Thursday, July 16, 2009

My favorite 17 albums of the year so far


Tuesday was the All-Star Game, so we must be halfway through the year. And that means it's the time of making lists about the first half of the year.

DDoff Daily posted his albums of the year so far, so I feel obligated to give my five devoted readers the same royal treatment*. I used criteria that is entirely objective, so this is pretty much a factual, undisputed ranking and probably the only list worth reading**. Oh, and I'd appreciate if you commented with your list of favorites, which if you're a hipster, will include Animal Collective at #1.

And without further ado.....

17. We Were Promised Jetpacks - "These Four Walls" I've heard these guys will be the biggest thing to come out of Scotland since the janitor from the Simpsons. I don't know if they're even half as good as Frightened Rabbit but it certainly seems that the heavy, crescendo-ing drums and guitars and soaring vocals are resonating with me. I guess early U2's influence has finally crossed The North Channel.

16. Grizzly Bear - "Veckatimest" The best of the hipster pop of the year. Maybe a little overblown but still pretty catchy.

15. Wilco - "Wilco (The Album)" I love Wilco a whole lot but this album just hasn't hooked me yet. Still, there are some great tracks on this album. My guess is that it will either have grown on me by the end of the year and make it to the top 10, or it will join the giant scrap heap of discarded latter efforts of great bands.

14. Neko Case - "Middle Cyclone" Solid effort from Neko. Doesn't quite measure up to her early work, but the songs are good live. Too bad her nerdy banter isn't included on the album.

13. Patterson Hood - "Murdering Oscar (and other love songs)" A solo release from the Drive-By Truckers front man more than 10 years in the making, this record has some nice balads and whatnot. Hood is quite the lyricist and the songs come off as much more personal and [slightly] less dark than what he puts on Truckers albums.

12. Iron & Wine - "Around the Well" Should this even count since most of the songs aren't new? I don't really care, this is still the best baby-making music around. I seriously wish that I had this in my repertoire to lure girls back to my rape cave, I mean dorm room, instead of the ubiquitous "Have you heard the latest "1x1" > "Rock" > "I'm Not Alone" from the latest Paolo Soleri run? It's pretty h3tty."

11. Son Volt - "American Central Dust" Solid alt-country. Son Volt is somehow still an under the radar band despite great talent. Jay Farrar must look at Wilco playing huge venues and wish death upon Tweedy every night.

10. Pink Mountaintops - "Closer To Heaven" Listening to this all the way through for the first time as I write, I'm thinking that this might actually be one of my favorite albums of the year. Like its mother band, Black Mountain, it's just the right mix of hard psychadelic rock and Candaianness. Unlike BM, it's a little bit lighter and easy to listen to.

9. Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears - "Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!" Hard to believe that people are still making old music this good. This "garage soul" band from Austin sounds like it could have been made in the 70s. Joe says he wants to be the Black Elvis, but I'll be content if he continues to the be the modern James Brown.

8. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - "Self-Titled" I can't sing this guy's praises enough. I'm sure it was tough to get the boot from the Drive-By Truckers following his divorce from bassist Shonna Tucker. He has had to start from scratch and play smaller half-full clubs while Patterson Hood is being interviewed on CNN and the Truckers are selling out bigger venues and joining forces with The Hold Steady. Isbell is an incredible guitarist and lyricist, though, so I think he'll be just fine.*** This is his second album and he shows that "Sirens of the Ditch" was no fluke.

7. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse - "Dark Night of the Soul" This really doesn't sound like anything else, which is a good thing. Check out the story behind this album:

It's a friendly collaboration that turned out to be a match made in limbo. Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous and Gnarls Barkley's Danger Mouse wrote a set of comely, haunted songs for alt-rock heavies (Black Francis, Julian Casablancas, James Mercer, Wayne Coyne, Iggy Pop) to be sold with a coffee-table book of darkly ironic photos by director David Lynch (who also lent his keep-your-day-job warble to two songs). But EMI inexplicably shelved the album. In response, the Horse and the Mouse came up with a sneakily Borgesian stunt, commodifying their music's very absence by selling blank CD-Rs online, with Lynch's book.

6. Ryan Bingham - "Roadhouse Sun" I'm not sure if I like this album for itself as much as I like that it reminds me of the show I saw at Hotel Utah, which has probably been my favorite live performance of the year. Bingham's Texas/New Mexico sound is both different and familiar at the same time. I can play his music for just about any type of fan and they all seem to enjoy it. This is music that has some sort of universal appeal.

5. Various Artists - "Dark Was The Night" Again, maybe this album shouldn't count but this is a double album that has probably gotten more plays around my house than any other. Just look at the artist list and tell me this isn't a great album. And if you downloaded this AIDS benefit album from the Internet, you better not eat before sundown at Yom Kippur this year.

4. The Decemberists - "Hazards of Love" You have to love the amitious effort from Colin Meloy here. Not too many people can pull off the rock opera. I saw him perform the whole thing from start to finish with a straight face, and I am here to tell you that this album kicks ass like no other folksy, pseudo-19th century rock epic has before it.

3. Phoenix - "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" I'm almost a little embarrassed to say how much I like this French electro-pop, but this has become my new cooking music. What can I say? A guy can't listen to roots music all day, every day.

2. Justin Townes Earle - "Midnight at the Movies" Your grandpappy's country music. Earle is making music that nobody else that I know of is making today. Son of Steve, named after Townes Van Zandt, these songs come from somebody who knows the blues. Good to know that kicking crack hasn't affected his song writing ability.

1. Magnolia Electric Co. - "Josephine" Alt-countryish master Jason Molina's first album since the band's bassist died in a tragic gardening accident****. Soulful vocals, good guitar work, country should come as no surprise that I love this music.

*Plus, DDoff likes that hippity-hop music, so I knew my list would look completely different from his.
**Actually, I just picked the 15 albums I've listened to the most--or upon making this list, wish I'd listened to the most.
***Check out the video below from his solo-ish performance at Cafe du Nord last year.
****It may have actually been an apartment fire in Oakland.


  1. I'm also just now listening to Vetiver. I like it.

  2. This made me feel better about loving this album so much.

  3. Nice link. And yet again, the Internet proves that whenever I have a thought, somebody else has already said it better.

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  5. I read the other blog you were linked to. I thin a lot of your choices are spot on. Phoenix is something else. They're fun and endear themselves to the listener. But I highly encourage you to check out Drake, His record is awesome.
    Also, the new Mos Def record is intolerable It suffers from all the dame world beat prob;ems the second MIa record suffers from.

  6. Don't feel bad about coming out for Phoenix! They're the shit, at least on this album. They have A LOT of older stuff that's hit and miss, but Wolfgang definitely hits the bullseye. Get ready for Arctic Monkeys new album, Humbug, on August 25th...should be awesome.