The Best of 2009… thus far
I know we’re barely into the tenth month this year and November and December are still left, but 2009 has thus far been such a hyperactive period for music that I couldn’t help writing about the best that I’ve heard till now. It’s not easy to do a list of the best new albums but let me try.
First, let me get the legends out of the way. Like Morrissey, whose Years of Refusal came out this year and wowed me no end. It’s quite simply a brilliant album that I thoroughly enjoyed and, not surprisingly, it did overtime on my playlists for months. Every song on the new Morrissey album was great, replete with Morrissey’s wry wit and knife-edged irony, and I’d be hard-pressed if I were to try and find any of the 12 tracks that I liked less than the others. That’s the hallmark of a truly great album.
Then, there was Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life. Pitchforkmedia snootily rated it at a low 5 point something, which I thought was unfair. Not just because the songs were co-written by Dylan with Robert Hunter (former lyricist of The Grateful Dead). Dylan’s 68 and Together is his 33rd studio album. That in itself is quite an achievement. Also, his nasal snarl-cum-growl sounds nearly melodious on this album. It did the rounds on my playlist but not as long as the Morrissey album.
A couple more legends and then I’ll dive straight into newer/younger musicians. This year also marked the release of Bruce Springsteen’s Working On A Dream, which I liked better than 2007’s Magic, but not enough to obsessively keep listening to. In any case, I haven’t quite enjoyed Springsteen after the mid-1990s. The other big release this year was U2’s No Line On The Horizon. When I first heard the album, I thought ah, this is one album that will grow on me. It didn’t. Every time I’ve heard it since, I’ve thought the same thing and, sadly, that hasn’t happened. But it’s there on my iPod and I promise to keep listening to it. Perhaps it is a slow grower.
The small matter of the big guys behind us, let’s get to the exciting new sounds that rocked my ears all of this year. There have been so many excellent releases in the past 10 months that it was tough choosing what to mention and what not to. But first, the easy ones: the ones whose songs keep wafting through my ears long after I’ve heard them. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion is one of those. When I first heard the iconoclastic Brooklyn band’s Strawberry Jam in 2007, I thought these guys (each of whom has an alias, viz. Panda Bear, Geologist, etc.) were noisy anarchists. It’s only after Merriweather that I’ve realised they’re probably pioneers well ahead of their times who’re demonstrating a very original take on what rock music is going to become—an excellent album.
Sonic Youth’s latest album The Eternal would definitely make the grade in this top cut of this year’s best albums. For a band that has been around for 28 years and influenced legions of other musicians, their 16th album is a gem—it’s their return to a small indie label as well as to down-to-earth indie rock. It’s doing heavy rotation on my playlists. St. Vincent is the pseudonym of an American singer-songwriter Annie Clark and her second album Actor, a mellow, soothing sound married to thought-provoking lyrics, should be compulsory listening for anyone interested in contemporary popular music. If Clark, who is 26, delivers mature music of this kind now, I’d like to see what we will get to hear from her in the years to come. Like Actor, singer-songwriter M. Ward’s new album, Hold Time, was yet another stellar work of 2009. His touching voice along with delicately constructed music—guitars, double-bass, spare percussions—are a delight.
This year’s brought so much more. There was Grizzly Bear’s exquisite, harmony-filled Veckatimest (mentioned before in Download Central), Wilco’s Wilco (The Album), The Decemberists’ Hazards Of Love, Camera Obscura’s My Maudlin Career and so many more. I still haven’t been able to listen to many of these. Yo La Tengo’s Popular Songs is on my playlist now; Pearl Jam’s Backspacer is queued up behind; and I’ve just sampled a bit of Bon Iver’s newest project, Volcano Choir and their debut album, Unmap.
But this year also brought a surprise from very close by. Frankly, I’d never heard of The Supersonics. So when a friend handed over an album with the corny title, Maby Baking, I was skeptical. But I heard it and was overwhelmed. It’s been sitting in my car stereo for a week now on my rather long commutes to work. For the uninitiated, The Supersonics are a Kolkata band and this, their debut album, is wonderful. You like British post-punk bands? You like shoe-gaze? A Smiths fan, are you? The Supersonics are for you. Refreshingly steering clear of what hate-mailers of Download Central refer to as ‘hard rock’ or trying to emulate has-been classic rockers of the seventies, The Supersonics deliver music that draws on many influences but is yet is remarkably original. Check them out.
Listen to ‘vritual’ tracks: