I agree with D's assessment that this was a good year for "good" albums. I heard a decent amount of new music this year, plenty of which I enjoyed, but none of which particularly excited me (despite all of the blog/NYMag-based insanity for the Dirty Grizzly Collective). So, here are ten albums that I purchased this year that I enjoyed to varying degrees, listed without comment (in vague order of how much I liked/listened to them, but not really):
1. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
2. Flaming Lips - Embryonic
3. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Beware
4. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
5. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
6. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
7. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
8. Wilco - Wilco (the album)
9. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
10. AC Newman - Get Guilty
As per my usual habit, this year I went through several phases where I spent weeks, if not months, listening to only one artist or genre. The phases proceeded thusly:
I). Winter: Bonnie Prince Billy and other sundry Will Oldham aliases -- Inspired by the high placement on last year's lists, I ended up picking up a handful of his albums, starting with Lay Down in the Light, which remains my favorite. This bled into . . .
II) Spring: Bob Dylan -- I hadn't been in a Dylan phase in years, and had mostly ignored his newer stuff. I was focused more on stuff that I hadn't played to death in high school (ie, Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks). I spent a lot of time listening to a great bootleg set of the complete Basement Tapes (can't remember if I posted about it, but google for "A Tree With Roots") and finally got really into Love & Theft. I also finally got around to seeing Todd Haynes' I'm Not There. I'm generally not a fan of Todd Haynes' work and I don't know if I liked this movie at all really, but because I was in such a Dylan phase at the time, it really hit the spot.
III) Summer: Michael Jackson -- I must have listened to other stuff until the Summer of Death began, but once MJ died, I listened to basically nothing but for a good month or so (focusing especially on the stuff I posted about in the linked entry).
IV) Fall: The Beatles -- I hadn't listened to a Beatles record in years. There was just no need -- I had heard every single note of every single album so many times that it became hard to derive much joy from sitting down and listening to an album. That all changed when they released the remasters this past year. The sound was definitely am improvement, though, except in a few cases (the stereo White Album especially) it wasn't totally revelatory. But sitting down to hear the sonic improvements and compare the stereo and mono mixes (I actually bit the bullet and bought the Mono Box Set, like the sucker that I am) forced me to actively listen to music that had long become background music. And Sgt. Pepper in mono really is better (except for a couple moments)!
V) Late Fall / Winter: Motown -- For the past couple of months I have been listening to literally nothing but Motown. On this message board I sometimes go to, a guy is going through and reviewing / posting links to download every single Motown (or affiliated label) LP, in order of release. Many of these are out of print on CD, though easy enough to find online (check out blaxploitationjive.blogspot.com). Although Motown is, of course, first and foremost, a singles label (and certainly many of the albums are nothing but singles with some filler), many of the LPs are fantastic in their own right. As a first priority, seek out good singles compilations (preferably in mono -- it makes a HUGE difference, no joke) for The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. But a quick top five album recommendations:
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell - You're All I Need
Temptations - With a Lot O' Soul
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - Make it Happen
The Supremes - More Hits By The Supremes (not a compilation)
Martha and the Vandellas - Watchout!
Motown basically has the best songwriting, the best production, the best playing (especially the drumming and bass playing), the best grooves, and the best singing. So its kind of by definition the best music ever. It's difficult for our generation, because it has been so muzak-ized by its use in commercials and movies. You definitely have to approach the music from a specific mindset to hear "I Heard it Through The Grapevine" as one of the coolest, tightest grooves ever laid to wax (it has three drummers!) and not a California Raisins commercial. But once you can, there's a seemingly endless well of amazing music to be enjoyed.
(Looking back, I spent the back half of 2009 listening to the greatest pop music ever by almost any account. While I certainly enjoyed Bitte Orca, it just can't compete).
I'm still in the Motown phase, though the lists people have already posted have given me some good stuff to check out and download from eMusic, before I cancel my subscription because I've now forgotten to download my allotment before it resets TWICE, which pisses me off to no end. Happy 2010!