Music in 2009

Happy New Year! Over the holidays, I visited Philadelphia for the first time as an adult. Philly is a fine and funky town; it is also the land of limitless cheesesteak and Trappist beer. All this grease and alcohol got me thinking about my favorite music from 2009, which I share with you here.

Favorite Music Released in 2009

A Certain Distance by Lusine. Lusine is a Seattle-based producer of what might commonly be termed minimalist micro-techno. In the past few years, however, his sonic palette has grown to encompass things warm, fuzzy, and beautiful. A Certain Distance is no doubt Lusine’s breakout release; it is stunningly gorgeous and has been on heavy rotation for me since it arrived.

Central Market by Tyondai Braxton. This album is what happens when you take Copland-esque classical frivolity and mix it with any sound you can possibly imagine. Completely nuts. Zappa would approve.

Embryonic by The Flaming Lips. I know that the Lips’ output is terribly inconsistent, but I’m a sucker for them nonetheless. This new release is a hefty two disc set and it is noisy, dark, brooding, and nasty. It’s easily my favorite Lips release of the decade.

Historicity by Vijay Iyer. Iyer continues to bang away at the keys in time signatures you can’t even count when sitting on your couch, let alone conceive of improvising on top of. There’s a certain calculating coldness to Iyer’s work which some might find off-putting; he has never quite struck balance with his emotional side. But with so much virtuosity on display, it’s hard not to love and respect this impressive album.

Them Crooked Vultures by Them Crooked Vultures. I have no idea why this didn’t make more year-end lists. What’s not to love about Grohl, Homme, and JPJ getting together to rock the fuck out? They do so with raw power. This is Zep meets Queens Of The Stone Age meets 2009. Do not be afraid.

Vertical Ascent by Moritz Von Oswald Trio. In this album, minimalist composition (in the sense of Reich, Riley, and Glass) meets experimental jazz musicians. In some ways Vertical Ascent feels like a response to the work of Nik Bartsch’s Ronin. It’s great late-night music.

Favorite Music Discovered in 2009

Artifacts by Aether. This album is mixed as if the sound of compressor pumping is a gateway to Nirvana, but never-mind. Aether matches hip-hop influenced electronic grooves with music so beautiful-but-not-cheesy that it brings a tear to the eye.

Good & Evil Sessions by The Blue Series Continuum. This album was released many years ago but still lives in obscurity. It sounds to me as if acid jazz went underground for a few decades and re-emerged fully formed, much to the surprise of the rest of the jazz world.

Loud Louder Stop by The Neil Cowley Trio. Neil Cowley is a London-based pianist who works all day, every day, to put the rock back in staid jazz formats. Unlike other rock/jazz acts like The Bad Plus, Cowley actually knows how to play the piano. The tunes on this CD are in turns beautiful, whimsical, and just plain fun.

Whoops, I Forgot One.

Update on January 4, 2010: Whoops. I went back and looked at my iTunes play counts and, sure enough, I forgot one of my most listened-to albums of 2009:

Listening Tree by Tim Exile. Exile’s latest effort is full of willfully crafted crazy-making. It evokes nothing so much as crack clowns and dancing bears in hell. Does that not help? Listening Tree has also been described as Exile’s “likely failed” attempt at making a one-man, new-wave, abstract techno musical about groupthink and capitalism. Um, so, yeah. Just go listen to the samples on Amazon and admit that you’ve never heard anything like it, but you want to hear more.