I’ve but putting together an annual list of top ten albums for a few years now, and sending it to anyone who would read it. This year I have my own site, and with it, a few more readers and some co-conspirators in the form of The Bird List folks. I struggled more this year, though, than I have in the past few years. This year there were a lot of albums I…liked. I liked them a lot, and I liked a lot of them, but I’m not in love with any the way I was last year (2008 –The Gaslight Anthem, The Hold Steady…swoon).
That said, I had to put together a list of 20 for The Bird List. I struggled with it, put it in a spreadsheet, color-coded the spreadsheet and changed the list well over a dozen times. What is listed below is not what I sent in for the Bird List–I changed it another dozen times since then. At any rate, these are my 20 favorite albums of 2009.
The rankings are inexact, the descriptions are arbitrary and the mp3′s are plenty. Enjoy.
1) Lucero, 1372 Overton Park: A departure from my favorite Lucero years, and a few tracks I could do without, but Ben and the boys continue to do what I love best.
2) The Tallest Man on Earth, Shallow Grave: Nasally vocals and dreamy guitar strumming make this an all-around solid, if somewhat melancholy, listen. Note: I just realized this was a 2008 release. Whoops.
3) American Aquarium, Dances for the Lonely: Whiskeytown’s heir apparent, with a faster pulse and a sense of humor.
4) The Wooden Sky, If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone: Slightly twangy kanuck indie rock. A great sophomore effort.
5) Steve Earle, Townes: An imperfect but lovely tribute to the incomparable Townes VanZandt from one of his disciples.
6) The Maldives, Listen to the Thunder: One of the best, and potentially least heard, country-rock albums of the year. More here.
7) Richmond Fontaine, We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River: One of Portland’s best bands, Richmond Fontaine has essentially perfected their sound on this one. More on these guys soon!
8 ) The Cave Singers, Welcome Joy: A more subdued but more complex second full-length from one of my Seattle favorites. Their live show takes the energy of this album up several notches. More here.
9) Roadside Graves, My Son’s Home: An interesting and highly listenable folk/country/rock outfit that keeps getting compared to bands I don’t like. Check them out anyway.
10) The Low Anthem, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin: A gorgeous, schizophrenic album. More here.
11) Michah Schnabel, When the Stage Lights Go Dim: Not for the faint of heart, a stripped-down and raw solo effort from the front man of Two Cow Garage. Sensitive boys in loud bands now have a soundtrack for their neuroses.
12) Dave Rawlings: Friend of a Friend: Longtime duo Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch swap spots on this new release. Greatness results.
13) The Builders and the Butchers, Salvation is a Deep Dark Well: More swamp music from these Portland favorites. Not as pristine as their first album, but a solid effort. Go see these guys live.
14) Austin Lucas, Somebody Loves You: A new (to me) favorite. There are no weak spots on this album. More here.
15) Dawes, North Hills: A mellow, slightly twangy folk-rock album. This band sounds like California.
16) A.A. Bondy, When the Devil’s Loose: More mellow folk-rock! The sophomore effort from one of my favorite songwriters of the last few years. Portland: A.A. Bondy at Mississippi Studios 1/22/10.
17) Multiple Artists, Dark Was The Night: Indie-rock darlings of all stripes unite for a two-disc album, organized by the dudes from The National. Originals, covers, new collaborations and raising money to fight AIDS — buy this album.
18) Drag the River, Bad at Breaking Up: Thanks to the boys at www.ninebullets.net for the intro to Drag the River, a self-described alt.country band out of Denver. Chad Price and Jon Snodgrass do excellent solo work as well.
19) Those Darlins, s/t: This is a band who sings about getting drunk and eating a chicken. I have nothing more to add.
20) Justin Townes Earle, Midnight at the Movies: Yep – Townes and Earle. Steve’s son does a great job here. Personally, this album is 50% perfection and 50% just not my style. Portland: JTE with Joe Pug at the Alladin, 2/14/10.
And with that, Merry Chrismakuh, y’all!