Here are my Top 10 albums for 2009. There are certainly some "non-rock" albums in here, but so be it. These are the ones I've felt compelled to play repeatedly over the last year, so it's a personal choice, not (necessarily) a list of popular or critical favorites, although many of these received good reviews.
Haih Or Amortecedor
This wonderful and wacky Brazilian band made a splash in the psychedelic 60’s, with fun tracks like “Bat Macumba” and “Rita Lee,” but petered out in the 70’s and didn’t release another studio album until this one. The title, by the way, is not literally translatable: Original member Sergio Dias says “’Haih’ is Shoshone for ‘raven’ [which explains the album cover] and ‘Amortecedor’ means ‘shock absorber.’ If you break down the word ‘amortecedor,’ you have like a hundred different words. Like an interjection, amo, which is I love, amore, which is love, amortece, love weaves, amortecedor, love weaves pain, tecedor, the weaver, and so it goes on, you know, like forever.” So there you go.
The language barrier is no problem, since the liner notes come with English translations, and the humor comes across musically regardless.
They Might Be Giants
Here Comes Science
This one’s for the kids, but great for parents too: Songs about science, meticulously researched, but catchy as all get-out, with TMBG’s typical humor intact. Aside from their 1990 classic, Flood, I actually prefer their kids albums (Here Come the ABCs, Here Come the 123s, etc).
The Crow: New Songs for Five String Banjo
Yes, this is banjo music from that Steve Martin, the wild and crazy actor/author. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the high quality of this disc, but I really was impressed. Nearly all original compositions, written over a 40-year span, this is proof that, as Martin once said, you “can’t play a sad song on the banjo.” With guest players like Vince Gill and Earl Scruggs – who don’t overwhelm the great playing of Martin himself – this is top-notch stuff.
I liked it so much I bought the pop-up version of the CD (pictured above in my home office).
The Hazards of Love
Colin Meloy’s visions just get grander and grander, with this 17-song prog-folk-rock-opera masterpiece. I can’t really follow the storyline without a few more senior year college credits under my belt, but no matter: On a purely musical scale, with its repeating themes and powerful melodies, this is a grabber that demands a full listen each time through.
Muse continues their quest for worldwide dominance. “Resistance” is futile. As a friend of mine put it, we all “like a bit of Sturm und Drang from time to time.” Combine the bombast of late 70’s Queen with a Thom Yorke that didn’t freak out about stardom after OK Computer, and you’ve got a potent combination. I like them even better now that singer Matt Bellamy doesn’t take a huge gulp of air into the mic every time he’s about to sing.
Looking forward to seeing them in concert soon. Check out this performance at Wembley Stadium in 2007. Woohoo!
”Knights of Cydonia”live at Wembley
Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Instrumental virtuosity from acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, originally from Mexico but now apparently citizens of the world, as they tour incessantly. (They put on a great show in Portland late this year.) The hooks are indelible, the rhythms insistent and ever-changing, and they push me to redefine rock music as something requiring electric guitars.
The Soundtrack of our Lives
Though I'm afraid TSOOL will never hit the psychedelic heights of their 2001 breakthrough album Behind The Music, this year's double album Communion was a very strong effort, including quite a few anthemic and powerful tracks, such “Second Life Replay,” which builds to an oh-so-satisfying conclusion:
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
An album-long song cycle about a debauched night out and its consequences, this didn’t grab me at first, but has gradually pulled me in and has spent as much time on my player(s) as any album of the past year. The lead track is a real grabber:
Hitchcock's compassionate weirdness continues unabated, and thank goodness. I've found his work in the 00’s the most accessible, with this and 2006's fabulous Ole Tarantula espeically enjoyable. He's embracing “music as vehicle for joy” more and more. Check out the great lyrics and beautiful harmonies on this track:
Bob and Veronica Ride Again
The debut album from this London, UK band is a gorgeous stunner. Bits of dreampop fuzz, French café strummings, lush male/female harmonizing make this a relaxing listen that goes well with early mornings or late nights in equal measure. I’ve played this many times and it continues to grow in stature. Initial pressings also come with a 100-page novella, a love story of sorts, with a lovely twist at the end.
(Full disclosure: The album is financed by individual investors, of which I am one. One listen to their first single “Chandelier” and I was hooked.) Here they perform an acoustic version on Radio Eins in Berlin:
There are, of course, hundreds of other great, deserving albums. No slight intended if I left your favorites off. But it's my blog eh, so there you go!
If you like any these already, or give some a try, let me know what you think. I'll be curious to hear if this music is as contagious and fun as I think it is.