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2009 top albums

May 14, 2012

Favorite albums of the year – According to Cain
Herald & Review (Decatur, IL) – Friday, January 8, 2010
Author: TIM CAIN ; H&R Entertainment Editor
This is my 25th consecutive favorite albums list.

As always, it’s nothing more than my favorites. Anyone who would presume to name the best doesn’t share my eccentricities and my belief that we all have our own favorites.

Maybe there’s something here that will appeal to you. Maybe a couple of things here might widen your view of music.

Or for those of you who already know you disagree with my tastes, here are 15 albums to avoid.

To be fair and present the general critical consensus, by and large, these three albums are consistently listed among critics’ best of 2009:

Animal Collective, “Merriweather Post Pavilion”

Grizzly Bear, “Veckatimest”

Dirty Projectors, “Bitte Orca”

1. Mandy Moore, “Amanda Leigh”

Could it be something as simple as a harpsichord that makes Moore’s music suddenly more palatable to me? Maybe it’s the revelation of the “real” Moore, as would befit an album with her birth name. The co-writing and production work of power pop hero Mike Viola (long a personal favorite) doesn’t hurt, either. But the main reason this works is the honesty. Acoustic instrumentation makes Moore’s always excellent voice stand out, and she sings like she means it. This is as important to her career as “Back to Basics” was to Christina Aguilera’s.

Listen to: “Fern Dell”

2. Rosanne Cash. “The List”

Daddy would be proud. Cash’s father, legendary country music artist Johnny Cash, gave his daughter a list of 100 songs he thought she should know before she pursued music as a career. These are 12 of those songs. Rosanne makes many of them her own with unlikely reimaginings, from a slinky “I’m Movin’ On” to a melodic version of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.” Albums of others’ songs rarely work as well as this, especially for a singer-songwriter like Cash. Thanks, dad.

Listen to: “I’m Movin’ On”

3. Mika, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much”

The man who sounds frighteningly like Queen singer Freddie Mercury says his first album was a concept album about being a child, and this is a concept album about being a teenager. Whatever. The songs aren’t as immediately catchy as the first album ’s, but that doesn’t mean there’s a reduction of quality. This has more layers and more depth, but it’s equally joyful. Not since Brian Wilson has a falsetto been so amazing and so appealing.

Listen to: “We Are Golden”

4. “Tinted Windows”

What Them Crooked Vultures was to the classic rock crowd (with a Foo Fighter, a Led Zeppelin and a Queens of the Stone Age), Tinted Windows was to the (admittedly considerably smaller) power pop crowd (with a Cheap Trick, a Hanson, a Smashing Pumpkins and a Fountains of Wayne). You can imagine what they sound like if you know Cheap Trick or “Stacy’s Mom,” and someday Taylor Hanson will be recognized as the great vocalist he is.

Listen to: “Kind of a Girl”

5. Raul Malo, “Lucky One”

Wow. If you don’t think this guy has one of the greatest male voices recording today, you need to make your list public so we can all listen to some treasures. Malo was the singer for The Mavericks, the trend-bucking country band of the 1990s, but this album bears little resemblance to what today’s listeners consider country, which may explain why it struggled to find a spot in the marketplace. Too bad. There truly is something here for everyone.

Listen to: “Moonlight Kiss”

6. AC Newman, “Get Guilty”

Newman is also the creative force behind The New Pornographers, a personal favorite, primarily because of Newman’s efforts. These songs are pop in form but toss in unexpected chord changes, unlikely instrumental variations and lyrics you gradually catch with repeated listens. (Not that knowing what they are helps with understanding the songs at all.) That said, to listen only takes as much effort as you’re willing to put forth.

Listen to: “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve”

7. A Camp, “Colonia”

You know singer Nina Persson’s voice; she’s the singer for The Cardigans, whose “Lovefool” was everywhere in the late 1990s. A Camp spotlights the more “adult” version of Persson’s vocals — nothing cloyingly cute here, and her multi-tracked backing vocals sound like angels straight off the “Avatar” soundtrack. Intelligent lyrics with fresh takes on love and loss make this a repeater.

Listen to: “Love Has Left the Room”

8. Dipsomaniacs, “Social Crutch”

Upbeat, up tempo, rocking, melodic and confident. The Dipsomaniacs have been playing their rapid-fire power pop for years, and it shows in the effortlessly fun results here. Like a little brother to Cheap Trick or the early version of The Who (before they started recording concept albums ), Dipsomaniacs can pin your ears to the back of the room.

Listen to: “Kids on Base”

9. Cheap Trick, “The Latest”

Like Bob Dylan, everything Cheap Trick has done in the last 30 years is measured against a career peak. (“Blood on the Tracks” for Dylan, “Live at Budokan” for Cheap Trick.) Meant in the best possible way, this could have followed up that live breakout for Cheap Trick. If you’d rather hear them play “Surrender” than “The Flame,” this will make you very happy.

Listen to: “When the Lights Are Out”

10. 7 Worlds Collide, “The Sun Came Out”

This may be the most bizarre and unlikely supergroup ever, centered on Neil Finn (Crowded House). It includes K.T. Tunstall, Johnny Marr of The Smith, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Lisa Germano, a couple of guys from Radiohead, and more. The 24 cuts on this double disc might be overkill, but no two people could agree on which 14 to keep and which 10 to cut for a single disc. There’s pop traditional and pop experimental, and those involved sound as if they’re having more fun than they’ve had in years.

Listen to: “Too Blue”

10a. 1990s, “Kicks”

Include me among those who continually underestimate this band. All they do is churn out good song after good song, using a vibe drawn equally from New Wave pop of the late 1970s and indie pop rock of the 1990s. They’re very European. XTC would be a good measuring stick.

Listen to: “I Don’t Even Know What That Is”

12. Jill Sobule, “California Years”

Sobule’s fans (including this writer) funded this effort, a true grass roots effort. It’s not as quirky as her other recent efforts, both a strength and a weakness. But Sobule maintains her keen eye for the little details that slip past others. “Where Is Bobbie Gentry?” wonders about the location of the “Ode to Billie Joe” singer, who has been out of the public eye for 30 years, and is the best of the lot.

Listen to: “Where Is Bobbie Gentry?”

13. Robyn Hitchcock, “Goodnight Oslo”

It starts better than it concludes, which is a trait of Hitchcock’s efforts this decade. Yet the start here is his strongest in years. Hitchcock is an odd troubadour who writes songs so personal they’re sometimes inscrutable. And sometimes he adds in references to flora and fauna to make it even weirder. He’s an acquired taste, but there’s always something worthwhile in what he offers.

Listen to: “What You Is”

14. Miss Li, “Dancing the Whole Way Home”

More people have heard Miss Li than anything else on this list, thanks to the use of “Bourgeois Shangri-La” in an iPod nano ad (“gotta gotta gotta get away …”). The album is a little darker than that brief snippet might suggest — “Bourgeois Shangri-La” blasts consumerism, and “Dirty Old Man” chides a clubbing senior hitting on teens. Miss Li’s voice is the selling point and makes it all something close to post-ironic.

Listen to: “Bourgeois Shangri-La”

15. Fastball, “Little White Lies”

Short, sweet, lyrical pop songs about lost love, with nice tight John-and-Paul kinds of harmonies — what’s not to like? If these kind of silly love songs were so easy to write, wouldn’t everybody be doing it? The title track may be the best thing they’ve ever done, and that comes from someone who still loves their hit “The Way.”

Listen to: “All I Was Looking For Was You”


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