The best non-Duluth albums of 2009*Similar to last weekend’s list of the best Northland albums released in the past 12 months, this also comes with a disclaimer: This is all one jerk’s opinion.
By: Matthew R. Perrine, Budgeteer News
Similar to last weekend’s list of the best Northland albums released in the past 12 months, this also comes with a disclaimer: This is all one jerk’s opinion. If I, Matthew R. Perrine, have inadvertently snubbed any of your beloved records, don’t take it personally; just e-mail your picks and I will add them to the already published “What the Mayor and Other Northlanders Liked in ’09” compendium. (See attached link.)
That said, I had a very hard time — relatively speaking, of course, as I know there are much more pressing issues facing our nation during these troubled times — whittling down my list of 50 favorites to the 25 you’ll read about below, and, per usual, this is in no particular order as my favorite album changes from day to day.
Now, with all of that silly business out of the way, on to the fun:
fun. – “Aim and Ignite” (Nettwerk)
Although I wept (quite audibly) when the Format called it quits — and, thus, ended its Freddie Mercury-would-be-oh-so-proud power-pop reign — Nate Ruess’ new outfit picks up exactly where the immortal “Dog Problems” left off. For fans of good music.
A Great Place to Start: “Light a Roman Candle with Me”
Kasper Hauser – “The Sons” (Spacesuit)
Chicagoan Thomas Comerford gives Jeff Tweedy and the boys in Wilco a run for their money with “The Sons,” a shimmering testament to the concept of long-players: This is a record you look forward to listening to from end to end, soaking in each and every note, coda and phrase. Simply brilliant songwriting.
A Great Place to Start: “Macbeth II (In the Morning)”
Fol Chen – “Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made” (Asthmatic Kitty)
Falling somewhere between Neutral Milk Hotel, Prince and Basement Jaxx, Fol Chen is indeed one funky group. God bless Samuel Bing and his quirky attempts to bridge the gap between music, hallucinations and the literature aesthetic. In other words, this is high art, and it’s worth your time.
A Great Place to Start: “Cable TV”
Mason Jennings – “Blood of Man” (Brushfire)
Though he’s made us “suffer” through some notable missteps on his way up in the world, Mason has finally given his longtime friends what we’ve wanted since we heard “Butterfly” so many years ago: a no-interference Mason Jennings album. The Minnesota-raised maverick wrote, performed, produced and recorded every nook and cranny of “Blood of Man,” and the results are nothing less than a big breath of fresh air. After that too-many-cooks tenure at Epic Records, we thought we’d nearly lost you.
A Great Place to Start: “The Field”
P.O.S. – “Never Better” (Rhymesayers)
Doomtree’s P.O.S. ushers in a new age of adventurous, forward-thinking hip-hop with one of the genre’s most fully realized albums.
A Great Place to Start: “Low Light Low Life”
Avenpitch – “Cast Off” (Dance School)
With a generous — albeit slightly unexpected — helping of radio-ready approachability, Avenpitch’s gorgeous, only-slightly-abrasive melodies are at the forefront of the Twin Cities’ electropunk movement.
A Great Place to Start: “Don’t Come Cryin’ to Me”
Wild Light – “Adult Nights” (Almost Gold/StarTime)
Save for the California Republic, Wild Light frontman Tim Kyle makes friends wherever he goes: with former roomie Win Butler he was in an early incarnation of the Arcade Fire, and his group recently worked on a Christmas single with the Killers, but … oh yeah, it’s about the music, not namedropping. Just listen to this Rob Schnapf-produced debut and you’ll hear what everyone else has already gone positively mad for: glorious, pretension-free rock ‘n’ roll that’s tailor made for multiple spins.
A Great Place to Start: “California on My Mind”
Kill-Me Kare Bare – S/T (Self-Released)
Like the Rentals? No, I mean really like the Rentals? Well, so do these Twin Cities guys — and I’m digging every moment.
A Great Place to Start: “Hit List”
Brendan Benson – “My Old, Familiar Friend” (ATO)
Though he’s recently made two records of substandard fare with pal Jack White in the Raconteurs, this purveyor of all things power pop (Sloan fans should take note) has returned to his former solo and Mood Elevator glory with this gorgeous LP. Music doesn’t get much more inviting than this.
A Great Place to Start: “A Whole Lot Better”
Frank Turner – “Poetry of the Deed” (Xtra Mile/Epitaph)
Don’t let the fact that Frank Turner used to be the lead singer for the London hardcore band Million Dead scare you away: This is one now-solo singer/songwriter you’ll want to pay attention to. It’s a rare album indeed that exudes this amount of warmth without deploying cheap tug-at-the-heartstrings tricks.
A Great Place to Start: “Live Fast Die Old”
Mark Mallman – “Invincible Criminal” (Badman)
Guest appearances by members of Cloud Cult and the Hold Steady notwithstanding, this is exactly what you’d expect from modern rock’s undisputed champ: tight, enthralling tunes that owe as much to the day of “classic rock” as to the indie underworld all his fans seem to spend their time in.
A Great Place to Start: “White Leather Days”
The Awful Truth – “Object Permanence” (Orchid Collective)
Not since Clem Snide has the sound of abject melancholy sounded so listenable as it does on “Object Permanence.” While the man behind the music, Brent Colbert, probably wouldn’t be the first guy you’d call if you wanted to grab a beer, he does know his Duluth music — he’s a fan of Nathan Amundson’s Rivulets and the almighty Low — so let me be the first to say he’s welcome in the Twin Ports anytime.
A Great Place to Start: “Purple Station Wagons”
The Avett Brothers – “I and Love and You” (American)
Yes, Rick Rubin produced this beast, but, rest assured, this is the same ol’ group your favorite in-the-know college DJ has been telling you you’d absolutely love since the Jayhawksian superheroes combined forces in the first place.
A Great Place to Start: “January Wedding”
Maudlin – “And the Second Law of Thermodynamics” (Self-Released)
Highly addictive (and slightly sinister) girl/boy vox from St. Paul’s pre-eminent post-punk power trio.
A Great Place to Start: “Block by Block”
Wilco – “Wilco (The Album)” (Nonesuch)
Eschewing the experimental whimsy of early-Aughties classics like “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “A Ghost is Born,” the Windy City’s most prominent ambassadors to the world at large — musically speaking, of course, as I think Obama and Oprah might take offense to that statement… — move further into the calm, cool and collected territory paved in 2007 by “Sky Blue Sky.”
A Great Place to Start: “Wilco (The Song)”
Felt – “3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez” (Rhymesayers)
It’d be a cold day in hell before Slug, Murs and Aesop Rock got together and to-die-for hip-hop isn’t produced. With representatives from Atmosphere, Living Legends and the Weathermen, it’s like an “indieground” dream bill; the stars have definitely aligned.
A Great Place to Start: “She Sonnet”
Bob Dylan – “Together Through Life” (Columbia)
Though he has no right to make this many legendary albums so far into his autumn years, Duluth’s most famous native son has done it again: “Together Through Life” and, for that matter, the much-talked about “Christmas in the Heart” put to shame all those other elder statesmen of rock ‘n’ roll who just gave up on creativity. I can’t foresee Robert Zimmerman ever becoming merely a caricature of himself; he will forever make music that matters.
A Great Place to Start: “My Wife’s Home Town”
Eyedea & Abilities – “By the Throat” (Rhymesayers)
I was about to chide E&A for making us waiting so long for less than 30 minutes of music, but then I heard “By the Throat.” I quickly apologized to the powers that be and proceeded to melt my face with one of the most ferocious hip-hop — and I use that term loosely here, as Eyedea’s excursions into rocking out shines through here — discs ever produced.
A Great Place to Start: “Spin Cycle”
Ben Lee – “The Rebirth of Venus” (New West)
If Australia’s Ben Lee knows one thing, it’s that there is nothing in the world more exhilarating than a good pop song. Like George Harrison’s output in the ’80s (or anything ever produced by Jeff Lynne), “Rebirth” is the punchy, unavoidable sound of a shared experience you’ll never want to shake. This is truly uplifting music here.
A Great Place to Start: “What’s So Bad (About Feeling Good)?”
Matt & Kim – “Grand” (Fader)
If you’ve ever asked to describe the sound of a sugar high, don’t fret; just spin this Mates of State-channeling notimetowasteeverysecondisprecious rush of a record. ADD never sounded so frantically delicious.
A Great Place to Start: “Don’t Slow Down”
Eulogies – “Here Anonymous” (Dangerbird)
The beauty of this Peter Walker project is that there is nothing explicitly groundbreaking about it: Instead of trying to change the world, this foursome sticks to hammering out some of the tightest winter-day compositions since Death Cab for Cutie’s Barsuk days. College radio, are you listening?
A Great Place to Start: “This Fine Progression”
Manchester Orchestra – “Mean Everything to Nothing” (Favorite Gentlemen/Canvasback)
Before the boys in Plastic Constellations went on their merry way(s), they learned a valuable lesson: producing intriguing, genre-expanding slabs o’ music and rocking out from time to time don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
A Great Place to Start: “My Friend Marcus”
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down – “Know Better Learn Faster” (Kill Rock Stars)
I want to party with San Francisco’s Thao Nguyen and her two-man backing band. They just seem like legitimately cool people with a solid sense of what’s beautiful about this world. Oh, and they know how to rock. Always appreciated.
A Great Place to Start: “Cool Yourself”
David Bazan – “Curse Your Branches” (Barsuk)
Though he’ll forever be known as the frontman of the now-defunct group Pedro the Lion, this messiah of quasi-religious messages has all but redefined the sound of singer/songwriter perfection with his full-length solo debut.
A Great Place to Start: “Bless This Mess” [Download here]
Jason Lytle – “Yours Truly, The Commuter” (Anti)
Although he had a stellar crew behind him in Grandaddy days — Jim Fairchild, aka All Smiles, most notably — Lytle’s work is just as monumental and Radiohead-quashing when he’s flying solo.
A Great Place to Start: “It’s the Weekend”
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