Since this weekend marks the "official" start of the holiday shopping season, we've got the annual gift guide with musical suggestions for what to get your loved ones (or yourself). The list includes some excellent 2012 albums from acts that call the Triangle home (and even a book by yours truly), so check it out -- and buy local!
It might not be in the paper, but surely you didn't think I could let the last Sunday of December go by without inflicting my year-end top-10 upon ya. So without further ado, here is one ink-and-electron-stained wretch's take on the 10 best albums of 2009. As we wave bye-bye to The Naughties, here's to good sounds and copasetic vibes in the '10s.
(1) Avett Brothers, "I and Love and You" (American/Columbia) -- A record of surpassing loveliness and depth, "I and Love and You" exudes plainspoken wisdom. It's also the most accessible album the Concord group has ever made, catchy and heartfelt with just enough eccentric edges to defuse any sellout accusations. And it even debuted in Billboard's top-20. There is no reason to suspect the Avetts will do anything but keep getting better.
(2) Wilco, "The Album" (Nonesuch) -- in which Jeff Tweedy stares down his own self-loathing and achieves something like reconciliation and maybe even redemption. Guitarist Nels Cline is an essential part of the equation, turning the songs' gritty emotional content into lovely strings of sonic pearls. A sneaky good record that gets better with repeated plays.
(3) Bat For Lashes, "Two Suns" (Astralwerks) -- Natasha Khan sure doesn't make it easy on herself, structuring these 11 songs as mini-epics that skirt right up to the edge of overdone without ever crossing the line. She even enlists operatic art-pop cult figure Scott Walker as duet partner on the album-closing "The Big Sleep," and lives to tell the tale. Captivating.
(4) Grizzly Bear, "Veckatimest" (Warp) -- This Brooklyn band's mysteriously titled second album transposes Brian Wilson's sunny California pop to more monochromatic East Coast environs, with spectacular results. A moody masterpiece.
(5) Japandroids, "Post-Nothing" (Polyvinyl) -- Take Husker Du's old-school precision-trio thrash, compress that down to a guitar-drums duo, turn it up to 11 and here's what ya get. Crushing but oh so much fun.
(6) Megafaun, "Gather, Form & Fly" (Hometapes) -- The Triangle's best band wowed audiences worldwide with its second album, plus an exuberant live show that is truly life-affirming in the non-corniest way imaginable. Freak folk seldom involves intense feedback flipouts, let alone gorgeous pop hooks, but Megafaun's got it all.
(7) Metric, "Fantasies" (Last Gang/Arts & Crafts) -- So sweet it'll rot your teeth, "Fantasies" has a sonic vibe that's pure new-wave Euro-trash. But frontwoman Emily Haines is a take-no-guff rocker, and this is hardly a retro move.
(8) Regina Spektor, "Far" (Sire) -- Conventional wisdom holds that "Far" represents Spektor's sellout move, and it is the most immediately accessible thing she's ever done. The upside is that it's also her least-indulgent album, focused and all-around good.
(9) Peter Holsaple and Chris Stamey, "Here and Now" (Bar-None) -- There might be another dB's album in our lifetime. But even if there's not, we have the co-leaders' first full-length collaboration since 1991, and it's wonderful.
(10) Wheedle's Groove, "Kearney Barton" (Light in the Attic) -- Old-school funk, of the sort you might hear in a blaxploitation soundtrack. It's killer, especially the gospel-throwdown version of Soundgarden's "Jesus Christ Pose."