Best Albums of 2009

It’s that time of year. All blogs are compiling their “Best Of” lists, and so it is my duty as a music blogger to mark this year in music according to my tastes. At first thought, it took me a while to really remember how many albums I got excited about this year, how many I LOVED, and which ones were actually released this year, but after sorting through my head and giving it some thought, I think I’ve finally got it together. Here’s HipsterSpinster‘s list of favorite albums of the year 2009.  (Click on the images for links to the music)

Matt & Kim – Grand

Grand is the second full-length album from Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim and the album certainly took their indie pop-ness to a whole new level. Anyone who missed the shocking debut of their single “Lessons Learned” clearly did not turn on a televison or computer this year. The vid helped the band gain much deserved exposure (along with a few commercial spots for their music) finished out the year winning an MTV VMA for “Breakthrough Video“, an MTVu Woodie Award, and music spots on games FIFA 10 and NBA Live 10.

As a Matt & Kim fan, it was a real treat to see the band expand their sound on this album. There was more variety all around, in the music (especially the drums), styles, and subjects. The album was packed with fun tracks like “Cutdown”, “Don’t Slow Down”, and first single “Daylight”. Tracks I really loved were “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare”, “Lessons Learned”, and I especially liked the track “Turn This Boat Around” which featured no drums at all and provided a nice transition to the final songs of the album, the instrumental (save for Matt’s yells) “Cinders”, and the appropriate closer “I’ll Take Us Home”. It was even great to get a special treat, a “Daylight” remix at the album’s end. Even though it simply repeated the chorus throughout, it was a good relaxing track; plus it was entertaining that it was longer than the original.

Overall, this album is a great accomplishment for the band, exposing some new sounds and the same fun flare we have grown to love from Matt & Kim.

Click to stream album

Cast Spells – Bright Works and Baton

Yes. I love Maps & Atlases. So naturally, I was way psyched when frontman Dave Davison announced he’d finally put those folksy solo tracks he’d left on the back-burner out for the world to hear. And after going from all-talk to no-talk, Sargent House finally let us all breathe again by announcing that talk was true, and Davison (a.k.a. Cast Spells) would be releasing those recordings in 2009. The six song EP Bright Works and Baton was released in August and did not fail to delight fans with its indie-folk charm. It showed the softer side of Davison’s musical conquests as opposed to the complex intensity of Maps & Atlases, and simplified our minds with calm, thoughtful tunes and lyrics we could actually understand.

Click image to stream the album on bandcamp

Frank Schweikhardt – Life But No More

This is one of my favorite albums of 2009 for so many reasons. It’s great to see a musician come out with a strong follow-up to their first solo release. It’s amazing to hear an album that is so beautiful and personal. It’s humbling to see a good release on a budding local label. But above all, it’s a special and memorable occasion to see a friend putting their life into song and releasing an album that they are proud of.

All of those things are true in regards to Frank Schweikhardt‘s Life But No More.   It’s a solid album full of soft and vulnerable songs about life lessons.  The ten-track album is a look into life’s possibilities, the good and the bad, and above all, an undying faith that we live to learn, we experience to feel, and we grow older and hopefully wiser for a new day.  This album makes me proud every time I hear it. Proud to know music, and proud to know Frank.

See the full HipsterSpinster review of Life But No More here.

Listen to the album here.

e.p. hall – Mommy Crow

As the HipsterSpinsterLocal Album Of the 2009“, it would be and understatement to say I enjoyed this album. After quite a hiatus, and a strong comeback to the Bloomington live music scene, e.p. hall is back and stronger than ever.

Armed with local musician Andy Goheen (Sticky and the Bees), Elise Percy has crafted a strangely beautiful album, Mommy Crow, filled with haunting vocals, intriguing melodies, and lyrics that take over the emotional soul. Every time I hear “The Shade”, my mind wanders into a lonely, stagnant world filled with floating fall leaves and questions. There’s no track on this album that doesn’t draw this listener in deeper, trying to figure out where all of the stories, imagery, and emotion come from, and getting lost in translation. I know I will never tire of this album, it will be in my head for the rest of my life.

Click image to stream the album

husband&wife – Dark Dark Woods

I could easily say this was one of the biggest CD releases of 2009 in Bloomington, and one of the biggest shows in the ill-fated venue, The Cinemat. Dark Dark Woods was released in February of 2009, and as the first full-length release from husband&wife since 2006’s operation:surgery, it was long-awaited and long overdue.

dark dark woods is a beautiful collection of songs, heavy in emotional contemplation, and skillfully recorded to introduce fans to a stronger and more mature husband&wife. From songs about loneliness, finding and embracing love, and questioning life, to finding oneself, enjoying life, and memories of what used to be, dark dark woods is the album the band has always been writing, they just finally put the words on paper.

See the full HipsterSpinster review of dark dark woods here.

Listen to the album here.

album artwork

Click image to stream album

Redbird – Grow Good Things

There were quite a few darker albums that came out in Bloomington this year, but if you really want to know what sadness and heartache felt like in 2009, Redbird had it covered. Redbird is a Bloomington rock trio fronted by Michael Bushman (formerly of The Alarmists (Calm Down.)) and after nearly a year of performing solo and with the band, Grow Good Things was released, an emotional rollercoaster of sorrow, loneliness, and depression. But don’t get yourself too down, there is a really cute song called “Roly Poly”, and a beautiful, quiet short ballad “From Where I Lay” to bring smiles.

Grow Good Things is a really strong debut album from a band that still has so much to give. I can’t wait for the next Redbird album.

Listen to the album here.

Regina Spektor – Far

I have been a fan of Regina Spektor for years now, and I will always tell you that I love her earlier, more raw, less studio produced recordings way better than her current. Nothing beats Spektor’s voice and a piano, simple, pure, and wholesomely lovely. This is why I often prefer albums Songs, 11:11, or the set of burned bootleg songs I got from a friend who had Limewire my first year of college. Soviet Kitsch was decent, but Begin to Hope was a bit disappointing and overproduced. Then came 2009’s Far, and my faith in top-studio Regina Spektor was restored.

From the moment I heard the first single “Eet”, I was deeply attracted to the new album and new sound of Spektor. Much more piano, less electronic keyboard sounds, and more beautifully simple songs about anything and everything. Yet the songs also went deeper and hit harder than songs on previous albums, bringing me back to the storytelling songs I fell in love with such as “Reading Time with Pickle” and “Daniel Cowman”. Far features imaginative tracks like “Machine”, “Laughing With”, and “Human of the Year”. My favorite “Dance Anthem of the 80s” reminds me of the fun, party Spektor seen in Soviet Kitsch. I wanted to be skeptical of this album, but it really is a lovely add to the collection of Regina Spektor fans everywhere.

bon iver – Blood Bank

One of the biggest albums of early 2009, Bon Iver triumphed charts with the January release of Blood Bank on Jagjaguwar. The four-song EP dug deep into the souls of hipsters all over with captivating lyrics and the grippingly beautiful voice of Justin Vernon.  With a year heavy in touring, it’s only deserving that Bon Iver is taking time off…sort of.  (Volcano Choir anyone?)

Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You

Oh, Lily Allen. The girl who shook us all with her debut “Alright, Still”, with a daringly-charming attitude, and songs about life in the fastlane, ditching jerks in clubs, and her little brother’s drug addiction. Well, she’s grown up, a bit, since the last album, and is still discussing questionable relationships and club life. However, this time around there’s a little less “me against the world”, a tad more in your face honesty, and a lot more maturity and heart.

It’s Not Me, It’s You is more of a discussion album than a bash album, bringing up topics like religion, self-reflection, cultural views, and of course, love. Some statements are loud, such as “F*** You” and “Everyone’s At It”, while others like “The Fear” and “Who’d Have Known?” take a softer and more subtle approach. It seems Allen is looking inward for answers in this album, and opening more personally in her songwriting. Overall, it’s a strong follow-up that focuses more on perspective and curiosity, instead of pointing fingers.

Spirit Spine – Spirit Spine

Here’s an artist I am officially announcing as the Bloomington Newcomer of the Year. How many college freshmen do you meet who are selected for a local compilation album in their first semester, and have put out an album, performed their first concert ever, and been the talk of the town, blogs, and iTunes all before the end of the second? The debut self-titled album Spirit Spine was a peak into a talented and creative young musician, looking for a thriving environment like Bloomington to take a chance on his music. And for the most part, the response was overwhelmingly powerful. Spirit Spine is a great album of electronic pop full of color, movement, and fun.

Honorable Mention:
Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster, Volcano Choir – Unmap, Alexander the Great – Faces Change, Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest, FeSo – ManiFeso, All the Day Holiday – The Things We’ve Grown to Love

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