Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mid-Year Report: Music

We're halfway through a great year in music, and here's what I found to be the best of the best. There are still some great releases in store for the rest of the year, including a few of my favorite artists, A Fine Frenzy and Mindy Smith, so we'll just have to wait and see how things shake out by the year's end, but these are the best for now. First up is singles, followed by full albums.
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Singles
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1. "Sweet About Me" by Gabriella Cilmi - This country-soaked song from soul-singer Gabriella Cilmi is one of the, if not the, best song I've heard in the past five years. A strong voice, complimented by sassy lyrics for an unforgettable overall package.
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2. "As It Must Be" by Joey Ryan - Another song destined to go down as one of the greats this year is a soft ballad by singer-songwriter Joey Ryan, whose beautiful voice is heartbreaking set to the strings and piano in this single.
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3. "God Help the Girl" by God Help the Girl - This whimsical song written by Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian is a wonderfully simple song that soars with Catherine Ireton's cheeky vocals.
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4. "Zero" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Zero" is a rocking song with a lot of energy. It's infectious as hell and dares you to move to its beat.
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5. "French Navy" by Camera Obscura - This song is incredibly catchy with great swells of sound and an overall fun retro vibe.
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6. "Oh, No" by Andrew Bird - One of the most mainstream songs by songwriter Andrew Bird is a cheerful-sounding tune full of hums and whistles for a perfectly agreeable package.
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7. "Relator" by Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson - This single has more bells and whistles than Pete Yorn's other songs, but Yorn never seemed to have so much fun in a song just made for the summer. Scarlett holds her own alongside the rocker with a subdued, distorted sound.
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8. "Sweet Sweet Heartkiller" by Say Hi To Your Mom - The low, crooning vocals of this fun ditty has some great lyrics and an overall song that's hard to get out of your head once you hear it.
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9. "River of Dirt" by Marissa Nadler - Very slow and soft, this little number kind of sneaks up on you with its haunting sound and Nadler's breathy vocals.
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10. "Sooner or Later" by Michelle Branch - Michelle Branch returns to solo recording with her first country album since leaving The Wreckers, using her experience to write a great first single.
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Albums
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1. "...With Its Roots Above and Its Branches Below" by Joey Ryan - This UK import CD contains the wonderful "As It Must Be" listed above, and contains some songs from older EPs released by Joey like fan-favorite "California." His voice soars in songs like "Like A Cloak" and croons powerfully through many of the bare folk songs. This CD is very simple but irrefutably beautiful. Buy it here. Key Tracks: "As It Must Be," "Like a Cloak," "No One Else Like You."
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2. "Amanda Leigh" by Mandy Moore - On her latest CD, Moore produces an album inspired by music of the 60's and 70's ("Song About Home"), as well as musicals ("Pocket Philosopher"), to produce some riveting sounds about love and heartache. She established her song-writing abilities with her previous album "Wild Hope," but her voice has never sounded better than it does on this album, where she exudes a confidence in her writing and singing that really signals something special. Key Tracks: "Everblue," "Love To Love Me Back," "Nothing Everything."
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3. "It's Not Me, It's You" by Lily Allen - In UK artist Lily Allen's latest, the sassy singer-songwriter develops some amazing hooks with bold lyrics and blunt political references. From her tribute to George W. Bush ("Fuck You") to more personal songs about love and sex, Lily Allen hits a home run that's even better than her critically-acclaimed debut that put her on the map. Key Tracks: "Not Fair," "Back To the Start," "Fuck You."
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4. "Love, Save the Empty" by Erin McCarley - McCarley's breathy vocals are perfectly suited for this pop-tinged CD with infectious beats and surprisingly dark lyrics. This is a new talent to keep your eyes on. Key Tracks: "Hello/Goodbye," "Sleepwalking," "Love, Save the Empty."
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5. "Lessons To Be Learned" by Gabriella Cilmi - As I mentioned already, "Sweet About Me" is one of the best songs I've heard in a long while, but also speckled throughout this CD are bluesy songs that really showcase Cilmi's amazing voice. Key Tracks: "Sweet About Me," "Awkward Game," "Cigarettes and Lies."
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6. "Campfire Songs" by The Tall Pines - This is just a new classic country-rock album. Strong, solid songs with great tunes and fantastic vocals (by both men and women, but primarily from the stunning Connie Lynn Petruk). Not to be missed. Key Tracks: "Up!" "Good Woman," "Love You Better."
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7. "Red Revelations" by Jace Everett - Jace Everett, whose song "Bad Things" is on people's minds, as it's the theme song for HBO's "True Blood," has a dark, moody sound on this intense country-rock album chalk-full of great broody music. Key Tracks: "Possession," "Burn For You," "One of Them."
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8. "Taller Children" by Elizabeth & the Catapult - This debut album by trio Elizabeth & the Catapult has a great sound, lead singer Elizabeth Ziman's voice soaring between the likes of Aimee Mann and Brandi Carlile for a wholly unique sound. Key Tracks: "Rainiest Day of Summer," "Race You," "Momma's Boy."
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9. "Wait For Me" by Moby - Full of haunting experimental sounds, Moby's latest may be his most ambitious yet. Electrifying and original. Key Tracks: "Pale Horses," "Shot In the Back of the Head," "Walk With Me."
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10. True Blood O.S.T. - I hesitate to put a compilation CD on this list, especially one containing pretty well-known classic songs like Ryan Adams' "Two," but this has a great overall dark southern feel to it, and is simply one the year's best releases. Key Tracks: "Bad Things" by Jace Everett, "Bleed 2 Feed" by CC Adcock and The Lafayette Marquis, "Lake Charles" by Lucinda Williams.

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