Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine (top left), Rachel Flotard of Visqueen (top right), Speech DeBelle (bottom left), Jason Schwartzman of Coconut Records (bottom middle), K'Naan (bottom right).
On this edition of All Songs Considered, host Bob Boilen talks with Monitor Mix blogger Carrie Brownstein, NPR Music editor Stephen Thompson and All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton about the year in music. What were the biggest surprises of 2009? What were the best new bands and best songs? Listen and let us know what you think by sharing your comments below.
Year's Biggest Surprise: "The lead singer for Visqueen is Rachel Flotard. She put out a couple of really fun records with Visqueen in the early part of the decade. Then she took six or seven years off to care for her ailing father. At that point, she went off to Laos to do aid work, came back. The band is so fun; it sounds a little like Neko Case and Joan Jett, and there's nothing wrong with that." --Stephen Thompson
Biggest Surprise: "They're from Brooklyn. The lead singer is Jeremy Earl, who has a record label called Woodsist. This was my biggest surprise, because I'm so tired of surprising myself by loving this wimpy, sensitive-guy rock. But here I am again. I just loved this album and this song." --Carrie Brownstein
Biggest Surprise: "Victoria Bergsman was the lead singer of The Concretes. She totally knocked me out with (East of Eden). She went to Pakistan to record some Sufi singers, and then another guest singer on the record is Noah Lennox (of Animal Collective). She even does an Animal Collective cover. This song really gives you an idea of what she got by going to Pakistan." --Bob Boilen
Biggest Surprise: "Coconut Records is actually Jason Schwartzman, the actor from Rushmore and I Heart Huckabees. He has a new show on HBO called Bored to Death, and his band Coconut Records wrote the theme for that show. One thing (Schwartzman) does really well is, his songs can turn on a dime. This song has a lot of examples of that." --Robin Hilton
Best New Artist: "K'naan had an album out last year called The Dusty Foot Philosopher. We booked him to play our day party at South by Southwest, and he was fantastic. We brought him back to do a Tiny Desk Concert, which was really remarkable. And over time, I kept pulling this record out more and more, and really falling in love with it in a way that I wouldn't have expected to. Just a tremendous amount of depth and joy." --Stephen Thompson
Best New Artist: "This is one of those records, when it first came out, I knew in the first two or three notes of the first track that I was going to love this CD. Even before I listened to that first track all the way through, I stopped it, ripped it and sent it to someone else and said, 'You have to hear this.' A little bit of Beirut. A gentler Arcade Fire. I just love this record so much." --Robin HiltonMore from Fanfarlo
Best New Artist: "There are records that go through lots of moods, and I like that. And then there are records where the entire record just has one big vibe. And this record does it. It's one of the most understated records; I just love it. In some ways, it has a kind of Brian Eno thing going on, especially in its use of space." --Bob BoilenMore from The xx
Best New Artist: "Little Claw is sort of the opposite of (The xx). Everything is just spilling forth from them. There are a lot less restrictions. It's a little more boundless. It's just a kind of strange, exciting rock 'n' roll that doesn't sound just like straight-up rock." --Carrie Brownstein
Other Notables: "Best artist we never had on All Songs Considered. Florence Welch is a singer from London who plays with a rotating cast of other musicians. She put out her debut album this year called Lungs, and this was one of the early singles from that record. The lyrics are really dark, but the melody is sweet and cheerful." --Robin Hilton
Other Notables: "On (this) album were all covers, sort of in the same vein as Johnny Cash going back and reinterpreting contemporary songs. And when Marianne Faithfull sings these songs, it adds a whole new level. You hear the song for the first time, and each gravel-coated note she sings is its own rough story. 'Hold On Hold On' is a Neko Case cover, and it's even sadder than the original. And stranger, when sung by Marianne Faithfull (and Chan Marshall of Cat Power)." --Carrie Brownstein
Other Notables: Corynne Elliot is "a rapper from London who goes by the name Speech DeBelle, who won the 2009 Mercury Prize. I put this record on my iPod and kept coming back to it. It's a little like if Lily Allen were a rapper: It's just a very fun, springy, dynamic record." --Stephen Thompson
Album of the Year: "I'd give this band the best new artist of the year, the best song of the year and absolutely the best album of the year. Just such a gut-punch of an album. So gut-wrenching. But at the same time, it's really beautiful. Beautiful and sad: my two favorite things in music. This album is so heartbreaking, but to me, it's very life-affirming." --Robin Hilton
Album of the Year:The Dry Spells "mix the best of bands like Fairport Convention (my heart and soul is in love with late-'60s and early-'70s British folk music) and elements of a band like Television in the way they play their instruments and solos. And they have stories in their songs." --Bob Boilen
Album of the Year:Mt. Eerie is "really one guy, Phil Elverum. He was in a band called The Microphones. As far as I'm concerned, Phil really predates a lot of trends in music. The kind of gentler Sufjan Stevens kind of stuff, Phil was doing that in the '90s. Even the sort of Animal Collective sound, I think Phil's already done that, too. But he tends to stay so far under the radar." --Carrie Brownstein
Album of the Year: "I love this record so much. I want to start a life with this record and buy it presents. It's another album that works as a full piece, a song cycle. It's tagged as a breakup record, but it's really more of an aftermath record. Like a flu shot for heartsickness, it injects a little bit of poison, enough to make you immune." --Stephen ThompsonMore from Noah and the Whale
Song of the Year: "It's just a great, poppy song. I'd rather jump around to it than talk about it. And I know it's a good song, because the Ford Motor Company also chose it for a commercial." --Carrie BrownsteinMore from Telekinesis!
Song of the Year: " 'Blood Bank' by Bon Iver is my favorite song of the year. (But) I went with a song by a singer named Bill Callahan, also known as Smog. He had several songs on this record where a line from the song would just haunt my dreams for days and days. The song I picked is my favorite... The first line is, 'I started out in search of ordinary things.' And it's a little slow-moving, but it's so beautiful." --Stephen Thompson
Song of the Year: "I don't normally fall in love with a song specifically because of the lyrics, but I did with this song. This guy is in a screeching relationship and whoever his partner is is yelling at him, and he says, 'Don't yell at me because you can't see who I am thinking of. You act as if you caught me with someone I used to love. But I'm just laughing with, I'm just talking with the ghost of my old dog.' And it was someone he used to love. It was his dog. [Heavy sigh.]" --Robin HiltonMore from Jason Lytle
Song of the Year: "It's about waking up in Beijing and waking up as someone else, with someone else's arms. I love this song for so many reasons. The words are magnificent, but the sounds, and the sounds of his band... he challenges them to do unusual things with the instruments they play. So the percussionist will use spokes from bicycles and pots and pans. And (Patrick Watson) is a very charismatic singer to boot." --Bob Boilen