I have read in several places that this has been a terrible year for music. Sure, this is all opinions we're dealing with but I have been absolutely buried by new and great music this year. What follows is a list of the albums that I spent the most time with in 2009. It's not in any particular order except for the last entry, which was my favorite by a mile and a half.
Regina Spektor – Far
Regina has so much talent, so much charisma….and oh, that voice…mmmmm….Uh, what were we talking about? Oh, right! This is yet another wonderful record in her short career. You would think that it would be a mistake to attempt to rhyme 'genie' with 'Houdini' but somehow Spektor's genuine nature makes it work. There are a lot of high points on Far, though "Laughing With" really does it for me.
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Wow, where the heck did this band come from?! What do they sound like? Like the Roches, Bjork, Anothony & the Johnsons, and Relayer-era Yes. They're actually weirder than that…and also more organic, if you can believe it. Check out the song "Temecula Sunrise." It'll knock you out.
Levon Helm – Electric Dirt
Dirt Farmer was a great record. This one continues in the same vein. Helm's voice seems to be more assured and rounded here as he delivers a set of authentic roots rock. I can go through the list of tunes but honestly, you will be sold by his cover of "Tennessee Jed."
The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
I'm not even really sure what to call this stuff. The Flaming Lips make music that would have fit right in during the formative years of progressive rock and yet…it's thoroughly modern. Embryonic is exhilarating, creepy and bombastic. It's not for everybody but it sure is for me.
Tom Waits – Glitter and Doom Live
Any Tom Waits release is an event. In this case, the event is a document of the so-called Glitter and Doom tour that saw Waits take his band of oddballs through a handful of southern towns. (And if you weren't aware of it, check out the hilarious tour announcement press conference.) As usual, Mr. Waits does his best to push and tug his own material out of shape.
Farrar/Gibbard – One Fast Move or I'm Gone
I'm always intrigued when there are areas of common interest between me and other creative types. The intersection here is Jack Kerouac and his novel Big Sur. For this documentary, Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt) and Benjamin Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) created songs around Kerouac's words. The end result is mesmerizing. I need to go back and read Big Sur again.
Bruce Springsteen – Working On A Dream
Well known by the fanbase to be his worst album ever — even worse than the dreaded non-E Street Human Touch/Lucky Town combo and worse than the 'mistake' of the Seeger Sessions (for the record, I like all three) — Working On A Dream probably saw more time in my various CD players than any other release this year. Bruce took his love of the pop music of his youth (touched on previously in songs like Magic's "Girls In Their Summer Clothes") and expanded upon it. There are hints of the Mamas & the Papas and the Beach Boys to be found throughout in songs dealing with love, happiness, and the passing of time. The theory was floated that it's best to avoid Springsteen's work when the man expresses contentment. Me, I reveled in it.
The Decemberists – Hazards of Love
For a long while, this group seemed to be the darlings of the indie rock world. Surprisingly, the sorta-Celtic, sorta-folk vibe did nothing for me. But then I listed to a bit of The Crane Wife. What started off as a kind of sea shanty took a left turn and exploded into prog-land. I was hooked. When Hazards of Love came out, I wondered if they had any new tricks waiting. My goodness, they did: new textures, loud guitars, and beautiful vocals (especially from hired guns Shara Worden and Becky Stark)…all painting out the love story of Margaret and William. A rock opera for indie nerds.
The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
Easily my favorite release this year. The Low Anthem surprised me at a show this spring. I'd never heard of them before and they came out and managed to make me forget my name, my identify, and what my favorite color was. It was a stunning experience. After that one night, we obtained a copy of this record and did our best to wear it out. This young trio plays old time music is somehow modern as well. They can sing, they can play, and (for me, anyway) they make music that resonates. Go ahead and check out "Charlie Darwin":