The Best Music of 2009 rundown hit Phawker on New Year's Day. It contains my write-ups of albums by Dirty Projectors and John Vanderslice, as well as Vol. 1 of music from the TV show "Glee."
My editor had intended to run everyone's Top 10 recommendations, but they didn't make the cut owing to space and formatting. Here are mine, in no particular order, but with a classical/non-classical divide a little over halfway through.
Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
Music from Glee, Vol. 1
I recommend these three jointly, because layered vocal harmonies were big this year, and a cappella ones in particular. So, in order, the harmonies here are in service of something fractured and strange, something swooning yet buttoned-down, and something over-the-top, spectacular and slightly fey. As I mentioned before, I sang a cappella in college, and I know deep-down how lame it is, but the diversity of its current uses makes me think that it might someday go legit.
Muse - The Resistance
Taking the arena-filling sound of U2 in a paranoid new direction, while tempering the Messianism and trading the bombast of Bono for that of Brahms or Beethoven.
John Vanderslice - Romanian Names
It's Romantic pop, rather than Baroque, but darker, bleaker and more withdrawn in its lyrics than on past albums. The beautiful, finely-honed sonics remain the same, though.
Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
Lush like Vanderslice, though slightly more precious, but gleefully wordy and overstuffed with lyrics chosen for sound rather than meaning. Dig that whistling, too.
Lady Gaga - The Fame Monster
The girl was everywhere this year, for better or worse, and even she's a Warholian put-on, I'd forgive her based on her infectious beat-mongering and all-out weirdness. I hope she hasn't used up her allotted 15 minutes.
Tyondai Braxton - Central Market
Brilliant musician from Battles ditches band for orchestra, but keeps the laptop and his flexible sense of rhythm and timbre. It's recognizably orchestral, but frenetic, exciting and packed with electronic surprises.
Theater of Voices - David Lang's the little match-girl passion
This piece won Lang the Pulitzer, but he didn't write it with mainstream cred in mind. It's a wrenchingly beautiful, utterly secular take on religious music -- less thorny than the pieces that established Lang's reputation, but no less thoughtful or inventive.
The Crossing and Piffaro - Kile Smith's Vespers
A Philly-centric recording and the most capital-C classical of my selections, and it's capital-R religious to boot, but the way Smith repurposes the earthy sounds of Renaissance instruments for modern music is a marvel. Same goes for the impeccable blend of the singers.