Thursday, December 31, 2009

Drischord's Best of 2009

This was a wonderful year for "good" albums; I can't remember a year in which I genuinely liked so many new releases. In particular, it was way better than 2008. But it was also a year that would have been trumped by records that only made it to #2 or #3 on previous lists of mine. For me there was no Sky Blue Sky, In Rainbows or Modern Times to run away with 2009. Anyway, here's my list...

11. Mount Eerie Wind Poem- Back when Phil Elvrum was recording as The Microphones (and Pitchfork was letting him cum all over their collective tits), I found his music to be lacking in many ways. Mount Eerie is a different story. His sound collage experimentation is finally landing for me, and he's found new ways to sound exciting, challenging, and sometimes even scary.

10. Bonnie "Prince" Billy Beware- I liked this one just as much as Lie Down in the Light. A little less openly inviting, but the songs are great and his arrangements have never been better.

9. Polvo In Prism- This band's reunification was a gift from the indie rock gods. So happy they're back and making awesome music once again.

8. Slaid Cleaves Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away- My favorite country recording of the year. I first heard Slaid Cleaves when I got a free promo recording at the Daily Northwestern. He fell by the wayside for me a bit, but I rediscovered him this year and thought this record was excellent.

7. Built To Spill There Is No Enemy- Another return to form from a late '90s classic.

6. Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca- So glad Radiohead put out a new one this year.

5. Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavillion- I want to react against Pitchfork and hate this album, but it's too good to deny. Still haven't uncovered everything it has to offer.

4. Sonic Youth The Eternal- If, on the heels of Experimental Jetset..., Washing Machine, and NYC Ghosts and Flowers, you had told me Sonic Youth would put out 4 of the best rock albums of the '00s, I would have laughed in your face. Good thing that conversation never happened. What a decade for this band.

3. Morrissey Years of Refusal- I'm repeating myself, but why did I have no idea that this guy's solo career was so good? This was the only album of this year that I played on constant repeat after buying it.

2. Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix- I had no idea who these guys were a year ago and their (incorrect) categorization as French dance pop sounds miserable. But what can I say? This record is awesome.

1. Bill Callahan Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle- Moody, relaxing, scary, beautiful, sometimes all in the same song. I've really gotten into the whole span of his career, and this is my favorite record he's put out.

Other Categories:

Can't Offer Any Objective Opinion Because I Just Got It and He Just Tragically Died
Vic Chesnutt- At the Cut

Honorable Mention
Dinosaur Jr.- Farm
Neko Case- Middle Cyclone
Sunset Rubdown- Dragonslayer
Yo La Tengo- Popular Songs
Jeremy Enigk- OK Bear
Nels Cline- Coward

Good Enough, Yet Disappointing
Wilco- Wilco (the Album)
Bob Dylan- Together Through Life
Andrew Bird- Noble Beast
Antlers- Hospice

Resented Purchasing
Grizzly Bear- Veckatimest
Owen- New Leaves

Didn't Hear
Passion Pit
Modest Mouse
Flaming Lips
Wye Oak
Jim O'Rourke

Monday, December 28, 2009

VC's Personal Best of 2009

So there was a lot of music I liked this year from a lot of bands that I care about. But between a busy schedule and a very hectic (and crummy) year of life, those new albums just didn't fill my soul this year. I could definitely come up with a top 10 albums of 2009, but it seems arbitrary and not really that accurate - I mean, I haven't heard the Grizzly Bear, am still digesting Embryonic, never got that new Tortoise I really wanted - how fair can such a list be?

I also was really struck by a column in the Reader (which sadly I can not find online to link) talking about the weird way that pretty much all top 10 lists have some degree of same-ness, and asking if such a thing is really needed. It struck a chord with me, and for me, the answer is no. I am more intrigued to check out the top 10 of a more well-rounded, educated listener like Tex than to basically throw out my own random list.

That said, there was indeed stuff that spoke to me this year, and spoke to me in a profound way. So, at the risk of seeming very arrogant and self-serving, I present my own highly personalized Top 5 Music Highlights of 2009:

1. Phish: March 6, 2009, Hampton Coliseum – This was the first show back for Phish after their huge hiatus, and really, for me, the year never gets any better than the “Fluffhead” that opens this show. There is this amazing energy in the crowd that you can hear even through the recording, and the band is just playing their hearts out. It’s obvious they felt they had something to prove here, and they did it. Rest of the show is amazing too.

2. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion – At the risk of getting all Pitchfork-y here, yeah this thing is incredible. I only got into AC relatively recently, so this is their first new album I’ve bought (from eMusic, naturally!) and it really is everything I like about this band. I’m not so into them that I enjoy things like “Bees” or “Here Comes the Indian” but if they want to be all “sold out” and mainstream and make things like this, that’s just fine by me.

3. Phish: Exile on Main Street – Phish Halloween costume this year, and the first one in 10 years. Man is it great. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings join them for the entire album, adding some great dynamics to an all around beautiful performance. Highlights are Phish staple “Loving Cup” along with “Torn and Frayed.”

4. Sunset Rubdown: Dragonslayer – My clear cut #2 album of the year, and just an all around good time. I get the dislike of Krug’s voice, but it doesn’t bother me, and the big, crazy guitars and all around epicness of the whole thing gets me in that sweet spot.

5. Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Pictures at an Exhibition – Not to get all snooty here, but Jen and I saw the CSO perform this fantastic piece of music early this year, and it was really beautiful. Tons of great segments to this that you know from all kinds of movies, TV shows, and more. I’m not such a classical music enthusiast that I love everything I see (we saw 2 other show this year that were fine but not remarkable) but this… THIS is the bomb.

Other traditional albums I really dug this year in no particular order (aka, the rest of my regular top 10): Flaming Lips - Embryonic; A.C. Newman - Get Guilty; Andrew Bird - Noble Beast; Sonic Youth - The Eternal; Zombi - Spirit Animal; Wilco - Wilco (The Album); Phish - Joy; The Pains of Being Pure at Heart; Sparklehorse & Danger Mouse - Dark Night of the Soul

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rest In Peace, Vic Chesnutt

I'm sorry to break up what should be a series of happy posts about all the great music that came out this year. But Vic Chesnutt, a great singer and songwriter and one of my very favorite musicians, tragically died on Christmas Day.

It's not entirely clear what happened, but it sounds like a suicide. The guy had made previous attempts in the past, but it appears there hadn't been any in over a decade. What makes the timing of this news particularly upsetting is that he'd just released an album, At the Cut, where he directly addresses these suicide attempts in a song called "Flirted With You All My Life." The song treats suicide like a would-be lover with whom Chesnutt has had a series of near-misses. In the lyrics, he comes to the conclusion that for all of suicide's appeals, it isn't right for him...

When you touched a friend of mine I thought I would lose my mind

But I found out with time that really, I was not ready, no no, cold death

Oh death, I’m really not ready

But Chesnutt's death is not as simple as a routine suicide (as if there was such a thing). The other issue at hand is-- get ready-- America's totally Fucked Up health care system. The quick back-story is that for the past several years, Vic Chesnutt couldn't pay his obscenely scary hospital bills, and that this may have driven him over the edge. He'd been paralyzed at age 18 after a drunk driving accident, suffering from medical complications ever since. It recently had reached a point beyond anything he could control. From his obit:

However, Chesnutt had recently struggled with a lawsuit filed by a Georgia hospital after he racked up surgery bills totaling some $70,000, the Athens newspaper reported. He said he couldn't afford more than hospitalization insurance and couldn't keep up with the payments.

The problems baffled his Canadian bandmates, Chesnutt said.

"There's nowhere else in the world that I'd be facing the situation I'm in right now. They cannot understand what kind of society would inflict that on their population," he said. "It's terrifying."

This entire ordeal was documented on an episode of "Fresh Air" with Terri Gross that aired at the beginning of this very month. Vic talked about his medical bills, overcoming his suicidal depression and the new record. It's crazy that this all came to a head so soon after that interview was taped. Listen to the full episode if you get the chance. It's long but it's great radio, and it's so revealing in the wake of all this. (It also features Chesnutt's collaborator, Guy Picciotto, who is best known as the lead guitarist of Fugazi. All the more reason for a certain Drischord to love the album.)

To be succinct, this is really sad news. A huge loss for American folk music. I'd like to write more at a later date, but for now I'm going to re-post a track that I included in a blog entry a few months back. It's called "Aunt Avis", and it shows Vic Chesnutt at his most penetrating and haunting. Listen to this in a dark room on a good stereo and you'll shudder.

This is an insufficient tribute to a great musician and a casualty of our awful, awful healthcare system. The world is better for the 15 albums Vic Chesnutt gave it but worse off for being a place where people like him die way before their time.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tex Plush's Favorite Albums of 2009

13. God Help The Girl
Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch has made an album with all female singers, fantastic vocal and string arrangements, and a slight musical theater bent. In addition to some great new songs, this album includes reimaginings of a couple tracks off of The Life Pursuit - a B&S album with fantastic songwriting that was fatally wounded by poor production values (I literally can't listen to TLP anymore because of the way the snare drum sounds). Thanks, Stuart, for saving this song in particular from the rubbish bin:

12. Grizzly Bear - Vecatamist
11. Volcano Choir - Unmap
Bon Iver teamed up with a noise/glitch rock outfit called A Collection of Colonies of Bees. This track is one of the most song-oriented tracks off the album - the rest is often formless and instrumental, but always beautiful and worth listening to while you stare out the window at the snow. Not for nothing, this album also proves to me that To Emma, Forever Ago wasn't a fluke, even if he does sound more and more like Chris Martin every time I hear him.

10. The xx - xx
Super hypnotic, late, late, late-night, indie rock booty call music. Don't laugh until you try it at 3am with your lady.

9. Rick Ross - Deeper Than Rap
My favorite rap album of the year. Solid front to back and smoove RnB hooks aplenty:

8. Them Crooked Vultures - S/T
7. Vetiver - Tight Knit

A more calming record did not exist for me this year. Here's one of the more upbeat tracks:

6. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs
Yo La Tengo really does get better with age. I like their earlier albums for sure, but on their last two they've hit on a mixtape strategy that really plays to their strengths - every song sounds totally different from the last. It was hard to pick one song that represented the record because, well, NO song represents the entire record. From 15 minute long noise rock epics to motown love anthems, everything you want is here. And it is never redundant.

5. Fruit Bats - The Ruminant Band
4. Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
3. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

2. Jim O'Rourke - The Visitor
Get it. Love it. It's all instrumental and a return to a semi-pop direction (even if the album is a single track), recorded in Jim's apartment in Japan with him playing all the instruments. It sounds amazing on vinyl. You should come over and listen to it.

1. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
I don't know what else I can say about this band. They are quite simply the most innovative and exciting rock band making records today. If they remain on the trajectory of their last two albums, I would not be surprised to see them get as big as Radiohead or Wilco. I've always understood that an eccentric vocalist can sink a band for people - and Dirty Projectors certainly has one of those, even if Longstreth has all but eliminated the more divisive elements of his singing on their latest masterpiece. I also understand reticence to bow to the alter of hipster pretension. But go see these guys live while they're still playing rooms small enough for you to see fingers on the fretboards. You'll come away believing that these guys are the real deal, and humble enough to take what they're doing to the next stage. They can play the shit out of their instruments, and the singing must be seen to be believed. Bitte Orca is not perfect, but it comes close enough to be absolutely jaw-dropping. They don't make 'em like this anymore, kids.

Monday, December 21, 2009

For Your Consideration: Them Crooked Vultures

This is mostly for Via Chicago I suspect, but I am solidly in favor of the debut album from supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones. Come for the Zeppelin rehash, stay for the Queens of the Stone Age. I don't get sound on this computer, so let me know if these links don't work right.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

For Your Consideration

I must entirely unironically call this my favorite video of the year.

Also, a topic for discussion: against all odds, will Christmas in the Heart turn out to be the best Bob Dylan release of 2009? The more I hear it (and I actually don't yet own it in its entirety) the more hypnotic it becomes.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Well, they're already at it

Looks like music list-making season is underway. Does it get earlier every year, like the just post-Halloween Christmas decorations at Macy's?

I'm afraid I'm going to have a hard time keeping up this year. I'm pretty sure I haven't heard even one of the albums on the AV Club's list all the way through.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

You Know What Band I Take For Granted?

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Listening to some of the songs on their new live anthology reminded me how impressed I was with them as Johnny Cash's backing band on American Recordings 2. And then it reminded me how I periodically get impressed with them again, and then forget about them, taking them for granted as just another stitch in the FM radio quilt of sound that has surrounded me for as long as I can remember.