Best Albums of 2009
Happy New Year everybody! Musically speaking, this was a great year for power pop, melodic rock, and generally tasty hooky songs. I happily present my list of the Best Albums of 2009:
THE BEST, NUMBER ONE is....
THE BEST, NUMBER ONE is....
1. PETE YORN - Back & Fourth
I got this CD at the beginning of the Summer and it was my constant soundtrack to miles and miles of beautiful highway driving. Pete Yorn is not really the kind of artist that I think of myself liking...he seems a bit too alterna-rock or "normal" or something, but the more I listen to him the more I think he's incredible. And this particular album really moves me somehow. Great production (what do you know, Rick Rubin!), sneaky and subtle grownup songwriting, and very fresh and provocative lyrics. Amidst a whole album of fine songwriting, the track "Social Development Dance" stands out, with completely refreshing and surprising lyrics, and a gorgeous groove and melody. Usually it would be someone like Jason Falkner or Sam Phillips to score my number one ranking (they do show up farther down the list) but something unexplainable about this album has really captured me. Pete had a good year with me...he'll turn up once again before this list is over.
2. THE TWILIGHT HOURS - Stereo Night
Local Minneapolis pop workhorses Matt Wilson and John Munson (of Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic fame) team up in a new band, and crank out songs that are effortlessly singable and joyous and inventive. Now, lately I've been really appreciating the Grammy-winning half of the Minnesota Wilson brothers (that's Dan, who put out the incredible album "Free Life" a year or so ago), but I'm afraid that Matt may have eclipsed his brother with this record. As I look ahead to growing into a fortysomething Edina Dad, it's inspiring to see what kind of music other fortysomething Edina Dads like Matt Wilson (and Paul Westerberg!) can create in the middle stages of life.
3. MANDY MOORE - Amanda Leigh
I got into Mandy a couple years ago when she released a fine album of unlikely cover songs. What a voice! When I heard that her most recent album was co-written and produced by power pop master Mike Viola I went right out and bought it, and indeed, Mandy plus Mike equals Marvelous. Of course Mandy's voice shines as always, but the SONGS and HARMONIES and arrangements, too....it takes my breath away. This is an album that pays tribute to '70s songwriters, with a perfect hints of '80s New Wave and Americana. A weird combo that wildly succeeds with every turn. Mandy is a role model for teen-popsters who hope to grow into legitimate artists.
4. JASON FALKNER - All Quiet On The Noise Floor
Jason does no wrong in my eyes. He's my favorite kind of artist: songwriter, producer, and playing all the instruments too (like another fave of mine, Todd Rundgren, and Pete Yorn sometimes). Jason's previous release "I'm OK You're OK" is my favorite of his, but this one comes pretty close. I did only get this CD recently, so there's a chance it will grow on me even more. Hearing Jason's recordings makes me want to sprint to the studio and create some new music.
5. BRENDAN BENSON - My Old Familiar Friend
Well, well...another Falkner associate who sings, produces, and plays all the instruments on his albums! Benson is a genius and he hits it out of the park frequently on this album. I'd love to see Benson and Jason Falkner do some more writing and recording together like they were doing years ago...
6. TINTED WINDOWS - Tinted Windows
A brilliant album, but listening to it is a bit like sitting down and eating an entire pail of ice cream by yourself. Thankfully the whole record clocks in at about 35 minutes. This is my children's favorite CD of the year.
7. RHETT MILLER - s/t
His early-aughts album "The Instigator" would chart in my Top Ten albums of the decade (maybe I should make that list next), thanks to production by Jon Brion. Rhett's newest brings back Brion on bass for a few tracks, with songs that are little less sweet than usual, but still make for an engaging listen.
8. PETE YORN & SCARLETT JOHANSSON - Break Up
Pete returns to the Top 10 list, this time duetting with actress Scarlett Johansson. Cool cool songs, nice arrangement, and a true sense of chemistry and fun between the vocalists pouring out of the speakers. This album is an excellent companion to the Mandy Moore album charting up at Number Three, where Mandy duets with Mike Viola. The retro vibe is similar too.
9. MARSHALL CRENSHAW - Jaggedland
Crenshaw is a major lifetime hero of mine, and his newest is a gem. The tunes themselves are pretty dark and complex...no power pop anthems here. This is smart, subdued rock for adults, featuring killer guitar playing and the legendary drumming of Jim Keltner. It'll sneak up on you.
10. SAM PHILLIPS - The Long Play
Not an actual album, necessarily, but an online subscription service costing about $50 per year. Sam provides her subscribers with multiple EPs throughout the year, and the promise of an exclusive full-length album for download later in 2010. So far, the songs available have been winners, especially the acoustic interpretations of Sam classics backed by a string quartet.
Tune in next year for the Best of 2010!