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Scene & Heard

Inspirations from the local beat

Everyday Visuals were among the local acts making memorable music in 2009. Everyday Visuals were among the local acts making memorable music in 2009. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / January 1, 2010

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So much noteworthy music comes out every year that we almost dread making these end-of-year lists. In 2009 we heard so much engaging music that distilling those sounds to a roll call of favorite albums felt like a tougher task than ever. Still, although no list is perfect and each is a reflection of individual taste, we wanted to acknowledge some of the coolest local music we heard this year. And as Nigel Tufnel said, this one goes to 11.

SARAH BORGES & THE BROKEN SINGLES

“The Stars Are Out’’

Three spirited albums have catapulted Borges from being another local player with potential to being a bona fide player. On her latest, the siren with the sure-handed sense of melody showed off her roots and more - namely her affection for timeless pop, rendered with soulful conviction. So, in addition to another collection of country-rock dandies, we got comely covers of tunes by Smokey Robinson, Stephin Merritt, and Evan Dando. Are the stars out? Borges should know; she’s become one of the city’s brightest.

DAVID WAX MUSEUM

“Carpenter Bird’’

Singer-songwriter David Wax led his charges through an inspired selection of lovely, semi-acoustic folk songs, and Mexican roots music that sounded older than the hills yet utterly fresh and forward-thinking. “What could you want with my antique music box voice?’’ Wax asked listeners on the winning opener, “Jalopy Heart.’’ The answer is, everything. More please.

DRUG RUG

“Paint the Fence Invisible’’

On the follow-up to their ’07 debut, Drug Rug co-conspirators Tommy Allen and Sarah Cronin employed their goofy gifts with gleeful assurance. Jittery psychedelia, garage-rock rabble-rousing, oddball pop bliss - it’s all here, along with the jubilant harmonies, fuzzy guitars - and Mellotron!

MEAN CREEK

“The Sky (Or The Underground)’’

The band’s name comes from an indie film about troubled teens and grim secrets - not entirely unlike this elegant collection of songs that are as tumultuous and questing as they are heartfelt and beautiful.

MARISSA NADLER

“Little Hells’’

On her fourth and latest album, an array of ghosts, lovers, loners, and mistresses - most of them damned, doomed, or in dire need of daylight - populate singer-guitarist Nadler’s echo chamber ruminations on ruination. Spectral and sublime.

HIGHWAY GHOSTS

“After All This Time’’

A masterful blend of roots-rocking guitars, ragged-but-right vocals set to rustic melodies, and other good stuff that never goes out of style when it’s done right. Echoing the late-night/early morning feel of alt-country progenitors such as the BoDeans and the Jayhawks, this is an auspicious debut that brims with equal parts heartache, swagger, and hard-won wisdom.

PASSION PIT

“Manners’’

Even if it couldn’t match the deafening buzz and outsized hype, one of ’09’s most talked-about releases more than made good on its giddy electro-pop promise. Even after a thousand spins, the sparkling synths and shout-along choruses that drive “The Reeling’’ still sound like euphoria uncorked.

POINTS NORTH

“I Saw Across the Sound’’

By turns somber and joyous, sturdy and delicate, this debut was a folk feast fashioned by the campfire and drawn from hearth-warmed living rooms. A tapestry of piano, mandolin, and wintry atmospheres made this one of ’09’s most enigmatic local releases. And when’s the last time you heard flute as a lead instrument?

TAXPAYER

“Don’t Steal My Night Vision’’

Unabashedly epic, and unashamedly bold rather than bashful, these anthem-minded emo-rockers (sorry, guys, we know you probably hate the term) turned on the drama and turned up the volume to dynamic effect.

THE EVERYDAY VISUALS

“The Everyday Visuals’’

A deceptively sophisticated work of poetic self-examination residing underneath smooth pop surfaces. Like the band that made it, rarely is anything here as straightforward as it initially seems. Sublimely muted melodies unfurl, float, and twist, drifting and dissipating along with frontman Christopher Pappas’s sweetly vulnerable voice and wounded will.

VIVS

“Mouth to Mouth’’

A debut album of everyday epiphanies from a gang of 40-something moms and dads, schoolteachers and best friends, who - thankfully - cooed about none of those niceties. Instead, we got gutsy guitar pop built on bracing hooks and a clutch of bittersweet songs about faded dreams, lingering regret, and trying to carve out peace of mind amid the clutter and chaos of life.