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James Reed's top albums of 2009

Globe critics name their top 10 list (and a surprise)

Sharon Van Etten Sharon Van Etten
By James Reed
Globe Staff / December 20, 2009

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SHARON VAN ETTEN “Because I Was in Love’’ Opening to the slack strum of acoustic guitar, the spare and hypnotic debut from this Brooklyn singer-songwriter left this listener nearly (OK, almost always) in tears on more than one late night.

BACHELORETTE “My Electric Family’’ New Zealand’s Bachelorette, the one-woman project of Annabel Alpers, skewered our digital age with exuberant electro-pop that could be made only in a digital age. Oh, the irony.

DM STITH “Heavy Ghost’’ As DM Stith, David Stith made one of the year’s most evocative chamber-pop albums, with labyrinthine songs that conjured the dark heart of Grizzly Bear and Antony and the Johnsons.

DAVE RAWLINGS MACHINE “A Friend of a Friend’’ Gillian Welch’s longtime partner finally stepped into the spotlight with a good-time country album that came on equal parts Nashville, Laurel Canyon, and Austin, Texas.

NEKO CASE “Middle Cyclone’’ The flame-haired chanteuse continued to surprise us with this set of portentous songs that were far more visceral than their burnished exteriors.

HOPE SANDOVAL & THE WARM INVENTIONS “Through the Devil Softly’’ After an eight-year hiatus, the former Mazzy Star siren returned as dusky and damaged as ever: “When I look at the door/ I know what it’s there for/ To leave or to come back.’’

LA ROUX “La Roux’’ Doubling as pure ear candy - with choruses as sticky as hot-pink cotton candy - the debut from this British duo gave us 2009’s most propulsive dance-pop anthems in “Bulletproof’’ and “In for the Kill.’’

LHASA “Lhasa’’ After beguiling fans with a melange of nomadic songs in Spanish and French, Mexican-American singer Lhasa unveiled a more rooted and bluesy sound on her third (and first all-English) album.

PASSION PIT “Manners’’ It was hard not to get swept up in the wave of hometown pride for the quintet that put Boston on the indie-rock map this year with an assured and wildly infectious debut of dance rock.

THE MUMLERS “Don’t Throw Me Away’’ Sixties soul? Junkyard blues? Spectral alt-country? Sure, that’s all part of the charm of this horn-driven album from a young San Jose band with spirit and sass to spare.

BIGGEST SURPRISE
YEAH YEAH YEAHS set their sights on the dance floor with “It’s Blitz!’’ which left me bored and colder than the songs’ icy synth-pop melodies.

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