I intended to stick to last year’s model of just writing about my favorite album of the year until Kimber Lanning, owner of Stinkweeds and Modified, asked me for a top-10 list for a year-end booklet she puts out at Stinkweeds.
So here’s the list, even though, quite honestly, I’m pretty list-ed out at this point.
It should also be noted that The Fast Escape, an album released this month by my brother’s band Source Victoria, is not included. Given my personal ties, it exists on a different plane and is more difficult to put in proper context. I don’t hesitate to say, though, that it belongs alongside any of these.
10. TRAVIS: The Boy With No Name (Sony/Independiente)
It’s too late now, but this record easily could have served as the successor to 2000’s humongous hit “The Man Who,” perhaps a sign that Fran Healy and Co. are comfortable letting the Coldplays of the world fight over the biggest-band-in-the-world title.
Favorite tracks: Selfish Jean, My Eyes.
9. WILCO: Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)
Who knew an album as seemingly innocuous as this would piss people off so much? I didn’t care much for the album upon first and second listens, and I still think drummer Glenn Kotche is severely underutilized. But the musicianship is unmatched (thank you, Nels Cline), and the songs show Jeff Tweedy in a comfortable place, which isn’t a bad thing.
Favorite tracks: You Are My Face, What Light.
8. THE BESNARD LAKES: The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse (Jagjaguwar)
If the black stallion engulfed in flames on the album cover wasn’t enough to convince you, this album is a pretty epic piece of atmospheric space/pych-rock. And if you get the chance to see them live, do it. I have just two words about that: fog machine.
Favorite tracks: Devastation, Disaster.
7. THE BROKEN WEST: I Can’t Go On I’ll Go On (Merge)
An impressive debut from an LA band that reminds me of Summerteeth-era Wilco. Not a dud in the bunch. Seriously. When I was trying to decide what track (or tracks) to put on a year-end CD mix, it was damn near impossible to choose. For the record, I eventually decided on Brass Ring, though Shiftee is probably my favorite song.
Favorite tracks: Shiftee, Brass Ring, Hale Sunrise, on and on.
6. SPOON: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
“Less is more” might be cliche, but I don’t understand why more bands don’t heed its message. That Spoon has delivered such a satisfying album in 10 songs/36 minutes shows the focus and ambition (not to mention self-editing) of a band in its finest moment.
Favorite tracks: You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb, The Underdog.
5. KANYE WEST: Graduation (Roc-A-Fella Records)
Kanye overcomes his shortcomings as a lyricist – “I’m like the fly Malcolm X, buy any jeans necessary” (ugh) – with focused production and impassioned delivery. Cutting out the cumbersome “skits” – yeah, we know, concept record – can’t be overlooked, either. Despite what I said, I really love this record.
Favorite tracks: Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Flashing Lights, Barry Bonds.
4. BAND OF HORSES: Cease to Begin (Sub Pop)
I love that Ben Bridwell, with his endearing falsetto, can pull off potentially trite lines – “The world is such a wonderful place” – without causing so much as an eyeroll or snicker from my direction. I’ve either gotten a little soft or Bridwell just writes/sings with a sincere passion in what he believes. I say the latter.
Favorite tracks: Ode to LRC, No One’s Gonna Love You, Islands on the Coast.
3. EL-P: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (Definitive Jux)
Even if El-P takes himself a little too seriously, his unease and paranoia make for a sobering dose of reality. When so many rappers live in a fantasy world, El-P delivers post-9/11 doom and gloom in gritty Orwellian fashion. Favorite tracks: Smithereens (Stop Cryin’), The Overly Dramatic Truth, Flyentology (specifically, the Cassettes Won’t listen remix).
2. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: Challengers (Matador)
I don’t know how they do it, but the New Pornographers just crank out hit after hit. It took me about a month before diving into this album, and once I did I was hooked. Dan Bejar’s three contributions – Myriad Harbour (song of the year), Entering White Cecilia and The Spirit of Giving – anchor the album. Favorite tracks: Myriad Harbour, The Spirit of Giving, Mutiny, I Promise You.
1. THE NATIONAL: Boxer (Beggars Banquet)
I’ve expended quite a bit of mental energy debating with myself over which National record is better: Alligator (favorite of ’05) or Boxer. And I still haven’t come up with an answer. It’s probably a fool’s errand to even try comparing. What I loved about Alligator – mainly its somewhat drastic emotional ebb and flow – hardly exists on Boxer, a more even-keeled, patient album. It wows you with understated but overwhelming arrangements and fewer vocal flare-ups – like, say, on Abel or Mr. November. It’s tempting to call Boxer the group’s masterpiece, but that would mean the National has reached its peak. And I hardly think that’s the case. Given the pattern, I already have an idea what my favorite album of 2009 will be. Favorite tracks: Apartment Story, Slow Show, Ada, Mistaken for Strangers.
Albums that, on any other day, could be on this list: Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger; Busdriver, RoadKillOvercoat; Common, Finding Forever; Menomena, Friend and Foe; Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha; The Ponys, Turn the Lights Out; Jay-Z, American Gangster; St. Vincent, Marry Me.
Sorry, I’m just not that into you: Panda Bear, Person Pitch (I’m trying really hard, though!); Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?; Amy Winehouse, Back to Black; The White Stripes, Icky Thump; Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala.
Need more time: LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver; Lupe Fiasco, The Cool; Wu-Tang Clan, 8 Diagrams; Ghostface Killah, Big Doe Rehab.
Five favorite shows of the year, in no particular order:
Travis, Marquee Theatre in Tempe, Nov. 25 (recap).
Menomena, Rhythm Room in Phoenix, March 11 (recap).
The National with St. Vincent, The Wiltern in Los Angeles, Sept. 28.
The Hold Steady, The Brickhouse in Phoenix, June 2.
DJ Z-Trip, The Brickhouse in Phoenix, Aug. 22 (review at azcentral.com).