Quickly glancing at the hundreds of year-end “best of” lists, it would appear 2009 was the year of the animal in independent music: The Antlers, Grizzly Bear, Phoenix, Animal Collective, and Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca to name a few. But it would be careless to neglect the equally fantastic (though less hyped) non-animal albums of the past year as well, like St. Vincent’s Actor or Outside Love by Pink Mountaintops to name even fewer. As the bookend of a decade that was plagued by the rise of auto-tune and metalcore, 2009 still did a very admirable job.
But it’s out with the old and in with the new. Twelve days in, 2010 is already shaping up to be another good year for independent music, and more than half of the upcoming releases haven’t even been announced yet. The following is just a sampling of 2010’s many albums worthy of a listen from both up-and-comers and established acts.
Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring (January 26)
The increasingly prolific Campesinos! release their third album in two years, incorporating brass, added strings, drum machines, and electronics for the first time. Singer/lyricist Gareth Campesinos! seems to be his usual hyper-literate, gut-spilling self with song titles like, “I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know.” It’s shaping up to be their most ambitious album to date.
Broken Social Scene – Title and release date TBA
A lot of people are probably wondering if the third album from this indie-rock institution will be worth the wait. After all, though the band has by no means been unproductive during this time, fans have patiently waited five years for a proper follow-up to their self-titled sophomore release. Granted, it’s probably difficult to get everyone in the same room with over 15 official members. Possibly in an effort to make up for lost time, the band has reportedly recorded 40 songs with new producer John McEntire and there have been rumours of releasing it as a double or even triple album. No release date has been set, but the band tours Europe in mid-May, making April a definite possibility.
Delta Spirit – History From Below (May)
California’s Delta Spirit released a great album – 2008’s Ode to Sunshine – that flew a little too low on people’s radar. However, having toured for the better part of two years with notable acts like The Shins, the upcoming album could be the breakthrough they deserve. If the new disc is anything like the first, expect a healthy dose of roots-y Americana, singer Matthew Vasquez’s full-throated voice, and above all, glorious melodies.
Here We Go Magic – Title and release date TBA
Their self-titled debut last year was a quirky collection of lo-fi, Afro-influenced songs, recorded almost entirely in bedrooms on a four-track. However, it was good enough to score Luke Temple and band the opening spot on Grizzly Bear’s summer tour. Round two should feature more of the same.
Radiohead – Title and release date TBA
Guitarist Ed O’Brien has already said the new album will be a big leap for the band, and this is from a band that has made a career out of making big leaps. The band is known for coming off of their critically acclaimed albums with new releases that exaggerate their desire not to be pigeonholed. The result? Always a surprise.
The Ruby Suns – Fight Softly (March 2)
Finally, something else worth mentioning when discussing New Zealand besides Lord of Rings and “Flight of the Conchords.” This band makes spacey, synth-laden pop songs with enough global influences to make Paul Simon proud.
Sufjan Stevens – Title and release date unknown
There’s been no “official” word on whether 2010 will see Stevens return to albums that aren’t symphonic odes to American highways, but the fact that he debuted a fair number of new songs during his intimate mini-tour this past fall is a good indication that the wheels are oiled, if not fully in motion.
Zeus – Say Us (February 23)
With great harmonies and a strong retro aesthetic, Toronto’s Zeus take everything good about 60’s and 70’s pop and rock and make it feel brand new. Playing double duty for a few years as Jason Collett’s backing band, the group is ready to stand on its own, and songs like “How Does It Feel” and “Marching Through Your Head” shouldn’t make standing too difficult.
The first chapter of a new decade and 2010 is already setting a pretty high bar for the years that follow. The above is only the beginning of what is sure to be, if nothing else, an interesting year, and hopefully, an interesting decade.