Once again Dean has asked for a list of favorite concerts and records of 2009. And once again I find it difficult to fit last year’s musical experiences into that format.
I wrote about some of 2009’s notable music on this site. Looking back over writing from the first part of the year, I see that I should get back to Fly’s disc, or the latest Tortoise. And I see that I promised to check out the last Umphrey’s, which hasn’t happened yet (sorry, guys). And there were others I didn’t cover: the acoustic prettiness of Grizzly Bear, the eccentricity of Dirty Projectors, the rave sing-alongs of Animal Collective, the electric jazz of Five Peace Band. And a couple others I plan to listen to in the next few days: the new Jim O’Rourke and Fiery Furnaces. And some nice gestures from artists who don’t work in the musical areas I normally inhabit, such as Neko Case’s Sparks cover, or her 30-minute recording of frogs.
However, as usual, I spent a fair amount of time with old music, although some of it was new. Frank Zappa’s estate pushed the archival release Lumpy Money back from November 2008 to January 2009, so I spent some of the winter months getting some new insights into two of the best albums he (or anyone) made. And in the fall there were the Beatles remasters; I suppose they don’t need my help (although the video game evidently hasn’t sold to expectations) but I can vouch for the Revolver and White Album CDs being like hearing them for the first time, or perhaps the hype worked enough that I convinced myself of that. And as winter came there was Robin Kelley’s Thelonious Monk biography, so detail-heavy that even a detail-lover like myself got a bit weary, but it made me think anew about the pain that comes with breaking musical ground.
Some of the new music was old, too, in a sense. The most memorable song from the new Wilco combined a few hooks of their own with one from George Harrison. Dylan’s Together Through Life (shrugged off by most critics for reasons I can’t understand, I found this to be his most relaxed and attractive release of the 00’s) reworked the blues and other ancient sources, as seems to be a trend for him lately. And there was his Christmas CD, which my wife and I listened to once on Christmas Eve and was certainly an honest and courageous effort, although not one I expect to want to hear again.
Like most people reading this site, though, the new/old music I’ll associate most with this year came from a certain Vermont quartet. It was heartening to see their guitarist playing with so much of his old energy after his years in the wilderness, and to hear that combination of musical personalities at work. Not many surprises, yet (although I plan to re-examine the massive Seven Below/Ghost from Albany once we’re deeper into the winter), but they will come.
However, creating a list of the top new music of last year requires mastering all of that music, in my opinion. It’s rarely possible to do that within one year. For me, anyway.
I suspect that a year from now I’ll be looking back at 2010 and seeing similar things: much good music, some new, some old and some combinations. Perhaps another strong Phish tour or two. Perhaps a few revelatory remasters. Probably major labels still not dead but fighting for the little remaining air. Probably not anything as weird as the Dylan Christmas album, but I suppose that’s a risky prediction, because music never loses its ability to shock.