Top Ten Indie Albums Of 2009

Let’s Wrestle: In The Court Of The Wrestling Let’s (U.K.)

Utterly endearing from start to finish, this is how you could describe the first full length album from Let’s Wrestle, In The Court Of The Wrestling Let’s. A post-punk group with bits of the 80’s lining the vocals, Let’s Wrestle has an energy that propels its deceivingly simple style to incredible heights. The London based band revels in its own raw nature executing songs with a kind of unself-conscious ease that says to the listener, here we are. The vocals in this band are shared well between Wes Patrick and Mike Lightning placing them in the ever popular sing sing, clap clap, we all thing together sub-genre of music which seems to be making its way into every crevasse of the alt rock scene. Nonetheless, it works well, In the Court of the Wrestling Let's is filled with tracks, that’s nature in not being to serious, will bring out the serious music lover in anyone. Though, that is exactly what is intend by the band members, having made it a point to create this album for you and your mates to enjoy together as loud as you want. And with as many tracks as there are on the album there is a lot to explore. Let’s Wrestle’s album stands out among other albums this year because of this tone it exudes, this youthful outlook of apathy mixed with fun. Tracks to that will get the most plays on your iPod off of the album, My Arms Don’t Bend That Way, Damn it!, I’m In Love With Destruction, Diana’s Hair, My Schedule.

The Big Pink: A Brief History of Love (U.K.)

At first listen to this emerging band out of East London, you get a sense of overwhelmingly erratic stimulus. The entire album seems to be dedicated to the expression of noise as the distorted angst of the heart. It’s all in the title of the album, A Brief History Of Love seem to capture something pure through its feedback riddled melodies. The two members that make up this band, Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze have an extensive musical background one in music production the other as an accomplished guitarist. With all this experience the duo has created an album with the touch of the undefined and admittedly at some points the inspired, possibly in spite of itself. As some seasoned musicians seem to go a bit far when let loose to combine and create new hybrid genres such as this one, that being, a kind of darkly ethereal version of Placebo. As an album A Brief History Of Love has legs and grows in its definition the more times you listen to it. At first it’s noisy and feedback filled, then after that it becomes more resounding and you can hear the simple yet provocatively driven pop like choruses. After a while The Big Pink’s album has found its way into the introspective lonely hearts club portion of your music library, and it will be there to stay. Key track off of this album are, To Young To Love, Dominos, and Count Backwards From Ten.

Neko Case: Middle Cyclone (U.S.A)

Who is this Neko Case? A voice that’s as familiar as it is implacable, Neko Case has been apart of Canada’s most unrecognizable export for years, and its not soft wood lumber or Brian Adams. Neko Case has been the better part of the New Pornographers lead vocals, but don’t box her in. Case has released eight solo projects over the years, making good use of her velvety soft vocals, in a style that has been more country western than the indie pop rock we have heard her in with the New Pornographers. But in her latest album Middle Cyclone, there has been a distinct shift away from the heavy country influences, which for the most part would put off fans trying to follow Case off of the success of the New Pornographers last album Challengers. Let’s put it this way in previous Neko Case sole albums we heard a style more akin the Shania Twain, while in this album we are more in the Ryan Adams territory. Kind of a bridge between country and alterative rock, a nomads land where artist like Ryan Adams, Deer Tick, and Aimee Mann dabble oh so sweetly in. You can Add Niko Case to that list, as Middle Cyclone offers us a kind of gentile recounting of acts of love hate and all the things that make up the tapestry of musical lyricty. With a voice like Neko Case there is little that comes out that does not have some appeal. That does not mean there are not a few gems to pay special attention on this album, People Got A Lotta Nerve, I’m an Animal these two will no doubt have a resounding affect on any listeners.

Kings Of Convenience: Declaration of Dependence (Norway)

The Kings of Convenience fall into the category of artists that are so smooth and relaxing they may actually put you to sleep if you are not careful. If you do fall asleep within the first few songs you will be missing out. This is not the only album to come from the musicians that constitute this band. One of them, Erlend Øye, has a side project that is as good as Kings of Convenience called The Whitest Boy Alive, which released an album earlier this year.
In comparison to their last album though, Declaration of Dependence does not fall short. It’s as good as the one which featured guest vocals from Lesley Feist of the band Feist. The new album is more of a reflection on being young and not having made the most of it. With songs like 24-25 telling the story of a year in the life of an age specific person, engaged in futile social games, involving heart shaped balloons and post cards. From the imagery of this song in particular you get more of a sense of where this band directs its energies and attention. In attempting to tell engaging narratives to the soft musical backdrop the Kings Of Convenience transport the listener to a quiet place filled with just enough darkness to counteract their positively relaxing melodies. Perfect for morning commutes on buses and trains, Declaration of Dependence will put in the proper mood for days filled with less pleasant prospects. Key Tracks off of Declaration of Dependence are, 24-25, Boat Behind, Rule My World, Renegade and Freedom and Its Owner.

Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (France)

Phoenix has been around for over a decade now, but it wasn’t until their album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix that people truly started to take notice. The band’s appearance on Saturday Night Live solidified them as known and their appeal as a broad one and expanding beyond the boarders of France. The latest album itself is a fully functional indie pop explosion, it’s keyboard and guitar rhythms accompanied by the lead singers high pitched voice allows for each track to project a kind of power that compels the listener to hear more. Even the track Love Like A Sunset, which is over seven minutes long, and is mostly instrumental, has a payoff at the ending in a climactic ballad delivered by the lead vocalist Thomas Mars. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix stands out among other indie pop acts mainly due to the quality of every track. Most indie pop acts find themselves caught between the artistry/appeal divide, here with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix the two flow together effortlessly. At least that is how Phoenix makes it seem. Key Tracks off of this album are, Lisztomania, Rome, 1910, Love Like A Sunset, Girlfriend.

M. Ward: Hold Time (U.S.A)

If you haven’t heard of M. Ward and are a fan of the Portland Oregon music scene, then this band might be right up your ally. M. Ward a.k.a. Matthew Ward has been very busy over the past year or so, being caught up with the wonderful Zooey Deschanel on the She and Him project and more recently Monsters of Folk. That hasn’t stopped him from coming out with a rich and complex album of his own with his newest sole release Hold Time. With fourteen tracks you would think a few would be worthy of your iPod’s skip button, not so. Ward has delivered a value album if there ever was one, loaded with solemn and moody tacks, accompanied by Ward’s signature soft raspy voice. When listening to Hold Time one can’t help but feel relaxed and slightly more content with the universe, it’s just the nature of his music, darkly peaceful, filled with a kind of imagery that will take you places. Tacks to pay close attention to on this album are, Jail Bird, To Save Me, Fisher of Men.

Sunset Rubdown: Dragonslayer (Canada)

The band, lead by one of Wolf Parade's co-lead singers' Spencer Krug, has already released two full length albums with his side project Sunset Rubdown. With the latest of which only having eight tracks, you may think that you are being cheated. That is until you hear what the foursome has produced. Dragonslayer holds true to the vision of Spencer Krug, leaving the listener feeling engulfed in the wonderful yelping anarchy which is Sunset Rubdown, yet the tracks are not as extended as some from previous albums. The work of Sunset Rubdown is the finished expression only touched upon in Krug’s other band, Wolf Parade’s, fantastic album, Apologies to Queen Marry. More specifically, one could say you can hear the beginning of Sunset Rubdown in one song in particular, I Believe In Anything. It really does seem like the touchstone for the musical philosophy of Sunset Rubdown. To say this album’s style is just synth/psychedelic rock is a misstatement, it is many things, as with all of Sunset Rubdown’s albums you never really know what type of musical instrument or turn of phrase will be in a song. “When someone says fuck me, someone else says O.K.” after hearing this lyric in one of their former albums, Shut Up I Am Dreaming, you will fall in love with this band. What a pleasant shock it was to hear that phrase after an extended instrumental part in the The Men Are Called Horsemen There. In Dragonslayer, Camilla Wynne Ingr takes on a more noticeable role in this album to a pleasant affect; her soft voice curbs the often overpowering lyrical delivery of Krug. Track to look out for in Dragonslayer, Idiot Heart, Pager Lace, You Go on Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II), and the ten minute twenty-eight second monster of a track Dragon’s Lair. Dragonslayer is a great addition to any indie library. If you are of the Wolf Parade persuasion then Sunset Rubdown’s Dragonslayer is a must have.

Timbre Timbre: Self-titled (Canada)

Timbre Timbre, a band out of Toronto Ontario, has been making some indie waves over the past few years. The band has put out two other album, 2006's Cedar Shakes and 2007's Medicinals. The self-titled third album has a distinctive musical flavour to it, one that is dark and consoling. Lead singer of the band, Taylor Kirk possesses a distinct vocal aptitude when singing and is able to reflect both an understated strength and overwhelming unease with every syllable sung. The album’s songs have the qualities of a band whose era is hard to put your finger on. Timbre Timbre is a part of the growing number of era nondescript concept bands, whose first impression always is the cause of some reflection. The thing is, this album could have been made in the 60's 70's 80's 90's etc. Blues, Folk and possibly the supernatural are the main influence for the self-titled album. Making the sound one that takes the listener to a world where imagery and mood could be likened to that of a Grimm Fairytale, played out to brooding melodies of a nondescript era gone by.
As with bands such as, Dr. Dog, Sunset Rubdown, M. Ward, Deer Tick, Kings of Leon, and now Timbre Timbre, we are seeing a new bread of music. One that takes its influences from a host of genres and eras, what results is a style of music that is getting harder and harder to place. These bands do not come off as trying to be something from the past, or unfamiliar, it is simply a reflection of the musicians’ musical interests, which in the case of Timbre Timbre and its members seems to be diverse and refined. Key Tracks off of this album are, Until The Night Is Over, Magic Arrow, I Get Low and No Bold Villain.

White Lies: To Lose My Life (U.K.)

If you haven’t already heard of them…you will. White Lies are an Alt Rock band form West London, and their first album To Lose My Life, has been making its way to the surface of the mainstream music world. Relative unknowns in the U.S. the White Lies have already reached # 1 on the UK Album Charts early this year, that is until they started to pop up on video game soundtracks (Dirt 2) and teen oriented TV shows (Vampire Diaries). Not exactly a ringing endorsement but that is the only way some bands can gain visibility, by filling in the background music of a teen soap. These boys from London have made an album which incorporates the BIG sound music of the 80’s had in spades…think White Wedding, with lyrical balladry that would make even the most hopeless romantic blink an eye. With lyrics like, “lets grow old together…and die at the same time” you get a sense of there intensity or melodrama… either way it is excellent. The entire album seems to be dedicated to death and all his friends. Songs from their debut album to keep an ear out for would be, To Lose My Life and From The Stars.

The Mess Hall: For the Birds (Australia)

There are now two Aussie bands that we need to pay attention to. Wolfmother is a must and has proven itself a power house to be reckoned with, the other is The Mess Hall. The Mess HahUHall is a two man band consisting of Jed Kurzel vocal/guitar and Cec Condon drums/vocals. Wait two man rock band, what comes to mind The White Stripes right. Wrong, they sound nothing like The White Stripes. The sound of The Mess Hall is much grittier than that of the other dynamic duo. In their newest album For The Birds the vocals are often buried beneath with overwhelming low note progression. Stylistically, the band has a lot going for it, combining certain aspects of classic blues with the added bonus of vocal effects making the listener feel as though some of the songs were performed and recorded in an endless hall way, creating echoes and depth and richness of sound. Some tracks off of the new album give you the sense that they were loosely inspired by The Headstones (does anyone remember them?) while others bare a more Ryan Adams feel. What makes things more interesting is the incorporation of ‘the funk’ with Beck-centric style in songs like Bell. Each song off of the album tells a different story and each is worth multiple listens. If you have never heard of The Mess Hall before, then this is a perfect album to spark your interest. It’s richness of content and familiar style makes this Aussie band feel accessible and this album as world class.

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