It’s that time of year again. I resolve to loose weight, not make an ass out of myself at the company Christmas party and dole out a list of unsolicited opinions about ten records.
It’s that time of year again. I resolve to loose weight, not make an ass out of myself at the company Christmas party and dole out a list of unsolicited opinions about ten records.
2009 has been an incredible year of good music. It’s been an incredible year for me personally too. Because of that, the albums I have picked have all resonated with my heart quite a bit. This does not cancel out the fact that I have given them a serious critical listen from a technical standpoint as well. But sometimes I wonder the old chicken and egg question with these picks such as would I have liked these albums so much if I had been in a different place in my life right now? Who’s to say and really does it even matter? A song either strikes us or it doesn’t and everything is about timing anyway, I believe. So, with that in mind, here are my picks for 2009:
10. Mountain Meadows – Elliott Brood. Canadian rockers with rootsy, gutsy tunes. This was a surprise find and I love this album.
9. Build Me This – Joshua James. From Nebraska, he has mega talent as a songwriter. The song “Coal War” is epic in scope and dynamics. The whole album is superb.
8. Strict Joy – The Swell Season. Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova formed this duo after the making of the film Once. Glen also fronts the Irish band The Frames. He sings with so much passion and soul it really gets to my core. Plus it is an absolutely beautiful album.
7. Everybody – Ingrid Michaelson. Ingrid is an artist of this place and time in our technical age. Discovered on MySpace, then having a hit song from an Old Navy commercial which propelled her into mainstream consciousness are examples of that. But she’s got staying power and has proven it with this Sophmore release. So many gems on this record esp. “Soldier”, “Everybody” and “Maybe”.
6. Sunny Side Up – Paolo Nutini. Scottish/Italian is a good mix! This album is all over the map in terms of genres and sounds and textures with a bit of ska, reggae, big band, traditional swing to good old folk, he covers it all superbly. Stand out track is “Candy” but they are all good!
5. Give Up The Ghost – Brandi Carlile. 3rd album from this Washington State cowgirl who sings with such passion and has pipes of gold in her throat. What a voice! Check her out live when she plays the Brown Theatre on Jan. 22, 2010. I got to see her a year ago with the Louisville Orchestra and was completely won over by her enormous talent. Favorite tracks are “Looking Out” and “Pride and Joy”.
4. Noble Beast – Andrew Bird. Brilliant, genius, beautiful, sensuous are the words that come to mind when I hear this haunting album by this virtual one man band.
3. IandLoveandYou – The Avett Brothers. From tender ballads to raucous rockers, the Avetts put their whole essence into this brilliant record produced by Rick Rubin. However, I heard someone on NPR say that Rick is not a producer but rather a reducer: he reduces production so that we get the rawest version of talent an artist has to offer. That is the case on this gorgeous record from this North Carolina band of brothers and friends. I love every single song on this album but esp. “Laundry Room”, “Ill With Want” and “January Wedding”.
2. Kenter Canyon – Joey Ryan. Another great find this year was L.A. singer/songwriter Joey Ryan. He has only this EP of a few songs but each one is fantastic. He started out as a neuroscience major but then decided to pursue his passion for music, thank God. “Broken Headlights” with Sara Bareilles is a must have on your ipod but so are the other songs on this EP due out Jan. 19th.
1. Dear Lover – Matthew Ryan. Hands down, my favorite album of the year! I have always liked Matthew’s songwriting and soulful, gravelly vocals but I’m in LOVE with this record. It’s deep, dark, meaningful, heartwrenchingly beautiful, brilliant and gorgeous. It has been a very long time since I have spent so much time listening to one record over and over again like this one. Matthew was also my favorite interview of the year and you can listen to our conversation anytime on our podcast page from “In The 91.9 Studio”. To be honest, I had barely listened to the album before we had that interview. Even after that I still didn’t expect to fall in love with the record like I did. The album is due out this January of 2010 but is available digitally at Matthew’s website. Favorite songs are “Your Musuem” and “Spark”. I highly recommend this album to anyone who has ever been in a relationship and likes gorgeous music. Wouldn’t that be most of you? Happy New Year and Happy Listening! Laura Shine
1. The Clientele: Bonfires On The Heath. Melodic, intimate & lovely. Favorite track is “I Wonder Who We Are”, but it’s all good.
2. Bell X1: Blue Lights On The Runway. With songs like “The Great Defector” & the awesome “How Your Heart Is Wired”, this one just missed being my favorite CD of the year.
3. Silversun Pickups: Swoon. “Panic Switch” and “There’s No Secrets This Year” are just two of the highlights off this CD.
4. Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The stand out track for me is “Fences” but “1901″ also rocks all over the place.
5. Fastball: Little White Lies. A nice come back CD from these guys. “Mono To Stereo” really won me over.
6. Great Lake Swimmers: Lost Channels. I have a crush on the song “Pulling On A Line”, but again, it’s all good.
7. Company Of Thieves: Ordinary Riches. Lead by vocalist Genevieve Schatz, the song “Oscar Wilde” is but one of many stand out cuts from this new band with a bright future.
8. Gomez: A New Tide. “Airstream Driver” and “Little Pieces” are but two highlights from this prolific band’s latest work.
9. Various Artists: Daptone Gold. If The Budos Band’s “Up From The South” don’t get yer junk in the truck movin’, you might need to get your trunk fixed.
10. Harper Simon: Harper Simon. “Berkley Girl” makes me want to cry, it’s so beautiful. ‘Nuff said.
Kyle’s top ten albums of 2009.
The Decemberists – Hazards of Love
I was a big fan of the last couple releases from The Decemberists, but I’ll be the first to admit that my first round through Hazards of Love left me with a feeling of weight. It was dense, confusing, and while there were obvious moments of brilliance, I just couldn’t penetrate the wall of pretension. That all changed with two events: first was my grabbing a copy on vinyl. Separating the entire opera into individual parts opened the entire story up and let the songs, and themes, shine and offered each song in a more personal light. The second was finally seeing the full deal go down on stage. Not only does this land as my top album of 2009, but seeing The Decemberists run through a non-stop performance at the Palace Theatre will live as my top concert moment of the year. Simply amazing from start to finish, and hearing (and seeing) The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid is still a jaw-dropper eight months after its debut.
Pearl Jam – Backspacer
If you’ve been playing along, it’s no secret of my fandom for all things Pearl Jam. Along with having multiple hundreds of CD’s, tapes, and records, i’ve spent many a buck following them around. All that to say that the last few years haven’t made it extremely easy to stay passionate. The last couple records had fine moments, but paled in comparison to the five records of the 90′s, or even the three-quarters-great Binaural. This all changed when they returned to producer Brendan O’Brian, who produced Vs., Vitalogy, No Code, and Yield. The results were some of the best music the Seattle quintet have made in quite a long time. Not only were the songs concise and punchy, but it felt urgent! Urgency that you’d be hard pressed to find in most young bands. And along with the fire, Ed Vedder also pulled out two amazingly beautiful acoustic tracks (Just Breathe and The End) that only elevated the work he had done with the Into The Wild soundtrack.
Fun – Aim & Ignite
Sometime around March, Sean Cannon from Buzzgrinder.com passed along the song “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To be)” and I was pretty sure that I had just heard the Second Coming. It was grand, it had movements, and it was unabashedly POP! And it was all packed into four minutes. I believe James Bickers said it best when he asked “how dare they?” In this day and age of popular music, bands don’t usually take chances like Fun has done with the album Aim & Ignite. Dive into songs like “Be Calm” or “Benson Hedges” or “All the Pretty Girls” and what you’ll find is the best pop record of 2009.
Oceanship – Oceanship
The guy and gal Canadian duo that make up Oceanship had contacted me early in the year about helping them out in getting some recognition nationally. I looked over the homemade packaging and didn’t put much faith into the whole thing, I mean, not much more than I would anyone else I’d never heard of. But one of the most instantly striking things was how the tracks blended together in arcs and valleys to make up a beautiful concept record. Accompanying was a video for the song Hotblack that featured a great wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing theme done through animation. Most overlooked this one, and it’s a real shame. Go treat yourself.
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
“1901″ will go down as THE song of 2009, as already evident in most year-end lists and publications, and I would agree 100%. The first three songs on this album (the band’s fourth) are three of the most perfectly retro-fitted songs crafted this decade (a decade that love to retro-fit). Unfortunately, they were so good that they overshadowed the rest of the disc until I finally made myself dive deeper. And while the other songs may not have been as instant, they all had layers that were an adventure to pull away. Also, its worth noting that this was probably the most remixed album of the year, which eventually led the French band to release an official remix disc.
Handsome Furs – Face Control
I’ll always associate this album with the South By SouthWest festival. I had been drooling over it for the weeks leading up to the 2009 outing and waited anxiously in line to see them play it live in the 100 degree heat under a small white tent in the middle of Austin, TX. It sounds cliche to say, but it really was mind blowing. The song “I’m Confused” reminded me a lot of Split Endz “I See Red” in all of the right ways, and in a decade that loved to praise the 80′s, it seemed fitting to have an anthem like “All We Want Baby Is Everything”. Go past the indie sound and electronic lo-fi and you also get a great concept record about modern day Russia, inspired by the band’s travels there and the influence that country had on the duo.
St. Vincent – Actor
If I could give an innovation award, it would go here. I slept on this record for the first half of the year, not seeing past the assumed novelty of the Disney-like sounds that came from the single “The Stranger”, but after seeing her play it live at Bonnaroo, and later at Austin City Limits, I saw there were many more things going on than what’s obvious. You definitely can’t put this on as background music, but that’s the great thing about it. It’ll demand your attention and pull you back to the first time you heard someone like PJ Harvey, late on a Sunday night when Matt Pinfield used to show you all of the coolest music videos. In fact, you’ll understand what I mean if you go watch the live video of the song “Marrow”.
U2 – No Line On The Horizon
Life is really fun when there is a new U2 album. There is ton’s of hoopla, hyperbole, comments and criticisms. I’m a rare breed in the U2 community, in that I really like the album Pop, but I also realize that it was under-cooked. No Line felt like the band put it back in the oven for a while and casseroled it with the sound of the Atomic Bomb disc. This is the Unforgettable Fire of their third decade, and while it may not have included something as soaring and universal as “Pride”, it is an album that’s just as thought out, interesting, heart-pulling, and timeless. Try it again, it’s already aged well.
The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
I had really been looking forward to this one, but was a relatively newcomer to the band, having jumped on the wagon after hearing the song “Shame”. Given that they were working with Rick Rubin, the stakes were only heightened. Of course, there were fans who grumbled about the major label move, and were rewarded with the lyric, “They say, ‘don’t take your business to the big time.’ I bought us tickets there,” from the uptempo “Slight Figure of Speech”. They were quickly forgiven when the world heard a wonderment of ballads and rockers. Songs like “Laundry Room,” “Kick Drum Heart,” “January Wedding,” and “Tin Man” are all reasons why this rarely left the turn table.
As Tall As Lions – You Can’t Take It With You
“Its better to die on your feet than live down on your knees.” That may be a Zapata quote, but here it’s executed by a reincarnated Jeff Buckly (Dan Nigro) fronted by a rock band in the song “In Case of Rapture”. Reportedly, the band had one of those crisis moments while writing and recording You Can’t Take It With You, and like other similar times in art history, we all benefited from it. While they were almost breaking up, a masterpiece fell onto tape. And there really are moments where you could swear you were hearing long, lost Jeff Buckly, especially in songs like Duermete. I’m excited to see the next steps from this act, but hopefully it doesn’t end in the despair they began with.
Hope the Holidays are treating you well…here are my top 10 in no certain order…
1. Andrew Bird/Fitz and Dizzy Spells…from the first time I heard this last January it had me hooked.
2. The Iguanas/If You Should Ever Fall On Hard Times…this cd just feels good to me…I really have to stop myself for reaching for it when I’m looking for something to play.
3. Neko Case/Middle Cyclone…it’s Neko…big crush on her voice.
4. Gomez/A New Tide…at first listen had 5 of 11 cuts marked as a favorite…
5. Dead Weather/Horehound…Alison, Jack and the crew had me wanting more from the first time I heard the opening single…Hang You From The Heavens…makes an old guy feel like I have an attitude…
6. Levon Helm/When I Go Away…before I knew it I was constantly reaching for this cd for B-Sides.
7. Fun/Aim And Ignite…this cd was fun (pun intended) for me…another B-Side gold mine…
8. Lucero/1372 Overton Park…Ben Nichols’ voice is just amazing to my ears…another cd I have to keep myself from playing over and over…
9. Avett Brothers/I & Love & You…to steal a line from the movie…”White Men Can’t Jump”…they were talking about Jimi Hendrix but it works…Before I listened to the Avett Brothers…this cd aloud me to hear The Avett Brothers…
10. Imogen Heap/Ellipse…when I hear her voice I have to listen…
10 1/2. Monsters of Folk/Monsters Of Folk…this combination of talent and energy really resonates with me and I’ve got my ears crossed for another record…
Thanks for reading this and for listening to WFPK…Have a great 2010…Duke
Two albums are tied for the top spot in my heart this year, one from back in February, one from just a few months ago.
First, there’s the remarkable “Aim & Ignite” by Fun, which is just unprecedented, IMO. They’ve packed more musical ideas into the first song than many bands come up with for an entire album – and each time you think you’ve heard the most amazing hook, here comes another one.
My other #1 this year was an under-the-radar release by Benjy Ferree called “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Bobby Dee, Bobby Dee.” It’s inspired by the godawful tragic story of Disney actor Bobby Driscoll, but the songwriting here is incredible in a manner similar to Fun – there are truly unexpected melodies in abundance, and one great new idea after another. “Fear,” for instance, reimagines doo-wop through some nightmarish, otherworldly filter. (No videos available, but here’s the audio of the song in question.)
Here’s the rest of my list, in no particular order:
David Gray – Draw the Line
Imogen Heap – Ellipse
Joe Henry – Blood From Stars
The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
Roman Candle – Oh Tall Tree in the Ear
Paolo Nutini – Sunny Side Up
As Program Director of WFPK I spend A LOT of time listening to new music, and let me tell you, this was a stellar year. It makes it hard to choose, but here are the ones I found myself spending the most time with in my off hours.
1. Avett Brothers – I and Love and You (American)
Producer Rick Ruben took the boys to the next level with this album of touching lyrics, beautiful melodies and arrangements with some playfulness thrown in for good measure!
2. The Features – Some Kind of Salvation (429 Records)
All killer, no filler! King’s of Leon signed them to their label imprint, 429 Records. Now they’re no longer Nashville’s “best kept secret”.
3. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (Anti-)
With nature as inspiration, she of the flaming hair and remarkable voice knocks it out of the park once again.
4. Silversun Pickups – Swoon (Dangerbird)
The swirling sounds, the overdubbed harmonies and fuzzy guitars…this band’s wall of sound really excites me!
5. Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk (Shangri-la)
I still remember that first listen and my surprise at the excellence of every song on this album. This all star project is cohesive yet still reflects the personality of each member.
6. Paolo Nutini – Sunny Side Up (Atlantic)
Our little Paolo is all grown up! His second release is filled with eclectic, soulful songwriting…and that voice makes me melt!
7. Sam Roberts – Love at the End of the World (Rounder)
Rounder released the latest from this straight-forward Canadian rocker early in 09 and he quickly rose to the top of my Waterfront Wednesday wish list.
8. Cage the Elephant – Cage the Elephant (Jive)
Didn’t really pay close attention to this Bowling Green band till my daughter became a fan. After numerous listens in the car and a great set at Forecastle, must admit its indie/pop/rock at it’s finest.
9. Wussy – Wussy (Shake It)
I’m a long time fan of Chuck Cleaver of the Ass Ponys. He’s found his songwriting soul mate in Lisa Walker. Just love ‘em together!
10. Passion Pit – Manners (Columbia)
This one took a little while to grow on me, but wow, can’t get these songs out of my head. They’re danceable, yet deep.
“Historicity,” Vijay Iyer Trio—A definition of the word “historicity” is “the quality of being historically factual, as opposed to fictitious or legendary”; “a condition of being placed in the stream of history, also: a result of such placement.” What about Iyer’s “Historicity”? It simultaneously reflects jazz past, as well as pushes into the future that still lives in the now. Kinda. Iyer’s music is never too complicated to “get,” but this song helps serve as a gateway into his way of hearing and playing. Songs on “Historicity,” include M.I.A.’s “Galang,” Stevie Wonder’s “Big Brother,” and Iyer’s original compositions. Bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore compliment perfectly and seamlessly. The record displays the limitless possibilities for the future of the jazz piano trio.
“Reflections,” Kurt Rosenwinkel Standards Trio – Rosenwinkel delves into the harmonic fabric of several beautiful standards in an intimate trio setting, accompanied by bassist Eric Revis and drummer Eric Harland. The trio luxuriates in an almost-all-ballads program. From relaxed renditions of Wayne Shorters “Ana Maria” and “Fall,” to elegant interpretations of Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now” and “Reflections,” and gorgeous readings of standards like “More Than You’ll Know,” and “You Go To My Head,” Rosenwinkel embraces these timeless melodies with rare nuance and soul. “Reflections” is, perhaps, Kurt Rosenwinkel’s most refined and engaging project to date; it reveals a warmer side to this gifted, multi-directional musician.
“The Bright Mississippi,” Allen Toussaint— Once jazz was the music of the “streets,” and New Orleans the center of the musical universe. On his 2009 release, Allen Toussaint, native and longtime N’awlins pianist, songwriter, arranger and record producer, returns to the music of his hometown in stunning fashion. Producer Joe Henry said Toussaint’s musical approach was “reaching back to look forward.” It includes giants of the genre today, with Don Byron, Nicholas Payton and Marc Ribot. Toussaint takes the listener back into the early 20th century, with inspiring takes on the works of Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton and others. It’s a soulful performance, with stunning solos all around.
“Not By Chance,” Joe Martin — Joe Martin is one of the most sought-after bassists on the current New York City jazz scene. Known for his warm sound, ear, harmonic flexibility, and lyrical solos, he has performed with a diverse range of musicians including Vinicius Cantuaria, Bill Charlap, Anat Cohen, and many more. On his ’09 release, “Not By Chance,” one probably would know the sidemen here more than the leader: Pianist Brad Mehldau is one of the most prominent and popular jazz pianists playing today, and Chris Potter is one of the most active and influential saxophonists. In this recording, Mehldau, Potter, and drummer Marcus Gilmore join Joe Martin in a wonderful quartet. It’s just marvelous and worth seeking out.
“Ways & Means,” James Carney Group — Carney crafts an artfully layered new album with a slight cinematic quality. But not in the film noir sense. Most of the music on the album was written with moving pictures in mind; Carney recently finished a film festival commission, and was inspired to keep exploring. He wrote six pieces for an adaptable septet, which collectively improvised three more. The results flicker like a movie across a spectrum of color and emotion, with insightful solo commentary from the trumpeter Ralph Alessi, trombonist Josh Roseman and the saxophonists Peter Epstein and Tony Malaby. It’s a chamber effort, rich in texture.
“The Way They Make Me Feel,” Angela Hagenbach — I have waited 5 years for this. Angela is simply the best kept secret in jazz. She possesses an extraordinary range, perfect phrasing, and a style that is all her own. On her first release for Resonance records, one which is a big departure from past records with full orchestration on many tracks, Angela sings swinging, straight-ahead jazz and blues to sensual, rhythmic Latin-tinged jazz with effortless agility. Her voice soars to a range of nearly three octaves, and the orchestral backing is a perfect compliment to a perfect jazz vocalist. No one gets more nuance from the lyric sheet as Ms. Hagenbach.
“Microswing,” Suely Mesquita — Beautiful work from Suely Mesquita, one of the most compelling Brazilian singer/songwriters heard in years, sounding even more fully formed here than on her great debut, “Sexo Puro” from a few years back. This album possesses a sensitivity that comes through right immediately. A simultaneous complexity in the songwriting, yet a simplicity that’s quite personal. This is the kind of core, basic brilliance that first lit up Brazilian music from the bossa years and beyond — even though the album itself is no where near bossa nova. Her vocals get wonderful accompaniment from the violão of Joao Gaspar, who underscores the inflections of Mesquita beautifully — shading things with just the right sort of coloring. Language plays a large part of the recording, yet in ways that work even if you don’t understand Portuguese.
“This Brings Us To, Vol. 1,” Henry Threadgill Zooid — Mr. Threadgill, 65, has long been one of the most elusive composers in and around jazz. A composer of unconventional timbres, bristling counterpoint and tough but slippery rhythms. His output, like that of Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell, can veer toward contemporary classical territory, though it rarely settles there. “This Brings Us To, Vol. 1,” his first widely available release in eight years, finds him in superior form, leading Zooid through a half-dozen chamberlike, disruptive themes. The world of improvised music needs more Henry Threadgill moments.
“Stolas: The Book of Angels, Vol. 12,” Masada Quintet featuring Joe Lovano — When John Zorn conceived the Masada songbook, one of the goals was to have the music be the star rather than the band. Subsequently, he committed to recording different records with different groups. This record by the Masada Quintet featuring Joe Lovano, is all Masada regulars– trumpeter Dave Douglas, pianist Uri Caine, bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Baron. One might say the old Masada band was ‘Ornette does Klezmer,’ so this possibly 1950s era Miles doing Klezmer. “Stolas” is a highly satisfying listen and well worth the investment.
“The Blueprint 3″ Jay-Z — The 2009 album from international Hip Hop superstar and multi-media mogul, Shaun “Jay-Z” Carter, is the follow up to the classic “Blueprint” (2001) and the critically acclaimed “Blueprint II” (2002); it’s the final installment in the series. Jay-Z is one of the best who’s ever been in the game, with an incredibly long career and his body of work speaks for itself. You cannot understand the hip-hop game without understanding him. He’s no longer the same man who hit the streets with “Reasonable Doubt.” “Blueprint III” is mature hip-hop with quality beats, a sophisticated sound, and inventive lyrics. I sincerely appreciate and applaud this document because I love the depth and growth that this man is showing.
“Brewster’s Rooster” John Surman
“Mostly Coltrane” Steve Kuhn with Joe Lovano
“Na Cabeça” Marcos Sacramento
“Wildlife” Joe Morris
“21st Century Chase” Fred Anderson
“For Your Own Special Sweetheart” Jawbox (reissue)