From Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown to U2’s No Line On The Horizon, 2009 has definitely been a year of monster releases. However there have also been a ton of innovative artists on independent labels who have churned out albums without million-dollar marketing campaigns behind them. Here we highlight our nine favorite independent albums of 2009, which may not necessarily have much in common musically but are all worth a listen.

David Bazan Curse Your Branches (Barsuk) — The long-awaited full-length from Pedro The Lion’s David Bazan doesn’t disappoint. Sounding like a combination between his PTL output and his side-project Headphones, Curse Your Branches is a forward-thinking indie rock release that proves Bazan puts as much artistry into his inventive arrangements as he does his always awe-inspiring lyrics.

 

Cub Country’s Stretch That Skull Cover And Smile (Future Farmer) — Jeremy Chatelain may not be a household name but the former Jets To Brazil bassist has quietly been churning out some of the underground’s most interesting albums. Five years in the making, the curiously titled Stretch That Skull Cover And Smile combines elements of indie rock, country and folk music to create a unique amalgam of sounds that’s undeniably satisfying.

 

Old Canes’ Feral Harmonic (Saddle Creek) — Old Canes, the musical outlet for the Appleseed Cast’s Christopher Crisci, is another act that took five years between albums—and like Cub Country it was worth the wait. The band’s latest full-length Feral Harmonic features plenty of mandolin and banjo, yet Crisci’s unique voice and indie rock upbringing prevents this collection of songs from sounding formulaic or clichéd.

 

Yo La Tengo’s Popular Songs (Matador) — Yo La Tengo may be musical veterans but their twelfth full-length Popular Songs proves that the band are still crafting some of the strongest music of their career. In fact falsetto-fueled songs like “Avalon Or Someone Very Similar” are sonic proof that Popular Songs will please both jaded hipsters and their parents.

 

Pajo Scream With Me (Black Tent) — The most obscure release on this list might also be the most unique. Reportedly recorded by David Pajo (Zwan, Slint) years ago via a Radio Shack microphone taped to a cymbal stand, these nine stripped-down acoustic covers of classic Misfits songs add new emotional resonance to these punk tracks and prove you don’t need the assistance of Pro Tools to create lasting art.

 

Russian Circles’ Geneva (Suicide Squeeze) — The third full-length from the Chicago-based instrumental metal act Russian Circles may not contain any vocals, but that doesn’t prevent it from being one of the most captivating albums of the year. From punishing metal riffs to ambient, atmospheric soundscapes this album is anything but background music.

 

Person L The Positives (Academy Fight Song/Human Interest) — When Kenny Vasoli of the band the Starting Line launched his side-project Person L a few years ago most people probably assumed it would be more melodic pop-punk. However with the band’s second album The Positives Vasoli has managed to work in elements of dub, reggae and classic rock into a wholly unique musical mix.

 

Bad Veins’ Bad Veins (Dangerbird) — The Cincinnati duo Bad Veins may not be as big as the Killers, but a cursory listen to their eponymous album should convince you that in a perfect world they should be. Featuring singing synthesizers, driving bass lines and inventive guitar augmentations, the album is the perfect fodder for a never-ending dance party.

 

The Swell Season’s Strict Joy (ANTI-) — Another notable indie duo for 2009 is The Swell Season. You may recognize the band from the film Once, however the Swell Season’s third album cements the fact that their success is no gimmick—and the disc is teeming with lilting ballads and orchestrally inflected tracks that drip with emotion and honesty that’s almost palpable.