DJ Highlights

Top 10 local albums of 2009

2009 was one hell of a year for WKNC and for North Carolina music. On our end, we had the sad departure of local radio legend DJ Stevo (you can still hear him broadcasting over at but also the beginning of something new with myself taking over the Local Beat in August after DJ Mick provided a couple months of Friday evening entertainment. We have also added to our ranks several different Local Lunch DJs who have all been doing a fantastic job of providing you with non-stop local music every weekday from noon to 1 p.m.

In the local music spectra of our community, many new bands have made their way onto the scene while others have begun establishing themselves as some of the premiere musicians in the country.  Still, other groups broke up or left our region for better or for worse. Even some unfamiliar venues have begun making their mark in this region. Some amazing shows have been played and become ingrained in the memories of many and there is no doubt that more and more people within our community have been tuning into to the amazing local music this part of the country offers.

As it is a common trend in nearly every aspect of our culture at the end of the year to create some sort of countdown list in remembrance of the past 12 months many local blogs, newspapers, and magazines have been ranking their top bands, albums, and songs from 2009.

Not to be outdone, I have been preparing for this list throughout the year and after listening to every second of every song on all 154 albums that have been sent my way  by local bands and artists (an exhausting feat that nearly killed my GPA). I have whittled my way down to my top 10.  In total, I have listened to more than 1,400 local songs culminating in just less than 74 hours worth of North Carolina music from 2009.  Many of these albums and bands are unfortunately not worth mentioning but after much debate I worked my way down to 38 records that in my mind would qualify as top-10 material.

First to be chocked off were EPs. Certainly, the Tomahawks Like a Horse on a Beach EP was one of the finest groupings of four songs I had the pleasure to listen to, and Violet Vector’s EP II could have made the cut, along with Aminal’s A Face To Fight EP, Mandolin Orange’s self titled EP, and Veelee’s Three Sides EP among others, but I feel that LPs are the ones that truly stand the test of time.

Second to go were the compilations.  Hear Here will remain my number one album of 2009, but it is difficult to split the award to all 17 of those bands.  I also always enjoy the Have a Holly Raleigh Kidsmas volumes but putting a holiday album on the list didn’t seem quite right either.

I finally worked my way down to the last two dozen or so and that is where things began to get difficult.  I may never fully forgive myself for excluding I Was Totally Destroying It’s release Horro Vacui and I have no excuse for not including it.  That album kicks serious ass.  As does Americans in France’s Pretzelvania, Bowerbirds’ Upper Air, Calico Haunts’ After All, Hammer No More The Fingers’ Looking For Bruce, Old Ceremony’s Walk on Thin Air, Ryan Gustafson’s Donkey, and many others that unfortunately were not included (I will stop before I start second guessing myself).  In any case, after much rambling here it is:

10. The Bronzed Chorus: I’m The Spring

This duo out of Greensboro has seemingly come out of nowhere in the past two years.  Since recording their independently released debut thurtythurty in Adam Joyce’s bedroom, Joyce and band mate Brennan O’Brien have taken the state by storm after signing to Hello Sir Records and promptly putting out the masterpiece that is I’m the Spring. Post-rock noise ecstasy combines with powerful imagery of storms of overdriven guitar and bass pounding the skies with an untamed fury.   The effect of two musicians creating such a visual component to their music speaks volumes of what this album truly is: art.  Stay on your toes throughout this album and try not to miss a note, you won’t come back down after hearing this.  More Reviews:

  • Independent Weekly
  • Pinnacle Magazine

9. Starmount: Tyranny of the Sphere
Here is another instrumental album that cracked my top 10, the debut album from a newly discovered band from right here in Raleigh.  Starmount is one of the most unique bands I have ever heard and likely ever will with their blending of pedal steel guitar, upright bass, synthesizers, and a drum/electronics kit to make quite an uncommon yet entrancing sound.  Already signed to Superfan records, this album has begun making it’s mark on the community even if the group only plays a couple of times a year.  To keep it short and simple, Starmount is a band that I cannot relate with another group but one which I will now begin to compare bands to.  Their music is one of a kind and this album speaks volumes about the progressive and evolving nature of music.  In my opinion, the best way to listen to this record is go sit in a dark room, turn the music up loud and let it wash over you like a fresh cool breeze.

standalone player


8. Polvo: In Prism
I will be the first to line up and shamefully admit that I was never a big fan of Polvo.  The fact of the matter is that I never really gave them a chance.  However, after watching them at the Double Barrel Benefit back in February I was converted and anxiously awaited their new album after news of them hitting the studio began to spread.  What resulted was one of the grandest vindications of the year.
In Prism was Polvo’s first album in 12 years, but boy did they come back with a vengeance.  Classified from anywhere to Math Rock, post-hardcore, to psychedelic, you can put them in whatever genre you like, but to me Polvo and especially this record stands to no-one’s label but their own. The entire album plays seamlessly like a single beating entity whose life unfolds out to you through each track as it’s own but also as a part of the whole organic form Polvo creates.  Call me a noob to their works but In Prism is one of the finest, if not best album of the Polvo catalog.  Here are a couple of reviews to dignify my claim:

7. Lonnie Walker: These Times Old Times
I remember the first time I saw Lonnie Walker at the Terpsikhore Collective Leap Year Extravaganza back in 2008. They played alongside IWTDI and Annuals, two of the best bands in the Southeast, but it was Lonnie Walker who stole the show and the hearts of everyone in the crowd that night. Stevo and I harassed lead singer Brian Corum that night and he brought a demo to WKNC the next week. The rest they say, is history.

These Times Old Times contains several remakes of the same songs from that first demo but also quite a few newer tracks as well. The whole album is reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks but a bit hardier and with a more intense rock ‘n roll feel while still keeping that same folky edge that they are known for. Tunes like “Grapefruit”, “Back Home Inside With You”, and “Crochet” add on to the already set LW standards and are surrounded by short sentimental ditties like “Old Birds In The Seas”, “Horse Boots”, and “Country Crowded Trees” to create an album that never gets old after each listen. The effect of their debut release was immediate as they were one of the top headliners for Artsplosure ’09 and named Ear Farm’s band of the week back in August and are now one of the most sought after live shows in the state for fans.

Band website design

6. Avett Brothers: I and Love and You

It is becoming difficult for me to label the Avett Brothers as a local band in the past two years only because they tour so god damn much.   But these boys out of Concord have without a doubt become the shining beacon of North Carolina music in recent years and are obviously the most successful group in the past 10 years from our state.  I and Love and You is their most recent output, their major label debut, and without question their best since forming in 2000.  Known for their heartfelt and emotional songs as well as their raucous and mesmerizing live performances this album captures all of those things better than any other.   It has the ability to make your hair stand on end through one sentimental song and then the next throws you into a whirlwind of acoustic picking heaven.
Many questioned the Avett’s move to a larger label after the band promised to stay close to their roots but one listen to this record, produced by music legend Rick Rubin, proves the move right.  Just check out some of the reviews below:

To prove the Bros. success over the past 9 years I and Love and You peaked at #16 on the Billboard 200 best selling albums, #8 in best selling digital albums, and #7 in rock albums. Point proven.

5. Midtown Dickens: Lanterns
Much to my surprise this album dropped to number 5 on my list for when I first gave it a listen I was sure it would be in my top 3.  The two women (Kym and Catherine) founded their group back in 2005 have now expanded the band into a sextet after adding four of their best friends to play alongside them.  What results from this addition is a fuller and more satisfying full band sound to back their already magnificent song writing and singing skills.  Midtown Dickens is fun and enjoyable to listen to halfheartedly but once you take them seriously the music just opens up into something deeper and more profound than most bands can pull off.  Grab the album and take a seat because listening to Lanterns might knock you flat out.  

4. Megafaun: Gather, Form, and Fly

If you have ever seen Megafaun live you will know what I mean when I confess that watching these guys play is like having a deep religious experience.  So believe me when I say that listening to Gather, Form, and Fly is nothing short of transcending.  Megafaun has always been terrific whether as the original lineup of DeYarmond Edison before the split or on their first album Bury The Square, so it is difficult to say they have “matured."  I prefer the word "evolved” instead as Megafaun has taken their already well-developed earthy sound and transformed it into music so beautiful and sententious that the sheer vastness of the sound is almost indescribable.  This album moves and breathes around you as you listen to it almost as if the whole world starts opening itself up to a Megafaun induced dream.

3. Luego: Taped-Together Stories
A second reincarnation of this band Simply put Luego is the catchiest band around.  With Patrick Phelan heading the gang and welcoming the likes of Jeff Crawford, Peter Holsapple, Nick Jaeger, Rob DiMauro, Cameron Lee, and Charles Cleaver Luego is as close to a local music supergroup as one might find.  Taped-Together Stories is a one of a kind in today’s music world with personal and heartfelt lyrics that anyone with a soul can relate to combined with bluesy rock/pop and craftily set beats that are easy to move your feet to all underneath Phelan’s raspy and grabbing vocals.  It’s all based off of that fun jangly pop and lo-fi production technique so popular among bands in our area (ie: Max Indian) but with an indie spark to complete the album’s character.  Simply put, it’s the catchiest local album of the year.  In 20 years this will be one of those albums you look back on and say “I was there.”

Sample band press kits

2. Horseback: The Invisible Mountain

As difficult as it is to describe this album, I am going to try, so bear with me as I fail to give this album it’s due indulgence.  Only four songs long, this masterpiece takes on 38 minutes of grinding harsh satanic laced vociferations backed by acrid droning that comes together like a choir of demons singing straight from the pits of hell.  It’s dark, malicious, and pierces the soul with a pointed tip but finally salvation is granted in the form of the nearly 17 minute finale “Hatecloud Dissolving into Nothing", one of the most breathtaking and articulate pieces of instrumentation to grace my well worn ears.  Its beautiful, heart wrenching, and sincere.  Every note on this album is well placed and delicate to the overall fabric of the sound, nothing is taken for granted and nothing is overdone.  It’s perfect.
After listening to this album for the first time I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed staring at nothing for almost an hour trying to absorb what I had just heard.  Do yourself a favor and give this a try.

1. Bombadil: Tarpits and Canyonlands

After hearing the first and then second song from Bombadil’s new album I knew that all of my expectations for it were going to be fulfilled.  After the eighth song I realized that this might be the best album of 2009.  After the third or fourth listen to Tarpits and Cayonlands it occurred to me that this album was one of the greatest records I had ever heard.  Few albums have ever reached me quite like Tarpits has and I am having a difficult time writing this piece so that it fully encompasses my true
The first review I ever read on Bombadil was after their first EP came out.  The review read “It sound’s like a group of hobbits from Durham got together and made some kickass folk music."  Nothing could have been truer then.  Their songs were joyful expressions of life and bewilderment and innocence at the world.  Listening to their old stuff makes you want to kick off your shoes and go frolicking in a grassy field next to a lazy stream.  But as Tarpits and Canyonlands, their second full length began to emerge through live performances and hearsay I knew that this album would be different.  Many critics will ramble about the tides and maturation of bands and either bombast their new ways or extol progressive features from album to album.  Overall it really is what the band decides to do with their sound that makes a difference.  Fortunately for us, in Tarpits Bombadil did very little to their style.  The upbeat melodies and piano heavy chords are still wrapped in their folk tinged harmonies and buoyant  vocals, but something is different, something hard to put your finger on.  What arises is a sense of depth and emotion lacking from their previous works, a sense of death and not just life, of powerful heartbreak arising from potent love, of creating a fulfilled legacy, and a justification to experience all of these sensations without remorse.
When I first heard the album back in April I could not stop listening over and over.  It’s a work that speaks to each person in their own individual way and makes its mark on the listener.  From the ever present goosebumps during the very first song "I Am” through the seemingly drifting ‘Kuala Lumpur" (my personal favorite) all the way to the final four songs of redemption, loss, and ultimate love, Bombadil grabs you by the ears and the mind and takes you on a journey of illumination and enlightenment.
Overall this masterpiece is nothing short of lyrical genius coinciding with  instrumentation that matches the mood perfectly.  If you enjoyed their old albums, you will find this better.  If you never did like Bombadil before, this one will grab you.  Tarpits and Canyonlands isn’t just the best local album of 2009, it is one of the best album of any regard in the past decade.

Below is a brief list of my top 10 Local albums of 2009 as well as DJ Ray’s my awesome assistant in the Local Music department at WKNC:

Adam Kincaid’s Top 10 Local Albums DJ Ray’s Top 10 Local Albums
1.Bomadil: Tarpits & Canyonlands
2.Horseback: The Invisible Mountain
3.Luego: Taped-Together Stories
4.Megafaun: Gather, Form, & Fly
5.Midtown Dickens: Lanterns
6.Avett Brothers: I and Love and You
7.Lonnie Walker: These Times Old Times
8.Polvo: In Prism
9.Starmount: Tyranny of the Sphere
10.Bronzed Chorus: I’m the Spring
1.Bomadil: Tarpits & Canyonlands
2.Megafaun: Gather, Form and Fly
3.Lonnie Walker: These Times Old Times
4.Hammer No More the Fingers: Looking for Bruce
5.Bowerbirds: Upper Air
6.Americans in France: Pretzelvania
7.You and Your Effects: Wire Sharks
8.Midtown Dickens: Lanterns
9.Bronzed Chorus: I’m the Spring
10.Spider Bags: Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Crueler World