I love this time of year. I’ve found some of my favorite music in the past going through the year-end lists at Pitchfork, Emusic, WFMU, Hype Machine, and various random blogs. I always end up stumbling across something great I’ve never heard of or meant to listen to but forgot, etc.
Sharing is caring and I’d be remiss not to throw my choices out there in hopes someone else will discover something they’ll come to love.
So here are my favorites from 2009 as I remember them, in alphabetical order. All very worth owning and loving, IMHO. I’m going to include streaming players for a few of them but not all because too many of these little Flash widgets on the page might freak your Web browser out, and I don’t want to do that.
Amadou & Mariam – Welcome To Mali [buy from Amazon]
Funky and soulful, worldly yet modern, Amadou and Miriam are blind, 50+, from Mali, and opened for Coldplay this year. What a world.
Antony and The Johnsons – The Crying Light [buy from Amazon]
Three cheers for Antony and Bloomington’s own Secretly Canadian.
Apathy – Wanna Snuggle? [buy from Amazon]
Still underrated, Apathy released this incredibly solid record in late 2009. Yeah, he’s a friend but I listened to this album so many times this year because I love it, not because I know the dude. Check out the tracks “I’m a Demigod” and “Victim”.
Bat For Lashes – Two Suns [buy from Amazon]
I heard a few people say they were disappointed by this and I wasn’t blown away at first but after multiple headphone listens on a few plane rides I fell in love. This got many many many spins (in a row) from me this year.
Built To Spill – There Is No Enemy [buy from Amazon]
I love Built to Spill. Doug Martsch is as important an artiste as our generation has, IMHO. He makes these amazing records sound effortless, like he could create them in his sleep. Keep ’em comin, plz.
Chuck Prophet – ¡Let Freedom Ring! [buy from Amazon]
A great late-in-the-year entry. I can’t stop listening to this. It’s a relatively basic rock record, with hints of Petty, Springsteen, Stones, and even The Kinks, but when rock-n-roll songwriting is witty and sublime, delivered with attitude, and recorded sounding live in Mexico City by Greg Leisz, what’s not to like?
Dave Rawlings Machine – A Friend of a Friend [buy from Amazon]
Dave Rawlings is best known as the incredible guitar player who plays alongside Gillian Welsh but he’s been doing shows here in LA at Largo all summer with a crazy cast of characters ranging from Gillian to John Paul Jones under the name “Dave Rawlings Machine”. Finally he’s released some of the Machine’s goodness on an album. Hit play on the above and check out just the first song — “Ruby” is as fine a slice of Americana as has ever come before it. I play it over and over and over.
Dinosaur Jr – Farm [buy from Amazon]
Let’s hear it for the silver foxes! I’m such a huge J Mascis fan I wasn’t that excited for the D Jr reunion — I love the Mascis records where *he* plays drums (check out the J Mascis and The Fog records if you haven’t heard them, he’s a monster behind the kit as well as the axe). But Farm delivers. “I love my guitar more than anything” gems dripping with Mascis melody with a couple straight up Sebadoh numbers in the middle? Yeah, count me in.
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca [buy from Amazon]
I liked the idea of an arty band covering Black Flag’s Damaged, but try as I might, I couldn’t get into Dirty Projectors’ 2007 release, Rise Above. Bitte Orca is another story. I love the way this album sounds. Saying their sound is unique is an understatement, but the songs really work and hold up, too. We managed to catch them live at Bonnaroo this year and I was really impressed. I’m buying the hype here.
Dizzee Rascal – Tongue N Cheek [buy from iTunes]
I wasn’t a big fan of Dizzee early on but I loved Maths + English. Tongue N Cheek hasn’t even been released here in the US apart from iTunes yet which is too bad because this is a great record. Highly recommended if you’re so inclined.
The Drones – Havillah [buy from artist]
Australia’s The Drones, who I usually describe to the uninitiated as a cross between Neil Young and The Laughing Hyenas, are the most underrated rock band in the world (again, IMHO). I fell in love with their 2005 record Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By but the follow ups Gala Mill and this year’s Havillah have each been incredible in their own way. The Drones have probably accounted for more damage to my car speakers than any other band. Grab Havillah, turn the volume to its maximum, and enjoy.
DISCLAIMER: They released this album direct-to-fan via Topspin. Because I stalked them.
Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport [buy from Amazon]
Fuck Buttons win the “music to work to” award, 2009. Followed closely by…
Fever Ray – Fever Ray [buy from Amazon]
Half of The Knife returns with an amazingly great, moody (creepy, even) record. This is another one on my list that pushed me through many a long flight/email marathon.
Future Of The Left – Travels With Myself And Another [buy from Amazon]
When McClusky broke up we all cried. Until they formed Future Of The Left and released Curses, which was even better. And now a second full-length and a tour — it’s Christmas all year long. Obtuse, poignant one-liners, repeated over fuzz bass and sometimes mathy riffs, FotL are new punk, no retro, the real deal. Not as exciting as if there was a new Steel Pole Bath Tub record in 2009, but close.
Get Busy Committee – Uzi Does It [buy from artist]
If you read this blog you know I manage this band so this entry probably doesn’t surprise you, but you also know I manage this band because I LOVED THIS RECORD when I heard it so I think it’s a valid entry despite my personal involvement. More blog posts to come on this topic (I just haven’t had time the past few weeks, sorry) but this has been a very fun project and we’re far from done. Look for lots of goodies (including a new album) from GBC in 2010. For now buy one of the Uzi-shaped USB flash drives before they’re all gone, we have less than 100 in-stock and I hand-package each one right here in my house.
Girls – Album [buy on Amazon]
One of Lucinda’s (age 3) favorites of the year (after we took her to see them live), this is still on repeat in our house/car. Beautiful. And there’s nothing like hearing a three year-old sing the chorus to “Hellhole Ratrace”.
Japandroids – Post-Nothing [buy on Amazon]
Are Japandroids 2009’s Death From Above 1979? Two dudes from Canada hiding incredible songwriting and melodies under a wall of sound? Yeah, guess so. Saw this duo live recently, too. Ultimate energy and connection to the crowd. The real deal. Gives me hope.
Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications [buy on Amazon]
Speaking of the real deal, Jarvis Cocker found himself making a record at Steve Albini’s studio and while his wit might have gotten trampled afoot by the rock it’s still full of gems. “Angela” and “I Never Said I Was Deep” are instant JC classics.
Jay Reatard – Watch Me Fall [buy from Amazon]
It was a big year for Jay Reatard. From the underground to Matador, two singles collection releases, a $75 fan club, and a tour where his band quit. The first Matador record, Watch Me Fall, is probably the highlight, though. Take a listen.
DISCLAIMER: The above-mentioned fan club is Topspin-powered.
Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – ‘Em Are I [buy from Amazon]
Jeffrey Lewis’ 12 Crass Songs is still one of my favorite records of the past however many years, but I love this new collection of originals, too. Understated, poetic honesty. Is this what they call “new folk”? Whatever. ‘Tis great. “Slogans” is a corker, “Broken Broken Heart” is one of the best sad songs of the decade, and “To Be Objectified” seems contrived at first but turns out to be the work of a genius working patiently at his craft.
Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine [by from Amazon]
Maybe it’s just my age but the people I know don’t seem as excited to hear a new Jello Biafra record in 2009 as they were in 1981. But take a listen, he’s nearly as good now as ever, pointed lyrics over excellent, raw music (provided by Ralph from The Victims Family). Don’t front. If you ever liked Jello, you’ll still like Jello. He hasn’t softened at all, have you?
Let’s Wrestle – In The Court Of The Wrestling Let’s [buy at Amazon]
Another late entrant (for me), I forgot to throw this on after Yancey from Kickstarter told me this was his favorite band and I regretted the lost time when I finally got around to it. Let’s Wrestle are limey indie rockers with the sense of humor of Art Brut but lyrical abilities leaning more toward Morrissey. According to their Wikipedia page they are “ultimatly trying to be as raw as possible and they try to write songs that make your soul crumble as well as making you smile, sing along and clap your hands”. It’s working, lads, keep it coming!
Magnolia Electric Co. – Josephine [buy at Amazon]
Some Magnolia fans thought this record was a downer but not me. I could put on pretty much anything in their catalog any time of day and be happy.
Metric – Fantasies [buy from artist]
It’s been beyond fun to watch Metric do their thing this year, a band with no label selling records, selling out clubs, playing larger clubs every month, getting radio play, etc. What magic trick did they play to make it happen? They made a great record that was true to their growing fan base and accessible to an even larger group of people. This album was a huge favorite in our household this year, one that was loved by both girls (age 3 and 19) as well as mom and dad.
Mission Of Burma – The Sound the Speed the Light [buy on Amazon]
Can you name another time when a seminal band has disappeared only to reappear 20+ years later and be EVEN MORE vital than they were originally? The Sound The Speed The Light is not as chaotic and is more melodic than The Obliterati (one of my favorite albums of the last few years, period), but different isn’t bad in this case — this record rules.
Morrissey – Years of Refusal [buy on Amazon]
I was never a huge Smiths fan and had never really spent much time with Morrissey’s solo records until You Are The Quarry, which I loved more than anything he’d done previously. Also produced by the late Jerry Finn (his last), Years Of Refusal is as close to You Are The Quarry as you could ask for. Forget what you think about Morrissey and spend some time with both of these albums.
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone [buy on Amazon]
Another family favorite, Neko Case still gets almost daily play in our house and this album has been on repeat all year. At Bonnaroo this summer our friend Jeff Colvin was in the back seat with a then two-year old Lucinda. We turned on the local Bonnaroo FM and Neko Case was playing. Lucinda turned to Jeff and said matter of factly before anyone else commented, “That’s Neko Case.” I think then he understood why I dragged her across the country to see live music, Neko in particular.
P.O.S. – Never Better [buy on Amazon]
I’d like to officially thank Leonard Lin for turning me on to this early in the year. One of my favorite hip hop albums in recent memory, for sure. It’s hard for me to find hip hop that captures the spirit which made me love hip hop once upon a time and this does it. Smart, furious, and punk as fuck. I love it.
The Soundtrack Of Our Lives – Communion [buy on Amazon]
Soundtrack of Our Lives returned after a five year hiatus with a 24-track double album, a song for every hour of the day. I love everything about this album, starting with the cover.
Spinnerette – Spinnerette [buy on Amazon]
Brody from The Distillers re-emerged this year with a record I loved without any guilt. But it was Lucinda who asked this to be played over and over this year — another family favorite. Sorry but I’ll take this record over either Them Crooked Vultures or Dead Weather any day.
NON-DISCLAIMER: While Spinnerette released singles via Topspin, this full-length album was not released via Topspin.
The Thermals – Now We Can See [buy on Amazon]
Forget Green Day, The Thermals rule the pop-punk concept album mountain. Simple tunes you can’t get out of your head which happen to be about the circle (or evolution) of life.
Vetiver – Tight Knit [buy on Amazon]
I’m calling any 2009 best-of list which doesn’t include this album suspect. We’ve played this album over and over and over this year. It’s also responsible for one of my favorite moments, a cross-country, three way Skype call with my daughter and my mom where we all found ourselves talking about how much we love Vetiver and this album. When three generations can all get what ails them from one album it’s either a great family, a great album, or both. Another great Vetiver moment this year was standing next to Cardinal Neal Casal at the Vetiver show while he sang every word. HE’S the real deal, and he was pointing at them, saying they’re the real deal. (Neal’s 2009 Topspin-released record is great, too, check it out at this link.)
White Denim – Fits [buy on Amazon]
This band is just unreal. If you’ve never seen them live, please do at the first opportunity. But recorded they’re incredible, too. I wish I could easily compare them to something but really, they’re just their own animal, the sum of their component parts: an incredible rhythm section and a guitar player who is sometimes funky sometimes proggy and sometimes just writing a song to sing. Fits finally came out on Downtown coupled with last year’s under-distributed album, too, and at $5 for all 23 MP3s has to be the best bargain in rock. Dig in and enjoy.
NON-DISCLAIMER: While their last record was released via Topspin, this album is not.
The XX – XX [buy on Amazon]
This was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I’d never heard of them when the label sent me a link to the MP3s. I downloaded, stuffed in my iTunes, and forgot about for a couple weeks. Then, when rummaging for something to listen to one day, I decided to give it a bash. I was taken immediately. Wow. Then to find out this seductive, mature album was made by *teenagers*? Woah. Love it. Really a special treasure.
And one final favorite…Reissue of the year, hands down:
Death – …For the Whole World to See
If you haven’t already read the NYT article Mike Rubin wrote about and bought this long lost 1975 proto-punk masterpiece, don’t hesitate. It turns out there was a bridge between The Stooges, The MC5, and Bad Brains, and they were Death. This thing blows my mind over and over and over.
And just for Bob Lefsetz, who says I’m too nice and never dis, here’s a list of albums I wanted to like, or everyone else seemed to like, but I couldn’t get in to:
Animal Collective – Meriweather Post Pavilion
I loved the Panda Bear record but I’m yet to find an AC record I truly love.
Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
I want to like Bill Callahan, but I just can’t get into it.
DJ Quik & Kurupt – BlaQKout
I was excited about this record, I’m a Quik fan and the idea of him teaming up with Kurupt for a guilty pleasure masterpiece was exciting to me. But I played it twice and then didn’t come back to it, unfortunately.
St. Vincent – Actor
This record sounds cool enough sonically but I didn’t find myself returning to it at all.
Real Estate – Real Estate
Like Fleet Foxes for me last year — what’s all the excitement about? Makes me sleepy.
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
See Real Estate.
Woods – Songs of Shame
See Grizzly Bear.
The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come
I wish I liked The Mountain Goats but they are officially “for others”.
That’s it! Thanks for another great year, music. You’re the best.
Please let me know what albums I forgot in the comments. Would love to find some more great stuff I forgot. There are a few albums I’m guessing should be on this list but I just haven’t put the time into yet.
For some more hits from 2009, check out my daughter Zoe’s “Best of 2009″ show on MIT’s WMBR from December 14th. Click here to stream.
Music is the best,