Singer, songwriter, guitarist
The Bad Plus: For All I Care (Heads Up)
Nellie McKay: Normal as Blueberry Pie: A
Tribute to Doris Day (Verve)
Levon Helm: Electric Dirt (Vanguard)
Danny Barnes: Pizza Box (ATO)
Geraint Watkins: In a Bad Mood (Gold Top)
I really like that new Bad Plus record called For All I Care with Wendy Lewis. It has all of the merits of their other records, plus more; it has singing, probably even more range and stylistic indifference than their other records, and her voice is beautiful. When they do a song like “Barracuda” by Heart or “Lock, Stock and Teardrops” by Roger Miller, it’s not only amusing at first blush, but it’s deep and well thought out and well executed. Any of those doesn’t necessarily follow from the last.
That new Nellie McKay record, Normal as Blueberry Pie, I thought was real good. I like Doris Day’s music, persona, and singing, and I like that era, that Nelson Riddle era, and I think the playing is really solid.
That new Levon Helm record, Electric Dirt, man. I think the last song on that, [singing] “I wish I could sing,” whatever it’s called, might be the best thing he’s ever recorded as a solo artist. Jesus, yeah. He’s singing so high and clear, and there’s a nice variety but it all hangs together. There’s a lot of subtlety in the voice arrangements and what the rhythm section is doing. Levon makes these records where stuff sounds great and it’s all great players, but that little extra piece beyond that might not be in place, and here he’s got that extra little piece, I think.
I think the new Danny Barnes record, Pizza Box, is his best record. It has great drumming—this guy Matt Chamberlain plays on it—and it’s got songs on it, which some of Danny’s records don’t, so it’s great to hear him back in that realm again. It’s great, hard modern playing, and I think his life’s work of shoving the banjo into modern contexts—taking it out of the land of the rusticity of Earl Scruggs and the heady NPR delicacy of Bela Fleck—really comes to fruition here.
Also, In a Bad Mood by Geraint Watkins. Geraint’s one of the deepest living players of American (even though he’s Welsh) roots music, I believe, and one of the weirdest too. And what I like about his new record is its delightful and unforced tension—a superstructure of verbal and musical cliche on top of which are all these insane little wrinkles and subtle, unexpected moves. Insanely rangy as well.
Front man and reedist for Yakuza
Helen Money: In Tune (Radium)
Mastodon: Crack the Skye (Warner Brothers/Reprise)
Keelhaul: Keelhaul’s Triumphant Return to Obscurity (Hydra Head)
Helen Money’s In Tune. It’s fucking amazing, the sounds she’s coming up with. It’s moving, it’s dark, it’s incredible. I’m a big fan. If I had to pick a metal record for the year I’d have to pick Mastodon‘s Crack the Skye. But without Keelhaul, Mastodon wouldn’t exist, so their record, Keelhaul’s Triumphant Return to Obscurity, which came out on Hydra Head, is hands down my favorite heavy record of the year. When they get mathy they get right up to that point where you’re like, “Maybe they shouldn’t . . . ” Then all of the sudden this amazingly crafted riff will grab you by the cojones and just take you up there. Not only are they technically proficient, the energy is over the top and they understand dynamics. I’m blown away.
Co-organizer for all-inclusive queer dance party Chances Dances
Yoko Ono: Between My Head and the Sky (Chimera)
Shakira: “She Wolf” (Epic)
Whitney Houston: “Million Dollar Bill” (Arista)
Le Loup: Family (Hardly Art)
Yoko Ono‘s Between My Head and the Sky was my favorite album of the year. I am a huge Yoko fan and have been for a long time, and I feel like this record has been the best thing she’s done in a while. It’s technically Plastic Ono Band, but it was collaborative with folks like Cornelius and other vanguard Japanese and Japanese-American artists, and it’s collaborative and messy and beautiful. Of course it’s very political, in the way that her work has always been. She’s acknowledging that there is sadness and cruelty and devastation, but she’s always looking forward. Her optimism isn’t about naivete. It’s awareness that things can get better, we can change—that there is power in collective imagination and revisioning things.
I am also really into the Shakira “She Wolf” and Whitney Houston “Million Dollar Bill” singles; they have a very unique sound, despite being really pop. They conjure disco and soul; the Shakira has an 80s new-wave disco sound. Right now, music tends to be so overproduced, but these songs—they have identifiable real instruments, they have peculiarity to them. They are about going out and the possibilities of being out in a club environment, from a feminine perspective. They both are staples of Chances—they unify the dance floor, rally the troops.
The other thing I loved was Le Loup‘s record Family. It has a very Appalachian lullaby folk-chord structure in all the songs—there is a lot of lamentation, very pop accessible, but not too derivative of other folk-pop records. It’s very familiar. There is something that they do that Animal Collective does well, too—which is where the vocals are decentralized, through effects or multiple voices. There is no central location of the singer. There is something about that that really opens multiple entry points into the music. It’s less about how it’s said, more about the feelings and how it’s being sung—and Family is really like that.
Jazz reedist (Vandermark 5, Sonore, Frame Quartet)
Johannes Bauer, Clayton Thomas, and Tony Buck: Aus: Live in Nickelsdorf(Jazzwerkstatt)
Peter Brötzmann, Toshinori Kondo, Massimo Pupillo, and Paal Nilssen-Love: Hairy Bones (Okka Disk)
Various artists: Legends of Benin (Analog Africa)
Andy Moor & Anne-James Chaton: Le Journaliste (Unsounds)
Various artists: Ililta! New Ethiopian Dance Music (Terp)
There’s a record called Aus with Johannes Bauer, Clayton Thomas, and Tony Buck, and I’d been hearing about the trio from musicians in the scene as being totally amazing. I finally got the record and it is pretty amazing. It’s great to hear a new group that’s so strong. It’s all improvised, but it really has its own personality, with a lot of tension and velocity to the music.
Hairy Bones with Brötzmann, Kondo, Massimo Pupillo, and Paal is super great, and it reminds me of a cross between the Die Like a Dog quartet and Last Exit, in the best sense. It’s so great to hear Peter and Kondo together, and Massimo and Paal are such a strong rhythm section.
The Legends of Benin on Analog Africa—everything they’ve put out has been incredible. There’s so much that you could never hear—like this amazing stuff from Benin 20 or 30 years ago—you would have never been able to hear then.
There’s a duo with Andy Moor and Anne-James Chaton called Le Journaliste that I really love. Chaton delivers a kind of poetry, but the discipline of his recitations is totally amazing. I heard him at the Ex 25th anniversary in Amsterdam and he was doing solo stuff, and of all the extraordinary music his thing jumped out the most. I’d never heard text used the same way.
Terrie [Hessels of the Ex] knows so much about what’s going on [in Ethiopia] from traveling there so much—he knows what’s happening now. So Ililta! New Ethiopian Dance Music is totally burning—it’s great.
Front woman and guitarist for White Mystery
Nobunny: Love Visions (1-2-3-4 Go!)
Mickey: “She’s So Crazy” b/w “I Am Your Trash” (HoZac)
Definitely number one is Love Visions by Nobunny. Totally scuzzed-out Ramones bubblegum music. It’s the only CD I keep in my car. I scrape the snow off my windshield with it. Secondly is the new Mickey seven-inch on HoZac. An awesome, totally great record. It’s Mark [McKenzie] from the Functional Blackouts as the front man and he totally shines, I think. He kinda does this Jim Morrison/Doors sloppy, crazy, on-the-edge performance. And then it’s just this total straight-up rock ‘n’ roll backing band. Really great danceable type of stuff. “Roses painted on a leather jacket” pretty much sums it up.
Juke DJ and producer
Mic Terror & Million Dollar Mano: “Juke Them Hoes” (self-released)
Even though it came out last year, “Juke Them Hoes” was my favorite record that I played this year. I love Mic Terror’s rap style. I like his topics and I like the way he rap it. I love the fact that he can rap to house music. I like the fact that Mano used the James Brown “Big Payback” sample. It’s an all-time classic new school hip-house Chicago-style track. It’s the house speed, it’s the James Brown sample. I wish I produced that track. I was like, “Wow, this is a banger.” I was happy that he made it because I wish I had made it.
CURT CAMERUCI AND JOSH YOUNG
Miike Snow: Miike Snow (Downtown)
JJ: JJ No. 2 (Sincerely Yours)
Mannequin Men: Lose Your Illusion, Too (Flameshovel)
Discovery: Discovery (XL)
Curt Cameruci: The Miike Snow album—it stayed on heavy rotation all year for me, mostly just when I was hanging. I think I played it once during one of our sets, but at home I just kept it out; it’s just a really playable album. To me it sounds like indie music written by pop producers—just a super pop, polished album of indie kind of songs. I could put the album on and I was never mad.
In a similar vein, JJ, their album—I really like it because they write their songs based on melodies from popular 80s songs, and when I’d listen I’d think “What is this song? I know this!” and be racking my brain, and three days later I would hear some 80s hit and realize where they lifted it. With everyone sampling and mashups, that’s just another way to repurpose older material, and I like the direction they took it. Familiarity seems to be my thing, and these records, I feel like I knew where they were from.
Josh Young: Mannequin Men Lose Your Illusion is awesome. It’s so fun; I’d listen in the morning when I was getting ready to go out, and it just makes me want to skate, run around, and live, so that was big for 2009. [Editor’s note: This interview was not conducted by Miles Raymer, who plays in Mannequin Men.]
We spend so much time in the club listening to music that is so intense; when I’m not DJ-ing, I really want something else, the polar opposite. I want finely crafted pop music. Not like T-Pain pop, like Paul Simon pop. That’s why I really loved the Discovery album, which is kind of a perfect driving-around-in-the-snow-alone album. I listen to a lot of music when I am reading, so I like backgrounded melody—which is also the reason I loved Animal Collective’s “My Girls.” That whole album isn’t on my top ten for the year, but that song is perfect.
MC and producer for the Cool Kids
Mayer Hawthorne: A Strange Arrangement (Stones Throw)
The XX: XX (Young Turks)
Mayer Hawthorne, that’s probably my favorite record of the year. It’s like, “Oh my God this dude just wrote a Motown album.” I love that. I love the mood, the whole way he’s flipped this style and kinda made it his own. That XX record, I think that’s crazy. I think they took something like Portishead and put in a little more soul. They do Aaliyah covers and all of their breaks are pretty on point.
Jazz cornetist, coprogrammer of the Sunday Transmission series at the Hungry Brain
Henry Threadgill Zooid: This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 (Pi)
Chad Taylor: Circle Down (482 Music)
Han Bennink Trio: Parken (ILK)
I love Mike Reed’s record, I like Keefe Jackson and Frank Rosaly’s duo thing and love Frank’s solo record, but I feel funny talking about people I always work with.
The first thing about the new Henry Threadgill record is that the band has really figured itself out. There’s a great balance between freedom and composition. There’s a really striking openness to the whole record, and I’m not a huge flute fan, but I love the way he plays it. There’s also very few places where you hear a saxophone within those rhythms—some rock, some additive rhythms—and he doesn’t play this notey, hyper style over it. Plus, [guitarist] Liberty Ellman sounds incredible, splitting the difference between free, objective sound and these lyrical lines.
Chad Taylor‘s record is just beautiful. Chad’s one the great writers, and I think around here everyone knows it, but it’s easy to forget because he’s such an incredible drummer.
I heard Han Bennink‘s new trio record—he plays one of my favorite Duke Ellington tunes, “Lady of the Lavender Mist,” which I was thinking about doing with the Old Idea.
Overcoat Management (Swell Season, Iron and Wine)
Disappears: Lux (Kranky)
Katie Stelmanis: “Believe Me” b/w “Crying” (Vice/Loog)
Doug Paisley: Doug Paisley (No Quarter)
The two things I listened to the most this year are in all likelihood going to receive equal amounts in 2010. The first would be the forthcoming Disappears release, originally intended for the now dormant Touch and Go and now being rescued by the always on-point Kranky Records. These guys took Television’s Marquee Moon, added touches of the Fall and select benchmarks of the In the Red catalog, and made a stellar record. The other artist I kept coming back to only released a single in 2009, but I can only see great things in 2010. Katie Stelmanis is yet another gift to us from north of the border and her “Believe Me” single was a total gem. Her new material and subsequent release in 2010 should see her placed in similar conversations with artists like Bat for Lashes, Florence & the Machine, and Cocorosie.
My singer-songwriter list for this year was deep, but no record stayed closer to my stereo than Doug Paisley‘s—it contained real songwriting and melodies. If he can find the sea legs to get out and tour a bunch, he should be able to transition into making the indie kids happy along with the older No Depression crowd.
Some of the best shows I saw were, oddly enough, as mainstream as they come. U2 at the Rose Bowl . . . It truly is magic to see a band unite 100,000 people, and even if you think it’s fake sincerity—and I don’t believe it is—they performed like they had something to prove. Also, Touch and Go night at SXSW. Really heartfelt and amazing night with stellar performances by Crystal Antlers, All the Saints, Sholi, Disappears, the Uglysuit, and Mi Ami. When all everyone I know wanted to do was bury their heads in the sand and pretend Touch and Go [where Greynolds once worked] coming to end wasn’t happening, everyone—bands and employees—did the only thing we could, which was stand tall, be counted, and let the music do the talking.