Jul 01, 2009, 05:26AM

2009: The Best Music So Far

Only six months down, and there's already been too many good records to count. But let's try.

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We’re now halfway through 2009, and it’s time to take stock of the best of the many exemplary new releases and reissues from the last six odd months.

Since everyone with access to the Internet or a subscription to The New York Times knows about the glory and brilliance of Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, I’m not going to spill any more digital ink over their efforts. If you haven’t heard Merriweather Post Pavilion or Veckatimest, its time to take a deep breath and join the rest of us. Or remain indifferent. Either way here goes:

10. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (Downtown)
I haven’t spent very much time with this one, but a few cursory listens seem to indicate this is the Mos we’ve been waiting for since Black on Both Sides and the days of Black Star. It’s been all downhill from there, but Mos managed not to completely destroy all the goodwill his charm and lyrical skills accrued, despite a “fuck you” to his label and fans in the form of the despicable True Magic. The New Danger, his rock experiment, was also a disaster, and I was wondering if he was ever going to come back around. Starting with the striking cover image taken from Charles Burnett’s 1977 film, Killer of Sheep, and continuing through songs like “Quiet Dog,” and “Auditorium (feat. Slick Rick),” The Ecstatic is a success and a step in the right direction.

9. RTFO Bandwagon – Dums Will Survive (Dull Knife)
This Texan duo was one of those serendipitous Internet finds, recommended by Doug Mosurock in his terrific Still Single column and quickly ordered through PayPal, only to have me totally forget about it until the LP showed up on my doorstep. It only took a few reverb-drenched riffs before I deemed this one a winner, and at less than half an hour, it’s a front to back solid, and worthy of many repeat listens on my crowded turntable. This band hasn’t quite made it through the hype machine yet, and I suggest you try and track down their LP while you still can.

8. Lyman Woodard Organization – Saturday Night Special (Wax Poetics)
Lyman Woodard, Detroit’s beloved organ master, passed away this year, and Wax Poetics served up a fitting eulogy by reissuing his hard-to-find classic, Saturday Night Special in gorgeous deluxe, double LP form. The funk drips from the grooves as Woodard and his band (including crack guitarist Dennis Coffey of  “Scorpio” fame) evoke the Motor City with their idiosyncratic jazz/funk stylings. The Wax Poetics version is limited to 1500 copies, but I’m pretty sure a budget version is readily available.

7. The Muslims – S/T (1928 Recordings)
I think these guys go by the name Soft Pack now, which I don’t like as much as The Muslims, but whatever. It wasn’t the name that led me to grab this out of the Revolver distribution warehouse; it was the stark white cover, with three very real bullet holes (the band personally shot each copy). Despite the clever packaging gimmick, this band is no frills, catchy garage rock. Lo-fi, but not to the point of obscuring the melody or lyrics to songs like “Extinction” that usually have me nodding in righteous agreement and wishing there were more unpretentious rock ‘n roll bands to celebrate.

6. Extra Golden – Thank You Very Quickly (Drag City)
I love this band to an almost unhealthy degree, and they were the topic of my first article for this website. Thank You Very Quickly didn’t quite grab me the way their debut, OK-Oyot System did, but the cheerful benga beats and intertwining guitar lines are a welcome respite from a difficult world. The gratitude and pure joy in Extra Golden’s music will always remind me of Barack Obama, and if you haven’t heard how then-Sen. Obama helped these guys out, read that aforementioned article and bask in the ballerness of the coolest President ever.

5. Mississippi Records, all

Its hard for me to remember where 2008 ends and 2009 begins with this label, seeing as they have no website, and scant release information. I also wrote about the label a little while back, and they’ve done nothing since then that would cause me to dial back my effusive praise. Since then they’ve hit me with (among others) Bishop Perry Tillis’ In Times Like These, Irma Thomas Sings' I Woke up One Morning in May (blues compilation), Michael Hurley’s Armchair Boogie and The Spiritual Singers Ntsamina (Kenyan gospel). These are constantly going in and out of print, so grab any while you can.

4. Mi Ami – Watersports (Quarterstick)

It seems Mi Ami’s preferred medium is the 12”, but their first full length, Watersports is an impossible to describe combination of dub, punk and the inimitable voice of ex-Black Eyes lead singer Daniel Martin–McCormick. I’m not sure I love it quite as much as the African Rhythms 12”, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think this is one of the most innovative and exciting bands currently making music. Go see them live if you can.

3. V/A Downriver Revival (Numero Group)
I’m a little bit torn about Numero Group. On one hand, they reissue tremendously obscure music I never knew I was missing, with all the love, information and deluxe packaging a nerd like me could ever want. On the other hand, they’re doing it so fast and so well that its hurting my bank account trying to keep up. I haven’t had a chance to hear everything they’ve put out this year, but I have spent a good deal of time with Downriver Revival, and its more of the same gritty gospel and heavenly soul I’ve come to expect from the hands down best reissue label around.

2. Group Doueh – Treeg Salaam & Omar Souleyman – Highway to Hassake (Sublime Frequencies)
The vinyl versions of these sold out in a matter of days (An Amoeba employee told me his fellow employees had bought up multiple copies to sell later) and I had to order mine from the UK. The conversion rate was worth it though, as nobody puts together more eye-popping, ear-ravaging music of the world. Don’t make the mistake of calling this “world music” though; the people who run Sublime Frequencies out of Seattle would scoff at the term. If authenticity is an issue for you, you can’t get any closer to the faraway streets of Northern Africa and the Middle East than these limited LPs.

1. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson & Carlos Nino – Suite For Ma Dukes (Mochilla)
 I don’t normally go for tribute albums, but this isn’t really like that. I mean, yes, they are chamber music arrangements of J Dilla productions, but they are also so much more than that. You’ve never heard strings groove like this, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to someone that’s never heard J Dilla, doesn’t like classical music, or both. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson is a name to get familiar with now, an accomplished session viola player and arranger (credits range from Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock to Kanye West and Dr. Dre) before his solo work gains him even more notoriety. “Nag Champa” made Questlove cry, and a 36-piece ensemble’s performance of this suite in L.A. has already got Nino and Ferguson fielding calls daily from all over the world, begging for a reprise.

  • Personally, I found Group Doueh's previous release to be excellent and I'm having the hardest time even listening to Treeg Salaam. It may be a more accurate representation of the band's music (less direct Western riffing and longer, unedited jams) but it feels a lot less engrossing. Also, heard a mix you made the other day and was jazzed as shit to hear Black Velvet's "Is It Me You Really Love." Well done sir.

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