I'm finally posting my Best Music of 2009 list, complete with justifications and occasional long-winded back stories. Five of the bands on my list I also saw live in 2009 (and three of them prior to that) and several others are on my wish list for seeing live in 2010. So here goes:
Fanfarlo: Reservoir because I think this album is flawless start to finish. There's not a weak song on it and it's an amazing debut for a band with the ability to play any and every instrument. I will always feel fortunate to have seen them with only 100 other devoted fans at the tiny Iota.
Passion Pit: Manners because no one reinvents 70s dance music so well. Also, for its back story; any band whose starting point is a guy writing a collection of songs for his girlfriend for Valentine's Day is a guy I want to listen to. A real shame that more people weren't at this show.
Neko Case: Middle Cyclone because she's Neko Case. Because she deigns to sing for us. Because she's had a hard time with her love life. Just because of that voice. I saw her twice this year, if that tells you anything.
The Decemberists: Hazards of Love because who else wrote a rock opera on this most intimate of subjects in 2009? Because even though seeing them in early 2007 was a far more transcendental experience than this year's show, they have a gift that no one else does.
Grizzly Bear: Vekatimest because of their unique acoustic sound and to-die-for vocal harmonies. Their combination of psychedelic, pop and folk is incredibly alluring to me, especially live, even if Norva crowds are obnoxious.
Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs because a band that can remain this creative after 25 years together is doing a whole lot right. Yes, you could call them shoegaze or noise pop and definitely experimental, but they never cease to impress me. And their live show in C-ville last year with its listening room environment is forever etched in my head.
Muse: Uprising because they make an amazing amount of sound for just three skinny Brits. Their symphonic (bombastic even) sound is unlike anything else I regularly listen to. I saw them back in 2007 at W & M and lamented that they were only the opening band.
Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion because someone needs to move the neo-psychedelic banner forward and these guys are just the ones to do it. Listening to this album is an exercise in pure sound and endless texture, no drug enhancement needed.
Great Lake Swimmers: Lost Channels because I love this whole folk resurgence going on now. GLS make pretty music and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Their incredible harmonies are the stuff of lost love and hope.
The XX: The Xx because of its spare sound, haunting male and female vocalists and because it's night time music. Listening to this album is like having an audio dream. I'd like to take it out of my CD player and give it a rest, but I can't bring myself to do it.
My only entry in the Best EP category is Bon Iver's Blood Bank and I include it for sentimental reasons. When I first discovered Bon Iver last year, it was the full-length "For Emma, Forever Ago" which took on a whole new meaning for me after the personal trauma of my life early this year.
Musician Justin Vernon created that album as a way of dealing with the breakup of his band, his relationship and being sick with mononucleosis.
Since I had been laid off, dumped and hospitalized for pneumonia, I could seriously relate to his pain.
He created heartfelt music in order to stay sane and I'm still trying to figure out what I can create to do the same. Blood Bank is his most beautiful song to date, hence the EP's inclusion here.
I know my list would not match another human being's on the planet and I'm okay with that. I took a lot of pleasure from these albums in 2009 and, god knows, I needed it.
Music and love are the essentials of life and since one was absent from mine, the other took on an even greater importance.
So thank you to these musicians for giving me part of what I needed in 2009.