The Indie Handbook: Best of 2009 — The Songs

The Secret History - Photo by J B Hardy

So much of the best music we heard this year was not released in album form. So we thought it only fair to give some credit to those artists who released some of the most brilliant work of 2009 as EPs, singles, compilations, free downloads, MySpace and Last.fm streams, and YouTube videos (as well of a few albums we just never managed to obtain copies of).

Initially, I considered ranking these, but the thought of putting some of them before others broke my heart. Instead, they are divided into two groups: “Songs we really like” and “Songs we can’t live without”. Kristin’s picks and mine are mixed together, though a handful of these tracks appeared on both our lists. Those songs are marked with an * (read: asterisk).

Also, the moment I post this, I will think of at least a dozen other songs that ought to have been included. Oops. I guess that’s what the blog archive is for.

You can find most of these songs on MySpace/Last.fm/Facebook/YouTube. So, if you missed one, go find it. I don’t have time to insert all the links right now.

Songs we really like:

Swimming in Speakers

“Serve Them Well”, Swimming in Speakers (Swimming in Speakers EP)*
“When We Swam”, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down (Know Better, Learn Faster)
“Out There”, The Subhuman (Sur la Route)
“Dance Serene”, The Hard to Get (Looking Good EP)*
“Fragile Meadow”, In a Cabin With the Black Atlantic (Reverence for Fallen Trees)*
“Vengeance is Sleeping”, Neko Case (Middle Cyclone)
“Marilyn”, Nic Dawson Kelly (Old Valentine)
“While the Flies”, The Joy Formidable (A Balloon Called Moaning)
“French Navy”, Camera Obscura (My Maudlin Career)
“Man Sings About Romance”, Laura Marling (Ghosts EP)
“Doubtful Comforts”, Blue Roses (Blue Roses)

Blue Roses - Photo by Danny North

“Mockingbird”, The McMakens (Sleep Easy)
“Fly Me Away”, Annie Little (Fly Me Away EP)
“Dearheart”, Dear Reader (Replace Why with Funny)
“Close My Eyes”, The Peekers (Life in the Air)
“It’s Not the End of the World Jonah”, The Secret History (Desolation Town EP)
“Gin and Platonic”, The Just Joans (The Smittens/The Just Joans Split EP)

Songs we can’t live without:
“You’re Gonna Miss Me”, Lulu & the Lampshades (youtube video)*
“Girl On an Unmade Bed”, Lisbee Stainton (Girl On an Unmade Bed)
“Songs in the Night”, Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers (Songs in the Night)
“So Many Ways To Die”, Bombadil (Tarpits and Canyonlands)
“Funny Little Frog”, God Help the Girl (God Help the Girl)*
“Tyrannosaurus Rex for Christmas”’ The Lovely Eggs (A Very Cherry Christmas 5)*
“Worried Shoes”, Karen O & the Kids (Where the Wild Things Are [soundtrack])
“Prayer for a Marriage”, The McMackens (Sleep Easy)
“Let It Slip”, The School (Let It Slip EP)

When I was 12 (the old lineup, as far as I know)

“Make Believe Hearts”, When I was 12 (Dear Eskimo)
“Cradle”, The Joy Formidable (A Balloon Called Moaning)
“Thig am Bata”, Julie Fowlis (Uam)
“In Knowing”, Swimming in Speakers (Swimming in Speakers EP)
“Bobby On Repeat”, Parlours (MySpace only)
“Fais Battre ton Tambour”, Emily Loizeau (Pays Sauvage)
“Lalita”, The Love Language (The Love Language)
“Under Her Sails”, Malpas (MySpace only)
“On My Usual Catch Up with Cecilia”, Hari and Aino (free download)

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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)