When we painstakingly compile our annual Best Albums list, there are always a few outliers, albums that we loved deeply but, for one reason or another, didn’t find a spot in the top 40. It’s music that we blasted from our cubicles, sought out at club shows, and dropped onto playlists for pals, that didn’t necessarily permeate the popular consciousness, or score career-changing syncs in car commercials. Simply put, we loved these oft-underappreciated albums — we hope you will, too.
Post your favorite under-the-radar album of 2009 in the comments section below!
This Australian girl-boy/guitar-drums duo handed Tegan and Sara a demo tape and ended up as their opening band. But An Horse’s debut album defies charges of nepotism: Kate Cooper composes taut and emotionally gripping overshares that would be the envy of any lovelorn diary-keeper, delivered atop unbelievably catchy bursts of indie-pop jangle. PETER GASTONStream: An Horse, “Postcards”
Dig Deerhunter’s ambient and propulsive shoegaze? Vivian Girls’ garage-surf riffs? Get ’em both (and more) from 23-year-old Olympia, Washington, resident Nicolaas Zwart, a K Records intern turned studio whiz. On standouts like “San Francisco 2 A.M.,” he piles on the reverb and sprints into the ocean, exulting in each crashing wave. WILLIAM GOODMANStream: Desolation Wilderness, “Boardwalk Theme”
Mean Everything to Nothing
This Georgia band’s 2006 debut chronicled frontman Andy Hull’s poignant and occasionally tentative (read: wimpy) musings on faith. But Mean Everything undoes any notion that music about God can’t inhabit the form of a confident, muscular rock behemoth — or that it can’t command the rapt attention of even the staunchest agnostics. P.G.Stream: Manchester Orchestra, “Shake It Out”
Grab a tissue. This singer/songwriter’s third album is a reminder of the power of a simple, well-turned melody and heart-tugging lyric. Here, McCombs crafts stripped-down, timelessly poetic modern folk songs (by year’s end, Girls were covering “Dreams-Come-True-Girl” live) and issues wordy laments (“My Sister My Spouse”) that might seem pretentious or ponderous if they weren’t so profoundly lovely. W.G.Stream: Cass McCombs, “Dreams Come True Girl”
Everything Is New
While his debut’s frenetic ska-punk was catchy, this British playboy seemed like far too much of a social darling to pull off his spazzy persona. But his second full-length’s shift to a sexy, dancefloor-filling sound feels more fitting: From the brassy, panty-flinging romp “Be the One” to the Latin rhythms of “Tonight’s Today” to the lilting balladry of “Pull My Heart Away,” Peñate could be a twentysomething Tom Jones — in much looser pants. P.G.Stream: Jack Peñate, “Tonight’s Today”
Beloved by a stunningly diverse audience — hair-straightened emo kids, tattooed moshers, hip-hop traditionalists — Minneapolis-based MC Stef “P.O.S.” Alexander rocks intricate, thoughtful rhymes that cleverly namedrop Fugazi and AC Slater, while examining his identity crisis growing up as a black punk rocker. An impressed Kanye West recently big-upped Stef on his blog. P.G.Stream: P.O.S., “Optimist (We Are Not For Them)”
Like the benevolent spawn of Charles Manson, this San Francisco sextet brings LSD’s dark side to the hippies, layering head-pummeling Black Sabbath metal and head-tripping Flaming Lips psychedelia on top of Fleet Foxes folk. Embrace’s best track, the seven-minute-long supernova “New Age,” moves from soft to serene to ear-exploding with deft menace. This is the brown acid. W.G.Stream: Sleepy Sun, “New Age”
If there was a Now! That’s What I Call Music for indie power pop, “Coast of Carolina” by 22-year-old Seattle native Michael Benjamin Lerner would definitely make the cut. Distorted, Big Star-style guitar chords give way to one of the year’s catchiest choruses, complete with a melodic build that would have Maria Von Trapp whistlin’ along. If you don’t like Telekinesis, your ears don’t work. W.G.Stream: Telekinesis, “I Saw Lightning”
If You Leave It Alone
Shyness and a charmingly provincial lack of ambition have kept this decade-old British trio out of the limelight. But their third album’s shyness and provincial charm is exactly what makes it so compelling. Singer/guitarist David Tattersall deserves every Jonathan Richman comparison he gets, but the album’s coy witticisms, carelessly strummed guitars, and cheeky bursts of brass never overstay their childlike welcome. P.G.Stream: The Wave Pictures, “If You Leave It Alone”
For this Baltimore couple, love is a hazy tornado of sound. Singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner’s hypnotic songwriting has obvious Americana roots, but on the duo’s sophomore full-length, her dreamy vocals artfully join ragged riffs to drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack’s layers of thunderstorm drums and surging keyboard drones. “Mary Is Mary” builds a wall of gorgeous chaos that surrounds Wasner’s calm center. W.G.Stream: Wye Oak, “Take It In”