Bittersweet Melody Top 10 for 2009

When KDHX asked me to provide my favorite 10 albums for 2009, outside of my tie for the top 2 (I just couldn’t name one my #2), I was flummoxed.  You see, doing a show every week offers me access to so much more music than ever before and that makes it much more difficult to really ‘hear’ full albums.  To try to be fair to all artists, it’s a challenge to really absorb the depth of my favorites.  I’ll listen, find a song I can play on my show and move on without really getting into the quirks, sequencing, themes, duds and growers on one album.  While the breadth of my listening grows exponentially, the depth of my knowledge of individual albums has suffered accordingly.  So, I spent several days trying to listen to full albums to attempt to come up with a list of what I truly enjoyed in 2009.  Without further ado …

10. Jill Andrews – Jill Andrews EP (Self Released)

I made it a rule not to include reissues (or I’d have had 10 Beatles albums in my Top 10) but I don’t have the same rule for EPs.  Jill Andrews, former co-songwriter in the everybodyfields, an americana group from Tennessee, put out a solo EP late this year, her first.  It’s called Jill Andrews and the songs are beautiful.  And while her last album with the everybodyfields, Nothing is Okay, was heartbreaking in its description of a breakup, this one shows a lot of optimism in what’s become of her life since.  Jill has recently gotten married and had her first child and the happiness shows through on songs like “Sweetest in the Morning” and “Worth Keeping”.  This one may have been higher had I heard it prior to December.

9. Brendan Benson – My Old, Familiar Friend (ATO Records)

Often pigeonholed as “the other Raconteur”, Brendan Benson shouldn’t be taken lightly.  He has a knack for a great power pop song and on this, his 4th album, he doesn’t disappoint.  Strong songs such as “Eyes on the Horizon” and “Garbage Day” lead the way.

8. Telekinesis! – Telekinesis! (Merge Records)

The debut album from Telekinesis! is power pop at its finest.  Listen to “Coast of Carolina” if you want to hear quite possibly the best song of 2009.

7. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career (4AD)

No word describes Scotland’s Camera Obscura better than sweet.  Sweet melodies, harmonies and vocals from the undersized Tracyanne Campbell (I couldn’t see her from the floor at Off Broadway) make me think of early REM with intelligible lyrics and a female voice.  While there’s no “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” (from their previous album, Let’s Get Out of this Country), there are many great songs including “French Navy”, “Swans” and “Honey in the Sun”.  A favorite of many KDHX programmers with good reason.

6. The Drums – Summertime (EP) (Twenty Seven Records)

Had this been a full release rather than an EP and maintained the quality that these 6 songs carry, this EP would have surely been in the running for my top 3.  The songs are that strong.  I didn’t hear this band’s EP until November but I wish I’d heard it in April because this is windows down, 75 degree day, turn it up music.  “Saddest Summer” and “Let’s Go Surfing” combine the Go-Gos fun with current indie pop to create the closest thing out there to a contemporary Beach Boys.

5. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glass Note)

From France, Phoenix came out with their fifth album in 2009 and while they may have started as dance-pop, this album tends to focus more on the song than the beat, and that’s a great thing.  Songs like “Listztomania” and “Lasso” dare you not to sing along.  Fun, great songs.

4. A. C. Newman – Get Guilty (Matador)

A.C. Newman, formerly of the band Zumpano and now the main songwriter in the New Pornographers, must have great songs coming out of his pores. Catchy and melodic, Get Guilty buttresses a line between indie rock and power pop and does it quite gracefully. Songs like “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer” and “All of My Days and All of My Days Off” sound like they’d fit in perfectly on any of the New Pornographers albums, and that’s high praise indeed.

3. Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter (Mute)

Richard Hawley, touring guitarist in the British band Pulp, has put out five studio albums of dreamy rock.  Before making Truelove’s Gutter, Daniel Miller, chairman of his label (Mute) asked him if he could make one album without any concerns for commercial success, could he do it.  And thus Truelove’s Gutter was born. And the music created is timeless.  Sparse and melancholy, Hawley has made an album of austere beauty.  From the open heartbreak of “For Your Lover Give Some Time” to the nearly 10 minute long gorgeous “Remorse Code”, I find myself reaching for this album more and more on these cold evenings.  An album that will definitely go down as a favorite winter album.

1. (tie) The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You (Columbia)

The Avett’s debut album for a major label and produced by Rick Rubin. So there was a lot of hype for this release and they’ve managed to meet the hype to these ears.  Rubin and the Avetts shine up the melodies, soften the edges and hone the songwriting into a beautiful, timeless album. I’m sure many long-time Avetts fans will be disappointed in each of these three qualifiers but, to me, it’s their best, most cohesive album to date. Just listen to how “The Perfect Space” changes from a beautiful piano ballad to a rocker to a trademark of the Avetts, a section that sounds like a runaway train barely holding onto the rails, and then back to a piano ballad ending with the lyrics “I want to have friends that I can trust that love me for the man I’ve become not that the man that I was.”  Perfect.

1. (tie) Visqueen – Message to Garcia (Local 638 Records)

Visqueen, a band from Seattle, put out its third album in 2009.  Lead singer and songwriter Rachel Flotard put the band on hiatus about 5 years ago to care for her ailing father and has now reformed Visqueen with a totally new lineup.  I hadn’t heard a note of their music until 2009 and I’m glad I did.  I’ve heard descriptions of the band as Neko Case (a friend of Rachel Flotard’s who sings backup on many of the songs) meets Joan Jett and as Kirsty MacColl fronts Cheap Trick.  The crunchy guitars, hooks galore and strong female voice make both of those descriptions accurate but I don’t want to lessen this album by making comparisons. A true sign of a great album, I don’t ever find myself skipping any tracks.  In “The Capital”, the second track, Rachel Flotard writes “When you find the one you love, you’ll take insurance out to make them stay.”  I say that when you find an album this great, you take insurance out by burning an extra copy to make sure you have it in all places.

Truly a great year for music and my first on Bittersweet Melody (the show I host every Monday Wednesday morning from 5-7 a.m. CT).  I wish you all a terrific 2010.

– Allen


  • Tony Renner

    when is “bittersweet melody” on the air?

  • Roy Kasten

    Every Monday, 5-7 a.m. CT on 88.1 and streaming at

  • Allen Dahm

    Now Wednesdays from 5-7 AM Central time.