Favorite Albums of 2009

Like last year, I spent (way too much?) time going through iTunes to pick some stand-outs for my year in music. Like the previous list, most of these didn't actually come out this year, but 2009 was the first time I gave them a serious listen. I'll go month-by-month again, and holy cow January was amazing... January frank sinatra sings for only the lonely

Two fantastic albums from Frank Sinatra: both Only the Lonely and the earlier In the Wee Small Hours deal with the same sort of late-night streetlight melancholy.

Rush, Permanent Waves. The Spirit of Radio is a great way to start the year, no?

From Nashville to Memphis is a great Elvis collection. It's got most of the hits you expect, some lesser-knowns and some good covers.

And another crooner: Cool Spring collects a couple Chet Baker sessions over in Italy. When I Fall in Love is one of my favorites.

Ali Farka Touré. I listened to the Red and Green albums and the self-titled album later this year, but this month's Niafunke was the best of all. I like the richer sound and more varied instrumentation here.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Dust to Gold. This is the only thing from him that I've heard. I wonder if it's just the novelty that keeps me coming back, but I don't regret it. Khawaja Tum Hi Ho (Master It Is Only You) is a good one.

February My friend Kat Edmonson released Take to the Sky. w00t. Incredible voice and smart arrangements.

Eva Cassidy's posthumous Somewhere is full of great covers. Some are folky, some are blues-rocky-y, and there's the old ballad that just kills me every time, My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose.

March works of igor stravinsky

March was Igor Stravinsky Month around here. Thanks to Alex Ross' tip, I picked up that 22-disc Works of Igor Stravinsky. When you're exposed to a full life's work, you may hear as much that's mediocre as is brilliant, but you also get a sense of all the labor that goes into it.

The Song from the Hill is a set of recordings of the Wind Harp, this giant sound sculpture on a hilltop in Vermont. Spooky, droning ambient-type stuff.

The Byrds. Mr. Tambourine Man. This is one of those albums that's just unbelievably chock full of fantastic songs. I had no idea.

April Kind of a weak month compared to the first three, but I did enjoy Diana Krall's Quiet Nights and a collection of Richard Strauss' work for voice and orchestra, Four Last Songs.

May lady in satin

Lady in Satin, my friends. It was one of Billie Holiday's last albums. You've got her aging voice taking on all-new material, backed (atypically) with a string orchestra. It is so good. For Heaven's Sake and I'm a Fool to Want You are the stand-outs for me.

A lot of John Coltrane's stuff leaves me feeling "eh", but I thought Dear Old Stockholm was really nice. Dear Lord is my pick.

This was my first exposure to Beach House. Treat yourself to their self-titled album and Devotion, and you will be in a happier place. Teen Dream will also rock you, no doubt.

June I came across Miles Davis' Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions late in the month. Lots of good stuff there, collecting tracks from the same sessions that were released separately back in the mid-50s.

Back in college when I was in the orchestra, we did Ravi Shankar's concerto featured on Sitar Concerto & Other Works. Perhaps the nostalgia influences this choice, but the other pieces are interesting in their own right.

July heaven or las vegas

Cocteau Twins were totally new to me. Heaven or Las Vegas is really excellent. See also Treasure and Garlands.

Maybe it's not really summer music, but I finally gave Elliott Smith some attention. I think Figure 8 narrowly wins over XO and Either/Or.

I might be including Dr. Dre's 2001 simply on the strength of its opening tune, The Watcher. Makes me wish he'd spent more time on the mic these past couple decades. Nice new take on the familiar G-funk sound.

August bringing it all back home

A weak month, but I sat with another album it took me a while to catch up on: Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home. It's really good, y'all.

September younger than yesterday

Another excellent month. Another round of success with The Byrds. This time it was Younger Than Yesterday and yet again, it's another kind of ridiculously saturated-with-goodness album.

Follow that with Intimate Voices, with the Emerson Quartet playing works by Carl Nielsen, Edvard Grieg and my beloved Jean Sibelius.

This month was also the first time I'd heard Mahler's 9th Symphony all the way through, so I can't really compare this recording to interpretations. This piece is exhausting. In a good way, I think.

If you only know Erik Satie for his Trois Gymnopédies, then you are cheating yourself. His other piano works deserve your attention. The Gnossiennes are great.

I learned about Symphonies of the Planets from a friend at work. It's ambient space music based on the NASA Voyager Recordings. Great stuff, if you can track it down.

walnut whales

I love Joanna Newsom, but had never heard her early, self-distributed Walnut Whales EP. That early organ version of Peach Plum Pear is so good.

I closed out the month with another epic box set: Rostropovich: The Russian Years, 1950-1974. Many of the recordings are premieres. And there's even a few recordings with the composers (e.g. Shostakovich) accompanying on piano. I think that kind of personal, of-the-moment touch adds some life to the listening experience.

October john coltrane and johnny hartman

The 1st of the month brought John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman into my life. It's barely a half-hour, but man, it is fantastic. My One And Only Love is the clincher.

October also turned into Leonard Cohen Month. Death of a Ladies' Man might be the favorite, but I'm Your Man is close behind. See also: every other album. They're all good.

St. Vincent. Actor. Go get it. When I blipped Human Racing, I mentioned that the album gets stronger as it goes on. I stand by that statement and also can't help but recommend Marry Me.

I closed out the month with some great soul. Sam Cooke's Night Beat will make you really depressed that he died so soon after. And Marvin Gaye might have stretched himself a bit thin on Here, My Dear, but I love some of the anger and frustration there. Check out When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You.

November ralf and florian

November was Kraftwerk Month. I was familiar with the standard post-Autobahn Kraftwerk canon, but the early ones were nothing like I expected and also very good. Tone Float is trippy psychedelic-jam stuff from before they were Kraftwerk. And the self-titled albums are nice, but Ralf and Florian is probably my favorite from this era.

I'm not much of a Moby fan, but I was quite surprised with Wait for Me. The pace is more chill, the sound more personal. Really good.

In the same vein, a lot of Velvet Underground leaves me feeling "eh", but Loaded, like the stuff from The Byrds earlier this year, is just packed with goodness. Though I hear it's a somewhat divisive album...

December It may be too early to tell, but right now I think the best has been the last three albums in Brian Eno's Ambient series, Paul & Linda McCartney's Ram, and, out of nowhere, Wulomei's album Kpabi.