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)

You’re speaking my Love Language

from the MySpace

I have to admit, I’ve been lazy with my concert attendance over the last six weeks. Sunday night was no different. With the Rural Alberta Advantage playing at the Wexner Center, I spent most of the day convincing myself that I didn’t really need to go. My knowledge of The RAA (more on them later this week) was limited to two songs on their MySpace and a single YouTube video and I was flat out exhausted. For some reason, likely the early start time, I surrendered my $10 anyway. It was the best decision I have made in months. Because, Sunday night, I fell in Love.

For some reason, I had trouble finding any mention of who would be playing with The RAA, so you can imagine my surprise when, from the lobby as I entered (late, sadly), I heard strains of The Love Language, a band I had not only already heard of, but already liked. I had listened to their self-titled debut about 15 or 20 times back in February while it was streaming at, but come the album’s release date, I was unable to track down down a copy and was eventually distracted from my pursuit. But I never forgot it. How could anyone forget the lo-fi hotness of the Love Language? The impassioned and ecstatic lead single “Lalita” (which you should be able to download here) secure this band’s reputation for years to come. Then there’s the intoxicating anthemic ballad “Manteo” and, oh yeah, every other song on the album.

So, yeah, the album is great and will likely finish high in my top 25 this year, but pair that with a live show explodes with so much energy that even a fat guy like me spends most of his time dancing (and I apologize to anyone who witnessed that). And while Stu McLamb’s vocals on the album are stellar, in live performance they propel him to whatever you call that level above rock star. And, where stage presene is concerned, it would not be out of line to apply that moniker to the whole band, but having spent several minutes talking with several of them following the show, I can say they certainly haven’t let it go to their heads.

Confession: the reason I haven’t attended a lot of concerts lately is that they can be unbelievably depressing. Regardless of my willingness to go anywhere just to hear good music, it is inevitable that I will encounter loads of hipsters and scenesters with their skinny jeans and skinnier girlfriends who seem to fill the hall with a sense that I just don’t belong there. Sunday night, I experienced nothing of the sort. I’m sure they were still there, yes, but from the moment I caught my first glimpse of The Love Language on stage, I could neither see nor feel anything else. I have not smiled so ridiculously much since I first saw Super Desserts six months ago. And here I am, once again, in Love.

In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman published his book The Five Love Languages. There are tests and quizzes all over the internet to help a person identify his or her love language and I have friends who swear by them. I, personally, have never read any of the books or taken the quizzes, but whatever mine is, The Love Language are speaking it.