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OK, back to business with the second installment of my 40 favorite albums from 2009. Today I discuss numbers 30 through 21. The action is after the jump:Håkon Kornstad, Dwell Time (Jazzland)
29. Lars Myrvoll, The Island (Safe as Milk)
I still know little about this Norwegian guitarist, but I can say for sure that The Island captivated me from my first listen. Myrvol created these beautifully intimate bedroom recordings over the span of six years, leaving in the ambient sounds behind his stark, hauntingly beautiful guitar playing, which somehow combines folk, Morton Feldman-style minimalism, and post-Derek Bailey tangles into a unified whole. His repetitive figures are rich with atmosphere, and his nimble single-note runs and leisurely arpeggios ring with unusual harmonies.
28. Warsaw Village Band, Infinity (Barbés)
This Polish band draw their repertoire from regional folk traditions that the old communist leadership tried to blot out in favor of a nationalist monoculture. For years they’ve traveled the countryside collecting songs in danger of extinction, and on their albums they reinvent those tunes as profoundly contemporary and furiously energetic music, with slashing strings and glassy hammer dulcimer surging beneath the piercing unison vocals.
27. Seabrook Power Plant, Seabrook Power Plant (Loyal Label)
The debut album from this unusual New York trio, named after a nuclear facility in New Hampshire that shares a name with bandleader Brandon Seabrook, knocked me out with its peculiar mix of abstract improvisation, jazz, heavy metal, and numb funk. Seabrook plays both electric guitar and tenor banjo, an unforgiving instrument in contexts like this because it has virtually no sustain. Using amplification, electronic effects, bowing, and techniques like tremoloing—a staccato repetition of a particular chord that approximates a sustained tone—he coaxes a sublime range of sounds from the instrument, and the piledriving support from drummer Jared Seabrook (his brother) and bassist Tom Blancarte makes this one of the most striking records I’ve heard in years.
26. Tyondai Braxton, Central Market (Warp)
Battles member Tyondai Braxton delivered the art-rock album of the year, a sprawling, twitchy collection of songs that managed to be mercilessly jarring and complicated yet richly entertaining. He taps into modern classical music for unexpected string-instrument passages that careen through the rigorous, baffling drumming of Ian Antonio of Zs; Braxton himself plays guitar and sings in a giddy, manic, fluid style that’s all his own.
24. Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara, Tell No Lies (Real World)
British guitarist Justin Adams, a regular collaborator of Robert Plant, is one of the few non-African musicians to persuasively demonstrate a link between the West African traditions popularized by Ali Farka Toure and American blues music. On his second album with Gambian griot Juldeh Camara he all but erases the distinctions between those two musical territories. Despite a few missteps where he spells out the connections too literally, Adams is mindful of his virtuosity, using it mostly in service of rhythm and texture, and Camara sings with easy, tightly coiled soulfulness while unfurling beautifully droning lines on an ancient type of single-string fiddle called a riti.
23. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest (Warp)
Veckatimest is art-rock of the highest caliber, a bizarre amalgam of heavenly pop harmonies (think Beach Boys or vintage Phil Spector productions) and constantly shifting instrumental textures and patterns. Hotshot composer Nico Muhly created choral and string arrangements on a few tunes, but he was mostly expanding on ideas already embedded in the music: reverbed-out guitar parts, sweetly sensual vocal leads, and shimmering backup harmonies all move in different directions and modulate at different rates, so that the songs seem to hover and billow rather than drive and rock. I’m still a bit perplexed by their decision to enlist Michael McDonald to sing lead on the single version of “While You Wait for the Others,” but there’s no point trying to dissect the whims of Brooklyn fashion victims.
22. Jeremy Udden, Plainville (Fresh Sound New Talent)
One of the most distinctive jazz records I heard this year, Plainville delivers a pastoral, rural feel within beautiful compositions and lush harmonies. Brandon Seabrook (also of Seabrook Power Plant, above) plays twangy banjo and taut electric guitar, while Pete Rende alternates between warm keyboard textures (both on pump organ and Fender Rhodes) and well-placed pedal-steel licks. The overall feel is one of pretty lyricism and all-pervading calm, but leader and saxophonist Jeremy Udden injects his painterly improvisations with a quiet intensity.
Vladislav Delay, Tummaa (Leaf Label)
James Carney Group, Ways & Means (Songlines)
Norah Jones, The Fall (Blue Note)
Nico Huijbregts, Free Floating Forms (Vindu)
Buddy & Julie Miller, Written in Chalk (New West)