Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Night Owl Presents Top Albums of 2009

Via local blog The Night Owl Presents

10. ST. VINCENT - Actor

After a so-so album debut a couple of years ago and the timid performance we witnessed as an opening act in 2007, this fine effort came out of the blue. Annie Clark a/k/a St. Vincent finds her voice on Actor, adapting a number of personalities in a varied collection of songs. And don't let the sweet voice fool you.

KEY TRACK: "Actor Out Of Work"
BONUS: "Oh Sister" (cover of Dylan song with Andrew Bird, Providence. RI, October 2009)

Italic 9. DAVE RAWLINGS MACHINE - A Friend of A Friend

Previously known as the key co-writer and musician on so many fine works by Gillian Welch, out from the shadows steps Dave Rawlings and his superb band. The mix of originals and unique covers, assisted by Welch and proteges The Old Crow Medicine Show, are delivered in grand fashion.

KEY TRACK: "To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High") (live at Grimey's Records, Nashville, TN, December 2009)
FURTHER READING: Alec Wilkinson's excellent New Yorker profile of Welch and Rawlings from 2004.

8. NEKO CASE - Middle Cyclone

A wonderful follow-up to Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, Neko Case takes on another natural disaster and triumphs.

KEY TRACK: "People Got A Lotta Nerve"
FURTHER READING: February 2009 profile of Neko Case from The New York Times Magazine.

7. BOB DYLAN - Together Through Life

In which the Patron Saint of TNOP interprets Chess Records blues with a Tex-Mex undertone. And it works, continuing the Bard's late-career renaissance. [Side note to long time fans: it's like Desire, except David Hidalgo's accordion replaces Scarlet Rivera's fiddle.]

FURTHER READING: Bill Flanagan interviews Dylan about the record.

6. DAN AUERBACH - Keep It Hid

First solo effort from The Black Keys' front man allows him to flesh out his sound. The record gets stronger with each listen, and shows that Auerbach is now a major player on the music scene. He's in a prolific stage, as evidenced by the BlakRoc project and the expected new Keys' release in 2010.

KEY TRACK #1: "My Last Mistake"

5. THE DECEMBERISTS - The Hazards of Love

America's least-likely rock stars continue their musical ascendancy, using little known folk tales as their narrative compass. We admit it took us a little longer to warm up to this effort than previous favorites like The Crane Wife and Picaresque, but this "Folk Opera" treats the listener to bombastic shapeshifters, ghostly kids and a psychotic queen. Too adventuresome? Pretentious prog rock gone bad? Some thought so. But head man Colin Meloy clearly believes in the album concept, and dares to push back at the iPod singles mentality. And it doesn't hurt that he sure knows how to pen a melody.

KEY TRACK #2: "The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid" (with Shara Worden, Los Angeles, CA, May 2009)
FURTHER LISTENING: David Dye of The World Cafe interviews Colin Meloy.

4. U2 - No Line On The Horizon

After two albums of straight ahead rock cementing the familiar "U2 sound," the Dublin lads decide to step out of the box again. The result is their best studio record since Achtung Baby. Their massive stadium tour will continue into 2010, a sign of how much they believe in the new work.

KEY TRACK #2: "Get On Your Boots" (live at the 2009 Grammy Awards)
FURTHER READING: Producer Brian Eno talks to The Telegraph about the recording of No Line On The Horizon.

3. WILCO - Wilco (The Album)

The top American band hits a solid groove from beginning to end in this self-titled (kind of) CD. Major fans of Wilco's experimental, atmospheric side will be disappointed to an extent, but the album brims with confidence from a line up of musicians who clearly listen to and love all shades of rock and roll - and learn from it.

KEY TRACK: "You Never Know"
KEY TRACK #2: "You And I" (with Leslie Feist on Late Night With David Letterman, July 2009)
KEY TRACK #3: "Wilco (The Song)" (The Colbert Report, October 2008)
FURTHER READING: Time talks to Jeff Tweedy about the album, the passing of Jay Bennett and a fellow Chicagoan.

2. PHOENIX - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Regular readers of TNOP know that we are suckers for the unadulterated joys of pop. After three promising tries, France's Phoenix stormed the U.S. shores this year with its sunny, percussion driven sound. We dare you not to like it.

KEY TRACK: "Lisztomania"
PERFORMANCE: "1901," "Lisztomania/One Time Too Many" and "Long Distance Call" (from La Blogotheque Take Away Show, December 2009)
FURTHER READING: "Phoenix Remains A Band Apart" from September 2009 issue of The Fader.

1. GRIZZLY BEAR - Veckatimest

The Beach Boys-like harmony and hollow bodied guitar sound - with production finished, appropriately enough, in a New York church - made this record by the Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear TNOP's most played record in the car and on the stereo and iPod during 2009. Although its production is sparse and tones often hushed, there is an unique and youthful exuberance about this work. It is a record that will be played for many years to come.

KEY TRACK: "Two Weeks"
KEY TRACK #2: "All We Ask" (Blue Ribbon Vision @ Pabst Theater, Milwaukee, WI, June 2009)KEY TRACK #3: "While You Wait For The Others" (KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, February 2008)
INTERVIEW AND PERFORMANCE: Chicago Public Radio's Sound Opinions, November 2009.

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