2009’s Ten Most Important Albums
It’s worth noting that half of this year’s albums are side projects. While that may seem as though they’re second jobs in a trade that’s struggling financially (Virgin in New York City’s Union Square closed its mega-doors earlier this year), it’s more likely that these projects are born out of the creative urges of these artists unbound to major labels (many of these albums are self released or on indie labels), which offers the freedom to pursue multiple projects that quench the many moods of humans being.
Although they didn’t make this list, it’s important to mention that Bob Dylan released his 33rd and 34th studio albums this year, Together Through Life and Christmas in the Heart (yes, a Christmas album from Dylan). Together Through Life is earnest and solid; Dylan is as snarky and enigmatic as ever (“now what’s the use in dreamin’/ you got better things to do/dreams never did work for me anyway/ even when they did come true”). His unmistakable gravely drone beats down like the glowing yellow sun; it’s nearly impossible to imagine life on Earth without it, even if it’s exasperating to try and understand how it came to be.
Author Susan Sontag said “interpretation is the revenge of the intellectual upon art.” Perhaps more than any other songwriter, Dylan’s art has been dissected and(mis)interpreted mostly as a confrontational remonstration even though he repeatedly rejected the labels forced onto him. Whether or not his music was intended to stand for something anthemic is not nearly as important as how it makes him feel to express it—or how it makes individuals feel upon listening to it. Perhaps Bono or Michael Franti would disagree. But there’s simply no comparing the deeply reflective guitar work of Tinariwen or the weighty, introspective beats of Amon Tobin to the haughty self-imposed spokespersons-of-a-generation label. The distinction is apparent. Music has always been an agent of inspiration—from a chirping sparrow to Mahler’s Symphony #5—leading us to many things, perhaps even an expanded worldview, or the opening of hearts and minds. Music makes us feel something we find difficult to describe. The magic is in its mystery. These ten albums introduce elements old and new that entice ears, hips and the ever-important invisible places within. Enjoy.
1 Fat Freddy’s Drop – Dr. Boondigga & The Big BW
We’re on to you, New Zealand. There’s simply no hiding behind the rolling hills and flocks of sheep any longer. Fat Freddy’s Drop IS the music of future-earth. They even set foot on American soil for the first time this fall to reiterate the point. Dr. Boondigga & The Big BW, their second studio album, is a brutally honest and groovy reflective journey. “Boondigga” will go down in history as one of the greatest songs ever written/ crooned. Prediction: trumpet, sax and trombone sales will increase significantly in the years to come.
2 Volcano choir – Unmap
What do you want to bet that Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) finds money in old jacket pockets regularly? Perhaps he’s one of those folks that steps off a bus just before it crashes. That’s not to say that he isn’t as creative as god, but his luck is seriously worth noting. On the heels of Bon Iver’s 2008’s stellar For Emma, Forever Ago, he joins forces with fellow Wisconsiners on the mesmerizing moody effort, Unmap. Its melancholy melody rich hypnotic mind bending turbo-songs (“Island, IS”) are addictive as they are contemplative. Maybe Vernon's next effort will be called Rabbit's Foot.
3 Tinariwen –Imidiwan: Companions
If there’s one place on Earth I’d like to see before I leave here for good, it’s most definitely the Sahara. The desert insists on pensive moods of quietude and longing. There are undeniable truths in sand dunes stretching farther than eyes can see. I imagine one is born wise beyond their years in the Sahara. The political back-story of Tinariwen’s Tuareg-in-exile musicians is fascinating and important, yet you only need to listen to their music to hear it. The bluesy African guitar and desperate layers of desert-dry voices tell stories ears of any language can understand instantly (“Tenhert”, “Assuf Ag Assuf”).
4 Two Fingers – Two Fingers
There has been much speculation over the years on who is the “next Bob Dylan,” from Neil Young to Lucinda Williams. That’s what thinking inside a (leopard skin pill)box gets you, folks. Try Brazilian dj Amon Tobin on for size. Consider he has revolutionized drum‘n bass akin to “Like A Rolling Stone” equaling a "pop song". It’s useless to try and squeeze Tobin into any label, and as sure as you'll try, he will reinvent himself once again. On Two Fingers, Tobin pairs with Joe "Doubleclick" Chapman for a hip-hop heavy tour of global thumpalumping known and unknown featuring vocal contributions from Sway, Ce’Cile (“Bad Girl” kills it) and Ms. Jade. The beats are intensely sick, as in what-drug-did-i-just-accidentally-drink-and-please-can-it-last-forever?
5 Grizzly bear – Veckatimest
Dear Grizzly Bear, There’s not much more to say about this album that you haven’t already heard, except that, you will probably never do it again. Veckatimest is in a word: perfect. It’s so cussing good that if you haven’t thought of it already, you should probably break up now before you owe the dealer big time. Sometimes it just works out this way, guys—like having a disease or a planet named after you. We know there’s more to GB than Veckatimest, but if “All We Ask” goes down as the most important post-millennium song written, will anything else you do really matter?
6 Sunset Rubdown – Dragon Slayer
Camilla Wynne Ingr has the most beautiful voice you’ve probably never heard. She lends it humbly to the side-side-side project of jack-of-all-Indie-music, Spencer Krug's Sunset Rubdown. Krug (Wolf Parade, Frogs Eyes, Swan Lake) makes us wonder if Canada is actually another planet where people speak in cryptic harmony. (Riddle me these Krug-man lyrics: “and I'd like to watch the white flash of your heels as they take turns breaking the desert heat to beckon me in languages I've never learned /and I'd like to have you navigate two hills where no musicians live / and on the way decide what mendings of your will you're willing to forgive.”) His lyrics and melodies are so visual, if his work doesn’t end up on Broadway someday, I will forever (still) never believe in god.
7 Electric Wire Hustle – Electric Wire Hustle
Ok, truth be told, I only heard this album for the first time about two weeks ago. And I heard it for the 400th time some time around noon today. It’s no surprise these guys hail from New Zealand, home to the mind-bending septet, Fat Freddy’s Drop. EWH echoes much of FFD’s SoPac sloooow gorgeous grooviness, but they make it all their own.
8 Raekwon – Only Built For Cuban Linx PT II
The WuTang Clan is like the West Point of Hip Hop. (Though they’d likely prefer a samurai reference.) Imagine for a second Raekwon as that kinda quiet guy, you know the one that kept a low profile, and then, BAM! he goes and leads a super-covert risky operation finding Saddam Hussein hiding in some crazy dirt hole, except after listening to “Have Mercy”, you realize the person in the hole is actually you. Taking his sweet time to follow up to his critically acclaimed Only Built For Cuban Linx (1995), on PT II, Raekwon checkmates all of hip hop in just his second move (yes, even you, JayZ). The samples and beats are as sick as ever. Featuring many members of the Clan, PT II lingers long like a big belly Ol’ Dirty Bastard laugh….
9 The Flaming Lips- Embryonic
Fact: Embryonic is the 12th studio album from The Flaming Lips. Also fact: they are from Norman, Oklahoma. Never heard of it? That’s probably because it is some sort of super-secret portal entry that opens directly to Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii (1972). Embryonic’s two discs clock in at just over an hour, but its otherworldly celestial longitude stretches far beyond. Unlike previous Lips efforts, they unlock an unpredictable sanctuary of sound here, like an itch they’ve been trying to scratch for like, well, eleven other albums.
10 The Dead Weather – Horehound
Don’t you just love it when Jack White meets people? It’s as if he could record a kick ass album with anyone on Earth (except maybe Joe Lieberman). In just about two weeks, White, Alison Mosshart (the Kills) Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs, The Greenhornes) recorded Horehound, which sounds like they’ve been playing together since the tenth grade, rather than having just met a few weeks prior to recording. The guitar work is simply sublime. The Dylan cover (“New Pony”) is the “Watchtower” of 2009 and “Hang You From the Heavens” will itself, likely be covered for years to come.