Thursday, December 31, 2009


Hey, I'll get the top 10 up in the next couple days, for those who are still paying attention (have received a few messages, so there are a few out there). But more importantly, just reminding you all that following that, I do plan on resurrecting the blog by uploading regularly, hopefully working on writing better reviews and coming up with a better layout in the world of boring blogspot basic designs.

Happy New Year

Monday, December 28, 2009

Top Albums of 2009: 11-15


Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
(May 26) (Warp) (Myspace)
RIYL: Intricately produced soft voiced rock music with real nice harmonies

If I had to whittle 2009 down into the best single part of any song, I think it would be the harmony vocals kick in during the chorus of "Two Weeks." Nothing brings the joy quite as much as those moments in that track, despite many similar sounding (and perhaps nearly equally beautiful) harmonies throughout the entire record. Grizzly Bear was probably one of the most talked about bands this year. Straddling the line between mainstream and indie rock tighter than anyone, their 3rd official album Veckatimest is the first album of theirs that I have actually noticed as something special. It also debuted at Number 7 on the Billboard chart (despite leaking early). Here's the annotated Grizzly Bear: 4 dudes who are probably music nerds and happen to have pretty voices get together and created very orchestral though fairly unique music. They call in strings-wünderkid Nico Muhly to make their songs even more beautiful. They create songs that have a lot of layers. They sing these songs with good vocals and beautiful harmonies. You can't understand their lyrics. It's epic sounding songs without epic length. It can be exhaustive. I just think it's pretty. "Two Weeks" is still my favorite, despite it being pretty popular and played out. Up in the ranks of song of the year, if not the single best song. Oh, and there are other great ones too.

The XX - The XX
(Aug. 18) (XL) (Myspace)
RIYL: The Cure, Young Marble Giants, Interpol fronted by Peter, Bjorn & John

The XX will almost unanimously win the award for Best New Act of 2009. These kids from England are like 5 years younger than me (that puts them in or just out of high school), sport this bizarre Euro-hip-goth look complete with funny haircuts and the absence of any color but black. They cite influences from Aaliyah to The Cure and their music is sort of hard to pin down. The music is sophisticated in its simplicity. Their debut album is short, a joy to listen to (though it sounds like a downer at first), and just unbelievable considering those involved. Throughout their tracks you hear Cure and Interpol and Durutti Column-esque guitars, spattering drum machines, fey indie-pop vocals barely above a whisper. The songs are boy-girl songs and I'm sure are so cute it hurts. The XX succeed because they sound like every hip band that has come before them yet sound entirely like themselves. I'm hard pressed to think of another album that so perfectly captures what it's like to be a teenager in an urban environment. Hyperbole galore. There is a lot of talk about this band and there should be. Let us hope they don't implode.

Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
(June 30) (Nonesuch) (Myspace)
RIYL: George Harrison, Big Star, Americana on the pop side

The album in which Wilco hears the term "Dad-Rock" applied in even greater degress despite the fact that the term is bullshit, especially whena applied to their music. Obviously, Wilco is experimenting in less extreme sonics on Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album) than on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, but to call this band
boring, regressing into some sort of old-man phase of life seems terribly absurd. After trading in Jay Bennett (RIP) for Nels Cline, Wilco HAS changed, but I find it neither better nor worse, just different. Cline's guitar rips through tracks, makes them feel more like George Harrison in 2009 rather than a band blending shoegaze elements with americana song structures. The fact is that this self-titled album might be the tightest album Wilco has ever recorded. If it bores you, or the songs don't seem exciting, I just don't think you're listening. I was close to ready to write them off: Wilco has been my favorite band since YHF, though steadily decreasing through the ranks. This album makes me realize that they may just be finding their groove. I remember remarking last year or the year prior that Spoon is a great band because of all their intricacies in their songs, things you don't notice until you lie in bed listening through headphones. Little chimes, unnoticable guitar parts, any other sort of instrument that is added in just the perfect place. Perhaps Wilco has always been like Spoon in this way, or Spoon like Wilco, but on this album, more than any other - the music is exquisite. It's not the sonic experiment of records past (and really - we're talking one or maybe two records), but the musicianship and the thought process the band went through during the recording was probably excruciating. Put that music with Tweedy's simplest lyrics to date but some of his most emotive singing, and the record is a winner. And it's pretty. AND the songs get stuck in your head. It's a great record.

Andrew Douglas Rothbard - Exodusarabesque
(Feb. 13) (Peaking Mandala) (CDBaby)
RIYL: Panda Bear/Animal Collective, Holy Modal Rounders with Pink Floyd passages and 1970s psych-folk and some Zappa-esque freakouts. Oh and electronics.

Blending equal parts Animal Collective, Aphex Twin, Benoit Pioulard, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and Dr. Strangely Strange, the second solo album by San Francisco-based musician Andrew Douglas Rothbard is the definitive underrated record of 2009. I mean that literally. I haven't seen anything published in typical indie or experimental locations that have mentioned or reviewed this record. I don't remember how I cam upon it. The only place I see glowing reviews are over at RYM. This record is literally all over the place. Twisting, psychedelic electronics and drums patterns, muffled yet high-pitched 70s folk vocals, warm passages with eastern-tuned guitars. You will simultaneously dance, meditate, laugh, and feel paranoia. Most of all you will marvel at this album. I've used a lot of hyperbole in my reviews thus far, but I honestly think that given more listens, this album could be album of the year, or at the very least in the top 3. Do yourself a favor, listen to the samples, get the cd or however you want to hear it, listen, love.

Tyondai Braxton - Central Market
(Sept. 15) (Warp) (Myspace)
RIYL: 20th Century compositions. Not quite avant-garde, but definitely not traditional. Battles.

Despite composing avant-garde classical-esque music for the better part of a decade, Tyondai Braxton today is best known as the leader of indie-darlings Battles. 2007 was the breakout year for Battles, who were praised for the adept musicianship, compositional skills and for putting out music that didn't sound like anything else in 2007. While other prog and post rock bands were still opting for songs that started quiet and then got all Sabbath on you, Braxton and his band created something like Kraftwerk for the 2000s. Tyondai's second solo album titled Central Market is far more delightful than Battles debut, and one of the very best releases of the year. The most striking thing about Central Market is how playful it is in comparison to Mirrored, which often sounded robotic and soulless. There is guitar prevalant in every track, but there is so much more and the general tone wouldn't sound out of place soundtracking some sort of odd cartoon. It's a challenging listen, but Braxton doens't make it so challenging that you feel overwhelmed. Instead, there is joy throughout the record just given to us is some bizarre ways. Springy sounding synthesizer effects, bizarre hip-hop esque beats, woodblocks galore. In my mind these are the kind of compositions that Dan Deacon wishes he could create. The album straddle the classical and the indie rock world and if you want to really delve into it, probably about 10 other genres. Probably the best way to think of it is Copland producing in this time period with a lot more at his disposal. Really engaging.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top Albums of 2009: 16-20

Let's move forward.

Clark - Totems Flare
(July 21) (Warp) (Myspace)
RIYL: Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, music that doesn't exist yet

Around 2001, I wasn't quite yet "into" music. I had a few token indie releases, a lot of emo music, I still listened to nu-metal, but I mostly only cared about underground hip-hop. Somewhere in my foray into electronic music, one of the first few releases I really loved was Boards of Canada's Music Has The Right To Children, which remains my favorite pure electronic album. Asking a graphic-design based message board at the time for my music in that sort of vein, someone recommended Chris Clark's Clarence Park and for that year in high school, amidst my burned cds of DJ Clue mixtapes and a then-fledgling Anticon label, Clarence Park was something I told those close to me "they have to hear." Fast-forward 8 years and many more Clark releases and I can honestly say I haven't quite cared about the guy for awhile. Everything he releases gets a few plays from me, I say "oh hey, this is pretty good" and then I immediately forget about it. Body Riddle got a lot of press, but didn't cut it for me. I didn't particularly like Turning Dragon, so I didn't have high hopes for Totems Flare. Now, don't get me wrong. I still think Chris Clark is one of the most forward-thinking producers in electronic music and his ability to blend every conceivable style together is astounding, but Totems Flare is his best work to date. Melding the abstract, the insane, the beautiful, some vocals and everything else, the record demands your attention and you'd be stupid not to give it some. It's a headphone record, unless you have a nice system. All over the place and endlessly exciting. One of the most underrated records of the year, this certainly should have had a bigger audience.

Skyramps - Days of Thunder
(???) (Wagon) (Youtube)
RIYL: Vangelis, 80's movies, Tangerine Dream

Skyramps is the duo of previously mentioned Emeralds guitarist Mark McGuire and synth-playing extraordinaire Dan Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never, one of Tinymixtapes favorite artists of the year. I've only heard a couple of Oneohtrix Point Never tracks and they were decent, but I should delve deeper and I've already shared my opinions on Emeralds. Together these two have put together an awesome album of 80's soundtrack epic sleeze. First track "Flight Simulator" (linked above in the Youtube link) reminds me of Tangerine Dream's excellent soundtrack work to Michael Mann's 1981 film Thief. This is the music you listen to while driving along the strip in your Trans-Am at 3am wearing your sunglasses. You need this music. "Dripping Water Hollows Out a Stone" follows with a distinctly different sound. Lopatin's synth-work transitions from the stabs of earlier into serene ambient soundscapes, while McGuire plays the same echoed chords over and over, creating a sound as serene as the title makes it seem. The track slowly builds as feedback is brought amongst the serenity. McGuire then adds a another guitar track, that comes in above the mix, sounding like a fragment of a triumphant solo of a 70s rock n roll record. "Sky Ramping" veers back towards the Tangerine Dream territory, the synth and guitar in equal parts. Of the 4 tracks on the album, this is the one that could soundtrack a sci-fi film. The album closes with "The Last Time I Saw You", 10 minutes of droning bliss. Guitar and synth effects shimmer and bounce of each other. Distortion comes in and out and at a loud volume, this track rivals anything released by anyone put out all year. It's beautiful. I like this record than any Emeralds record and for that matter, better than just about any other synth and guitar based experimental/drone record of the decade. It gets better with more listens as well, something music from this genre almost never does.

DJ Quik & Kurupt - BlaQKout
(June 9) (Mad Science) (Myspace)
RIYL: Tha Dogg Pound, Snoop Dogg, West-Coast gangster rap

One of the first rap songs I knew all the words to was "Tonite" by DJ Quik. It was on some compilation called Old Skool Hip Hop Vol. 3 or something like that. It was probably put out my Lowrider even. I loved his voice and flow and listened to the song way more times than any song I've heard in the last 15 yeas probably. One of my other favorite songs I used to sing (not knowing what it meant) was "Let's Play House" by Tha Dogg Pound. Apparently I was 9 when that record came out. I can still do the whole song by heart. I tell you this because Kurupt and DJ Quik both had a huge effect on music I have listened to and loved through my life and though I don't really listen to them much anymore or value their music as the best of the hip hop genre, I still celebrate many of their releases (probably more than I should). Regardless of my own sentimentalities towards these two rappers, it was really bizarre to see this record get praise on Pitchfork this year (where it also just ended up #25 on their end of the year list). This doesn't seem like the kind of thing they would hype, though reviews of the album in general were terribly divisive. Excuse me, I'm rambling. Here's what you can expect: not understanding why you like this record which offers nothing new to hip hop. Here's why you like it: it's a fuckin riot. One of the most fun records of the year and one of my favorite car records of the year, this album sounds like two seasoned veterans just having fun, talking shit, talking about girls, doing what they can do and not trying to win anyone over. I doubt they expected positive press or any sort of impact with the album, it was probably just done because it could be. The laid-back feel is the reason why this album is the best thing that either rapper has been a part of since the beginning of the decade, if not longer.

Svarte Greiner - Kappe
(Mar. 3) (Type) (Myspace)
RIYL: Earth, David Lynch, Horror movies

I expected this record to be bigger than it was. Really. In January, I posted this record on my blog with a lengthy review about it's brilliance. I thought this would be one of the most talked about experimental releases of the year. I've hardly seen anything about it, and what I have seen was never all that positive. Just kind of "meh." At the time of that review, the album worked miracles soundtracking cold winter nights in Northern California. I listened to it probably every night for 2 weeks. Moving on and 11 months later, I can tell you that it's no longer the 2nd best album of the year, but the sounds within still captivate me for its duration. It is dark, you know it's dark, you can see the feelings it brings up in me in my old review. The point here is that it hasn't lost the effect it had back then. Greiner has created an album that maintains a thoroughly dark feeling throughout without resulting in a claustrophobic and dreadful sound. There is a faint beauty and familiarity in the tracks that tell you "hey, you need to be in the mood for this" but "that mood doesn't have to be THAT bad."

Junior Boys - Begone Dull Care
(April 7) (Domino) (Myspace)
RIYL: New Order, Pet Shop Boys except nothing like either

It is sad that history will refer to this album as a disappointment. Sure it got lots of positive press, but it will always be remembered as the album where Junior Boys weren't outstanding. That's absurd. Last Exit is a top 5 album of the decade most likely. So This is Goodbye is a classic of the decade in some other sense. Begone Dull Care might not be immediate as those releases, but it does hold it's own, fuck what others say. I called it a disappointment, I didn't and haven't listened to it nearly as many times as the other two records because of this, but towards the end of the year it really picked up steam. It still has the groove that you can move (sort of dance) to. Greenspan's vocals are just getting better and better. The production is still unlike anything else out there. There are only 8 songs and they are almost all a bit longer than people want slow electronic-pop songs to be, but have some goddamn patience. This one is going to keep growing. It's time to make it official and just called Junior Boys one of the best acts of the decade, because they are.

Heyo, Top 15 sometime soon. Probably after Christmas though, who cares. Also I'm not editing or spell checking any of my reviews, so I'm sure there are huge mistakes and sentences that don't make sense and that's fine. Feel free to point them out.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Top Albums of 2009: 21-25

And now the actual ranking of albums can begin.

William Basinski - 92982
(April 27) (2062) (Myspace)
RIYL: Brian Eno, Tape Music, breathing

Sound artist William Basinski became a superstar of the ambient music world with his Disintegration Loops 4-cd series of 2004. Chronicling the decay of decades old tape loops as Basinski attempted to remaster and digitize the originals, the music that resulted was hours that somehow touched everyone who listened to it. It also became the unofficial tribute music for 9/11. I love those compositions and since then I have tried to acquire any and all of Basinski's music I can. His long-form pieces have been my go-to bedtime music for years. 92982 is Basinki's first of two releases from 2009. Due to the fact that of the 4 tracks on this release, two are previously composed pieces from the 80s, one is an 80s composition redone and one is a shortened version of a recent piece, the album title is likely a reference to the date it indicates. Let me state that there are better and more engaging/interesting ambient albums that were released this year, this is Basinksi being Basinski. Simple piano chords looped endlessly, fuzzy ambience permeating the recording, the sounds of NYC sprinkled throughout. It's not perfect, it's not his best work, but it still had an effect on me. He seems to have a knack for that. In times of stress, it's nice to come down with some Basinski.

Ryan Leslie - Ryan Leslie / Transition
(Feb. 10 / Nov. 3) (Casablanca) (Myspace)
RIYL: Neptunes, Usher, modern R&B

Most of us have probably heard the Ryan Leslie story. A boy genius, Leslie scored perfect on his SATs at age 15, graduated from Harvard at age 19, became a bit of an internet phenomenon with his production skills and musical prowess, wrote and produced songs for some of the biggest names in pop music, got his debut album shelved in 2005, produced all of his then-girlfriend Cassie's album, including "Me&U" aka one of the most addicting songs of the decade, released some music from his upcoming album, finally released his self-titled proper debut in February, experienced all sorts of shit with Cassie, where I don't know the whole story, who left him and is with Diddy. His star rose a bit, he had the internet blowing up (check youtube, for real), had a fling with some girls during the summer, released Transition and by now the guy should be taking over pop music (he isn't, but he should be). Now for my story: it actually took me a while to actually appreciated Ryan Leslie. Yeah I'd heard "Diamond Girl" and "Addicted" and "Gibberish" here and there, but I didn't really understand why some people thought this stood out from other r&b. Then I realized that the fact that it barely does is part of the genius. Leslie has ultimate crossover appeal. He's a great musician, a more than competent singer who reaches the high and middle ranges, and the dude raps better than any of the other singer/rapper types. To top it off, his production is as exciting as a Neptunes production was back in 2002. His style is similar to Chad and Pharrell, but unmistakably rooted in modern, radio-friendly r&b. Oh and I enjoy Transition more and loved it the first time I heard it, but I really like them both a lot.

Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics - Inspiration Information Vol. 3
Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen - Inspiration Information Vol. 4
(April / Oct. 26) (Strut) (Website)
RIYL: the soundtrack to "Broken Flowers", Fela Kuti, Funk, awesome shit all the time

Strut Records should win some sort of award this year or something. Of all the many excellent labels popping up in the last few years that specialize in reissuing compilations of african funk and other world music, Strut Records is one of the best. It also helps they put out some real good releases in other genres too. But their award for the year should go to the Inspiration Information series they started at the end of 2008. The idea is putting into work something that music fans have thought about forever: "if you could take a current musician and pair him with a legend, who would you choose?" For volume one, Strut Records helped team together neo-soul/funk pioneer Amp Fiddler with Sly & Robbie. The second volume teamed Ashley Beedle with Horace Andy (though it wasn't very good), but volumes 3 and 4 are unbelievably awesome. Volume 3 teams up the king of Ethiopian music, Mulatu Astatke with up-and-coming avant-funk musicians The Heliocentrics. The result should in reality be the album of the year (hell, Bob Boilen from NPR said so and surprised me). Mulatu's blending of west and east rhythms on the keys and vibes blends almost too perfectly with the Heliocentrics firepower of drumming and anything else they want. Volume 4 teams Jimi Tenor, who already had a great album from earlier this year with Fela Kuti alum and the king of all African drummers, Tony Allen. Tenor and Allen do some speaking and singing throughout the record, resulting in an album that needs ass-shaking to be truly successful. The funk is hard-hitting, the horns stab. The lyrics are funny and sexual. It's just a great time. Contrasting the two is great as well. Wildly different, but both essential.

Here We Go Magic - Here We Go Magic
(Feb. 17) (Western Vinyl) (Myspace)
RIYL: The Shins meet Animal Collective, My Life in a Bush of Ghosts

As an actual full-length album, Luke Temple's debut release under his Here We Go Magic moniker doesn't really work. The music is all over the place, often with little connective thread linking tracks together. Getting from track 1 to track 9, noticing the difference between the two and then recognizing those other 7 tracks were a part of the same album can cause some head-scratching upon first listen. Yet this ALBUM stuck with me longer than almost any other album all year. There are three reasons why this Here We Go Magic works for me. 1. The haze that runs through the album. We can call it lo-fi again if we want, but it is far removed from what usually gets labeled as such. 2. The thought that despite the diversity of tracks on the album, that if I were to make music during this decade of my 20s, based on a lot of my influences and where I wanted to take them: that album would sound much like this. 3. Let's work this out: "Only Pieces", "Fangela", "Ahab" and "Tunnelvision" open up the album and are four of my favorite pop songs all year. "Ghost List" comes out of nowhere, doesn't fit with those songs but turns out to be one of my favorite and most listened to ambient tracks of the year. "I Just Want To See You Underwater" is probably the best Animal Collective song not by Animal Collective. "Babyohbabyijustcantstanditanymore" and "Nat's Alien" are two more ambient tracks that aren't quite as good as "Ghost List" but still hold my attention as misplaced as they are, and "Everything's Big" wanders further from any other track - sounding like a mix between Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams and other alt. country troubadors being backed by a parking lot carnival band and delivering an emotional tin-pan alley standard. If this didn't get your attention, you're lost. It's not a great album, but it is a great collection of songs.

Redshape - The Dance Paradox
(Oct.) (Delsin) (Myspace)
RIYL: I don't know. Berlin techno?

I always cop out when it come to writing reviews of techno records because it's probably the genre I'm least familiar with. Or at least, the genre in which I could make a fool of myself with faster than any other. Techno fans are serious fans. I like techno, but I'm real casual about it. As I said before, I don't really subscribe and seek out hot singles, even though that is what electronic music is geared towards. I'm still an LP guy, so when a full-length techno release as good as The Dance Paradox finds me, I get real excited. The once mysterious Redshape creates classic-style techno that maintains an original voice throughout. He's not just ripping into the last 25 years of electronic dance music, but you can certainly follow a thread to see who some of his influences may have been. Incorporating live drums on certain tracks, spacy pads, stabbing synths, it is beautifully produced. We've heard similar things before, but perhaps there has been nothing quite this good that has coalesced a lot of different familiar influences into one unique whole. For me it is instantly the most enjoyable techno offering this year. I don't typically like quoting other reviewers more than once a year in a list, but I thought that RA's Chris Mann summarized the album nicely in his review, "The Dance Paradox is rich with cinematic atmosphere, invention and aural sleight-of-hand. At once familiar it is also disorientatingly new and it sets itself apart by its remarkable sound design with plenty of fuel left over for the dance floor. It's one of the year's best albums, and reinforces and reinvents Redshape's previously held awe of mystery and unknown."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Top 50 of 2009: 25-50 Unranked Pt. 2

And here is part 2. My reviews might start to progressively shorter and/or more non-sensical, but shit guys Christmas is coming up.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
(May 26) (Honest Jons) (Myspace)
RIYL: Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Big Band Jazz, Horns

I used to think the prospect of a horn-based big brass band doing hip hop songs would be so cool. Then, it started happening. Happening quite a lot. I still like some things (I mean c'mon even though every marching band in America does a version of 'Jesus Walks'-it's still pretty awesome), but in reality the actual thought of a shitty rapper doing his thing over awesome music no longer works. In fact, I guess it never really did. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble ditches the rapper, and instead just gives us 8 brothers who play different horns and a drummer and they throw down a party for 52 minutes. The songs can blend into each other and start to sound the same, but if that's so - it's a good one. Turn the shit up loud, and just get down. It's funky, it's jazzy, it's hip hop if you want to call it that. It's just excellent.

Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
(Sept. 8) (Roc) (Myspace)

I'm officially a Jay-Z apologist at this point. Well I don't know if that's true. If I thought that Kingdom Come was a good album, then I would be a Jay-Z apologist. If I thought that both albums with R. Kelly were good, then I would be a Jay-Z apologist. If Blueprint 3 was truly as bad as lots of critics and people have claimed it to be, then I would be a Jay-Z apologist. But it's not as bad as some have claimed. In fact, it's rather good. Sure it's not as good as The Blueprint, but I will say that it's slightly more cohesive and a better listen than Blueprint 2. You've heard "DOA", you've heard "Run This Town", you've heard "Empire State of Mind" - the fact is that these are 3 of the best singles of the year. The album isn't perfect, there are some bad tracks. But for sheer joy, Jay-Z put out some of my favorite rap songs of the year. Sue me.

Lotus Plaza - The Floodlight Collective

(March 24) (Kranky) (Blogspot)
RIYL: Deerhunter, My Bloody Valentine, Ride

It's sort of funny to include a Deerhunter side-project when I've never really given a shit about Deerhunter or Bradford Cox's other projects. That's not to say that I don't like Deerhunter. I thought Microcastle was good. I even thought that the Atlas Sound album from this year was good, but I still don't really give a shit about them. Lotus Plaza is the work on Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt. It's safe to say I don't really give a shit about him either. I would never say I was anticipating this album prior to its release. What I can tell you is that for the last 9 months, I had been tempted to delete it from itunes more than any other 2009 release. "Why should I give a shit about this guy? It's just some hazy, shoegaze bedroom product." Suffice to say, I didn't ever get rid of it and in the month of December, I actually value it. It's comfortable, as bad as that sounds. And sometimes comfort is all we need from an album.

MF DOOM - Born Like This

(March 24) (Lex) (

RIYL: Kool Keith, Madlib, Ghostface

Half a decade ago, Doom was the most prolific dude in hip hop. He was probably the weirdest and least likely underground rapper to catch fire and almost break the mainstream. He almost did. Then he disappeared. Over time, the effect of his albums and various projects seemed to have lessened. "Yeah, dude is cool - but..." I've said it. Madvillain was the undisputed best album of 2004 and halfway through the decade would probably have it in the top 3 albums of the year. Where does it land now? I don't know, I hardly listen to it. The point is that Born Like This is better than anything he has released since. It's better than MM...FOOD and DangerDoom and whatever else you want to throw out there. I'm not going to get into the fact that lots of the beats are recycled Dilla and Madlib beats that can be found on other releases, I don't care. They work here. Will I ever love DOOM the way I did in 2004? No, probably not. But if he puts out albums like Born Like This every once in awhile, I'm not going to forget about him.

Mimicking Birds - Mimicking Birds
(???) (???) (Myspace)
RIYL: Fleet Foxes,
My Morning Jacket, those Echo-laden vocal groups

I saw Mimicking Birds open for The Tallest Man on Earth sometime in 2008 or early 2009. Looking at these super regular looking northwest guys, I thought "fuck, this music is going to suck," but they stole that show. At some point early in 2009 this "release" made it's way online (sorry Nate Lacy). I don't know if it's an actual release or if someone just collected a bunch of the songs on myspace and zipped them up. There's no album art to speak of. Whatever. The songs speak for themselves. It sounds like My Morning Jacket at their most low-key (you know, the real good stuff). Not everything is perfect, but it is definitely pretty. Sometimes I get a Dave Matthews vibe from some of the music which is a bummer, but the strength of most of it really made this release stick with me throughout the year. Definitely one of my most listened to things for the duration of 2009. Oh, check out this performance of them on OPB and you can decide you like it or not. Apparently they are release a proper debut LP on Glacial Place in February, so hopefully that happens.

Neokarma Jooklo Trio - Time's Vibes
(March 24) (Conspiracy) (Website)

RIYL: Acid Mothers Temple, Hawkwind, Krautrock and lots of hippie shit

This list could use some real hippie shit. You like hand percussion? Well this album is probably for you. Hopefully you like it riddle with awesome droning electric guitar and random other sounds here and there and you like your jams to last for like 10 minutes. Listen, I don't really know a lot about this group. I know there are lots of different incantations of this group, I know different experimental musicians help out here and there, whatever. I've heard one other Neokarma Jooklo release and it had nothing on this. For real one of the best droning, awesome, psychedelic records of the year. I didn't listen to it a whole lot and that is the only reason it's not in the ranked portion of the list. Every time I've listened to it, I've loved it about as much as any other record released this year. JAMS

Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II
(Sept. 8) (Ice H2O) (Myspace)

RIYL: Wu-Tang, Dr. Dre, New York

Before you break out in a fury and tell me it's criminal that the best Wu-Tang album since Supreme Clientele is not even in the Top 25, let me say that I already agree with you. It is criminal. If this had been any other year and I'd been in my right mind, this would be a top 3 album. The point is that I only listened to it the whole way through a fraction of the times I listened to the other hip hop on this list (except maybe Clipse, but that's because it's been out only a couple weeks). This is Wu-Tang in top form. This is an album that the fans have been waiting for and it delivers as well as any Wu-Tang album post-1993 can. The beats are classic Wu-Tang, whether handeled by Pete Rock, RZA, Dr. Dre, Alchemist or J Dilla. The guests are top form whether they are Wu-Tang members (Inspectah Deck drops some dope verses) or other rap stars whose have been falling off (I'm looking at you, Jadakiss). 10 years from now, I'll go ahead and say that this will be looked at as one of the great hip hop albums of the decade - it just didn't have the effect it should've had on me this year in which it was released.

Richard Hawley - Truelove's Gutter
(Sept. 22) (Mute) (Myspace)
RIYL: Scott Walker, Tindersticks, Nick Cave
, Pulp

Looking back on the decade, Richard Hawley has almost no competition for the title of most underrated musician of the decade. Since 2002, he has put out 5 really good records, with 2005's Coles Corner likely being in my top 10 of the entire decade. He makes the most perfect late night music: beautifully orchestrated pop songs topped fronted by his crystal clear and emotive vocals, singing some of the most image-inducing lyrics that I know of. A modern day Sinatra for the sleazebags and the hopeless romantics. Truelove's Gutter is probably his sparsest album to date. Hawley is a master of creating songs that fit in a specific time/place. For me, he's always been someone for the early morning or the late night. I cannot tell you the amount of times I listened to Coles Corner or Late Night Final after midnight. Truelove's Gutter is much the same in this way, but can fit at other times as well. Everyone can get something different from it, but it's never going to be the music you blast from your car stereo. It's time to stop ignoring Richard Hawley and recognize him as one of the most consistent forces in the music world.

Six Organs of Admittance - Luminous Night
(Aug. 18) (Drag City) (Myspace)
RIYL: Robbie Basho, Grateful Dead, Current

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Ben Chasney is one of my very favorite musicians. While listening to this album recently, my girlfriend told me she had never heard me mention him or his Six Organs of Admittance moniker. I pointed out he's been on just about every top 50 I've conceived in some way or another. The point is that she's never heard me listen to him when she's in the room. That makes sense. Six Organs of Admittance is and has been personal music. It's not music you're going to put on with a group of people unless you are really creepy when stoned. That's not to say it's particularly deep and/or dark, it's just music that you listen to on your own. Headphones in particular, work great. Luminous Night is a bit less electric than his other recent outings, but it veers into that territory every now and then. The album is however, an excercise in hippie forest jams. The guitar is great, the vocals are well-there. It's not my favorite Six Organs album, but the fact is that it IS a Six Organs album and there's yet to be a poor one.

Smith Westerns - Smith Westerns
(June) (HoZac) (Myspace)
RIYL: Guided By Voices, T. Rex, Exploding Hearts

By 2009 I was mostly over the lo-fi punk thing that had been going on for the last few years and really exploded in 2007 and 2008. Some of the best acts were getting less good, some were getting better - but really, I just grew tired of most of it. Cool, it's lo-fi, way to go. The problem was that a lot of the music just wasn't any good. The Smith Westerns break that idea in a big way. Writing genuinely classic power pop songs that are reminiscent of T. Rex's glam days, just with a much smaller budget. Terribly catchy, well written songs. The lo-fi sound still won't be for everyone, but I can say right now that this is much better then where lo-fi went with the whole chillwave thing that is big right now. Probably one of the best pure rock n roll records of the year.

Taken By Trees - East of Eden
(Sept. 8) (Rough Trade) (Myspace)
RIYL: Lykke Li, Peter Bjorn & John, Sweden

I still think that "Young Folks" is a good song. Sure it overstayed it's welcome, but it for me - the fact that broke through the mainstream was one of the real success stories of the decade and even though PB&J haven't created anything as good since, the track still stands solidly on it's own. Victoria Bergsman is the female voice on that song. Before that she was the female voice for indie pop band The Concretes. Since then she's been a solo artist called Taken By Trees. I paid almost zero attention to her 2007 release Open Field even though I heard the Tough Alliance remix of "Too Young" a handful of times. All of this is irrelevant because East of Eden is the best thing she's ever been a part of. The story goes that Victoria and her engineer traveled from Sweden to Pakistan to record this album, ran into some trouble, she was almost kidnapped, they hooked up with a Pakistani musician and essentially recorded a Swedish indie-pop album entirely with Pakistani instruments. What we get is something that is much more organic sounding than much of the pop music that Bergsman has previously been involved with. Her vocals are still cold, but the music has a warmth that she hasn't had since "Young Folks". It basically sounds like Lykki Li singing over Animal Collective arrangements, which is funny considering that Panda Bear does backing vocals on "Anna" and the standout track and reason I checked out this album in the first place is her cover of "My Girls". The album may be a bastardization or gentrification of native music for some, but to be - in a world where modern Western music often tries to blend with that of other culture's - this hardly even sounds like the point was to go to Pakistan and record. It sounds natural.

Intelligence - Fake Surfers
(May 18) (In The Red) (Myspace)
RIYL: The Fall, Liars, more Lo-Fi stuff too

The second best lo-fi album of the year behind the Smith Westerns, though this one is decidedly different from that. Drum machines, weird sounds, lots of different styles and experiments, this album is sort of all over the place. Seems a little less serious than a traditional rock n roll record and more like "we don't give a fuck - we will do whatever we feel like." It doesn't all work on it's own, but taken together as a whole album it does work. Some songs are a bit more acoustic and echoey, some are heavy on just about everything, some float here and there, there's feedback, there's sharp riffs. It's a lot of fun whatever it is.

Thomas Köner - La Barca

(Aug. 31) (Farlo) (
RIYL: Brian Eno, Harold Budd, the best of ambient composers

For years, Thomas Köner has been considered one of the best ambient composers on the planet, but with La Barca, the man may have reached his highest achievement yet. La Barca is an hour long meditation of sound in which Köner employs many different instruments and effects and wonderfully placed found sounds/field recordings. I never read much about the album, but with every tra
ck titled with certain coordinates, I can't help but think these recordings mean something personal to the composer - remind him of these places - and I'm assuming the field recordings on each track are from these locations. Tokyo, Nice, France, Venice, La Palma, Roma, Damascus, Paris. I've never been to any of these places nor the places the other tracks reference. But I want to go. And I'll bring this album with me. Beautiful.

Vitalic - Flashmob
(Sept. 29) (Different) (Myspace)
RIYL: Justice, Röyskopp, Daft Punk, Simian Mobile Disco

All this heavy hitting French electro disco shit is out of style right? Probably. It's all about minimal now or Balearic again or whatever we want to call whatever we want to listen to. This album is great. I'll say that right now. In between all the trippy, head-messing, drug-induced techno and electronic music I've enjoyed this year, I needed something to just rock my world, make me want to dance and be a lot of fun. Flashmob is that album. I don't remember what critics said about this album, I don't really remember what they said about Ok Cowboy, I just know that this album hits hard. One of my favorite listens front to back. Vitalic seems equally at home doing things that he became famous for in the first place, but the real bread and butter of the album are the new things he tries here and there. Put on the strobe.

Ok, well. There ya go. 25-50. I don't know when I'll get the Top 25 up. Sometime, I guess.