Mr MidFi's Musical Year in Review, 2009 [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


View Full Version : Mr MidFi's Musical Year in Review, 2009

Mr MidFi
12-22-2009, 07:40 AM
As 2009 comes to a close, it’s time to take stock… and give a big round of applause to (arguably) the best year in music since 2000. Last year was such a disappointment that I struggled to put together a Top 10 list at all. This year, there were nearly 20 releases that would have easily made last year’s Top 5.

Picking an Album of the Year was a far harder task this year for me than ever before. There were fine releases from the usual faves like Wilco, Neko, BTS, Andrew Bird, Porky Tree, The Doves, etc. But each of those acts has done better work in the past, and none stood head-and-shoulders above the pack. So I asked myself the only question that really matters: Which 2009 release gave me the most listening enjoyment overall this year? By that sole criterion, I was able to (narrowly) select a winner…

1. The Boxer Rebellion – Union
For the first time ever, my Album of the Year is a title that was never released in the U.S. on disc. It is available here only as an iTunes download. But don’t hold that against it. This album is sensational, from start to finish. Be advised, however… the singer can be about as whiny as Thom Yorke. Stay away if that’s not your thing. But they have the same ethereal quality that Radiohead does, plus the inherent drama of Muse, with a little Interpol thrown in for good measure. The songs are tight and engaging, there’s a nice variance from one track to the next, and the drums bring something tasty to the table every time. One of these days, I’ll get around to ordering the import disc.

2. Wilco (the album)
At times as friendly, sunny and accessible as their previous release (Sky Blue Sky), and at times as inscrutable and offbeat as a Bactrian camel at your birthday party… this is the Wilco we all know and love. Not quite up to the level of their very best work (Being There, Summerteeth, YHF), but enjoyable as hell anyway. I’ll take it! The songwriting is solid, the recording is lively, and these guys have never sounded more in-the-groove.

3. The Doves – Kingdom of Rust
Possibly their most consistently interesting release, Kingdom of Rust finds these lads full of angst but not afraid to make some interesting choices. The title track, for example, places a beautiful and memorable melody against a sparse and desolate sonic landscape, and then layers full orchestration over the finale before drawing to a close. It’s cool stuff.

4. Porcupine Tree – The Incident
Just what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here? As far as I can tell, this is a concept album that is (generally) taken from different viewpoints of a traffic accident (or incident, as they are called in the UK). I think one of the points of view is from a young person raised in a cultish family of religious wackaloons who rebels, takes a car, runs away, and gets in a nasty wreck and kills someone… possibly herself. The other viewpoints allow Steven Wilson to provide commentary on societal behaviors, alienation, the drive-by media, yada-yada, right down to the guy who drives the hearse away. Oh, and the music? It’s Porcupine Tree, so you’ll love it or hate it. You know who you are.

5. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
Tragedy struck the downloaded version I received from a nonanonymous benefactor, a fellow of good intention I shall not mention. So I went out and bought it for real, it was a steal, and now I reel at his sonic invention. Wait a minute… I love that song. Anyway, this makes 3 wins in a row for Mr. Bird. He’s on a roll. He’s rather droll. Which means he has a way with wirds.

6. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Quite possibly the greatest album cover art of the 21st Century. A gorgeous redhead in a black mini-dress, crouching like a feral beast on the hood of a ’70 Barracuda, and brandishing a broadsword. For the love of Flying Spaghetti Monster, what more could you possibly want? Oh, and the music? Well, it sounds just like a Neko Case album. Again, you know who you are.

7. Built to Spill – There Is No Enemy
You definitely know who you are. And Troy, it ain’t you. But it’s definitely me. Not breaking any new ground here, really, but the jams are a blast. And look! A horn section!

8. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
OK, arty euro-pop isn’t usually my thing. Especially arty euro-pop that gets used in Cadillac commercials. But I can’t help it… this album is like cherry lifesavers. Just freakin’ TRY not to like it. And just when you start to question your own foppish poppishness for liking this so much, they drop in an extended techno-prog instrumental intro that would have sounded perfect on the Lost In Translation soundtrack. What can I say? I think it’s a really enjoyable listen.

9. Cage the Elephant (s/t)
This Top 10 honor actually belongs to the producer of the album, whose name escapes me. I say that because A) every single song on this disc is fun, interesting and reasonably tight… and B) because these guys suck. I’ve seen them, and they suck. They sucked in a way that can’t possibly be “just having a bad night” suckage. But this disc is, damn, it’s verging on greatness. Somehow. Classic guitar rif***e with snotty-early-Green-Day-meets-witty-early-Beck lyrics and a healthy dose of youthful enthusiasm. No rest for the wicked, indeed, as every song on here is worth listening to.

10. Arctic Monkeys – Humbug
Just a few years ago, they were fairly content to sound like the UK’s latest flavor of the month. Fun while it lasted, but forgettable. Then they hooked up with that guy from Queens of the Stone Age, and out comes this mash-up of brit-rock and stoner rock that sounds like Stone Temple Pilots imitating Franz Ferdinand covering The Kaiser Chiefs on an Alice in Chains tribute album. Except completely different. I would probably rank this one even higher if I was.

11. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
What’s that, you say? Another gigantically big-sounding rock opera about a spunky-punky cast of characters making the best of things in a dystopian American nightmare? I… would have advised against it, just on general principles. But the fact that they kinda, sorta pulled it off says a lot. This disc includes my favorite song of the year, and quite possibly my favorite Green Day song ever: “Peacemaker”. Go ahead, spend the 99 cents and download it.

12. Umphrey’s McGee – Mantis
Yes, I’ve noticed that we’ve zoomed right past the “top 10” mark, and we’re not even slowing down. Sorry, but it can’t be helped. I’m not a fan of U’s McG, but you just can’t deny this record. These guys can really play, and it seems like this time they’ve worked hard on their songcraft and taken their time in the studio to get it just right. The end result is a tad overwrought, but it’s a real piece of work. It’s like 20 styles and influences and references stuffed into a 3-lb. bag, and I mean that in a good way.

13. Steven Wilson – Insurgentes
Steven’s a busy guy. Several months before the release of his latest Porcupine Tree disc (see #4 above), Steven put out this solo disc that, sonically, stands about halfway between the PT sound and his Blackfield projects. A few tracks (such as “Harmony Korine”) sound like they could have easily come from PT discs. But much of this album is dark, stark, somber and deeply personal. The title track is as sad and mournful as anything he’s done so far, sort of like “Collapse the Light…” without the orchestration. I wasn’t a big fan of this after the first few listens, but then I discovered the 5.1 mix. That made a huge difference. There are some interesting things going on in his 3D soundscape, and I think it’s worth checking out.

14. Gomez – A New Tide
They’re getting a little older and a little more acoustic-mellow, but the songs are still decent, the sound is still varied, and the feeling is good. Saw these guys on a 95-degree day in the blazing sun, and they were having a blast. Me too.

15. Ida Maria – Fortress ‘round My Heart
Big, boozy, guitar-based bar-rock from a young Norwegian lass with a shouty voice and a penchant for whiskey. Not complicated, but plenty of fun. I saw her and her band take the same stage where Cage the Elephant had stunk up the joint the previous day… and they slayed the place. I have a thing for a drunken chick in gold-lame prom dress playing a strat and insisting that someone get naked.

16. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
I almost never play this one from start to finish, because it tends to give me a headache. But every time one of these songs pops up in Shuffle mode, I dig it. It’s very inventive, giddy, trippy fun with enough melodic hooks to keep you listening. Until you get sick of the repetition.

17. U2 – No Line on the Horizon
This is their second-worst album ever. But I’ve been a fan since 1980, so I gave it a chance. And there are a few moments on here worth noting. I like the sonic tapestry that Eno’s weaving on “Fez: Being Born,” as well as the intimacy on the slower acoustic numbers. But someone needs to remind these guys… you can’t inspire an awesome sense of magnificence by shouting the word “Magnificent!!!!” It’s inherently self-defeating, like shouting “I’m classy!” or “Look at my sexy boots!”

Live Albums of the Year
Wilco – Ashes of American Flags
The DVD came with a “digital copy” audio download code which I was more than happy to use. Maybe not quite as compelling as their great Kicking Television collection from a few years ago, but definitely worth having nonetheless. “Impossible Germany” is worth the price by itself.

Spoon – Live at Stubb’s, Austin TX, August 11, 2009
I downloaded this one from the band’s web site a couple of weeks after they played 3 shows on their home turf. Few surprises here, besides one new tune and cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Rocks Off”. But I enjoy the hell out of it.

Honorable Mention: Winwood & Clapton at Madison Square Garden. No frills, no flash, just two old friends rediscovering each other.

Remasters of the Year
The Beatles’ catalog. Well, duh. I only bought 2 of these (Revolver and Rubber Soul), but I’m digging them plenty. They did a good job of “fixing” the sound without altering the familiar listening experience. If you stuck a gun to my head and forced me to pick between these two, I’d go with Rubber Soul.

Best Compilation
By far, the best comp I got this year were the 25 free downloads that came with my Lollapalooza ticket. Consistently excellent tracks from an incredibly diverse collection of artists, including some I’d never heard of before.

12-22-2009, 08:00 AM
That has to be the most entertaining collection of reviews I've read here. Nicely done.

Mr MidFi
12-22-2009, 10:28 AM
Thanks, FA. I'm just bored at work right now. There might just be a birthday package in the mail for you in 2 or 3 weeks or so. PM me your addy when you have a chance. And Slosh's too, if'n you have it.

Merry-merry and happy-happy!

12-22-2009, 10:46 AM
Yay!!! :D

A PM has been sent.

12-22-2009, 12:06 PM
Nice review from a man who must enjoy music. I can't even remember 20 albums I bought or received this year!! (Probably positively correlated with my economic health.)

12-22-2009, 03:16 PM
Nicely written! I haven't given it much thought but I do know Califone, John Vanderslice, Jason Lytle, and The Black Heart Procession would make my top ten.

I do however have to take objection to this:
6. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Quite possibly the greatest album cover art of the 21st Century. A gorgeous redhead in a black mini-dress, crouching like a feral beast on the hood of a ’70 Barracuda, and brandishing a broadsword. For the love of Flying Spaghetti Monster, what more could you possibly want? Oh, and the music? Well, it sounds just like a Neko Case album. Again, you know who you are.
That's a Mercury Cougar. These are '70 Barracudas:'70 AAR 'Cudas, to be precise. As a life long Mopar guy it's my duty to point this out :)

12-22-2009, 06:51 PM
Wow, we're nearly neck-n-neck for purchases this year. I have albums 2 thru 7, 10, 12, 14, 16...

you're spot on about Animal Collective's album - its like a carnival ride, say The Tempest or The Zipper - fun for the first 30 seconds, then its "get me off this thing". I too enjoy these tracks as MP3 rotation much more so than putting the CD on. I'd suggest the latest Grizzly Bear for a better album approach to this style of music. I love that new one from Arctic Monkeys - its the only CD of theirs I'd keep. Love the new Gomez too, though they get little too Dawson's Creeky at times. Love that new Doves album - I think its their best. While BTS has never bested Keep It Like A Secret, 'Enemy' is much better than You In Reverse from '07.

Glad to see making more than just a few appearences here Midfi. Your comp Waiting to Derail stills gets played around here.

12-22-2009, 10:25 PM
Quite possibly the greatest album cover art of the 21st Century. A gorgeous redhead in a black mini-dress, crouching like a feral beast on the hood of a ’70 Barracuda, and brandishing a broadsword. For the love of Flying Spaghetti Monster, what more could you possibly want? Oh, and the music? Well, it sounds just like a Neko Case album. Again, you know who you are.

I do however have to take objection to this:That's a Mercury Cougar. These are '70 Barracudas:m'70 AAR 'Cudas, to be precise. As a life long Mopar guy it's my duty to point this out :)

Do you guys know that the aforementioned cover art is available as a nice art print from Anti? Check it out:

Middle Cyclone Giclee Print (


12-23-2009, 05:43 AM
they're both Cougars...get it?