The Best So Far (2009 at the Halfway Point)
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.