It’s June. That makes it time for a best of list. Everybody else is doing it, so why not me?
THE TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE FIRST HALF OF 2009
10. Joell Ortiz-Covers the Classics.
“I do what I do, I don’t do what they do. Funny thing is, they don’t do what they do.” That’s just one of the many agile couplets you’ll find on this mixtape of the best rapper dropped by a major before he was on a major. This mixtape isn’t just a hodge podge of unreleased stuff and disses, either. It’s a focused theory on the future of hip hop, offered over classic beats originally used by the likes of Eric B., Slick Rick, Cool J., and more. It’s gonna be hard for any other mixtape to top this one.
9. Super Furry Animals–Dark Days/Light Years
I debated long and hard over this one because so many Furry fans have said it’s far from the band’s best work. But I decided to include it because I’m not that familiar with their earlier albums and, dammit, I love this one! Quirky, crazy jams and even weirder vocals.
8.Weinland-Breaks in the Sun
“La Lamentor” was a vastly underrated album, and “Breaks in the Sun” is, sadly, turning out the same way. Why aren’t you listening to them? Why aren’t they featured on every quality blog? Yeah, it’s heavy, thoughtful nerdrock, but don’t let that stop you from checking out this extraordinary release.
7. She Keeps Bees-Nests.
Slow, grinding blues, this album makes my list because, unlike most indie releases (including the other 9 on this list), it is full of raw, pure sensuality. Sex, and sexy songs, are almost entirely missing from the indieblog world, which makes She Keeps Bees refreshing, innovative, and sorely needed.
6. N.A.S.A.-Spirit of Apollo
DJ albums with miscellaneous rappers, also known as gangbangs, usually suck. Usually there’s one or two good cuts and a bunch of crap. But this combination of veteran rock performers (David Byrne, Tom Waits) and newer ones (Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) join forces with veteran rappers (Chuck D, Kool Keith) and newer ones (M.I.A.), and many others. Pedigree is not a guarantee of quality, but in this case, the album doesn’t let us down.
5. Pomegranates–Everybody Come Outside
The Pomegranates’ debut album was a crisp, surprising collection of pop songs, but on their second album they’re focusing on long-players. The songs are still immediately catchy, but they also unfold gradually and develop into something much greater than mere sugar-coating. An amazing sophmore release that more than exceeded my expectations.
4. Wild Light–Adult Nights
Of all the records on this list, this one is the most mainstream by far. It’s easy to imagine the band on MTV, or at least hooking a major-label deal by the end of the year. Yet their potential mass appeal doesn’t limit their creativity–they play all out, earnest, honest poprock and prove that simple, straightforward pop doesn’t have to be infantile.
3. Rise and the Avid Record Collector-Risen
Yes, this is number three on the list and there’s no hip hop above it, making this the best indie rap album of 2009 so far. Why? Well, it’s got real backpacker beats designed to follow Rise’s amazing flow (not the other way around, like on N.A.S.A.’s release, above). Rise is a rapper few have heard of, but more should. If this record is any indication, he could prove to be as good as Del, Masta Ace, or any of the other underground rap giants. And speaking of Masta Ace . . .
2. Cloud Hymn-A Seed Buried in the Ground
As light and airy as its name, Cloud Hymn mixes 1970s AM radio vocals with intricate, atmospheric guitars to create something beautiful and amazing.
1. Frank Turner–Love Ire & Song.
I’m cheating here. As I said in my original review, this is a 2008 release that was submitted to my blog in ’09. I’m picking it as the best of the year so far anyway, because I didn’t see it popping up on any best of oh-eight lists. And that’s a fucking crime. A folkpunk in the spirit of Billy Bragg, 1990s Joe Strummer, Mike Doughty, and so many other brilliant observers of the ways of love, politics, the world, and man’s inhumanity to man. I can’t rave about this record enough.
AND NOW, 5 HONORABLE MENTIONS
In no particular order, 5 albums that almost made my list . . .
Killed by 9v Batteries-“Escape Plans Make It Hard to Wait for Success” (review)
Phantom Band–Checkmate Savage (review)
Jill Sobule-California Years (review)
Vulture Whale–Vulture Whale (review)
El Michels Affair-Walk On By: A Tribute to Isaac Hayes (review)