Home > Uncategorized > I’m coming home, I’m coming home.

I’m coming home, I’m coming home.

Hello there, internet. It’s been a while. I’d be lying if I said that I always had a good time during my absence, but I’d also be lying if I said that it was all doom and gloom. I will just say that a good, head-clearing, life-redefining catharsis can be a positive thing every now and again. Now that I am more or less back to being settled after all that, I hope to maintain a more regular presence here (and, hey, maybe even over at my other blog as well!) in 2010.

I won’t spend a whole lot of time, as I’ve already lost over 6 months. There is a lot that I want to touch on, but for now I will ease my way back in by picking up right where my last entry left off and try to give all you beautiful, beautiful people a kind of hastily-written, knee-jerk, and likely shortsighted yet completely honest retrospective of what were, to me, the highlights of the year in music. Before I attempt to rank them, here is a brief, chronological rundown of some of the contenders

  • Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion: Everything I said last time continues to hold true about this album, although as the year progressed this seemed to become a bit less of a standout in my mind. In a way, the move of dropping Fall Be Kind so late in he year, when critics would be finalizing their end-of-year lists, was an ingenious move that guaranteed a strong bump in this album’s status; it gave critics an opportunity and excuse to re-evaluate the album and rediscover what was so great about it. As for myself, I have not heard Fall Be Kind yet, but if it is anywhere near as good as I have heard, I know I am in for a treat.
  • Bon Iver – Blood Bank: This one didn’t make so big an impact on me at first, but it grew on me. Short and sweet, and if you try to tell me that “Woods” is not the best and most inventive use of Autotune ever, then I will call you a goddamned liar. In fact, “Woods” may be my favorite song of Vernon’s. No lie.
  • Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light: Another one that took some growing. While I would not describe its predecessor as fragile, there was a certain stateliness to it that gave it a disingenuous veneer of delicateness. The Crying Light quite simply eschews any pretense of fragility and presents itself as an audacious, bombastic, and stunningly ambitious record that demands to be listened to on its own terms.
  • Various Artists – Dark Was the Night: This was definitely the year of the all-star indie rock collaborative compilation album, and of all the examples, this one remains the first and the best, even if it was eventually lost in the shuffle when the year-end retrospectives came out. You can’t argue with great music for a great cause.
  • The Mountain Goats & John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Bloodbath: These two need to collaborate more often. I would love to see their long-rumored Comedians band come to fruition.
  • Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Vs. Children: Nine months later (ha ha), I still think the smoother and more embellished production was the right decision for this album. Sue me.
  • St. Vincent – Actor: I sincerely hope that the title of this record is another Arrested Development reference. Geeky pop culture references aside, I have three points to make that I didn’t make last time. 1) Here is where you will likely hear the most compelling and freshest-sounding guitar playing of the year. 2) I DARE you to listen to “Marrow” and not dance. I don’t dance, but I can’t resist the urge to move when I hear that song. 3) Umm, yeah. I’m kind of in love with this woman. That is all.
  • John Vanderslice – Romanian Names: Definitely one of my top five of the year. Everything I said before, or in my recommendation on the other blog, holds true. Rather than repeat myself, I will just entreat you to please read what I’ve already written about this album and, for the love of God, go listen to it!
  • Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest: It cannot be stressed enough that 2009 was, improbably, Grizzly Bear’s year. I don’t know how or why it happened, but I’m not complaining. It’s fun to watch deserving bands have semi-meteoric rises.
  • Rhett Miller – Rhett Miller: I was not a fan of Rhett’s previous two solo albums. I was prepared to ignore this one. Then I saw him live, solo acoustic, opening up for his own band, Old 97’s. I was floored by how good these new songs were. These were genuinely some of the best songs I had heard from Mr. Miller in quite some time. I expected the studio versions to be overproduced to the point of being unlistenable, but surprisingly found the album presentation to be tasteful and appealing. “Like Love” would possibly be my single of the year if the label would see fit to release it as a single. Is anyone listening? Seriously, people: a 7-inch of “Like Love” with a live version of “Another Girlfriend” on the flip. Get it into the right hands and it could be a hit. Screw it, I’m gonna start my own label. Grumble grumble grumble.
  • Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca: I continue to be amazed by this album. Inaccessible artsiness has perhaps never been so appealing. I can admit when I’m wrong about a band (although I’m still not delving into the back catalog just yet).
  • Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Was the Night: Besides appearances from two other artists with albums on my 2009 shortlist (The Flaming Lips and Vic Chesnutt), the involvement of David Lynch and the multimedia nature of this project/experiment ensured that it would be intriguing. It’s a shame that the legal grey (album) area of this (non)-release means that most people will never get to hear it.
  • Dinosaur Jr. – Farm: Perhaps not quite as strong an album at the end of the year as it had seemed when I first listened to it, but I maintain that these guys have still got it. As far as reunion albums go, this is one of the best. I wish I could say the same for the new Mission of Burma, which seems like a bit of a misstep to me.
  • Wilco – Wilco (the album): Not necessarily one of their best albums, but one has to admire the cultural currency that Wilco has achieved, and which they use to their advantage most effectively here. Wilco has reached a place where the band can do whatever they please. They have a comfortably sized fan base that allows them to make a living off of music, and that is loyal enough to ensure that wherever the band goes, the audience will follow. This album was not profound, but was a great jab back at the critics who accuse them of self-importance or lacking a sense of humor. The juxtaposition of songs such as the murder narrative “Bull Black Nova” ensure that tension remains part of the dynamic. Oh, and “I’ll Fight?” One of the best songs of the year, I don’t care what anybody says.
  • Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs: This one came out of nowhere. Over the years, Yo La Tengo has consistently proven that it is capable of anything; on this album, it sets out to prove it in the space of four sides of vinyl. Progressing from spy-movie-strings-embellished psychedelia to warm indie pop to Motown bass and organ genre exercises to almost ambient soundscapes, the band here blend disparate sound palettes into a surprisingly coherent, engaging, and fun album. The pacing feels a bit odd with its obviously front-loaded tracklisting, placing the three long and quiet tracks at the very end, but that is ultimately the only criticism I am able to level at this almost-perfect album.
  • Vic Chesnutt – At the Cut: Hyperbole and discussion of the tragedy of his recent loss aside (that is another topic for another blog post), this is one of the most visceral and heartbreaking albums of the year, perhaps of the past several years. With members of Godspeed! You Black Emperor, A Silver Mt. Zion, and Fugazi as his backing band, Chesnutt crafts stunningly haunting and uncomfortably frank collection of odes to pain and death. The fact that “Flirted with You All My Life” was intended to be Vic’s “breakup song” with death and to signify that he was done with suicide attempts gives the album an even more grim and oppressive shadow to an already overwhelmingly powerful album.
  • The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come: I have a complicated relationship with this album. This is my Get Lonely; the album that I just did not (and to this date still do not completely) get. Seeing the songs performed live have helped with some of it, but I still have problems. I have problems with some of the ultra-glossy production touches. I have problems with what seems to me at times like lazy songwriting; a lot of the guitar songs sound like conscious attempts to write a tMG song. Ultimately, though, I recognize that there is something compelling about this album that is pushing me to make the effort to try to get it, which is a sure-fire sign of a worthy piece of art. Even if I can’t keep all of those damned Bible verse track titles straight.
  • The Flaming Lips – Embryonic: I was ready to give up on the Flaming Lips. The Soft Bulletin was, I thought, one of the best albums of the ‘90s, hands down. I was disappointed in Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but I stuck with them. I flat-out hated At War with the Mystics. It sounded awful and the songwriting – well, I would criticize the songwriting, but I remain convinced that there are no actual songs on there. I was hopeful concerning Embryonic, but cautiously so. I am happy to report, however, that this is perhaps an unprecedented return to form. The album is noisy, scattershot, rough around the edges, and certainly not for everyone. What it reminds me of the most, however, in spite of all the noise and sound experiments and utterly unique touches, is early Pink Floyd – think a cross between Barrett-era soundscapes such as “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive” with, say, Meddle. It’s a completely psychedelic album, and it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that if Pink Floyd were just starting today, with access to contemporary technology and musical influences, they may have sounded something like this.

There were, of course, other albums that caught my ear and tickled my fancy this year, but these are the ones that stand out the most standing here, almost a week into the new year. And now to rank the top ten:

  1. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
  2. Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs
  3. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
  4. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
  5. John Vanderslice – Romanian Names
  6. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
  7. Vic Chesnutt – At the Cut
  8. The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come
  9. Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light
  10. St. Vincent – Actor

As for what I am most looking forward to in 2010, here’s a taste of the albums coming out just in the first quarter:

Owen Pallett, Beach House, The Magnetic Fields, Spoon, Shearwater, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Los Campesinos!, Retribution Gospel Choir

!!!

I have missed you all, and I hope you enjoyed slogging through this monster of a post (4 full pages in Microsoft Word!). I will talk to you all again soon – maybe even tomorrow? In the meantime, I invite you all to weigh in with your thoughts on my list or with a list of your own.

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