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Great Music of 2009


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Well, personally, I'm fine with a single thread in which to list new discoveries-- the new music worth hearing thread-- and, eventually, a thread for posting our top ten lists/favorite records of the year... but that, of course, won't be for another several months.

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I've usually used the "Great Music of 200X" to post my running lists of favorite albums of 2009.

I usually use "New Stuff Worth Hearing" as a place to highlight an artist or album that has captured my attention but probably doesn't deserve a thread of its own - mostly because I'm not anticipating too many replies. I've found it to be a good respository to go back through time to time to explore names I might have missed.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem that bad to start a new thread devoted to an artist even if I'm not expecting too many responses, making "New Stuff Worth Hearing" sort of redundant.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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I've usually used the "Great Music of 200X" to post my running lists of favorite albums of 2009.

I usually use "New Stuff Worth Hearing" as a place to highlight an artist or album that has captured my attention but probably doesn't deserve a thread of its own - mostly because I'm not anticipating too many replies. I've found it to be a good respository to go back through time to time to explore names I might have missed.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem that bad to start a new thread devoted to an artist even if I'm not expecting too many responses, making "New Stuff Worth Hearing" sort of redundant.

Maybe this is just me, but I think both the "Great Music of 200x" and "New Stuff Worth Hearing" threads are equivalent to thread titles like "Good Movies I Like" and "Some Good Books." They're so broad as to be virtually meaningless. I think I've posted maybe 800 or 900 times on new albums and new artists in the Music forum, usually with the album title or artist name as the subject of the thread. Unless I've indicated otherwise in my comments, it's all been new stuff worth hearing.

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I've usually used the "Great Music of 200X" to post my running lists of favorite albums of 2009.

I usually use "New Stuff Worth Hearing" as a place to highlight an artist or album that has captured my attention but probably doesn't deserve a thread of its own - mostly because I'm not anticipating too many replies. I've found it to be a good respository to go back through time to time to explore names I might have missed.

I've used these in the same way as Kyle. I would add that "New Stuff Worth Hearing" has been a place I feel more free to post about an album or artist I'm just not sure about yet. For example, a while back I picked up a My Latest Novel album and liked it enough that I wanted to tell others about it. I hadn't listened to it long enough though to know if I could attach a superlative (it didn't end up on my Best of 2006 list). It's nice to have somewhere people can throw names out there with a short description and others can decide if they want to check it out.

Maybe this is just me, but I think both the "Great Music of 200x" and "New Stuff Worth Hearing" threads are equivalent to thread titles like "Good Movies I Like" and "Some Good Books." They're so broad as to be virtually meaningless. I think I've posted maybe 800 or 900 times on new albums and new artists in the Music forum, usually with the album title or artist name as the subject of the thread. Unless I've indicated otherwise in my comments, it's all been new stuff worth hearing.

Andy, I always appreciate the time, effort and thought you put into the threads you start on albums. Those threads are better than a post in "New Stuff Worth Hearing" in the sense that they are more in depth and encourage more conversation, but they have the distinct disadvantage of being lost under a pile of new threads a week after they were created. I don't visit A+F as often as many of you do but when I come it is nice to know where to find what others think worthwhile (ie. the "New Stuff Worth Hearing" thread). I have a pretty good sense of some folks' taste, enough so that "Good Movies I Like" or "Some Good Books" are not meaningless because given the name of the recommender and a quick description or comparison, I can determine fairly reliably whether I will be interested in the album/artist.

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I, for one, prefer each album to have its own unique thread-- but it sounds like Kyle (and probably others?) appreciate having these other two threads. So if there's a desire for them, I have no trouble keeping them. And maybe we can set this particular thread apart for posting the "best albums of the year... so far" lists that tend to pop up periodically.

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I, for one, prefer each album to have its own unique thread-- but it sounds like Kyle (and probably others?) appreciate having these other two threads. So if there's a desire for them, I have no trouble keeping them. And maybe we can set this particular thread apart for posting the "best albums of the year... so far" lists that tend to pop up periodically.

The one great pro of each artist/album having a unique thread is that it makes the search function easier to use. I have it when I'm search for an artist and "New Stuff Worth Hearing" pops up. I'm usually not inclined to scroll through multiple pages to miss the band's highlighted name.

Now that I've been thinking about it, I don't mind keeping both "New Stuff Worth Hearing" and "Best Music of 200X", but I'm going to work more on starting unique threads devoted to individual artists. Even if there are no responses, at least it is there and can be easily found.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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JANUARY

New Releases:

  • Andrew Bird, Noble Beast: First impression, it's not as wildly whimsical as Mysterious Production of Eggs, nor as ponderous as Armchair Apocrypha. I'm not hearing any big new ideas, but what I am hearing is marvelous.
  • Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion: I tried to excited about their previous albums, and never really caught the fever. I think that I'm susceptible to this album, which may be a "gateway" into working backward and appreciating what came before. I don't know. They still sound processed, gauzy, and distant, to me. I've never been a Beach Boys/Brian Wilson fan; I have some mysterious aversion to that shiny happy pop harmony sound... a sound that's here in spades. (Note: Add "in spades" to the list of terms that I'm tired of using, and I'm not even sure I'm using it correctly. Fezzig? Where are you?) But there are some catchy hooks, and the songs are friendlier and seem to have more structure. They hold my interest. Interesting lyrics -- my kingdom for a lyric sheet! I'll definitely be spending time with this.

Discoveries:

  • Okkervil River - The Stand-Ins: Okay. I get it now. They're smart and engaging. Time to go back and try the previous records, which didn't connect with me.
  • Jamey Johnson- That Lonesome Road: Perfect country songs, sung with humor, venom, heart, and the hum of a Hell's Angel Harley. "In Color" and "Mowin' Down the Roses" will be essential mix-disc-for-friends tracks for a long time to come.
  • Johnny Flynn - A Larum: The Billy Bragg album that I wish Billy would record. Flynn sounds like Bragg, but his band's got gusto and spirit. Any rowdy bar band this polished will soon be playing in only the very best bars.
  • The Fireman- Electric Arguments: I'm thinking McCartney's been listening to a lot of Radiohead and Animal Collective. This is densely layered, so electronic and processed that every moment of glory seems to be matched by a moment that's clear as mud.

FEBRUARY

Discoveries:

  • TV on the Radio- Dear Science:

MARCH

New Releases:

  • U2, No Line on the Horizon:
  • Buddy and Julie Miller, Written in Chalk: :

Discoveries:

  • Various artists- Help Me To Sing: Songs of the Sacred Harp:
  • Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue:

APRIL

New Releases:

  • Late of the Pier, Fantasy Black Channel:
  • Zu, Carboniferous:
  • Bruce Cockburn - Slice O Life:
  • Leonard Cohen - Live in London:
  • The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love:
  • Various Artists - Dark Was the Night: It's a hit and miss affair, but the hits are so, so good. My Brightest Diamond wins, but Sufjan Stevens, Stuart Murdoch, Andrew Bird, Arcade Fire, and others are all in fine form here.

Discoveries:

  • U2- Boy - remastered: An awe-inspiring remastering that makes the album sound like it was just recorded. My admiration has greatly increased for this record.
  • U2- War - remastered: Another fine remastering. I can't imagine how they could make it sound better... unless they did a 5.1 surround mix.

MAY

New Releases:

  • Iron and Wine- Around the Well: A generous helping of Sam Mead leftovers that are better than most singer/songwriter's best work.
  • Green Day, 20th Century Breakdown: Not half bad. I've never been a fan, but they're working really hard to make meaningful records these days. The last one got my attention. This one has it too. Ambitious, creative, with attitude and thoughtfulness. But I hope they relax a bit: They're burning a little too hot, a little too eager to become their generation's prophets. Still, I'd rather listen to this than Coldplay.

    I'll be interested to see how it lasts.

  • Ramblin' Jack Elliott - A Stranger Here: I appreciate Joe Henry's production here as much as anything else. Can't say I'm familiar with Ramblin' Jack's legendary work, but this is a very enjoyable record.
  • Wilco, Wilco (the Album): First impressions: Just as impressive as Sky Blue Sky, maybe more so. I don't think Tweedy's ever sounded more confident. This sounds like a band that enjoys playing together, knows each others strengths, and wants to build songs that will last. Best band record I've heard this year.
  • Various Artists, War Child presents Heroes: Well worth a listen, as legendary artists chose bands to cover their songs. The Elbow cover of U2's "Running to Stand Still" is a real standout, and The Hold Steady covers "Atlantic City" just as powerfully as you'd expect.
  • Bob Dylan - Together Through Life: Enjoyable, but unexciting; a pleasant, good-humored romp through dark, sardonic songs.
  • Marianne Faithfull - Easy Come, Easy Go:
  • Bat for Lashes - Two Suns: Sarah McLachlan meets Bjork meets early Sinead O'Connor, and that's a good thing.
  • PJ Harvey and John Parish- A Woman a Man Walked By: PJ's most exciting effort since Is This Desire?, but be warned: It's also the sickest, most twisted thing she's ever recorded.
  • Neko Case- Middle Cyclone: I think I like it better then Fox Confessor, but that would put me in the minority.
  • Aaron Strumpel- Elephants: In the running for my favorite album of the year.
  • Tori Amos- Abnormally Attracted to Sin: I know this is crazy, but this sounds like such a Tori Amos album.
  • Camera Obscura- My Maudlin Career: One of those albums that sounds so much like the one that came before it, it doesn't make much of an impression, and may end up diminishing the previous record by diluting it.
  • Eleni Mandell- Artificial Fire: Yowza. Dangerously hot stuff. Raw, smoky, and sexier than anything I've heard in a long time. Lucinda Williams may have to give up her title as my stereo's voice of seduction; she used to make music that did this to me.
  • I Was a King- I Was a King: Impressive, lushly layered power pop with more than one engaging singer. I'll be spending more time with this.

Discoveries:

  • Brian Eno and David Byrne- My Life in the Bush of Ghosts:
  • Katy Bowser- All of My Friends: I am, immediately, a fan!
  • Zbigney Preisner - Silence, Night and Dreams: Somehow, I've never seen this album by my favorite film composer. It's full of haunting vocals and spooky melodies, just like The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colors soundtracks.

JUNE

New Releases:

  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!: Best blast of 80s power pop I've heard in a while. Barrels of fun.
  • Allen Toussaint - The Bright Mississippi: What a phenomenal ensemble. I was ignorant of Toussaint's work until he and Costello mixed it up. But this album is all the evidence I need that he stands among the greats of American jazz. I haven't heard Ribot or Bellerose in a context like this before, but they're naturals. I don't like bandwagons, but I didn't have to climb on this one. It picked me up.
  • M. Ward - Hold Time: An immediate favorite for 2009. The strongest of his solo works, and it outshines She and Him too. Surprisingly substantial lyrics and irresistible hooks.
  • Dave Matthews Band - Big Whisky and the Groogrux King: Wow. A Dave Matthews band that I really, really like!
  • Eels - Hombre Lobo: Hmm. Feels like a bit of a let-down after the achievement of the last album, but I need to spend more time with it. I don't hear any new ideas here yet.
  • Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane, and the Sugarcane: A pleasant, folky, summer-afternoon kind of session with Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett. Okay, so it's not Spike 2, nor is it going to get the kind of regular play that All This Useless Beauty does for me, but I'm still happy Elvis showed up with something more than another standard rock album.

Discoveries:

  • Belle and Sebastian - Tigersmilk: Even though its a low-key, half-whispered affair, it reminds me of the Smiths. Similarly good-humored and melancholy storytelling. Smart. I wish I'd heard this when it came out.

JULY

New Releases:

  • Alela Diane - To Be Still: Make a square of Suzanne Vega, Gillian Welch, Beth Orton, and Cat Power, and Diane seems to have staked territory right smack in the middle of that territory. Her vocals remind me of all four... which is interesting, as those three sound very different to me... and her lyrics are poetic and haunting. She's prone to storytelling, and her music is camped between front-porch country and atmospheric pop. In other words, I'm won over before the first song is over.
  • Moby - Wait for Me: Meh. First time through, it's pleasant and moody and all a little too familiar.
Edited by Overstreet

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Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Andrew Bird, Noble Beast: First impression, it's not as wildly whimsical as Mysterious Production of Eggs, nor as ponderous as Armchair Apocrypha. I'm not hearing any big new ideas, but what I am hearing is marvelous.

Nice thoughts, Jeff. I want to add that while I agree with your thoughts on the new Bird, I am hearing something new in Bird's music, especially toward the latter half of the album. I don't know if it's the chord progressions he's using, but it sounds much more intricate, in a nuanced sort of way.

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  • 1 month later...
I've never been a Beach Boys/Brian Wilson fan; I have some mysterious aversion to that shiny happy pop harmony sound...

Not to be off topic, but I think everybody should watch this document, the Beach Boys live in 1964 (it's in three parts). I think it's wonderful, it makes you want to make a band yourself, and spend your time singing. It's like sharing light and joy.

For me, it made me purchase a few sixties and seventies classics from them that I didn't have yet.

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I was thinking yesterday that 2009 is shaping up to be a really great year for music.

There is already great albums by: Neko Case, M. Ward, Southeast Engine, Asobi Seksu, Animal Collective, Mirah, and Dark was the Night Soundtrack.

Then looking ahead, there are a number of forthcoming releases from old favorites: Camera Obscura, the Decemberists, Wilco, and Patty Griffin.

Boy, looking at that above list all spelled out I realize I'm a walking demographic stereotype.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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One of my co-workers got a advance copy of Camera Obscura's My Maudlin Career. It's really good, but less poppy and more theatrical and orchestral than the earlier stuff I've heard by them. When I listen to it, I feel like I'm listening to a long-lost soundtrack for some weepy 60's French arthouse film... if it were remixed by Broadcast with some lap steel thrown in for good measure.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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One of my co-workers got a advance copy of Camera Obscura's My Maudlin Career. It's really good, but less poppy and more theatrical and orchestral than the earlier stuff I've heard by them. When I listen to it, I feel like I'm listening to a long-lost soundtrack for some weepy 60's French arthouse film... if it were remixed by Broadcast with some lap steel thrown in for good measure.

The band mentioned it was less poppy. I think I get that and your description makes sense. Lead single "My Maudlin Career" was probably selected because it was the poppiest and most familiar sounding of the bunch. It's a great song and I'm adore it, but "If Looks Could Kill" it ain't.

The countdown for this one is still way too long.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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I was thinking yesterday that 2009 is shaping up to be a really great year for music.

There is already great albums by: Neko Case, M. Ward, Southeast Engine, Asobi Seksu, Animal Collective, Mirah, and Dark was the Night Soundtrack.

Then looking ahead, there are a number of forthcoming releases from old favorites: Camera Obscura, the Decemberists, Wilco, and Patty Griffin.

Forthcoming releases to which I'll add Amy Allison's and Jill Sobule's next ones. Always highly anticipated from me.

And I've received my copies of Marissa Nadler and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart two hours ago. :)

Anticipated in the mail as well: Neko Case, Julie Doiron, Eleni Mandell (well, their records, at least!)

Edited by Hugues
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I was thinking yesterday that 2009 is shaping up to be a really great year for music.

There is already great albums by: Neko Case, M. Ward, Southeast Engine, Asobi Seksu, Animal Collective, Mirah, and Dark was the Night Soundtrack.

Then looking ahead, there are a number of forthcoming releases from old favorites: Camera Obscura, the Decemberists, Wilco, and Patty Griffin.

A couple more to add, in my opinion: Dan Deacon, Laura Gibson,

And a few more that have my ear based on a song or two: Passion Pit, Dananananaykroyd, BLK JKS, Vijay Kishore

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So far, these are the albums that have impressed me the most this year. I'm swamped right now, but I'll try to add some commentary in the next few days.

Eleni Mandell -- Artificial Fire

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears -- Tell 'Em What Your Name Is

Marianne Faithfull -- Easy Come Easy Go

I Was a King -- I Was a King

The Lonely Forest -- We Sing the Body Electric

Jason Heath and the Guilty Souls -- The Vain Hope of Horse

The Von Ehrics -- Loaded

Southeast Engine -- From the Forest to the Sea

Years -- Years

The Gourds -- Haymaker

Justin Townes Earle -- Midnight at the Movies

Gretel -- The Dregs

Benjy Ferree -- Come Back to the Five and Dime, Bobby Dee, Bobby Dee

Will Gray -- Introducing Will Gray

The Soul of John Black -- Black John

Van Morrison -- Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Various Artists -- A Man of Somebody's Dreams: A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney

Glasvegas -- Glasvegas

Buddy and Julie Miller -- Written in Chalk

U2 -- No Line on the Horizon

Dave Alvin -- Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women

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  • 3 weeks later...

After a first spin of the few new releases I purchased lately, Julie Doiron has my preference, then Marissa Nadler and Eleni Mandell, then Ana Egge and The Pains of being Pure at Heart (who are, honestly, nothing more than a 80's twee-pop revival). I still haven't got the new Neko Case one. In anticipation, I go to the swamp near my house and listen to the frogs all night.

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Favorites so far:

Dan Deacon - Bromst

Antlers - Hospice

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Other likes, in descending order:

Laura Gibson - Beasts of Seasons

U2 - No Line on the Horizon

M. Ward - Hold Time

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

Jury's Out:

Tune-yards - Bird-Brains

Beirut - March of the Zapotec EP

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

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  • 3 weeks later...

Favorites so far:

1) Aaron Strumpel -- Elephants -- The only 5-star album I've heard thus far this year. If Nine Inch Nails sang the Psalms and invited avant garde jazzbos The Art Ensemble of Chicago to the studio, it might sound like this.

2) Eleni Mandell -- Artificial Fire -- Pop is not a bad word. This is pure pop, but it's sexy, intelligent, and, for the first time in Eleni's fine career, bursting with guitar fireworks.

3) Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears -- Tell 'Em What Your Name Is -- Greasy, dirty funk, a la James Brown. Impossible to sit still to this. Get up offa that thing.

4) I Was a King -- I Was a King -- Norwegian power pop with a psychedelic twist.

5) The Gourds -- Haymaker -- You name it, The Gourds do it: rock, soul, funk, Cajun, Tex-Mex. They do it better here than on any previous album. The songwriting is top-notch. And the lead singer sounds like Levon Helm from The Band.

6) Buddy and Julie Miller -- Written in Chalk -- The best harmony duo going. And, in Julie, one of the best songwriters, too.

7) The Lonely Forest -- We Sing the Body Electric -- Melodic, loud power pop from Seattle.

8) Leonard Cohen --- Live in London -- A greatest hits tour de force, without the usual annoying production, and this time with a fine, sympathetic backing band.

9) Camera Obscura -- My Maudlin Career -- See Eleni Mandell, above. Not a huge departure from Let's Get Out of This Country, but when you sing as sweetly and sadly as Tracyanne Campbell, and write such literate songs, there's not much need to change.

10) Various Artists -- A Man of Somebody's Dreams: A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney -- A Who's Who of roots rock sings and plays the soulful, funny, poignant songs of the best songwriter you've never heard.

Honorable Mentions

Southeast Engine -- From the Forest to the Sea

U2 -- No Line on the Horizon

Animal Collective -- Meriweather Post Pavillion

Antlers -- Hospice

Years -- Years

Will Gray -- Introducing Will Gray

Gretel -- The Dregs

The Von Ehrics -- Loaded

The Soul of John Black -- Black John

Diana Jones -- Better Times Will Come

Perhapsy -- Perhapsy

Patrick Watson -- Wooden Arms

Marissa Nadler -- Little Hells

Marianne Faithfull -- Easy Come, Easy Go

Kevin Devine -- Brother's Blood

John Doe and the Sadies -- Country Club

The Hold Steady -- A Positive Rage

Dave Alvin -- Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women

Alasdair Roberts -- Spoils

The Bats -- The Guilty Office

Edited by Andy Whitman
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