The Year in Music: Top Albums 

There was a lot of bicuspid-gnashing and phalange-wringing this year as people tried to figure out some way forward from the whole sue-the-pants-off-Grandma or all-music-should-be-free dichotomy. It's so confusing when the people who steal the most music also buy the most. Or something like that. One thing that almost everyone could agree on, though, is that people who need to make music will keep making music, whether as singles only or in those archaic groupings called albums. Lucky for us, Nashville gave us some fine examples of the latter.

Chelsea Crowell, Chelsea Crowell
Chelsea Crowell's songwriting roots run deep on either side of her family tree, but she's not one to let her legacy define her. Her recent self-titled release features as much dark folk influence as it does country music, with instrumentation that brings to mind Nick Cave just as readily as Townes Van Zandt or Gram Parsons. What's more, the girl knows how to write a wistful lyric or two. As far as debuts go, this one certainly shows a lot of promise. D. PATRICK RODGERS

Destroy Destroy Destroy, Battle Sluts
The past 12 months proved tumultuous for Destroy Destroy Destroy. Personnel shifts limited their ability to put a substantial push behind their second full-length, Battle Sluts, which, after a warm reception, kinda fell by the wayside. That's too bad, because power metal mixed with thrash and a splash of Viking lore totally kills. The record is filled with hoisted goblets, slain demons and just the right amount of tongue-in-cheekery for a set that, while not particularly groundbreaking or trailblazing, is fun as hell. MATT SULLIVAN

The Kindergarten Circus, The Kindergarten Circus
There are very few new ideas in garage rock, and that's OK—in fact, it's awesome, especially when we can still have albums like The Kindergarten Circus. This trio of young Murfreesboroans has put out a collection of high-speed, aggressive riffs reminiscent of The Clutters, classic Black Keys and early White Stripes (complete with brutally repetitive slide guitar on songs like "General Sam"). The album's sound is energetic and powerful, with buzzsaw guitars and appropriately heavy bass. EMILY BARTLETT HINES

JEFF the Brotherhood, Heavy Days
Sure, we spill a lot of ink over fraternal psych-punkers JEFF the Brotherhood, but consistency warrants consistent coverage, and this fall's Heavy Days showed us that there's no shortage of compelling material in the Orrall camp. While Heavy Days still features the sludgy, heavy guitar tones and three-chord charisma the boys honed on the house-show circuit, it also displays newfound vocal-melody-centric writing, varied instrumentation and New-Wave influence. Whether or not the brothers Orrall ever capture the sheer madness of their live performances on wax, Heavy Days proved they know how to evolve, and we're happy to take the "Mind Ride" with them. D. PATRICK RODGERS

Turbo Fruits, Echo Kid
The brainchild of former Be Your Own Pet guitarist Jonas Stein, Turbo Fruits are the most exciting project to rise from the ashes of the star-crossed teen-punk ensemble's breakup. Anyone familiar with the band's explosive live show knows their potential to make a great record, and on Echo Kid it pays off in spades.They've got a bitchin' set of freewheelin' stoner-punk anthems like "Mama's Mad Cos I Fried My Brain" and "On the Road", a rhythm section ( or two, or three, or...) with the muscle to propel forward with breakneck brutality, and enough snot-nosed bravado to sell them hard. ADAM GOLD

How I Became the Bomb, Deadly Art
After their 2006 debut EP Let's Go became one of Middle-Tennessee's most popular local releases, New Wave fetishists How I Became the Bomb spent the next couple years honing one of the most fun-loving live shows in town, while fans eagerly anticipated the release of a full-length follow-up. What they got instead was a series of digital EPs released throughout late 2008 and early 2009. A deluxe edition on delivery, Deadly Art is the band's self-proclaimed "compendium" of these EPs. Over the course of 16 tracks the Bomb put all their '80s inspired cards on the table with the highest of fidelity and lushest of arrangements, making for one of 2009's most ambitious local releases. ADAM GOLD

Mia Calderon, Manik
Some albums fit the season of their release better than others, and Manik by Latin-electro-pop songstress Mia Calderon was tailor-made for the sun-drenched days and steamy nights of summer. Trust us, we're typing this with mittens on and burning copies of Metromix just to stay warm, but "Bossa Cries" is on the stereo and its blend of tropical rhythms and space-out sounds has us thinking about putting on shorts and a T-shirt. SEAN L. MALONEY

Those Darlins, Those Darlins
There's no denying that Murfreesboro mainstays Those Darlins ruled in 2009. Between dates on the road with Dan Auerbach, The Black Lips, Charlie Louvin, The Avett Brothers and O'Death, and getting tracks from their self-titled debut LP licensed across the tube and spinning in the background of hipster haunts from Echo Park to Williamsburg, it's safe to say these wild ones are currently the Nashville indie scene's most prominent ambassadors. Their record is an infectious blast of rollicking rockabilly, to which they add their own antebellum charm to the garage-rock revival that's all the rage these days. ADAM GOLD

The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker, Burn It Down
Nashville's most capable soul outfit doesn't need to prove itself to us. After having put on flawless show after flawless show here in their hometown, The Dynamites are undoubtedly among the most gifted, tight, intuitive troupes to regularly grace Music City with their presence, and that's a pan-genre sentiment. With this year's Burn It Down, The Dynamites and their resident reverend of righteousness, Charles Walker, have made it abundantly clear to neo-soul poseurs everywhere that the reigning kings of Music City soul won't be stepping down anytime soon. Burn it down they can, and burn it down they most certainly do. D. PATRICK RODGERS

Cortney Tidwell, Boys
Between the heavenly tilt of her singing and the hefty chops of her locally sourced band, Tidwell's latest is a standout. Oscillating between low-key and majestic, bare-bones and all-out, Boys takes hold and pulls its listener along on everything from woozy, wry balladry ("Being Crosby," a duet with My Morning Jacket's Jim James) to stratosphere-piercing rock (the ebullient "17 Horses"). Equal parts inspiration, perspiration and contemplation, Boys is a rush and a push of inspired musical moments stitched together by Tidwell's unmistakable voice. STEVE HARUCH

Also worth your time:
Roman Candle, Oh Tall Tree in the Ear
Justin Townes Earle, Midnight at the Movies
Non-Commissioned Officers, Make-out With Violence OST
The Protomen, Act II: The Father of Death
Slowmotions, Quick Potions
The Billy Goats, There's No U in Team
Kidsmeal, Secret Recipe


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