2009's Top 12 New Discoveries, From KEXP

fromKEXP

As 2009 winds down and the year-end best-of lists come flooding in, a lot of the same bands pop up again and again. Sure, this year's albums by Animal Collective, Phoenix, Wilco and Yeah Yeah Yeahs are all worthy of attention, but a lot of great lesser-known bands have slipped under the radar, too. In the spirit of looking out for the underdogs — small-town bands, basement-based indie labels, self-released self-starters — here are 12 albums worth checking out from artists you might not have heard.

Au Revoir Simone primary i i
Au Revoir Simone primary

Click here for more entries in our Best Music of 2009 series.

2009's Top 12 New Discoveries, From KEXP

Visqueen art

1. Visqueen

  • Album: Message to Garcia
  • Song: Hand Me Down

Visqueen frontwoman Rachel Flotard pays loving tribute to her father (who died of cancer last year) with a magnificent album of big-hearted power-pop that's packed with catchy hooks and sing-along choruses. With Neko Case providing heavenly harmonies and additional cameos from John Roderick of The Long Winters and steel guitarist Jon Rauhouse, the album brings plenty of star power, but Flotard's powerful vocals and sharp songcraft shine brightest. Power-pop is rarely this poignant, or performed as well as it is here.

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  • "Hand Me Down"
  • Album: Message to Garcia
  • Artist: Visqueen
  • Label: Local 638
  • Released: 2009
 
Grand Hallway art

2. Grand Hallway

  • Album: Promenade
  • Song: Blessed Be, Honey Bee

Grand Hallway is an eight-piece orchestral pop outfit made up of members from such Seattle favorites as The Maldives, Voyager One and Sleepy Eyes of Death. Regardless of the collective's impressive resume, this particular project is earning well-deserved praise from far and wide. The group's second full-length album, Promenade, features soaring melodies and choral vocals that ought to sweep you off your feet at first listen.

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  • "Blessed Be, Honey Bee"
  • Album: Promenade
  • Artist: Grand Hallway
  • Label: Self Released
  • Released: 2009
 
Lusine art

3. Lusine

  • Album: Certain Distance
  • Song: Twilight

Seattle-based electronic producer Jeff McIlwain (a.k.a. Lusine) brings a strong pop sensibility to A Certain Distance, an intricate, warm and transporting mix of ambient downtempo music that draws on techno, house, hip-hop beats and more. The album shines brightest on a handful of vocal tracks that radiate with inviting hooks and gorgeous melodies.

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  • "Twilight"
  • Album: Certain Distance
  • Artist: Lusine
  • Label: Ghostly International
  • Released: 2009
 
Naomi Shelton art

4. Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens

  • Album: What Have You Done, My Brother?
  • Song: I'll Take the Long Road

A wonderful album of gritty, old-school gospel and R&B from a veteran New York-based singer, What Have You Done, My Brother? finds Naomi Shelton accompanied by members of Sharon Jones' backing band, The Dap-Kings. Inspiring and uplifting.

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  • "I'll Take the Long Road"
  • Album: What Have You Done, My Brother?
  • Artist: Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens
  • Label: Daptoneq
  • Released: 2009
 
The Maldives art

5. The Maldives

  • Album: Listen to the Thunder
  • Song: Going Home

On its second album, this nine-piece Seattle band fully delivers on the promise of its transcendent live shows, taking a huge leap forward with a more muscular and varied sound, cleaner production, more confident musicianship and superior songs ranging from fiery, Crazy Horse-style rock jams to rustic, poignant ballads.

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  • "Going Home"
  • Album: Listen to the Thunder
  • Artist: The Maldives
  • Label: Mt. Fuji Records
  • Released: 2009
 
tUnE-yArDs art

6. tUnE-yArDs

  • Album: bIrD-bRaInS
  • Song: Lions

tUnE-yArDs (yes, the alternative capitalizations are for real) is the alias of New England native Merrill Garbus. Her intoxicating solo debut is an ambitious, lo-fi set of unique experimental pop. Possessing a peculiarly soulful voice, Garbus sings atop off-kilter percussion, fuzzy tape loops, bizarre samples and non-traditional instrumentation.

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  • "Lions"
  • Album: bIrD-bRaInS
  • Artist: tUnE-yArDs
  • Label: 4AD
  • Released: 2009
 
Bomba Estereo art

7. Bomba Estereo

  • Album: Blow Up
  • Song: Fuego

This Colombian group's first U.S. release blends hip-hop, dub, electronics and psychedelia with cumbia, champeta and other traditional Colombian styles for an adventurous, dance-floor-friendly sound.

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  • "Fuego"
  • Album: Blow Up
  • Artist: Bomba Estéreo
  • Label: Nacional
  • Released: 2009
 
Fanfarlo art

8. Fanfarlo

  • Album: Reservoir
  • Song: I'm A Pilot

Reservoir features 11 lush songs' worth of rousing orchestral indie-pop. Elements of traditional English folk, post-rock and marching-band fanfare (just to name a few) are found within Fanfarlo's already vast instrumental collage of mandolin, glockenspiel, chimes, trombone and the more commonplace likes of guitars, keys, and drums. The songs' baroque and sweeping melodies provide the backdrop to dreamy tales of men and women caught up in life's spin. Reservoir is a powerfully affecting record and a confident debut.

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  • "I'm A Pilot"
  • Album: Reservoir
  • Artist: Fanfarlo
  • Released: 2009
 
Au Revoir Simone art

9. Au Revoir Simone

  • Album: Still Night, Still Light
  • Song: All or Nothing

The third album from the three women in Brooklyn's Au Revoir Simone is a bittersweet set of dreamy electronic pop tunes that boast heartbreaking, melancholic lyrics and gentle melodies, resulting in a gorgeous sad/pretty record. Heavily influenced by Stereolab and reminiscent of a slight less dynamic Electrelane, Au Revoir Simone's introspective pop packs a potent emotional punch.

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  • "All or Nothing"
  • Album: Still Night, Still Light
  • Artist: Au Revoir Simone
  • Label: Our Secret
  • Released: 2009
 
Telekinesis art

10. Telekinesis

  • Album: Telekinesis!
  • Song: Coast of Carolina

Telekinesis is the project of Seattle-based Michael Benjamin Lerner. His debut full-length is a sunny outing of power-pop that'll have you smiling so hard, it may actually hurt.

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  • "Coast of Carolina"
  • Album: Telekinesis!
  • Artist: Telekinesis
  • Label: Merge
  • Released: 2009
 
Soulico art

11. Soulico

  • Album: Exotic on the Speaker
  • Song: Exotic on the Speaker

This Israeli group composed of four DJs makes its debut with a fun, ambitious album that blends hip-hop and dancehall with Israeli folk and dance music. Special guests include Ghostface Killah, Rye Rye and Lyrics Born.

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  • "Exotic on the Speaker"
  • Album: Exotic on the Speaker
  • Artist: Soulico
  • Label: JDub Records
  • Released: 2009
 
Hotels art

12. Hotels

  • Album: Where Hearts Go Broke
  • Song: Kite Fight

This Seattle band's second album is a sweet set of smart, catchy, '80s-influenced electro-pop with propulsive rhythms and sparkling melodies.

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  • "Kite Fight"
  • Album: Where Hearts Go Broke
  • Artist: Hotels
  • Released: 2009
 

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Message to Garcia

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  • Album: Message to Garcia
  • Artist: Visqueen
  • Label: Local 638
  • Released: 2009
 

Promenade

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  • Album: Promenade
  • Artist: Grand Hallway
  • Label: Self Released
  • Released: 2009
 

Certain Distance

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  • Album: Certain Distance
  • Artist: Lusine
  • Label: Ghostly International
  • Released: 2009
 

What Have You Done, My Brother?

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  • Album: What Have You Done, My Brother?
  • Artist: Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens
  • Label: Daptoneq
  • Released: 2009
 

Listen to the Thunder

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  • Album: Listen to the Thunder
  • Artist: The Maldives
  • Label: Mt. Fuji Records
  • Released: 2009
 

bIrD-bRaInS

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  • Album: bIrD-bRaInS
  • Artist: tUnE-yArDs
  • Label: 4AD
  • Released: 2009
 

Blow Up

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  • Album: Blow Up
  • Artist: Bomba Estéreo
  • Label: Nacional
  • Released: 2009
 

Reservoir

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  • Album: Reservoir
  • Artist: Fanfarlo
  • Released: 2009
 

Still Night, Still Light

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  • Album: Still Night, Still Light
  • Artist: Au Revoir Simone
  • Label: Our Secret
  • Released: 2009
 

Telekinesis!

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  • Album: Telekinesis!
  • Artist: Telekinesis
  • Label: Merge
  • Released: 2009
 

Exotic on the Speaker

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  • Album: Exotic on the Speaker
  • Artist: Soulico
  • Label: JDub Records
  • Released: 2009
 

Where Hearts Go Broke

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  • Album: Where Hearts Go Broke
  • Artist: Hotels
  • Released: 2009
 

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