My Top Six Albums Going Into 2010

Chelsea Walls Soundtrack - Jeff Tweedy

I bought this CD over two years ago for ¥100 in Tokyo only because it had the words “Jeff Tweedy” on the side of it. I have still never seen the movie it was made for, nor do I own any Wilco albums. Nonetheless, this album is very enjoyable to listen to, with its mostly-instrumental lineup punctuated by poignant songs. Highlights include Jimmy Scott’s cover of Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and Robert Sean Leonard’s contribution on “The Lonely 1”. Overall a very relaxing album to put on after a long day.

Electric Tears - Buckethead

After an initial listen I discarded this instrumental album as uninteresting and unworthy of Buckethead. After I let it sit on my shelf for a while I gave it another chance. Color me impressed! The whole album has almost no accompaniment, with Buckethead instead choosing to layer acoustic and electric guitar tracks to create a hollow and dreamy soundscape which he then fills with peaceful melodies and gentle guitar noodling. Standout tracks are “All in the Waiting”, “Mustang”, “Witches on the Hearth”, and “Kansas Storm”.

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today - David Byrne and Brian Eno

Prompted to buy the album by the hit single “Strange Overtones”, this was one of the my favorite albums of the year. It sounds like it belongs in the 80s, back when Byrne and Eno were making ...Bush of Ghosts. (Not being able to buy that album this year might drive me nuts.) The song-writing is top-notch throughout, as is Byrne’s tone and Eno’s sonic atmospheres. Best of all, this doesn’t sound like two guys collaborating because they know that anything with their name on it will sell. It sounds fresh; like they're exploring new avenues. These guys have worked together for close to twenty years, and are still able to produce a fun album like this. Go them.

Mr Big - Mr Big

This might be the only album I bought because of the bassist. After hearing Billy Sheehan’s work on David Lee Roth’s Eat’em and Smile, I wanted more bass. I own all four of Mr. Big’s albums, but this one still stands out, mainly because of the top-notch musicianship of Sheehan and guitarist Paul Gilbert. Their hallmark song, “Addicted To That Rush,” is four-and-a-half minutes of them trading solos and trying to out-shred each other. Overall, the songwriting is unremarkable, with popular themes being sex, partying, adolescent irresponsibility, dramatic heartbreak. Gilbert’s tone is flawless throughout, particularly during the solos of “Had Enough” and “Anything For You”, where it is nearly tear-jerking because, unlike his contemporaries, he chooses meaningful phrasing over trying to cram as many sixteenth-notes into a measure as possible.

Tales of the Inexpressible - Shpongle

Psytrance affectionado Shpongle’s sophomore effort, coming after their already-impressive debut Are You Shpongled?, is one of the best $5 AmazonMP3 deals I have bought. It’s trippy, it’s catchy, it’s playful, and, dare I say, it’s even more organic electronica than anything Infected Mushroom can produce. Granted, IM makes faster paced music that takes you with it, while Shpongle are more interested in creating engrossing electronic worlds for your mind to explore. Some might say that this makes Shpongle less focused, but I don’t think so. This whole album is a seamless experience, perhaps best described by a snippet of the lyrics from the “StarShpongled Banner”:

I am a shaman, magician
The sun is purple
3D dimensions
I am for mental extensions.

Ki - The Devin Townsend Project

Ki is the start of a new era for Townsend, as he, in his own words, “has stopped drinking and stopped smoking marijuana.” His previous work, notably with extreme hate-metal band Strapping Young Lad, was offset by the much more mellow Devin Townsend Band albums, one of which I reviewed last year. The two projects showed very different sides of Devin, perhaps rightly, as he had been diagnosed bipolar. SYL was, what Devin callled, “happens when someone who is predisposed to mental illness takes steady amounts of mind-altering drugs.” Devin has since has a life-changing experience, and hence the DTP and Ki. Devin is a man who makes half-albums, and by that I mean his albums are a seamless experience for half of the record. On Infinity it was the first five tracks, on Ocean Machine/Biomech it was the last half of the album, while on Terria various tracks are crafted around and link back to the nine-plus-minute long epic “Earth day.” Ki more or less follows the pattern, though the album follows more of a sensory-experience-type of curve, building with the first six tracks to the holistic set of tracks eight through eleven, with the final two tracks being a comedown. The climactic title track, clocking in at over seven minutes long, is a microcosm of the album, building layer upon layer of sound until the music explodes in all its glory (Devin’s operatic voice does the honors).


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