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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 8.0° F  Fair
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My top music finds of 2009

The albums that burrow their way into my collection aren't always the most cleverly engineered or perfectly produced. It's the ones that suck me in with a great hook, lull me into submission with atmosphere or shock me out of my usual listening habits that tend to stick around in my mind and on my stereo.

My 2009 list doesn't include any EPs, live albums, greatest-hits collections or reissues. It does include the albums that lured me to shows during blizzards, ended my bout with insomnia, made me dance in my office cubicle and got me to bust a rhyme like it was nobody's business. Here they are, in no particular order, along with a few notes:

Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca: The Brooklyn, N.Y., band made ingenious connections between Bjork and Jeff Buckley, R&B and chamber pop, and much more, earning the hype they received in 2009.

Lightning Bolt, Earthly Delights: These worshipers of Philip Glass and Sun Ra blended noise, drone and psychedelic freakouts in a way that's as epic as it is chaotic.

Double Dagger, MORE: The Baltimore trio don't even have a guitarist, but they made a post-punk gem laced with challenging rhythms, unusual instrumental choices (harmonium, for example) and lyrics that are both personal and political.

Brother Ali, Us: Brother Ali's storytelling talents were in top form as he rapped about hard knocks with tight rhymes as well as empathy.

K'naan, Troubadour: Canadian-Somalian hip-hop-head K'naan released his strongest disc yet, merging protest poetry, Ethiopian jazz and Somali instruments with an attitude that ought to give M.I.A. a run for her money.

Art Brut, Vs. Satan: The drumbeats on Art Brut's newest offering knocked me to the floor, and the lyrics kept me there, rolling with laughter.

The Leftovers, Eager to Please: The Leftovers' Elvis Costello-style melodies grabbed my attention at first, but their cheeky, punked-out performance style kept me coming back for more.

DM Stith, Heavy Ghost: Stith used strings, percussion and melancholy reminiscent of Nick Drake to weave together religious imagery and vocals that rival Antony Hegarty's.

Marissa Nadler, Little Hells: Nadler's vocals filter their way into a swirl of Wurlitzer organs, Theremin and electronics to create poems that are both existential and otherworldly.

Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest
Passion Pit, Manners
The Antlers, Hospice
Japandroids, Post-Nothing
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, self-titled
Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

See my honorable mentions - and nominate your favorites - here on

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