Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 Favorites: Music

It was another interesting year in music, and for everything that i liked i know there were 10 more that i haven't yet discovered. despite the complaints that there isn't great music anymore, i have to disagree wholeheartedly. while fewer and fewer things are ubiquitous, the number of great releases in their niches is astounding. i continue to love amiestreet, the downloading service / community that, aside from word-of-mouth, continues to be my favorite place to discover and buy new music. so in no particular order, here are 10 of my favorites from 2009:

- St. Vincent: Actor. I was sold on the first listen of Annie Clark's 2007 debut, Marry Me, and feel no less emphatic about album #2, Actor. Smart arrangements, great personality in the vocals, and sharp-as-all-getout lyrics are the things that make me think that St. Vincent is one of the most compelling new artists around.

- The Veils: Sun Gangs. This was a record that seemed to be on everyone's Facebook status in the same week, and thanks to the early tip-offs i was able to get this one on amiestreet before it went to full price, though full price would have been well worth the price of entry. epic, self-serious stuff with heart and soul and great flexibility in vocals. it gives me the feeling of a collision with echo & the bunnymen, radiohead, and rufus wainwright, though rougher than all of them.

- Animal Collective: Merriwether Post Pavillion. After several years of hearing about Animal Collective, this was my first trip into full album land, and i have not been disappointed. freaky, rootsty, atmospheric, experimental - a great addition to mixes that can hold deerhoof AND fleet foxes together. and the cd cover's optical illusion is one of the cooler design gimmicks i've seen this year.

- The Mountain Goats: The Life Of The World To Come - i confess i'm late to the party on the mountain goats, since this is record #17. but wow. it's a beautiful song cycle that uses as titles various verses from the hebrew and christian scriptures, and launches into emotional territory that few religious artists come close to touching. the price of admission is justified by matthew 25:21 alone. mountain goats mastermind john darnielle creates a number of stories of peoples' passings set against the verse that reads, "His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’" one of the settings involves a story i later learned was based on darnielle's mother-in-law's cancer journey, and i cried like a baby remembering friends in years past who have succumbed to it, and then thinking of them in the light of that verse. every song has an illumination to it, and this one should probably top the list for emotional impact if not crank-it-up for repeated listens status.

- Deerhoof: Offend Maggie. i know, i know, it came out in october of '08, but i didn't buy it til '09 and i love deerhoof, so i must do something to spread the word. this band has become a favorite in the past 4-5 years, as they fly their freak flag, take big risks with noise and dynamics and generally keep my co-workers on their toes and on the lookout for noise bursts and unexpected twists and turns.

- Doves: Kingdom Of Rust. Doves are, to me, sort of like elbow, in that they have great success abroad, a low profile in the us, but continue to knock out consistently great albums with confidence. they have enough of a template to feel familiar, but take enough liberty to stay interesting and push their sound forward. so while other brit-bands can court tabloids and build empires, a band like doves can continue to grow a community that welcomes and keeps its members.

- Mew: No More Stories Are Told Today... and the rest of the pretentious and overlong title of the album can be read elsewhere. mew make unapollogetically dramatic music, bordering on pretentious, though i find it stirring and beautiful. how's that for borderline pretentious? but really, mew is music that creates an atmosphere that requires and creates space, something i have little of day to day, so perhaps i love this record because it takes me somewhere more open.

- Speech Debelle: Speech Therapy - my favorite hip-hop record from this year, though i confess i haven't had time to dig into mos def's latest, and i always loves me some mos def. this mercury prize-winning record from the uk finds the jamaican-born rapper in an amazingly transparent emotional space, all the while displaying a toughness that the hard-posturing caricatures that populate much of hip-hop can only aspire to. it's subtle, powerful and rewarding stuff from a voice that i'm glad amiestreet tipped me off to.

- Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - because they do classy things with pop music (pop in the traditional way, not american radio pop), and seem to be building their sound and following with each record. like doves, they have a foundation to build on, but keep taking risks, and aren't afraid to let us in on experiments like remixes and creative publicity-stunt-like performances that make them seem accessible and the kind of guys that would sit and have a drink after the show.

- Passion Pit: Manners - this one is a late entry to the list, but it's a synth-rock type of record that is just so much fun. it gives me the thought of human league, the noisettes and polyphonic spree all crashing into each other. there's joy, winking ironic-hipster stuff, but with conviction and skills. i'm glad i found this one and it continues to open up nuances with each listen.

there are many others that i liked as well but didn't get on here, so for posterity's sake i'll list a few more:

- deas vail - birds & cages
- monsters of folk - self-titled
- asobi seksu - hush
- muse - the resistance
- the xx - xx
- elle macho - !es potencial!
- au revoir simone - still night, still light
- arctic monkeys - humbug


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