Our own brilliant Elijah Wade Smith posted his favorite new albums of the year a bit early this year (August) [ELIJAH ADDS: and with a stated reason for doing so…], but I’d like to pick up where he left off and share some favorite albums from this year, along with my definitive songs of 2009 and one marvelous musical discovery…
Since Elijah already listed 4 of the albums I would have chosen (We Were Promised Jetpacks, Cass McCombs, Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective), I will use this space to highlight 10 other albums (3 of which earned an honorable mention from my esteemed colleague). Between my regular CD purchases and my beloved eMusic account (which I was not paid in any way to mention), I was able to purchase around 50 albums this year, but I still feel like I have certainly neglected many more releases that should have been heard (e.g. I have not heard one note of the new Muse album).
Sadly, this year some of my favorite artists only turned out middling efforts at best (Andrew Bird, Jeremy Enigk, Imogen Heap, Patrick Watson) and deeply disappointing at worst (Doves, Pete Yorn, Morrissey). The jury is still out on the new Swell Season album (feelings are ambivalent–is it too derivative or a purposeful homage?) and I intentionally neglected to include U2‘s album, as I am unable to evaluate their work in isolation from their status/body of work. A final note: though Sufjan Stevens‘ “The BQE” was released this October, it feels like it belongs to another year (2007, when it was initially performed)…I will say that I LOVED his “You Are the Blood” on the Dark Was the Night compilation, and of course, I admire his work in general more than anything else I’ve ever heard, so I’m sure any appraisal of it would be unfairly elevated as well.
Without further caveat, I give you (alphabetically listed) the best, with my best…
TOP TEN ALBUMS (not on Elijah’s list):
• Lou Barlow—Goodnight Unknown: I would include Barlow amongst the best living American songwriters. His stylistic range is somewhat limited (he’s practically copyrighted a particular kind of staccato down strum), but if it isn’t broke…(I couldn’t force the “ain’t” in there). He’s lyrically sentimental on some songs, but it’s the tender truthful sort, and then in other places he’s brutally insightful. A beautiful, rich album: see “Gravitate,” “Too Much Freedom,” and “Modesty.”
• David Bazan—Curse Your Branches: To quote from the Barsuk Records press release:
“…Curse your branches is his masterpiece — a beautiful, passionate, profoundly courageous work of art that deserves and will reward your close attention. It is a deeply personal, frankly autobiographical dispatch from the front lines of a crisis of faith. Song after song peers deep into the abyss of insoluble mysteries and comes up with something far more useful than answers.”
Do I agree? Maybe. Still, it’s light years better than any of the shite that makes millions these days.
• Neko Case—Middle Cyclone: One day, I drove my sister-in-law Megan’s truck up to LAX to pick her up and this CD was in the player. Love at first listen. I knew her voice from The New Pornographers (lovely, fierce, voluptuous), but her singing her own melodies and lyrics = twisted longing & lovely loss. The experience was so intensely moving I ended up listening to all 30 minutes of the last song–which is only the sound of crickets in the field outside her studio.
• Hayden—The Place Where We Lived: He was on my top 10 last year…how in the heck did he put another little gem together so quickly. I will say that he may be an acquired taste, so do give this album a test run before you trust my quirk-happy palate.
• Lightning Dust—Infinite Light: I have no recollection of where I came across this album, but it’s a rare flower: timeless (and therefore similar to what has come before) and unique (the quaver of the singer’s vibrato–again, may not be to all tastes–and her wry, experienced, and [creepy to say it] sexy delivery…kind of a Chick Jagger if you get my meaning).
• Passion Pit—Manners: The sound of this album is like eating a substantial meal of sweets. I’m not sure if people can keep from loving this band…it is my kid’s number one choice off my iPod. Unbelievable hooks, propulsive beats & a mystifying falsetto…
• The Low Anthem—Oh My God, Charlie Darwin: I’m just going to admit that before two weeks ago, I knew only the name of this band. I am so seriously excited about looking more into this band, past & future…go to iTunes and listen to the first three songs (then skip the next two) and tell me you can’t hear the talent. I’m anxious to figure out the evolution (if you will) of the lyrical themes, but it’s work I look forward to.
• Matt & Kim—Grand: Another admission–I only discovered this band because of the placement of their insanely catchy song “Daylight” in a Bacardi ad. BUT these two performers give me hope for the next generation of bands…and they DIY’d it without the help of a guitar, fueled only by raw passion and teen spirit.
• The Mountain Goats—The Life of the World to Come: Every song is named after a passage from the Bible, but just listen to the lyrics and you’ll know you’re not in Jesusland: “I became a crystal healer and my ministry was to the sick / Creeping vines would send out runners and seek me in their numbers / I sold self-help tapes.” I would strongly recommend “Hebrews 11:40,” “1 John 4:16,” and “Deuteronomy 2:10.” I haven’t yet looked up any of the scripture references, but I think that the passages will probably function in a way similar to the inspiration of the 10 commandments in Krysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue. Perhaps this could be a topic for some student of theology & culture…in Scotland?
• Regina Spektor—Far: This album almost didn’t make this list due to the dolphin noises she makes at exactly 2 minutes into “Folding Chair”–she needs a naysayer in her entourage. But she can write a pop song or melancholy ballad with her piano and lovely, funny voice like nobody’s business (see “Laughing With,” “Human of the Year,” and “Genius Next Door” along with most of the other cuts…though “Machine” is a bit awkward as well). She’s really amazing…
BEST SONGS OF THE YEAR:
I made an iMix of these which can be found by pasting the words “Sgt Grumbles Best Songs 2009” into the iTunes iMix search box…570 seconds of goodness at least.
- “Charlie Darwin”: The Low Anthem/Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
- “Hard To Be”: David Bazan/Curse Your Branches
- “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)”: Monsters Of Folk/Monsters Of Folk
- “Ten Thousand Words”: The Avett Brothers/I And Love And You
- “Laughing With”: Regina Spektor/Far
- “Too Much Time”: John Vanderslice/Romanian Names
- “Two Weeks”: Grizzly Bear/Veckatimest
- “Little Secrets”: Passion Pit/Manners
- “My Girls”: Animal Collective/Merriweather Post Pavilion
- “Wondering What Everyone Knows”: Lightning Dust/Infinite Light
- “Daylight”: Matt and Kim/Grand
- “Modesty”: Lou Barlow/Goodnight Unknown
- “The Pharoahs”: Neko Case/Middle Cyclone
- “Deuteronomy 2:10”: The Mountain Goats/The Life Of The World To Come
- “The Executioner’s Song”: Cass McCombs/Catacombs
- “An Almighty Thud”: We Were Promised Jetpacks/These Four Walls
- “I Want You Back”: Discovery/LP
- “Let It Last”: Hayden/The Place Where We Lived
- “Lille”: Lisa Hannigan/Sea Sew
• The album The Texas/Jerusalem Crossroads by the band Lift to Experience. I don’t completely know how to describe how important this album has become to me. It is simply one of the most fascinating ALBUMS ever recorded, as in a musical composition where everything is working together towards one purpose/theme on EVERY LEVEL IMAGINABLE. You listen to it, and you must listen to in IN ITS ENTIRETY & you feel like you are in some run down warehouse listening to them play, no CREATE–right there and then–this mad, apocalyptic masterpiece of beauty and fierce passion that is flowing in some profane mixture of Ahab-esque monomania and true divine inspiration. I don’t have the inclination to ruin the bizarre experience of discerning the “tale” of this one-of-a-kind concept album, but here is a formula that may help give a sense of what we’re talking about here:
Jeff Buckley + Explosions in the Sky + My Bloody Valentine (the book of Revelation/ fundamentalist preacher’s kid) + Texan pride/outsider art (messiah complex) – worst album cover art ever (it looks like it was designed on Microsoft Word!) = one of the greatest albums ever
I was going to include some books, but I’ve asked enough of your time. I will be back with more later…