OK, I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m disappointed with how I performed as a music nerd this year. Really, really let down; I mean it’s sort of crushing to look back at the year and think about how many records I just never got around to. But, to my credit, 2009 was a hell of a year. I worked hard, I made a baby, I traveled, I lost my grandfather, I started school again, and ultimately I found myself in a new career opportunity.
I’m starting 2010 off right — buying a new turntable and trying to keep up the music habit as much as possible. Until then, though, here are the records this year I loved the most:
- Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
I’m an unapologetic Neko Case fanboy, so most of my friends probably aren’t surprised by this. Another very solid, very cohesive, very evocative group of songs from my favorite singer. Maybe not as staggering as Fox Confessor was to me a few years ago, but this was in heavy rotation almost all year and only got better every time I saw her live. Plus, best album cover ever.
- Cortney Tidwell – Boys
When I was in high school I claimed I didn’t really like female vocalists. Guess things have changed as I’ve gotten older, as evidenced by my two favorite records of the year. Cortney is Nashville’s finest in my book, and Boys is the kind of eclectic homespun genius where country noir meets dusty electronica meets psych freakouts and doesn’t really apologize anywhere in between. I can’t recommend this one enough, and if you live in Nashville you have to go see Cortney play live.
- Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
A sleepy pop masterpiece and easily one of the best collection of songs of the year. Regret that I never managed to see them live this year. Also, they had Michael “Voice of ‘Peg’ BGVs” McDonald sing a version of “While You Wait for the Others” as a B-Side, and that just has to be recognized as the weirdest collaboration of the year.
- Bowerbirds – Upper Air
Upper Air reminds me of songs rewritten from a hymnal. It doesn’t change any rules in songwriting, doesn’t bend any genres, doesn’t have any lyrical revelations. But it’s affecting and melodic and performed with a whole heap of conviction. Works for me.
- Mos Def – The Ecstatic
Finally, Mos Def makes another great album. Drags in the middle but the highlights prove he’s a better rapper than actor. (And I actually liked him in “Be Kind, Rewind.”)
- Dinosaur Jr. – Farm
Guitarmageddon!! Stompbox mania!! The shred fest only really works when the hooks are there, and there are great songs underneath all the fuzz. Plus, the album art is completely ridiculous.
- Fruit Bats – The Ruminant Band
They out-Wilco’d Wilco this year, I think. Alt-country influenced rock that reminds me of what I love about records like “Being There” or “Pneumonia”. [Sadly, “Wilco (The Album)” just didn’t really remind me of much of anything.]
- Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Hard not to love, except for maybe the “Love Like A Sunset” section, which feels like the most sadsack dance party ever and too early in the sequence for a long instrumental.
- Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Dan’s going to hate me, but I thought Animal Collective finally nailed whatever it is they do right. While their other records had songs that I loved, this one works all the way through by stripping down to the best of their freak-folk vibe, adding a dash of “Pet Sounds” sonic aspiration and lyrical naivety, and the trancey parts of dance music that work. It didn’t impress me much until I heard it loud, and then it moved me.
- St. Vincent – Actor
Love how unexpectedly propulsive these songs are, and “Marrow” is such a good song it makes me play it twice every time.
- Howlies – Trippin’ With Howlies
The most fun album of the year. Retro rock from Atlanta, and they nailed the vibe of their live shows.
- R.E.M. – Live at the Olympia
Probably deserves to be higher on the list based on how much play it’s gotten, but there’s nothing new here. However, there are 3 forty-year old guys sounding more vital than they have in a decade. Basically a dream setlist of the fan favorite songs that made them great, played loosely by a band that sounded too rehearsed for the last few years, and all delivered with a confident urgency that suits them well. I guess that happens when you’ve made a few crap albums and have something to prove. Rinses the taste out of my mouth from the “greatest hits” lap they did from 2000 – 2007.
- Califone – All My Friends are Funeral Singers
Headphone music. Every record Califone makes is better than the last.
- Built to Spill – There is No Enemy
Speaking of better than the last, it’s really good to have Built to Spill back.
- Doves – Kingdom of Rust
Reminded me why I used to REALLY love Brit-pop. Blows my mind that the world loves those Muppets in Coldplay but overlooks Doves. Anthemic.
- Richard Swift – The Atlantic Ocean
Despite the goofy cheap synth he uses throughout the ENTIRE album, Richard Swift makes me think of Billy Joel without all the guilt.
- The Dodos – Time to Die
The Dodos make the absolute worst album art I’ve ever seen. But this is a great next step for them — a little more reigned in, less sloppy, but without losing the dynamics. And they keep those huge drums.
- Akron/Family – Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free
Same as above, really. Miss some of the weirdness from “Love is Simple” but another solid record.
- Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Sugar rush. This is Friday 5Pm music. Completely derivative and dripping with teenage sentimentality, but impossible not to sing along to.
- Cotton Jones – Paranoid Cocoon
From a purely sonic standpoint, this is probably my favorite album of the year. The songs are sleepy, same-y, and paint with the same shade of gray, but this album uses those primary colors so naturally I found myself reaching for it again and again because of just how “lived in” it feels.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
A few of my favorite songs from the year (in no real particular order):
- Animal Collective – “My Girls”
Best hook of the year?
- Bill Callahan – “Jim Cain”
A perfect example of what I love most about Bill Callahan — simple songs, delivered like only he can with patient arrangements.
- Neko Case – “Prison Girls”
Creepy and fantastic.
- Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks”
Perfect electronic piano sound and maybe the best song on an album full of really great songs.
- The National – “So Far Around the Bend”
My favorite song by The National for two reasons: 1) the horn section and 2) “praying for Pavement to get back together.”
- St. Vincent – “Marrow”
Incredible. That chorus is so unbelievably good.
- Real Estate – “Black Lake”
Sonic perfection. Love the vibe.
- Bowerbirds – “Northern Lights”
Sounds like prayer to me.
- Mos Def – “Revelations”
Maybe my favorite Mos Def song? Great sample, great rhyme, great hook.
- Akron/Family – “River”
Makes me want to dance around a campfire.
- The Privates – “You Never Take Me Dancing”
Rollum Haas is an incredible drummer. This song is good because of that, and also because the song is great.
- Vetiver – “Rolling Sea”
Saturday morning music. Makes me think of my grandfather — was on heavy repeat the last weekend I spent with him.
- Fruit Bats – “Beautiful Morning Light”
- Pains of Being Pure at Heart – “Young Adult Friction”
Man, I know I should probably shrug this off, but this is CATCHY business.
- Beach House – “Norway”
Admittedly not fair — the record comes out next year. But this song is so good I’m putting it in 2010. Woozy and beautiful. Heavy repeat for the last few weeks (and probably the next few too).
- The Dead Weather – “Treat Me Like Your Mother”
I need a break from Jack White mania in Nashville, but I’ll admit that this song swaggers in the best way possible. Cool video, too.
- Mason Jennings – “Black Wind Blowing”
As Steven and I have discussed, I have conflicting feelings about Mason Jennings but this modern Cain-and-Abel murder ballad is so harrowing and affecting I couldn’t stop listening to it