I listened to more new music in 2009 than I had the previous year, but it’s still difficult to list much that I enjoyed enough to recommend to others. (Posterity note: The album I listened to more than any other in 2009 – The Bug’s London Zoo – would’ve been up there with Third and Rook as one of my favourites of 2008 if I’d actually managed to listen to it within that year.)
But onwards to 2009. Or backwards, rather, given the tardiness of this post.
Warm Heart Of Africa (The Very Best): When raving about this album to Benny a few weeks ago the best explanation I could manage was to stammer “It’s like…African pop for people who like dubstep!” But I did this glorious album a disservice, because my description, apart from being clumsy (Pitchfork’s review broke it down somewhat better) is useless to anyone except music nerds. In truth, this is just one of the most effortlessly engaging albums I have heard in years (try Julia) and I honestly believe it’s an album for everyone, except people who don’t like joy. My favourite release of the year, IN A YEAR WITH A SONIC YOUTH RELEASE. If that’s not a recommendation from me, nothing is.
The Eternal (Sonic Youth): I know, I’m just so full of surprises. OK, this isn’t quite as good as any of their other post-NYC Ghosts And Flowers albums or Thurston’s lovely Trees Outside The Academy from 2007, but it still presses enough buttons for me. Continues in the somewhat accessible vein of Rather Ripped, sometimes too much so (What We Know, Poison Arrow) but there are still plenty of examples of the band being melodic without losing themselves (Leaky Lifeboat, Antenna).
Moderat (Moderat): I already enjoy each of the acts in this collaboration on their own, but I really hope they keep working together too. Apparat’s moody headphones universes get roughed up by Modeselektor’s dancefloor sensibilities (Slow Match), Modeselektor’s sonic freewheeling benefits from Apparat’s talent for creating and building atmosphere (Rusty Nails, Porc #1, Porc #2), and I get a new favourite pre-clubbing album. (Well, it would be my favourite pre-clubbing album if I could actually be bothered to get off my ass and go clubbing.)
Farm (Dinosaur Jr): Part of why I love this is definitely the nostalgic hold 80s/90s US indie rock will always have on me. But even when I try to shed that and pretend I’m assessing this album through fresh ears, I’m still struck by its effortless, unaffected ability to just bring on some good tunes and rock out. And like I said earlier, J Mascis’s guitar playing just makes me so damn happy.
Dragonslayer (Sunset Rubdown): Every now and then an album comes along and reminds me that I can still like indie pop. Spencer Krug’s hiccupy David Bowie voice appeals to me much more than the usual reedy-voiced SNAG or alterna-ingenue vocal stylings that abound in this genre, and there’s something wonderfully full-bodied and spacey about the production that brings out the stateliness and drama of the songs really well. When I’ve had a bad day at work I just want to crawl into tracks like Silver Moons and Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh! (yes, I know, execrable name but give it a chance) and let the bubbly reverby guitars bathe me like a jacuzzi.
Us (Brother Ali): As much as I can often be easily contented with crass booty jamz, and equally easily bored with “worthy” hip hop, Ali’s lyrical achievements here are just too impressive to be missed. He’s not the most complex rhymer around but the sincerity and depth with which he’s able to take on subjects like the legacy of slavery (The Travelers), child sex abuse (Babygirl) and the experiences of new immigrants, children of divorce and closeted gay teens (Tight Rope) is incredible.
Surgical Gloves (Raekwon): So much rhapsodizing has been done about Only Made 4 Cuban Linx Pt II that I feel the need to explain why it isn’t in my albums list. Honestly, I’ve been too distracted by reading on my commute to listen properly to the lyrics, so while I have enjoyed the production, I just haven’t engaged with the album as fully as I did with the albums which did make the list. This track, however, stood out to me from the first time I heard it. Alchemist slices up a Styx sample to make it sound like a malfunctioning CD player, Raekwon spits lines like “We blow you out your peacoats”, and the end result is just slick.
Heartless (Kris Allen, live version from Top 3 night on American Idol): It’s really hard to find this on Youtube because most of the clips there are either the studio version, or the audio-only live version. This canny, game-changing performance formed the basis of my shock epiphany that although it was undoubtedly cooler to support Adam Lambert, the person I really really wanted to win was Kris.
Velvet (The Big Pink): This and the album it came from are great comfort listening for me, for times when I don’t feel like “working” to enjoy my music. There’s nothing gobsmackingly creative about this track, no new layers to discover each time you listen to it, but sometimes you just want a straightforward instantly accessible slab of moody bombastic feedback-drenched drama which gives you what you want and gives it to you now.
Halo (Beyonce): You laugh? Wait till you hear how many other Ryan Tedder penned pop songs I also love madly (Apologize, Bleeding Love, Battlefield), then laugh. I’ve never been that keen on Beyonce – I don’t like watching her perform because there’s something I find a bit frantic about her dancing – but the vocal twists and turns she does here are really well executed. I fully intend to butcher this song in my next karaoke session, especially the “haloOOo” bits.
Fostercare (Burial): This pipped King Midas Sound’s Meltdown very narrowly for status of my favourite track on the “new stuff” disc of 5 Years Of Hyperdub. If you already know Burial, this is more of what he does best. If you don’t, I’ll spare you my yammering about textures and sample manipulation and just urge you to experience this haunting, otherworldly trip for yourself.
Global Enemies (Lynx & Kemo): OK I’m totally cheating because I know this came out in 2007, but ever since their barnstorming gig at Home in 2008 I’ve inexplicably failed to rave about them on this blog, and that can’t go on. This track was included on their 2009 debut album (which, unfortunately, I haven’t heard yet), so Imma sneak it in that way. Kemo’s lyrics aren’t as intriguingly esoteric here as in Carnivale but his deadpan style suits the bleak prophecy of this track perfectly.
Keep The Streets Empty For Me (Fever Ray): Sometimes here on the equator rain comes suddenly and heavily in the pre-dawn hours, moving across the ground in sheets with the wind. For night owls like me these are magical times, when the world is cool and peaceful and mostly mine. This is a song for the minutes just after that rain dies away, when the cascade of droplets from rain gutters and awnings slows but doesn’t stop, each tiny impact rippling the puddle where it lands, each rippling puddle part of a shimmering tableau that hardly anyone will see but me.
No personal 2009 music summary of mine could possibly omit what happened on June 25th, 2009. I already wrote a fair bit in this blog about the joy Michael Jackson brought to my life, but reading over it again I’m struck by how much I still had to leave out.
I’m not over his death. I know how this makes me look to people who are too sensible to be this affected by the death of someone who never knew they existed. And I also know how blessed I am that so far, I have not had to suffer the loss of someone truly close to me. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. But for now, there are times I still find myself ambushed by emotion that I thought I had exhausted the night of his memorial service, the night I cried all the tears I had not shed in that dry-eyed, numb week after his death. I still think of him randomly, like when one of my first thoughts after seeing Avatar was how much he would have loved it in all its technologically groundbreaking, spectacularly beautiful, treehugging, militaristic, schmaltzy splendour.
But this is a music post, and I did actually intend to end it with something related to Michael Jackson’s music rather than my emoness. One “silver lining” (if you could call it that) of his death was the rehearsal footage his fans got to see in the This Is It movie. I loved this because he usually wouldn’t let the world see anything until it had been meticulously engineered to run to uberperfection every time. I think this clip of The Way You Make Me Feel rehearsals gives a refreshingly raw glimpse of the person and artist I will never forget.