Best South Florida albums of 2009

Below is a selection of New Times music writers' favorite local albums of 2009. It is by no means exhaustive and appears in random order. For the full list, visit Crossfade, New Times' music blog, at blogs.miaminewtimes.com/crossfade.

Panic Bomber

Getting on My Mind (self-released)

panicbomber.com

Panic Bomber is the brainchild of Miami's one-man dance spectacle Richard Haig. He first gained local notoriety as a showman keyboardist for Miami prog-rock group the Jeanmarie, until he grew tired of being in an indie band. One listen to his debut solo electro-techno-disco concoction, Getting on My Mind, and there's no question Haig has made the right move. He is definitely a madman on the synths: Check out his orchestral-electro work on "A Giant Tortoise." But he also demonstrates a versatile vocal range, going from piercing Bee Gees-style falsettos to a baritone croon on the album's title track. His accessible lyrics add a personal touch that will win over pensive college radio types as well. ALEX RENDON

Raffa and Rainer

No Mercy (self-released)

myspace.com/raffaandrainer

Miami folkies Raffa Jo Harris and Rainer Davies play the sort of wistful melodies that make your heart leap. Romantic, cute, and beguiling, Raffa's sweet-as-honey vocals flutter over bluesy acoustic guitar and syrupy horns on the pair's latest, No Mercy. The 11-track album, which includes more than 30 contributors, traverses new, more intricate ground for the duo. The explorations include everything from the quirky, bluegrass-tinged "A Little Bit" to the heavier "Palo Santo" to "Ballet," which recalls Regina Spektor via repetitive turns of phrase and even beatboxing. In fact, it's difficult to pick a "best" song on the disc, for Raffa's voice adapts so well to such a range of styles without losing its signature jazzy twang. Thus the album — layered, upbeat, poetic, quirky — is almost as versatile as it is sweet. ERICA K. LANDAU

Awesome New Republic

Rational Geographic, Vol. I; Rational Geographic, Vol. II; Hearts (Honor Roll Music)

anrmiami.com

A year's roundup of top local albums without an entry from Awesome New Republic would be like a South Florida summer without humidity: unthinkable. John Hancock and Brian Robertson always turn out the best in smooth, Prince-loving white-boy punk-funk. Because they gave away Rational Geographic Vol. I and II for free, you're kind of an asshole if you copped those and didn't shell out a few bucks for Hearts. And now that everyone has drooled all over Surfer Blood, Awesome New Republic can reclaim its spot in the national blogosphere and finally get a much-deserved break. ARIELLE CASTILLO

Ex Norwegian

Standby (Dying Van Gogh Records)

exnorwegian.com

Roger Houdaille can be forgiven for his strange choices in names for his musical projects. Still, the former Father Bloopy mastermind clearly shows his strengths in both melodic prowess and the ability to inspire a rousing performance from his collaborators. Consequently, this new trio — Houdaille (vocals, guitar, mellotron, synths), Carolina Souto (bass), and Arturo Garcia (drums, percussion, vocals) — arrives with a stirring debut that's chock full of exuberant, exhilarating performances and a unerring pop sensibility that's both brash and irresistible.

Truth be told, Standby isn't so much a variation from Houdaille's Father Bloopy guise as it is a further development of his instincts and abilities. The staccato rhythms of "Fujeira in My Dreams," the unrelenting pace of "Pow3full," and the steady stomp and surge of "Dance Trance Pants" display a revved-up delivery, confidence, and poise. What's equally impressive is Ex Norwegian's ability to flirt with radio-ready possibilities, be it with the pop-perfect "Sad Wonder," the buoyant "Fresh Pit," or the percolating "Add Vice," which, coincidentally or not, retraces the sound of the soul classic "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted." Whatever the name posted on the marquee, Standby is still a standout. LEE ZIMMERMAN

Jacobs Ladder

Ours for the Taking (JMB Records)

myspace.com/jacobsladder

Look past the complicated MySpace presence, deliberately goofy promo photos, and even the hair of this Miami threesome. Jacobs Ladder is not another color-by-numbers pop-punk band. Sure, in some of the tunes there are hints of that genre's penchant for choral whoa-oh-ohs and sweeping melodies made for crowd clap-alongs. How else would this band be so wildly popular on the national all-ages circuit, which it has traversed for basically the past three years? But listen to the whole of this self-released EP, produced by New Found Glory's Cyrus Bolooki. The hookiness eventually gives way to some real band-nerd weirdness. (In fact, the three formed the group in 2002, when all were rock ensemble players at Beach High.) There is interplanetary prog, astral reggae, and even a bit of vaguely jazzy noodling. Somehow it all works out into a tight, bright thing that translates into high-octane live shows sailing along on waves of good vibes. This record is a worthy snapshot of it all. ARIELLE CASTILLO

Jacuzzi Boys

No Seasons (Florida's Dying)

myspace.com/jacuzziboys

Miami's best garage rock threesome seems to succeed in spite of itself. Where a lot of local bands spend all of their time on self-promotion through social media abuse, the Jacuzzi Boys really couldn't care less. Instead, it appears these guys spend their time drinking, playing pretty much anywhere in the city, and writing weirdly good, gently psychedelic jams that jibe well with the country's appetite for lo-fi rock. Even Iggy Pop, now seemingly Miami's rock 'n' roll mascot, is a supporter. Hell, the Jacuzzi Boys can pretty much retire on that bit of fandom. This LP is a recent release of Florida's Dying, the Orlando-based backbone of the Sunshine State's new acid-fried wave. It's especially worth buying on vinyl, thanks to its lewd, Bosch-scratchy-pencil-style artwork. ARIELLE CASTILLO

 
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