Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 Records of 2009

Once again, the big trends in music for the year were completely lost on me. Usually I can easily identify a top album of the year, but this year I struggled.

So here's my top 10 list:

1) Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – Phoenix crossed over into the mainstream with the most undeniably catchy record of the year. Three of the best singles of the year ("Lisztomania," "1901," and "Lasso") on one album.

2) The Minor Canon: Emptiness Is Form – If you’re a fan of emotional, lyrically direct songs, this will be right up your alley. The record hits an early peak during “If Wishes Were Horses” when the furious guitar merges with screaming horns and a growing urgency in singer Paul Larson’s voice. Later in the record, the ferocity has faded away. In "Not There" Larson has given up hope on his lost love, but the pain's clearly not going away any time soon. The most overlooked record of the year.

3) Frankel: Anonymity Is the New Fame – Michael Orendy’s latest features another batch of great songs. So many publicists lazily slap the Elliott Smith tag onto promo stickers, but “Ticket Machine” actually earns a comparison. With its breathy, double-tracked vocals and complex arrangement, Orendy has a deep respect for Smith’s songcraft. While Orendy draws some sonic inspiration from Smith, his lyrics are less direct and his song meanings more opaque. If you’re into literate pop songs, Frankel’s the real deal.

4) Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears: Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! – For me, the biggest musical trend of the year was vintage soul music. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears were a perfect gateway to the past. As I dove headfirst into the Stax catalog, tracks like "Sugarfoot" and "Big Booty Woman" sounded classic.

5) Rodriguez: Coming From Reality – Kudos to Light in the Attic for digging up another lost classic from Sixto Rodriguez. Originally released in 1971, Coming From Reality is another slightly dangerous, completely anti-establishment record. This time around big string arrangements in songs like "Sandrevan Lullaby-Lifestyles" augment the disappointment conveyed in Rodriguez's lyrics. Powerful stuff.

6) Girls: Album – It sounds like some lost, late 1970s demos from Elvis Costello and that's perfectly cool with me.

7) Dinosaur Jr.: Farm – I could listen to J. Mascis play guitar all day.

8) Phosphorescent: To Willie – A tribute album on my top 10 list? The record came out early in the year and I never got sick of it. Matthew Houck's relaxed vocal style suits Willie Nelson's songs very well. Seeing them having so much fun while performing these songs at SXSW helped.

9) Polvo: In Prism – Great to see one of my favorite bands from college back in top form. All the noise bands that hide behind shitty production and lack of skill at your instruments, please pay attention.

10) The xx: xx - I first got into this because it was inoffensive background music that didn't distract me while I was working. But it slowly seeped into my consciousness. Make out music for art school kids.

Ten more records I was digging on:
Neil Young: Archives - Impressive box set, but the price hurt it a bit.
Death: For the Whole World To See - Great collection of proto-punk from the early 1970s.
BLK JKS: After Robots - Hard to completely wrap your head around what these South Africans are doing, but I keep returning to it.
Silversun Pickups: Swoon - Good kids and so well produced.
Brendan Benson: My Old, Familiar Friend - Great pop songwriter.
Division Day: Visitation - A huge leap forward for the band.
Andrew Bird: Noble Beast - A tad precious, but I just can't deny his talent.
Jason Lytle: Yours Truly, the Commuter - Not unlike Grandaddy, and that's what I wanted from a Lytle solo record.
Sonic Youth: The Eternal - In the middle of their third decade of music making and still putting out great stuff.
Future of the Left: Travels with Myself and Another - Intense post-hardcore. They've got musical chops.

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