Friday, January 29, 2010

My Favorite Records of 2009

I've been doing a "favorite records of XXX" for a fair number of years now. I want to say since at least 1995 I've been committing it to some sort of "paper" for tracking purposes. Historically I've always waited until the end of January. I let the holidays pass (like the three readers of this blog are going to be swayed to hit up a store to buy a record for the holidays?). So, sticking with the trend(s) I give you my 20 "Favorite" records of the year. Notice I don't say "best of" because that is open to interpretation for sure. There are some really awesome records on here I'd tell you to run out and get right now and others I'd warn you about, but each hit me at the right time, and stuck around for the bulk of the year.

I kept it to 20 this year. Some years I do 25 when I am REALLY stuck, but this year I felt like 21-25 would have sorta been "mailing it in" and I didn't want to go that route.

Onward... Here are a few strong picks to watch out for moving forward.

Bubbling under:
If These Trees Could Talk - post rock instrumentalists from Ohio perked up my ears at the right time. Rodrigo Y Gabriella, a youtube clip from a buddy perfectly timed with the 11:11 release. This band could really grow on me. Finally, Phoenix. When you cd appear on numerous lists you get your attention piqued. I was very late to the game on this one, and as strong as it is, I didn't have enough time with this to have it become a strong favorite. Much like Fleet Foxes last year, these Frenchmen will have to deal with my decision.

And now, the official list...

20. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

Named for a small island off the coast of Massachusetts this is hardly as "boat rock" cd. Blending folky guitars with blasting back beats the quartet crafted a very strong record. Admittedly I didn't spend a ton of time with this record, when it first came out. About a month after it came out I found it in a stack of cds I was putting away and I put it aside to give it another listen to and on that second or third visit it started to grow. There is very little to NOT like about this record honestly.

19. Wilco - (the album)

Long time favorites seem to come back around on this record with me personally. The funny lead off track "Wilco" sets the tone for the entire record. Its a much looser, more fun (for Wilco) record than the last (Sky Blue Sky). The guitar playing is terrific throughout with perfect blends of bass/drums and percussive instruments. Wilco has grown a lot and I find there records most suited for full bore listening. Single tracks don't paint the picture fully, and the various tempos and overtones of their songs warrant attention. A terrific late night, or road trip disc.

18. Built to Spill - There is no Enemy
I've had a pretty good relationship with BTS over the last few years and they have been treated well on my yearly list(s). The wait for this record was too long, and the end result to me fell a little off the mark of their previous efforts. It didn't feel like we got going for a fair amount of time (not that a record needs to rock start to finish) but it took too long to get you with their usual big hooks. We get some good buzzy guitar work four tracks in on "Good Ole Boredom" and it gets a lot stronger (to me at least) from here out. We get a little rowdier and we get the nice long guitar solos that make Built to Spill a true diamond in the rough.

17. Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
I've always been admittedly a passive fan of Dinosaur Jr. This actually is the first and only of their cds that I own. One of the satellite radio stations was pushing a few of the tunes and that got me to perk up. I've always been aware of guitarist J.Mascis' guitar prowess, but these singles were hitting me the right way. The cd, packaged with a bonus ep was worth the price and when I listened for the first time I knew it was a good purchase. Each song had a buzzing guitar and a bass and drum section that kicked you in the gut. It is a far cry for "metal" but it is a very heavy guitar record. The solos are not "flashy" but rather complex passages over the tight rhythm section. The record has piqued my curiosity on prior releases, vs the single(s) that you hear from time to time. You can't call this collection "hook free" but the big giant guitar riffs will have you strapping on the air guitar before you know it.

16. Phish - Joy
There is a long standing joke, on a road trip nobody ever says lets listen to *insert Phish studio cd here*. If passengers agree to listen to Phish it would always, ALWAYS be a live record/recording. The studio output from a "jam band" usually is done to lay the basic mold of a track that has been knocked around in a live setting for weeks or years. I agree, Phish shines in a live setting, and the re-formed "cleaned up" version of the band offers one of the finest live shows you'll ever hear. Studio material can be tricky, and Phish even chose to spread its wings on the lead off single from the record "Time Turns Elastic" which clocks in at over 13 minutes. I am in the minority on this, but I find this studio record to be timed perfect. The band after a hiatus comes back, focused and on a mission to reestablish themselves as jam band kings. I'll agree with the studio vs live cd road trip anytime, but this is the first studio cd since Billy Breathes that you could play for folks that are not sure they know, or want to know Phish and you'd probably get pretty positive results.

15. Pearl Jam - Backspacer

After some "okay I'll give it to you because you are Pearl Jam" releases this is a fine return to the formula that got myself (and many) in to them from the outset. Quick, rocking, catchy tunes (11 tunes in about 35 minutes?!). The band found the guitar hooks from the lead off track and never shook it loose. The band appears to be happy with this direction and each member seems to feed off each other with Eddie Vedder in strong voice as always. This, to me, has been the most rewarding Pearl Jam release of the last few. Mellower tunes (Johnny Guitar) mesh with the punk rockers (The Fixer) to really push this record as a "complete" package.

14.Russian Circles - Geneva

The Chicago based instrumental trio are at it once more. Last year their record fell in to my top 10 and once again, they do it. Blending grinding guitar riffs, chugging bass lines and thunderous drums there is little (at least to me) to not like? They do some manipulation with loops, but it is not keyboard loops it more for the guitar and bass to actually round out the sound. It feels improvised at times, yet methodically planned at others

13. Tortoise - Beacons of Ancestorship

We get the blend of buzzy keyboards, funky jazzy beats with many surprises in store. It has been a roller coaster with the band for a few years, with some records not really headed in the direction you'd expect, but this is a refocused and re-energized group. The band is now 6 albums deep and seem to be comfortable with their direction and those willing to join the party are rewarded mightily.

12. Daniel Johnston - Is And Always Was

Love moments like this. Cd comes out from a guy you've been sorta meaning to check out for ages. After watching the documentary "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" (check out the trailer) I vowed I'd check him out even more. Are all his records this good? I sorta thought they'd be odd ball collections of incoherent babble for some reason. That is being totally unfair I realize and this collection of 11 tunes had my attention from the very first song. Its hard these days when a song comes on, let alone 11, that make you stop and *really* listen to them. His voice might not be for everyone, but the emotion is so raw it is hard to pass up. This record has me sold and I am ready, willing and able to take that next step..what to get? Help me out.

11. Japandroids - Post Nothing

Who needs a power trio when a power duo can do it? The Vancouver based duo make a heck of a lot of racket. Going with just guitar and drums the duo range from noise pop to punk rock and will grab your attention from the very first track and not let go. Sure there are guitar and drum duos (White Stripes, No Age to name a few) and the band does the best with what they have. What they may lack in instruments they are strong players. There doesn't appear to be a lot of over dubs on the record and tracks like "Heart Sweats" lock in to a pulse pounding groove that will have your rump shaking.

10. Mono - Hymn to the Immortal Wind

It was a little quiet this year from the band from Japan. Granted they celebrated their 10th anniversary this year and released this record, it was just they didn't play every single city on the planet this time around. Mono has been crafting the quiet/loud aesthetic for 10 years as noted, and with each record I come away loving what they do. This record has string sections, a first for the band, and their songs a long beautiful passages that then explode through the speakers the next. The quiet of the bells with singular guitars on the opening track "Ashes in the Snow" lull the listener until the second guitar comes in and the rolls across the ride cymbal. It is like the opening of some huge epic Hollywood blockbuster movie. It does that for about 3 minutes and by the four minute mark the band is getting louder and louder and louder building (as they do on the whole record) to stunning results. You'll feel 10 feet off the ground, and its even better seeing and hearing it live. The album cover is also my favorite of the year, if not the last few years.

09. And So I Watch You From Afar - And So I Watch You From Afar

With a lead off track called "Set Guitars to Kill" you know that had best be a title to live up to..and it does. Their myspace says: WE ARE THE BULL, YOU ARE THE CHINA SHOP. Pretty much spot on. This Belfast Ireland based four piece hits you hard and often on one of the strongest debut records I've heard in a long long time. Tracks range from the wall of guitars and sonic noise, to complex time changes much like the band Don Caballero would pull out (on the track A Little Bit of Solidarity goes a long way). Had I been aware of this record earlier I bet it would have cracked my top five. It just smokes. The band also wins the awards for best song titles of the year. As a sidebar, this is/was the very first complete cd I've ever downloaded..and yeah I paid for it. Never downloaded a full cd for free or for charge, ever.

08. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

The last few Flaming Lips have been amongst my favorite records of all time. I'll admit it, and stand by that statement. When news of this record surfaced and I started seeing and reading the stunning reviews I was really ready for it. The problem, not sure I get it. The Flaming Lips have never been a band I have found that I can just toss on the cd and upon the first spin say that I love the record. Often times I am sorta confused, then after 2-3 listens I get in to it, and by that 3rd listen a light bulb goes off and I settle into my "zone" with the Flaming Lips. Well, I am on a heavy rotation of this record and it has yet to really get me. I am not sure it will at this point (the way the others have). This pick will be "too high" for the timing, or "too low" for who they are and what they have brought to me in the past. There are some great moments, but the band chose to get darker on this record. Sure long gone are the days of "She Don't Use Jelly" but nothing to me on this record comes close to the catchy/quirkiness that makes the Lips so charming. The moment I post this, the light bulb may go off, and I am like an expectant first time Dad, ready for it...really really ready.just when?

07. Echo & The Bunnymen - The Fountain

Do not adjust your televisions...this is not a misprint. I've been a fan of EATB for as long as I can remember. After the self titled breakout in the late 80's the band fell on harder times, disbanding, re-forming with a new singer, fights you name it. In the last few years the bands nucleus of Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant have reconciled and released some very strong records. The Fountain finds the band back in fine form with the jangly pop tunes of old and McCullochs low tenor howl. The band put forth a very strong ten track record that really should put them back on course with American audiences. Only time will tell, but this band is headed in the right direction once again. The band in not really breaking their formula for song writing, but its okay because its all pretty darn catchy

06. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures

It started as rumors, then a short looped riff on you tube of the first song on the album (No One Loves Me & Neither Do I). It all came together when John Paul Jones, the monolith of Led Zeppelin on bass, Dave Grohl the front man of the Foo Fighters sliding back again behind the drums, and Queens of the Stone Age guitarist and vocalist Josh Homme. The latest batch of "supergroups" had a lot to live up to on this debut. The teasing worked and fans were ravenous to see the band live before even a single full song had been on radio. Once the album did come out it was met with more curiosity than critical raves. Sure there was a pretty strong line up, but it seemed to not really create much to get excited about. Don't get me wrong, its a rocking record, but never came close to what that looped You Tube clip seemed to promise. Still as a collective you can hear these guys are on to something. Let us hope it is not just a "one and done" sorta deal.

05.Codes In The Clouds - Paper Canyons

This was a total fluke to find out about this band. I listen to satellite radio in the car and I use an FM station that is not broadcasting. I arrived at work and began to disconnect the radio and a station was playing an instrumental track being played under a concert report. I sat there for the next few minutes, hoping they'd say who it was. No luck, but I ran into the office and lucky for me the station had an instant message to the DJ. They came back saying it was "Codes in the Clouds". I then quickly searched the web for the luck. It was going to be a few months before the cd came out in the states. Finally it came out, mail ordered it and fell in love. This is one my favorite records not only of this year, but of the last few. It just hits me the right way every single time I listen to it. The perfect album closer is "The Distance Between Us" with a wall of guitars that could topple a building.

04. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

2009 was the year for Animal Collective. This record garnered them more attention outside the indie rock circles that ever before. Showcases on NPR, Late night TV appearances and releasing the record early in the year helped this band explode. The end result was universal acclaim and a top 5 pick on just about every music web site/blog. Some songs blend a techno feel with rock layers, while others toss in a poppy base with some great vocal harmonies. Up to this point this is probably the easiest record of theirs to explore. The band can be minimalistic at times and have the listener sort of sit and "wait" for something to happen. This is what I call a "reward" album, in that you might not get it at first, but when you do the reward of "getting it" out weighs any prior thoughts you had. This record lives up to the hype and positive press it got.

03. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing

A few years ago I did a review of their first record and I liked it, but it didn't pull me in. In a smart move, this latest cd was released for 5.99 and I figured 5.99 is a sandwich and a drink, so why not some music. Manchester Orchestra blew me to the floor with this record. From the first to last track it runs the gamut of musical styling. Singer Andy Hull harnesses the raw power of the band and by the monster guitar riff slide or whatever it is they do 1:45 into the first tune you'll be hooked and the wall of riffs on the title track will have you replacing your speakers. So freaking epic I tell you..EPIC. Stolen from somewhere - "This album has more hooks than a bait and tackle shop". Nail, meet head.

02. Mastodon - Crack the Skye

Almost from the get go this record hit me as being my favorite of the year. It is just an epic, bombastic assault on my ever sense. It is a progressive "concept" metal album to boot. The tracks flow seamless and hit me at all the right points. This was played on heavy rotation for weeks at a time, and with each pass a new guitar line was picked out, or drum fill, or bass riff. Right from the start I knew this was going to be a hard record to beat for my favorite of the year. Some came close, and in the end, only one was *that much better*

01. Caspian - Tertia

For followers of my blog you know I profess a major adoration of these Beverly, MA based instrumental rockers. To me, this band can't release new music fast enough. Each track is combed over and over and over. Instrumental music can be tricky for some. Many need the lyrics to keep them interested but Caspain never has me feeling that way. Perhaps its the three guitars going, or the pounding of the drums (on one of the smallest rock band kits you'll ever see). This band pulls at my every musical emotion. Sometime soon, some big time TV show, or movie is going to use one of their epic pieces at the right time and they will finally get the attention they so richly deserve. My list may be "eclectic" to some, but 99% of you "rock music fans" would LOVE this record. It was a close call with Mastodon I'll admit, but this is my favorite record of 2009.

So there you have it. Another year. Oh, if you read this far and are curious about some/all of these artists shoot me an email at laokas2002 at yahoo dot com with your mailing information and I'll send you a cd (maybe 2) with a song taken from each..and some cool personalized art work for the cd..something equally as cool. You know..if you want.

See you in the isles of the record stores and the shows!

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At Friday, January 29, 2010 9:23:00 AM , Blogger Bryan Hamill said...

excellent list as always Mr March!
Nice move on your #1.

At Friday, January 29, 2010 11:32:00 AM , Blogger Jenny G said...

What? No Adam Lambert? ;)

I love your lists, even though usually 50% are bands I've never heard of and the 49% are bands I've heard of but never listened to, and 1% are bands I've heard of and listened. I always keep the band names in the back of my mind for when I'm looking for somethign to download.

At Monday, February 08, 2010 5:48:00 PM , Blogger Village Charlatan said...

Completely agree with your take on Embryonic.

At Tuesday, February 09, 2010 4:23:00 PM , Blogger Jason said...

Me too, but I've already given up on it and moved on.


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