Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best Music of 2009!

Not an awe-inspiring year, but a few choice releases, (and quite a few from friends & associates). Also, very gyno-centric year, with half my favorites featuring female singers in a significant capacity. MY top 3 were down to the wire, and a few toss-ups at the end, but here's my list

1)The Decemberists - "The Hazards of Love". Decemberists still prove to be one of the smartest, most courageous acts around (and one of the few acts that get more popular as they get weirder) with this ambitious old-school concept album. A few misfires on this album - the 'story' is too convoluted to carry through, the female singers don't always fit, and the ending songs are anti-climactic. But kudos for tackling this, and making it as solid as they did.

2)Franz Ferdinand - "Tonight: ". FF take pop songs and retro-Talking Headsy-disco to a whole new level, with their arrangements and almost-literary depth. Outstanding songcraft, also exceptionally witty among often dumb peers. They make pop a not-so-guilty pleasure.

3) Dirty Projectors - "Orca Bitte". New Discovery of the year! Highly intricate arrangements, with the most incredible vocal work I've heard in a long long time. Weird songs, but delectably accessible, with noisy-sounding riffs that reveal mad chops. The only reason this wasn't the top was that many songs are a bit too abstract to hold up to repeated listening. But 'Cannibal Resource' is my top song of the year.

4) MF Doom - "Born Like This" Doom keeps up his humor and absurdist lyrical bent, this time mining 80's TV shows for sounds and samples. Fun mix, beyond typical hip hop.

5) The Fiery Furnaces - "I'm Going Away" Distilled and somewhat restrained for FF, almost like they were trying to make a radio-friendly collection. Almost. But still a lot to sink your teeth into, and arguably tapping into the best production values they've had.

6) Bright Brown - "No Matter How Faint, There's Light in Everything" . The erstwhile "Laughing Stock" by another name, still filled with deep thoughts, lush arrangements, and the magic of the Chapman Stick. I've known Alex Nahas for many years in the Stick community in San Fran, this is his first release since relocating to NYC, though I've heard most of these songs evolve over the years.

7) Neko Case - "Middle Cyclone"Alt-country queen delivers a strong, diverse, and deep collection. I'm struck by how well the tones & production go hand-in-hand with the emotional punch and personal message.

8) A Camp - "Colonia". Only recently learned about this side project, which released in February. A collaboration of Nina Persson and Nathan Larson from Sparklehorse, with Niclas Frisk. Captures the quirky glee sorely lacking in recent Cardigans fare, throws in some nice riffs & tasty production.

9) Mark Growden - "St. Judas"Another local I've known for a long time, I've heard these songs in many forms over the years, but Mark shows a powerful vision by putting everything together as an eclectic sextet. Amazing on all levels as a performer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist.

10) U2 - "No Line On the Horizon". Not really one to go out of my way to try U2, but as an Amazon special, it was a pleasant & satisfying surprise. Solid songs, very interesting production (courtesy of Brian Eno), and best of all, you could listen to large chunks of music without being reminded that it's U2.

Honorable mention :
Hometown hip-hop heroes Crown City Rockers - "Day After Forever"; Regina Spektor's pop gem - "Far"; David Sylvian revisiting noisescapes on "Manafon". Kevin Blechdom keeping it weird on "Gentlemania".

What are your favorites?


Here's the update since the last event (finished up my trip beginning of Oct, just now updating). Let's see... Had the crew screening for "A Christmas Carol" on Oct 22. We got a thank you from Robert Zemeckis and his producing partners Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey. Bob and Steve had been present throughout the project, but it was nice to get a personal message from them. What more can I say about the movie? You've seen it, right?? I ended up seeing it in the theatres 4 times, I still want to try to catch it on regular old film, to compare saturation & brightness...
Halloween we went to the Spider Ball, part of the Black Rock Arts Foundation. It was an interesting scene, some highly elaborate and 'adult' costumes. We stayed at the The Mosser Hotel, on 4th St, which was remarkably convenient and especially cheap for the heart of SF. Plus, they have a special package deal with recording studio time! Didn't book that, but maybe some other time...
Bonnie & I got involved with local politics - we were campaign volunteers for Jennifer West for the Emeryville City Council. We fought hard, and she won (not only getting one of the 2 open seats, but finishing as the top vote-getter!). This offers hope that our municipality will put revenues to use providing more services for citizens, and not allow the big-bux developers to buy up power and influence in Emeryville...
We've also become more hands-on supporters of one of our favorite local theatre groups - Ragged Wing. They've even started a 'board of directors', which I will be officially on-board with (Bonnie will continue to help out as her sched allows). Very exciting time, and I think this group has some great things ahead!
Had some visits with friends - Andy Bayley came into town (Oct 17), right after I got my motorcycle back from the shop - he rented a bike & we rode up along Grizzly Peak. John & Laura T were in town (Nov 7) - the first time they've taken a vacation w/out their son (3 years?). Matt Sullivan was in town, around the holidays.
Speaking of visits, we made our now-traditional trek to visit Bonnie's family in Orange County. Always nice to see Annie & Steve, and Jack & Mercy - but this time had a few new twists. One - a time to be thankful for Annie's health after the very serious and scary events in the early summer (she had suffered a brain aneurysm; and survived thanks to the swift action of her husband Steve and the expert hands at Hoag Hospital; and recovered thanks further to the dedicated and hardworking Dr's and nurses, and her own hard work & will) - so, it was quite a cause to celebrate. Plus I got to visit Disneyland for the first time ever! We got to use my free parkhopper passes, (though I forgot to use the card for food & items inside the park)... We were surprised that it was not very crowded! By 1pm, we had gone on almost all the rides we'd set out to ride. Favorite : Indiana Jones - the best motion in the ride, the best design & production values.
Production wise : we got the last major shoot for 'Dreamfish'! This is a short film* project we've been working on for a while, it was originally my story idea, but Tom GIlx has taken it and run w/ it, added a lot of detail & style, and he's done some fantastic editing & even FX work. Looking fwd to helping complete it! I've got another very short scene idea, which is entirely possible to shoot ourselves - but I need to build a full-sized metallic-looking cow sculpture. Anyone care to help out?
We celebrated Bonnie's birthday in December! The two of us had a fantastic night out on the day, indulging in LaLime's. A friend also hosted a small dinner party that weekend, nice personal touch.
Other sundry events having happened : Star Trek exhibit at San Jose Tech Museum; taking a party bus across the Bay to celebrate a neighbor's 65th birthday! 50th Anniversary party of the SF Mime Troupe at YBCA. Tell-Tale Heartbreakers at Red Devil.

Next post, I will unveil my picks for Best Music of 2009! Stay tuned...