Johnny’s in the Basement is barely six months old so it seemed it a bit pretentious to get all preachy about the best albums and songs of the year. (I try not to do “preachy” at the best of times!) Nonetheless, there is something irresistible about looking back over the year (or half-year in this case) and coming up with a list of works that stood out for me. So what follows is my top ten albums and top
ten twenty songs for the (half) year. I’m not making any definite claims about them being the “best”, just the ones that hit the spot for me. Please feel free to add your own thoughts on the subject, especially as I’m limiting myself to albums I’ve reviewed in these pages: add in the ones that have done it for you over the last year.
In considering the following lists, it probably helps to have some idea of what this blog is and isn’t.
I’ve tried to pitch it at the more, um, experienced music listener, the sort of person not too swayed by the fashion element of new releases, gossip and personality, the sort of person who has been listening to music for a while, has a pretty clear idea of what they like and don’t like, but who is keen to be alerted to new stuff that is worth the investment of their time and money. I’ve taken to calling this the ‘Crikey demographic’ and that is about as specific as I’d want to get about what is obviously a diverse bunch. Our little catch-cry there in the right-hand column — Music for grown-ups who remember when they weren’t — is meant to capture the essence of that demographic. As I said in the very first post I wrote here:
Put a fork in them, the election is almost done.
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Johnny’s in the Basement won’t be some sort of nostalgiafest. Sure, the old stuff will be there providing context, and there will be the occasional backward-looking swoon, but hey, it’s 2009. I want new songs!
So we have had a look at lots of new songs embedded in a bunch of new albums and I have to say, it’s been a hoot getting back into serious music listening. I mean, it’s not like I stopped listening to music at any time, but getting onto distribution lists for labels means being inundated with press releases, albums and downloads, and having to follow a bunch of music-related issues in a way that I would not have done otherwise. Those issues include free downloading, new technology, and the fate of the entire financial model on which the industry has been based. It is a fascinating range of topics and one that I’m not too sure I have a clear grasp of as yet, so that I’ve used posts here to try and figure out some answers.
One other thing that has been interesting is the development of blogging itself. I’ve noticed here and on other blogs that a decent percentage of the conversation generated by posts is now conducted off-site, specifically via Twitter. So it is worth noting that, to hear all of that conversation and to join in with it, it is probably worth following my Twitter feed: @timdunlop
Anyway, the music is the most important thing and in that respect I reckon it has been a good year. Local and overseas, independent and major label artists have all contributed. Although my policy is to not get too bogged down in bagging the stuff I don’t like, instead expending the energy on music I do like, there have been one or two albums that I’ve completely hated and Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear is at the top of that list. I got some bad mail over that review, which is fine, though I have to say “but everyone else liked it” is not a terribly compelling argument. I also praised some albums that others hated, as you can see, for example, in the exchanges on this post. Such is music.
So have a great Christmas and New Year, everyone; thanks to Crikey and all those who have read and contributed; and I hope there is something in the following distillation that will appeal. Remember, feel free to add your own thoughts.
And so to the lists. I wanted to do a list of both albums and songs as there were songs that I loved that were on albums that didn’t make the albums’ list. Let’s start with the albums, beginning with Number Ten:
Number 10: Hope Sandoval and the Warm Intentions Through the Devil Softly Lovely album of atmospheric lullabies that I didn’t really give a proper review. Nonetheless, have listened to it a lot and haven’t tired of it all. Review here. Listen here.
Number 9: Martha Wainwright Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, A Paris Martha Wainwright’s successful attempt to resurrect lesser-known Piaf songs and establish her own chanteuse credentials. Review here. Listen here (N/A as far as I can tell).
Number 7: Dave Rawlings Machine A Friend of a Friend Gillian Welch’s long-time partner swaps places with her at the front of the stage and comes up with a predictably stunning album. Check my top 10 song list for more. Review here. Listen here.
Number 4: Buddy and Julie Miller Written in Chalk I called this a match made in music heaven and it really is. The husband and wife duo excelled themselves on this album and you definitely need to own it. Review here. Listen here.
Number 2: The Decemberists The Hazards of Love The first album I reviewed here and still a total trip. A throwback to a simpler time, when rock and folk cohabitated in snogging bliss and all albums were concept albums! Review here. Listen here.
Number 1: Marie Fisker Ghosts of Love I’m pretty sure no-one else in the world is going to put this at Number One, so yeah, a personal choice. But honestly, no album brought me more unexpected pleasure during 2009. This Danish singer/songwriter came up with an album that ticked a lot of my musical boxes, as I explained at length at the time. Review here. Listen here.
Part Two of the Favourites of 2009 (songs edition) will go up on Monday.
UPDATE: See which songs made the top 20.