Thursday, December 16, 2010

This Year's Listening: Albums That Were Released In Past Years

While getting ready to compile my favorite albums of 2010 list, I noticed I'd been listening to and discovering a lot of albums from past years.  These might be albums I was late discovering, albums I enjoyed but had forgotten about or albums I heard a little bit late that were released in 2009 and didn't make my previous lists.

Here are some albums that were in heavy rotation this year that were released prior to 2010:

Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (2008): I actually got this album in 2009 while I was in London.  For some reason it took a while to really get into it, but now it's one of my favorites.  The harmonies, the beautiful acoustic guitar work and superb songwriting all contribute to making this one of my favorite albums.

One Fast Move Or I'm Gone: Music From Kerouac's Big SurJay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard - One Fast Move Or I'm Gone (2009): This is an album based on a documentary for the book Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. For the documentary, former Uncle Tupelo and current Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar was asked to provide the music.  Armed with one of the most lyrical books of all time, he mostly just set various lines from the book to music, but the results are spectacular.  He invited Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, a huge Kerouac fan himself, along for the ride and the results are spectacular. Much like a Kerouac book, the songs mostly feel like a trip across America.  I recommend the album and the book from which it was drawn.

For Emma, Forever AgoBon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago (2008): This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've heard in a long time. Indie-folk songwriter Justin Vernon retreated to a cabin in Wisconsin to regroup after the break-up of his band and his relationship with no intention of writing or recording any music.  While there in isolation and battling mono, he wrote and recorded all the instruments for the songs on For Emma, Forever Ago while singing wordless melodies.  He went back and listened to the songs and wrote lyrics to replace the hummed melodies. Both mellow and catchy, this album is a grower, so be sure to give it several listens to pick up on the intricacies before making a final judgement.

Twin Cinema
The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema (2005): This record was released while I was still in college and for some reason, I largely ignored it.  Featuring Neko Case, A.C. Newman and a whole host of other members, The New Pornographers are a supergoup of sorts.  The first thing you will notice listening to this album is how catchy these songs are.  One listen is enough to have you singing them in your head all day long.  Repeated listens reveal the excellence of the album, and I'm actually glad it took me this long to get into it.  It's sort of like finding an unopened Christmas present in July.
Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise (2005): Like the previously mentioned Twin Cinema, this one came out while I was still an undergrad.  It was a little bit too weird for me back then.  I finally went back this year and gave it another chance, and now I see why it was so praised upon it's release.  Illinoise was the second (and so far the last) of a proposed 50 albums depicting the States.  This one is all over the map, so be prepared for a wild, slightly jarring ride while listening, and if you only hear one song, make it "Chicago."

The Very Best of Otis ReddingOtis Redding - The Very Best of Otis Redding (1992, but recorded in the years leading up to his death in 1967): Don't ask me why I never noticed that Otis Redding was one of the finest artists in history.  Sure, I always liked "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" and "These Arms of Mine," but it wasn't until I picked this up in a bargain bin this year that I began to truly realize how incredible Otis was.  It doesn't hurt that he recorded right here in Memphis, and worked heavily with Steve Cropper (who, thanks to my father-in-law, I had to opportunity to meet). Regardless of geography though, Otis was a powerhouse vocalist who wrote many of his own songs (which was rare in those days).  I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone convey as much emotion as Otis Redding, and he was still on his way up in the music world and beginning to grow as an artist ("Dock of the Bay" was much different from any of his previous work and was recorded just days before his death) when a plane crash took him way too soon.

Everything All the TimeCease to BeginBand of Horses - Everything All The Time (2006) & Cease to Begin (2007): It took me way too long to enjoy Band of Horses.  I think it's because they are often erroneously compared to My Morning Jacket, and taken in that context, they can sound like a second rate imitator.  However, thinking of Band of Horses as more of The Shins with a Southern drawl puts them in a much better context.  Whatever the reasons for me passing on this band in the past, I'm glad I've discovered them now and I'm sure you will be too.  Their atmospheric songs are perfect for soundtracks, and you've likely heard them and just don't know it. Catchy and well-written, these songs should stand among the biggest hits on the radio

A Ass Pocket Of Whiskey [Explicit]R. L. Burnside - A Ass Pocket Of Whiskey (2005): What do you get when you pluck one of the original Hill Country Bluesmen out of Holly Springs, Mississippi, pair him with modern blues band The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, probably provide liquor, put them in a studio and record?  You get one of the finest, most explicit and raw representations of many of the things that make Hill Country Blues unique. A Wikipedia article describes this album as "lo-fi storytelling garage punk-blues rock with explicit lyrics," and listening to the album reveals this to be pretty accurate.  Oxford, Mississippi-based Fat Possum records was instrumental in getting some of the original blues men into the studio before it was too late, and this is a perfect example of why we are lucky they did. If you can get your hands on You See Me Laughin' you can see a very entertaining, sometimes shocking look at how all this came together.

There are surely other albums I've greatly enjoyed this year that weren't released during 2010, but these are the ones that had the biggest impact.

In a week or so, I'll start posting my favorite albums of 2010. 

Do you have any favorites from past years that you've just discovered?

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