After a so-so album debut a couple of years ago and the timid performance we witnessed as an opening act in 2007, this fine effort came out of the blue. Annie Clark a/k/a St. Vincent finds her voice on Actor, adapting a number of personalities in a varied collection of songs. And don't let the sweet voice fool you.
FURTHER READING: Alec Wilkinson's excellent New Yorker profile of Welch and Rawlings from 2004.
FURTHER READING: February 2009 profile of Neko Case from The New York Times Magazine.
7. BOB DYLAN - Together Through Life
In which the Patron Saint of TNOP interprets Chess Records blues with a Tex-Mex undertone. And it works, continuing the Bard's late-career renaissance. [Side note to long time fans: it's like Desire, except David Hidalgo's accordion replaces Scarlet Rivera's fiddle.]
6. DAN AUERBACH - Keep It Hid
First solo effort from The Black Keys' front man allows him to flesh out his sound. The record gets stronger with each listen, and shows that Auerbach is now a major player on the music scene. He's in a prolific stage, as evidenced by the BlakRoc project and the expected new Keys' release in 2010.
5. THE DECEMBERISTS - The Hazards of Love
America's least-likely rock stars continue their musical ascendancy, using little known folk tales as their narrative compass. We admit it took us a little longer to warm up to this effort than previous favorites like The Crane Wife and Picaresque, but this "Folk Opera" treats the listener to bombastic shapeshifters, ghostly kids and a psychotic queen. Too adventuresome? Pretentious prog rock gone bad? Some thought so. But head man Colin Meloy clearly believes in the album concept, and dares to push back at the iPod singles mentality. And it doesn't hurt that he sure knows how to pen a melody.
FURTHER LISTENING: David Dye of The World Cafe interviews Colin Meloy.
4. U2 - No Line On The Horizon
After two albums of straight ahead rock cementing the familiar "U2 sound," the Dublin lads decide to step out of the box again. The result is their best studio record since Achtung Baby. Their massive stadium tour will continue into 2010, a sign of how much they believe in the new work.
3. WILCO - Wilco (The Album)
The top American band hits a solid groove from beginning to end in this self-titled (kind of) CD. Major fans of Wilco's experimental, atmospheric side will be disappointed to an extent, but the album brims with confidence from a line up of musicians who clearly listen to and love all shades of rock and roll - and learn from it.
KEY TRACK: "You Never Know"
KEY TRACK #2: "You And I" (with Leslie Feist on Late Night With David Letterman, July 2009)
KEY TRACK #3: "Wilco (The Song)" (The Colbert Report, October 2008)
FURTHER READING: Time talks to Jeff Tweedy about the album, the passing of Jay Bennett and a fellow Chicagoan.
2. PHOENIX - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Regular readers of TNOP know that we are suckers for the unadulterated joys of pop. After three promising tries, France's Phoenix stormed the U.S. shores this year with its sunny, percussion driven sound. We dare you not to like it.
KEY TRACK: "Lisztomania"
PERFORMANCE: "1901," "Lisztomania/One Time Too Many" and "Long Distance Call" (from La Blogotheque Take Away Show, December 2009)
FURTHER READING: "Phoenix Remains A Band Apart" from September 2009 issue of The Fader.
1. GRIZZLY BEAR - Veckatimest
The Beach Boys-like harmony and hollow bodied guitar sound - with production finished, appropriately enough, in a New York church - made this record by the Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear TNOP's most played record in the car and on the stereo and iPod during 2009. Although its production is sparse and tones often hushed, there is an unique and youthful exuberance about this work. It is a record that will be played for many years to come.
KEY TRACK: "Two Weeks"
KEY TRACK #2: "All We Ask" (Blue Ribbon Vision @ Pabst Theater, Milwaukee, WI, June 2009)
KEY TRACK #3: "While You Wait For The Others" (KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, February 2008)
INTERVIEW AND PERFORMANCE: Chicago Public Radio's Sound Opinions, November 2009.
The Next Ten
Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It
Dawes, North Hills
Monsters of Folk, Monsters of Folk
Black Joe Lewis & The Honey Drippers, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!
Levon Helm, Electric Dirt
The Swell Season, Strict Joy
Various Artists, Dark Was The Night
Passion Pit, Manners
Andrew Bird, Noble Beasts
Lisa Hannigan, Sea Sew