The end of the year is rapidly approaching and winter break has given me some time to reflect on music I listened to in both 2009 and the past decade. I’m very fond of end-of-the-year lists, so I’ll discuss a few of the musical highlights of the past year. This section of the post will deal primarily with pop music, as I didn’t hear many classical premieres (though I’ve been dying to hear John Adams’ City Noir and Steve Reich’s Double Quartet).
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – Phoenix
This album is incredible. It’s one of the most fun, high-energy pop albums I’ve ever heard. Every song is dynamic, singable, and exciting. I picked this one up right at the beginning of the summer, and I’ve listened to it almost every day since. It sounds crisp and clear on nearly every medium I’ve tried, ranging from my car to Sennheiser headphones to an iMac- there’s pretty much no way that this album couldn’t sound amazing. If I had to choose one album as my favorite from 2009, it would be Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors
Unlike the Phoenix album, Bitte Orca was a grower for me. It’s one of those albums where you get what you put into it, and over the past year I’ve learned to give it my all, which has been quite rewarding. It’s pretty experimental, but entirely entertaining and, at some times, jaw-dropping. The idea that a human being could write an album like this is completely amazing to me. I’d put this in a very very close second for my favorite album of 2009.
Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear
I’ve written about this album in this blog before, so I’ll try not to dwell. Veckatimest is one of the most solid pop endeavors I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing (and seeing live). These guys are incredible musicians, and I imagine that whatever lies ahead for them will be equally excellent.
Popular Songs – Yo La Tengo
This is arguably the second strongest Yo La Tengo album of the past decade, which is saying a lot. I was a bit nervous after their last two albums, but Popular Songs is wonderful blend of all of their styles. Anyone would be hard-pressed to find a band that can do so many different things on a single album. This is not a perfect album, but it’s very very good.
There are many other great albums from the past year that are worth mentioning, and there are many other great websites that will mention them. If I didn’t limit this list, I’d end up sitting here and name-dropping for another hour. Instead, here are my favorite albums from the past decade.
Funeral – The Arcade Fire
This is one of the only rock n’ roll albums that I NEVER get sick of listening to. Five years after it came out, and after hundreds of listens, Funeral still remains a relevant and significant part of my life. For honest, moving, and intelligent rock, this is the go-to album of the decade for me.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Wilco
The best album by the best American band of the past 15 years. This is the quintessential transition album- Wilco began leaving their alt-country roots behind in Summerteeth, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot really gave them their final push into the ‘experimental/indie/rock/whatever’ sound that they had been searching for. This deep, sprawling rock album is pretty much as good as it gets. R.I.P. Jay Bennett, whose influence on this, and earlier Wilco albums, was hugely significant.
Takk… – Sigur Ros
This album is unbelievable from start to finish. One of the most outstanding sonic experiences of my life.
Illinois – Sufjan Stevens
Illinois is the most complete, thoroughly composed, emotionally satisfying album in quite a while. It’s very clear how much time and heart Sufjan Stevens put into this album. There’s really nothing I can even say about this that would do justice to how great it is.
Kid A – Radiohead
I wasn’t ready to hear this when it came out in 2000 (I was 14 years old), but in 2004, when I realized how incredible it was, I listened to it on repeat for 9 months. There’s a good chance that this will be the Symphonie Fantastique of this century.
I suppose, because this is an art music blog, I’ll list some of the great older recordings that I’ve been enjoying this past year. During the semester, this is the stuff that I was listening to the most:
–Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson – Ben Webster & Oscar Peterson
–Somethin’ Else – Cannonball Adderley
–The Shape of Jazz To Come – Ornette Coleman
–Moanin’ – Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
-Beethoven: Piano Concertos – Maurizio Pollini, Claudio Abbado & Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
-Brahms: The Piano Quartets – Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Jaime Laredo & Isaac Stern
–Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians – Steve Reich Ensemble
-Rachmaninov: 24 Preludes – Vladimir Ashkenazy
-Mahler: Symphony No. 1 – Pierre Boulez & Chicago Symphony Orchestra
-Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra & Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta – Fritz Reiner & Chicago Symphony Orchestra
-Ligeti: Works for Piano – Pierre-Laurent Aimard
-Luciano Berio: Formazioni/Folk Songs/Sinfonia – Riccardo Chailly & Royal Concertgeouw Orchestra
-Bach: French Suites – Glenn Gould
-Ives: Sonata No. 2 “Concord, Mass.” – Marc-Andre Hamelin
I’m excited to see what 2010 will bring. Between studying more classical music in grad school and the constant output of great rock albums, there will certainly be no shortage of good music to listen to. Cheers, and happy New Year.