Best (and worst) music

And what we're looking forward to 2010.

  • Dirty Projectors

  • Devendra Banhart

  • Dean & Britta

  • Christina Courtin

  • Hess Is More

  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs

  • Sunset Rubdown

  • Them Crooked Vultures

  • Tanya Morgan

  • Darcy James Argue

  • The xx

Dirty Projectors

Best albums | Best shows | Best cabaret
Worst of 2009 | Best of 2010?

Sophie Harris, Music writer

1. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca (Domino) A beautiful, baffling album from Dave Longstreth’s Brooklyn collective. I like a record that makes you go, “What the hell?” on your first listen. Read more

2. Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of Day (Universal Motown) The hype was right: Cleveland MC Scott Mescudi started the year with a mixtape and some famous fans (Jay-Z, Kanye) to his name, and ended it with this sumptuous, cinematic opus. Read more

3. Devendra Banhart, What Will We Be (Warner Bros.) After the tangled psychedelic fantasies of his last album, alt-folk icon Banhart mellowed out; these sweet, easy songs felt like old friends. Read more

4. Akron/Family, Everyone Is Guilty (Dead Oceans) Akron/Family’s first album as a trio was its lushest outing yet, complete with strings, brass and glorious harmonies—yeah, and big, gnarly jams, too. Read more

5. Oumou Sangar, Seya (World Circuit/Nonesuch) Malian superstar Sangare married her smooth, cool-as-silk voice to rhythms from Afrobeat legend Tony Allen. Read more

6. Fuck Buttons, Tarot Sport (ATP) Beautiful noise: Bristol, U.K. duo Fuck Buttons mixed up techno, electronica and post-rock with soaring melodies for this Andrew Weatherall--produced sophomore record. Read more

7. Mayer Hawthorne, A Strange Arrangement (Stones Throw) This geeky-looking soul man served up old-fashioned romance and warm, Motown-style grooves. Read more

8. Andrew Bird, Noble Beast (Fat Possum) Another beautiful, wildly inventive, subtle album from the violin genius and master wordsmith? Er, yes. Read more

9. Fruit Bats, Ruminant Band (Sub Pop) Now a full-time member of the Shins, Eric D. Johnson gave his soft spot full rein; touchstones included the Strawbs, Pink Floyd and Neil Young. Read more

10. Julian Casablancas, Phrazes for the Young (RCA)
The head Stroke delivered red-eyed, erratic, Tron-like grooves with more than a dash of melancholy and longing. Read more

Jay Ruttenberg, Music writer

1. Dean & Britta, 13 Most Beautiful...Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests (Plexifilm) As the LP format creeps toward oblivion, this was the rare triumphant multimedia album: Casting Warhol’s forlorn film portraits against period-appropriate songs pointed to the future via the past. Read more

2. Comet Gain, Broken Record Prayers (What’s Your Rupture?) This collection of singles, EPs and Peel Sessions makes a strong case for the long-teetering London collective as one of indie rock’s great unheralded acts. Read more

3. Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, Between My Head and the Sky (Chimera Music) The underground titan—alternately backed by Manhattan improv artists and Tokyo pop musicians—remained characteristically bold, funny and berserk. Meanwhile, Sean Lennon came into his own as Mom’s producer and label head. Read more

4. The Clean, Mister Pop (Merge) New Zealand’s finest crafted an album draped in melancholy and mystery.

5. The Fiery Furnaces, I’m Going Away (Thrill Jockey) The local duo streamlined its sound—uncorking, of all things, a melodic pop band. Read more

6. Christina Courtin, Christina Courtin (Nonesuch) A young New York singer made an old-fashioned New York debut. Read more

7. The Flaming Lips, Embryonic (Warner Bros.) The studiously freaky Oklahomans presented a raucous master class in psychedelia. Read more

8. Micachu, Jewellery (Rough Trade) Young Londoner Mica Levi unveiled her junky, anarchic and unusually unique world of sound. Read more

9. Hess Is More, Hits (Nublu) An avant-disco musician from Copenhagen made his commendably goofy stateside entrance. Read more

10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz! (Interscope) NYC’s flavor of 2002 took seven years and three albums to realize its potential. Better late than never. Read more

Colin St. John, Music writer

1. Sunset Rubdown, Dragonslayer (Jagjaguwar) Spencer Krug emerged as an unhinged virtuoso, conjuring stream-of-consciousness lyrics and fierce, multimovement opuses in the name of nerdy, untamed rock & roll. Read more

2. Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (Ice H2O/EMI) The Chef slung forth throwback masterwork that rivaled the Wu-Tang Clan’s best stuff from the ’90s. Read more

3. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino) It was easy to hate on the indie blogosphere for its slavish devotion to this dependably evolving crew, but even easier to love these surreal songs. Read more

4. Fever Ray, Fever Ray (Mute) Karin Elisabeth Dreijer sliced the dance-party element out of her work in the Knife for this haunting, pulsating solo debut. Read more

5. Dan Deacon, Bromst (Carpark) The mad scientist of electro exceeded his previous lab work by employing every sound under the Baltimore sun—including a MIDI-controlled player piano. Read more

6. Mos Def, The Ecstatic (Downtown) Out of the blue came this part-time actor with one of the best hip-hop records of the year, chock-full of sick samples and brainy lyrics. Read more

7. Julian Casablancas, Phrazes for the Young (RCA) He don’t need no stinkin’ Strokes to craft ingenious rock; turned out he just needed some really good synthesizers. Read more

8. The Flaming Lips, Embryonic (Warner Bros.) Wayne Coyne & Co. explored the dark side of the Lips, calling upon pre--Soft Bulletin sonic abstraction. Read more

9. Thomas Function, In the Valley of Sickness (Fat Possum) Jangly, whiny garage pop from this don’t-give-a-fuck Alabama troupe (opening chorus: “The only good cop is a dead cop”) made this the most overlooked pick of the year.

10. tUnE-YaRdS, BiRd BrAiNs (4AD) Merrill Garbus’s singular experiment was a vision at once gorgeous and utterly weird.

Hank Shteamer, Associate Music Editor

1. Propagandhi, Supporting Caste (Smallman) It wasn’t a year of left-wing protest, but judging by this Manitoban prog-punk outfit’s bracingly vehement fifth full-length, you’d never have known. Read more

2. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca (Domino) It’s always encouraging when one of the year’s most acclaimed releases is as weird as this enchanting art-pop riddle. Read more

3. Ran Blake, Driftwoods (Tompkins Square) Jazz balladry took on the depth of religious communion in the hands of a 74-year-old piano master. Read more

4. Julian Casablancas, Phrazes for the Young (RCA) The Strokes frontman wedded his morose melodic gifts to an unnerving futurism on this eccentric gem of a solo debut. Read more

5. Chad Taylor, Circle Down (482 Music) Drummer Taylor, pianist Angelica Sanchez and bassist Chris Lightcap crafted an exquisitely balanced collective statement, encompassing knotty Latin jazz, rainy-day musings and sly compositional elegance.

6. Them Crooked Vultures, Them Crooked Vultures (DGC/Interscope) Josh Homme, reigning Stone Age Queen, roped in a dream-team rhythm section for a lush yet ballsy vanity project. Read more

7. Dinosaur Jr., Farm (Jagjaguwar) A veteran trio achieved the fullest-yet realization of its signature fuzz-rock sound—and topped it off with the coolest album cover of 2009. Read more

8. Sean Kingston, Tomorrow (Epic) The young Jamaican reminded us why his hook-filled reggae-lite is one of the most charming commodities in contemporary pop. Read more

9. Jon Irabagon with Mike Pride, I Don’t Hear Nothin’ but the Blues (Loyal Label) Obsessive discipline made this 50-minute sax-drums improv set sound like a marvel of concision. Read more

10. Heaven and Hell, The Devil You Know (Rhino) Black Sabbath 2.0 shed its name, and in the process rediscovered its special brand of sinister majesty. Read more

Steve Smith, Music editor

1. Tanya Morgan, Brooklynati (Interdependent Media) This Brooklyn-Cincinnati hip-hop trio summoned old-school cheer, goofy skits and indelible hooks for a left-field masterpiece. Read more

2. Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night (Arista Nashville) Amid homey odes to fishing and family, Brad Paisley envisioned America’s melting pot as a mixing bowl and evoked Rosa Parks to welcome President Obama.

3. Lily Allen, It’s Not Me, It’s You (Capitol) Abetted by studio Svengali Greg Kurstin, the plucky English starlet wrapped sass and sentiment in ambitious, infectious classic-pop arrangements. Read more

4. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam) Composer and bandleader Argue’s highly anticipated debut offered an expansive, inclusive new jazz that’s open to all. Read more

5. Converge, Axe to Fall (Epitaph). Mixing its characteristic apocalyptic force and fury with moodier material and atmospheric production resulted in this hardcore mainstay’s most consistently devastating album.

6. David Sylvian, Manafon (Samadhi Sound). The artful veteran singer fashioned the crackles and squeals of esoteric improvisers into spare cinematography for his intimate, keenly limned vignettes.

7. The xx, xx (XL Recordings) Behind all the buzz, this young London combo offered a quietly mesmerizing lesson in low-key electronic twitch and smoldering boy-girl chemistry. Read more

8. Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (Ice H2O/EMI). Steeped in the sounds of vintage Wu-Tang, Raekwon spun rugged urban homilies, and made eager collaborators rise to his level. Read more

9. Micachu, Jewellery (Rough Trade). Remember all the praise heaped upon Animal Collective for reinventing melody, harmony and so on? Micachu’s brassy, clattery debut actually lived up to those claims. Read more

10. The Antlers, Hospice (French Kiss). Peter Silberman’s towering art-rock song cycle made a lasting impression with its powerful, ornate sounds and unflinching vision of grief, anger and catharsis. Read more

Best albums | Best shows | Best cabaret
Worst of 2009 | Best of 2010?

See more Best and worst of 2009

Best albums | Best shows | Best cabaret
Worst of 2009 | Best of 2010?

Paul Simon at the Beacon Theatre (Feb 13)
Standing ovations galore at this hit-filled gala—which ended with a surprise showing from Art Garfunkel. Breath truly taken.—SH Read more

Grizzly Bear with the Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House (Feb 28)
The ethereal Brooklyn band added some strings to unveil songs from Veckatimest.—CSJ Read more

Toumani Diabat’s Symmetric Orchestra at (Le) Poisson Rouge (Apr 19)
The Malian kora master gave Manhattan a taste of the rollicking band he leads every week at a Bamako nightclub.—JR Read more

Buraka Som Sistema at Bowery Ballroom (May 2)
The Portuguese dance-floor renegades—and M.I.A. faves—got the Bowery crowd grinning, grinding and jumping in the air (literally) at this sweat fest. Maximum fun.—SH Read more

Joe McPhee at Local 269 (May 4)
Wielding only his alto sax, this veteran improviser made an LES dive bar feel like a concert hall.—HS

Mayhem at the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza (May 21)
Attila Csihar and his grim Norwegian bandmates offered an overpowering mix of flamboyant Guignol and feral blasts.—SS

Todd Snider at Bowery Ballroom (June 11)
The Nashville troubadour bleeds with empathy and humor, a modern-day Guthrie disguised as a shoeless fool.—JR Read more

Van der Graaf Generator at Nokia Theatre Times Square (June 21)
In this veteran prog band’s first local date since 1976, new songs about aging with dignity stood proudly amid vintage epics of emperors and lemmings.—SS Read more

Wilco at KeySpan Park (July 13)
Jeff Tweedy and his group of aging Chicagoans proved themselves exciting and vital yet again.—CSJ Read more

Wild Yaks at Knitting Factory Brooklyn (Oct 21)
The raw Brooklyn roots-punk band flouted CMJ contrivance with a gloriously unhinged set.—HS Read more

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Our Hit Parade
Kenny Mellman, Neal Medlyn and Bridget Everett of Our Hit Parade

Photograph: Erica Beckman

Best albums | Best shows | Best cabaret
Worst of 2009 | Best of 2010?

1. Our Hit Parade at Joe’s Pub (Monthly)
Downtown stars add fizz to pop in this must-see, madcap celebration-subversion of America’s favorite songs. Read more

2. Barb Jungr: The Men I Love at Caf Carlyle (March)
The astonishing English singer blew new life into the Carlyle, and the room has never seemed less stuffy.

3. Christine Ebersole at Caf Carlyle (January)
The Broadway star showed off the rainbow colors of her voice in a dazzlingly eclectic return to form.

4. Barbara Cook: Here’s to Life at Feinstein’s (April--May)
Cook made a rich meal of the Great American Songbook in her latest master class on the art of maintaining standards.

5. Paula West at the Oak Room (October--November)
Rhythmically surprising and emotionally charged, West’s distinctive jazz pulled you happily into the swing of things.

6. Maude Maggart: Parents and Children at the Oak Room (April--May)
Maggart found rich notes of feeling in a show that marked her growing maturity as an artist.

7. Lesley Gore at Feinstein’s (May)
Bubblegum no more, Gore performed songs of clear-eyed self-knowledge in a voice of brushed steel.

8. Jane Monheit: The Lovers, the Dreamers & Me at Feinstein’s (January-February)
Monheit has always had a gorgeously smooth voice; her confidence and interpretive skills are finally catching up.

9. Gay Marshall: Piaf—Queen of Heart at the Metropolitan Room (September--October)
It takes a brave singer to take on the Edith Piaf songbook; it takes a special one to pull it off so heart-piercingly.

10. Sideshow at the Ritz (Weekly)
Bridget Everett goes gloriously berserk in this unbridled cavalcade, which is not for the faint of humor or heart.

—Adam Feldman, Cabaret writer

Best albums | Best shows | Best cabaret
Worst of 2009 | Best of 2010?

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Best albums | Best shows | Best cabaret
Worst of 2009 | Best of 2010?

Chester French, Love the Future (Star Trak) The Harvard-bred pop duo followed up a great mixtape with a limp debut that lacked the hooks to back up its preppy-chic pose.—HS

Chris Cornell, Scream (Mosley/Interscope) Timbaland helped the once-mighty alt-rock divo deplete what was left of his already-shaky integrity.—HS

Miley Cyrus, The Climb (Disney/Hollywood) ...and all the flimsy emoto-pop that blared out in organic supermarkets, generally. Quick! Grab the beans and run.—SH

Girls Album (True Panther) If I’d wanted to listen to Elvis Costello, I’d have broken out This Year’s Model.—CSJ

Charles Hamilton’s all-too-public implosion got him dropped by Interscope, depriving us of an upmarket debut for this ambitious, prolific local rapper.—SS

Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation/Atlantic). The overrated, ubiquitous “Empire State of Mind” couldn’t rescue this messy trilogy capper.—CSJ

Bands from days of yore: Stop reuniting. Stop playing old albums from start to finish in concert. And if you are that avaricious artistic void known as the Pixies...please, just stop.—JR

The supposed death of hip-hop, as pronounced in The New Yorker. A veritable blossoming of maverick talent (Charles Hamilton, Drake, Kid Cudi) says otherwise.—SH

Rappers kvetching about Auto-Tune—so last year.—JR

If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em: MySpace bought streaming-music service Imeem—then silenced it. Will Lala have better luck with its new owners at Apple?—SS

Report card

Despite a few high points, 2009 sorely lacked an identity of its own. No major record or movement united the masses, and those few artists that built critical momentum did so without breaking significant new artistic ground—if it wasn’t new bands tilling old ground, it was old bands returning (and returning and returning, like horror-movie baddies) to unfurl tatty old banners. Not a total wash—but any year that sees Creed mounting a a bid for serious rehabilitation can’t be all that good, either. Final grade: C+

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Worst of 2009 | Best of 2010?

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Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series (opens Wed 13)
This year’s lineup—which includes Marianne Faithfull, Nellie McKay and Chita Rivera—may be the series’ most exciting to date.—AF

Julian Casablancas at Terminal 5 (Jan 14,15)
The lead Stroke has promised a stage show to rival the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.—HS

Bon Iver at the New York Guitar Festival (Jan 21)
Old-fashioned, slightly spooky delights are in store when reluctant indie-rock hero Justin Vernon accompanies Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush.—SH

Charlotte Gainsbourg, IRM (Jan 26)
This disc pairs the singer with her ideal producer, Beck; at last, Parisian and L.A. cool unite.—JR

Toby Driver at the Stone (Feburary)
Kayo Dot’s enigmatic mastermind curates a month of revelatory noise, pop, classical music, improv, metal and more.—HS

Unsound Festival New York (Feb 4--14)
Polish festival Unsound mounts New York’s biggest-ever electronic-music showcase, including a sizable showing from Europe’s former Eastern bloc.—SS

Hot Chip, One Life Stand (Feb 9)
The two singles that have surfaced to date from these English electro-partyers have been fantastic; hopefully the whole album measures up.—CSJ

Barb Jungr at the Caf Carlyle (opens Feb 25)
The Carlyle took a risk in booking the brilliant but relatively unknown Jungr this year—and shows admirable commitment in having her back so soon.—AF

Drake, Thank Me Later (March)
Bagging a spot in People’s Sexiest Man Alive issue and two Grammy nods in 2009, the Toronto MC delivers his solo studio debut.—SH

My Chemical Romance’s fourth album (Spring)
Nearly four years after its flamboyant theatrical concept album, The Black Parade, Gerard Way & Co. promise a return to straight-up rock.—SS

More Phish (ongoing)
Having seen 12 concerts by the reunited, revitalized jam band in 2009, I’m up for a dozen more.—CSJ

Jack White’s seven-inch singles club (ongoing)
Forget the Dead Weather: Jack White’s singles series, via his Third Man imprint, is artistically boundless. What’s next?—JR

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