Saturday, December 5, 2009

Music, 2009

Cross-posted from the Caves of Narshe, here is my massive collection of thoughts toward the best ten or so albums to be released in 2009. Now, of course the year isn't over yet and this isn't to say they were the ONLY albums I enjoyed this year, however, they're the ones that got the most play. I realize most of you don't care enough to read this, fewer still have the patience, so feel free to skip through to your heart's content. With that, let's get started!

Metric - Fantasies
This truly has been a huge year for bands with female vocalists. That being said, I think it only appropriate to begin my list with the best of that class. This album is a much more mature production from the band, in terms of lyrical and song content, but also in production value. It's certainly a much more refined, elegant body of work than the usual raw-quality most Metric albums have had in the past. Full of synth-pop hooks and brilliant vocal deliveries, Fantasies is without a doubt one of the most impressive releases to come out in '09. If you bought this album over iTunes, you'd have also received acoustic versions of "Gimme Sympathy" and "Help, I'm Alive". Both of which are absolutely haunting and brilliant.
Recommended Listening: Satellite Mind, Gimme Sympathy (acoustic version)

Tegan & Sara - Sainthood
Forgoing their old, simpler format of acoustic guitars and the occasional drum beat, these two sisters have really come a long way over the years. Sainthood, I think, is Tegan & Sara at their very best, which is saying quite a mouthful because their last album, The Con, remains one of my favorite albums of all time. Like Metric, they decided on going with a larger production and a fuller sound, invoking several 80's pop themes in subdued, approachable fashion. Ever featuring their now signature alternating, harmonal vocal delivery, it would be an understatement to say Tegan and Sara really delivered the goods here.
Recommended Listening: Hell, Alligator, Arrow

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
This album is nothing short of spectacular. Featuring a sound that can only be described as a modern throwback to 50's rock with a hint of cabaret and tied together with a brilliant vocal delivery by Tracyanne Campbell, this album exists in a category of it's own. I guess that's to be expected when you get produced by Jari Haapalainen of The Bear Quartet and feature appearances by Björn Yttling, of Peter Bjorn and John. Each song stands well on it's own right, but more impressively, they all flow brilliantly one into another, all without making their style come off as forced or gimmicky. Warm, easy to listen to and vastly approachable, this belongs in everyone's library.
Recommended Listening: French Navy, The Sweetest Thing, Careless Love

Matt & Kim - Grand
It's hard to describe all the things that define Matt & Kim musically. They're energetic and frantic, yet artful in their delivery and intensely catchy. Grand is a lo-fi example of what the indie scene ought to be; a perfect amalgamation of concept and content. It's got spunk and a care-free sort of feel that makes this album more approachable than their previous release, so I would definitely recommend this body of work as a starting point to anyone unfamiliar with their music. My only complaint is that the album as a whole is very short, each song generally being anywhere from just over a minute to just under 3. As a whole, the album spans just under half an hour. This, however, is only a minor tick on an otherwise brilliant album.
Recommended Listening: Daylight, I'll Take Us Home, Lesson Learned

Lights - The Listening
This girl just absolutely knows how to compose catchy songs. Her songs are simple, though masterfully composed, and rely heavily on synth-powered electronic riffs layered on top of each other. What really impresses me about Lights is the way she manages to keep her material easy to listen to and not overly electronic, especially in today's world of heavily abused auto-tune, drum machines and techno-beats. There's something very relaxed to her approach that sets this album apart from the others. She's definitely an artist to keep an eye on in the future.
Recommended Listening: River, Saviour, The Last Thing On Your Mind, Lions!

Passion Pit - Manners
Shock! Another electro-pop, indie band! When Passion Pit released their Chunk of Change EP at the tail-end of 2008, I was sure that their upcoming album was going to be great. In this, I was not disappointed. I don't know how else to describe Manners except as a decadent. It's clear that this was an album made with the intention of pushing the boundaries of what people would except from the genre, and while sometimes it comes off a little strong, or "indie-for-the-sake-of-indie", it's still a brilliant collection of tunes that you cannot help but want to dance to.
Recommended Listening: Moth's Wings, To Kingdom Come, Little Secrets

Taking Back Sunday - New Again
The fourth album release from the Long Island based pop-punk powerhouse group, and the first album featuring new guitarist Matthew Fazzi, formerly of Facing New York. This album features everything you could ever expect from Taking Back Sunday: clever lyrics, catchy riffs and brilliant vocals. This album thematically takes a step away from their usual niche, and is a much more personal work. For example, the track Capital M-E deal with the departure of their former guitarist, or Lonely, Lonely dealing with the solitude of being on the road, away from home for months on end, constantly surrounded by strangers. Of the albums included in this list, New Again has definitely been listened to the most. What particularly stands out about New Again is the tone; the guitars especially are less gritty and offer a much cleaner take of the same beloved style. It's a subtle difference, but it helps hold this album above some of their other works.
Recommended Tracks: New Again, Cut Me Up Jenny, Summer Man

Every Time I Die - New Junk Aesthetic
The definitive hardcore album of the last two years, to say the very least. This album is innovative, aggressive, witty and unforgettable. Drawing from mathcore, southern rock and with a pop sensibility that makes this album less intimidating than any of their previous works, it'd be an understatement to say Every Time I Die had outdone themselves when they made this album. Opting to have it recorded at a local, low-end studio, the album has the sort of sound you'd attribute to a live-recording without losing anything in clarity. As a result, it's a much more raw sounding body of work, and the high energy of their live performances carries through.
Recommended Listening: The Marvelous Slut, Wanderlust, Who Invited The Russian Soldier?

Between the Buried and Me - The Great Misdirect
This album is probably the only metal album that was released this year that impressed me at all. I don't know if this is because the genre as a whole has become an overwhelming disappointment or because these guys, without fail, produce brilliant and mind blowing music. Every time they release an album, I find myself saying "There is no possible way their next album can top this!" Well, they somehow manage to do so each and every time. I submit that their drummer is a robot, because the speed and precision he plays with, combined with the complex nature of what he plays is outright impossible for any human man to accomplish. The same, of course, can be said for any member of this band, however. It's hard for me to talk about anything this band does without gushing, I just love them that much. The Great Misdirect takes their eclectic style one step further, offering fewer songs though much longer in length, and each with several self-contained changes of pace. This album is only six-songs long, however, in a Dream Theatre like fashion, each song is anywhere between seven minutes to thirteen, and they do so without ever feeling like the song is dragging on or getting repetitive.
Recommended Listening: Swim to the Moon, Desert of Song, Fossil Genera - A Feed From Cloud Mountain

Moneen - The World I Want To Leave Behind
Moneen hasn't put out an album since their 2006 release, 'The Red Tree". So, suffice it to say that I eagerly awaited the release of this album for some time now. It, in terms of style, is very similar to the previous album, featuring heavy use of melodic guitar riffs, energetic drum riffs and layered vocal lines. A mix between post-hardcore and pop-punk, this album appeals to fans of the genre, but I would definitely recommend it to someone who otherwise would never give it the chance. Definitely a more mature body of work than their previous albums, it resembles the Vheissu album released by Thrice some time ago.
Recommended Listening: The Long Count, Hold That Sound, The Glass House

This Will Destroy You - Field Studies EP (feat. Lymbyc Systym)
These guys are masters of post-rock in a way that no words can do justice. Take the best of Explosions in the Sky, add the soundscaping, atmospheric qualities of Mogwai, then add a twist of warm summer nights and you have this band. This E.P. expands on the post-rock genre by including subdued electronica overtones and a hint of raw, garage rock styled drumming in a way that feels synthetic to the music. This album is essentially the perfect soundtrack to any evening, and frequently used by yours truly whenever studying, reading, or writing. A must have for anyone who appreciates post-rock.
Recommended Listening: Narita, Brutalism & The Worship Of The Machine
Disappointments of the year:

Muse - The Resistance
I really tried to like this album. Honestly, I did. In the time leading up to it, based solely off the single, I expected something equally as brilliant as their past works. Why wouldn't I, after all, Muse had yet to disappoint me. Well, it happened. Once the initial "this is Muse, therefore this must be excellent" wore off, the album grew to be quite stale and, if I wasn't already a fan of the band, would find this body of work entirely unapproachable. The music comes off as artful for the sake of being so in that everything is completely over the top. Now, that isn't always a bad thing, but here it's just too much. As it is now, the only tracks I enjoy are Uprising and MK Ultra. The rest have sadly just fallen flat.

The Fall of Troy - In The Unlikely Event
I expected this, as I was not at all a fan of Manipulator, their last official album. What small glimmer of hope I had in this band returning to their old ways when they released Phantoms on the Horizon vanished as soon as I heard the opening track to this epic let down. The frantic guitar playing has become predictable and boring, the eclectic, raw nature that once defined their music has been dumbed down, stripped and made into standard song progressions, even the singing has become softer. There isn't a single track on this album that honestly sounds like The Fall of Troy to me, and it's heartbreaking. Doppelganger is still one of my favorite albums of the last decade, so it pains me to see this band fall so far.

Dredg - The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion
I have no idea what happened to this band. Catch Without Arms was a masterpiece and probably one of the best examples of functional art rock. Each song held it's own as unique and unforgettable. On this album, however, not a single track stands out. No hooks, no chills, no moments where I'd need to sit down, just the overwhelming desire to pretend this album never happened.

Thrice - Beggars
After the Alchemy Index, I knew it would be difficult for Thrice to release something as impressive, and certainly it'd take them some time to compose any worthwhile material. It seems that instead, they opted quantity over quality, pumping out this album less than a year after the release of their final Alchemy Index collection. The result is something listenable, but lackluster. Most of these songs fall flat, lacking the drive of previous works from this once great band. I hope they find their grove again.

Weezer - Raditude
This band used to be the epitome of cool. Especially during the high school years, I don't think there was a single band that brought people together like Weezer did. Their music was catchy without sacrificing substance, simplistic and rocking all the same. Raditude is the natural progression from their last album, which was equally unimpressive and just as heart breaking. I keep hoping that Rivers will come up with another Maladroit and it sadly never happens.

AFI - Crashlove
With the incredible collection of music that was Decemberunderground and AFI's general tendency to never disappoint, I was very excited about the release of this album. Especially since this band has never kept a specific format for more than an album, making them one of the more difficult groups to classify. Well, this album is disappointingly classifiable enough: it sucks. Gone are the sing-a-long choruses that made their songs so infectious or the clever lyrics that set Davey Havok apart as a brilliant songwriter. This was, for me, the most heartbreaking release of 2009.

Honorable mentions for notably good albums that I enjoyed but didn't end up at the top of my list:

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Ghinzu - Mirror, Mirror
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
MSTRKRFT - Fist of God
Oceansize - Home and Minor ep
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
HORSE the band - DesPirate Living
The Bird and the Bee - Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future
Morrissey - Years of Refusal
Lady Gaga - The Fame Monster
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Its Blitz!