My friend Luke asked a bunch of us from the Hawthorn Community for our “top tens” for music for 2009. I decided to go with 9, and to note my heavy indebtedness to Luke for this list. This list is also apparently heavily indebted to the great state of North Carolina, toward which I am seemingly more and more drawn… I’m listing individual tracks, but in all of the cases I recommend the album as a whole.
9. The Fray “The Fray” -Ungodly Hour
This breaks the mold of hipster-esque “I have sophisticated taste in music” right at the get go, but two of my friends from high school are in The Fray, and so I feel I am obliged to ignore the scoffing at their popularity. I thought their second major-release album was better than the first, and I will continue to brave the hordes of emotional high school girls to listen to them. “Ungodly Hour” is haunting, mostly due to Ben’s drumming.
8. Neko Case “Middle Cyclone” -People Got a Lot of Nerve
“So the saying says, an Elephant never forgets.” What a genius way to start a song. Oh, I know, and lets end the album with a half hour of crickets tweeting in a swamp. In between this chick-rocker does some serious damage, and I love it.
7. The Dirty Projectors “Bitte Orca” -Temecula Sunrise
A guy named Luke showed up at Hawthorn House this summer, trying to drag us all to see some group called “The Dirty Projectors.” The show was sold out before we figured out we should have gotten tickets. Luke ended up influencing a lot of my musical taste for the summer season, and this album was the keystone in it all. Listening to “Temecula Sunrise” as we drove through Temecula on the way to camp at the La Jolla Indian Reservation was a highlight of the season.
6. The Mountain Goats “The Life of the World to Come” -Hebrews 11:40
This fall has been about “eschatology” for me, contemplating how faith relates to the hope we have for the future, what the end times looks like, how we imagine “thy kingdom come.” How do we live that now? I read this album (which I’m still working my way through) as a musical meditation on eschatology, and how can a Bible nerd not include the Bible album. I picked the song from Hebrews because that book of the Bible has been shaping my theology lately, but listen to the whole album. The music is FANTASTIC.
5. Madera Limpia “La Corona” -Boca Floja.
Technically this was released in 2008, but NPR didn’t catch on until early 2009, and so white people started listening later. This album is the antidote to the hours upon hours of crappy Reggeaton I was forced to listen to in Honduras. Madera Limpia is a young group from Guantanamo, Cuba. There lyrics are inspiring, positive toward women, and build up La Raza. They also will make you run faster.
4. Ben Folds “University A Capella” -Effington
Ben Folds decided to release a “greatest hits” album by allowing various University A Capella groups to record his songs. The result is brilliant. Ben recorded a couple of songs himself, layering track upon track of his own vocals. This version of “Effington” is fantastic. I listened to it while driving by Normal, Illinois this summer and laughed. If there’s a God, He is laughing at us, and our football teams.
3. The Avett Brothers “I and Love and You EP” -I and Love and You
The Avett Brothers are by far my favorite discovery of 2009. About 4 different sources brought them to me at the same time, and I am thankful. The EP that came out before the album “I and Love and You” is fantastic, especially “Kick Drum Heart.” The album itself is great as well. These boys make me want to move to Western North Carolina.
2. Regina Spektor “Far” -Laughing With
I’ve been listening to Regina for five years now. My buddy Trent and I discovered her at two in the morning on MTV2 in 2005, and I never looked back. Her album this year adds to the phenomenal collection of music she has generated. Her song “Laughing With” is beautiful theology that became my theme song for my summer CPE internship. No one laughs at God in a hospital.
1. The Decemberists “The Hazards of Love” -Annan Water
By far the zenith of my 2009 musical life was witnessing the Hazards of Love tour by the Decemberists at the Fillmore in Denver, CO. The album, like most Decemberists albums, tells a story. The show was staged almost as an opera, with costume changes and lighting effects. Colin Meloy is a wicked genius.