The Top 15 Albums and 25 Songs of 2009
What's with the whole "Top 10" thing anyway? What are we, pre-school kids counting on our fingers? Why not a Top 15? Because that's what I'm offering up here: My 15 favorite albums of the past year.
Even though, overall, 2009 wasn't the greatest year for music, there were still some terrific albums released.
Terrific albums, yes, BUT, unless I missed them, no classics. I mean, where was this year's Kala, or Modern Times, or Elephant, or East Nashville Skyline, or Is This It, or Late Registration, or Stankonia, or Heartbreaker, or Love and Theft, or Tell Tale Signs. If an all-time classic album was out there this year I'm pretty sure I didn't hear it.
That said, the year did produce some pretty damn great music. And so here, in no particular order, are MY PICKS FOR THE TOP 15 ALBUMS OF 2009:
TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE
Seeing that I'm a bigger fan of Dylan than of any of these other artists, I'm going to say a bit more about this album than the rest:
First of all, let me just say that this album was a definite letdown compared to Bob's impeccable output of recent years (Time Out Of Mind, Love and Theft, Modern Times, Tell Tale Signs); however, it's still unquestionably a great addition to Bob's incredible late-career renaissance.
It may not be as deep or intense an album as, say, Modern Times, but, on the other hand, it's a lot more fun and upbeat. Gone, for the most part, are the dark, brooding (and classic) apocalyptic songs such as "Ain't Talkin'" and in their place are rollicking, rolling, bouncy Tex-Mex grooves courtesy of the organ playing of David Hildago (of Los Lobos fame), who features on every song and gives the album its distinct feel - the feel of an upbeat blues album. In fact, I'd say this is Bob's most upbeat album in decades.
Sure, most of the songs are still about heartbreak and lost love, but the notion that death and/or impending doom are just around the corner is nowhere - or make that, rarely - to be found here.
This is laid-back Bob. It sounds like he's having the time of his life. An album of love, lust, longing and desire... but not death. Or at least not all that much death.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that all the songs but one were co-written by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, whereas Bob normally writes all by himself, of course.
Even the darkest lyrics on this album, those in the song "It's All Good", are surrounded by a jovial party blues sound. How often does a song featuring lyrics like this make you want to get up and boogie:
Cold blooded killer, stalking the town
Cop cars blinking, something bad going down
Buildings are crumbling in the neighborhood
But there's nothing to worry about, 'cause it's all good
Favorite lyric: "I’m listening to Billy Joe Shaver/And I’m reading James Joyce/Some people tell me I got the blood of the land in my voice", from "I Feel A Change Comin’ On".
THE EXCITEMENT PLAN
Yet another in a long line of consistently great albums from one of my all-time favorite acts. As in the case of Dylan, this may not be up to the standard of his last couple of full-length releases (East Nashville Skyline and The Devil You Know), but it's still a great album nonetheless.
Featuring Snider's trademark knack for concise storytelling and sly humor, The Excitement Plan really grows on you after a few listens. Especially after a few listens to standout cuts like "Money, Compliments, Publicity", "Corpus Christi Bay", and "America's Favorite Pastime", a song about a no-hitter pitched by Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 1970.
Best lyric: "I'm as broke as the Ten Commandments".
Monsters of Folk
MONSTERS OF FOLK
A "supergroup" of folk-inspired rockers (Jim James of My Morning Jacket, M. Ward of She and Him, and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes) that does not disappoint. And, unlike most supergroups, Monsters of Folk sound like a coherent band. Every song's great. Let's hope this isn't just a one-off. The world needs more music from these guys.
This indie folk rocker makes the album of her career and ends up with a surprise hit, peaking at #3 on the Billboard album chart. A gorgeous, hook-filled folk/country/pop/rock concept album about nature. But if albums about nature don't sound like your thing, let me just say that even a Ted Nugent-minded nature hater, could dig an album this good.
The Avett Brothers
I AND LOVE AND YOU
Produced by Rick Rubin and sounding a lot like, among other things, the classic sound of the early- to mid-nineties Jayhawks (Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass) - one of my all-time favorite sounds - there was no way I wasn't going to love this bluegrass-tinged alt-country-roots-rock-folk beauty of an album. Sounds this sweet are simply hard to come by.
If this list were numbered (rather than in no particular order) this one would be in the top 5 for sure. Probably the top 3, come to think of it. Don't push me, I'm not declaring an album of the year this year. But how about top 2? If you haven't heard it, go pick it up today. If you like Gram Parsons, The Jayhawks, Wilco, and/or My Morning Jacket you're going to love these guys.
MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION
One of the most ambitious, inventive albums of the year, featuring sounds from everywhere, but most heavily influenced by Brian Wilson. Far-out and extremely catchy experimentation, dance grooves, rock sounds and those oh-so-heavenly harmonies.
IT'S NOT ME, IT'S YOU
Proving that her first album was no fluke, England's Lilly Allen once again shines on her sophomore release. And, as with her debut, her dark wit and humor are the main draws. Great songs don't hurt either.
WORKING ON A DREAM
Some Bruce fans (and critics) seem to hate this album, but I've really enjoyed it ever since I picked it up last January. Bruce is all over the map here, and that may be what turned some folks off, but to me it makes for a great listen.
Paying homage to his mentor, friend and hero - the incredible Townes Van Zandt - Earle recorded 15 of his favorite Van Zandt songs and, with songs this good, how can you really go wrong? After checking this out, go get yourself a few albums from the master himself.
NO LINE ON THE HORIZON
You've got to hand it to Bono and the boys, 30 years into their career and they just keep pushing themselves to try new sounds and styles, yet all the time retaining that core unique U2 sound. While, to my ear, not one of their all-time great albums, definitely a solid album by any standard.
Perhaps Pearl Jam's best album since their first two. But, unlike the long epic songs on Ten and Vs., Backspacer features short, concise rock 'n' roll gems and some of the most melodic tunes of their career. And, as always, Eddie Vedder is in terrific voice.
Hard to define, but let's just say cross Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys with Fleet Foxes and throw in a little Smiths, CSN&Y and The Hollies and you've got Grizzly Bear. However you define it, it's good stuff.
This deeply blues-infused rock 'n' roll band and album is in no way as great as his work with The White Stripes or The Raconteurs, but still you've got to hand it to Jack White. Who else has ever had three bands going at the same time, all of them making such great music?
Another supergroup of sorts, bringing together White, playing drums here as well as some vocals, Alison Mosshart of The Kills on lead vocals, Dean Fertita of Queens Of The Stone Age on guitar, and Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs on bass.
What will Jack do next? He's hinted there might be a solo album in 2010. This guy is amazing!
WILCO THE ALBUM
Nowhere near as great as their earlier albums this decade (is this becoming a common refrain or what?), but this laid-back new album by Jeff Tweedy and co. is still a fine addition to their outstanding catalogue.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS PHOENIX
Rock 'n' roll from France that doesn't suck? Really. This is a truly great album. Check out the songs "Lisztomania" (listen) and "1901" (listen) and see if you don't agree. If you liked MGMT's album last year you're probably going to like this one too.
Speaking of great songs, here's my list, in no particular order, of the best songs of the past year:
TOP 25 SONGS OF 2009:
Pearl Jam: "Just Breathe" Listen
U2: "Moment of Surrender" Listen
Monsters of Folk: "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)" Listen
Monsters of Folk: "Say Please" Listen
Todd Snider: "Money, Compliments, Publicity (Song Number Ten)" Listen
Animal Collective: "My Girls" Listen
Phoenix: "Lisztomania" Listen
Phoenix: "1901" Listen
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys: "Empire State of Mind" Listen
Jay-Z and Rihanna and Kanye West: "Run This Town" Listen
Kasabian: "Fire" Listen
The xx: "Crystalised" Listen
The Avett Brothers: "I and Love and You" Listen
The Avett Brothers: "Ill With Want" Listen
Neko Case: "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth" Listen
Neko Case: "People Got a Lotta Nerve" Listen
Wilco: "Wilco (The Song)" Listen
Dirty Projectors: "Stillness Is The Move" Listen
Lilly Allen: "The Fear" Listen
Bob Dylan: "I Feel A Change Comin' On" Listen
Bob Dylan: "It's All Good" Listen
Grizzly Bear: "Two Weeks" Listen
Grizzly Bear: "While You Wait For The Others" Listen
Miike Snow: "Animal" Listen
Bruce Springsteen: "The Last Carnival" Listen
So there you have it. My picks for the best music of 2009. Think I got it wrong or that I missed something? Leave a comment.
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Monday, January 11th, 2010
Now check out my picks for the best music of the past ten years: The Top Albums, Songs and Artists of the Decade
Or perhaps you prefer movies: My Picks For The Best Films of 2009
And here are my 2008 music picks: The Best 20 Albums and 50 Songs of 2008: Dylan Tops Both Lists
And my 2007 picks: My Picks For The Best 15 Albums and 40 Songs of 2007
For more music raves and reviews click here: Music Homepage
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And for all things Bob Dylan click here: The Bob (as in Dylan)