Year in Review: 2009's Best Indie Records, the College Rockers Honor Roll

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Passion Pit
Manners
Frenchkiss

Speaking of yelping, Michael Angelakos delivers relentlessly giddy synth-pop supernovas of bombastic unease in a shrill, keening, karaoke-proof voice that makes Michael McDonald sound like Leonard Cohen. His band's debut full-length is passionately narcissistic but ridiculous fun all the same, a dance album for paranoid shut-ins who wouldn't be caught dead dancing and just like to imagine other people dancing instead. And the one track everyone knows, "Sleepyhead," is, like, the seventh-best song on it. The children's choir will not strike you as extraneous.

Neko Case
Middle Cyclone
Anti-
If she didn't exist, NPR (and Paste) (and the New Yorker) would've had to invent her. But when she howls, "What will make you believe me?" on "This Tornado Loves You," Neko Case makes you believe in a way her mile-high stack of fawning press clips never did. A whip-smart maneater (or, as she puts it, "man- man- man-, man- man- maneater"), Case has a smirking barb ("Next time you say 'forever,' I will punch you in your face") for every occasion and a smoldering countrypolitan torch song for every dark night of the soul. Look out for the half-hour's worth of chirping crickets, though.

Superdrag
Industry Giants
Thirty Tigers
Yes, it's the "Sucked Out" guys, a decade-plus on from their Buzz Bin days, with several under-heralded power-pop classics and a religious epiphany (for born-again frontman John Davis) to their credit. But even for those who kept up, Industry Giants is a shock of adrenaline, ferocity and anthemic joy. "Everything'll Be Made Right" will convince you; "Live and Breathe" will make you see God whether you believe in him/her or not.

David Bazan
Curse Your Branches
Barsuk

With apologies to Superdrag, however, nobody on earth is writing better, smarter or angrier songs about God then David Bazan, the longtime Pedro the Lion proprietor who vacillates wildly between belief and disbelief, keying in on the latter here with brutal, almost hilariously bleak mope-pop odes to alcoholism and spiritual confusion that'd be unbearable if they weren't so unbearably beautiful. "Hard to Be" is a heartstopper, that lovely synth melody a lament Bazan fears may never be satisfactorily heard or answered, but he trudges doggedly, thoughtfully on, nonetheless. And he's having more fun than he appears to be.

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Rob Harvilla
Contact: Rob Harvilla