The Official Tulip Frenzy 2009 Top Ten List

Just in time for your holiday shopping… the gang at Tulip Frenzy World HQ has voted.   The best albums of 2009 were:

1.  Sonic Youth    “The Eternal”

They are not young, though they’re certainly youthful, and while some of Sonic Youth’s most devoted fans would recoil at this judgment, Tulip Frenzy thinks 2006’s Rather Ripped and this year’s The Eternal are the best records they’ve released since the mid-’80s.  Incredibly sharp, able to turn on a silver dime, Sonic Youth have still got the basic formula of punk rock punctuated by sudden aural entropy.  Beat that.  And this year, no one could.

2. Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound  “When Sweet Sleep Returned”

We have asked ourselves if this is love on the rebound, if the reason we were so drawn to the second Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound album is because the other bestest neo-psychedelic band in the land, First Communion After Party, failed to release an album this year.  But it’s not true.  When Sweet Sleep Returned is equal parts spectacular San Fran guitar attack and dreamy loveliness.  This is a band that can rock as hard as The Warlocks, and then pivot to an interlude of, well, inter-‘ludes. This one filled our head with sunburst and other sounds throughout much of the summer and fall.

3.    Robyn Hitchcock   “Goodnight Oslo”

Yes, we’d probably enjoy Robyn Hitchcock singing an entomology textbook, and sometime over the past 30 years that he’s beguiled us, we probably have.  That he’s never sounded more self-assured, that his band has Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey playing in it, that(for the most part) he actually dropped the irony and insect bit to sing incredibly punchy pop songs wound ’round the twanging Byrdsy lead guitar he’s been brandishing since the Soft Boys rendered this Frequent Spinner Miles on our office playlist.

4.  Neko Case   “Middle Cyclone”

Here’s how important Neko Case is: because she wanted to push her own album this year, two of our favorite bands — The New Pornographers and Calexico — essentially sat the year out, the former because without Neko, why play?  the latter because they were backing her up.  Forget Neko’s pipes, her incredibly loud tomboy holler, this is a songwriter in the Flannery O’Connor tradition.  Middle Cyclone is a career highlight, and what a career this is proving to be, parked in the middle of the base path between alt.country and the hippest rock around, daring someone to tag her out.

5.  Reigning Sound   “Love And Curses”

It didn’t top their imperfectly heralded masterpiece, Time Bomb High School, but the Reigning Sound’s Love and Curses had me the moment I realized Greg Cartwright’s my favorite rock singer probably since John Lennon.  Just thinking about how a garage band laboring in the grease and sawdust of Asheville, NC could put out a record that spans the whole of rock’n’roll, with a dollop of blue-eyed soul, a sprinkle of punk, and a scoche of roots rock for good measure unpacked smiles wherever they were heard.

6.  Tinariwen  “Imidiwan: Companions”

We’re still trying to fathom how the most compelling Delta blues band we’ve heard since the Jelly Roll Kings conquered Arkansas could have emerged from the Touareg lands of Mali, but by now Tinariwen has figured out how to mix the village singalong with the ululations of the women folk atop an undulating beat that feels like you’re hanging on to a fast camel.  Never expected to spend this much time listening to music from the Sahara.  We’re glad we did, even if they may be a Khaddafian plot more diabolical than his hiring Italian models just to listen to him read the Koran.

7.  The Decembrists  “The Hazards Of Love”

We got over the need for concept albums around the time the Kinks stopped touring behind Preservation, but in another cultural mashup, The Decembrists, citizens of Portland, Oregon, released the best British folk album since Fotheringay.  Awfully pretty, ambitious, and bold, the only grabbing of the stereo dial this prompted when it came on in the car was to turn the volume up.

8.  Pearl Jam   “Backslider”

What does it say about music in Anno Domini 2009 that the finest punk rock extant was from Pearl Jam?  We are as sincere as they are; we’ve never been snide about these guys, and do not put irony on a higher shelf than straightforwardness, of which they’ve also carried a copious supply.  Apparently, boys just want to have fun, and it really sounded like they did making this excellent return to form.

9.  Wilco “Wilco”

Wilco, the album, was a bit of a let down for Wilco, the band.  But even when they miss the mark, they hit the spot, with an album that sounded like master musician Nels Cline wasn’t too proud to invoke his inner Wilbury.  Look, we expect something more from a band that, since 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, has been in a league of their own. As it is, Wilco, the album, kept up the streak of us playing Wilco, the band for half the year’s weeks, and when you think about it, dominating 26 weeks of any given year for this long is like Threepeating the NBA Finals or something.

10.  Cracker  “Sunrise In The Land of Milk and Honey”

It’s not the soft spot we have for David Lowery that got this one clinging to the bottom rung of Tulip Frenzy’s Top Ten list.  Sure, after listening to enough Pearl Jam, you might want some irony, and Lowery’s served it up in spades, both in this Southern combo and among their West Coast brethren, Camper Van Beethoven.  The actual irony is just how much that Pearl Jam album reminded us of the near-equal grip Cracker has on those punkrock power chords.  You can’t have too much fun, and we thank the Lord on a regular interval that this too is Cracker’s attitude.

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