If it’s possible, I continue to fall more in love with music – and as the years pass, I seem to invest more and more in purchasing music each year. Every December, I sit down and go through all of the new music I’ve purchased over the last 365 days and try to narrow it down to the ten “best” of the year. It’s near impossible – I truly love most of the music that I buy, all for different reasons. But, there are always a few that seem to stand out, the ones that get more exercise – on the iPod, in the car, on the computer – than any others.
I’m no music critic, and I certainly have no idea what I’m talking about – but if I had shiny silver statues to give out, these are the records that were released in 2009 that would receive a “Krissie.”
As an aside, I decided not to give out honorable mentions this year, as that was really kind of a cop out from having to exclude records I really liked from the list…I’m being tough this year and forcing myself to make some hard – and unpopular with myself – decisions.
So, without further adieu, kids, I give you – My Top Ten Albums of 2009.
10. The Fray – The Fray
Yes, I’m just as surprised as you are about this one. After much debate, I decided that it had to be in the Top 10 and not an honorable mention. It was a late buy for me – I probably waited six months after it came out to buy it. But it has been in consistent play since the moment I purchased it. It is one of my favorite albums to put on while I’m driving. I think it’s a much stronger overall record than How to Save a Life – The Fray has grown up. The album is rich, huge sounding, and really just well done. C’mon, you can’t tell me that you don’t belt out “You Found Me” when you hear it on the radio! I’m particularly partial to “Say When,” which has an unbelievably philosophical and dark edge to it….Say what you want about The Fray, I love this album.
9. Shane Hines & The Trance – The Glory Journal
There is no songwriter who can touch my emotional heart strings the way Shane Hines does – the man writes these insane missives and turns them into songs – sometimes beautiful, often heartbreaking, and occasionally witty. When The Glory Journal was released in March, the first thing I did was devour the lyrics. Want to know what it’s like to stare depression in the face? Listen to “Way Up” and see if you don’t walk away feeling like you might have an idea. Ever felt heartbreak – true heartbreak – too late? “We Can Never Be” is your song. Wanted to kick yourself for being ungrateful? Yup, “Boy” is for you. Combine the powerful writing with a huge (and unique) voice, amazing guitar skills from both Shane and bassist Thumbs, and you’ve got a pretty fabulous record.
8. The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event
I bought this album on a complete whim. Was hunting around iTunes, looking for some new stuff to listen to. The “Others who bought this album also bought” link led me to The Airborne Toxic Event. I listened to some snippets. I thought, “Eh, I’ll see what it’s all about.” Turned out it would be one of my best investments of the year. This little five-piece from LA has one of the most unique sounds out there right now: a genuinely spooky vocal, crafty lyrics about love, betrayal and obsession – and their resulting chemically induced stupors, and seriously fantastic instrumentation (they have a viola, for crying out loud!). It’s exceptionally sharp writing: “She’s laughing, she’s turning, she’s holding her tonic like a cross…” – come on, that’s flipping awesome! Strangely, it’s incredibly upbeat and happy, despite lyrical subject matter that is at most times the complete opposite. It’s probably my favorite thing to put on late at night when I’m driving or when I’m out running. A solid debut effort from this band – cannot wait to see them live and hear what they put out next!
7. Needtobreathe – The Outsiders
Gotta give credit to Annie and Brad here. Nearly four years ago, they convinced me to go see this little band from Possum Kingdom, South Carolina (yes, there IS such a place) and they had me from their first song. Enter Needtobreathe into Krissie’s heart. Mark my words, kids: in 2010, Needtobreathe will become a household name – and this record is going to have a lot to do with it. Tremendous vocals, great lyrics and melody, and lots of stompin’ and handclappin’ made this record a favorite from its first play. I do believe that Bear Rineheart could sing the alphabet to me and it would sound amazing. From the dance hall fun of “Girl from Tennessee” to revival-esque songs like “Lay ‘Em Down” and “The Outsiders” to touching, slow-down-and-think numbers like “Stones Under Rushing Water,” there’s something for everyone on this record. An easy choice for the Top 10 list this year.
6. Green River Ordinance – Out of My Hands
2009 was definitely the year of GRO for me. After being a fan for several years, I finally got to meet and see the boys live on The Rock Boat in January, shortly before Out of My Hands was released in February. The intoxication of seeing them on the Boat led to a pretty excited Krissie when the album came out, and it has been in pretty permanent rotation all year. It’s a melodic, happy and sweet record that would appeal to anyone who likes a good tune. These boys are on the brink of super stardom, and I’m super excited for them. If you somehow missed my missives this year, please, for the love of Bruce, go out and pick up a copy of this record right now!
5. Christopher Jak – The Leadfoot Lover EP
Two words: Finally. Perfection. We all know that C Jak is in my Top 5…so of COURSE I’ve been waiting with bated breath for new music to come from him. And he didn’t disappoint me in 2009…his first new music in over three years. Three perfect new songs, and one re-done older song, all in a nice little package. Jak has this insane talent for being able to write deeply emotional and poignant songs – a la “Strong Enough” – and pair them with humorous, fun and sexy songs – “Leadfoot Lover” – and the combination just works. And damn, his ear is near perfect. I mean that quite literally; he’s a pretty savvy producer and has a knack for just making songs that sound fluid and full … and that just soar. It might be a small record, but it packs a punch. Welcome back, Jak … I missed ya!
4. Will Hoge – The Wreckage
How do you give the middle finger to fate? Recover from a brutal and nearly fatal car accident and put out what is perhaps the best record of your career nearly a year to the day later. Welcome to the story of The Wreckage, boys and girls. Will Hoge continues to channel the harbingers of great rock n’ roll – Otis, Hank, Johnny, Bruce, The Band – and create his own breed of rock. A little soul, a little country, a bunch of guitar. The Wreckage retains the grit and swagger that Will is known for, but takes it down a notch, coming across a little softer, a little more incisive – and it’s absolutely fantastic.
3. Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons – Death Won’t Send a Letter
The battle for my top album this year was really close and a hard decision. Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons come in third, but only by a hair. Cory Chisel found his way into my iTunes in 2008, and quickly became a favorite. His voice is gravelly, smoky and powerful – three things that win me over nearly immediately. The music is a beautiful blend of folk and rock. Coupled with gorgeous harmonies and insightful lyrics, it’s an absolutely enchanting record. “Born Again,” “So Wrong for Me” and “Longer Time At Sea” are my three favorites…but the whole record is stunning. And seriously, how bad ass is the name of this record?
2. Damion Suomi – Self-Titled
Where do I even begin? Damion was a gift to me this year from another band I listen to – Gasoline Heart. They share a label and when Damion’s album came out in March, the guys from GH tweeted about it. I clicked out of curiosity and almost instantly made the decision to buy the record. It is a free wheeling ramble of an album – drinking, heartache, self-doubt and self-love – a total barn-burner. The songs sway from sing-songy simple numbers like “Waltz” to fiery philosophical arguments like “Darwin, Jesus the Devil and Me.” It’s one of the most complex albums I’ve ever heard, and every time I listen to it, I find new jewels in it. Besides, how can you not love an artist who starts out a song by reciting Yeats “A Drunken Man’s Praise of Sobriety” (which is in itself a little shout out to Elvis Costello, who obviously influences Damion a bit)? If you want a musical adventure, pick yourself up some Damion Suomi. You will not be disappointed!
1. Tim Brantley – Goldtop Heights
This could potentially be a controversial choice for the top spot, but I’m sticking to my guns. Technically, I got this album in 2008…however, it wasn’t officially released until 2009, so that’s the date I’m using. Quite simply, Tim is a storyteller and a modern-day poet – much like my beloved Bruce. And I won’t lie that when Gail first sent me Tim’s album and said, “Just listen,” the Springsteen undertones were what immediately drew me to Tim. But the more I listened to Goldtop Heights, the less I heard Springsteen. Tim’s ability to take the stories and really charge them emotionally is absolutely brilliant. Lines like “Buried in me like a bullet, too dangerous to take it out, carried it with me like a souvenir, the scar from where you took me down…” are at the very crux of what made me fall head over heels in love with this album. Add all that to 70s-era piano skills reminiscent of Billy Joel and Elton John, a guitar, and an incredibly sexy voice, and you’ve got the recipe for my number one album of the year.