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2009: The Year in Music

All in all, 2009 was a disappointing year for music.  It seemed everything I looked forward to was a bit underwhelming.  Animal Collective (queue the disagreements), Bob Dylan, Neko Case, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Monsters of Folk, Neil Young, etc.  It says something that my three favorite records are from bands I hadn’t heard prior to this year, or in the case of my favorite record, a band that hadn’t won me over with their previous releases.  So, while the old standbys seemed to fall by the wayside there were surprises found in some new places.  Mostly Brooklyn.

Biggest Disappointment

The first Flaming Lips album in well over a decade I haven’t been able to find much in.   I do applaud them for changing it up instead of going back to the well that seemed to be drying up with At War With Mystics, but this record just feels… unfinished to me.  There aren’t really any songs on it.  Which can work, granted, but I don’t find their ‘psychic explorations’ very intriguing.  Certainly not as catchy as the more melodic stuff they’ve been doing since 1993.  It’s not an awful record, but given the high expectations I had, I was more than a bit disappointed.

Honorable Mentions

In alphabetical order, by artist:

Antony & The Johnsons – The Crying Light: I gave I Am A Bird Now more than a few listens, and I could never get past the fact that while Antony’s voice was powerful and emotive, something about it irked me.  On the recommendation of a friend I gave The Crying Light a go, and from the first track I was won over.  Beautiful orchestral pop, and for some reason, The Crying Light seems to have been the key that’s allowed me to go back and unlock I Am A Bird Now.  I get it now.

Andrew Bird – Noble Beast: After The Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha, I found Noble Beast a bit of a letdown.  However, the more I come back to it the more I find to appreciate.  It features many of his best songs (Anonanimal, Effigy, Natural Disaster) even if there are some cuts that don’t click with me, places where it feels like he’s reaching a bit too much (Not a Robot, But a Ghost).  But still, a strong enough record to recommend.

Steve Earle – Townes: “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”  Steve Earle attempts to back up that bold statement with his latest album, Townes.  And while I don’t agree with it, he makes a hell of a case.  It’s not my favorite Steve Earle record, perhaps because many of Townes’ recordings are better than Steve’s, sorry to say.  But there is something poetic in today’s most underappreciated singer-songwriter recording a tribute to his 70’s counterpart.

Mos Def – The Ecstatic: Not a great album, but such a comeback from the unlistenable True Magic and The New Danger, it’s hard not to feel Ecstatic about it.  It feels like Mos actually cares about making good music again.  There are some really strong cuts here.  And it bodes well for his future.  One that, after the superlative Black on Both Sides and Black Star, I was close to giving up on.

Phish – Joy: Probably the most controversial choice on the list.  Alot of Phish fans have been disappointed with Joy, but I think it is a solid pop record.  Phish’s more progressive compositions and raging jams have never translated well to the studio.  Their best record, and last with Steve Lillywhite prior to Joy, Billy Breathes is also a pop record.  Joy is on par with something like Farmhouse and a huge improvement from Round Room and Undermind.

Jazz Album of the Year

Medeski, Martin & Wood’s first entry in the Radiolarians series didn’t really impress me.  It felt a bit disjointed, unpolished, and I was afraid the subsequent volumes would follow suit.  But with Radiolarians II & III their gamble has paid off and they have put out some of the best music they’ve recorded since their Gramavision days.  Two deep groovy fun records with plenty of replay value.

Top 10 after the break. Continue reading

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