”) to Built to Spill (“Some Trees [Merrit Moon]”) — into one messy, noisy, satisfying debut. What’s more, Cymbals have the songwriting chops to compensate for an admitted lack of originality, and Mountains positively brims with the sort of un-self-consciously big moments that can make a sweaty, cramped concert space feel like a stadium. Zach Schonfeld

 

Doveman and more…

Doves

Artist: Doveman

Album: The Conformist

Label: Brassland

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Doveman
The Conformist

It’s not Thomas Bartlett’s fault this didn’t top my PopMatters ballot. He released the album in October and I was reviewing it elsewhere, but mixing up publicist emails ensured I didn’t hear it until after my votes here were already in. That’s a shame, because as great as Bartlett’s sweeping With My Left Hand I Raise the Dead was, The Conformist is a bit of a great leap forward for Doveman. As the title cheekily implies, these are pop songs, but pop songs of a particularly lush, lovely, and devastating kind. With no disrespect to Fever Ray (my #1 since it was released), Bartlett’s craft and emotional intelligence handily unseats that record. I’ve heard few songs, in a life that’s included more music than is probably good for me, better than “Breathing Out” and “Tigers” and the rest of what’s on display here. It’s a record that demands to be widely heard, and I managed to completely drop the ball. Ian Mathers

 

Artist: Doves

Album: Kingdom of Rust

Label: Astralwerks

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Doves
Kingdom of Rust

Year-end rock critic lists of the best records are always so personal and subjective there is bound to be a certain amount of quibbling and head slapping. However, when Doves cannot even crack the top 60 one has to wonder “Was everyone deaf?” Kingdom of Rust, Doves’ fourth record, marked their return to the charts in four years since the highly praised Some Cities. Could it have been the long absence? Were people expecting something earth-shattering and code-cracking with such a long hiatus? Or perhaps Doves have set such high standards with previous Britpop masterstrokes that Kingdom of Rust‘s mature and measured brilliance seems like something only to savor and not be wowed by a flavor of the month.

Doves appear to be playing the aces they hold in their hands with album opener “Jetstream” creating a hypnotic pop single that belies their Manchester dance club roots, yet also trading in some Kraftwerk style computer grooves. If it’s something anthemic you want, Doves gives you the nervy and edgy “Outsiders” or the thump and strum of “House of Mirrors”, which could have been a lost Killing Joke track or better yet the lost magic U2 was so desperately in search of on their 2009 release. To prove they are gifted in the realm of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundscapes Doves even gives the title track a dusting of lilt, twang and country grandeur.

Ultimately, Kingdom of Rust stands as a testament to a band reaching and surpassing its previous level of mastery. Doves, without flash, spit, or swagger, consistently create works of epic and grand sweep, music of timeless elegies, and a sound of enchanting and engaging ache and beauty. Timothy Merello

 

Artist: [dunkelbunt]

Album: Raindrops and Elephants

Label: Piranha

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[dunkelbunt]
Raindrops and Elephants

Amongst the influx of Balkan beats, Afrobeat revival and other self-consciously multicultural artists that have been peddling their wares lately, Austrian producer [dunkelbunt] stands out as an artist who celebrates an array of global sounds without using his music to lecture listeners about origins, roots or heritage. This means that he is capable of producing an album like Raindrops and Elephants, which is both beautiful and fun. At times it’s reminiscent of the Avalanches’ classic Since I Left You, but where the Avalanches used an eclectic range of samples, [dunkelbunt]’s ammunition is a wealth of personnel from a wide swathe of musical backgrounds. Picking up influences that include Gypsy brass and Algerian Raï, and working with musicians from locations as disparate as Lebanon and Cape Verde, his great strength is his ability to unify his source material, weaving it into a coherent thread of an album without diminishing its diversity. Alan Ashton-Smith

 

Artist: Echaskech

Album: Shatterproof

Label: Just Music

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Echaskech
Shatterproof

Deftly dodging the sophomore album slump, UK electronic duo Dom Hoare and Andy Gillham took another big step in 2009 towards filling the shoes of Orbital. Several tracks from Shatterproof fall squarely under the influence of the Hartnoll brothers, with retro pads, crisp beats, bloopy leads, and ethereal vocal loop manipulation. However, while 2007’s Sketchbook was a comparatively lighthearted stab at the main stage dance floor, Shatterproof took a turn towards the dark side of the Orb, striking a balance between ominous, ambient soundscapes and minimal downtempo beats. The immaculately crafted record slowly reveals its layers to those sensible enough to reward it with repeat exposure, seeming to build on its own mystique in a compounding fashion, each listening becoming more impressive than the last. In time, Shatterproof will be recognized as one of the most important electronic albums of the ’00s, every bit as much as Leftfield’s Leftism is recognized as one of the essentials of the ’90s. Alan Ranta

 

Artist: Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Album: Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Label: XL

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Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Elvis Perkins in Dearland

When I heard Elvis Perkins in Dearland in March 2009, I had a hunch it would be my favorite record of the year (and this two months after the release of the mighty Merriweather Post Pavilion). Now, nearly a year later, my hunch has been confirmed. Perkins’ bio is eye-grabbing enough to land him some high-profile exposure, but this album would have found an audience — to the degree that it has found an audience — on the strength of the songs alone. What’s most impressive is the range of emotions that Perkins inspires. To be sure, there’s a hatful of melancholy here. It’s hard to listen to a song like “123 Goodbye”, for example, without doing so against the backdrop of tragedy that is Perkins’ life. But the album never wallows. Instead, it sparkles unexpectedly: the seemingly spontaneous horn interlude in “Send My Fond Regards to Lonelyville” or the way in which the dirge of “Doomsday” turns into a celebration. I liked Elvis Perkins in Dearland well enough to pick up his first album, Ash Wednesday. While it’s a solid debut, it’s a poor indicator of what was to come. I can’t wait to see where he goes from here. Kirby Fields

 

Artist: The Field

Album: Yesterday and Today

Label: Anti-

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The Field
Yesterday and Today

Rarely does an artist’s follow-up to a killer debut fall on deaf ears, but that is what seemed to happen to Axel Willner a.k.a. the Field. From Here We Go Sublime (2007) was widely loved and his 2009 effort may be better. Call it ambient, minimalist techno, house, experimental, or any of another 100 genre tags, but make no mistake, this record is beautiful. Willner’s tiny samples (often just a few seconds, often less) build and loop upon one another to create hypnotic sound waves — songs that build up, wash over you, and then change like the tide itself. Willner proves it is possible to get musical catharsis from a few seconds sound explored and expounded over time. Jason Cook

 

Flight of the Conchords and more…

Future of the Left

Artist: Flight of the Conchords

Album: I Told You I Was Freaky

Label: Sub Pop

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Flight of the Conchords
I Told You I Was Freaky

Critical consensus has it that Flight of the Conchords’ second album is heavily reliant on the context of the duo’s HBO series to really work. I say hogwash. As with their self-titled debut, here loveably awkward New Zealanders Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement turn out well-crafted tracks that inhabit various genres (such as hip-hop, reggae, and neo-’80s synthpop) so effectively, the songs can stand apart from the jokes, much less the TV show. Still, laughs are part of the Conchords package and the album’s best moments — the wounded rapper lament “Hurt Feelings” (“The day after my birthday is not my birthday, mom”), the R. Kelly-inspired drama dialogue “We’re Both in Love with a Sexy Lady”, and (my favorite song of 2009) the Autotuned club anthem “Too Many Dicks (on the Dancefloor)” — are filled with so many nice little touches (a ridiculous rhyme, a note played at the perfect moment) that they continue to amuse after repeated listens. AJ Ramierez

 

Artist: Ben Folds

Album: Ben Folds Presents: University A Capella

Label: Epic

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Ben Folds
Ben Folds Presents: University A Capella

Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella! serves as a reminder of the recent resurgence and popularity of a cappella and vocally-focused music. From television shows like Glee and The Sing-Off to countless television commercials, the style has experienced a new popularity making Folds’ experiment a well-timed release. Folds recruited university vocal groups from all around the country to record new versions of his songs and the results are almost uniformly wonderful. The arrangements showcase the songs in a whole new way, especially considering the absence of Folds’distinctive and energetic piano playing. Highlights such as “Magic” and “The Luckiest” stand out as the mix of both male and female voices create contrast and emphasize moments that might have otherwise been overlooked in their traditional form. On the surface, this may not be an album for everybody, but these new interpretations open up the original songs in an unexpected way and they are better for it. J.M. Suarez

 

Artist: Ben Frost

Album: By the Throat

Label: Bedroom Community

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Ben Frost
By the Throat

The Australia-born, Iceland-based Ben Frost’s second full-length, By the Throat, expanded on the metallic, volcanic landscapes Frost began creating on Theory of Machines. The album bears two trademarks of genius: songs never end up where they began, and no sonic element is off-limits. “Híbakúsja”, a seven-minute highlight, begins with soothing guitar arpeggios and slow strings, then quickly expands to what might only accurately be called classical heavy metal. Valgeir Sigurðsson’s production is sharp as ever—the album contains plenty of the distorted liquid explosions that often mark Sigurðsson’s work. Beyond the music, By the Throat forces a ponderance of futurism. Not only are the songs clearly bred by the past and looking to the future, but the elements of human and industry fuse here as well. Breath sounds and rare vocal samples permeate soundscapes otherwise devoid of human life, leaving listeners wondering how this world could be evolved enough to contain such a cyborgian sound. Erin Lyndal Martin

 

Artist: Fruit Bats

Album: The Ruminant Band

Label: Sub Pop

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Fruit Bats
The Ruminant Band

For music fans who like to “think” about the relevance of their pop music, let’s be honest: the Fruit Bats aren’t going down in the books as visionary pioneers of the early 21st century. In fact, according to most publications — including PopMatters — the Fruit Bats, better known as that band with that guy who plays guitar with the Shins sometimes, weren’t even worthy of a mention in 2009. The closest they came to garnering any kind of attention this year was when Starbucks named “Primitive Man” as their iTunes Pick of the Week in December, a move that, unfortunately, probably hurt the band’s indie label image more than it helped. It’s a real shame too, because on their fourth full-length, The Ruminant Band, that guy, Eric Johnson, and his rotating cast of band members finally flesh out their bedroom folk-rock into one genuine, shimmering, understated pearl of a pop album. Crafted in the shadow of several Sub Pop giants, The Ruminant Band toys with Fleet Foxes’ canyon-of-reverb and the Shins’ jangly guitar pop without pandering too much to either band. Instead, the Fruit Bats’ soft-spoken retro-pop mostly forgoes contemporary experimental trends with refreshingly familiar and occasionally transcendental results. Ryan Marr

 

Artist: Future of the Left

Album: Travels with Myself and Another

Label: 4AD

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Future of the Left
Travels with Myself and Another

After a well-received debut, Curses, that took the edge off the expectation heaped on Andy Falkous after Welsh punks Mclusky disbanded, there wasn’t the quite the sense of urgency with Future of the Left’s second album. No one could have predicted that it would hit so very hard and truly as it does, nor that it would prove so popular. Falkous’ rage is deployed with typical weariness and resignation, but the songs themselves are full of resolve. “Arming Eritrea” is by far and away the finest song he’s ever written, including all his work with Mclusky, as it’s utterly sparing and anthemic throughout. Several other tunes are also in his upper echelons also, in particular “Throwing Bricks at Trains” and its tale of literally throwing bricks at trains, and the plodding burn of lead single “The House That Hope Built”. Many angry records may have been released in 2009, but few of them contained such focus, such fun and such brilliant rock music. Daniel Ross

 

Artist: Gallows

Album: Grey Britain

Label: Reprise

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Gallows
Grey Britain

In many ways, it’s not exactly surprising that feisty Wigan hardcore-ians Gallows’ latest record failed to make a dent in this year’s “best of” list. For one thing, you couldn’t call Grey Britain a crowd-pleaser; not unless your definition of crowd enjoys being tied to a chair and screamed at by a tattooed ginger man for the best part of an hour. Yes, I admit it — Gallows’ major label debut is a trying listen at times, but it’s also a vital one, for all sorts of reasons. The songs are dark, gritty, and great; there’s enough light and shade to cause even the most dedicated pigeonholers confusion; and the trappings of major label-dom are used to enhance the aesthetic of the record rather than a cover-up for shoddy songs. Most importantly, in a world where “punk” is almost solely defined by the nonsensical political gibberings of Billie Joe Armstrong, Grey Britain throws all that into sharp relief with brute force and a smash-your-face-in rage. Essential. Shane Commins

 
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