The Best So Far (2009 at the Halfway Point)

mos def

I’ve reviewed a lot of records this year– maybe more than in any previous year– and we’re just about halfway to the listmaking season, so now seems like as good a time as any to reflect on the finest albums of the year– or at least, the ones that have spent the most time in my player. I’ve written about most of these records at some length already, so I’ll skip the big, elaborate fanfare and just say that these are my ten favorite albums of 2009 (so far):

1. Joe Henry, Blood from Stars. The master outdoes himself again: This is as rich and sophisticated as Civilians, almost as edgy as Tiny Voices, and filled with more left-turns than Scar. His best yet? Very possible. Not out until August, and I can’t wait for you all to hear it.

2. Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi. Pure joy: Jazz and blues traditions are re-imagined and reinvigorated through sheer invention and playful whimsy. I could listen to this all day and not be tired of it.

3. U2, No Line on the Horizon. This one’ll lose me some music critic cred in some circles, but I don’t care: I still think it’s exhilarating. The biggest band in the world creates their most complex and refined album yet, a work of deep spiritual meditation and inspired musical synthesis.

4. Mos Def, The Ecstatic. Hip-hop borne not from thuggish boasting, but wide-eyed wonder and curiosity at the marvelous times in which we live. It seems to grow more addictive every time I play it.

5. Jarvis Cocker, Further Complications. Sex songs as jumping-off points for contemplations of neuroses personal, political, romantic, and metaphysical. His words are just as sharp and striking as Steve Albini’s production.

6. Buddy and Julie Miller, Written in Chalk. Making the case that country music is really just soul music with cowboy boots and a twang.

7. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Infernal Machines. I love this guy: It’s 2009, and he’s making big band music. Plus, his big band music sounds like no other music you’ve ever heard.

8. Paolo Nutini, Sunny Side Up. A low-key gem that sounds as old as the hills– or at least a good bit older than its 22-year-old auteur.

9. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca. A weird, left-field pop delight that fuses classical, world, and pop impulses into something alluring and downright fun.

10. Dave Matthews Band, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. Winner of this year’s I Didn’t Think They Had it In Them award. Dave brings the rock, the band brings the funk, and the late LeRoi Moore’s spirit brings out the best in all parties.

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8 responses to “The Best So Far (2009 at the Halfway Point)”

  1. Jason says :

    I think Steve Albini would encourage you to use the word “engineer” to label him.

  2. stu says :

    Merriweather Post Pavilion?

  3. Josh Hurst says :

    Not one of my favorites, Stu. I appreciate it on many levels, but I don’t quite hear the brilliance that some do. For one thing, the sound of it is a little too bright and shiny for me, and for another, I don’t hear much rhyme or reason to the way the songs are constructed; at times, its genre-blurring strikes me as being clever for the sake of cleverness.

    Which is just to say that it’s not a personal favorite, but certainly a worthwhile record.

  4. Gavin says :

    Your favorite albums at the halfway point includes an album that is released after the halfway point. I declare shenanigans on this list!

  5. stu says :

    We’ll agree to disagree on MPP.

    I like that DMB made your list. I haven’t heard the album yet but will for sure pick it up now. This is a welcome surprise, ’cause besides his great solo album, he really hasn’t done much for me in the last 10 years.

  6. Josh Hurst says :

    Those of you who think I’ve cheated with the Henry album can take that Joe out and substitute another– Lovano, whose new album Folk Art is wonderful. Will be saying more about that one very soon, I hope!

  7. Lucas says :

    I just listened to the Allen Toussaint CD on the way to work this morning and I feel the same way you do. It’s just perfect music. I also could listen to it all day long.

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