Sunday, January 17, 2010

Best of 2009 Music

The bad musical news: The losses of Ron Asheton, Lux Interior, Sky Saxon, Jim Carroll, Jay Bennett, Mary Travers, Les Paul, Vic Chesnutt, Rowland S. Howard, and Rhino Records.

The good musical news: People keep on making more music. Here are some of my favorites from 2009. Please note that since I have no editorial compulsion to limit it to 10, or attach any sort of rating scheme here, I won’t.


AC Newman “Get Guilty” Carl Newman has yet to let me down, and “Get Guilty” is no exception. While “Get Guilty” is not particularly distinct from what he does in the New Pornographers, it’s still crisp, melodic, and well-written. “All of My Days and All of My Days Off” is probably my song of the year.

Avett Brothers “I and Love and You” They’re rootsy, but not necessarily tied exclusively to the past… they’re rocking, but not necessarily afraid of letting their sentiment show. Are the Avetts are the sonic descendents of the Band? That is as credible a reason to admire this record as any.

Boston Spaceships “Zero to 99” It would hardly be a year-end list without our prolific Uncle Bob, and this may be his best record since GBV called it quits.

The Clean “Mister Pop” NZ veterans return after a nearly decade-long break with one of their best records ever. Spare and sunny.

Decemberists “Hazards of Love” As leery as I was about this (it’s a rock opera), I enjoyed this ambitious disc. Its oddball prog rock overtones confound indie expectations, and the articulate, archaic lyrics frame this rake’s progress perfectly.

Dirty Projectors “Bitte Orca” Another one I was prepared to hate, thinking it was part of that lite indie genre heavily promoted by Pitchfork (see Animal Collective, Phoenix, etc. etc.), “Bitte Orca” is engaging and musically ambitious.

Drones “Havilah” It came out in Oz in 2008, but in the US in 2009, so it counts. Dark and epic. There’s no reason why this band shouldn’t be huge everywhere.

El Goodo “Coyote” – Welsh weirdos with a deft touch for retro pop glory.

Girls “Album” – Bad album name. But it’s a good album.

Grizzly Bear “Veckatimest” Worshipers at the Church of Wilson for sure, but they’ve got the chops to pull it off.

Jarvis Cocker “Further Complications” As dirty-minded and wickedly clever as Pulp’s “This is Hardcore” but substantially more rocking, it hooked me from the start, and boasts some of his pithiest couplets in “I Never Said I Was Deep.”

Jay Reatard “Watch Me Fall” – It’s a shame about Jay. This is a great record, and was on the list before the recent news of his death. The scene will be a lot less lively without his chaotic presence.

Julian Casablancas “Phrazes for the Young” –Angular, slick and noisy like the city it evokes, New York.

The June “Magic Circles” Psychedelic crusaders from Parma, Italy. If they were from Parma, Michigan, I’d move back to Ann Arbor.

Kurt Vile “Childish Prodigy” – Lo-fi multi-instrumentalist with a sprawling monster of a record.

Mission of Burma “The Sound the Speed the Light” – The horrible truth about Burma is they still kick the ass of every band aspiring to noise from here to Boston and back.

Kram, “Mix Tape” Infectious, fuzzy and upbeat, it’s probably not going to be an enduring critical favorite, but it got played an awful lot Chez JJ this year. It does read a little like a mix tape, since it’s Kram’s collected solo work apart from Spiderbait.

Mason Jennings “Blood of Man” – Played, produced and written entirely by Jennings, Minneapolis’ best kept songwriting secret takes an electrified excursion into the dark.

St. Vincent “Actor” – Understated and charming, this really grew on me. Challenging, masterful guitar complements appealingly anxious lyric content.

The Shazam, “Meteor” A delightfully big, dumb (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) rock record, the kind that you needed to listen to every day in junior high. Equal parts Cheap Trick, Move and assorted glam bands in a hard candy shell.

White Denim “Fits” – Ratty Austin garage rockers should be getting the ears of Black Lips and White Stripes fans here in the US, but for some reason are making it with the English first. Beat the rush.

Wilco “Wilco” Infinitely likeable, and infinitely accessible, Wilco improves with age. Even my mom likes it… you should too.


Big Star, “Keep an Eye on the Sky” It’s a lot less redundant than I initially thought, with superb outtakes from their seminal albums. Nice package, too.

Jayhawks “Songs from the North Country” – a very nice survey compiled by Gary Louris. Their reunion show this summer was magnificent, and I hope it’s a sign of better things to come.

Love “Love Lost” An unissued 1971 album by Arthur Lee and Love, this is a far less structured record than “Forever Changes,” and offers an interesting look into what could have been had Lee stayed out of trouble.

Pylon, “Chomp More” “Chomp More” expands 1983’s dB Recs dance rock epic with additional tracks and remixes. The band has never received adequate credit for their role in the 80’s Athens GA scene.

Feelies: “Crazy Rhythms” –Nerdy, noisy, arty, and still every bit as bracing as it was nearly 30 years ago.

Nirvana, “Bleach” – Beyond all the hype, it’s still a great record.

Vaselines “Enter the Vaselines” – We used to use this album to clear out the record store after all-ages shows. I heard it in Treehouse the other day and couldn’t help but wonder if that was the intent. Made me smile.

V/A “Where the Action Is” – While not as essential as the Nuggets boxes, it’s a informative attempt to make sense of the sprawling mid-60’s LA scene, and there are a load of hard-to-find tracks.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Thankyoubyebye 2009

It’s been an interesting year, 2009. Started out a little ‘off’, shall we say, with some epic weirdness, but after some work to resolve the issues, it was brilliant from about June out. I’ve been exceptionally fortunate, and there are a lot of things I appreciate more than I did a year ago. Some are petty things, but others are pretty big. Here are a few:

I am grateful the August 19 tornado missed my house by a couple hundred feet. Also grateful nobody was killed or badly hurt by it.

I am grateful for my office/studio space. It’s got good light, good equipment, and good company.

I am grateful that people still choose to gather together to play music. They could be in their bedroom with a sampler, but they haul equipment through snowdrifts to play for little more than gratitude and a few beers. Thank you. (On that note, I was extra grateful to have seen Prince play at his studio this fall, easily the gig of the year. How often do you get to see someone with that many hits just play what they like? Larry Graham’s cameo on the Family Stone covers put it over the top.)

I am grateful for material things, but in the interest of conservation would rather acquire less this year. I have too much stuff, admittedly: too many shoes, too many records, too many of which I love far too much. It's hard, because damn, every time I put on those killer mod George Cox winklepickers I smile. It’s time to make do with less, and appreciate what we have.

I am grateful I have been afforded opportunities to travel. The old St. Augustine saw, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” rings true to me. I have now read a few chapters, which have been enriching beyond all expectation.

I am grateful for pets. They don’t care who you know, and they can usually spot the nice people in the room. Everybody needs friends like that. We had a big scare for Rory’s health earlier in the summer, but it’s resolved, and every day I get with this grand old Cornish Rex is a good one. We have a saying in the house co-opted from Bruce Lee: “Be like the Corn,” because he loves everybody, and trouble just rolls off his back.

I am grateful for continuing opportunities to learn. Academia's great, but I’ll take it however it comes. I'm finding the unplanned kind, resulting from tribulation or experimentation, is often more valuable and easily retained.

I am grateful for bright colleagues. Clients, vendors and partners constantly impress me with their drive, reliability and resourcefulness. The good things you do enhance people's lives every day, and I am glad to be a part of your efforts.

I am grateful for family. I am especially grateful I got to spend time with the branch of the Jurrjens family tree in Victoria, Australia at the very start of 2009. We really get around, and didn’t do too badly for modest folks from Haarlemmermeer, did we?

Finally, I am grateful for good friends. (You know who you are.) I'm constantly indebted to you for the amount of love, generosity, and fun you add to the world, and I'm constantly awed by the talent enclosed within my circle. You rock, straight-up.

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