It’s been another great year of music, so without further ado…
Houston Calling‘s favorite albums of 2009
1. Doves, Kingdom of Rust (Astralwerks)
This Manchester band never fails to impress me with the way it reinvents its music with each release. From spacey beginnings to the more refined songs on recent releases, the trio weaves admirable styles and themes into both its lyrics and its music. Kingdom of Rust is only the band’s fourth album in nine years, but its craftsmanship and dedication to perfection is evident throughout. …Rust is hands down the album I listened to most during the year. Take it from the BBC:
Why can’t more bands make this kind of effort? Widescreen, windswept and grittily euphoric…In a year that’s fast becoming a vintage one for albums, Doves storm to the top of the pile. Absolutely brilliant.
Watch: “Kingdom of Rust”
2. Tody Castillo, Windhorse (Chula Records)
Had it been released earlier in the year, Windhorse would have easily topped this list. After four years, no one really knew what to expect from Castillo–but it was worth the wait. Here’s some of what I had to say in my review of Castillo’s long-awaited new album:
When an artist’s work is as lauded as Castillo’s 2005 self-titled release, it could prove difficult to live up to the expectations. While Castillo doesn’t seem to have tried very hard to avoid that perception–with infrequent live performances and release dates that came and went–thankfully his latest songs dispel any such myth. A deeply personal album, Windhorse finds Castillo opening up about fatherhood, marriage, death, and the inevitable lost love. If anything’s readily apparent, it is that Castillo has matured over the past few years–as a result, so has his songwriting.
Watch: “The Shape Of My Heart”
3. Jason Lytle, Yours Truly, The Commuter (Anti-)
Former Grandaddy frontman Lytle jumped out on his own to create a very listenable album. Introspective yet not depressing, the songs on Yours Truly… reflect a maturing songwriter at the top of his game.
WATCH: “Yours Truly, The Commuter”
4. Alberta Cross, Broken Side of Time (ATO)
A band that seemingly came out of nowhere, Alberta Cross’ music is a cross between Britrock and Southern rock. Think early Verve meets Animals-era Pink Floyd–what can be wrong with that?
5. Benjamin Wesley, Geschichte (Self-released)
While Wesley’s one-man-band live act is the ideal way to experience his music, this EP succinctly captures his unique cross-section of styles. Here’s some of what I wrote in my review of the EP:
Musically, Wesley does his best to capture the essence of his live sets (for those who have seen his performances, you know; for those who haven’t, check Vimeo). However, what separates Geschichte from the live experience is his lyrics–it’s much easier to focus on what he’s singing about when you’re not standing in awe of what’s happening onstage.
Benjamin Wesley’s is a prime example of what keeps Houston’s music scene thriving and engaging.
WATCH: live at Cactus Music
6. The Mercury Program, Chez Viking (Lovitt Records)
Instrumental rock (or “post-rock” as it’s sometimes called) is usually one of those genres people typically either love or hate (my wife refers to much of it as “dirge”). However, for the handful of instrumental rock bands that don’t sound like they need to practice in the garage another year or two, the resulting music is essentially jazz for those who want a little more rock in their instrumental music. The Mercury Program has been making music for years and Chez Viking reaffirms the band’s place near the top of the post-rock heap.
7. Wilco, Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)
Repeated listens to Wilco’s latest release proves that the Chicago group keeps maturing with each release. While less experimental than breakthrough album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and not quite as mellow (thankfully) as Sky Blue Sky, the album–probably the band’s most accessible–reflects a band that seems finally comfortable with its songs.
WATCH: “You And I”
8. Robin Guthrie, Carousel (Darla)
Former Cocteau Twin Guthrie has been releasing solo efforts and collaborations for years, however his latest album stuck with me because of its solid flow and mesmerizing, light guitars. Carousel is excellent background music, and is the perfect soundtrack to dark nights and long drives.
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz! (Interscope)
This album reminds me of how good Siouxsie & The Banshees once was, and the band’s blend of synth-pop and guitar-based songs stayed in my head for days after first listening to the album.
WATCH: “Heads Will Roll”
10. The Damnwells, One Last Century (Self-released)
After surviving the major label ringer (documented in the recently released Golden Days documentary DVD), The Damnwells released this album as a free download on the Paste magazine website. Also available on CD in better record stores, One Last Century finds lead Damnwell Alex Dezen opening up about his childhood and finding love. I highly suggest checking out the documentary for an inside look at the trials of dealing with a major label.
WATCH: Golden Days trailer | “Like It Is” (acoustic)
11. A.A. Bondy, When the Devil’s Loose (Fat Possum)
After breaking out with American Hearts, Bondy returned this year with another stripped-down set of songs that straddles the line between indie-folk and alt-country. Bondy is a talented songwriter, and When The Devil’s Loose further proves that you don’t have to be a household name to make an important record.
WATCH: “When The Devil’s Loose”
12. The Prairie Cartel, Where Did All My People Go (Long Nights Impossible Odds)
Blake Smith and Mike Willison from Fig Dish and Caviar team up with Chicago rocker Scott Lucas of Local H to create an addictive blend of danceable electro-pop and guitar-based indie rock. The group’s live sets can be iPod-style DJ sets or full-on rock shows, and the album–which came on the heels of a couple of well-received EPs and songs on Grand Theft Auto radio–further shows the band’s wide range of styles and influences. Be sure to also check out the recent 68 Angry Minutes DVD from Local H.
13. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote)
Since fellow countrymen Air’s albums after Moon Safari have, um, blown, thankfully Phoenix has taken the helm of French electro-pop. If you haven’t yet heard songs from this album, you undoubtedly will.
14. The Crash That Took Me, Chlorine Colored Eyes (Idol Records)
While the indie press fawned over Silversun Pickups’ brand of rehashed Smashing Pumpkins, this Dallas band’s second release shows how homage is really done.
WATCH: “Chlorine Colored Eyes”
15. Jarvis Cocker, Further Complications (Rough Trade US)
Former Pulp front man Cocker at his immature best. Saying things most men think but would never say (“I never said I was deep, but I am profoundly shallow / My lack of knowledge is vast, and my horizons are narrow / I never said I was big, I never said that I was clever / And if you’re waiting to find what’s going on in my mind, you could be waiting forever”), he blends wit and cool with British charm. With production from Steve Albini, this one’s a definite keeper.
WATCH: “Further Complications”
16. Paris Falls, Vol. III (Paper Weapon Records)
Houston couple Ray and Jen Brown, along with drummer Mikey Deleon, make classic rock for the indie set. The music is sedate and meandering, without being jammy or stale.
17. The Big Pink, A Brief History Of Love (4AD)
Taking cues from early-90s Britrock heroes and throwing in a heavy dose of 80s-style synth-pop, these fey Brits take catchy guilty pleasures to the next level.
18. Chase Hamblin, A Fine Time EP (Self-released)
Here’s what I wrote about Houstonian Hamblin’s EP earlier this year:
…a collection of songs that play on the 60s British invasion with a modern twist…with only five songs, Hamblin raises the expectations of how local music can sound.
19. Ume, Sunshower EP (Self-released)
Former Houstonians Ume packed it up to Austin a few years back, and it seems to have paid off. “The Conductor” is one of the finest (and catchiest) songs of the year. I defy you not to fall in love with her voice.
WATCH: “The Conductor”
Kasabian, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum (Red Ink)
Despite the overblown egos and rock star swagger, Kasabian knows how to make some catchy music (remember “Club Foot”?). After its horrid second album, many wrote the band off but thankfully West Ryder… more than makes up for it–this is stadium rock done with typical British flair.
WATCH: “Where Did All The Love Go”
Click the album covers for links to the bands’ websites and/or to purchase their music.
Also, check back soon for the top 20 favorite Houston releases of 2009.