2009, musically speaking, seemed like a year tinged with melancholy and loneliness. Perhaps my favorite individual song was Majutsu No Niwa's "Grand Okeanos," (At the End of Summer, Musik Atlach) one to cleave a canyon-size Galaxie 500-like hole where your heart once was. I missed Overhang Party for like five minutes.
Speaking of loneliness, my other favorite single of the year was rap hit, "Day N Nite" by Kid Cudi. The song tweaked rap cliches into a burbling brook of paranoia for "lonely loners." You can just imagine the spaced out protagonist sitting at a computer screen making beats, way too late/way too early. My third favorite "single" is the 40-minute drone collab between J. Spaceman and Matthew Shipp, "Inner," on--of course--SpaceShipp (Treader). These two merge styles and substance sweetly at the drone with Shipp on celeste and squeezebox. More please.
Speaking of lonely drones, three ladies impressed me with their one woman sound sculptures: Noveller (Red Rainbow, No Fun), HNY (some tapes), and Julianna Barwick (Florine, self-released). It's natural to lump these remarkable women together as I just did, but they're three completely unique takes on the layering of ethereal sounds, with enough melody to hook you.
I listened to a lot of synth-based music in 2009, a music made by people huddling over weary packs of machines. My obsession with Emeralds (What Happened, No Fun) and Emeralds side projects (Lilypad, Steve Hauschildt, Outer Space, Skyramps, Mark McGuire, etc.) reached an apex, and speaking of Mark McGuire, his many solo guitar forays were constant sources of droning pleasure in 2009 (Dream Team, A Pocket Full of Rain, Tidings II, Losing Sleep). My favorite synth-based jammer, though, was Pulse Emitter's Meditative Music 3 (Pulse Emitter), a lulling slow morphing synth adventure of sonic wallpaper.
There was a jangle heard loud in 2009, starting with (finally) reissues of the first two Feelies albums, Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth (Bar None). Totally essential records to anyone who has ever stepped foot in New Jersey or really stepped foot anywhere ever for that matter. New Jersey's Real Estate (Woodsist) put out my favorite pop record, a perfect sonic metaphor for those lazy shore summers when days are long and sunburnt. The Mantles (Siltbreeze) and Sonny and the Sunsets (Soft Abuse) brought me similar pleasure mixed with West Coast psych. "Death Cream" from the latter ending the year on top of the song pile.
It was a great year for jazz and improv. The wonderful Joe Morris was seemingly everywhere playing his "second" instrument, double bass, and doing so with effortless authority and taste. While I like The Flow Trio and Today on Earth, the trio record, Wildlife (AUM Fidelity), had the standout piece: the long Eastern-flavored, "Thicket," with Petr Cancura's wailing and forlorn sax. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society (New Amsterdam) planted a flag for big band music, deft (daft) enough to mix Ellington and Radiohead, a cringeworthy combination on paper but revelatory on the bandstand. Darius Jones erupted out of the gates with wide vibrato and a curious sense of sadness and wonder aimed at the world. Only an authentic motherfucker could get Cooper-Moore and Bob Moses to back him up on a debut record. Man'ish Boy (A Raw and Beautiful Thing) (AUM Fidelity) shines with a pathos and grit that recalls '70s loft jazz, along with a surprising sense of empathy.
I have listened to the John Butcher Group album somethingtobesaid (Weight of Wax) dozens of times and am amazed at how a group of eight free improvisers can sound so uncluttered and fresh. It's the kind of thing I'll be recommending to the curious for years to come. Two retrospective collections knocked my socks off: Peter Kowald's Off the Road (Rogue Art), a 2000 tour document + DVD of the late bassist, and Archive 1 (Jinya Disc), a 5-CD live document of the 1978/79 version of Masayuki Takayanagi's New Direction Unit. Just whoa.
I played a lot of music in 2009. While listening is (for me, usually) a solitary pursuit, there's nothing like getting people together to make something out of nothing.
Chris Forsyth - Dreams LP (Evolving Ear)
Beyond the Implode - This Atmosphere EP (Siltbreeze)
Distance - Repercussions (Planet Mu)
Pains of Being Pure at Heart - s/t (Slumberland)
Belbury Poly - From an Ancient Star (Ghost Box)
Vetiver - Tight Knit (Sub Pop)
Ann-Louise Liljedahl - Arkipelag (self-released)
Directing Hand - What Put the Blood (Dancing Wayang)
Tyshawn Sorey - Koan (482 Music)
Loving Takes This Course - A Tribute to the Songs of Kath Bloom (Chapter Music)
Liquorball with Steve Mackay - Evolutionary Squalor (Rocketship)
Peter Evans - Nature/Culture (Psi)
Little Claw - Human Taste (Ecstatic Peace)
A special thanks to all the folks who appeared on The Long Rally in 2009: Taylor Ho Bynum/Tomas Fujiwara Duo, Harris Eisenstadt, Mike Pride's From Bacteria to Boys, Twistycat, Grey Gersten/G. Lucas Crane, Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans, Aaron Siegel/Katherine Young/Alex Chechile/Woody Sullender/Matt Bauder/Jeremiah Cymerman, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Bent Spoon Duo, C. Spencer Yeh/Chris Corsano/Nate Wooley.