If there is one album you should spend your hard-earned money on this year, it’s Glenn Jones’ newest record on Strange Attractor’s Audio House. Released as the summer was fizzling out, Barbecue Bob in Fishtown was the soundtrack to many nights spent with the windows open and beer in hand. It accompanied me to work and to school as the days got colder and it made me want to play the guitar more than ever before. The artwork says almost everything anyone would want to know about the music on the record (SAAH released this on a beautiful piece of wax), but it belies the intensity found on more than a couple songs, whether it be quiet and unassuming or plain as day. Glenn’s first recorded banjo performances pop up on this record, too, and they’re absolutely lovely. He blends country, folk, and the Takoma brand of 6 and 12-string guitar playing perfectly and plays the guitar like few other people can. But, whether he’s weaving an intricate pattern or playing a simple melody , the song-writing on Barbecue Bob is top notch and the album’s shape and scope are perfectly realized. There are no lulls, no dull spots, nor is there a wasted chord to be found. Best of all, when I put the record on I feel happy. Glenn’s playing is so expressive that I strut a little bit when the jauntier tunes come on and fall into a trance with him as he twists and turns through waves and waves of sublime, finger-picked rhythms. No doubt about it, this was the finest record released all year.
Jason Molina and his Magnolia Electric Co. released one hell of an album this year, too. Josephine was probably my most played record of 2009 and the band’s performance at the Middle East Club on July the 17th was among the best shows to grace Boston-land. When they decided to play “John Henry Split My Heart” I nearly came out of my shoes. They tore the Middle East up, and played a rare encore. If only they could tour all the time… Their first 7″ for Josephine also blew my mind. The alternate version of the title track is nice enough, but “Rider.Shadow.Wolf” is superb. Hearing Molina pull off a surf-rock inspired rock tune is pretty awesome, but seeing him do it live was chill-inducing. I spent a solid week trying to find out which song that was before someone was kind enough to let me know it hadn’t been released yet. I’ll say it over and over again until it isn’t true anymore: MECo. are the best band going in rock ‘n’ roll.
One of my favorite memories from 2009 was hanging out in the studio with Megan from WZBC’s Unseen Exchange/Doppleganger Soundtrack and rocking out to Death’s “Let the World Turn” an embarrassing number of times. I’d played a song from that album on my show before and liked it, but “Let the World Turn” had me jumping around like I was a 12 year old that had just discovered punk music again. So few bands have attitude like Death did. The entire album kicks an impossible amount of ass, and it’s feasible that had Death continued to record, they would’ve out-Stooged the Stooges. …For the Whole World to See is as energetic, chaotic, and balls-to-the-wall as anything released by any punk band you can think of and it’s full of power, humor, imagination, and anger. I can’t help but snarl along as Bobby Hackney spits out the lyrics to “Where Do We Go From Here???” I’m listening to it now, in fact. Goddamn! Did I mention their attitude?
I claimed earlier in the year that 2009 would be the Year of the Pimp. Killer Pimp to be precise. I was right; they released four spectacular records this year. But, where I thought the Aidan Baker & Thisquietarmy or Envenomist records would ultimately prove to be my favorite, it was Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words that released one my favorite noisier records all year. Lost in Reflections is dark ambience at its finest, but calling it by any one genre is a little pointless. Thomas Ekelund’s dread-scapes turned Boston’s winter landscapes into oppressive fields of factory decay and, on more than one occasion, fueled my nightmares. The album’s closing song, “Himmelschreibenden Herzen,” absolutely slays. It’s the best kind of dense noise, with layers of sound and hidden melodies piled on top of one another over nearly 20 minutes. Killer Pimp isn’t finished either, be on the look out for Soundpool in 2010.
Vic Chesnutt passed away on Christmas Day this year. He left us with two albums in 2009, At the Cut being among my favorite. I didn’t hear it until the year was nearly out, but in the time since I purchased it I’ve probably played it as much as any other record this year. I liked North Star Deserter, but At the Cut does everything that album does better. From the opening moments of “Coward” to the emotionally charged last lines of “Granny,” the record conveys urgency, desperation, happiness, and fond memory. Vic took all those emotions and made a record with just many diverse musical styles. The result sounds like an American-Gothic mutant, with sounds comparable to both Bob Dylan and Einstürzende Neubauten. And I can’t forget the lyrics. Chesnutt was an honest lyricist, sometimes uncomfortably so. Some of At the Cut’s lyrics deserve to be framed and should be studied by other songwriters. “Flirted with You All My Life” and “Granny” especially. Rest in peace, Vic.
There are way too many great records in 2009 for me to cover without boring you to death. And a lot of great, great shows, too. SunnO))) released the best album of their career, Assemble Head in the Sunburst Sound wowed me with their psychedelic rock, Leyland James Kirby caught me off guard, Mountains and Emeralds released some of the best ambient-like music I’ve heard in a long time, Oneida put out a super-ambitious and kick-ass triple-disc record that I absolutely love, Steven R. Smith released his best album since Tableland, Jim Thirlwell put out a spectacular collection of his earliest work AND released the Venture Brothers soundtrack.
Lichens not only made Om better live, he out-performed them with little more than his voice, a mic, and some pedals, Windy & Carl ripped it up in a small cafe at Tufts University with Thomas Meluch, Michael Gira told Brainwashed that he might reform Swans, and Six Organs of Admittance finally reissued some hard-to-find material on an impressive triple-LP set with some really stunning artwork. 2009 was pretty incredible for music. I have no shortage of good and great records I can mention and too little time to write more about them.
There were disappointments, too, however. I enjoyed Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Beware, but it still hasn’t settled for me and I find myself skipping many of its songs. There some excellent cuts on the album, especially in its second half, but it seems like Bonnie Oldham has been in a bit of slump since The Letting Go. But, where he failed album-wise, he succeeded on the road. His show in Boston impressed me beyond words. Hearing all of his songs done in new ways is worth the price of admission, and he had a killer band around to help him out: Jim White on drums, hell yes. Now if only he’d stop releasing these crummy live records. I don’t want to hear even more versions of your songs, Will. Especially if they aren’t all that much better than the originals. What I want is to be able to listen to that version of “Even If Love” you played in Boston over and over and over again. Get on it.
I’m also still undecided about the newest Six Organs record. The music is amazing, but Ben’s vocals failed me this time around. His singing sounds too forced (maybe even mechanical) in spots. I know that his voice has never been Six Organ’s selling point, but I’ve heard Chasny do better, on both School of the Flower and Shelter from the Ash. Maybe we’ll get more instrumental Six Organs next record, or maybe he’ll clean up his delivery a bit. As it stands, the vocals hurt Luminous Night a lot and have kept me from falling wholly in love with it.
In the next few days I’m going to be posting some mixes featuring music from 2009. I might say a thing or two about other records I’ve only mentioned here. I’ll feature music I’ve mentioned in this post and also some stuff I didn’t find out about until the last month or so. I’ll post some Youtube videos and other random stuff, too.
Thanks for reading Laughter this year. I had more hits at the site than ever before, received more correspondence, and saw a lot more downloads this year than last. I hope you’ll keep visiting in the new year.
See you all in 2010.