[Pictured: The Dutchess and the Duke]
In the midst of all the year-end and decade-end madness, you probably have enough music to keep you busy well into the next decade. However! That’s not about to stop us from recommending more. Behold, then, Paste’s eight criminally underrated albums from 2009:
ARMS – Kids Aflame
Kids Aflame perfectly encapsulates the daunting search for identity and authenticity that only comes with moving to a city as big as New York—a journey that Todd Goldstein, the sole permanent member of Arms, once endured himself. In some of these songs, including “Shitty Little Disco,” he faces the city directly. But the rest of his hazy, bedroom-music album portrays vivid confrontations with fire and the foreboding, adding an element of danger to this sonic depiction of his subconsciousness. Also, you should listen to “Pocket” first if you are still mourning the breakup of Goldstein’s former band, the Harlem Shakes. Christina Lee
Listen to ARMS’ Kids Aflame here.
The Dutchess and the Duke – Sunset/Sunrise
The Dutchess and The Duke is a Seattle duo that traffics heavily in a laid-back ‘60s Stones sound. But more than mere imitators, Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison create gorgeously heartbreaking, minimalist songs that are increasingly rewarding on repeated listens. As a follow-up to 2008’s incredible She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke, Sunset/Sunrise finds the band offering up songs in a more produced and folk-influenced vein. Songs that’ll get you humming and probably bum you out a little, but hey, that’s life, right? Austin L. Ray
Listen to The Dutchess and the Duke’s Sunset/Sunrise here.
Susan Enan – Plainsong
Susan Enan’s first EP had four simple songs with simple hooks, and a gorgeous, hushed voice bringing them to life with minimal accompaniment. Those songs are back on her debut full-length, and they’re all grown up. In fact, tasteful strings, piano and soft, jangly guitar call to mind a host of adult-contemporary artists like Sarah McLachlan and Shawn Colvin. But underneath the production are the same lovely melodies that swept me away on first listen. And on tracks where the instrumentation is stripped down, Enan’s delicate voice has room to flower. Josh Jackson
Listen to Susan Enan’s Plainsong here.
Madeline – White Flag
Singer/songwriter Madeline has been a mainstay of the Athens music scene since she was a teenager, and it’s been amazing to watch her grow up as an artist. These days, she’s long since left behind her ‘60s garage-pop roots, making nakedly earnest, simple, laid back acoustic music. Her voice is captivating in its sincerity, and her lyrics far better than most of her girl-with-a-guitar contemporaries. Madeline’s latest, White Flag, sounds like a cross between the ‘60s-era freak folk pioneers and more conventional ‘70s singer/songwriters, but it doesn’t pretend to exist outside of modern times like a lot of new alt-folk, making for a refreshingly unpretentious record. Steve Labate
Listen to Madeline’s White Flag here.
mr. Gnome – Heave Yer Skeleton
Definitely on the extremely short list of cool things from Cleveland. Even better than their last album, which I loved. Sounds like ethereal icelandic fairies being pummeled by concrete guitars in a dirty Cleveland parking lot. AKA: awesome. Nate Douglas
Listen to mr. Gnome’s Heave Yer Skeleton here.
Other Lives – Other Lives
With its excellent self-titled album, Oklahoma’s Other Lives beg the question: If Coldplay had never written “Yellow,” how would the rest of their career have panned out? Like the rest of Coldplay’s debut Parachutes, Other Lives create slow, cinematic piano-folk tunes with subtle, heart-stoppingly beautiful melodies. But unlike Chris Martin’s boyish croon, OL frontman Jesse Tabish’s voice creaks like an old house, like he’s seen a hundred years of heartbreak and lived to tell the tail. Justin Jacobs
Listen to Others Lives’ Other Lives here.
Port O’Brien – Threadbare
Three albums in, northern California’s Port O’Brien created a soundtrack to a midnight campfire for the lonely with Threadbare. Acoustic guitars poke out bashfully from the thick, ghostly harmonies of Van Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin, creating simple, wildly catchy hum-alongs. Equally effective during 3 a.m. bouts of sleeplessness, long drives on rainy nights and, well, you get the point. Justin Jacobs
Listen to Port O’Brien’s Threadbare here.
The Rocketboys – 20,000 Ghosts
When it comes to songwriting, the line between “earnest” and “overly-earnest” is a thin one indeed. On their latest album, 20,000 Ghosts, the Rocketboys always stay on just the right side of said line, creating rich anthems that are as infectious as they are sincere. It’s a perfect album for Arcade Fire fans who need a fix before next year. Kevin Keller
Listen to The Rocketboys’ 20,000 Ghosts here.