It was a slow year.
No, the music wasn’t bad. It was very good, actually. But for a town that’s grown accustomed to playing host to an annual band-of-the-zeitgeist, 2009 was comparatively quiet. The scene didn’t birth another Death Cab, Band of Horses, or Fleet Foxes. And the year-end critical reception of Seattle releases isn’t what it’s been in recent years.
Sub Pop didn’t sign a Seattle band. Barsuk signed a pair (Pearly Gate Music, Blunt Mechanic). Cave Singers did win the lottery (for a 2007 song, “Seeds of Night”), but none of the standout records from the city’s burgeoning hip-hop scene made much of a splash out of town.
But slow for Seattle is still better than fast for your average American city, and we here have been treated to some honey for the ears over the past 12 months. Here’s a look at 10 of our favorite local releases from 2009, in alphabetical order. —Chris Kornelis
David Bazan Curse Your Branches
Bazan questioned God and found his salvation in Paul Simon–style pianos and tight pop melodies. Branches is more than just Bazan’s best album this year, it’s his best album yet. PAIGE RICHMOND
Brothers of the Sonic Cloth/Mico de Noche Split 10″
If anything was indicative of the thrilling potential of Seattle’s metal scene, it was the fact that this three-song, 10-inch split release was as well-received as it was hotly anticipated. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth’s 12 minutes-plus, psych-tinged opus on side one is elephantine-heavy and soaring, while Mico de Noche’s two brutal blasts of galvanized sludge are perfectly concise counterpoints. HANNAH LEVIN
The Dutchess & The Duke Sunset/Sunrise
A graceful maturation of frontman Jesse Lortz’s vision of life, love, and loss. Its success isn’t only in its nearly flawless execution, but in the subtle way Lortz has fleshed out his songs with more detail and richer arrangements. HANNAH LEVIN
Garage A Trois Power Patriot
Skerik is a treasure of the local scene, producing otherworldly sounds from a saxophone. His work here with Garage A Trois brings his freak down to melodies we can all appreciate. CHRIS KORNELIS
Lonely Forest We Sing the Body Electric!
There’s more to the Lonely Forest than “We Sing in Time,” the epic pop song that has become the band’s anthem. The piano-laden “Tomato Soup” and the guitar-driven “Blackheart vs. Captain America” are full of angst, and absolutely beautiful. PAIGE RICHMOND
Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers Self-titled
A country album that’s about as close as you can get to comfort food, Muth’s Emmylou-esque voice and adherence to all we love about time-tested Americana—and the conspicuous lack of filler—make this one of the best country debut albums out of Seattle since we’ve been keeping score. SARA BRICKNER
The Physics High Society EP
This perfectly captures the freshness, quality, and sophistication of the Seattle hip-hop scene, which had a hallmark year. It’s a summertime, laid-back classic, and the first record to play for people outside Seattle who ask what the city’s got to offer. HOLLIS WONG-WEAR
Shabazz Palaces Self-titled
This is what happens when a Grammy-winning underground rap legend, Digable Planets’ Ishmael Butler, starts creating and collaborating with musicians without his face or past accolades attached—a demonstration of the way the genre naturally evolves without the mutating effects of technological advances and overproduction. HOLLIS WONG-WEAR
Throw Me the Statue Creaturesque
Fuck the sophomore slump. This collection of bright, brassy pop songs is definitely better than the band’s debut Moonbeams—and better than most of the pop albums released this year, local or otherwise. SARA BRICKNER
Visqueen Message to Garcia
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with melancholic musical homages like Lou Reed’s Magic and Loss or Elvis Perkins’ Ash Wednesday, it was incredibly refreshing that Visqueen leader Rachel Flotard chose instead to honor her father with uplifting, anthemic pop. The songs on Message to Garcia exuded not just affection for her dearly departed dad, but her fearless command of the almighty power chord. HANNAH LEVIN