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Radiohead, In Rainbows: "I tried to pay for it 12 times and got hung up on by their server — it kept kicking me off. I gave up, and then someone gave it to me. I'm going to buy the geek version anyway. I'm a fool for them."
Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces: "My daughter Coco is an obsessive Chicks fan. She made me listen to it 100 times this summer. I mentioned it to Emily [Robison], and she said, 'I hope it hasn't ruined the music the way my son has ruined 'We Will Rock You' for me.'"
Matt Sweeney and Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Superwolf: "Rick Rubin made me listen to this over the phone. He said, 'Check it out!' and held his phone up to the speaker. This is the album I wore out. It's very tender and really rocking at the same time — full of amazingly surprising moments, really proportionate and beautiful, but also kind of 'off.'"Keith Jarrett,The Carnegie Hall Concert: "I got hyped on that from reading reviews. Jarrett's got this crazy ability to have each hand do completely different things, both very wildly — and then it snaps into place as this gospel, vampy, swinging thing. He's just so audacious."
Mike Doughty, Golden Delicious: "Technically speaking, I listened to this album more than any other on the list, but now I'm listening to it just for enjoyment. Usually it takes me a couple years to have the distance, but for some reason I've been able to really enjoy this album. John Kirby played a lot of loose, free, very spontaneous melodies — a lot of it was really unscripted."
Ray Lamontagne, 'Til the Sun Turns Black: "I really liked Trouble a lot. When I got this one, I listened to it a bunch of times and I thought, Oh, okay: This is his masterpiece; he's a genius, and then it turns out it was received as a turning-inward."
Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde: "This album had always seemed sort of jumpy to me, but this year, not at all. Now it seems very spontaneous, and what I used to think of as 'jumpy' is people listening to each other having fun and following Dylan's crazy lead. Some of it is just so funny — 'Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat' makes me laugh every time."
San Francisco: David Harrington's foreign policy.
San Francisco's world-renowned Kronos Quartet has charted an impressive course around the globe, commissioning more than 600 works — and releasing more than 40 records — with composers from China, Russia, Vietnam, and Iraq since its inception more than 30 years ago.
Founding member David Harrington cites an unusual source of inspiration for working with composers from other countries: American foreign policy. Whenever the U.S. gets into a conflict or war, Harrington says, it always makes him want to find out about the other country's music, a way of connecting to and partnering with cultures that American politics tear apart.
"We are trying to be a witness to some of the things that are happening," he explains. "Every concert we play is an attempt to find balance in a world that's very unbalanced."
With tastes both esoteric and populist (The Lawrence Welk Show first inspired Harrington to pick up the violin), Kronos's leader offers a list of musicians who brought his continents a little closer this year:
Damon Albarn, Monkey: Journey to the West: "Damon made this fantastic [theater] piece using a Chinese legend. It's like an opera, but it has acrobatics and dance. I met Damon in July, and he's now writing a piece [for Kronos]. But that event that he and his team created was just beautiful. He's really inspiring."
Valentin Silvestrov, Bagatellen und Serenaden: "Combine John Cage's touch on the piano with Morton Feldman's touch on the piano with my granddaughter's touch on the piano and you'll get the touch of Valentin Silvestrov. He's just exquisitely beautiful. He's from the Ukraine."
Alim and Fargana Qasimov, Music of Central Asia Vol. 6: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan: "Alim Qasimov is one of the great singers of the world — after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, there's Alim Qasimov. Fargana is his daughter. She's sung with him since she was a little child."
Joe Henry, Civilians: "I don't think enough people know about him. He's a great producer. He visualizes sound in a really complete way. His band is fantastic, and he's someone we'll be working with in the future."
Amiina, Kurr: "This is a group that started out as a string quartet. They're from Iceland. I think one of them is married to the keyboardist of Sigur Rós. I met them on tour when we were in Iceland and rehearsed with Sigur Rós. A lot of people probably wouldn't call Amiina a string quartet on recordings because there isn't a lot of violins and viola and cello; there's a lot of other instruments and sounds."
Valgeir Sigursson, Ekvilibrium: "Valgeir is an amazing producer. He produced a recording that we made with Kimmo Pohjonen. I would define Kimmo as the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion. We played with Kimmo at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, opening their 25th season, and he wrote this amazing piece we did with Kimmo on accordion."