December 4, 2009 | by Rob Boeger
Banner year for alt music

This year brought an abundance of new alternative music that you may have missed. If you’re looking for something new to listen to or are holiday shopping for the music lover in your life, here’s a rundown of some of the strongest releases of 2009.

4AD released “Dark Was the Night,” a compilation to benefit the Red Hot Organization, an international charity that raises funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS. This release, which was produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, boasted a wide array of musicians including such talents as: Grizzly Bear, Feist, Riceboy Sleeps (Sigur Ros’s Jónsi Birgisson’s side project), Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and David Byrne.

Baltimore’s Animal Collective released its eighth studio album, “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” If you’re not familiar with them, think electronic Beach Boys on acid. Standout tracks include “My Girls,” “Summertime Clothes” and the addictive “Brother Sport.”

St. Vincent’s Annie Clark returned with her second studio release, “Actor.” Her approach to songwriting is very cinematic. The album draws upon Clark’s life as an actor. Tracks like “Actor Out of Work” have her singing about how these experiences affected her life. First single “Marrow,” has Clark singing over a funky, thumping baseline. Other great tracks: “The Party” and “The Stranger.”

English musician Jack Peñate, whose vocals sound like a poppier Robert Smith of the Cure, delivers one of the best alterna-pop releases of 2009. With a large array of influences and musical styles “Everything is New” offers a wide range tracks from the title track, “Tonights Today,” “Give Yourself Away” and “Pull My Heart Away.”

British electropop musician, Frankmusik (Ex-musician of Brit pop group Fascination), released his debut album “Complete Me.” Many who had been following his career in the last two years were eagerly awaiting this release and it didn’t disappoint. Tracks like “Boyfriend,” are instantly catchy and have a beat perfect for the dance floor. Other great tracks: “Better Off as Two,” “Confusion Girl (Shame, Shame, Shame),” “3 Little Words,” “Wonder Woman” and “Done Done.”

Ian Brown, ex-lead singer of Stone Roses gave us “My Way,” a great return to form. Few musicians are able maintain their relevance after 20 years and Brown proves he still has a lot of music within him. Lead track “Stellify,” the first single, didn’t disappoint. Definitely his best album since his first solo outing, “Unfinished Monkey Business.” Other notable tracks: “Just Like You,” “Always Remember Me,” “Vanity Kills” and “Laugh Now.”

Gay musician Bradford Cox of Deerhunter, released another album with his other band, Atlas Sound. “Logos” had Cox collaborating with indie artists such as Lætitia Sadier (Stereolab) on “Quick Canal” and Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) on “Walkabout.”

Rejkavik’s Gusgus, now a trio, and once again including original singer, Daniel Ágúst, returned with 24/7. One of their more ethereal releases, this is dance floor music for the indie crowd — something this band has always done well. Originally a nine-piece collective, over the years they have established their own sound that has often been imitated, but never outdone. Select tracks: “Thin Ice,” “Add This Song” and “On the Job.”

Mike Silver, recording under the name CFCF gave us “Continent” which includes a version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love.” Other tracks of note: “Invitation of Love,” with its super sexy bass beats, are reminiscent of early ’80s disco. “You Hear Colours,” which starts with droning drum beats and layered guitar work is the one the best instrumental indie tracks this year. Think modern day Alan Parsons.

Sweden’s Johan Angergård (Acid House Kings) returned to his side project, The Legends and released “Over and Over.” Ranging from noise pop to post punk, this album offers several diverse selections: “Seconds Away,” Monday to Saturday” and  “Something Strange Will Happen.”

Portland-based producer Johnny Jewel of Chromatics and Glass Candy fame formed Desire with vocalist Megan-Louise. Their first release, “II,” continues the sound that Jewel has perfected with his other projects — sparse female vocals washing over blissful electronic analog synthesizers. Standout tracks: “Mirroir mirroir,” “Don’t Call,” “If I Can’t Hold” and “Under Your Spell,” which could easily have been an indie pop track from the mid-’80s.

The Big Pink crashed onto the music scene with several singles before releasing “A Brief History of Love,” old school alternative music in the vein of Jesus and Mary Chain. This album contains the hit singles, “Velvet” and “Dominos.”

“Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age” is a collaboration between indie group Broadcast and their designer Julian House (aka the Focus Group). The always-talented Broadcast returned with an effort that pushed their eclectic sound to a more experimental area than their previous releases.

“XX” was released by young British hopefuls, The XX. The album delivers slow-paced, bluesy indie pop with such tracks as “Basic Space,” “Islands” and “Shelter.”

Early ’80s electronic pop was present on The Juan MacLean’s “The Future Will Come.” Obvious influences of the Human League on their first single “One Day” and “The Simple Life.”

Röyksopp released “Junior,” which gave us several great tracks, such as the haunting pop of “You Don’t Have a Clue” and “This Must Be It.”

Other notable releases this year:

Baltimore band Celebration recently decided to start releasing their own music and cut out the middleman. They’ve released three new tracks through their site, celebrationelectrictarot.com.

England’s Saint Etienne came back with a limited edition remix version of “Fox Base Alpha,” their first release.  “Spring” is one of its most beautiful songs — a must find.

Brooklyn group, ZaZa released their ep, “Cameo.” It contains six dreamy gems.

The Breeders proved they can do it all by producing and manufacturing their latest ep “Fate to Fatal,” offering continued proof that they are the real “Deal.”

Kitsuné Maison Compilation, Vol. 7 gave us a new compilation which works from new band Two Door Cinema Club, Phoenix, La Roux and Delphic.

Best Coast, a fizzy pop band from California, gave us the addictive new single, “When I’m With You.”

Canadians Music Go Music released “Expressions,” which contained “Warm in the Shadow” and “Light of Love” — both evoked Blondie and ABBA. Another gem.

Mew released its third album, which contained one of the best indie pop singles of the year, “Beach.”

Massive Attack gave us a teaser of their upcoming album in the form of a new ep, “Splitting the Atom,” this time working with guest vocals from Guy Garvey from Elbow and Tunde Adebimpe from TVOTR.

Submit a tip about the local music scene to rboeger@www.washingtonblade.com.

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