The Indie Handbook: best of 2009

The best according to Kristin:

10. Our Temperance Movement, Cats on Fire (Matinee)
9. A Balloon Called Moaning, The Joy Formidable (self-released)
8. The Yearling, Piney Gir (Hotel)
7. The Life of the World to Come, The Mountain Goats (4AD)
6. Where the Wild Things Are [soundtrack], Karen O. and the Kids (Interscope)
5. Tarpits and Canyonlands, Bombadil (Ramseur Records)
4. God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Rough Trade / Matador)
3. Aim and Ignite, fun. (Nettwerk)
2. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura (4AD)
1. Know Better Learn Faster, Thao w/ the Get Down Stay Down (Kill Rock Stars)

Honorable mentions: A Very Cherry Christmas 5, various artists (Cherryade); Reverence for Fallen Trees, The Black Atlantic (In a Cabin With / Beep! Beep! Back up the Truck)

The best according to Eric:

10. Rockwell, Anni Rossi (4AD) – If you caught Camera Obscura on their US tour this summer, you now have a better idea just what one girl and her viola are capable of, but I saw Anni twice this year, and I still can’t believe it.

9. Actor, St. Vincent (4AD) – Though my review of this album for a certain e-zine was “improved” by some hack of an editor who considered my avoidance of clichés downright unpalatable, Annie Clark remains one of the great musical geniuses at work these days.

8. The Big Machine, Emilie Simon (Barclay/Universal) – It’s a departure from her last (and my favorite) album, Végétal, but this, the first of what you might call Emilie’s “American” recordings, proves that a creative powerhouse starting anew is still better than any number of pop idols doing what they do best. [interview]

7. Uam, Julie Fowlis (Machair/Shoeshine/Cadiz) – I hesitated to include this since none of the songs on this album were even written in this century, but few (if any) have done more to make one of the world’s great musical traditions relevant again than Ms. Fowlis. That combined with impeccable musicianship and a killer set of tunes spanning several centuries are enough to obliterate my reticence.

6. Pays Sauvage, Emily Loizeau (Polydor) – On her sophomore release, Emily Loizeau copes with, among other things, the loss of her father. In the process, she will tear your heart to shreds – and you will never again be more happy to be heartbroken. If you had told me a year ago that a French woman would prove this year to have a better grasp of American roots music and slave songs than almost anyone I’ve heard in recent memory, I’d have written you off as a complete nutjob (no offense).

5. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura (4AD) – Apparently, it’s been a good year for 4AD. “French Navy” is probably the catchiest song by a band I like that your average Starbucks customer may have actually heard this year. Still, I think “Honey in the Sun” is my favorite from the second Scottish act on this list.

4. Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors (Domino) – The only album on this list that I do not actually own and I am ashamed. Even worse, I missed their Columbus show this year because I suck. I streamed this about 3,487 times when it was streaming on the NPR website. Holy crap, it’s brilliant.

3. Lungs, Florence + the Machine (Universal Republic/Island) – You Brits have been hearing about Florence Welch for ages now, but I guess Paste hasn’t given the American indie subculture permission to trade in their Grizzly Bear CDs for one of the most monumental voices of the decade yet, not to mention the super sexy percussion. But her time will come, kids. Now is your chance to get in on the ground floor. I suspect that, if I’d had more than two months with this album before writing this, Florence + the Machine would be finishing even higher on this list.

2. A Balloon Called Moaning/First You Have to Get Mad, The Joy Formidable (self-released) – If you have not heard of The Joy Formidable by now, you a) live outside of the UK and/or b) do not read this blog enough. Technically, these are two albums, one studio and one live and there is a lot of overlap between them. But together, they prove two things conclusively: The Joy Formidable are the best unsigned band in the world (yes, I said it); and they are the band to watch in 2010. If you don’t already own these albums, ask yourself why and the go out and buy them. Then, when they play their three shows in NYC with Passion Pit in January and all those cool Brooklyn kids think they’ve discovered something groundbreaking, you can (gently) remind them that you and some unenlightened hick from the Midwest got there a year before them.

1. The Love Language, The Love Language (Bladen County) – This album took 150% more turns in my car stereo than any other album released in 2009. That fact alone made my album of the year decision an easy one. (Not a bad accomplishment for one guy sitting alone in his bedroom.) Then there is the fact that the live incarnation of The Love Language, which is considerably larger, put on what is, at the very least, the second best show I saw this year (Los Campesinos are pretty phenomenal in their own right). I am speechless just thinking about it, so go back and read what I wrote after that show, if you’re interested. And, Stuart McLamb, if you’re reading this, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for this record. I hope I won’t have to wait too long for a second one.

Honorable Mentions: Welcome to the Walk Alone, The Rumble Strips (Island); God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Rough Trade/Matador)

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That’s a mighty big violin you’ve got there.

Wow. I thought I was going to get home a lot sooner than this, so I will make this quick. Our friends The Hard To Get set out on the West Coast leg of their tour this weekend. I was listening to both of their EPs today, and, in case you were wondering, I still like them as much as I did the first time, maybe more. I’ll post the dates below. Make sure you get out and support them, because they are way cooler than anyone else you know and I will accept no excuses less urgent than weddings, funerals, and severe medical emergencies (and no, you can meet your new nephew tomorrow). And check out their tour blog, because it can be pretty doon hilarious (and there is a video of Tim and Melissa singing Sleater-Kinney songs in the car).

Speaking of concerts, I went to one last night. Camera Obscura. And though I was surrounded by so many trendy, skinny, beautiful indie kids that I found myself wishing I had the will power to be anorexic (no, I am not kidding; yes, it did freak me out.), it really was a great show. (Have I mentioned that I love Scottish people, especially Glaswegians?) And while I agree with Paste that “French Navy” is definitely one of the 10 best songs of the year so far, I am not going to talk about them. Besides, you probably already know who they are. You may not, however, have heard of Anni Rossi who is opening for them. Consequently, you probably have no idea how amazing she is, so let me tell you. She is amazing. Anni Rossi is Anni Rossi and a viola. A viola! You don’t see a lot of violas outside of symphony halls, and for good reason. They have something of a reputation for being–how shall I put it–boring.

Anni Rossi‘s viola is not boring.

Think of Anni as something of an Andrew Bird figure, with (you guessed it) a viola and no loop pedal. And this was the amazing thing to me. The way she uses her instrument more than makes up for what could easily come across as a detrimentally thin texture. Yes, the rich color of the viola’s tone (reaching into a lower register than the ubiquitous indie violin) helps a great deal, but it is her use of varied bowing techniques (e.g. col legno, sautillé, and jeté, if you care about such things and also lots of pizzicato, if that counts as bowing [if you have no idea what I am talking about, read this]) that is most effective in enriching her sound. Also, there is the occasional use of scordatura (awesome!), at least I think that was intentional and not just an unfortunate side effect of the high humidity. Also, I absolutely love her voice. Think of something like Bjork’s phrasing and idiosyncrasies with the color of a Vanessa Carlton and all the charm of a cross between Jena Malone and Regina Spektor. (There is probably a simpler and more accurate way to describe it, but I am at a loss). Anyway, check out the video for “Wheelpusher” below, and catch her in concert. I think she is playing a few dates with Micachu later this summer after she finished up with Camera Obscura.