SOUNDSCAPES staff BEST OF 2009
These are the 25 favourite new releases and reissues of 2009 as chosen by the staff of Soundscapes. 11 staff members chose their own 15 most loved albums in each category. Each album was then weighted by points (i.e. 15 points for a #1 pick, 14 for #2, and so on) and the totals were added for this list. Please visit each staff member's own page to see the individual lists.
Top 25 New Releases of 2009
1. TIMBER TIMBRE - S/T
"His first two releases, Cedar Shakes and Medicinals, were raw, atmosphere-soaked, rural woodsy songwriting at its best. For his latest self-titled set, Taylor Kirk steps calmly out of the wilderness and into the studio. With bold organ lines and warm guitar tones, he once again wows us with his spooky melodies and haunting vocals." (originally published on January 18, 2009)
2. DIRTY PROJECTORS - Bitte Orca
"It still seems a bit weird to almost burn out on a record before it's even hit the shelves, but when an album this involving leaks two months before release and its fans are as voracious as Dirty Projectors', you run that risk. Undaunted, Bitte Orca's a strong enough set to hold up as what feels to this writer like the first leftfield indie-rock blockbuster of the year." (originally published on June 9, 2009)
3. ALASDAIR ROBERTS - Spoils
"On Spoils, the dark clown-prince of contemporary Scottish folk delivers his most visionary, fully-formed screed since the days of his old band Appendix Out, a veritable song cycle where part begets tastefully-arranged part while never seeming tacked-on." (originally published on July 17, 2009)
4. BILL CALLAHAN - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
Between Callahan's deadpan delivery and Brian Beattie's subtle orchestration, this album has a compelling quality that draws you in so quickly you won't even question the chorus you've found yourself singing along to: "Eidma clack shaw/Zupoven del ba/Mertepy ven seinur/Cofally ragdah" may actually be a decent stab at penning the perfect pop song.
5. VETIVER - Tight Knit
"[T]heir most polished and poppy take on psych-tinged folk to date, giving new and improved meaning to the words "laid back". Standout tracks include the bouncy "Everyday", "On The Other Side", and the hypnotic guitar riffing of "Strictly Rule". Dreamy, moody, and blissful, Vetiver leader Andy Cabic's songs are tailor-made for a lazy Sunday, providing the aural equivalent of a nice hot bath." (originally published on March 6, 2009)
6. RICHARD HAWLEY - Truelove's Gutter
"Hawley’s music has been defiantly out of step with the times since he emerged in 2002 after a decade of sideman status in the Longpigs and, more notably, Pulp. [...] His patented baritone croon and love for reverb-laden country music (in that lush Francoise Hardy or Lee Hazlewood kind of way) reliably recreate the same late-night vibe he’s been honing from the start, but very little from this year can touch this album for its sheer beauty and understated sexiness." (originally published on October 13, 2009)
7. MUSKOX - 5 Pieces
"Disciplined but lyrical and delicately driving, Smith and company continue to temper tricky rhythms and time changes with lithe melodic lines that brainily intertwine, often returning to state the head motif after an adventurous, involved digression. A truly progressive crossbreed, Muskox straddle genres with the grace of a much less brawny beast." (originally published on October 29, 2009)
8. WHITE DENIM - Fits
"Austin's White Denim take their inspiration and sounds from high-intensity psych-rock, bluesy British proto-prog and XTC-esque pop hooks, mixing it all together with a reckless abandon that makes the listener want to dance around the room like an excited 5-year-old. Nothing is held back here, but that doesn't mean it's not well-planned. Fits starts out full-tilt; the first few tunes rock hard, but also twist and turn, with gonzo time changes balanced with melodies that don't alienate the ears."(originally published on November 5, 2009)
9. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE - Merriweather Post Pavilion
"With this latest, Animal Collective seem to have allowed themselves to relax, or at least unwind a little. [...] Merriweather is likely to be criticized by some for being too poppy, but others will agree that AC have managed to craft their most listenable album to date without sacrificing their distinctive sound." (originally published on January 20, 2009)
10. (tie) MOUNTAINS - Choral
"The experience of listening to Brooklyn duo Mountains isn't all that unlike burying yourself in a book while riding the subway, only to discover you've overshot by two stops. The pieces develop at such a glacial pace that you hardly realize anything is changing, until suddenly you are faced with an entirely new environment." (originally published on February 21, 2009)
10. (tie) TUNE-YARDS - Bird-Brains
"Merrill Garbus’ debut album as Tune-Yards reclaims the intimacy and immediacy of early-'90s DIY, updating it with beats, baritone uke and a vocal audacity that makes this one of the most unique pop records of the year so far." (originally published on October 6, 2009)
12. ST. VINCENT - Actor
"Annie Clark is the kind of omnivorous talent whose wandering eye can easily get in the way of commitment. She's firmly in the camp of an indie-rock Kate Bush, but like its title suggests, Actor is all about presenting as many layers of sonic textures and styles as possible. It all sounds immediately beautiful and lush, but if you end up wondering just who the real Ms. Clark is, I'd wager so does she." (originally published on May 5, 2009)
13. JIM O'ROURKE - The Visitor
"In the eight years since Insignificance, many of us have been waiting with bated breath and crossed fingers for Jim O’Rourke’s return to song-based musicmaking. What has arrived on The Visitor is a single 38-minute track that does far more than reward our patience. Here we are treated to a slowly developing exposition of what’s been aging in the barrel for all that time." (originally published on September 9, 2009)
14. STEAMBOAT - S/T
"Started as a project for bassist/keyboardist Matt McLaren to keep himself and bandmates busy during downtime from their regular gig with pop classicists The Old Soul, Steamboat have bypassed current trends and stuck to an R'n'B vibe. [...] McLaren, a traditionalist with a powerful voice and a deep well of inspiration, possesses a distinct songwriting style that reaches beyond the Dr. John/Randy Newman template. The originals here are instant classics." (originally published on April 13, 2009)
15. MICACHU - Jewellery
"[T]here'll always be some albums that we're a little late on the draw in checking out, even if the cover art or press copy might have caught our eyes and helped push a disc onto our 'to listen to' pile, and Jewellery's one great, big, bouncy and rambunctious case in point. [...] 22-year-old Mica Levi's first full-length...is an innovative and extremely catchy set of modern 2-step-schooled skiffle." (originally published on June 4, 2009)
16. YO LA TENGO - Popular Songs
"Popular Songs keeps the streak alive, embracing soul-strung psych ("Here To Fall"), fuzzy pop nuggets ("Nothing To Hide"), squelchy organ funk ("Periodically Double or Triple") and a stab at Jim O'Rourke-style folk ("I'm On My Way") with equal cunning." (originally published on September 10, 2009)
17. GRIZZLY BEAR - Veckatimest
"[A]way from the impossible glare of perfect-score track reviews and hopelessly knock-kneed blogging, the true beauty of this very lovely album emerges. Veckatimest is a well-struck merger between 2006 breakout Yellow House and co-lead vocalist Daniel Rossen's 2008 Department Of Eagles disc In Ear Park, and further listens really reveal some expert writing and performances." (originally published on May 28, 2009)
18. THE CLIENTELE - Bonfires On The Heath
Sounding distinctively English hasn’t been so fashionable lately, but The Clientele prevailed with their literary lyrics, hushed vocals, atmospheres emphasized over rhythm, and propensity to throw a trumpet or strings into the mix. This may be their swansong, and if so they’ll be going out on a high note, perfecting the mood and aesthetic they've been crafting since 1997.
19. DOUG PAISLEY - S/T
"Album opener "What About Us" is so strong, one would think it's a cover–it blew my mind that this song had never been written 'til now. The British press, particularly MOJO, know his genius, and the Americans (first and foremost, No Quarter, who have released this solo debut) are catching on, so what's up, Canada?" (originally published on February 26, 2009)
20. THEE OH SEES - Help
"The third album in three years for John Dwyer’s Oh Sees sees the band improve on their previous effort, The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In, itself a great album. [...] If the current back-to-basics revival is going to mutate into a second phase, expect Thee Oh Sees to be leading the way." (originally published on September 4, 2009)
21. (tie) GANGLIANS - Monster Head Room
What with the lo-fi revival going on lately, it’s easy to write off new albums bearing that now-familiar tape hiss. Monster Head Room, however, drenched in fuzz and reverb though it may be, breaks through the haze as a sunny, laid-back pop album full of beautifully off-kilter harmonies, hypnotic rhythms, and mildly psychedelic atmospherics. It’s the upbeat, catchy songwriting that makes this album stand out, and makes you remember why that lo-fi sound is so popular in the first place.
21. (tie) RICHARD SWIFT - The Atlantic Ocean
"Some would call Richard Swift a revivalist. For some reason, this works against artists these days—hipper strains of music journalism cast these albums as having "been done before". Well, Richard Swift takes what has been done before and bends it just slightly. With his keyboard choices on some of these tracks, he has almost created some type of space-age Tin Pan Alley fusion." (originally published on May 6, 2009)
23. THE CLEAN - Mister Pop
The high standards set by the Clean catalog meant that on first listen, this record disappointed. How could it take them eight years to come up with 3 instrumentals (out of 10 tracks) and lyrics that bordered on repetitive? But what were first deemed weak points eventually reveal themselves as the glue that holds this album of jangle-pop gems together, creating a conceptual listening experience detailing the struggles of day-to-day living while dreaming of a better life.
24. FLAMING LIPS - Embryonic
"Embryonic takes the rule book that this band has constructed in recent years and it pretty much sends it to hell. No singles, not anything even approaching a pop song. Instead, a dark cloud of paranoia and groove dominates the album. [...] It's their craziest trip of a disc since the 4-CD experiment Zaireeka, and one that you'll find yourself listening to a lot more—and a lot more easily, too." (originally published on November 14, 2009)
25. (tie) CRYPTACIZE - Mythomania
Formed around the inventive guitar work of Chris Cohen (ex-Deerhoof) and the charming vocals of Nedelle Torrisi, this is one of 2009’s overlooked gems. Their combination of intricate yet uncluttered arrangements and naïve psychedelic vocals draw comparisons to Broadcast and The Glove. Give it a spin, and find out why this disc always sold when it was played in the shop.
25. (tie) ISIS - Wavering Radiant
"This album trades in their initial approach of repeated riffs and quiet-LOUD dynamics for what is easily the most nuanced and varied writing of their career–in other words, they're taking a similar path to that of Mogwai, except that where the Scots' last two albums have sadly revealed the weaknesses in their writing, Isis have truly found another gear to shift to here." (originally published on May 24, 2009)
25. (tie) JONSI & ALEX - Riceboy Sleeps
Many will find this record by Sigur Ros' Jon Thor Birgisson and partner Alex Somers to be a snoozefest where nothing much happens. Even Sigur Ros fans may struggle with it, as it contains very little of their trademark dynamics or Jonsi's falsetto. However, fans of orchestral ambient music in the vein of Stars Of The Lid and Gavin Bryars' Sinking Of The Titanic will find much to love and spend many evenings falling asleep to the wondrous sounds found here.
Top 25 Reissues of 2009
1. VA - Boogaloo Pow Wow
"While we've heard a few notable Nuyorican comps in the last year, Honest Jon's has truly taken things to the next level with Boogaloo Pow Wow. Heavy grooves unite a varied range of tracks, with traditional Afro-Cuban forms getting a funky backbeat here and there, and even some serious jazz blowing to remind you that this is, after all, New York." (originally published on April 12, 2009)
2. EMITT RHODES - The Emitt Rhodes Recordings 1969-1973
"[T]his is a monumental release, one that made me flip when I found out that Hip-O Select was putting out all of Emitt Rhodes' 4 solo LPs. Along with Paul McCartney and Todd Rundgren, Rhodes possessed a near superhuman ability to write pure opiate classic pop melodies, sang with a golden voice, and had a vision that could only be realized by handling production duties and playing all of the instruments on his albums"
(originally published on July 31, 2009)
3. VA - Where The Action Is!: Los Angeles Nuggets
"Everyone who was anyone (and even some deserving nobodies) are here, including The Turtles, The Leaves, early Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Buffalo Springfield, and Ricky Nelson (on acid!). The accompanying book comes complete with beautiful photos and detailed descriptions of L.A. clubs and the all-important radio stations which broadcast the new and innovative folk-rock, garage, psych, and sunshine pop sounds emanating from smoggy 'Boss' Angeles." (originally published on October 4, 2009)
4. DEATH - ...For The Whole World To See
"Sometimes there's nothing like a little Death to liven up a party, and in this case, Death's ...For The Whole World To See is a very welcome addition to the incendiary legacy of high-energy Detroit proto-punk." (originally published on February 17, 2009)
5. LARRY WILLIAMS & JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON - Two For The Price Of One
Friends making music, music making friends—that's how I would sum up this awesome duo's response to Sam and Dave. With rapidfire lyrical delivery and call and response banter that rivals most other R&B belters, this album is like a house party with no end in sight.
6. ORCHESTRE POLY-RHYTHMO DE COTONOU - The Vodoun Effect/Echos Hypnotiques
Serious jams right here. Thanks to the Analog Africa label for scouring the coast of Benin and bringing us voodoo funk from West Africa’s finest. In not just one but two volumes, traditional rhythms found in Sato and Sakpata forms are complemented and modernized through contact with blues, jazz, funk, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music. Did I mention that these were serious jams?
7. BOB DYLAN - New Morning
This is right up there with John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline for me, laid-back country blues with many a bouncy organ line thanks to co-producer Al Kooper. Dylan sings with unbridled optimism (it’s a rare occasion to hear him sing “La la la la la la la la”), complemented by brisk melody lines (the title track) and jazzy elements (“Winterlude”). Top tracks all, New Morning sees Bobby D. playing the role of the boogified piano man, and we're thankful for it.
8. PETE DELLO - Into Your Ears
There is something to be said about British singer-songwriters with a sunny disposition. Pete Dello's lyrics transform into an animated series, hidden deep in the vaults of the BBC. The band provides a bounce that turns what would be normal songs into funky folk frolic.
9. THOMAS MAPFUMO - Hokoyo!
"This debut album under Thomas Mapfumo's own name (after earlier efforts with the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band) was released in 1978, one year before The Clash's London Calling, and in a way Mapfumo, the "Lion Of Zimbabwe", can be seen as his country's Joe Strummer, deeply political and musically direct." (originally published on May 7, 2009)
10. THE FEELIES - Crazy Rhythms/The Good Earth
"The Feelies were from New Jersey, and shared a strong affinity with the Velvets, Talking Heads, and Television (with whom they shared a dual lead guitar set-up), but their collective instrumental twitchiness pointed in a different direction from their New York forebears. In some ways, they had more in common with New Zealand’s The Clean, another key early indie band that didn’t fit into the main subcultures that emerged out of punk (post-punk, new wave, etc.)." (originally published on October 5, 2009)
11. THE BEATLES - The Beatles In Mono/The Beatles Stereo Box Set
That this is the first reissue of the Beatles’ catalogue since the original mastering for CD in ’87 is in itself enough incentive to give the box set(s) a listen, even without the added enticement of nicer packaging and bonus materials, but perhaps the most intriguing aspect to the 2009 remasters is the Stereo vs. Mono debate. The Mono box, which includes those albums originally mixed in mono (from Please Please Me up to The White Album) isn’t just for Beatlemaniacs; the Fab Four themselves considered these versions the 'real' ones, and spent more time perfecting the mono mixes than the slightly later stereo versions.
12. ROYAL CITY - 1999-2004
"This presumably final release to bear the Royal City name couldn't have come at a better time. Ten years after the band's formation and five years after their demise, 1999-2004 is a bittersweet offering for fans of the dearly departed Guelph quartet." (originally published on June 21, 2009)
13. VA - Legends Of Benin
"The accelerated pace of African reissues is working toward a collective deepening of understanding of the wealth of music to be found on the continent in a logical, non-jarring way. Following up from their survey of heavy jams from Togo and Benin on last year’s African Scream Contest, Analog Africa returns with a focus on four artists from Benin’s classic funkified '70s period." (originally published on July 14, 2009)
14. BLIND BLAKE - Bahamian Songs
Don't be mistaken—this isn't a recently discovered Caribbean vacation taken by the Floridian king of ragtime guitar, but rather a collection of '50s recordings by the other Blind Blake, Alphonso Blake Higgs, the chief proponent of Bahamian goombay music. With a sound falling somewhere between Slim Galliard and Lord Kitchener, this disc keep toes tapping and smiles cracking throughout, even when Blake is detailing how he's going to dismember the unfortunate gent who has crossed him.
15. KRAFTWERK - Autobahn/12345678: The Catalogue
Whether you're in the kitchen slow-roasting Christmas dinner, entertaining a fräulein or just relaxing after a long day of work, the Kraftwerk box set will provide the perfect soundtrack as you continue your journey down the autobahn of life. Comprised of their 8 albums released between 1974 and 2003, The Catalogue shows that Kraftwerk deserves as much recognition as innovators as that other four-piece
16. VA - Marvellous Boy: Calypso From West Africa
"Detailing a vibrant movement in West Africa in the '50s and '60s when African ex-pats were returning to home soil from the Caribbean, this collection is sunny and effortlessly enjoyable, but it also carries a historical punch courtesy of the label's typically thorough and well-written liner notes, as well as tracks like "Dick Tiger's Victory", which chronicles the Nigerian middleweight boxer's success in America." (originally published on May 18, 2009)
17. GEORGE JONES - Blue & Lonesome
Long regarded as a classic work in the great country vocalist's oeuvre, this is yet another excellent reissue put together by the folks at Cherry Red's new Righteous imprint (they also released the above Johnny "Guitar" Watson & Larry Williams and The Merle Travis Guitar, among many others). This record finds Jones singing a mixture of ballads and rockers in equal measure, but the theme is consistent: hurtin', heartbreak and loneliness. A must for fans of classic country.
18. THE RATIONALS - Think Rational!
Finally, a double-disc release that does one of Michigan's finest complete justice! The Rationals recorded some of the '60s' most soulful garage-rock, with Beatles-ish and R&B-powered songs gracing their singles, including a walloping rendition of "Respect" that pre-dated Aretha Franklin's hit version. Frontman Scott Morgan's superb set of pipes easily matched the gutsy vocalizing of fellow Michiganians Mitch Ryder and Rob Tyner. A killer-diller collection indeed!
19. (tie) OLATUNJI - Drums Of Passion (Legacy Edition)
"The impact of these recordings is immeasurable–his influence is all over Serge Gainsbourg’s Percussions album (especially on “New York USA”), and “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba” was a perfect fit when covered on Santana’s monumental self-titled debut. That Drums Of Passion sold 5 million copies speaks to its accessibility, and lends credence to the claim that it was the record that started 'world music'." (originally published on August 24, 2009)
19. (tie) DELROY WILSON - Dub Plate Style
This year saw a lot of great reissues come from the Pressure Sounds label, with their Tommy McCook collection Pleasure Dub just narrowly missing our Top 25 and this Delroy Wilson comp squeezing in at No. 19. This set sees a batch of classic Wilson sides remixed by Prince Jammy at King Tubby's studio in 1978, sufficiently dubbed out and deepened to make them unstoppable dancefloor fodder. These songs may be familiar to many longtime reggae fans, but Jammy has put enough of a twist on them to make it fully worth investing again.
19. (tie) VA - GWP - NYC - TLC Volume 2
Fans of producer/songwriter Larry Banks, an unsung genius of soul music, have reason to thank Kent Records yet again. After the few tracks of his spread across the four volumes of Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures series and the full disc devoted to the Larry Banks Soul Family, this year brought a second volume covering the GWP label out of New York where Larry was the main A&R exec. This top-notch compilation of exquisite ballads and glorious dancers will make soul fans go weak in the knees!
22. (tie) SUGAR PIE DESANTO - Go Go Power: The Complete Chess Singles 1961-1966
She may have been short in stature, but rest assured that when it came to gritty soul singing and song-writing, DeSanto hit the heights if not of chart success, then at least of sheer talent. Kicking off with the punchy "Soulful Dress", other highlights include the title track as well as her delightful duet with Etta James, "In The Basement, Pt. 1". Take it from this soul lover: this Sugar Pie is definitely worth biting into!
22. (tie) VA - Local Customs: Downriver Revival
"Opened in 1967, Double-U was a home studio operated by Felton Williams, an entrepreneur trained as an electrician at the Ford Motor plant, and as a steel guitarist at The Church Of The Living God. [...] The focus of this compilation is gospel music, although the breadth of activity at Double-U is well-represented by some Hammond jazz, shaggy funk, and a even a garage-punk number that betrays its proximity to Detroit." (originally published on February 19, 2009)
24. JACQUES DUTRONC - Et Moi Et Moi Et Moi: 1966-1968
"If Serge Gainsbourg was the prime purveyor of Parisian pop in the '60s, Jacques Dutronc didn't lag far behind. Dutronc emerged as one of France's answers to Bob Dylan in 1966, releasing several hit singles and a debut album consisting of acerbic and ironic social commentary wed to an Anglo r'n'b-derived garage-rock beat." (originally published on August 13, 2009)
25. VA - Fire In My Bones: Raw + Rare + Other-Worldly African-American Gospel 1944-2007
"[D]ig into this astounding 3-disc collection of black American gospel. [...] [M]any of these performances are truer to the rock’n’roll spirit than much of the formulaic end of the blues that, so the cliché goes, spawned rock music. I can’t recommend this enough!" (originally published on November 12, 2009)
Top 40 bestselling discs of 2009
1. TIMBER TIMBRE - S/T
2. NEKO CASE - Middle Cyclone
3. JOEL PLASKETT - Three
4. VA - Friends In Bellwoods 2
5. VA - Dark Was The Night
6. GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS - Lost Channels
7. METRIC - Fantasies
8. WILCO - Wilco (The Album)
9. GRIZZLY BEAR - Veckatimest
10. THE XX - xx
11. BON IVER - For Emma, Forever Ago
12. PHOENIX - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
13. DIRTY PROJECTORS - Bitte Orca
14. (tie) ANIMAL COLLECTIVE - Merriweather Post Pavilion
M. WARD - Hold Time
15. OHBIJOU - Beacons
16. YEAH YEAH YEAHS - It's Blitz!
17. FLEET FOXES - S/T
19. K'NAAN - Troubadour
20. THE RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE - Hometowns
21. DAN AUERBACH - Keep It Hid
22. ST. VINCENT - Actor
23. YO LA TENGO - Popular Songs
24. ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS - The Crying Light
25. (tie) PATRICK WATSON - Wooden Arms
HANDSOME FURS - Face Control
26. THE WOODEN SKY - If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone
27. ALELA DIANE - To Be Still
28. TOM WAITS - Glitter And Doom Live
29. CAMERA OBSCURA - My Maudlin Career
30. THE FLAMING LIPS - Embryonic
31. (tie) BEIRUT - March Of The Zapotec And Realpeople
BRUCE PENINSULA - A Mountain Is A Mouth
32. (tie) BILL CALLAHAN - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
JUNIOR BOYS - Begone Dull Care
33. STEVE EARLE - Townes
34. (tie) CHARLES SPEARIN - The Happiness Project
BON IVER - Blood Bank EP
35. IRON AND WINE - Around The Well
36. LHASA - S/T
37. GENTLEMAN REG - Jet Black
38. EVENING HYMNS - Spirit Guides
39. (tie) LEONARD COHEN - Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 (CD/DVD)
VA - Boogaloo Pow Wow: Dancefloor Rendez-Vous In Young Nuyorica
40. ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS - Forest Of Tears