[Editor's Note: In this week's paper, you'll see my picks for the best DFW albums of 2009. Unfortunately, because of space concerns in print, some of the column was cut. So I've decided to print the whole thing here in full. Check it out. Argue away. Do your thing. And check some of our writers' picks for national album of the year, too. Lastly, be sure keep checking back on our on-going best DFW songs of 2009 list as it continues to grow...]
Not to get all nostalgic, but 2009 really was a fantastic year in Dallas-Fort Worth music.
There are various reasons why and, last week, we handled the news-side of it all--the hip-hop (good and bad), the reunions (big and small), the venues (open and closed) and the influence (local and national). This week's a little closer to the heart, actually. This week really matters. Because, well, the music mattered around here in 2009.
Really--I'm not blowing smoke. This year saw almost an embarrassment of riches around here; paring this, my list of picks for the best records from the region in 2009, down to just 10 proved a painstaking task. It was a deep year, for sure. A bunch of area products even earned national attention. That's not why they're on this list--but, hey, that extra attention's a good thing anyway. A few of the records on this list could use some of that shine. All of these records deserve it, really. It'd be a shame if more people didn't listen to 'em.
Yes, I mean you.
10. Air Review, Landmarks (self-released)
Must hear: "Chasing Corporate," "All Because You're Mine," "Can't See the Sun," "Jura"
One of the more ambitious releases of the year, Landmarks is a statement record from a brand-new area five-piece--a band that, for better or worse, had enough balls to toss out an arena-ready album in its first go-round. Well, turns out band's got the chops too--even live, Air Review's piano-led rock impresses. "This could be our only chance," the band sings in chorus on its 9-to-5 kiss-off, "Chasing Corporate." Landmarks shows a band calling for attention. And deservedly so.
9. The O's, We Are The O's (Idol)
Must hear: "You've Got Your Heart," "We've Had Everything," "Finding It Hard," "I Love You So Much"
A no-frills debut record from no-frills local bluegrass duo The O's, We Are The O's features scene vets John Pedigo and Taylor Young, a banjo, an acoustic guitar, a kick drum--and a tambourine, maybe, but not much else. Turns out, though, that harmonies, strums, plucks and stomps are all this duo needs for its sugary sweet sentiment to tug at one's down-home heartstrings. Add in a lovelorn, Everyman songwriting aesthetic and We Are The O's casts itself as 2009's most charming regional release.
8. Sleep Whale, Houseboats (Western Vinyl)
Must hear: "Cotton Curls," "We Were Dripping," "Icicles," "Light Tunnel"
The fact that Sleep Whale can capably and beautifully reconstruct its complex sonic landscape in a live setting has proved a marvel unto itself since the band's introduction to fans under its former name of mom. And on Houseboats, the newly minted four-piece offers up a study in why that's such a difficult task--if the layer-upon-layer acoustic guitar, cello, violin and now (on occasion) vocals aren't complicated enough, the background whirlabops **what does this mean?**, blurps, whistles and claps sure are. Yes, Houseboats offers up a smorgasbord of sounds, but thanks to its meticulous production, the album manages to keep listeners wanting more.
7. Xrabit & Damaged Good$, Hello World (Big Dada)
Must hear: "Ferris Bueller," "Salt Shaker," "Follow the Leader," "Same Ole"
An intoxicating blend of electro-house and Southern hip-hop swagger, Hello World is, in the simplest definition, a party record. But it's more than just another hipster-hop affair; London-based producer Xrabit's beats offer the album heavy lifting on initial listens, but it's local duo Damaged Good$'s sing-along hooks and punch-line verse rhymes that will find you craving repeat listens.
6. Bosque Brown, Baby (Burnt Toast Vinyl)
Must hear: "Went Walking," "So Loud," "Train Song," "This Town"
It'd be easy to pin singer Mara Lee Miller as the main draw of Baby. Her voice, after all, is among the region's most heart-stopping and magnetic, immediately recalling an older, better, slower-paced time through the drawl that reins in her striking range. But Baby is far from another singer-songwriter showcase; rather, the disc is a fastidiously prepared one, curated around both Miller's vocals and her band's strong sense of spare Americana arrangement. A truly timeless affair, Bosque Brown's music is at home at the turn of this century as it would've been at the previous one.
5. The Paper Chase, Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1 (Kill Rock Stars)
Must hear: "I'm Going to Heaven With or Without You (The Forest Fire)," "The Common Cold (The Epidemic)," "What Should We Do With Your Body (The Lightning)," "This Is a Rape (The Flood)"
The first of two planned natural disaster-themed discs from the twisted brain of Dallas-based frontman (and accomplished producer) John Congleton, The Paper Chase's fifth full-length, Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1, finds the avant-garde rock outfit at its most anthemic yet. Still as dark, angry, jagged and dissonant as ever, the album also finds the talented players in The Paper Chase's lineup seemingly at their most confident to date. A sweeping, epic listen, Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1 offers a paranoid schizophrenic insight into evil's beautiful allure.
4. Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms (Lefse)
Must hear: "Deadbeat Summer," "Terminally Chill," "Local Joke," "Ephemeral Artery"
DFW-bred wunderkind Alan Palomo first caught our attention with his '80s-aping Ghosthustler and VEGA oufits. But 2009 found Palomo and his latest set of collaborators milking an even earlier inspiration. This time around, the focus was on '70s slacker rock. And though Psychic Chasms still features the dance bent for which Palomo made his name, its dance angle is a decidedly different one, more hazy and drug-addled than anything else the talented youngster has offered up in the past. As such, it's the perfect soundtrack for a blissful summer's day devoid of responsibility.
3. Teenage Cool Kids, Foreign Lands (Protagonist)
Must hear: "Reservoir Feelings," "Foreign Lands," "Speaking in Tongues," "Poison Sermons"
Sure, Teenage Cool Kids made its name as a group of rousing punks in the Denton house circuit. But what's most surprising about Foreign Lands, turns out, is the fact that it's not really a punk record at all. Owing more to acts like Built to Spill and Dinosaur Jr. than anyone of the three-chord set, Foreign Lands still finds the band sonically reveling in its lo-fi comfort zone, but more confidently than ever. Bolstered by that self-assurance, the disc's 12 tracks come out of the gate demanding attention. And rightfully so: These are among the most sprawling, angsty, sing-along anthems we've heard all year, local or otherwise.
2. St. Vincent, Actor (4AD)
Must hear: "The Strangers," "Actor Out of Work," "Laughing With a Mouthful of Blood," "Marrow"
St. Vincent's Actor is a brilliant album of dualities: Dallas native Annie Clark's songs focus on dark subject matter, hint at an underlying dangerous streak and cover it all in a cherubic wash. Credit producer Congleton of The Paper Chase for upping the reverb and angular melodies found throughout the album--a move that's found Clark recognition as a bona fide guitar hero--but don't discount Clark's own talent or vision. She's painted her own character, too, in the same devilishly innocent light that Actor conveys, and audiences can't seem to get their fill of either.
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1. Telegraph Canyon, The Tide and the Current (Spune)
Must hear: "Into the Woods," "Safe on the Outside," "Shake Your Fist," "Reels & Wires"
The Fort Worth-based, Chris Johnson-fronted seven-piece of Telegraph Canyon has always had a knack for hyper-literate baroque folk-rock, but with the band's 2009 effort, The Tide and the Current, the outfit has proved itself as something greater. The 10 tracks of this phenomenal effort, which was produced by Centro-matic's Will Johnson, are as rousing and inspiring a collection as we've found in 2009. If Arcade Fire chose the Texas sun over Canadian cold, it would write this record--and it would likely disappoint; The Tide and the Current is as detailed and complete a record as any released in 2009. And, with it, a new set of local music kings have been crowned.