Date is in the range: 01 Jan 2009 – 25 Dec 2009. Any cutoff point is arbitrary, but this makes sense to me. I’ve been willfully listening to Christmas music lately, so this helps hold the list growth down.
Kind does not contain AIFF [to filter out unprocessed bootlegs and demos].
Album Rating is greater than three stars.
Genre does not contain Concert Bootleg.
This list is unoptimized; it’s actually done in alphabetical order by artist. At the end, I’ll give a best-of list, countdown style. Because I like embracing constraints, I’ll give a one-sentence statement about each album as to why it’s just so darn good. If you’ve ever talked to me for longer than 90 seconds, you know that one sentence is an unreal constraint.
Wilco (The Album), Wilco. There are so many good songs on this album, but I thought I’d start with the opening track—it’s a treatise for the record and, frankly, for Wilco as a band at this point.
Are you under the impression
This isn’t your life?
Do you dabble in depression?
Is someone twisting a knife in your back?
Are you being attacked?
Oh, this is a fact that you need to know
Wilco will love you baby
As someone who “dabbles in depression”, yeah, I love this track … and this album … and this band.
Letters to the Editor, Vol. I and II, Andrew Osenga. Yes, this is a compilation of tracks that he gave away for free; if you’re cheap, you can get Volume I and Volume II online still. But if you like it, buy the disc and support independent music. I chose “Staring Out a Window (My Confession)” because it just hits home for me.
Stockholm Syndrome, Derek Webb. Okay, you can argue that, as a friend of Derek’s and one of the three guys behind derekwebb.net, I’m predisposed to loving his music. You’re right. But this is a worthy buy for the following reasons: a) it tackles prickly issues of sexuality that most Christians are uncomfortable dealing with b) Fred Phelps gets made fun of c) it’s Derek and Josh Moore doing their best Gnarls Barkley impersonation, without sounding like a cheap knockoff and d) he says “shit” on the record and gets away with it. Sorta. I picked “The Spirit Vs. The Kick Drum” because it’s just a kickin’ little track.
The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists. Many long-time Decemberists fans [of which I cannot claim to be; I'm late to the game] would argue that they feared what being on a major record label would do to their music. But give Capitol all the credit in the world for letting Portland’s finest put out what lesser reviewers would call a concept album, and what I think of as “literature set to music”. The arc of this album is one unbroken story, and it’s just so well-done, with themes repeated and twisted as the album builds on itself. That makes it difficult to pick out one song, but I chose “The Rake’s Song” because that will tell you whether or not you’ll want to listen to the whole thing.
Noble Beast, Andrew Bird. I really thought that Armchair Apocrypha was going to be the apex of AB’s music for me. I didn’t think that he’d make a better record, but to my ears, he did with Noble Beast. Musically, it’s just so strong: songs with movement are just such a rarity in popular music these days that hearing tracks like “Masterswarm” is simply astonishing. It’s impossible for me to pick out a track I love the most, because I love them all, but I picked “Tenuousness” for this GeofCast episode.
My favorite track from Iron & Wine’s recent demo and B-side vehicle, Around the Well, is “Love Vigilantes”. Often, these type of releases end up being so much filler between studio releases, but coming on the heels of The Shepherd’s Dog, this has some great tracks, and “Love Vigilantes” is in the top five songs I’ve heard in 2009.
I next chose “The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid” off of the epic new album from The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love. As it’s just one big sonic work of art, it’s hard to strip one song out from the entire thematic arc of the story, but I have. If you know me, you know I love Shara Worden’s vocals, and she makes an appearnce in this track.
There’s really no good way to follow that up, so I just took a massive left turn. One of the things I’ve come to in the last year are mashups, sonic creative destruction when multiple songs are put together. One of my favorite mashups to cross my ears in 2009 has been Jaydiohead from Minty Fresh Beats. Here’s the mashup titled “Dirt Off Your Android”.
Let’s go from hip-hop to trip-hop. Somehow I missed Portishead in the 1990s, when I was listening to really bad contemporary Christian music and far too much 311 for my own good. A friend was playing this as house music before a concert I was recording, and I whipped out my iPhone to fire up Shazam to find out what I was hearing. It was “Numb” from Portishead’s Dummy, and in case you missed it back then, too, here it is:
Hang on, folks, as I take another musical detour. This one takes us to the fields of Illinois, where songwriter Andrew Bird toils in solitude. His last effort, Armchair Apocrypha, was one of my favorites last year, so I jumped on his latest, Noble Beast, the moment it came out. Noble Beast focuses even more on musicality, providing depth and movement to his songs in an age when most music sounds the same at the end of the song as the beginning. To highlight this, I chose “Masterswarm”.
For this last track, I figured I’d throw my friends a bone and send out a [then-]unreleased track. Yes, I’m going to bend the good will of my friend Derek Webb and play one of the tracks off of his upcoming album, Stockholm Syndrome, that he hasn’t yet leaked to the world. If you like it, please buy the album so the wee bald man doesn’t kick my ass. Most of us will remember the case of the Jena Six, and the female in this song shares that spelling. Keep that in mind as you listen to
“Jena & Jimmy”