Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Spike's Top 10ish Albums of 2009

After a list (ridiculous, ambitious, incomplete, shamefully impulsive and simultaneously cautious, marginally regrettable, yet still somewhat beloved) of 200ish, 10ish should be sweet summer breeze, right? No. I can agonize over just about anything. My ever-shifting Netflix queue is proof positive of that*. I take comfort in knowing that Bill Simmons** had to write 700+ pages about basketball and include not just the top 96 players in NBA history but also the snubs and shouldas and all that. Will this look a lot like Charlie T's? Probably. But we are friends. We decided to start a blog together, after all. All that aside, here is my late Best of 09:


10. Thao- Know Better, Learn Faster

Maybe my favorite guitarist of the year. A real quirky, squirrelly approach to playing that doesn't settle into the usual Hotel Cafe strummy girl style (which I can also be a fan of). The way this album manages to be both happy and bummed out at once really sticks with me. "Sad people can dance too" is the mission statement we hear before the last song. "You have so much information, but you only know why not."

9. Sparklehorse + Danger Mouse- Dark Night Of The Soul

I went to my favorite record store to buy this and all there was was a David Lynch photo book with a blank CD in it that said "For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.." I didn't use it as I willed nor even buy it because a) I'm stupid, b) David Lynch is on my Respect But Keep At Arms Length list, and c) I didn't get it. Danger Mouse is everywhere these days, but my two favorite releases of his (this and The Grey Album) aren't even really releases. I know Dark Was The Night is getting a lot of credit (including on this very blog) for its indie marriages this year, but you can't sleep on Mark Linkous bringing in:

James Mercer of The Shins, The Flaming Lips, Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, Frank Black of the Pixies, Iggy Pop, Nina Persson of The Cardigans, Suzanne Vega, Vic Chesnutt (may he rest in peace, that beleaguered national treasure), David Lynch, and Scott Spillane of Neutral Milk Hotel and The Gerbils.

And if it were just a bunch of cameos, it'd be one thing. It's not. The songs are great. The production is beautiful and glitchy and itchy and smooth. And perfect for the songs.

8a. (tie) The Swell Season- Strict Joy

Charlie T said it best: they could've made Once: The Sequel and they made the right choice not to. The fact that the album is still great and grew on me (which a lot of my all-time favorites had to) is a huge tribute to the band. And it only makes me want more. I don't think them making Twice would've made me wanna hear Thrice (the third record, not the band. NOTHING can make me want to hear Thrice except maybe Nickelback.)

8b. (tie) Laura Gibson- Beasts of Seasons

Is it cheating to have a tie? Maybe. Is it my blog? Yes (at least half of it and, today, with Charlie in Rotterdam, ALL of it is mine. Mine, mine, MINE). And I feel like Laura Gibson's follow up to If You Come To Greet Me has some ties to Strict Joy. To the Laura Gibson Novice, this and IYCTGM might sound really alike. But this album shows growth- new production touches, a little darker writing, more ambition- to the point that, again, it makes me want to hear how her sound will evolve next.

7. Dave Bazan- Curse Your Branches

Knocked me out. Honestly. I incorrectly ventured to guess that Bazan's best work was behind him (Why? Who knows? Why do we ever make stupid assumptions about people we don't even know?). And he floored me with "Please, Baby, Please" and "Bless This Mess." Bless this album for coming out this year and having the courage to grapple with faith and more.

6. Camera Obscura- My Maudlin Career

This album sounds like I hoped She & Him would: retro, hopeful, sad, sweet, nostalgic. Sometimes an album intersects with what your ears NEED to hear right at that moment. This one did just that. And her cute little accent doesn't hurt a bit.

5. David Rawlings Machine- A Friend of A Friend

It's only this low because it came out so late and I feared overrating it. Gillian Welch's partner made a record that I can't believe isn't on more end-of-year lists. The recording and performances are gorgeously raw, imperfect, lots of brushstrokes and globs of paint. I love it. The songs "Ruby", "Bells of Harlem" and "I Hear Them All" are songs that will take me into 2020.

4. Sara Watkins- s/t

"The girl from Nickel Creek?!?" It's not gonna win me any hipster points, but this album rules. Its playing is tasteful (from a who's who of the Largo scene), the originals are tight, the covers ("Pony" by Tom Waits, "Same Mistakes" by Jon Brion, for starters) are immaculate, the singing is soulful, and the production- by no less than John-Paul Jones- stays out of the way. If I could take her versions of Ray Davies' "I Go To Sleep" and Benmont Tench's "The Price" off of WPA's album, this record might rank even higher.

3. Fanfarlo- Reservoir

It was instantaneous. Like the first second I heard The Low Anthem (which we will get to). You didn't have to sell me on Fanfarlo at all. Did they sound a lot like The Arcade Fire? Yes. Did it matter? No. I just kept listening and listening. Was there a day after I bought the album that I didn't listen to "I'm A Pilot" at least once? No. Sweeping, dramatic, emotional, epic at times, quiet at others. And a debut album, you bastards. A DEBUT ALBUM!!!

2. The Avett Brothers- I and Love and You

I can't apologize enough for being this late to the Avett Brothers bandwagon. I turned my ankle. I scraped my knee. I nearly missed the wagon altogether. But I did it all with a wonder in my ears from the first line of "I and Love and You" through the end. Say what you will about Rick Rubin (and I hear some Avett purists decry the lack of banjo and rawness [which I don't hear]), but he makes his artists really pay attention to the song.

1. Megafaun- Gather, Form, & Fly

The most complete statement of an album- artistic, sprawling, cohesive, adventurous, raw, beautiful, boisterous, imperfect perfection, patient- I've heard in awhile. But, if you've read here before, you knew that. My review from earlier this year tells the story. I was surprised, reading it again, by how- in some instances- I feel like, in the midst of its superlatives, it's still an understated review. (And, yes, I realize that this order is different from the Top 200 list. If Pitchfork can do it, so can I.)


Sarah Sample- Born To Fly EP

I am biased because I know Sarah. But if Aquarium Drunkard can push J Tillman, I can push Sarah. It's a great album of songs played live, sung with conviction, written with wisdom and heart."Mercy Me" may be one of my favorite songs of the past 5 years.

Bon Iver- Blood Bank

On the strength of the title track alone.


Steve Earle- Townes

Take Townes Van Zandt songs and have Steve Earle sing them. Gold. The only misstep is the ridiculous Tom Morello "solo." Somebody shoulda apple-Z'd that to the darkest recesses.

Elvis Costello- Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane

I expected to like this album, but not love it like I did. A big EC fan, I don't follow him everywhere (don't own the Bachrach collab, for instance), but this was a real win for everyone who was open enough to accept that warble and snarl on top of bluegrass.

Wilco- (the album)

I have so much guilt about not including an album by my favorite band. But I had to be honest and I couldn't honestly tell you I listened to (or liked) this album more than any album on the list. Will it grow on me? They always do. Check back with me in 2020.

Joe Henry- Blood From The Stars

And completing the list of Artists On My Favorites List That I Snubbed This Year, Joe Henry. It really isn't fair to exclude somebody like Joe just because "it's not as good as Civilians" but I did. And, Joe, I am sorry. This album rules and has knocked me over several times this year. Above everyone, you might deserve the most apologies. "Channel" and "Truce" are killers.

Great Lake Swimmers- Lost Channels

Ditto to this release. Ongiara casts a long shadow and, initially, the relative glossiness (I mean, come on, it's not GLOSSY, it's just smoother than their previous recordings) poppiness didn't work for me. It did make a respectable end-of-year charge for the Top 10. Maybe if 09 had had a few more weeks...

Dan Auerbach- Keep It Hid

I can't defend the snub, but "Trouble Weighs A Ton" rules.


The Low Anthem- Charlie Darwin

A 2008 release (re-released in 09) that I worshipped in 2009. When my Top 5 started getting crowded, I conveniently fell back on the "Oh It's An 08 Release" excuse. So good.
Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I liked it, but- in the world of Sad People Can Dance too- I had to go with Thao, whose songs resonated with me when I didn't feel like dancing too. Phoenix only worked for me in a very specific mood.

Felice Brothers- Yonder Is The Clock

I hate to say this, especially about a Felice Brothers release, but it was almost too ragged with too many flubs. Would I say that about The Basement Tapes? No, but that's the Basement Tapes and its songs. I think my issue was that the songs weren't good enough to make the looseness and rough edges really sing.

Bowerbirds- Upper Air

Like Charlie T, the live show turned me off. But "Northern Lights" is an undeniably great tune.

Monsters of Folk

Underwhelming for all of the talent. I have, however, seen it on a ton of lists. So I will revisit with open ears.

Animal Collective- Merriweather Post Pavilion

Because it's not good.

* "Oooh. Ah. I dunno. Am I really gonna wanna watch the end of Mad Men Season 1 before I see the director's cut of Blade Runner? And why are we getting Once again? Oh because it rules. Should I move it higher? But I've never seen Fitzcarraldo. And shouldn't a movie I've never seen come before one I've seen a bunch and a director's cut and a TV show?" You get the idea. It should be fairly obvious that any time this blog stalls or gets bogged down in overthinking a concept (the New Dylan, album box scores), it's probably my fault and not Charlie T's.

** Lest anyone think I'm thieving the footnote idea from Simmons (who, it should be noted, did not invent them but is very, very good at them, prompting Malcolm Gladwell to proclaim him "master of footnotes"), I am actually stealing from Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace, whose footnotes I admired first. It's like Randy Newman said, "I'm sorry, honey. You're too late. I already ruined my life." Or something.

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