Finishing the 2008 awards in August of 2009, I thought it would be easy to finish this year's list sooner...well, I've been wrong before and will be again...
50. Staff Benda Billi - Staff Benda Billi - All but one of the members of this band are bound to customized tricycles due to their polio- the one member who isn't is 17 years old and plays a one-string lute he created. So to say this Congo-based band is one of a kind is an understatement. Recorded with stolen electricity at the zoo where they spend most of their days, this album is full of upbeat tunes and solid harmonies, even when talking about parents getting their kids vaccinated for polio..
49. Secret Chiefs 3 - Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini - Secret Chiefs 3 is an odd bird- members of the out-there band Mr. Bungle make up the core of SC3, and they plunder from a variety of styles based on their current whims. They have drawn inspiration from Morricone movie scores, world music, experimental music, noise and heavy metal. This album is a soundtrack to an imaginary horror film, more specifically, a Giallo film, an Italian sub-genre of horror films (thank you as always, Wikipedia). I can't say I know much (or anything) about Italian horror films, but the music here is at times creepy, chilling, intriguing, raucous and paints a picture of horror without any visuals.
Not from this album, but a similar cover by them...
48. Reigning Sound- Love and Curses - Lots of bands out there these days are dipping into the garage rock well, with varying levels of authenticity and success. Reigning Sound gets high marks in both originality and reverence to the classic garage sound. Organ weaves in and out nicely, and there are echoes of The Replacements in a few of these melodies, The Lyres in a few others. A nice mix of tempos keeps things interesting throughout.
47. Fever Ray - Fever Ray - So if you hadn't noticed, "dark" isn't a description used on these pages often. Timmy likes his music happy. BUT, upon rare occasion, something dark and brooding catches my ear. Such is the case with Fever Ray- a dark batch of electronica from the lead voice of The Knife. Uneasy listening to be sure, but interesting and appealing in its own special way.
46. Pelican - What We All Come To Need - I've never been into a lot of what is considered "metal", but I find I like a lot of music that's stylistically right on the outside of that genre. Chicago's Pelican takes metal's fury and thunder, adds a little nuance and leaves the vocals (my least favorite part of metal) out- save for the last song on this record, their first with vocals. The melodies go beyond the stereotypical metal, and Pelican is sometime classified as "post rock." File under metal for eggheads who like it loud.
45. Wavves - Wavvves - That is no typo- yes, the band is Wavves, the album is Wavvves. That sort of thinking, along with the fuzzy, retro skateboard cover summarize what is afoot here- Messy, poppy fun.
44. Black Crowes - Before the Frost/Until the Freeze- I'll give you all a minute to scroll to the top of the screen, realize that yes, this still is the Timmys, and yes, it is THOSE Black Crowes- that major label, mainstream act that sells out arenas. Well, used to be major label act, and yes, the venues are smaller now. They put this thing out themselves, one physical disc and one downloadable "disc", both recorded live in front of about a hundred fans (who you can't hear) up at Levon Helm's barn studio in New York. The ability to call their own shots works wonders- the music is classic rock at its finest, and even expands the palette a bit, like on the "Miss You" era Stones-y disco meets Squeeze's "Cool for Cats" tune, "I Ain't Hiding." Just when you think you know what you like and what bands put out decent music, something like this comes along. An excellent surprise.
Chris Robinson and Levon Helm discuss the album (it's essentially an ad for a DVD, bud still interesting)
43. Speech Debelle - Speech Therapy - Ah, the British female rapper. Talk about an uphill battle. Adding on to that, this album took years to record and sent this young Londoner to Australia to finish it. In spite of it all, this is a fresh, jazzy rap/soul hybrid with catchy tunes, the right production and a great voice and personality up front. This won the Mercury Prize, which goes to the best British or Irish independent album of the year. So add a Timmy to your shelf as well, Speech.
Had to do two videos here as well: this clip is a live acoustic version of one of my favorite tracks on the album.
42. David Last vs. Zulu - Musically Massive - Like London Zoo by The Bug on last year's Timmys, this is dancehall reggae retooled and rewired for the 21st Century. David Last is from Brooklyn- he discovered the music of Chicago based dancehall MC Zulu while on vacation in Australia. The duo built this record by sending tapes back and forth. A very modern way to make a very modern reggae record.
41. The Penelope(s) - Priceless Concrete Echoes - There was a time, not that long ago...OK, maybe now it's a long time ago- that I wouldn't listen to music that was heavy on the synths. Well, times change, tastes change, and that's no longer a factor for me. Exhibit A- The Penelope(s), a duo from France whose music is drenched in keyboards and all things electronic. There's definitely an 80's throwback vibe here, but a series of guest vocalists and a cool cover of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" keeps things cranking along.
40. White Lies -To Lose My Life -When The Killers surfaced a few years ago, their debut sounded like a collection of sounds from years ago, repackaged with a pop sheen designed for radio crossover. This came to mind listening to White Lies, a London band with a few Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen records in their music collection. They take these influences and give them a glossy catchiness that somehow still works. When I first heard "Death", I stayed in the parked car until it was over- the melody was uplifting for a song with perhaps one of the darkest titles imaginable. Whether they get too bigheaded to repeat this album like the Killers did after their debut remains to be seen, but they'll always have this nice debut under their belts.
39. Knight School - The Poor And The Needy Need To Party - A few things have become traditions in the Timmys- and having an album that sounds like it was recorded on an old cassette deck is one of them. This year's version is Knight School, poppy, punky, no song over three minutes. Good low-fi fun.
Couldn't find a good video of them, so I give you this:
38. Rain Machine - Rain Machine - TV on the Radio have found a regular home on this list, so it's no surprise that their guitarist's solo effort would as well. Kyp Malone, he of the amazing afro/beard combo, keeps a lot of what makes TV on the Radio great- a nice falsetto and a mish-mosh of musical styles- and takes it a step further, with some nice experimental and acoustic moments here.
37. Cornershop - Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast - Been a while since Cornershop put out an album- seven years to be exact- and this is a nice comeback. Not their best album, for sure, but some acts' "OK albums" are still pretty darn good. There's some bright poppy melodies straight from the 60s but with a 90s musical sense, and Indian influences in all the right places. We need to hear more sitar in pop music, and Cornershop delivers there.
36. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More - The cover of this record shouts London, and that's where Mumford & Sons hail from, geographically at least. Spiritually, they have one foot in the folk of the British countryside, and the other in the hills of Kentucky. There's a solid rock base hear as well, with plaintive vocals, heart on the sleeve lyrics and some nice banjo playing, all combining for a very impressive debut. Especially good when they pick up the tempo, like on "Little Lion Man."
35. Cold Cave - Love Comes Close- So Feist caught a major break when "1,2,3,4" was featured in iPod ads. Cold Cave's "Life Magazine" didn't set the world on fire when it was featured in a Radio Shack ad, but hey, how many Battery Club members are there compared to iPod owners? At any rate, the Radio Shack folks were smart enough to choose a track with a MGMT-type of synthy catchiness and some nicely echoing female vocals. That's just one flavor on this album- there's Joy Division/early New Order moodiness elsewhere, complete with brooding male vocals, and Architecture in Helsinki quirkiness elsewhere. Here's hoping the Radio Shack deal keeps them in transistors for a long while.
34. N.A.S.A. - The Spirit of Apollo - This album looked AMAZING on paper- the guest list includes David Byrne, M.I.A., Tom Waits, Kool Keith, Spank Rock, George Clinton, members of the Wu-Tang Clan and many, many more. One thinks that because one half of N.A.S.A. is Spike Jonez' brother, they might have had access to an amazing rolodex, but no matter- they got them all on the same record. The videos related to this record are also pretty stunning. The music itself? Well, it's a mixed bag. Some of the combinations work better than others, and it's kind of all over the map, so to speak (N.A.S.A. stands for North America South America and they certainly take music cues from each continent) In all, I think it succeeds more than it fails, and I wonder who they're going to call to be on the next one...
33. Dizzee Rascal - Tongue N' Cheek - This British rapper keep surfacing on these pages, and he will continue to do so if he keeps expanding his sound like he does here. Dizzee embraces more dance beats, managing to become more commercial (this was a pretty fair success in the UK) while expanding his sound to new territories.
32. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic / The Flaming Lips et al - The Dark Side Of The Moon - Ah, Oklahoma's weirdest sons are back, with a double album, no less. This is noisier and darker than much of their recent work, but this allows them to really stretch out, getting psychedelic, spooky and jazzy at various junctures. Not for the "She Don't Use Jelly" crowds for sure, but a good listen for the adventurous.
Speaking of being dark and psychedelic, the Lips grabbed their singer's nephew's band, called up Henry Rollins and Peaches for well-placed cameos and did a rollicking run-through of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon. Some tracks sparkle- like the krautrock groove on "Breathe", others fizzle- the effect laden vocals on "Money" wear thin quickly, but it's a worthy listen for fans of the Lips or fans of Floyd.
31. Islands - Vapours - So Islands are one of those bands where I hear a song, see a video, and think "What's the big deal? They are average at best." Well, then I read more and more reviews singing their praises, and I start to think I should maybe give them another chance. And then, maybe there's a tipping point. For Islands, when I learned they named their album after the Biz Markie album of the same name, that sent me to check out their latest. Glad I did- it's rhythmic, quirky, inventive and a fun listen. Discoveries like this have led me to never write off a band entirely.
30. White Denim - Fits - White Denim made this list last year with their "garage rock with experimental tendencies" mix, and in a very interesting move, they included that entire CD as a bonus disc in this new album. So points right there, but that's only a good move if the new music is good, too. And is- rough and fuzzy when it needs to be, varied and catchy enough to be much more than one-dimensional. And on "Regina Holding Hands", they show their quieter side and it's a good one. A band to watch.
29. Diane Birch - Bible Belt - Female singer-songwriters are everywhere, but it's rare that Laura Nyro/Carole King comparisons pop up for the current batch. These two ladies are the perfect reference points for Diane Birch, and the cover itself looks like it's from at least 35 years ago. Solid songwriting and a sweet-as-honey voice allow Diane to shine over the often too slick production.
28. The King Khan & BBQ Show - Invisible Girl - An appropriate album cover from a campy, goofy garage rock duo- it's silly and deeply rooted in the 1960's. When the first track is called Anala (yes, pronounced Anal-uh) and contains kazoos and deep voiced doo-wop style backup vocals, you know these lads don't take themselves too seriously. Great tunes and a good time from start to finish.
27. Goran Bregovic - Alkohol - OK, I've been doing this for about ten years, and I do believe this is the first artist with Yugoslavian roots to make the list. Eastern European brass band music with modern touches- not as crazy as Gogol Bordello, but Goran and his band definitely bring the energy. When they speed things up, the party really gets going. Infectious stuff.
26. Japandroids - Post-Nothing - Two dudes who can really crank up the volume, Japandroids pour a lot of sound into 8 songs lasting 33 minutes. Low Fi meets noise meets pop melodies, a good album with good hooks. I hear a little Hüsker Dü in here, which always elevates a band in my eyes...