2009 Calvin Awards: Best Album

February 9, 2009

This is what passes for the outdoors these days.

One of the more difficult categories in the Calvins for voters to decide on is Best Album of the year. While there are a few hundred films released every year to concentrate on, when it comes to music, that number climbs into the thousands, and then splinters off into ever-dividing branches based on genre and style. So for an album to work its way up through that and find support from different factions in our voting pool, it's definitely something of an achievement.

No longer just of the standard-bearer band of argyle-sweater-wearing Seth Cohen wannabes, Death Cab For Cutie has broken through as a mainstream favorite. While that could mean selling out for a lot of bands, Death Cab (as all the cool kids call it) continues to grow and expand, producing their magnum opus Narrow Stairs this past year, which we award our top music prize to. This album saw the band (who tied for ninth in 2006 with Plans) grow surprisingly dark in the lyrical and musical content, with their biggest hit from the album being one of those misunderstood stalker songs that's likely to be played inappropriately in romantic situations for years. It's an album that rewards repeated listens, and one of the best pop-rock albums in years.

Second place goes to the sophomore album from Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple. This is Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse's second appearance in a top ten, after also placing ninth in 2007 for their debut. The pair continued their neo-retro-soul revival, and although the album lacked a breakout hit like the world-beating Crazy (though Run came close), The Odd Couple was a richer, fuller album, adding in elements of psychedelia and true feeling, in addition to making us want to get up and dance from time to time. Consider this a vote of confidence – we can't wait to see where these guys are going.

Our top debut of the year lands in third, with Fleet Foxes' self-titled album. Another sort of musical mélange, the Seattle group combines elements of pop, country, folk, hymnals, and even reaches back to what can only be described as medieval minstrel music, producing something that might be described as a 16th century's Pet Sounds.


Fourth spot goes to TV on the Radio's Dear Science, which saw the Manhattan art-rock group become a little more accessible without losing their experimental booty-shaking sound. And if anyone can explain to me what the hell is going on in the Golden Age video, I'd sure love to hear it.

Tied with them is Wolf Parade's At Mount Zoomer, another sophomore album to make our list. The Montreal group followed up 2005's outstanding Apologies to the Queen Mary with this enveloping collection of songs, full of swarming synths and dark, brooding lyrics.

Ra Ra Riot's first full-length album The Rhumb Line comes in at sixth – and can you tell we like baroque pop yet? Influenced heavily by the death of their drummer, the album can be mournful at times, but also builds up to grand crescendos that celebrate life.

This Gift from Scottish rockers Sons & Daughters, our seventh place finisher, starts off with a driving space-rock beat and doesn't let up from there, producing one of the year's best dance-rock albums.

The Hold Steady return to the top ten with Stay Positive, their followup to third-place finishing Boys and Girls in America from 2007. This album saw them move away a little from the bar-band Springsteen impression, but stayed true to their "classic rock band transplanted to today" sentimentalities, and holding on to their storytelling skills.

Jason Mraz's We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things comes in at ninth, with the cross-genre pop singer impressing voters with his guitar virtuosity rich-sounding vocals.

Finally, we wrap up the top ten with Duffy's Rockferry, the latest British chanteuse to rediscover Dusty Springfield. While "Mercy" was ubiquitous on the radio, a deeper look into the album and tracks like "Warwick Avenue" revealed that the singer has plenty of soul. (Reagen Sulewski/BOP)

Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Cast
Best Director
Best DVD
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Best Videogame
Breakthrough Performance
Worst Performance
Worst Picture

Top 10
Position Artist Album Total Points
1 Death Cab for Cutie Narrow Stairs 48
2 Gnarls Barkley The Odd Couple 27
3 Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes 25
4(tie) TV on the Radio Dear Science 23
4(tie) Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer 23
6 Ra Ra Riot The Rhumb Line 22
7 Sons and Daughters This Gift 19
8 The Hold Steady Stay Positive 17
9(tie) Jason Mraz We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things 15
9(tie) Duffy Rockferry 15



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