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...
25. Joel Plaskett - Three - Did I say hooks anywhere in the prior reviews? Well, Nova Scotia native Joel Plaskett has so many of 'em, he had to put out three as a three CD set. Ol' Joel started writing songs for his new record and realized he had a number of songs that repeated the same word - "Gone, Gone, Gone," "Through and Through and Through," and more. So he decided to call it Three, and made it a 3 CD set. He certainly has enough quality songs to pull it off, and they are a refreshing blend of power pop, with Marshall Crenshaw and Ben Lee among the more obvious references. A good old fashioned pop album- times three.
24. Mariachi El Bronx - Mariachi El Bronx - The Bronx is an L.A.punk band, where Mariachi El Bronx is essentially the same members playing an entirely different type of music. As the name would suggest, they play traditional mariachi music. The songs themselves are new compositions with English lyrics, so they immediately have a decidedly more American angle than traditional mariachi music, but the right melodies, instrumentation and feeling are there (at least to my untrained ears.) A nice diversion for the band, I'm sure, and a great diversion for their fans and for open-minded world music fans.
23. Micachu and the Shapes - Jewellery - Quirky female singers are not a rarity, but there always seems to be room for a new one. Micachu, with help from electronic producer Matthew Herbert, takes electronics and some very crude and punky guitars and drums and creates short, quirky, abrasive but loveable tunes. A solid debut which proves that being experimental doesn't mean you can't be catchy, too.
22. Heritage Orchestra featuring DJ Yoda - G. Prokofiev Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra- I can't say that orchestra has been mentioned in these pages often- and if it has, it's more than likely it was precluded with "Electric Light." But turntable skills have made it here before and will again- and I'd like to think I'm open to new combinations of sound. The composer featured here is the grandson of famous Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, and he truly can see how the dense nature of a lot of sample-driven hip hop can lend itself to orchestral music. There's a small movement afoot in this genre- I don't think it will ever really breakout, but it would be great if it did- it's a real interesting and enjoyable listening experience.
21. Dude 'N Nem - Tinted Incubators - The band name, album title and cover, everything here indicates that Dud 'N Nem don't take themselves too seriously. Which can go a long way, especially as their peers seem more concerned with image and street cred than they do with putting out good music. The Chicago-based Dude 'N Nem want to make you laugh- the love jam"McDonald's" is all about treating your lady right- by taking her to McDonald's. But they also want to make you dance, and at varying speeds. "Cut My Legs" cruises along nicely with backing vocals reminiscent of "Jam On It", "Dancer" references the song "Maniac" from Flashdance, and "Watch My Feet" is designed to break ankles of those who attempt to dance to it. They may never get huge, but they have a lot of potential...(Postscript: As the writing of this year's Timmys was in progress, it was revealed that both members of this group were paid just under $25K in a possible misappropriation of census funds. The music is still good, so the album stays on my list.)
20. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz - I always liked the band Garbage. I'm generally not a big fan of bands fronted by female vocalists, but there was something about their punkish attitude mixed with pure pop hooks. Now I'm not saying the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have that formula copied to a tee, but there is definitely some of that going on, and it keeps me coming back.
19. Kylie Auldist - Made of Stone - Soul revivalist Kylie, the self-described "Australian housewife and mother of two" made the Timmys list last year with her debut album, a sunny side of the 60's soul revival. This album sees a lot more going on style-wise, with a lot more 70's funk influences. Not as immediately striking as her first, but a solid album from a very talented singer.
Video of Kylie is very hard to track down- here she is with The Bamboos from their 2010 album...
18. Mayer Hawthorne - A Strange Arrangement - Did I just say soul revival? Meet Mayer Hawthorne, he of the killer 70's soul hooks and brilliant falsetto. His take on the classic soul style is more of the Dells/Dramatics variety than the more common Motown/Stax route. The sound is classic but the production is crisp and the tunes are worthwhile. An excellent soul album.
17. Franz Ferdinand - Tonight - In 2004, Franz Ferdinand's debut album tops my best of list. 2005, their second album does the same. So, four years later, my hopes were high for album number three. The result? Well, the first two are far better, but there are still good moments to be had here. If you have the first two and love them, check this out, it's more of the good guitar driven post-punk you can dance to if you were so inclined. This is a step down, for sure, but ultimately still worth several listens.
16. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix- Phoenix has been hyped in the more indie-focused music journals for quite sometime, and I gotta tell you, I didn't get it. Their sound left me kind of flat- competent, but nothing worth raving about. It may have taken hearing "1901" in a car commercial to make me give them a second chance, but I did and now I get it. A nice mix of indie rock and dance grooves, Phoenix is single-handedly reducing the amount of groans and/or chuckles that follow hearing the phrase "French Rock Band."
15. The Dead Weather - Horehound - Jack White, what can't you do? You consistently crank out interesting music as a White Stripe, you show your love for Zeppelin-tinted rock tunes as a Raconteur, now this? The Dead Weather sends Jack behind the drum kit and puts The Kills' Alison Mosshart out front. There's a bluesy, classic rock undercurrent to all of this (the Zeppelin love is very present), but still enough to make it fresh. As I type this, their second album just came out (unfortunately not titled "Morehound" as Jack White joked it would), and I wouldn't be surprised if it wound up on these pages in 2010.
14. K'naan - Troubadour - So, who's your favorite rapper from Africa? OK, so it's not a crowded field. But K'naan could hold his own even against tougher competition, as he raps, sings and weaves tales of his native Somalia and blends a dozen or more musical style along the way. Impressive- Mos Def, Chubb Rock, Chali 2na- and surprising - Metallica's Kirk Hammett (!) - guests add without distracting. I'm going to borrow some metaphors from AllMusicGuide.com, as I find them accurate- "...this is highly recommended for anyone intrigued by a will.i.am version of Slumdog Millionaire or a Charles Dickens novel reimagined by Arrested Development."
13. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures- Ah, the supergroup, a rock and roll staple since Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young). Most wind up being far better on paper (remember The Firm?) but a few wind up being a good combination of their various members' prior bands. Such is the case with Them Crooked Vultures. Queens of The Stone Age's Josh Homme brings his band's vocal power and slashing guitars; Dave Grohl brings the Foo Fighters' endless hooks and ability to carve a sharp melody from under a mountain of rock, and then there's John Paul Jones. His name connected to this band alone brings authenticity to the Zeppelin grooves heard throughout, but he also adds the creative flourishes that elevated his former band to the top of the rock pantheon. I'm not saying we'll be mentioning Zeppelin and Them Crooked Vultures in the same sentence years from now, but these guys certainly will go down on the list of supergroups that worked.
12. Fashawn - Boy Meets World - It's hard enough for me to keep up with the music in my wheelhouse- americana, indie, alternative, etc.- yet I'm still always on the hunt for new rap sounds as well. Thanks to the internet and music magazines, this is an achievable feat, and I'm glad, as I am able to enjoy new artists like Fashawn. Catchy and smart, Fashawn finds a great combination of intelligent lyrics and irresistable hooks. An impressive debut.
11. VV Brown - Travelling Like The Light- A very cool mix of doo-wop, girl group sounds, alternative, R & B, hip hop and pop. Very accessible and catchy but still unique, she's could be huge or one of pop's interesting cult artists or a quirky foonote....time will tell.
Hard to pick just one video, so I didn't:
10. Aceyalone - Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones - The hat, suit, the shades and the vintage mic are more than just hints- Aceyalone takes his prolific, genre hopping career through the rap underground and back to the 60's of Stax and Motown. This is a rap record, but fully drenched in classic soul- and it works really well.
9. Matias Aguayo - Ay Ay Ay - This one really surprised me- percussive, chant-laden electronic dance music from Argentina. Kind of a male version of Bjork's Medúlla geared for the dancefloor, but that is really over simplifying things. Like Buraka Som Sistema on last year's Timmys, it takes what one thinks of both dance and world music, grinds them up together and comes out with a blend that's as fresh as anything out there.
8. Passion Pit - Manners - Catchy, catchy stuff- super high falsetto vocals, retro synths and today's indie spirit combine for an impressive debut, especially on the hook-laden "Little Secrets". Fun but not frivolous, catchy and poppy but not annoying.
7. Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You - It's been said that an artist has their whole life to work on their first album and only a year to make their second, hence the all-too-common "sophomore slump". Somebody forgot to tell Ms. Allen such a thing exists- or even more likely, they never stopped telling her and she made it her mission to prove them all wrong. Smart, sassy, catchy in a "is that a song from the 40's?" kind of way. Lily's lyrics, personality, accent and matter-of-fact delivery are the real stars here- you feel the person behind the songs, and it's a person you'd like to have a glass of wine (or ten) with.
6. The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You- The Avett Brothers have been around for years, but 2009 saw them sign to Columbia and work with Rick Rubin. He didn't do a Johnny Cash here and strip their bluegrass/country/rock blend down to nothing- instead, he left them to their own devices and let the piano take the lead, giving them a unique take on americana and a little bit of an NRBQ sound at spots. Clear as a bell vocals and strong lyrics rule throughout- bigger things lie ahead for these guys.
5. Florence And The Machine - Lungs - The cover says a lot- this is one quirky woman here. A little Kate Bush, a little Tori Amos, maybe a little of Bjork's oddness, and I would even say a bit of Madonna's pop sensibility- a combination of these things will get you close to what she sounds like. Very British, and she sure likes a big drum sound- even has a tune called "The Drumming Song". A nice new talent.
4. Jay Z - The Blueprint III- What year did he retire? Is he the rap Brett Favre? No matter- Jay Z made one of the finer recent rap albums to listen to from start to finish with The Blueprint III. His voice is the common thread as guests weave in and out, styles change and tempos vary. When it hits- which is quite often- this album can give you goosebumps with how on point this guy can be.
3. The Antlers - Hospice - Ah yes, the concept album. When they are good, they are great. When they fail, they are downright miserable...Styx's Killroy Was Here, anyone? Well, obviously, I think Hospice is one of the good ones...and also one of the sadder ones. As you could guess by the title, a dying patient is involved, as is a nurse who becomes attached to the dying patient. It's pretty heavy stuff, and the music does well to match it- with hints of Radiohead, The Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel. I usually don't like sad music, but when it works this well, it's hard not to.
2. Gift of Gab - Escape to Mars - I went back and forth with my #1 and #2 so may times, I seriously considering declaring a tie for first, but ultimately made a choice. But this is a fantastic album, and a real surprise. Gift of Gab is one half of underground rap duo Blackalicious, and this is his second proper solo album, and it's a real winner. The beats are varied, the subject matter goes from the pseudo-environmental to a clever reinvention of the boasting rap to a tale of a lost weekend. Excellent from start to finish with few dull parts in between.
1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective really came into their own in 2009. They are still one of the weirder bands out there, but they are paying more attention to songs and melody and the result is both one of their more interesting and out there albums to date. Like Radiohead, they do their own thing and the other bands can only watch- the only difference is Animal Collective is several shades more out there than Radiohead. At points scary, beautiful, psychedelic, spacy, experimental, catchy and just plain messed up, they still are not for everyone- in fact, I believe they remain an acquired taste. But it's my favorite album of 2009, and that's what this list is all about.
And another, because their videos are so out there...