In my opinion, '09 was a spectacular year for music. Not so good on any other front perhaps, but that kind of bitching is for some other blog. I've been keeping a running tally of my fave tracks all year - there are 3 volumes of them in the archives - and with this mix I've tried to whittle all that great stuff into something that resembles a Top 20. Now, I'll admit I'm not particularly good at ranking these sorts of things. On any given day my #20 could be more appreciated than my #1, and vice versa. So let's just throw out the idea of rankings - these are simply my 20 favorite albums of '09 (with one extra thrown in for good measure).
The XX The XX - This album is the definition of a grower. At first I found it merely pleasant. But eventually it sunk its teeth into me. Somehow these four 20 year olds have alchemized a sound that mixes the Jesus and Mary Chain at their most hushed with undeniable R&B undertones. The sexy/shy male/female vocals sound downright intimate at moments - although I've chosen the instrumental opener "Intro" to start this mix.
V.V. Brown Traveling Like The Light - I can't deny, I have a soft spot for female vocalists with one foot in retro R&B and one in the immediate future, and V.V. Brown does it better than almost anyone I've ever heard. This is one of those albums where each song could be a hit (in my universe, anyway). The song "Crying Blood" is a perfect mix of modern sass and old soul, and perfectly representative of the album.
Philadelphia Grand Jury Hope Is For Hopers - Well, this one came out of nowhere for me. In some other era it might have been called power pop, but it's a little tougher and louder than that term suggests. The song "The New Neil Young" will give you a good idea of what to expect, which is melody, muscle, and mischief.
Roger Klug More Help For Your Nerves - A late addition to my list of faves. Cincinnati's Roger Klug plays pretty much all the instruments on this, and it's a crazed mishmash of power, pop, and rock, at times sounding like early Joe Jackson fronting early XTC, except with a pile of guitar wig-outs piled on top. "When Dreams Dry Up" shows some of Klug's range in a single song, but you really need to hear the whole thing to get the picture. In a word, amazing.
The 1990s Kicks - Scotland's 1990s traffic in the sort of sophisticated yet cheeky pop that would have made them gods in the decade just before their namesake. Of course, these days it barely sticks to the wall. Our loss.
Ike Reilly Hard Luck Stories - Since 2001's near perfect Salesmen & Racists, Ike Reilly has been kicking up a ruckus with the best of 'em. Somewhat miraculously, his '09 release is his best since that first blast of wiseassery.
The Smoke Orange Blood - How have these guys managed to stay such a secret? Maybe they're stars in their native Australia. This album ranges from rootsy stuff like "Cut The Brakes" to more wasted indie pop like "Cassette Culture" to the slow burn of the song on this mix, "Bloody Orange".
Gidgets Ga Ga The Big Bong Fiasco - What's not to like? Sounding like a more jangly Dramarama or less drunken Replacements is, in my eyes, worthy of nothing but praise. And the fact these Chicagoans crammed 17 equally great songs onto this disc is even more impressive. "Baby You're A Star" is featured on the mix, but it could just as easily have been any of the other 16. Um, yeah okay, that band name might be a hindrance to success - but trust me, you just have to look past it.
The Takeover UK Running With The Wasters - Well, for one thing they're not from the UK. They're from Pittsburgh. But I swear, if an album so chockful of this sort of literate, tuneful, modern pop came out of the UK critics and message boarders everywhere would be falling over themselves trying to praise it to the heavens.
Lucero 1372 Overton Park - If you haven't hopped on the Lucero train yet, now is the time. Imagine everything great about the 'Mats and the Drive-by Truckers, and now imagine it coming straight out of Memphis WITH A HORN SECTION. For anyone who ever fell in love with rock 'n' roll, "What Are You Willing To Lose"should make you lose your nut.
AM Future Sons & Daughters - That name (of the band and of the singer/songwriter behind it) foretells exactly what you can expect - melodies and hooks that sound like they should be emanating from a '70s AM radio. A magic radio, at that, because it managed to delete all the tripe. This album sounds like the Josh Rouse album Josh Rouse forgot to make after 1972.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz - Yeah, I know the indie kids want us all to believe that the YYYs have gone downhill since their first album, but screw that. This band keeps expanding its own template, and Karen O's vocals just keep finding new layers of depth with each release. There's an 80s noo wave synth pop flirtation here, but not so much that you can't imagine guitarist Nick Zinner rocking your face off in a live setting.
Reno Bo Happenings And Other Things - He spent time in Albert Hammond Jr.'s vacation from the Strokes, then stepped out on his own and put out this amazing collection of songs. Let's call it power pop, for want of a better term - but that descriptor is based entirely on the sweet hooks in every song and the muscularity of the band. Check out "There Is A Light" and see if you can stop yourself from singing along by the second chorus.
Grant Lee Phillips Little Moon - The ex-frontman and namesake of Grant Lee Buffalo seemed adrift for a while there, but with '07s Strangelet and now this album he appears to have found his footing. His swooning baritone is front and center on "Buried Treasure", and it's just pure magic.
Vetiver Tight Knit - I didn't expect this from a group associated with the likes of Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. Those artists are, mostly, overly precious "freak folk" with a seemingly endless need to be slapped. Vetiver, however, showed up with the mellow triumph of Tight Knit. "Another Reason To Go" even adds a sly R&B groove and horns to the mix. Surprising, to say the least.
The BAcksliders Thank You - A band that could fall into the description of above average garage rock, if not for the sultry vocals of Kim (Pendleton) Bonner. She's got just the right amount of rasp and just the right amount of honey dripping off every line. The band itself is no slouch - they manage a version of Little Richard's "Keep A-Knockin'" that doesn't embarrass itself and the original songs are uniformly strong - but it's those vocals that push this up and over. And they're so cool they're offering the entire album for a free download at their website: http://www.thebacksliders.com/
Used Kids Yeah No - Wow, this one knocked me on my ass. Modern punk/rock that isn't ashamed to admit a love of old Springsteen records. They probably liked a few Mellancamp albums too, actually. Leader Nato Coles is also in the band Radio Faces, which also put out a great album in '09 called Party At The Bushwick Hotel. Not sure if Used Kids even still exist at this point - but I imagine we'll all know the name Nato Coles in the near future. You can download the album for free or by donation here: http://www.ifyoumakeit.com/album/used-kids/yeah-no
Reigning Sound Love And Curses - Greg Cartright has been part of a few great bands - Oblivions, Compulsive Gamblers, Detroit Cobras, and the Deadly Snakes to name four - but his work under the Reigning Sound moniker seems to be the location of his best moves. Love And Curses is another collection of songs that sound like hits from a better time. "Debris" may be one of my favorite songs of the year.
Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles The Stars Are Out - She's got a voice as clear as a bell, and taste eclectic enough to cover songs by bands as far afield as Any Trouble, NRBQ, and the Magnetic Fields. If you can draw a straight line through those three acts, then you'll most likely find something to love about this album. "Me And Your Ghost" is an original song, and proves that Borges is equal to her idols.
Bad Lieutenant Never Cry Another Tear - I'm as surprised as anyone by how much I like this album. It's the latest joint by New Order's Bernard Sumner, except this time he's arrived with some first class songs. Sure, it all sounds a bit like it could've come straight out of 1985, but that only means it places a rightful premium on melody and song structure. Give "This Is Home" a listen and see if your head doesn't start bobbing when Sumner's voice comes in on the chorus.
Sour Jazz American Seizure - By all rights, I should disqualify this album on the grounds that I have developed a certain bias to automatically appreciate everything these guys put out (which is why it's at #21 - let's consider it a bonus), but the fact remains that this album is a monster. And "Little Hands"? It sounds like Lou Reed and Mott the Hoople stormed the studio while Iggy was trying to cut a ballad on New Values. In other words, pretty much the coolest sound on the planet.
Best of the Best of '09
1. The XX Intro
2. V.V. Brown Crying Blood
3. Philadelphia Grand Jury The New Neil Young
4. Roger Klug When Dreams Dry Up
5. The 1990s Sparks
6. Ike Reilly Morning Glory
7. The Smoke Bloody Orange
8. Gidgets Ga Ga Baby You're A Star
9. The Takeover UK Ah La La
10. Lucero What Are You Willing To Lose?
11. AM The Other Side
12. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Soft Shock
13. Reno Bo There's A Light
14. Grant Lee Phillips Buried Treasure
15. Vetiver Another Reason To Go
16. The Backsliders Last Call
17. Used Kids Midwest Midsummer
18. Reigning Sound Debris
19. Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles Me And Your Ghost
20 Bad Lieutenant This Is Home
21. Sour Jazz Little Hands