2009 Wrap-Up: Reflections and Prognostications…

Because it’s unavoidable, here’s my list of favorite albums from 2009:

Wye Oak – The Knot: There is hardly a release I listened to more than this one. It still has its way with my emotions to this day, capable of building me up and tearing me down all in one single listen.

Double Dagger – More: Really smashed all my expectations for their Thrill Jockey debut. At times startling by accompanying their energetic, confrontational music with unexpectedly personal lyrics, and blissful sounds. Double Dagger reasserted themselves on this album with a more impactful, more varied, more vital collection of tracks.

Sick Sick BirdsHeavy Manners: I never would’ve predicted that I would find a second pop-punk gem that would worm its way into my listening habits, but this release proved me wrong. Listening to it fills me with a hard-hitting mixture of joy and regret that consistently takes me by surprise.

Pulling TeethParanoid Delusions | Paradise Illusions: Just a truly epic album. Mike Riley & co sucked me right back into the abyss of hardcore, while pushing and pulling at the edges of the often rigidly defined genre. Majestic hardcore that isn’t afraid to take its time before breaking you down.

The Thermals – Now We Can See: Again with the pop-punk. The Thermals’ keep up their pattern of twinning albums of similar fidelity levels of sound, building off the power-pop of The Body, The Blood, The Machine. They go even farther by making this album a loose extension of the previous one’s post-apocalyptic plot. The result is sugary sweet with surprisingly poignant undertones. Harris’ urgent and poetic lyrics are in full-force.

Elvis Perkins in Dearland – Elvis Perkins in Dearland: Elvis Perkins is one of the most versatile performers I’ve ever come across. His compositions simultaneously lush and delicate, always deeply affecting. He leads a perpetually heartfelt and joyous dance to lands of depression and doomsday like the best of the dirge-driving New Orleans brass bands. His live shows are exuberant celebrations that need to be witnessed.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – Hypnotic Brass Ensemble: With pedigree like the Cohran sons, it’s no wonder Hypnotic Brass brings the funk hard, an ungodly addictive brew of progressive jazz, hip-hop, funk, soul, and brass bands.

Béla Fleck – Throw Down Your Heart: Musical highlights for me in 2009 included finally seeing Béla Fleck live. This was made even richer by the fact that he finally released the soundtrack to his documentary on the origins of the banjo. In the form of this phenomenally rich album, we get a taste of a multitude of different sounds across Africa, from the highly traditional and tribal to the mainstream pop. The greatest hat trick Fleck pulls is that he integrates his explosive talent seamlessly into these tracks, strengthening them rather than taking them over.

GesturesNice EP: This is probably the one time an unsolicited email in my inbox led to really grand things. This wildly inventive collective of chaotic horns is a blast, live and recorded.

I consciously avoided a glut of year-end round-ups this year.  I just didn’t feel a compelling, reflective urge on the 00s or 2009 in music for that matter. My mind has been on the long game for much of the year, and is now racing away from me into the future.

2009 was a year of fantastic growth for the site, starting off on a high note with our 2-day Aural States Fest in January. As the year wore on, I slowly began to steer our content in a decidedly more in-depth direction, particularly with the increasing number of regular columns and features like Sign On!, Sound Off!, Boogaloo TimesAn Hour of Kindness, and Livewire. Thanks to our growing staff of regular contributors, I was able to spread the load out more and have everyone spend a little more time on their pieces. In my mind, there are plenty of excellent sites for quick reads and loading up on tracks. I feel like we are starting to help balance out the other end of the spectrum.

I think all this keeps us unique: our focus on depth and quality of writing really lets our writers stretch their legs to gradually refine their craft, while also really giving artists the careful consideration they deserve for their hard, heartfelt efforts. Other notable landmarks were our fall show featuring So Percussion atop what amounted to a dream bill for me, personally, and finally completing a site redesign cycle (complete with menus and fun effects).

I can tell 2010 is going to be a year of transition. As we approach Aural States Fest II, I can already feel the strain of various commitments on my time and psyche. This year I am entering the home stretch (hopefully) of my 6-year PhD process, and this will undoubtedly require some more time away from the site and writing. But I am still committed to growing and evolving Aural States. Thankfully, we’ve got some other things brewing to make up for any lapses in the posting schedule.

Probably the biggest venture is our new label division, Aural Slate Recordings, which will debut in February. A project I’ve long wanted to launch that is finally getting off the ground, we’re a label with a mission: we will only be releasing limited-run EPs (<300 physical medium of the artist’s choice, and of course digital too) from invited artists only. Each release will be lovingly crafted, and include one cover of a song that was somehow foundational or significant to the artist. Hopefully, we can do our small part in redeeming the cover, in the eyes of music lovers, as something more than just a hype-generating PR trick.

Our first release will be Caverns‘ four song EP We Lied limited to a run of 200 CDs. Recorded with Chris Freeland at his studio Beat Babies, and mastered (just today!) by the masterful Mat Leffler-Schulman at Mobtown Studios, we’re all really happy with the end product. The fine cover, which you see to the right, was crafted by Caleb Moore of Lands & Peoples. The EP represents a different direction from one of my favorite local bands. Over the coming year, we hope to do a few more releases so stay tuned.

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