Sunday, December 27, 2009

Useless Film Snob's 25 Best Albums of 2009

Once again, we can get into this discussion of best vs. favorite. I realize that musical taste is extremely subjective; someone might think Mastadon's Crack the Skye is the year's best album, I would rather get hit in the head with a hammer. So, I guess what I'm saying is what I call the best may be someone else's worst. We'll go ahead and call this the best purely superficial reasons: I just want to be put on those lists with all the other egotistical music snobs. Here are my choices for the best (favorite) of 2009:

25) Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine
A somber, semi-concept album for Jason Molina & company, about what I'm not to sure.
Choice tracks: 'The Rock of Ages', 'Whip-Poor-Will'

24) Phosphorescent - To Willie
A spirited interpretation of Willie Nelson's catalog by Matthew Houck. Houck's vocals have the same wavering timbre of Nelson's which keep the material firmly grounded in its original sound.
Choice tracks: 'I Gotta Get Drunk', 'Can I Sleep In Your Arms'

23) Woods - Songs of Shame
Songs that border on oddball sonic experiments, psychedelic jams, and quirky vocals.
Choice tracks: 'To Clean', 'Rain On'

22) Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses - Roadhouse Son
Bingham's brand of alt-country has been done before but his ragged vocals and Marc Ford's production give the feeling of Bingham living what he writes.
Choice tracks: 'Tell My Mother I Miss He So', 'Wishing Well'

21) Mark Olson & Gary Louris - Ready For the Flood
A welcome return to the former Jayhawks frontmen that shows they still can make some great songs and harmonies.
Choice tracks: 'Bloody Hands', 'The Trap's Been Set'

20) Built to Spill - There Is No Enemy
A rejuvenated sounding Doug Martsch leads Built to Spill a group of more energetic and concise set of songs from their previous album.
Choice tracks: 'Nowhere Lullaby', 'Tomorrow'

19) The Black Crowes - Before the Frost...Until the Freeze
Recorded in front of a live audience, the album captures the band in their best element but the double album format could have been pared to one really good one.
Choice tracks: 'Good Morning Captain', 'Last Place Where Love Lives'

18) Bowerbirds - Upper Air
Delicate acoustic material with some simple yet catchy melodies.
Choice tracks: 'House of Diamonds', 'Northern Lights'

17) Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
The second straight record of pretty straight-ahead material could be seen as treading water but Jeff Tweedy and company seem content in a simplified direction.
Choice tracks: 'You Never Know', 'I'll Fight'

16) Diane Birch - Bible Belt
Completely retro in its early 70s AM Radio influence, there are elements of soul, gospel and Brill Building pop mixed in, all led by Birch's fantastic voice. The out of left field choice of 2009.
Choice tracks: 'Valentino', 'Rise Up'

15) Langhorne Slim - Be Set Free
Like Bowerbirds and the Avett Brothers, Langhorne Slim is taking acoustic styles in idiosyncratic ways. An album that harkens back to the singer-songwriter heydey of the mid 70s.
Choice tracks: 'I Love You But Goodbye', 'Cinderella'

14) Derek Trucks Band - Already Free
Derek Trucks continually makes albums that should find a bigger audience outside of the jam band universe. Truly fantastic band interplay with perhaps the strongest set of original material on a Derek Trucks Band release.
Choice tracks: 'Sweet Inspiration', 'Down Don't Bother Me'

13) Great Lake Swimmers - Lost Channels
More ethereal music from this Canadian outfit. A bit more in the way of uptempo songs but the slow, somber ones are still their best.
Choice tracks: 'Pulling On a Line', 'Stealing Tomorrow'

12) Dawes - North Hills
A band from California who made the best blue-eyed soul/classic rock album I've heard in quite a while. It is uniquely Californian, sweeping and cinematic in its sun-drenched Americana.
Choice tracks: 'When My Time Comes', 'God Rest My Soul'

11) The Felice Brothers - Yonder Is the Clock
My upstate brethren continue to make music sounding straight out of Big Pink, this one with a bit more of studio polish.
Choice tracks: 'Run Chicken Run', 'All When We Were Young'

10) Bob Dylan - Together Through Life
Sprinkled with Tex-Mex accordion and Chess covers, Dylan continues to re-interpret various genres to a consistent degree of success almost 50 years into his career.
Choice tracks: 'Beyond Here Lies Nothing', 'It's All Good'

9) The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
Another band, this one from Rhode Island, based in roots styles but adding their own touch. They can handle up tempo material just as well as their expertly crafted quieter ones.
Choice tracks: 'The Horizon is a Beltway', 'Ticket Taker'

8) Roadside Graves - My Son's Home
A band from New Jersey that makes surprisingly good roots based rock. Notice a trend through this list yet?
Choice tracks: 'Far and Wide', 'Take a Train'

7) Grant-Lee Phillips - Little Moon
Criminally under appreciated as a solo act or with Grant Lee Buffalo, Phillips has made another album of unassuming yet great songs.
Choice tracks: 'It's Not the Same Old Cold War, Harry', 'One Morning'

6) Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
A band that can take a variety of styles and create some challenging, densely layered yet enjoyable music.
Choice tracks: 'Two Weeks', 'Cheerleader'

5) The Cave Singers - Welcome Joy
A band that greatly enhanced their songwriting with their second album. Still with a unique voice, this time the Cave Singers have stronger songs to go with it.
Choice tracks: 'Leap', 'Beach House'

4) Todd Snider - The Excitement Plan
Snider may be the best storyteller out there and this album shows it off, whether it be songs about pitching no-hitters on LSD, from the perspective of a tree, or a seemingly toss-off about the benefits of fame.
Choice tracks: 'America's Favorite Pastime', 'Money, Compliments, Publicity (Song Number Ten)'

3) Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
A much more accessible record than their last one, they may be the modern day, post-irony version of the Beach Boys. At its core, these songs have a vitality and a expression of joy that can be overshadowed by their technical and sonic achievements.
Choice tracks: 'Summertime Clothes', 'My Girls'

2) The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
Working with Rick Rubin had cries of selling out coming from their hardcore fans. I happen to think it's their best album to date, and the move away from their established sound actually help in their songwriting. Less shouting and more nuanced song craft created an album that still has traits of the old Avetts but shows them going in a broader direction.
Choice tracks: 'Ten Thousand Words', 'Incomplete and Insecure'

1) Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
The most consistent, strongest set of songs Case has put to record. An album that shows off more than her great voice, it puts the songs themselves right up there too. 'People Gotta Lot of Nerve' is my choice for choice track of 2009.
Choice tracks: 'This Tornado Loves You, 'People Gotta Lot of Nerve', 'I'm an Animal'

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