Favorite edition 2009: Quarter second

When I look at the titles occupying my various listening playlists, I notice a lot of catalog titles. That doesn’t bode well for 2009 releases. How can I make a Favorite Edition list when I’m not paying attention to what’s being released? As a result, only nine slots on this list of 10 are filled. I haven’t done much research to see if Q3 promises anything to fill that last spot, and if it did, what are the chances some old album by the Dukes of the Stratosphear won’t distract me?

  1. … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, The Century of Self
  2. LEO Imai, LASER RAIN LEO Imai’s debut album was one of the most interesting releases of 2008, but it was by no means a slam dunk. Imai could have fallen prey to the Sophomore Slump, and thankfully, he hasn’t. LASER RAIN has far more focus and many dynamic performances. The songs are funkier, treading further into the ’80s than his first album. He’s also mitigated the incessant, broken record "Oh-oh-oh" that infected most of his songs.
  3. Van Tomiko, Van.
  4. The Bad Plus joined by Wendy Lewis, For All I Care I could take or leave the Bad Plus originals, but the trio’s covers have always been treats. What sold me on For All I Care are the arrangements of piano pieces by Györgi Ligeti, Milton Babbitt and Igor Stravinsky. That’s some tricky shit for a rhythm section to navigate. Wendy Lewis gets props for managing to keep up with the Pluses. Did the trio need a vocalist? Some say no, I haven’t bought a Bad Plus album since Give because the M.O. on this one went through such drastic change.
  5. Office, Mecca
  6. Wendy & Lisa, White Flags of Winter Chimneys
  7. Kronos Quartet, Floodplain I’m hesitant to compare this album to the 2002 watershed Nuevo even though both albums have a lot in common. They both focus on music of a specific region and employ instruments beyond the standard string quartet configuration. As a producer, first violinist David Harrington is no Gustavo Santaolalla (producer of Nuevo), so the album doesn’t have as quite a tight sequencing as a rock album should. (Oh, please — let’s not call this a classical album.) The quartet’s ferocious performances more than make up for that shortcoming. "Oh Mother, the Handsome Man Tortures Me" is probably worth the price of the entire album alone.
  8. mono, Hymn to the Immortal Wind There’s a big gamble in making orchestras bigger. mono could have turned into the Moody Blues with the size of the orchestra used on Hymn to the Immortal Wind, but instead, the timbres of an ensemble that size bring something new to mono’s writing. The band does like the slow building arc, perhaps a bit too much, and the addition of the orchestra fills it in beautifully.
  9. Shiina Ringo, Sanmon Gossip I’m throwing in this album because it’s certainly one of the better written and recorded albums to cross my playlist. But Shiina Ringo has so muddied the waters of her musical identity, I can’t make heads or tails of it. Sanmon Gossip sounds so much like Tokyo Jihen, I expect it to be billed as a Tokyo Jihen album. Or perhaps when Shiina signified the change in her style with the formation of Tokyo Jihen, she should have just owned it as Shiina Ringo. None of this has to do with the quality of the music on the album.

I can’t say the following albums are very strong contenders for the tenth slot, but they’re albums I would recommend just for fun:

  • Morrissey, Years of Refusal This album has a lot more punch than Ringleader of the Tormentors, and the writing is pretty strong throughout.
  • Gentleman Reg, Jet Black Reg’s voice is something of an acquired taste, but the sunny, laid-back indie rock on this album has lots of sweet harmonies.
  • Royal Wood, The Lost and Found EP While you wait for Rufus Wainwright to finish his French opera, Royal Wood’s six-song EP filled with piano and strings should tie you over.