Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009, Billy-style

"Ain't it like most people? I'm no different. / We love to talk on things we don't know about." -- The Avett Brothers, "Ten Thousand Words" 

As Bob noted in a recent post, the notion of buying and listening to albums has returned to a level of irrelevancy not seen since the 1950s and early '60s, when the standard practice for music at a home part involved stacking 10 or so 45s onto the spindle and playing them as they dropped one at a time. (The really kick-ass record players could handle 20 or more at a time!) This was also the heyday of the traditional Jukebox, packed merely with singles, something rarely even found in a Waffle House anymore.

So, the notion of having a Top 10 Albums list feels very much like listing my Top 10 Cassette Tape Sides. Ironically, at a time when the album is dying, I'm buying more albums than ever before. (Those who know my fashion tastes shouldn't be surprised.)

So, I shall soldier on at least this one more time with an album list. I will, however, insist on following in the footsteps of my partner -- and of an amazing string of Slate.com articles about the year in music -- and list my Top 20 Singles from the year on Thursday. (NOTE: If you love music, I dare you not to get sucked down the rabbit hole of cool music links available at that Slate link above, especially  Blender's Top 500 Singles Since 1980 list... May Blender Rest In Peace.)

1. fun. - Aim and Ignite
All the Pretty Girls (YouTube)
For those of you who hate Electric Light Orchestra, I have some bad news: ELO has returned as a primary influence in many rock and pop circles. In at least six or seven of the albums I bought this year -- including four mentioned here -- the hints of ELO are as certain as garlic from an Italian restaurant. Aim and Ignite worships Queen as much as ELO, with tempo changes, abrupt shifts in tone, and other ways of screwing with pop expectation, but Nate Reuss' greatest gift is reminding the listener that misery is a crucial ingredient in the Human Comedy. At some point, you either find a way to laugh through the tears, or the music stops. The Format (RIP) mined similar territory, and his new band kicks the smiles into an altogether different gear, even while the subject matter is... well, mostly kinda sad.

2. Buddy + Julie Miller - Written In Chalk
Ellis County (mp3)
When people talk about the glory days of country music, their talk means nothing to me unless they know of Buddy and Julie Miller. Written In Chalk might not be a modern version of classic Loretta Lynn or Waylon Jennings or George Jones, but the essence of the country music I love stems from its folk roots, and this couple do an almost-flawless take on modern folk.

3. Paramore - Brand New Eyes
Brick by Boring Brick (YouTube)
The survival of what fogeys like me think of as "arena rock" is tethered to the careers of a precious few bands in 2009. One of the bands looking capable of keeping the iron lung of arena rock pumping with vim and vigor is the Tennessee-born Paramore. Thanks to a little Rock Band and a little Twilight soundtrack, the band rocketed to a different tier of success, and their 2009 album proves they deserved the adoration. It's tightly-produced and intense in all the right ways, and Hayley Williams' voice has just the right mix of Scream and Sing to cover the lyrical territory of fatalistic love.

4. Tinted Windows - Tinted Windows
Dead Serious (mp3)

No one in 2009 did a better job at cutting to the simple heart of power pop than the sugary collection of tunes from this mashup band. All you had to know was that the quartet consisted of men from Hanson, Fountains of Wayne, Smashing Pumpkins and Cheap Trick, and the sound that emerged from this catchy CD was exactly what you'd expect. If those four bands mean nothing (or nothing good) to you, then neither would this album. But if, like me, you have almost every CD from those four awesome bands, then this little gem is like some Super-Sized X-Men Special Edition comic book, awesome both as a novelty and for the quality of its contents.

5. The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
I and Love and You (YouTube)
As is usually the case, I'm usually hopping onto a musical bandwagon right when the really cool people are jumping off. I guess Rick Rubin deserves credit for that. But for me, a newbie to the Avett scene, nothing about this album felt over-produced or excessively commercial. It sounds like a band with an amazing talent for the simple and appealing, and I suspect if I'd owned this album longer than a mere three weeks, it might be higher on my list.

6. Tegan + Sara - Sainthood
Hell (YouTube)
"It's an acquired taste." That's what I think of Tegan and Sara. Their compositions are off-key. Their singing is almost antithetical to my beloved Indigo Girls. Where the latter are always impeccably harmonized, T+S specialize in awkward juxtaposition and eyebrow raising "melodies," if you can call them that. Sainthood is the perfect curveball for my power pop sensibilities. It cleanses that pop palette quickly and efficiently.

7. Superdrag - Industry Giants
Aspertame (YouTube)
We return to Tennessee for this power pop band and a collection of songs that puts Industry Giants neck and neck with my two previous faves of the band's. John Davis' newfound faith and journey of recovery from addiction fuels a completely different mindset to the 'Drag's lyrical journey. Where words once belied a clouded (if highly amusing) cynicism, now they reveal a clouded and amusing cynicism... but now with this ginormous silver lining of religious warmth and a word almost verboten from rock: hope.

8. The Von Bondies - Love, Hate, and Then There's You
Pale Bride (YouTube)
Maybe I love this album because the lead singer had his ass kicked by Jack White. Seriously. How pathetic must one be that Jack White can kick your ass? Hell, all 73 pounds of Avril Lavigne could clean the floor with Jack White. I suspect Theodore Chipmunk could, too. So Jason Stollsimer must have a healthy warehouse of angst and insecurity built up, and it comes out with plenty of anger and energy on this gem of a CD.

9. Brendan Benson - My Old, Familiar Friend
A Whole Lot Better (mp3)
I'm apparently infamous for making connections that leave other music lovers flummoxed, but when I hear Brendan Benson, I hear the bastard son of Elvis Costello circa Get Happy. With a little bit of A.C. Newman and other indie pop acts thrown in. If the name "Raconteurs" means anything to you, then you probably already know this guy. Another Jack White connection, except without the ass-kicking part.

10. Dashboard Confessional - Alter the Ending
Belle of the Boulevard (Dashboard Site Link)
BOTG Bonus Fact: Video shot in the French Quarter!
I've already mentioned my love of this deja vu double album, so no need to go back into it. Suffice it to say that Chris Carrabba deserves to be the poster boy for Emo pop rock. I'm sure listening to more than one album of this guy's stuff could lead to suicidal tendencies, but this album, standing on its own, is catchy and strong and fun... in a sort of "woe is me" kind of way.


BeckEye said...

Much love to Tinted Windows! I actually got to see them live and I drooled over little Taylor Hanson who grew up to be quite a hottie.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, Jack white is 6 foot plus......He's obviously a sensitive art guy that you don't won't to piss off. Same with Joshe Homme.

Billy said...

Beck -- I'm quite jealous in spite of not personally being attracted to Taylor.

Anon -- Jack White reminds me of Edward Scissorhands? Is that an original thought, or did I steal it and not know it?