I figure if I can get this in by the end of January it still counts. The following is my list of top 5 albums of 2009.
- 5. Dirty Projectors- Bitte Orca:
I have to admit I really like this record, even better than Rise Above (which was great!). Not because I’m on the Afropop-appreciation-train that all “indie” (don’t even get me started on that label….perhaps that’s a future post) bands are doing these days. Sure it takes from other genres- but it’s utilizing what it takes, not imitating it. I think it’s fresh. The orchestration, the production, the harmonies are solid. And although I can see how people might find Dave Longstreth’s vocals a little annoying; I do like it better when Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle harmonize, but I don’t mind his voice.
4. Dark Was The Night (compilation):
This double-disc album makes the cut almost equally because of the great songs on the collection as well as the fact that it is a compilation that holds up to multiple listens! Not since the Grateful Dead tribute Deadicated, have I liked a compilation so much. Highlights include The Books version of my favorite Nick Drake song Cello Song, the Bon Iver tune, the Sufjan Stevens song for doing something completely unlike Sufjan Stevens and it not sucking, the Buck 65 song, the guilty-pleasure anthem Hey Snow White by The New Pornographers, and So Far Around the Bend because it’s more music from The National.
3. Califone- All My Friends Are Funeral Singers:
I have to say, on first listen I was somewhat hesitant about this album. It seemed like the most coherent or accessible Califone album to date. Not that I need to listen to inaccessible music or something haughty like that. It just seemed like they didn’t deconstruct this one enough. But each consecutive listen just made me love the songs more. They are just good songs. In fact, I think my anthem for 2009, more than any song on my #1 album of 2009 is track 4, Funeral Singers. Like all Califone albums it sounds great: wonderful guitar tones, ambient noises, layers, good percussion. All My Friends Are Funeral Singers has a good mix of bluesy or traditional songs vs. more contemporary arrangements and plenty of space for Jim Becker to shine, my personal vote for Califone’s secret weapon. I espeecially love the piano break-down on Giving Away The Bride. This album came out late in the year so it is going to heavily influence my 2010, I can tell. (Also, major points for best use of steel drum since Jane’s Addiction’s Jane Says.)
2. Wussy- Wussy:
The first time I heard this album, my friend Chuck Cleaver asked me to deliver a package to his ex-lover (and the co-songwriter/guitarist of Wussy) Lisa who was living in Chicago at the time. The future of the band was in peril, as Lisa was thinking of staying in Chicago. He was distraught because of not only losing a friend and lover but the potential loss of the best songwriting partner he’s ever had (and I agree). He invited me out for a ride to listen to the current master on a good stereo. We drove around Cincinnati late at night New Years Eve eve on empty highways not talking much and listening to this album from beginning to end. I can’t think of an album more appropriate to be titled eponymously. This album perfectly distills the things that make Wussy a great band: great lyrics and harmonies by Chuck and Lisa (I LOVE male/female vocal groups), the best thick soupy noise and drone distortion this side of Sonic Youth, playful instrumental flourish from Mark Messerly, and real emotion and heartache. That night Chuck played the album for me he also introduced me to the band Frightened Rabbit. He remarked at one amazing turn of phrase something to the effect of “Why didn’t I write that?” Well, Chuck, I think if Scott Hutchinson heard this record he’d say the same thing. The only thing missing are Chuck’s self-deprecating anecdotes in between songs.
- 1. Why?- Eskimo Snow
As with most albums that I love, I didn’t start out liking this record the first time I heard it. Not for the reason most critics (professional or not) have cited, but because it didn’t connect with me right away. I had the same reaction with last year’s Alopecia, which I now think is their best record yet. Alopecia is a little more engaging than it’s sister record Eskimo Snow (both were recorded in the same 2007 sessions) which is a little more subtle and quite a bit more introspective. Which is saying a lot for a Why? record. Once you start to parse this record the songs just grab you. Reviewers have asked Yoni what the cause was for separating the two records rather than making a double-album, he usually responded with comments about how the albums were recorded. Alopecia had more mics close to the instruments and Eskimo Snow had more room mics. The biggest thing I notice is that there is more space on Eskimo Snow, even outside of the production. The songs get to breathe a bit. The musicianship is, as usual, stellar; poignant percussion by Josiah, beautiful arrangements by Doug. It’s nice to see Matt Meldon back with the group, albeit as a guest. But the best thing, as with all Why? records, is the songwriting. If I could do anything half as good as Yoni turns a phrase, I’d be a happy man. I usually joke about someone being a poet for our times, but I think Yoni might just be ours.
Turmeric- Triage (Blur Study):
Because this technically falls into the EP category, this doesn’t make it into the top 5 list, but it is a damn good record! From concept to execution this is a great piece. However, nothing is like seeing them do it live.
Dinosaur Jr.- Farm:
As my friend Demetrius told me when he recommended it (paraphrased): “It’s a Dinosaur Jr. record. They’re not doing anything new. Dinosaur Jr. is always good. And this record has the original lineup. What more do you want?”
Tom Waits- Glitter & Doom Live:
Two reasons: a) It’s Tom Waits. b) Tom Tales (Disc 2).
Grizzly Bear- Veckatimest:
I’ve enjoyed hearing Grizzly Bear from time to time on my iTunes rotation. When I want to become familiar with a band I find some tracks online and put them into a folder on my desktop to play randomly while I work. Grizzly Bear’s certainly caught my ear on several occasions in that regard, but nothing was like seeing them play live at this year’s Pitchfork Festival. Their songs came alive, despite being plagued by soundman problems. Of all the acts I saw this year, their’s stood out. I went out and bought Veckatimest right away. My friend Nando hates on them a bit, saying that there are other bands doing what they do better (Fleet Foxes, etc.), but I think Grizzly Bear does some pretty great arranging, exemplified on this record.