Jim O’Rourke, The Visitor An impossibly musical album from a man who seems to be done with music, for now. It is beyond cool in a Godard-y way that this man has written his most instantly, accessibly “beautiful” piece of modern American music just as he seems to have ceased caring. For once, we have an album of music that deserves to be called “cinematic.” This record will outlast anything else I heard in 2009. Buy it on LP, then sit the fuck down and pour yourself a fizzy water or beer and see/hear it for yourselves. I cannot, I will not attempt to describe it.
Pajo, Scream With Me Recorded “back in 2004 – through a Radio Shack mic duct taped to a cymbal stand into a ’70s handheld cassette recorder,” this album of Pajo’s acoustic Misfits’ covers epitomizes a moment in Winter 2009 when I reminded myself how to survive. More importantly, it falls victim to neither the “horror largesse” nor the “comic grandeur” of the Misfits’ renditions, plowing instead into a scratchy terrain of isolation we associate with Palace’s Days in the Wake. Freed from the Misfits – and all their hard-earned Jersey baggage and vampire expectations – these Danzig songs work together with Pajo to settle their own, weird subdivision of the nightmarish continent wherein lies Spiderland and Live from a Shark Cage.
Reigning Sound, Love and Curses Boom. The rock record of 2009 for me came outta Memphis unsurprisingly enough, during this, the year I re-re-consummated my relationship with Big Star et al. Recorded at Easley and Ardent both, Greg Cartwright’s words are as fine as could be without obstructing the forward progress of his musical compositions. Like everything Memphis (or so it seems), this band has effortlessly appropriate tones from the gtr/bs/drms/organ, and their elemental punk/power/rock-roll is perfectly recorded. I will be digging further into this band (and their Oblivians roots) for a long time to come, because they have renewed my long-snuffed faith in a kind of punk rock other people like to modify with the term “garage.”
Bob Mould, Life and Times Between this and District Line‘s prominence in my regular listening diets of 2008/2009, it’s clear I’m on the biggest Mould binge of my life since the Copper Blue and Beaster bender that was my pre-teens/teens. Billed as the “moodier, introspective-er, Workbook-ier” of his last two solo albs, Mould’s newest work continues his integration of analog/digital palettes on one level. But Life and Times also stages Bob’s (perfectly executed, perfectly contemporary) return to the (perfectly executed) “power pop”/”shoegaze”/”punk rock” assemblage we associate with a certain side of the late, great Sugar. [This time, however, there’s a lot more acoustic guitar and autotune, which only Bob Mould, somehow, manages to pull off.] Once you’ve gotten through the opening threesome of songs (around which the alb is built,) you’re in for plenty of perfect, Sugar-y deep cuts before the closer, which’s the absolute weirdest take on Richard Thompson-ness that I’ve ever met up with. Also, drummer and (personal life-hero) Jon Wurster shines throughout like a lighthouse on wheels. [PS – If the production palette isn’t your thing, it’s at least worth seeing the band live, where they always seems to bring err on the gtr-y side of a big and bouncy rock vibe.]
Obits, I Blame You Late to the party on Hot Snakes (and, frankly, on the totally underrated Drive Like Jehu) I am happy to say that I’ve been in with the Obits at least since their appearance on the always-awesome Evan ‘Funk’ Davies’ radio program in April. Fronted by Rick Froberg (from alla those bands I just mentioned) and the dude from Edsel (!!!), Obits represent an awesome distillation of 90s art-punk into a more prototypical kind of guitar-punk that everybody thinks they can do but not everybody can do. The Real Kids? The Velvets? What do you hear here? Kinda like a Shellac record, Obits’ four-pieced clanging has an abundance of “rock” happening despite loud trappings everywhere that scream “minimalism” and/0r “punk.” That I can compare this band to BOTH Shellac and Sonic Youth probably means 1) I’m grasping at straws, and 2) it’s the guitar work that keeps me coming back.
Tortoise, Beacons of Ancestry I have nothing to say to people for whom Tortoise has become boring or redundant. [When I learned of a generalized perception that It’s All Around You was perceived as such, I was forced to remember that most people seem to like the idea of Tortoise more than they grasp and/or covet more sounds from this outfit.] Anyway, even those assholesshould be pleased with this hunk of songs, which falls down a flight of guitar-‘rock’ stairs into a strange pit of drums/synths/bass vamps that doesn’t so much ultimately “return” to analog sounds as it does completely confuse whatever binary of “live/studio” or “artifical/authentic” you think you’ve got going. No wonder they seem more interested in playing Euro jazz/improv festivals than Coachella, these days: it’s completely appropriate. This music is as vast, and as agile, as anything they’ve executed yet. It is sophisticated and stylized and it stands alone.
Mission of Burma, The Sound the Speed the Light Mission of Burma is the greatest “comeback” story in punk rock history, and a whole lot of other more important things. This highlight of 2009 features guitar-work getting thrown like throw pillows all over a vinyl canvass. This canvass is hung (like Christ was hung) as an indictment and as an exemplar: both of and for everyone and everything functioning under the loose cloud cover of the “indie rock” genre designation. [On a personal note: I wore this album all throughout the holidays, like it were a bulletproof vest.]
TIE Dinosaur Jr, Farm Let’s hear it for the Barlow songs! The original lineup is more than just a novelty, and “giving us more Dinosaur Jr albums” is more than just “going through the motions,” if you’re me.
TIE Sonic Youth, The Eternal Featuring the hottest SY sex jam in years (“Massage the History”), and announcing the Mark Ibold epoch to come, I almost wish I plopped down the $28 for a vinyl copy of this. But, see, I’m still in such total shock over the underrated majesty of Murray Street and Nurse (from the O’Rourke epoch) that I haven’t yet caught all the way up to greeting this with the usual and customary attentiveness. Nonetheless, it is leagues ahead of Rather Ripped (no disrespect), and features several, expansive guitar voyages that I hope we hear in setlists to come well into the Twenty-Teens (2010s.)
Adam Franklin, Spent Bullets Who knows if I’d’ve turned against (or elevated?!?) this Adam Franklin album if I’d owned it for a longer spell? But in only 3 weeks, it has unseated the Gary Louris/Marc Olson album to round out this fearsome 10some of mine. Herein we find the Swervedriver luminary, Franklin, executing a sequence of ornate, drugged psych-rock-poppers: exactly the sort of dripping gtr-stuff I covet, emblematic of that exact well (one of drone and of shoegaze) into which I dip and re-dipped my 2009 ears with characteristic gusto. Goodbye, 2009!