Part 2: From Handsome Furs to Oneida

Artist: Handsome Furs

Album: Face Control

Label: Sub Pop

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Handsome Furs
Face Control

Face Control is a great sophomore album in every traditional way: it improves upon, without greatly altering, the sonic blueprint of the Handsome Furs’ debut, the hooks are sharper and the band has more swagger. The very happily married duo of Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry even make devotion and monogamy look like the sexiest damn thing every time they’re on stage. Face Control might as well be 2009’s greatest PSA for marriage. The band offers a novel, and seemingly incongruous, concept — Bruce Springsteen fronting New Order — and makes it feel like a natural and inevitable union. Any union that produces songs as blisteringly infectious as “Radio Kaliningrad” and “All We Want, Baby, Is Everything” is holy in my book. Ben Schumer

 

Artist: PJ Harvey & John Parish

Album: A Woman a Man Walked By

Label: Island

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PJ Harvey & John Parish
A Woman A Man Walked By

PJ Harvey is an artist of such relentless and reinvented genius that her epic work often misses even the microscopic eye of year-end lists. Some would argue that A Woman a Man Walked By merely continues the narrative of Harvey and Parish’s collaborations (namely begun by Dance Hall at Louse Point), but Harvey’s lyrical and vocal explorations prove this release to be an exaltation, not a de-escalation of the Medea-like pathos that infused her previous releases. In fact, A Woman a Man Walked By displays clear debts to other Harvey albums — the single and leading track, “Black-Hearted Love” is a rocker cut from Uh Huh Her‘s cloth, and the starkly stunning The Soldiers owes a clear debt to the haunting White Chalk. As Harvey croaks, croons, snarls, claps, and even counts down her way through this album, she keeps proving why she’ll never be a woman walked by. Erin Lyndal Martin

 

Artist: Richard Hawley

Album: Truelove’s Gutter

Label: Mute

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Richard Hawley
Truelove’s Gutter

When Truelove’s Gutter was released last September, critics remarked on the dramatic shift in Richard Hawley’s signature sound. The truth, however, is that all of Hawley’s trademarks are found within the album, from lush orchestration to the local imagery of his native Sheffield, England to that gorgeous, brooding baritone. What Hawley did do, however, was slow down the tempo of his songs, creating spaces and atmospheres in them that were smothered under instrumentation in his previous work. The result is songs that are both haunting and challenging: just when you wonder if you can get into them, they have gotten into you — just like the lost loves the album chronicles. More importantly, Truelove’s Gutter challenges the notion that the best songs are those that are three minutes long and full of immediately catchy hooks. As Hawley proves, artists can defy conventions that are thrust upon them and still create undeniably captivating music. Michael Franco

 

Artist: Levon Helm

Album: Electric Dirt

Label: Vanguard

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Levon Helm
Electric Dirt

Everyone knows the Band’s drummer, but could anyone have predicted he would be this good pushing 70, and after overcoming throat cancer to boot? On Electric Dirt, Helm gives us a tour through the music of the South, playing blues, folk, rock and more. That would be accomplishment enough. But he gives us something else, too, something exceedingly rare in popular music: an album that not only has a powerful effect on the emotions, but that affects an entire gamut of them. Backed by a beefy New Orleans horn section, he turns in a rambunctious version of “Kingfish” that does for Randy Newman’s original something like what Ike and Tina Turner did for “Proud Mary” and he makes death sound fun in the gospel shout of “When I Go Away”. Then he breaks your heart with “Golden Bird”, a direct descendant of Harry Smith’s anthology, and “Growing Trade”, which sings of an impoverished farmer forced to survive by switching his crop to marijuana. Jaw dropping. John Wesley Williams

 

Artist: Robyn Hitchcock

Album: Goodnight Oslo

Label: Yep Roc

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Robyn Hitchcock
Goodnight Oslo

I’ve installed a number of programs on my computer that track everything I do, an array of applications that clunkily monitor my every move like the detective in a dime-store novel. One of them recently coughed out a set of statistics that listed the songs I played most frequently in 2009 and, unsurprisingly, every slot on that list was a track from Robyn Hitchcock’s Goodnight Oslo. Goodnight Oslo, Hitchcock’s second with the Venus 3, features ten genre-hopping tracks that range from Big Star-ish power pop to Ennio Morricone twang, while never skimping on the deft wordplay that Hitchcock is known for. The album is loosely concerned with the theme of authenticity, from those who have it (the driving swagger of “What You Is”) to a scathing, if catchy, critique of those who don’t (the Hollies-soaked singalong “Saturday Groovers”).

Despite a career that has seen him front three different bands in four different decades, Hitchcock has resisted the urge to reinvent himself, to change his name to a symbol, to grow a soul patch or to crash his car into countless stationary objects. Instead, he’s consistently compiled an unmatched catalog of songs that aren’t afraid to lift the rocks and explore what’s teeming below the surface of our lives. “It doesn’t matter what you was / It’s what you is / And what you is / Is what you are,” Hitchcock repeats in the album’s opening chorus. What Robyn Hitchcock is, was, and undoubtedly will be is an artist whose eye for the uncommon and occasional knee-buckling turns of phrase will never disappoint. Go ahead and add Goodnight Oslo to your iTunes library… even if you’ll never count how many times you play it. Jelisa Castrodale

 

Artist: Islands

Album: Vapours

Label: Anti-

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Islands
Vapours

Drummer Jaime Thompson, the ying to singer Nick Diamonds’ yang, returned to the collaborative fold for one of the best records of 2009. Following the band’s universally loved 2006 debut that spawned the whole indie-calypso-ska-whatever revival thing, Thompson left the band. Diamonds proceeded to grab the reins, hire a slew of instrumentalists, record the daunting, proggy Arm’s Way, and alienate some fans in the process. With the release of the economically sexy and acid-tongued Vapours, it’s now clear that Thompson is the perfect foil for Diamonds. There’s not a lame track on the album and Diamonds even manages to make Auto-Tune sound great on “Heartbeat”. And if Michael Cera is down, why aren’t you? Haters take notice: Islands are forever. Craig Carson

 

Artist: Jay-Z

Album: The Blueprint 3

Label: Roc Nation

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Jay-Z
The Blueprint 3

In 1988, NWA’s “Something Like That” laid out a rap blueprint, one that Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter follows for The Blueprint 3: you either rap about “the place to be” (“Empire State of Mind”), who you are (Jay-Z’s the king of self-congratulatory rap), what you’ve got (“Off That”), or about a “sucker MC” (“D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)”). Decide for yourself whether it’s the best hip-hop album of 2009. Just don’t underestimate The Blueprint 3‘s impact, as a representative for Over 35 rap or as the pinnacle of hip-hop for the upwardly mobile. Jay-Z gets text messages from President Obama. That’s crazy, right? Don’t fight the power, enjoy the power. Meanwhile, you can listen to the “new Sinatra” spin his charismatic yarns. Like the third part of any trilogy, The Blueprint 3 doesn’t outdo the original, but it’s got beats galore, tons of guests, and a host so self-assured you’ll believe he’s forever young. Quentin B. Huff

 

Kronos Quartet and more…

Kronos Quartet

Artist: Eilen Jewell

Album: Sea of Tears

Label: Signature Sounds

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Eilen Jewell
Sea of Tears

Sea of Tears is retro, no doubt about it, but it envisions a past where classic two-step country, blues, rockabilly, and the British Invasion walk hand-in-hand down black-and-white film noir streets. This is often dark, brooding, and moody music. It’s also a first-rate exhibit in the difference between merely copying bygone styles, and bringing influences into the fold of one’s own artistic vision. “Final Hour” and “Everywhere I Go” evoke Tom Waits without sounding a bit derivative, while the tried-and-true torch and twang of songs like her own “Sea of Tears”, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over”, and Van Morrison-era Them’s “I’m Gonna Dress in Black” sound fresh and original despite their familiarity. Through it all, Jewell sings lyrics of loneliness, determination, rusted pistols, and chemical escape (“Codeine Arms” sounds like the less regretful cousin of Gillian Welch’s “My Morphine”) with an easygoing, elastic charm. Filled to the brim with stinging guitar and tides of reverb, Sea of Tears welcomes you into a cozy, twilit world. Andrew Gilstrap

 

Artist: Kreng

Album: L’Autopsie Phenomenale de Dieu

Label: Miasmah

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Kreng
L’Autopsie Phenomenale de Dieu

L’Autopsie Phenomenale de Dieu (“The Phenomenal Autopsy of God”) surpassed Svarte Greiner’s Kappe, Sunn 0)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions and Mika Vainio’s Black Telephone of Matter as the most revolting thing I heard all year. But it is elegantly revolting, like the labyrinthine corridors of a serial killer doctor in the time of the Dada movement. Belgium’s Pepijn Caudron (Kreng) has worked as a score writer for theatre productions, and he brings his background with him for a chilling foray into electro-acoustic composition that twists modern classical in knots. Suggesting bile, bad drugs, and what it would be like to have someone perform only for you on an empty stage, L’Autopsie‘s marriage of unknown samples (opera singers, orchestras, film dialogue) and live instrumentation conjures a space of familiar objects choked by blackness. It’s a patchwork of sorts, consisting of tracks written for several different plays, where the miasma of death is the only real constant. It is also — despite its emphasis on cerebral qualities like hallucinatory experience — deeply emotional. I don’t know what the woman on the phone is weeping about in “Meisje in Auto”, but I feel for her as I hear the bad recording make her wet breathing palpable. And then, on the track following, the percussion hacks her to pieces. Now that’s scary. Mike Newmark

 

Artist: Kronos Quartet

Album: Floodplain

Label: Nonesuch

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Kronos Quartet
Floodplain

It’s difficult even to think of Kronos Quartet as a string quartet anymore. They have pushed the definition of what a string quartet can do so far past the bounds of typical perception as to make the term meaningless. Floodplain is the most recent example of Kronos Quartet’s boundless-yet-worldly vision, in which they team up with guests from Palestine to Azerbaijan, and seemingly everywhere in between. This is the sort of music whose emotions careen from wrenching to triumphant, often in the same song. And yet, just in case someone were to be so daft as to suggest that Kronos Quartet’s willingness to accomodate guests is mere gimmickry covering up the limited scope that a mere four string players can cover, they throw in “Wa Habibi”, an instrumental version of a Lebanese Good Friday hymn that nearly outshines the rest of the album in beauty and grace. Floodplain is just the type of album to be ignored when the end of the year comes, largely because it treats the idea of genre as a nuisance to be squashed. It would be a shame to let it slip through the cracks entirely. Mike Schiller

 

Artist: La Patère Rose

Album: La Patère Rose

Label: Dare to Care/Grosse Boite

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La Patère Rose
La Patère Rose

Like fellow Québécois darling Coeur de Pirate, the music of Montreal’s La Patère Rose revolves around the playful vocal delivery of a beguiling female lead vocalist, but unlike Béatrice Martin’s middle-of-the-road charm, Fanny Bloom and her mates are far less predictable, drawing from a wildly eclectic musical palette, electronic touches commingling with Stereolab-esque krautrock homages, the more adventurous side of Beck colliding with 1960s Yé-yé and 1930s cabaret. However, and most surprisingly, the experimentalism on this debut album never comes at the expense of the almighty hook, of which there are far too many to mention, but are highlighted by such delightful tracks as “La Marelle”, “Jessicok”, and the wonderful “PaceMaker”. If they sang in English and hailed from Brooklyn, they would be indie darlings instead of merely one of Canada’s best-kept secrets. Adrien Begrand

 

Artist: Lady Gaga

Album: The Fame Monster

Label: Interscope

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Lady Gaga
The Fame Monster

For an eight-song album, Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster makes the most of its sparse track listing with zero filler. Exposing the singer’s fears and frailties, every piece on The Fame Monster is an exercise in storytelling and crafting distinctive, danceable, yet intellectual pop. After years of pop music being churned out by the usual cadre of faceless entities for public faces, Lady Gaga offers an antidote while proving herself more than just a one-album wonder. Although known for her showmanship in a live setting, she uses her voice as a powerful tool of expression in a solely vocal medium — without the benefit of any visual accompaniment. The Fame Monster justifies Lady Gaga’s meteoric rise within the mainstream music scene and showcases a young artist who immerses herself completely in her art, making it something cathartic, personal, and accessible for her audience, as well as herself. Lana Cooper

 

Artist: Langhorne Slim

Album: Be Set Free

Label: Kemado

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Langhorne Slim
Be Set Free

Be Set Free could easily work as the soundtrack to the classic movie ending where the beloved anti-hero arrives on far-flung beach with an earned-but-stolen bag of money, life’s new possibilities stretching out like the horizon. It’s that sprawling, that swollen with cinematic shimmer. This record’s all vibe, all lush rollicking warmth. Slim lassoes his young man blues and bar-side sing-a-long anthems in with a serious vocal performance that somehow echoes both Sam Cooke’s devastating lover-man pleas and Springsteen’s gravelly growls. Tis a shame that Slim gets hit with the “authenticity” question — amazing coming from critics who are presumably aware of Dylan’s unrootsy roots — but if criticism is more about whether you have the “right” to make your music than the actual music you’re making, well then, luxury problems for Mr. Slim. Tara Murtha

 

Artist: Last Offence

Album: Not For Non-Profit

Label: mixtape

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Last Offence
Not For Non-Profit

Last Offence is the emcee that homo hop (or gay hip-hop) has been waiting for. He’s the guy that makes every other gay rapper step his game up. And Not For Non-Profit, ostensibly a mixtape though it feels more like a proper album, made a lot of gay emcees sweat this year. Lasto takes his lead from witty wordsmiths like Keith Murray, Big Pun, and Jigga himself. Though he’s from St. Louis, his flow is all New York. He can do the party joint (“Back It On Up”) with tongue firmly planted in cheek and the hip-hop boast with just the right dose of humor (“Fresh As I Wanna Be”). Not For Non-Profit is better than most corporate hip-hop and, gay or not, those major label’s rappers should be sweatin’ too. Tyler Lewis

 

Manic Street Preachers and more…

Manic Street Preachers

Artist: Jason Lytle

Album: Yours Truly, The Commuter

Label: Anti-/Epitaph

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Jason Lytle
Yours Truly, The Commuter

While most people continue to flock to big cities like New York and Los Angeles, Jason Lytle, the former front man of Grandaddy left his hometown of Modesto, CA after his band disbanded in 2006 and retreated to the tranquil spaciousness of Montana. There, he built a sweeping sonic landscape over the hole that the breakup of Grandaddy left behind. Airy keyboards, waltzy piano, and Lytle’s ethereal voice are reminiscent of Grandaddy, but Lytle’s solo debut, Yours Truly, The Commuter, is even more quiet and personal than anything Grandaddy ever recorded. This is not to say that Yours Truly is a sob fest. Indeed, it has its dark moments, but it’s also hopeful, reassuring, and determined. Additionally, it boasts the catchiest song possibly ever recorded celebrating the weekend (“It’s the Weekend”). I can see Loverboy hanging their heads in shame. Above all, the music has that expansive, atmospheric beauty that only Lytle can create. On “This Song is the Mute Button”, Lytle sings “I see the pretty in things”. Even the final song, “Here for Good”, which seemingly addresses suicide has a promising conclusion: “sudden death is just boring so I’m here for good”. Yours Truly the Commuter is the story of an individual finding his place in the world. As the title song declares: “I may be limping, but I’m coming home.” Congratulations, Jason. We’re glad to have you back. Jennifer Makowsky

 

Artist: Major Lazer

Album: Guns Don’t Kill People, Lazers Do

Label: Downtown

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Major Lazer
Guns Don’t Kill People, Lazers Do

In a year where it seemed mellow-ness ruled the landscape, stands the insane, frenetic, unclassifiable Major Lazer. Creation of DJs/producers Diplo and Switch, Major Lazer is easily one of the best party records or the year. Opener “Hold The Line” features a horse neigh sample and an appearance from 2008 breakout star Santigold — and that’s just the beginning of the audio assault. Amanda Blank, Mr. Lexx, Ms. Thing, and a host of others stop by along the way, with songs featuring full horn sections, a parody of mainstream rap (with Auto-Tune, of course), and more killer verses than you can count. It’s hard to explain Major Lazer’s scattershot approach, But with Diplo at the helm and a killer guest line-up, there something for every hip-hop/dance fan here. Cue it up for your next ripper. You won’t be disappointed. Jason Cook

 

Artist: Manic Street Preachers

Album: Journal for Plague Lovers

Label: Columbia

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Manic Street Preachers
Journal for Plague Lovers

Bands should not be making albums this vital so far into their career, but the path followed by the Manic Street Preachers has been anything but typical. With lyrics left behind by presumed deceased member Richey James Edwards, organic production by Steve Albini, and striking cover art by Jenny Saville, the Welsh rockers took a career risk on their ninth album that paid off on all fronts. Tapping into Edwards’ mindset through these impenetrable lyrics is a harrowing experience that is as rewarding as what the band had accomplished with him (1994’s The Holy Bible), and without him (1996’s Everything Must Go). Guitarist James Dean Bradfield and bassist Nicky Wire write their most timeless music yet, singing with immense conviction. A labor of love and a celebration of art, Journal for Plague Lovers is the unheard classic of 2009, a record whose esteem will only grow with time. Cyrus Fard

 

Artist: Nellie McKay

Album: Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day

Label: Verve

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Nellie McKay
Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day

As Nellie McKay’s first three albums show, McKay is not afraid to speak her mind on a host of issues from feminism to animal rights with a quirky sense of humor. She also fearlessly borrowed from a host of popular music styles from Tin Pan Alley to hard rock to rap and blended them into idiosyncratic catchy and creative tunes. That is why it seemed a shock when the profligate composer McKay decided to do a record of straight covers, even more so because the object of her adoration was a person normally associated with bland pop, Doris Day. McKay takes Day as musician seriously and shows Day to be a swinging and infectious jazz artist. Whether McKay undulates to the beats of “Crazy Rhythm” and “Dig It” or croons more sedately to the stately intonations of “Black Hills of Dakota”, she reveals the hidden layers of beauty and sophistication in what may initially seem to be simple songs. Steve Horowitz

 

Artist: Metric

Album: Fantasies

Label: Metric Music International

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Metric
Fantasies

Despite what has always been a killer live show — mostly thanks to the fierce charisma of frontwoman Emily Haines — I have always found Canadian indie darlings Metric to be strangely lacking on record. Fantasies, though, corrects all that felt hesitant and underdeveloped about their previous three outings simply by cranking everything — the amps, the energy, the gnarled intensity of the songwriting — up to the proverbial 11. Fantasies is an indie rock record that dares to title one song “Stadium Love” while dedicating another to that immortal question “who’d you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones” and sound completely and unironically sincere doing so. Rich with atmosphere and buzzing melodic hooks, Metric’s crossover bid was the rare one that really did deserve to storm the gates of the mainstream. Jer Fairall

 

Artist: Micachu

Album: Jewellery

Label: Rough Trade

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Micachu
Jewellery

With her brash, British, talk-sing delivery, Micachu’s debut first calls to mind a lo-fi, experimental M.I.A. There’s no “Paper Planes” lurking here, of course — these songs are too gnarled, too cluttered for pop appeal — but who cares? You’ll find it irritating on first listen, but you’ll be hooked by the third. That’s because Jewellery, despite its discordant veneer (a musical palette that includes broken bottles, a vacuum cleaner, and various homemade instruments), contains some of the most infectious pop hooks of the year, arriving in bite-size bursts of creative energy that rarely surpass the three-minute mark. And hell, it even references the Champs’ “Tequila” in the process (see: “Calculator”). Your loss, pop radio. Zach Schonfeld

 

Georgia Anne Muldrow and more…

Georgia Anne Muldrow

Artist: Miike Snow

Album: Miike Snow

Label: Downtown

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Miike Snow
Miike Snow

As Bloodshy and Avant, Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg are the Swedish production wizards responsible for crafting the beats for tasty dance singles by the likes of Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Kelis, Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears, whose 2004 club banger “Toxic” helped the duo earn a Grammy. Around that time, Karlsson and Winnberg also met Andrew Wyatt, a New York-based musician and former member of the A.M. alongside members of the late Jeff Buckley’s old band. Together, this unlikely trio formed Miike Snow, whose debut album served as one of the most surprising delights of 2009. A far cry from the hit machine these Swedes are used to feeding as Bloodshy and Avant, this odd little slice of electronic art pop is unlike anything else out there today, finding Karlsson and Winnberg deconstructing their Top 40 formula to a hum of magnificent minimalism as Wyatt gauzes the grooves like Panda Bear replacing Simon LeBon as the frontman for Duran Duran. Miike Snow is Nordic new wave at its finest, and proof that even the most enormous helping of commercial success could never quell one’s will to be weird. Ron Hart

 

Artist: Hudson Mohawke

Album: Butter

Label: Warp

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Hudson Mohawke
Butter

Three things you should know about the debut full-length release by Scottish DJ/musician Hudson Mohawke (real name Ross Birchard): it’s audacious, it’s enthralling, and occasionally it’s very silly. Butter targets both the chin-stroking electronic connoisseurs and the clubs, as Birchard lays down two-minute sample collages, fractured rhythms, and straight-up dance-funk jams, all slathered in a rich, shimmering production that he could serve pancakes with. Birchard’s craftsmanship is impressive and certainly meticulous, but he’s never po-faced or pretentious about it. In fact, the joy and excitement that were involved in making the album are palpable as Birchard is never afraid of being cheeky when playing with his toys. As such, even the most eccentric experiments are fun, and the more straightforward material is instilled with an off-kilter edge. AJ Ramirez

 

Artist: Mordant Music

Album: SyMptoMs

Label: Mordant Music

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Mordant Music
SyMptoMs

Having spent much of his time in the naughties exploring the outskirts of Hauntology and dubstep, Baron Mordant decided to tail it off with an album supposedly collected from castaway tunes from that time. That it’s his most consistent, least familiar, and most assuredly excellent release is an achievement in itself. The vocal-heavy but by no means lyrically dependent SyMptoMs is art-pop post Roxy, post Japan, and, perhaps most importantly, post rave. That Mordant served time in EBM outfit Johnson Engineering Co way back when should be no surprise on tracks like the propulsively swirling psychedelia of “In Truth Is Wine”. Just as well, the dark textures of the title track should shock no one familiar with Mordant Music’s collaborations with Skull Disco’s Shackelton. Yet, the murky tales of industrial desolation add a special acuteness to the mix, like on the opener “Where Can You Scream?”, a throwback of sorts to the electronic folk of World Serpent Enterprises. An appropriately gloomy album to end a dark decade. Timothy Gabriele

 

Artist: Georgia Anne Muldrow

Album: Umsindo

Label: E1

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Georgia Anne Muldrow
Umsindo

On July 28th, 2009, Georgia Anne Muldrow turned in her bid to conquer the near-wasteland that is soul music in the 21st century. The timing couldn’t have been better; fresh off two of her songs receiving high profile re-treatments from the likes of Erykah Badu (“Master Teacher”) and Mos Def (“Roses”), Umsindo seemed positioned to become the Memorable Forward-Thinking R&B Album of 2009, much like Badu’s effort had in 2007. Sonically, all the pieces are here. Muldrow opens the album with songs based on both African and Native American chants to reveal her heritage, but much of the album is focused on her unique blend of p-funk and Madlib/Dilla-style hip-hop. I’d refer to her music as free-soul, as much in the spirit of Alice Coltrane as Mary Wells.

To hear a Muldrow album is to hear the future of soul. From J Dilla-like snippets such as “West Coast Prayer” and “Okra” to the bombastic release of tracks like “Caracas” (perhaps a direct descendant of New Amerykah) and “I.Q.”, Umsindo is an album that challenges the mind and excites the eardrums equally. Muldrow is on a planet that no other R&B artist save perhaps for Erykah Badu (and George Clinton) operates on, but for some shameful reason we continue to overlook her contributions. Umsindo, for all it’s unique visions and it’s easy comparisons to Badu’s New Amerykah Part One, should have been a record critics championed from summer ’til the end of the decade. David Amidon

 

Artist: Navigator

Album: Bad Children

Label: Magic Goat

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Navigator
Bad Children

In 2009, one had to steer through several new folk variations and lo-fi recordings to find Navigator’s Bad Children. Access to the record wasn’t a problem. In fact, its creator — Braden J. McKenna (WYLD WYZRDZ) — presented the album as a free download through the bountiful “digital magic series” of label Magic Goat. Perhaps a lack of publicity and commercial potential caused the album to escape the attention of tastemakers. Although there is a temptation for McKenna’s fans to cherish his work as a best-kept secret, music this inspired deserves a larger audience, especially in a saturated market that frequently rewards mediocrity. Bad Children is the lo-fi album that actually lives up to the great expectations surrounding other recent records of the sort. The compositions here easily rival songs that put Jack White on the map, and the production is a kind of marvel. Rough recording techniques work in joyful accord with an endless series of hooks and subtle surprises, which emerge against all odds from the noisy mix. The album runs a concise 30 minutes, but repeat mode beckons. Thomas Britt

 

Artist: Oneida

Album: Rated O

Label: Jagjaguwar

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Oneida
Rated O

Rated O is the second of an announced triptych of records named the “Thank Your Parents” series, the first being 2008’s Preteen Weaponry, and both, in Oneida’s unique way, pay homage to the music our parents generations have given us. The record is Oneida’s tenth studio album, with the band flying the flag for the Brooklyn underground long before the recent boom of bands from the area. This triple album allows the listener to experience how the band arrives at their more stellar moments through experiments with sound and structure.

Oneida have always been impossible to trace to one style, and what begins as a bass heavy freak-minimal techno affair with a big beat feel on “Brown Out in Lagos” moves forward into the first CD’s more electronic music inspired structures. On “10:30 at the Oasis”, repetitious hooks, blips, beeps and general noises are layered in, all carried by a chugging riff, with beats created out of the most unlikely of distortion, and where rhythms wandering in and out to assure the listener that they are at all times fully in control of where each piece is going. The first two CDs are Krautrock experiments along the lines of Geoff Barrow’s Beak> record later in the year, with guitars beginning to take more of a presence towards the end of the first CD, and heavier, more psychedelic references on the second. However, it is CD3 where the record really makes its stand. The final CD strikes a brilliant harmony between intensity and ambiance, with unyielding Wooden Shjips-esque freak outs presented in a much less intense scenario, while utilizing a range of classic instrumentation, but in an environment well outside of their expected comfort zone. The record is experimental in the loosest sense, and there is a depth in structure to these tracks that, at points, feel like they could go on for infinity. Robert McCallum

 
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