Guess I’m not going to be looked at as a trendsetter this year. Believe me, I’m as surprised as anyone that my two favorite releases of the year were put out by bands that were active in the hair metal community in the late ’80s. But when I went back and scanned through iTunes to see what I listened to the most, these are the ones that were clear cut favorites.
1. Danger Danger – Revolve
The best CD of 1989 was released 20 years late! This b-list hair metal band brought original singer Ted Poley back for a reunion album filled with big hooks (“Hearts on the Highway”), bigger choruses (“That’s What I’m Talking About”), songs about girls (“Rocket to Your Heart”), guitar solos (“Ghost of Love”), and power ballads (“Fugitive”). Def Leppard and Bon Jovi’s recent efforts didn’t sound nearly this good.
Listen: Keep On Keepin’ On
2. Ray West – All Pointz West
Spread Eagle’s Ray West was my favorite singer from the sleaze-glam era (early ’90s). His solo debut may have been 15+ years in the making, but it was worth it as he updates Spread Eagle’s sound (which was similar to Skid Row, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue) by making it heavier and more aggressive (ala Godsmack, Disturbed, Killswitch Engage). I listened to this CD more than anything else this past summer.
3. The Damnwells – One Last Century
My fears that The Damnwells were done were unjustified and proven false when the band released this FREE album in February. The older carryovers (“55 Pictures”, “Bastards of Midnight”, “Down with the Ship”) were my favorites initially but I grew to love the collaborations Alex Dezen did with his wife, Angela (“Dandelion”, “Like it Is”), just as much as anything the band has previously done.
Download:One Last Century (full CD)
4. Jason Lytle – Yours Truly, The Commuter
Halfway through 2009, this album was my favorite. Though it’s billed under Lytle’s name, it’s really just an extension of the singer’s Grandaddy sound (spacey/dreamy indie-pop) and “Brand New Sun” may be one of the best, simplest pop songs released this year.
Watch: Brand New Sun
5. The Prairie Cartel – Where Did All My People Go?
Blake Smith and Mike Willison hinted at their electro-pop/sample fascination as members of the short-lived alt.rock band Caviar but bring that fascination to full fruition (along with Local H’s Scott Lucas) on The Prairie Cartel’s long overdue debut (most of these songs were on a demo CD the guys gave me at SXSW back in ’07). The versatility of the music allows The Prairie Cartel to perform it live as either a full band or in a DJ setting with Lucas singing over pre-recorded sounds loaded onto an iPod.
Download: Beautiful Shadow
6. Alberta Cross – Broken Side of Time
This swirling and noisy blend of dark, gothic southern-rock and psychedelic-tinged grunge evokes comparisons to artists such as Blind Melon, Dead Confederate, Mother Love Bone, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Kings of Leon.
7. Wye Oak – The Knot
Within the first 5 minutes of listening to The Knot, I emailed the band’s publicist and said something like, “Is it possible to fall in love with an entire CD before the second song has even ended? If so, I’ll drop to one knee and propose to Wye Oak on the spot.” With most songs going from soft to loud and then loud to soft, it’s little wonder that Wye Oak’s earned comparisons to Yo La Tengo, My Morning Jacket, and The Spinanes. The Knot is a beautiful sounding, and at time loud and chaotic, CD that knocked me out from the get-go.
Download: Take It In
8. Crippled Black Phoenix – The Resurrectionists / Night Raider
This collective of UK musicians was assembled by ex-Electric Wizard drummer Justin Greaves who was encouraged by Mogwai bassist (and CBP contributor) Dominic Aitchison to record the “endtime ballads” he’d been writing for years. Though you can pick up an abbreviated compilation of these 2 CDs boiled down into one package (200 Tons of Bad Luck), it’s worth spending a few extra bucks for both CDs that I’ve described as “Mogwai covering Pink Floyd for a movie soundtrack”.
Listen: Rise Up and Fight
9. Slayer – World Painted Blood
Tom Araya may feel like he’s closing in on retirement age but you couldn’t tell by the breakneck thrashing Araya, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo serve up on Slayer’s 10th studio album, their best since 1990′s Seasons in the Abyss. Typical subject matter is tackled throughout World Painted Blood (death, blood, war, evil) and Araya comes off as the creepy vocal counterpart to real-life villains like Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy.
Listen: World Painted Blood
10. Great Northern – Remind Me Where the Light Is
At it’s songwriting core (Solon Bixler, Rachel Stolte), Great Northern is still the same band that topped my “Favorites of 2007″ list; however, the departure of the rhythm section during the construction of this sophomore release may be partially responsible for the darker turn Great Northern took in 2009. If 2007′s Trading Twilight for Daylight was the soundtrack to a late Friday afternoon, then Remind Me Where the Light Is is the soundtrack to driving home after a night of indulgence.
Picks 11-25 can be found on AtomicNed.com.