So, it’s been an odd year of music-listening for me. I ended my tenure as Music Director at WUSC in April, and since then have kinda let major releases past me and just stuck with my two big interests (alternative country and “local” SC bands), along with whatever else happens to graze by. I actually feel so out-of-the-loop that I’m creating a playlist of albums from 2009 that I never really listened to, so this list will likely be horribly inaccurate a few months ago. Alas, here is my rather odd “favorite” records list (I’ve never been comfortable saying “best”) of 2009…
Top 15 of 2009 (rankings somewhat arbitrary, based on number of spins more than anything else)
1 – Lucero – 1372 Overton Park
Ben Nichols has been consistently writing some of the best rock n’ roll songs of the entire decade, and the group caps off their inspiring run of recording successes with this stunning, horn-fueled spectacle of a record that, with the help of producer Ted Hutt (Gaslight Anthem), is their most polished and powerful effort yet.
2- American Gun – Devil Showed Me His Hand
Local alt. country rockers deliver their biggest, strongest effort yet. Featuring the amazing talents of guest fiddle player and new lead guitarist, the real surprise is the power and diversity of the songs delivered by the songwriting duo of co-front men Donald Merckle and Todd Mathis.
3 – Zach Seibert & the Red Wagon – Learning to Drown
For my money Seibert is the best pure songwriter in Columbia, and the superb, unassuming accompaniment here put his songs and his warm, dusty voice front and center.
4 – Magnetic Flowers – What We Talk About When Talk About What We Talk About
A careening, glorious indie rock train wreck of a band, Magnetic Flowers stepped their game on on their second record, with words, backing vocals, and instruments piling up on themselves in a unique erudite abandon.
5 – Micah Schnabel – When The Stage Lights Go Dim
I’m still not a super-fan of Schnabel’s band (Two Cow Garage), but this Westerberg-esque struck me right in the heart for the last few months of this year. Great, great lyrics backed up by an emotive voice that lets it all hang out.
6 – Girls – Album
The one hipster record that made it through the haze for my in 2009, largely because its simplistic emphasis on the golden mean between shoegaze, garage rock, and pure pop bliss.
7 – Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses – Roadhouse Sun
This was my car/driving record of the year, with Bingham’s Steve Earle-esque songs besting most of that great songwriter’s recent attempts.
8 – JTE – Midnight at the Movies
Speaking of Steve Earle, his son also put out a short but winning record that dominated quite a bit of my early 2009 listening. Most of Americana fans obsessed over the father-dissing “Mama’s Eyes” and the banjo-led Replacements cover, but every song on this record is extraordinary.
9 – Sam Baker – Cotton
Sam Baker wrote the most heartbreakingly beautiful songs of the decade, only no one knows it.
10 – Patterson Hood – Murdering Oscar (and other Love Songs)
DBT leader delivers his long-awaited second solo record, and delivers his trademark storytelling lyricism and Southern attitude with the help of members of Centromatic, his own band, and his father (and Muscle Shoals session player).
11 – Austin Crane – A Place at the Table
Another local who stepped up his game in 2009, the young Mr. Crane collaborated with his talented band mates and former Baumer frontman Kenny McWilliams to create an epic masterpiece that pushed his interesting vocals and sensitive songs on faith and God to new heights.
12 – American Aquarium – Dances for the Lonely
This Raleigh alt. country band has always had a killer live show, and they made their best record yet this year by letting their Springsteen influences lay bare on Dances, with songwriter BJ Barham delivering some of his best ballad work on the haunting “City Lights” and the band-defining “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart.”
13 – Wilco – Wilco (the album)
I still haven’t wrapped my head entirely around this hodge podge sort of an album from a band that, until know, seemed to treat album making as a cohesive art. Still, you can’t fault the performances here–Tweedy hasn’t loss his touch, and the band has been working this line-up so long live that even when they dial it down in the studio they give some of the most “natural” performances on a Wilco record yet.
14 – Sometymes Why – Your Heart Is A Glorious Machine
This was not a widely championed release, but this female trio from various bands (Crooked Still, The Mammals, Uncle Earl, Jolly Bankers) have some interesting songs, an angelic set of voices, and one awesome cover (Concrete Blonde’s “Joey”) on their second effort.
15 – Bob Dylan – Christmas in the Heart
Seriously, I’ve dreamed of this record since before I was born.