Monday, December 14, 2009

Top 10 CDs of 2009

Well, it's been a long time since I've been a music critic listening to hundreds upon hundreds of the 100,000 albums that reportedly come out each year. I was about as "in the know" as one could be--and yet totally clueless about the vast majority of music coming out. In fact, it used to be funny when I'd tell people I was a music critic and they'd be utterly shocked when I'd never heard of their favorite artist du jour. Telling them that there were something like 100,000 CDs that came out that year was no excuse. I'm guessing it wasn't. But there's just too much stuff out there to be up on most of it, and I felt totally secure in my ignorance.

Well, no longer being a music critic, I'm even more ignoranter now. But I still like my music. I don't really try all that hard to keep up with what's going on, but I do happen upon stuff that I really enjoy. I thought, since I haven't blogged in awhile, I'd share my ten favorite discs of the year. I liked a bunch of stuff this year and actually feel bad about a bunch of the stuff that I didn't include.

Please don't treat this as an authoritative list (after all, I don't know shit). Just think of it as a helpful Christmas guide for that know-it-all smart-ass music fiend who always scoffs at what you give them for Christmas (we are soooo ungrateful).

1. Mos Def - The Ecstatic

Yeah, yeah. I know. Mos was soooo last millennium. I get a lot of crap at work for still liking the Defster, but I can't help it. I think he's actually striving towards genius, and I gotta respect it. Black Star and Black on Both Sides are hip-hop classics, and I think The New Danger should be. True Magic was true crap, but I think Black Dante really redeemed himself with The Ecstatic--even though, there are moments where it sounds like a Stones Throw compilation. Madlib got lazy on this one and just used a beat from one of his Beat Konducta tracks. But still ... Madlib, Oh No, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Chad Hugo from N.E.R.D. teamed up to produce one hell of an album. Now, dear co-workers, ridicule away!

2. Blakroc - Blakroc

The '90s had The Heavy Rhyme Experience, and the 2Gs will (just barely) have this album--where a great band teamed up with some of the best rappers around to give us one of the best musical experiences a hip-hop head can have. Confession: I was never much of a fan of The Brand New Heavies nor The Heavy Rhyme Experience. However, I am a fan of the Black Keys, and I do love this disc. They've got Luda, ODB, Q-Tip, Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Nicole Wray (who can sing her ass off), Rza, Raekwon, Jim Jones, and NOE (who sounds a little too Jay-Z for me. But M.O.P.'s Billy Danze is the one who really stands out here. His ubertestosterone vocals mesh perfectly with the BKs' dirty rock stylee. Blakroc is the best mix of rock and rap since Rage gave up their battle against the Machine.

3. Passion Pit - Manners

Yeah. I wrote about these guys before. And what I wrote about them before still stands:

"I don't know exactly how to describe them. Maybe something like--2Gs electro-rockers with a taste for late '80s dance music and a dash of the Beach Boys. Something along those lines. Maybe."

Let me just add that they are catchy as hell. Just listen to "The Reeling" to see what I'm talking about. I just can't stop returning to that song and this album--no matter how hard I try. I think I'll be listening to this one for years to come.

4. The Heavy - The House That Dirt Built

I'm a bit of a The Heavy fan. Actually, I try screaming their praises every chance I get. You don't hear me, dough. Not that I blame you. I've been trying to ignore myself for years. Anyway, I used to describe their first album, Great Vengeance and Furious Fire, like: "Well, imagine if Lenny Kravitz didn't suck." That album had more of a dirty, retro funk--like Poets of Rhythm, Sugarman Three, and Sharon Jones--feel than this one does. This is more of a hard-rocker. I still love it, though. I hate it when artists give me the exact same thing on their sophomore efforts.

5. Shafiq Husayn - En' A-Free-Ka

Now, if my scuttlebutt is correct, Sa-Ra (of which, Shafiq is a part) felt shackled by Babygrande on their debut release, The Hollywood Recordings. They celebrated their release from the major label with a 23-song release on one of my favorite indy labels, Ubiquity. That album, Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love is a sound to behold. There aren't too many creative forces in R&B these days trying to make lasting music, and I applaud Sa-Ra's efforts. However, I'm from the LP era. Give me your best 9-10 songs and leave me begging for more. After listening to Nuke Eve a few times, I'm left begging for Gatorade to replenish my electrolytes and an extra cranium to help me digest it all.

I enjoy Shafiq's solo En' A-Free-Ka much more. Yeah. It's 17 songs long, but it doesn't feel as exhaustive. Also, I feel like I know where Sa-Ra's coming from a bit more easily--like they're on a Sly-and-the-Family-Clinton-Prince-3000 train that I've been on before. Shafiq feels a bit more unique. If you're of the Mary J. Blige school of R&B, I don't think you'll enjoy this much. But if you can handle Badu, you'll definitely want to check Shafiq--and Sa-Ra--out.

6. Major Lazer - Guns Don't Kill People ... Lazers Do

I love Diplo and his music so much, I even dedicated an entry in My Booty Novel to a Diplo set I went to. Major Lazer is the brainchild of Diplo and Switch. Oh, wait. According to Amazon, Major Lazer is ...

"a Jamaican commando who lost his arm in the secret Zombie War of 1984. The US military rescued him and repurposed experimental lazers as prosthetic limbs. Since then Major Lazer has been a hired renegade soldier for a rogue government operating in secrecy underneath the watch of M5 and the CIA. His cover is that of a dancehall night club owner from Trinidad and he enlisted the help of long-time allies and uber-producers, Diplo and Switch, to produce his first LP. His true mission is to protect the world from the dark forces of evil that live just under the surface of a civilized society. He fights vampires and various monsters, parties hard, and has a rocket powered skateboard."

Yes, these white boys are crazy. And so is their music. Guns Don't Kill People ... is a futuristic dancehall madhouse where Baltimore, Rio, and Kingston collide in Diplo and Switch's hands to give you a maddening dance adventure you ain't never heard before. Amanda Blank and Santogold make appearances, of course, along with a bunch of dancehall wizards to provide one magical experience.

7. Diamond District - In the Ruff

I think half of my co-workers are somehow involved in the DC hip-hop scene. As a result, I've been exposed to what my adopted town has to offer, and I gotta tell ya, I like it. For those who keep clamoring that hip-hop is dead, come to DC to have the life breathed back into your hopes. Oddisee is our local super-producer. He's got those hyperbolic drums much like Black Milk, and, like Tronic, every track jumps out at you, smacks you in the face, and steals your wallet. Rapper XO is pretty cool. And I'm a big fan of yU, whose Before Taxes was bound to make this list, but I wasn't sure if it came out in '09 or '08. Cop that, too, if you can find it.

8. The Dead Weather - Horehound

Jack White is one of the reasons I actually started listening to rock again after 20+ years of hating the stuff. Oh yes, I can listen to the White Stripes all day long. I even like his other side project, The Raconteurs. But this ... this I fell in love with. I can't get enough of lead singer Alison Mosshart's voice (I guess I'll have to check her out in The Kills). The two together--with an all-star band of musicians from groups I've never listened to--have created something so rough, so rugged, so raw, I find myself huddled in the corner of the shower, scrubbing my black ass pink under the scalding-hot water, until I somehow feel clean again. Oh yes, you can call it love.

9. Tegan & Sara - Sainthood

I generally like my music pretty rough around the edges. Hostility and aggression are also admirable qualities. I've gotta tell you, I'm surprised these sisters are on this list myself. I'm chalking up to a Celebration of My Inner White Girl. All I can say is that Tegan and Sara's power pop is so infectious that, by the second time I listened to Sainthood, I was already singing along. And whenever I need a feelgood moment, this is the disc I turn to.

10. Doom - Born Like This

There was a time, not too long ago, when MF Doom would've dominated any Top 10 list I could come up with. Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah, Madvillainy, DangerDoom. The man's genius seemed to know no bounds. Even without the MF (I hear he got sued over it--which I guess means that Grimm is the only MF left in hip-hop), Doom is still one of my favorite MCs. He didn't blow my mind on this one, but Born Like This still deserves to be on any Best of list for 2009.

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