My 13 Favorite Albums of 2009 13-6

Well, here we are in 2010, the year we make contact. For those of you who don’t know, a new federal law went into effect at midnight on New Year’s Day: if you hear any of your fellow citizens call this year “oh-ten”, it is legal to punch them in the face exactly one time.

Having safely seen 2009 out the door, I think it’s time to start talking shit about it. Everyone loves a list, especially one that doesn’t include Animal Collective or Phoenix, so I compiled a list of my 13 favorite albums of 2009. I don’t know if they’re the best albums of the year or not and I don’t care. They’re the ones I like the best and, honestly, I think that’s all anyone can say. Also, my list contains 14 albums (well, technically, 13 albums and an EP) because there was a tie. Anyway, feast yer eyes on this here list (helpfully rendered in a distinctly non-slide-show format):

13. Lord Cut-Glass, Lord Cut-Glass. I’ll just assume everyone knows that Lord Cut-Glass is really former Delgado Alun Woodward. And I know that my review of this record spent a good deal of time bitching about how the Delgados ought to just reunite, come to the U.S. and play shows in the courtyard of my apartment complex. But the fact remains that Lord Cut-Glass is a really beautiful record; Woodward lilts over plucked acoustic guitars and low brass, quietly issuing some of the best melodies of his career. Highlights include “Picasso,” “Even Jesus Couldn’t Love You,” “Holy Fuck,” “A Pulse” and “Big Time Teddy.”

12. Mike Doughty, Sad Man Happy Man. Last year, Doughty put out an album called Golden Delicious that I liked well enough at first. And then it kinda grew off of me with a stunning quickness. Just wasn’t feeling it, I guess. However, because I love Mike Doughty, I’m always willing to listen to his stuff. This year, he put out the superb Sad Man Happy Man, which I nabbed from Amazon’s digital store for five freaking bucks (gargle my balls, I-Tunes). SMHM is driven by Doughty’s chunky guitar strumming and absurd humor, and it’s my favorite album of his since Skittish (which has to be one of the most underrated albums I’ve ever heard). It opens with one of its best moments, “Nectarine (Part Two)” and also includes the coolest prayer ever (“Lord Lord Help Me Just to Rock Rock On”) and “Year of the Dog,” which might be Doughty’s best tune since “Sweet Lord in Heaven.”

11. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz. 2009 was a great year for some of my favorite female vocalists, not least of whom is Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Not only did I get to delight in an affordable deluxe edition of It’s Blitz! (Amazon’s mp3 store has not yet let me down in the cheap goodies department), but I got to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play a kickass set at Coachella (one of the best sets I saw at that festival). The album is filled with awesome turbo-pop (starting with a pair of aces in “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll”) and a few pretty ballads (“Hysteric” splits the difference between the two types of song and is, in two words, fucking awesome). It’s Blitz! firmly established the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as one of the best bands in America and their live shows will back that claim up for the doubters.

10. Brother Ali, Us. I could make a joke about how Brother Ali is the king of white rap (ha ha, because he’s an albino, ha ha), but, taking Us as exhibit A for the prosecution, it’s more accurate to place Ali near the top of the hip-hop heap, regardless of skin pigment. Jay-Z has never, in my estimation, done anything to rival  “Tightrope” or “The Travelers.” To my knowledge, he’s never even tried. With Us, Ali threw down a gauntlet of new rules for the hip-hop community, chief among them: no skits and fewer songs about how badass you are (Us has ’em, but they’re matched pound for pound by songs of real substance and at least one tune wherein Ali shows gratitude for his good fortune, saying, “I’m the luckiest sonofabitch that ever lived”). Us is a truly refreshing album, and it stays fresh with every listen.

9. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career. Speaking of refreshing, Camera Obscura released one hell of an orchestral pop album last year. My Maudlin Career, despite its potentially emo-sounding name, starts and ends with a bang (“French Navy” and “Honey in the Sun”, respectively) – in between, Tracyanne Campbell drops lines like “when you’re lucid, you’re the sweetest thing” and “drinking has never been the same again”, the latter from the stellar, mournful ballad “Other Towns and Cities”. My Maudlin Career is so good that I think almost anyone who likes music will like it. But some people who like music like Wavves, so I could be wrong.

8. The Minus 5, Killingsworth. Killingsworth is the album that elevated Scott McCaughey from Person of Interest to Folk Hero in my estimation. It’s basically a dark country rock album, but it’s so fully realized and wittily rendered (“your wedding day was so well-planned/ like a German occupation”) that it cannot be denied. Backed by an excellent chorus of women, McCaughey sings of lurking barristers, broken love, and crowded urban apartment life (“Big Beat Up Moon”) with a drunken weariness that is deeply appealing to young curmudgeons like myself. He also takes the time to satirize fundamentalist Christianity on “I Would Rather Sacrifice You”, a song that never fails to but a big smile on my face.

7. The Future of the Left, Travels with Myself and Another. I have said many times that, all appearances to the contrary, I like more music than I dislike. A small subsection of music that I like is nasty, noisy stuff that almost no one else I know likes. Titus Andronicus comes to mind here, as does the Future of the Left, whose Travels with Myself and Another beat its way into my skull and won my heart last year with its pounding drums and Andy Falkous’s snarling vocals. Subjects range from girls who get off on hitting people (“Chin Music” will only be appropriate at a very small number of weddings:  “I only hit him ’cause he made me crazy/ I only hit him ’cause he made me mad/ she only hit him ’cause it gets her wet/ yeah, she’s one of a kind/ she’s got chin music”) to the practical concerns of Satanism (“You Need Satan More than He Needs You”). Travels with Myself and Another pretty much kicks ass, though it’s not for the faint of heart or the humorless.

6. Andrew Bird, Noble Beast. I guess #7 and #6 on my list are a study in contrast. Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast is an understated, mellow, and completely lovely work – his finest to date, if I may be so bold. It blends Bird’s myriad musical talents (no one on earth – no one – can whistle like this motherfucker) into quirky pop (“Fitz and the Dizzyspells”), old school folk (“Effigy,” which is nothing short of stunning), and whatever you’d classify “Not a Robot, But a Ghost” as. Some of the songs have unique movements, but they never seem to wander, even on the seven minute “Souverian.” Bird is a musician’s musician, a guy you can study as well as enjoy, and Noble Beast is the textbook for aspiring musical ninjas.

I know. It’s taken me four days into the new year to even start counting down my favorite albums of the old year and now I’m doing it in two parts. Pitchfork took a week to do their list and they still fucked it up, so maybe it’s better that I’m taking my time. I, for one, wholeheartedly endorse every choice I’ve made so far. Tune in tomorrow or Wednesday for albums 5 through 1, which are bound to include demure rodents, plenty of references to whiskey, a rant about shitty record labels, the best pop album of the year, the word vagina, and plenty of weather.

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Lord Cut-Glass and the Necessity of a Delgados Reunion

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Ah, Scotland. You’ve coughed up some good shit in this young century. Franz Ferdinand is awesome. Frightened Rabbit is awesome. I’ll forgive you for We Were Promised Jetpacks (I’m not sure “Jetpacks” should be one word, but that’s how the band spells it). And, of course, you gave us the Delgados.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it – the Delgados were the most underrated band of my life so far. Most bands don’t make a single album as good as their five albums were and, lest we forget, one of the Delgados’ albums was Hate, one of the best albums ever made. Ever. But alas, the Delgados are no more. Emma Pollock made a great solo album and is reportedly working on another one (and perhaps a tour of the U.S.? Or maybe just a city where I can see her? I’ll buy however many pints it takes to persuade you, Emma Pollock). And now Pollock’s fellow Delgados vocalist, Alun Woodward, has released a solo album as Lord Cut-Glass.

His Lordship’s debut is great. Not gonna mince words because there are even more important topics to cover here. Woodward is a great singer and his album is driven by acoustic guitars, brushed drums (played by Paul Savage, who was the drummer for the Delgados. And he’s married to Emma Pollock. But more on this later) and well-placed horn and string arrangments. He possess a gift for lyrical snark that few songwriters can match – the lead-off track is called “Even Jesus Couldn’t Love You,” for crying out loud (he taunts whoever he aimed this song at – dog help ’em – with the line, “Did your pony not wuv you/ reject you and buck you?” and later delivers the knock out blow, “There is absolutely nothing to you”). Even the love songs are dark and vulnerable in a way that only Woodward can be – “A Pulse” gives us the line “I’m nothing at all without love” and follows it with “I need to be loved just by something/ a rat or a dog/ a pimp or a frog” but manages to end on the sweet sentiment “You’re inconsistent and wild/ but I’m glad you’re my map.” If  We Were Promised Jetpacks could do stuff like that, I wouldn’t despise them. Well, maybe I wouldn’t despise them. Overall, Lord Cut-Glass is a beautiful record and I love it more every time I listen to it.

So it might seem odd when I say that, despite what I’ve written above, I hope Alun Woodward never makes another solo album. I hope – more than I hope that she plays a show in the U.S. – that Emma Pollock abandons work on her new album. Why? Because it’s time for the Delgados to get back together.

As good as Lord Cut-Glass is and as good as Pollock’s Watch the Fireworks was, there’s little point in continuing down these solo avenues. The Delgados broke up because bassist Stewart Henderson didn’t want to keeping putting time and energy into something that didn’t get the respect that he felt it deserved. That’s an understandable sentiment and I give the other three Delgados props for not wanting to carry on without him. But what about the fans, of which there are many? Speaking for myself, I now spend an inordinate amount of my time scanning the internet for any proof that Emma Pollock or Alun Woodward will release something new and hoping against hope that they’re still making music so that I can support it. In my wildest dreams, they team up and tour Los Angeles together for a solid week, hanging out and drinking with me. How little it would take for Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock to make my wildest dreams come true!

Scottish bands are all the rage right now and the Delgados are vastly superior to all of them; why not saddle up one more time, get Dave Fridmann to produce something, and take your rightful place at the top of the Scottish rock heap? Paul Savage played on Emma Pollock’s album and on the Lord Cut-Glass record. All four Delgados still run Chemikal Underground Records together – which means they have a label ready and waiting to put out their comeback album. I know reunion albums are dangerous territory but Dinosaur Jr. put out their (indie blasphemy in 3, 2, 1..) best album after getting back together a couple years ago (Farm’s not bad either) and you guys are (indie blasphemy part 2 in 3, 2, 1…) better than they are. Look, if Stewart Henderson isn’t on board for this thing, I’ll fucking play bass for you. Hit me up with an email and I’ll learn your songs this weekend. All of them. I wouldn’t ask for a reunion and then refuse to do anything to help it along. I’m not that kind of guy.

Why am I so adamant about my desire – nay, the absolute necessity – of a Delgados reunion? Because there aren’t bands around that can do what the Delgados did. They made dark music but were never emo. They made beautiful music but were never pretentious. They had hard-won hope but never lost their sense of humor (their trademark, really. On the mostly upbeat, cheer-up-pal tune “Coming in from the Cold,” Pollock can only encourage you so much: “No one’s telling you you’re not to blame”). Beyond that, Pollock and Woodward were an unsurpassed vocal team (Pitchfork correctly points out that Woodward is joined on Lord Cut-Glass by a female vocalist who sounds a helluva lot like Emma Pollock, which I take as further proof that the Delgados are just kidding themselves with all this solo project nonsense). In fact, here’s a pro-tip: if you’re in a band, get at least one male vocalist and one female vocalist. It just sounds awesome and, for those of you who think that makes it too Peter, Paul, and Mary (rest in peace, Mary Travers), I suggest you listen to X’s Los Angeles album and watch your assumptions as they are rent asunder and scattered like so much presumptive confetti.

The Delgados were an amazing band and I’m sure, if they come back now, we will all love them as hard as we can. I know I will. In lieu of a reunion, Delgados fans and fans of good music alike would do well to pick up Lord Cut-Glass. And all the Delgados albums.