Top 10 of 2009: Jay Bennett
Up on the Sun is counting down the days until the unveiling of music editor Martin Cizmar's personal Best of 2009 list with some other lists from New Times' stable of excellent freelancers. Today, we bring you a list from Jay Bennett, New Times' editorial operations manager and a contributor to Up on the Sun. Beginning January 1, Bennett will not listen to any music released before 2010. This experiment will last one year. Every Monday through Friday during 2010, he will blog about a new record he's listened to. For more on the project, read Martin Cizmar's column on Aesthetic Atrophy. Here is his Top 10 of 2009, in no particular order.
The Dutchess and the Duke, Sunset/Sunrise
The songs by this husband-and-wife act from Seattle remind me of tunes the late, great Lee Hazlewood might've written. They share the same spare, timeless instrumentation and production, and flatly expressive vocals that convey melancholia without being morose.
Justin Townes Earle, Midnight at the Movies
Steve Earle's kid is an impressive singer-songwriter in his own right. His vocals and melodies didn't instantly hook me like his dad's used to in his 1990s heyday. But I quickly grew to appreciate the subtleties of his vocal delivery and delicate approach to country music. Earle gets extra credit for improving one of The Replacements' so-so late-era hits ("Can't Hardly Wait").
Castanets, Texas Rose, the Beasts and the Thaw
The one-man band Castanets performs sparse, slow, often haunting, often cosmic country-folk. I really fell for Raymond Raposa's creaky, croaky vocals and his sometimes twisted take on American Gothic roots music. To me, Castanets is the aural equivalent of the post-Apocalyptic tone conjured by Cormac McCarthy in his great novel The Road.
Reissues -- Feelies, Crazy Rhythms and Big Star's Keep an Eye on the Sky boxed set
There's nothing I can say about these two essential bands that hasn't been said before.
Local rock bands Automatic Erasers and Earthmen & Strangers
My two favorite local bands from 2009. Coincidentally, both were profiled for New Times by contributor Jason P. Woodbury in '09. Automatic Erasers are a loud rock trio that remind me of vintage The Damned, great punk tunes driven hard by Phoenix's answer to Rat Scabies, drummer Ward Reeder. Earthmen & Strangers is the latest project by local garage rock kingpin Ryan Rousseau (Wongs, Reatards, Tokyo Electron). E&S is out of the garage, but is no less potent, creating atmospheric, desert-inspired, Wipers-style rock 'n' roll.
Earthmen & Strangers
Hanging out at The Ruby Room
I probably spent more time at the Ruby than any other bar in the Valley. Sadly, it closed on December 1 and the Phoenix rock scene is hurting because of it. Owner Greg Riggins wears his love for The Kinks on his sleeve. God bless him for that.
King Khan and the Shrines, What Is?
Technically, released abroad in 2007 but not released domestically until 2009, What Is? had more high points than any record I heard this year. Fusing garage rock and soul has been attempted countless times over the past decade and a half, but King Khan has finally perfected the process.
Rediscovering '70s acts The Osmonds and The Raspberries
After I saw a video on YouTube of The Osmond's 1972 freak-out stomper "Crazy Horses," I rushed out to get an Osmonds disc and struck gold with a reissue containing both their Crazy Horses and The Plan records, from 1972 and'73, respectively. As unlikely as it may seem, The Osmonds do, in fact, rock. Speaking of rocking, The Raspberries' final two records, Side 3 (1973) and Starting Over (1974), stray from the lightweight power pop of their hit-making early records and veer into Who-esque rock'n' roll without sacrificing the melodicism and intricate arrangements that made Eric Carmen's Cleveland band famous.
Mannequin Men, Lose Your Illusion Too
Loosely (but not sloppily played) Midwestern rock 'n' roll. Kinda Replacements-esque. I think this Chicago band could be popular after a couple of more records and just a little more polish.
Cat Party, Cat Party
This L.A. trio has a really cool, unique sound: equal parts echo-y guitars, bass-driven melodies, detached and moody vocals, and propulsive punk drumming. It's like a successful mix of influences that include The Chills, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Wipers. These guys perform in the Valley a couple of times a year, so keep an eye out for their next show here.