Throughout the month of December we’ll be posting lists of the best music of the year as determined by the volunteers that make CHIRP what it is. Today’s is from CHIRP DJ and programmer extraordinaire, Kumar McMillan, a.k.a. DJ Bylamplight.
Pisces – A Lovely Sight (Numero Group) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This is not a reissue, it’s a discovery of unheard 1969 material that was lost and buried in a fascinating story about a perfectionist rock group from Rockford, Illinois, who couldn’t catch a break. Besides earning Pisces a page in Steve Krakow’s Secret History of Chicago Music series, this album (compiled by the Numero crew) is an enjoyable listen start to finish and is essential for any fan of Rockadrome-esque swirly psychedelic fuzz. This album was built like a cathedral; it almost seems appropriate that it took over thirty years to finally see a proper release. Not only is this undisputedly my pick for best album of 2009, I think it will shine for years to come as a truly remarkable achievement both sonically and historically.
Exile – Radio (Plug Research) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The Akai MPC 3000 sampler has revolutionized hip hop and has proven to be one of the most expressive electronic instruments ever invented. Exile has mastered the MPC. He plays samples like instruments — stripping them down to the core and tapping out new melodies and rhythms. But there’s a twist: this album was sampled entirely from FM radio in Los Angeles. Commercials, jingles, call-ins, cheesy smooth jazz, late night battle raps, pop songs, they have all been artfully munged into catchy instrumental hip hop jams and interludes sometimes with a political or spiritual message. FM radio today is a strange corporate beast and this album exploits that beast, leaving no stone unturned. Besides a great work of art, every song keeps my head nodding and it’s been in very heavy rotation ever since I picked it up.
Little Dragon – Machine Dreams (Peace Frog) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
My introduction to this album was a little 7” of Blinking Pigs and the first thing that grabbed me was the majestic vocals and harmonies floating up and down like a Cocteau Twins song. The second thing that grabbed me was the great treatment of the drum sound — the beats bounced around in a really groovy way, hollow yet still “live” and powerful. The rest of the album was even better! From start to finish it has a really fresh, live electronic sound; the songs range from catchy to mellow to dance worthy and each synth sound is deliberate and cleverly placed. It was an instant classic for me but upon each listen it kept growing until Machine Dreams was in my heavy rotation.
Hollows – Self-Titled (Addenda) Insound / Addenda
Even though I’m involved with operating Addenda Records, I have no shame in admitting that this stunning debut from Chicago’s Hollows is one of the greatest neo-garage albums I’ve ever heard. The first five seconds drop you straight into the action and it doesn’t let up until the epic second-to-last song, Love Will Find You. Often described as a haunting retro 60s or 50s album, the song writing breaks free from the past and takes you on a fast ride with a killer all-girl-except-for-one-guy getup of bass, farfisa-like organ, guitar, and drums. The songwriting is superb and the two minute arrangements are ingeniously concise.
Javelin – Self-Titled (Thrill Jockey) Amazon / Insound / Thrill Jockey
Supposedly this Brooklyn instrumental hip hop group have been turning quite a few heads at live shows but I never knew about them until the Thrill Jockey 12” subscription sent me a mysterious thrift store record called The World of Boots Randolph with some weird painted shapes over the woman’s face. I later found out that those were actually letters spelling the word Javelin. The 12” labels both had what looked like a B written in sharpie as if to suggest there were two B-sides, how clever. That was all the information I could fetch from it but the tunes were so catchy that the record soon claimed a permanent spot in my stack of heavy rotation. I naturally dug deep into the Net to find out what I was listening to but I didn’t stop there. My obsession with Javelin has since grown to epic proportions — I’ve nabbed their CDR releases, their incredible Lukabop podcasts, basically anything I can get my hands on at this point. Their limited 12” is now sold out (try Ebay) but an MP3 release is available for purchase from Thrill Jockey.
Various Artists – Black Rio Vol. 2 Brazil Soul Power 1968-1981 (Strut) Amazon / iTunes
DJ Cliffy already put out volume one of similar cuts but I never knew about it. After catching up with that, this compilation is definitely not the out-takes, it’s a brilliant collection of softer hitting, obscure Brazilian soul. As with most Brazilian music, each track enchants you immediately and fills you with that feel good fuzzy happy feeling. And as a compilation it is very well planned out from start to finish by a DJ who obviously knows how to set a deliberate mood. It has just the right amount of energy for any moment of the day, any day of the week, and I can’t seem to get enough of it.
Pax Nicholas and the Nettey Family – Na Teef Know De Road of Teef (Daptone) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Frank from the famous Voodoo Funk record digger blog has organized his first reissue! I’m hoping there will be many more to come. He had discovered a rare Nigerian piece recorded in the 70s then supposedly banished by decree of Fela Kuti himself after its soft rhythms failed to “move” people on the dance floor. Well, it’s arguably a fine dance record but for me it’s one of the most relaxing and charming Afrobeat records I’ve ever heard. I play this time and time again in my living room, usually to help unwind after a day at work.
Black Wyrm Seed – Self-Titled (PlusTapes) PlusTapes
This is the cassette—yes, cassette—debut of a new Chicago band, Black Wyrm Seed. Despite its heavy doom metal opener, this album grows prettier, softer, and more psychedelic with each song. On myspace they accurately describe their line-up as batterie, bong-rattling bass, electric / acoustic guitars, and vox. I listen to it over and over in my car tape deck and the nuance in every note is inexplicably wonderful. Although a stoner metal blog showcased this release a while back, it still seems to exist as an undiscovered gem.
Dam-Funk – Toeachizown (Stones Throw) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
If “gangster” was a genre of music it would include 70s RnB songs like Does Your Mama Know by Rudy Love & The Love Family and William Devaughn’s Be Thankful For What You Got. Then chronologically it would move on to include Parliament / P-Funk, G-Funk, and finally Dam-Funk. This LA producer has put together a massive release of electronic instrumentals (some with background vocals) in five—count ‘em—five volumes. This is gangster theme music. In fact, it’s done so well that any tongue and cheekiness is overshadowed by the brilliance of nuance in the programmed drums or well placed synth chimes. It feels so smooth and so right and makes me want to drive around LA with my seat real low and pimp like.
Shepherd – Riddle of the Unflocked (Acroplane) Liquid Dilemma
This is a bass heavy new electronic project by Belgian producer Shepherd (a.k.a. Julien Itterbeek). The style is akin to the sinister breakbeat sound of Scorn or Push Button Objects but hidden beneath its murky swamp of squelchy synth lines are intriguing, alien-like emcee vocals. When listening, sometimes I imagine a b-boy battle on a space station between Martians and Mercurians, each crew doing weird twists and flips. It was released as a free MP3 download on the obscure Acroplane label, so be sure to grab it while you can. This is one evil, mind bending album and it accompanies me very often these days from start to finish.
Some Random Closing Thoughts
Neon Indian made his debut appearance with what I’d call the best song of 2009: Deadbeat Summer. It’s a really catchy tune but more than that the production is beautifully warped and twisted. In fact, it has stirred up enough for some bloggers to coin the genre “chillwave” to describe it. I guess that’s sort of a more blunted and electronic version of shoegaze? I was a bit disappointed by Neon Indian’s full length album, Psychic Chasms, but I think that’s really because every other song on it pales in comparison to Deadbeat Summer.
The Xx put out a really amazing album this year (self titled). It didn’t make my list only because it’s been in light rotation for me, not necessarily heavy rotation. I think they are one to watch and I was especially captivated by this live performance they did on KEXP.
Drag City issued an album by Death called For The Whole World To See. It was originally made in the 70s but was done in the Detroit R&B community so no one paid any attention to it and it never got a proper release. If you listen to it now it sort of sounds like a lot of other metal that came out around the same time but because of where the players were all raised on deep Detroit R&B there’s something very subtle that makes it stand out.
Some other albums that grazed my list this year were Joyce’s Visions Of Dawn (The Paris 1976 Project), ¡¡¡Wau Y Los Arrrghs!!!‘s ¡¡¡Viven!!!, Hudson Mohawke’s Polyfolk Dance, The Fiery Furnaces’ I’m Going Away, Jim O’Rourke’s Visitor, John Zorn’s O’o, and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. Wow, 2009 was an amazing year for music!
Joyce: Far Out Recordings
¡¡¡Wau Y Los Arrrghs!!!: Slovenly
Hudson Mohawke: Warp
Fiery Furnaces: Thrill Jockey
Jim O’Rourke: Drag City
John Zorn: Amazon
Grizzly Bear: Warp