Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best Albums of 2009 (25-6)

I hope you are enjoying my Top 50 albums, or pre-fabricated music experiences of the year (as opposed to live music). Here is 25-6:

25. Manners by Passion Pit- More white Indie Rock kids try their hand at dance music. What’s so special about that? I mean MGMT did it last year and we have all listened to LCD Sound System, Daft Punk and others. Right? True, but this is ridiculously infectious music that will make your body move if you allow it to infiltrate your corridors of coolness and detachment (if it worked on me, it can work on you). The highlights are Little Secret, Sleepyhead and To the Kingdom Come, all of which will be heard on soundtracks, commercials pretty much everywhere pretty soon.

24. Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective- I suppose my credibility card will be revoked for having this album outside the Top 10. It is a good album trying to walk the line between dance rock like the aforementioned Passion Pit and MGMT on one side and the forward thinking rock of Radiohead on the other. Sometime is works wonderfully, while at times it still leaves me cold (like Vampire Weekend). Technically it is probably a perfect album, but I miss the heart. I still think Panda Bear’s solo stuff is better.

23. Wilco (the album) by Wilco- At times I think this return to Wilco-ness should be higher. While it does not reach the heights of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost is Born, it is light years ahead of Sky Blue Sky. Instead of denying its journey while calling it a return, as Wilco did on Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (the album) ventures through the experimentalism of YHF and AGIB in its return to the simplicity of previous incarnations. Plus, the lightness of touch is a pleasant surprise. Kudos for the best self referential lyric of the year, and the best ever by a non-rap artist, “Wilco- a sonic shoulder to cry On, Wilco.” Thanks for being a sonic shoulder, Mr. Tweedy.

22. Far by Regina Spektor- Paste magazine missed the boat on this album. It gets a lot of airplay in my household, even if it does not hold up to the perfection of Begin to Hope. It is sweet, strange and you can dance to it, plus she is one of the best lyricists/ pianists/ songwriters working today, like Tori Amos or Fiona Apple with a happy home life. While some dismiss the album due to the inclusion of the song Machine, I will not disparage an album for an unfortunate chorus that should have been edited out of the final product.

21. Welcome to Mali by Amadou and Miriam- African music is becoming more musically and practically accessible for Americans. Therefore, any list of great albums of the year that does not include African artists is incomplete. If you want authentically African music you can groove to in a club, music that is at once traditional and modern, check into this album with the Damon Albarn produced gem Sabali. I guarantee you will love that song.

20. The Ecstatic by Mos Def- After his last disappointing turn behind the mic, Mos Def is back reminding us why he was a premier hip hop artist before turning his attention to acting (he is a wonderfully appealing screen presence). This is a smooth, funny, deep album full of lightening fast rhymes and music slightly less ordinary.

19. Troubadour by K'naan- I know, I know. I talk too much about K’naan (I am working on a piece for a magazine just to increase the obnoxious obsession). But, besides the guys at NPR’s All Songs Considered, I don’t hear anyone giving him the love he deserves. First of all, this album is not in the league of his debut. Of course, I think The Dusty Foot Philosopher is the best album of the decade bar none, so this was bound to be a disappointment after hearing a man turn such pain into art, like a rapping African Van Gogh. Aside from the unfortunate remake of Rap Gets Jealous (buy his first album and listen to the power of that song and ignore the crass commercialism of the new version), this is a great album giving us pop hits (Bang Bang), stories of Africa we never hear in the popular media (Somolia, T.I.A.) and the emotionally charged and bring you to tears Bob Marley-esque anthems like Waving Flag, a reminder of his 1st album.

18. A Brief History of the Big Pink by The Big Pink- I have a belief that music perfection must include inordinate amounts feedback, distortion and reverb. In fact, if there is such thing as “too much feedback” I am not aware of this phenomenon. That said, I love BRMC, Spiritualized, Jesus and the Mary Chain and The Verve. Add to the mix a bit of pop song structure and the formula completes itself for a guy like me. Solid album that was my soundtrack for an overcast day walking around NYC.

17. Fantasies by Metric- An album I think got lost in the shuffle when it came to making lists of the best albums of the year, this is apparently an under-heard and underappreciated jewel that is at once aggressive female-voiced led rock and roll and modern pop that is wonderfully open. My entire family loves this album, with smart lyrics dealing with gender issues, power and inner struggles, but in a very singable manner. As you may have noticed I love it when the music is sugar, while the lyrics are bitter. If I can pick one album on this list I can guarantee everyone (besides the snobbish wimpy folkies) will like, this is it.

16. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix- The dance pop album of the year, I dare you to dislike this infectious musical equivalent of Crème Brulee, another irresistible French dessert.

15. Get Guilty by A.C. Newman- The undisputed leader of one of the great power pop bands, the New Pornographers releases his best album and it gets forgotten by everyone. What is wrong with everyone? A.C. Newman is one of the smartest pop songwriters around, like Ben Folds with a guitar and more lyrical discipline.

14. Middle Cyclone by Neko Case- A.C. Newman’s muse released another superb collection of 70s era country songs that my parents would love if country music stations played the good stuff anymore. While not my favorite Case album (it may be #3), even an average work by Neko is going to make everyone’s list.

13. Veckatimist by Grizzly Bear- I acknowledge the greatness of this work, even if it is not my 13th favorite of the year. I am beginning to like it beyond the “hits” and considering the Brian Wilson worship Grizzly Bear live out, I eventually will love this album on a daily basis, as opposed to the present love of it sonically but not personally. It may be the best sounding album of 2009.

12. I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers- Produced by the incomparable Rick Rubin, The Brothers head away from the rave ups of the past towards a soulful sweetness. It is not the direction I had expected or wanted. In fact, I was disappointed they left much of the bluegrass on steroids and/or acid approach of previous incarnations. But, I need to acknowledge its subtle beauty. It is a gorgeous work, even if I was hoping for something different (not better, though).

11. It’s Blitz by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs- Given a choice, I would choose Metric’s latest, a similar album by a similar band. However, this effort is a little “more” than Metric’s. It is louder, rowdier, better produced, cooler and showier. But in this case, this is all a good thing. Also, check out leader Karen O’s soundtrack to Where the Wild Things Are. It is much more acceptable music for kids to parents that have discerning ears.

10. Elephants by Aaron Strumpell- One of 3 overtly spiritual albums in my Top 10, this is the only one that is expressly “Christian.” A thoroughly original work holding little in common with any other Christian artist (closest thing is Strumple’s work on Enter the Worship Circle projects, Waterdeep, mellow mewithoutyou, Sufjan’s weirdest flourishes and Rich Mullins’ more esoteric stuff), this rumination on the Psalms takes a few dedicated listens and a good set of speakers to allow to grab hold of you. Some say this album wails, which I would agree with and think is good company for Aaron to keep, considering the history of the Psalms and Israel.

9. Reservoir by Fanfarlo- “Belle and Sebastian, I would like to introduce you to The Arcade Fire.” Fanfarlo fits into the sub-genre of literary chamber pop, but with a bit of the cacophonous leaning of Devotchka and Beirut. This is another album I dare you to not like. The moment I heard the opening melodies on their myspace page, I stopped, went directly to song #2, listened for a few seconds and bought the album. Less than 30 seconds in, I knew I would love this album. That happens very seldom.

8. Actor by St. Vincent-Annie Erin Clark used to be part of Sufjan Stevens’ band and the Polyphonic Spree. She has moved beyond their conventions to create something wholly earthy and other, while still reminding most listeners of past musical heroines like Kate Bush and Bjork. While still mellow, there is a focused drive to this album built around tasteful, but intense guitar work (and dark lyrics- imagine that).

7. XX by The XX- Descriptions of this band and album tend to make people run screaming before giving it a listen. I know I ignored it for a while, even though the reviews were great. I gave it a quick listen and found it uninspiring. Then I gave it another chance and noticed that this quiet, 70s inspired male/ female duo was everything I wish Mates of State were. If you like simple, interesting music with little flourish, you may like The XX.

6. The Life of The World to Come by The Mountain Goats- Like Bill Mallonee or Bob Dylan, John Darnielle has a voice for those that like unvarnished, Auto-Tune free, slightly nasally singers that try to stay out of the way, so you can focus on the ridiculously poetic stories in which highly flawed people try to attain their salvation through whatever means they can find, sacred or secular. Unlike many Christian musicians that would take a passage of Scripture and regurgitate whatever their pastor or John Piper told them, Danielle takes a different approach on this album, in which he meditates on specific passages, using them as jumping off points for hard lessons, seekers of salvation and agnostic observations. It is compelling stuff with great lyrics like the prayer ‘send me a mechanic if I’m not beyond repair.” Amen to that. With albums like this I question the need for anything considered “Christian music (of course, I have questioned that for a decade or so).”


Steve McCoy said...

Kept meaning to come back here to comment.

I hadn't heard of Strumpel's Elephants until I saw it on your list. Thanks for that one. Also checking out The Big Pink, which sounds outstanding so far.

DJ Word said...

I think you will dig it a lot. it took me a few listens. It worked to hear it in the background and get used to it.

Judging from everything I think you like about music, from following you, I think Big Pink is totally your kind of band. You strike me as one that likes distortion and feedback.

Great minds think alike on Hospice. I went back and forth on it and Dearland as to which would be #1. 1 day before we would have had the same #1 (and hardly anyone else was noticing it- thanks to All Songs!).

Steve McCoy said...

Thanks to you I not only love The Big Pink, but I may get to see them in March. Trying to talk my wife into it.