2009: Rob Hatch-Miller
For me, 2009 has been a year of momentous change, personal and professional beginnings and endings, intense satisfaction about the inauguration of our still relatively new President, followed by no shortage of frustration and disappointment. Though I must say I think he’s done about as well as he possibly could, given the circumstances.
There were many, many music-related highlights, two of which I’ll share here: Michael Jackson’s untimely death provided a perfect excuse to share one of my all-time favorite home videos with the world. And not only did I get to meet one of my musical heroes this year – Alex Chilton of Big Star and the Box Tops – I also got an in-depth astrological reading out of him and learned that apparently the next two years of my life are going to be great. If you ask me, that’s pretty hard to beat.
As the year winds to a close and I once again find myself scrolling through list after list of great records that I never got a chance to listen to, I feel obliged to mention that I would never feel comfortable declaring anything to be objectively "the best." What follows is merely a list of 10 new releases, followed by 10 new reissues, that made a favorable and lasting impression on me in the past year.
I’m really kind of shocked that I haven’t seen Dâm-Funk’s album on that many year-end lists so far. Released first as five individual 12"s and more recently as a CD, this LA producer’s debut double album is two-and-a-half hours of opulent, cocky, retro, crazily ambitious and stoned synth and vocoder goodness. I’m guessing a whole lot of hip hop moguls have this guy on speed dial by now. Prince ought to hire him to work on his next album; it would make for one hell of a comeback.
My vote for band of the decade. After every album I think to myself, "how can they possibly top this?" And they somehow manage to do it every time.
I’m sure i’m not the only one who slept on this fantastic bedroom disco record last year when it was available on LP and CD-R. After this album, her two 12"s on Italians Do It Better, and a new and hopefully ongoing collaboration with Dam Funk, I’m expecting excellent things from Nite Jewel.
I must admit that I was not expecting to like Cuban Linx 2 at all. Ghostface was basically carrying the Wu Tang torch on his own for a little while, but his last two albums have been pretty lackluster, and Rae definitely hadn’t put out a consistent LP since the original in 1995. Lo and behold, this turned out to be one of the better hip-hop albums of the year, with amazing beats from RZA, J Dilla and Pete Rock (plus a couple of duds from celebrity soda pitchman Dr. Dre).
Their first album for Thrill Jockey after two on their own label and a great 12" on Catsup Plate last year (as well as Koen Holtkamp’s acclaimed record on Type), Choral is a welcome introduction of Mountains to a wider audience. They’ve preserved the aesthetic of their earlier work while also embracing a more prominent and straightforward sense of melody, which I think makes this their most listenable and enjoyable record yet.
I’m so glad this obnoxious and egotistical Degrassi High alum is on whenever I turn on the radio. Sure it’s a guilty pleasure, but the singles are just so incredibly catchy.
Here’s another group that has yet to make a record that I don’t love. This one is definitely their weirdest, with only a couple of real "songs," but the record has so many great ideas and moments, and such a spooky flow from beginning to end.
The duo of Duane Harriott and Professor Genius (Italians Do It Better) released their first two 12"s this year, my favorite of the two is this amazing re-edit of Loleatta Holloway’s "We’re Getting Stronger." Dâm-Funk plays keyboard on the B-side.
I had to pick at least one of the many enjoyable scuzzy lo-fi records from the Sacred Bones/Captured Tracks realm, so why not Zola Jesus? I saw them (her?) play at the end of 2008 and really didn’t like the show all that much, but a few of the songs on this LP really grabbed me.
Edan is one of my favorite DJs and hip-hop producers. I’ve been eagerly waiting and waiting for him to put out a new record, and while Echo Party isn’t that--it’s really more of a DJ mix--it totally whet my appetite for more Edan. Maybe Raekwon could use him for Cuban Linx 3.
Before this year, very few people even knew this amazing black proto-punk band from Detroit even existed. The two tracks from their lone 1975 single ("Politicians In My Eyes" and "Keep On Knocking") will make your jaw drop.
V/A - Total-Pop Volume One (Total-Pop) This was a limited edition vinyl-only compilaton of rare Swedish D.I.Y. punk, full of totally obscure gems. Can’t wait for volume two.
New York’s finest used record store got into the reissue business this year, releasing three totally amazing African funk and soul records. The first one they put out, by a band called Ofege, might be the best of the three, but I just picked up SJOB Movement and I’ve been listening to it non-stop.
The guys at Numero dug up and dusted off a selection of tracks from obscure male singer-songwriters for this excellent compilation.
Another new reissue label, Big Pink, put out a bunch of interesting things in 2009. My favorite is this rare private press album by Link Wray’s brother Vernon. It’s sort of like the Wray’s Three Track Shack stuff that was reissued on CD a few years back, but with a little more of a country vibe.
A killer selection of weird and wonderful French pop from the 1970s, put together by the guys who brought us that Dirty Space Disco compilation a few years back.
Sing Sing Records is a new reissue label that sprang up in 2009, specializing in impossibly rare power pop and punk 7"s. So far just about everything they’ve put out is completely awesome. Here’s hoping they move into compilation CDs and maybe LP reissues at some point, but for now their catalog and upcoming release list is impeccable.
I’d heard some of Nicolas Collins’s compositions in the past, but wasn’t aware of this incredible piece from 1986. It’s sort of an experimental hip-hop album, with Collins sampling bits of songs from the radio and looping them. The reissue includes four totally different performances of Devil’s Music, plus a link to download software you can use to perform your own version of the piece.
The Beatles as they were meant to be heard. At least up until The White Album, the mono mixes of their albums were done much more carefully and with the band’s participation, while the stereo mixes were done quickly and after the fact. These new remasters sound incredibly rich and really different from the CDs I grew up listening to. I was particularly struck by how goddamned heavy and awesome Ringo’s drums sound on Sgt. Pepper. Much more than just a scam to extract even more money from rabid Beatles fans’ wallets.
Big Star - Keep An Eye On The Sky (Rhino) Sure I already had all the Big Star albums on LP and CD, and most of the "bonus" material on other discs and compilations, but Alex Chilton’s newly unearthed Sister Lovers demos are absolutely incredible. I don’t think there’s anything I listened to as many times in 2009.
By Rob Hatch-Miller