As someone who’s permanently felt he was born in the wrong decade, I’ve always been a sucker for musicians who are able to capture the essence and spirit of the 1960’s and give that era a contemporary twist. Canadian indie pop band Camera Obscura accomplishes this feat yet again with their fourth album. Creating catchy pop hooks strung together with lavish melodies and illustrious harmonies all within the realm of what I like to call “vintage new wave,” the band has proven itself to be composed of a rare breed of artists, who manage to pay homage to the past in a way that makes today more fun to listen to.
Must-Have Track: “French Navy”
9. Passion Pit – Manners
Since the band’s formation in 2007, Passion Pit has been the electronica-meets-alt. rock band to watch out for. With the release of their first album, they’re quickly transitioning into the mainstream, receiving heavy rotation of their brilliant single “Sleepyhead” everywhere from movie trailers to ads for the Palm Pixi phone. Dominated by lead singer Michael Angelakos’ irresistible Freddy Mercury-meets-Brandon Flowers falsetto vocals, the album is an experimental and fun debut, providing a track listing of eleven songs that you’ll easily catch yourself humming on the subway. If this is just the start for this band, I can’t wait to see what they create next.
Must-Have Track: “Eyes As Candles”
8. Florence And The Machine – Lungs
When I first heard Florence And The Machine’s unapologetically sassy first single “Kiss With A Fist,” I knew right then that I was listening to a new musical tour de force. This fire-haired chanteuse’s debut album soul-meets-grunge rock sound makes me have faith in the idea of a collaboration album between Joan Jett and Joss Stone (imagine!). With hard-hitting lyrics, this powerful record draws inspiration from everything from the harsh realities of contemporary violence to modern literature (the song “Howl” is inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s iconic 1956 poem of the same name) in an undeniably beguiling and upbeat fashion.
Must-Have Tracks: “Kiss With A Fist,” “Drumming Song”
7. Jemina Pearl – Break It Up
In the debut solo LP from Be Your Own Pet’s lead singer, Jemina Pearl, we are presented with a portrait of a brash yet vulnerable woman, who mixes attitude with sentimentality at the same fearless rate that college students mix Adderall with caffeine. Part girl-next-door and part ruthless rocker chick, Pearl successfully uses her solo record to break away from her Be Your Own Pet sound to create a new, individual musical persona. The result is a slew of intelligently written and sometimes sarcastic hard rocking pop songs that any fan of The Gossip or Yeah Yeah Yeahs will ecstatically add to their collection.
Must-Have Track: “I Hate People” (featuring Iggy Pop)
6. Metric – Fantasies
You can never have enough Emily Haines in your music library. Her haunting stripped down solo material and evolving rock goddess status as the front woman of Metric have made her into one of today’s female artists with the biggest musical range and acclaim. This is Metric’s fourth album, and the band has left behind much (but not all) of its electronic influences in favor of a more Garbage-esque purely rock oriented sound – a risky move that luckily the band executed extremely well. Songs like “Help I’m Alive,” “Sick Muse,” “Front Row,” and “Gold Guns Girls” all serve as delicious slices of upbeat indie rock pie. But the album’s true gem is the unforgettably gorgeous “Gimme Sympathy,” a mid-tempo track intricately layered with some of the most beautifully and intelligently written music and lyrics Haines and Co. have ever recorded.
Must-Have Track: “Gimme Sympathy”
5. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Formed in 2000 in Versailles just outside of Paris, Phoenix orchestrated their triumphant return to the music scene in 2009, garnering them their first Grammy nomination (in the “alternative album of the year” category). With Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the rock band establishes itself as a strong musical force to be reckoned with. Pushing the boundaries of their sound further than their previous efforts by encompassing an even wider electronic infused pop fusion to alternative rock, the band has been receiving much mainstream exposure. Its new music has been placed in various trailers (“Where The Wild Things Are,” “New York, I Love You”) and on several television programs and commercials. Clocking in at barely over 35 minutes, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a critical album that not only augurs a very promising future for the band, but also serves as a cultural marker about the state of indie music today - both what it has evolved into and where it can go from here.
Must-Have Tracks: “1901,” “Lisztomania”
4. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
In TIME Magazine’s “The Top 10 Everything of 2009,” Bitte Orca (German for “please whale”) placed as the second best album of the year. The article’s author, Josh Tyrangiel, explained how the experimental rock band Dirty Projectors has complicated his life. “The job of a music critic is essentially to describe music,” he wrote “For the past few years, the job of Dirty Projectors mastermind Dave Longstreth has been to make the critic's job undoable." Combining elements of everything from raw acoustics to next level electronica, Bitte Orca is a genre-molding album that compacts as much variety as it can into the formula of its songwriting. The result is a stunning and ethereal musical masterpiece that gives us a real, meaty taste of what artistic expression is all about.
Must-Have Tracks: “Stillness Is The Move,” “Two Doves”
3. Miike Snow – Miike Snow
Months before the release of Miike Snow, the band’s identity remained a secret as their debut single “Animal” was making its way around the internet, creating much buzz and speculation. All that was known was that their album artwork was that of a mythical jackalope, leaving the people behind this piece of electronic pop/rock genius a huge mystery. Later, it was revealed that the band was the product of a trio of Swedish friends, singer/songwriter Andrew Wyatt and production duo Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (more commonly known as Bloodshy & Avant, the Grammy winning team responsible for Britney Spears’ megahit “Toxic”). The lyrics of their eponymous debut album are equally dark and hopeful, all set to near flawless electronica infused rock. Wyatt’s haunting tenor voice has the power to send chills down one’s spine and simultaneously evoke a striking glow of warmth. After receiving incredible amounts of critical acclaim, preparing for a nearly sold out nationwide and UK tour in the first quarter of 2010, and remixing songs for acts such as Peter Bjorn and John, Passion Pit, and Vampire Weekend, Miike Snow is one of the most refreshingly original and exciting finds of 2009.
Must-Have Track: “Black & Blue”
2. Lissy Trullie – Self-Taught Learner
In case you couldn’t already tell from the rest of this list, I love female rockers. Who would have known that the beauty of Lissy Trullie, the spunky ingénue who served as the muse to Oscar de la Renta’s son’s first fashion line and the face of Chloe Sevigny’s clothing line, would transcend the boundaries of her Elle Magazine photo spread and translate into grungy pop/rock? And you thought models couldn’t jam out on guitar. Shame on you. “Self-Taught Learner” is the premiere EP of Trullie’s four-piece rock band, and it serves as only a teaser for what her debut album has in store for us in early 2010. But this teaser is gloriously tasty and you should savor every bit of it. Along with the EP’s energetic title track, first single “Boy Boy,” and a phenomenal cover of Hot Chip’s “Ready For The Floor,” there is not a single boring or filler song on this record. It’s no wonder that music legends such as Courtney Love and The Smiths’ Johnny Marr are all singing Lissy’s praises. Her impressive alto vocals mixed with the band’s fierce guitar and percussion instrumentals along with their spirited and zesty lyrics bond together to form the perfect party soundtrack. From high fashion to music’s next big thing, Lissy Trullie has it all and is not afraid to dish it out with a fist and a guitar riff.
Must-Have Track: "Don't To Do"
1. Ingrid Michaelson – Everybody
Many of Ingrid’s fans were incredibly skeptical about the release of her second album. There was a lot of speculation that she had “sold out” after her 2007 breakthrough hit “The Way I Am” became the theme song to every commercial or love story on television. Then there were all the rumors about Ingrid ditching her simple folksy sound for a bigger band/orchestra feel, which many feared would be the death of the Ingrid they fell in love with and the birth of another Jewel or Alanis Morrisette wannabe. Then Everybody was released and blew everyone out of the water. Yes, the album is far more musically advanced and progressive than Ingrid’s previous effort, but rather than muffling her already trademark sound, the record enhances it. The album gorgeously spins out the narrative of a relationship, starting with the fear of letting someone in and the butterflies in your stomach during the “honeymoon period,” and ending with the ultimate downfall and feelings of despair, resentment, and hurt that come with a painful breakup. Ingrid does what she does best by capturing the rawest and most vulnerable of human emotions through lyrics, wearing her heart on her sleeve at the most tender moments. Sophisticated instrumental diversity accompanies her powerful words. Standouts include the empowering “Soldier,” the multi-layered harmonies of “The Chain,” the upbeat and beautiful “The Mountain And The Sea,” the incredibly dark “Locked Up,” and the Joni Mitchell-esque single “Maybe.” The record serves as a statement of musical maturity, while still remaining faithful to the sound that made people fall in love with Ingrid for the way she was years ago.
Must-Have Tracks: “The Chain,” “The Mountain And The Sea"
Rounding out the Top 25:
11. Girls - Album
12. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes For The Young
13. Lady GaGa - The Fame Monster
14. Discovery - LP 1
15. Band Of Skulls - Baby Darling Doll Face Honey
16. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
17. The Bird And The Bee - Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future
18. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It’s Blitz!
19. Plastiscines - About Love
20. Fanfarlo - Reservoir
21. The XX - The XX
22. Tegan & Sara - Sainthood
23. Jay Ferrar & Benjamin Gibbard - One Fast Move Or I’m Gone
24. Raveonettes - In And Out Of Control
25. Morrissey - Year Of Refusal