We are getting to that time of the year when media outlets start to post “best of” lists—best films of the year, best albums, and so forth. For instance, Metacritic, one of my favorite sites on the web has already posted its list of top-reviewed albums. I read these lists with great interest and a mixture of appreciation and chagrin. It’s fun to see if any of my own favorites made these lists and I love to learn about new music, though I also feel overwhelmed by the amount of music out there and a little ignorant for not recognizing many of the titles. But, hey, education is a continuing process . . . .
All of which is preliminary to a small list of albums that we—that is my friend and fellow deejay, Matt Jennings, and I—have enjoyed this year. All these titles were released in 2009, and we encourage others to chip in with their favorites as well.
- Nick Lowe, Quiet Please, The New Best of Nick Lowe: Once a new-wave innovator and rockabilly king in the 70s and 80s, the Lowe is now making great music as a crooner and pop lounge singer. His writing is witty and tuneful, and he seems to have aged only to become more hip (my fantasy, not his). This is not a new offering, but a compilation disc and great chronicle of a very cool career.
- The Doves, Kingdom of Rust: Like Lowe, the Doves are from the UK, specifically Manchester, the home of other great bands. The Doves have been called a shoe-gazing act, committed to making layered, guitar driven progressive pop with an urban edge (think Radiohead). Their latest is lush and accessible, not depressing at all—in fact, quite the opposite.
- Bat For Lashes, Two Suns: Bat For Lashes is Natasha Khan, who was born in Pakistan and lives in England. She’s got a mystical/gothic thing going, music that could be a soundtrack to The Hobbit, and a voice that, along with the rest of the package, makes her sound like a meeting of Kate Bush and Bjork (and that’s good).
- Neko Case, Middle Cyclone: Neko Case was once best known as a member of the New Porngraphers, the excellent rock band based in Vancouver. Her solo work, especially her last two albums, has changed all that. Case sings across what seems like the alt/country range, but with a soaring voice, lyrics, and presence that take her out of this category. Her songs occupy a kind of dream world—very much in the American grain—and when she performed at the Flynn this summer (a very good show) a surrealistic slide show played in the background.
- Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, Death Won’t Send a Letter: I learned about Cory Chisel from deejaying at WRMC. His most recent album was on the rotation list, and scored high marks as roots folk/rock, with nods to Tom Petty. And that seems right to me. I have been playing this one non-stop since I first heard it, and liking just about all of it.
I can’t end this post without saying something about Elbow, whose Seldom Seen Kid won the British Mercury award for best album of 2008. Okay, that was last year, but from my perspective, it might as well be this year given how much I’ve been listening to it. Check out their performance with the BBC orchestra on YouTube. Another great band from Manchester.
- Ben Harper and Relentless 7, White Lies for Dark Times: THE BEST album of the year. Hands down. Brook no dispute. No mellow, acoustic Harper here. He lets it rip, and it’s great great stuff.
- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Love it. Infectious (in a good way). Reminiscent of good indie music from the ‘80s, i.e. Hoodoo Gurus, Jesus and Mary Chain.
- Matt & Kim, Grand: Had to let Brooklyn represent, and both Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective are overexposed.
- Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: Indie pop. Take the obnoxiousness out of Vampire Weekend, take away the one-trick pony, and you have this album.
- Neko Case, Middle Cyclone: The only overlap with my esteemed colleague. I can live with that.