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) (Myspace)
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 93
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) (Myspace)
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 track 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.