Yes, dear readers, it's that time of year, once again. The time where I take a few minutes and talk about the cultural artifacts that particularly moved me over the past 12 months. And after that, a special treat - my top movies and tunes of the decade as we send out the Aughts.
We start, as always, with music. Holy cow I listened to a lot of tunes this year! It was a big year for several of my favorite artists. In addition, getting ready for and then shopping at 3RP this year really drove the numbers up. Bottom line, it was a very good year. And away we go . . .
New for 2009
- The Hazards of Love, by The Decemberists: This was a hell of a year for concept albums/rock operas/whatever you want to call them. In an era of iTunes downloads and shrinking attention spans, quite a number of bands not only clung to the album as a format by proved why the whole thing works on that scale. Building on their proggier dalliances from "The Tain" and The Crane Wife, The Decemberists were first out of the gate (in my collection, at least) and one of the most successful. It's pretentious, overly bombastic in spots, and nonsensical in others. I love every minute of it. It was a blast to hear live.
- The Incident, by Porcupine Tree: While repeating yourself is generally something to be avoided, there's something to be said for finding some inspiration in the deeper parts of the back catalog. After a disappointing Fear of a Blank Planet, Steven Wilson and crew spiced up the metal-tinged modern PT sound with some of the more Floyd influenced and acoustic sounds of the pre-In Absentia days for this year's release. Another concept album (although much looser than some of the others), it's their strongest in years from stem to stem.
- Number Seven, by Phideaux: I reviewed this one back in July and my initial impression still holds true. That middle section, dubbed "Dormouse Escapes", is probably my favorite hunk of music from this year.
- Scambot 1, by Mike Keneally: Mike Keneally has done so many things over the course of his solo career that it begged the question - what would happen if he could take a little bit of all those things and blend them into a single cohesive musical statement? Although it's only part one of two, Scambot 1 provides the answer - it would be fucking brilliant. Seriously, this is an album that has everything from guitar heroics and shiny pop gems to wild improv and big band Zappa stuff. Best experienced with liner notes in hand, in which the story of Scambot unfolds (sort of), this is the sum total of all Keneally has been over the years. Which, of course, is brilliant.
- Revolver (1966) & Magical Mystery Tour (1967), by The Beatles: The release of the remastered Beatles catalog this year was a good excuse to go back and plug some holes in my collection. No eye popping revelations on any of those discs, but these two stood out as the ones I would play again and again. Magical Mystery Tour just has some wonderfully crafted pop tunes on it (and, in the American version, a whole truckload of hits), while Revolver hints at some of the experimentation to come. If nothing else, they maybe helped remind me to not take the boys from Liverpool for granted quite so often.
- Being, by Wigwam (1974): I keep a running list of albums I want to pick up (cleverly titled "Tunes I Want") where I'll note the name of a band and album that strikes my fancy. Often they linger on that list for years and I forget exactly why I put them there in the first place. Such was the case with Wigwam. But since Being was on my list and I found at copy at 3RP, of course I picked it up. I'm damn glad I did. Aside from some overly hippie leaning lyrical bits, it's a really excellent jazzy prog album. There's loads of fantastic keyboard work on it, in addition to some Zappa-esque horn arrangements in spots. That's why I keep the list!
- Creatures, by Frogg Cafe (2003): I really dig 2005's Fortunate Observer of Time, but never got around to picking up any other Froggy things until this summer. This earlier effort is a little more stereotypically "proggy" than Observer but equally good. Smack in the middle is a bit of Ives inspired weirdness that acts as a bizarro palette cleanser. Good stuff.
- Grötesk, by Mörglbl (2007): I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting when I picked this disc up at 3RP, but I think I imagined it would be a bit more "out there." Intense instrumental French jazz-tinged prog - what else could it be? How about amazingly well crafted and melodic instrumental tunes with more than a small dose of fun? "The Toy Maker" had me dancing around my kitchen - I'm not kidding. While these guys have chops to burn, they know how to use them.
- Oblivion Sun, by Oblivion Sun (2007): Not surprisingly, this spin off project from the short lived Happy the Man rebirth sounds an awful lot like the mother ship, maybe with a bit less ambient/new age flavor (no Kit Watkins, after all) and a bit heavier guitar work. What is surprising is just how damn good it is, nailing that easy blend of prog and jazz that was HtM's hallmark.