22 December 2009

Favorite Albums of 2009

Just looking back over my list from 2008 and realized I've got nearly the same number of albums for this year and can recommend about the same. Few disappointments and plenty to pick at. Here are my favorite 60, grouped in 10's. Usual caveats apply: these are my favorites, not pretending these are the "best" or that your opinion will jibe with mine; also not pretending that I've heard every album there is... if your favorite isn't listed, there's a good chance I didn't hear it. Don't whine, just recommend, I promise I'll take your opinion to heart.

Here it is:

The top ten (alphabetical):

The Bad Plus (w/ Wendy Lewis) -- For All I Care
The list of "can't do no wrong in Neddy's eyes" musicians is a short one, but any regular reader should know that The Bad Plus is near the top. The most postmodern piano trio in the history of the piano takes it to the next logical step, adding a vocalist on an album of covers. I could write 10000 words on the levels of deconstruction and meta-music and commentary on music and jazz and pop and how we listen to what we listen to and like what we like that may or may not be going on over the course of this album, or I could just tell you that it's plain brilliant.

Andrew Bird -- Noble Beast
Usually a musician with the set of talents that ABird has at his disposal ends up lacking something in the soul department. That doesn't seem to be a problem here as Andrew has (once again) put together an album made up of lots of little masterpieces. Each track stands on its own and within each song, each moment seems to do the same. But taken together... mmmm. Be sure to get your hands on the companion "just messin' around" Useless Creatures release: instrumental forays from a self-admitted instrumental hater. Good stuff.

Neko Case -- Middle Cyclone
With this album, Case has evolved into her own entity: untethered to another band or musicians, disassociated with any genre or type. Haunting voice, unique point of view, wonderful songs from top to bottom.

The Flaming Lips -- Embryonic
For Wayne Coyne, going into cruise control would seem to be so easy and yet, at the same time, utterly impossible. It's not like they've zigged when you thought they'd zag, but rather that in some manifestation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, once you've tried to pin them down and get a good look at the Flaming Lips, you've lose total track of how fast and in what direction they were heading. This is a psychedelic epic, hard edged and yet totally accessible -- on the scale of "Yoshimi."

Bela Fleck -- Throw Down Your Heart
The synopsis of this story is: Bela Fleck goes to Africa and makes music with everyone he meets. What could be bad? Once again, Fleck rises above. What is banjo music? What is music? Seems like these are the questions Bela is always trying to answer, but never before in such a fundamental way. Mixing old and new, western and African, traditional instruments with their forebears as well as voices and smiles that shine right through the stereo, Bela Fleck has done it again.

Heartless Bastards -- The Mountain
Looking at this list, it seems like maybe I forgot how much I love the f'in rock and roll. Well, I'm not sure anyone rocks harder and with higher fidelity than the Heartless Bastards. The ingredients are few: guitar, drums, bass and the baddest female rock vocals you'll ever heard. They are mixed together at just the right proportions and poured into some kick ass songs right to level. The title tracks may be my favorite song of the year.

Portugal. The Man -- The Satanic Satanist
I couldn't have written all this and not had PTM on this list. In the studio, the songs that trip the light fantastic live reveal themselves for the well-crafted gems that they are. Just as powerful through the headphones as blared through the loudspeaker, just as penetrating acoustic and quiet as they are loud and electric. Pull them out track by track and dig deeper, or play the whole thing and let yourself go. And don't sleep on the psychedelic packaging which only enhances the listening experience.

Dave Rawlings Machine -- A Friend of a Friend

This is the machine that drives Gillian Welch, now out front with his own thing. This release is one of those perfectly formed pieces of Americana with fantastic covers, heartfelt originals, plenty of tasty guitar picking and the most genuine pair of voices you can find.

Charles Spearin -- The Happiness Project
In 8 tracks Spearin (of Do Make Say Think) has reinvented, for me, what music, sound, speech, love and happiness. You can learn about the Happiness Project here, but in a nutshell, Spearin went out and recorded people talking, nominally about "happiness." Taking snippets of these recordings or large swaths of speech, he wove a tapestry of music, pulling meaning not just out of the words but the way that they are spoken, finding music in the syntax and beyond. The result has given me the chills, literally, every single time I've listened to the album... which has been plenty - I think I had it on repeat for about a week straight when I first got it. My description does it no justice, if you buy one CD this year, let this one be it.

Wilco -- Wilco (The Album)
Yeah, this is kind of a surprise to me, too. But it shouldn't be. Is there a band out there that consistently comes out with new great music so regularly for so long? Maybe Radiohead? Here Tweedy and Co. are evolving only slightly from their former selves, slowly integrating Nels Cline into the sound more and more, but remaining true to the Wilco sound.

(11-20 alphabetical)

Black Joe Lewis -- Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!
The Decemberists -- The Hazards of Love
Do Make Say Think -- Other Truths
Medeski, Martin & Wood -- Radiolarians III
Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band -- s/t
Elvis Perkins -- In Dearland
Phoenix -- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down -- Know Better Learn Faster
Various -- Dark Was the Night compilation
John Zorn (Cohen/Perowsky/Burger) -- Alhambra Love Songs


The Black Hollies -- Softly Toward The Light
The Dead Weather -- Horehound
Doves -- Kingdom of Rust
Iron & Wine -- Around the Well
Grizzly Bear -- Veckatimest
Norah Jones -- The Fall
Jorma Kaukonen -- River of Time
Medeski, Martin & Wood -- Radiolarians II
Wolfmother -- Cosmic Egg
John Zorn -- Filmworks XXIII - El General


Air -- Love 2
The Avett Brothers -- I and Love and You
Andrew Bird -- Useless Creatures
The Clientele -- Bonfires on the Heath
Dirty Projectors -- Bitte Orca
Lisa Hannigan -- Sea Sew
The Phenomenal Handclap Band -- s/t
Jonah Smith -- Lights On
White Denim -- Fits
John Zorn -- O'o


Akron/Family -- Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free
The Bakerton Group -- El Rojo
Derek Trucks Band -- Already Free
The Fiery Furnaces -- I'm Going Away
Hopewell -- Good Good Desperation
Masada Quintet -- Stolas
Elvis Perkins -- Doomsday EP
Rashanim -- The Gathering
Tortoise -- Beacons of Ancestorship
The Wooden Birds -- Magnolia


Apostle of Hustle -- Eats Darkness
Califone -- All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Eels -- Hombre Loco
Feldman/Caine/Cohen/Baron -- Secrets
Bill Frisell -- Disfarmer
Patterson Hood -- Murdering Oscar
Marissa Nadler -- Little Hells
Roman Candle -- Oh Tall Tree in the Ear
St. Vincent -- Actor
Southeast Engine -- From the Forest to the Sea

1 comment:

neddy said...

Yes, I'm commenting on my own post and no one will read this, but got a couple albums recently that need to be on this list. Not sure where, but up there:

a) Wayne Krantz/Tim Lefebvre/Keith Carlock's 1st/only studio album is stunningly good. Somehow captured the glory of the live with a clean, elegant studio spirit.... and vocals(!)

b) Yo La Tengo -- Popular Songs. Wow! Awesome. Totally awesome. One of those "Q: what kind of music do you like? A: All of it" kind of albums.