Top 10 Favorite Albums 2009… so far

Yes, it’s only May 6th. That means 2009 has existed for only four months and some change. But, I can easily make a list of 10 albums that came out this year that I love. 2009 can end now. Most of the links below are to YouTube videos, and I hope you’ll click on them. In alphabetical order:

1. Art Brut – Art Brut Vs. Satan: Let’s face it, you listen to Art Brut for Eddie Argos, his blunt British voice and his acerbic lyrics. On Vs. Satan he drops more of his signature lines like “I fought the floor and the floor won” and “Why is everyone trying to sound like U2, it’s not a very cool thing to do.” Art Brut are a music geek’s band. Argos constantly recalls rock and roll’s history, and spends half the album talking about how much he loves music. How can you not love a band who writes a song called “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake”, which is about just that. Their music is deceptively simple, and seven minute final track “Mysterious Bruises” proves, to me at least, that they’re accomplished songwriters. Art Brut’s first album, Bang Bang Rock & Roll was a favorite of mine, but for some reason It’s A Bit Complicated didn’t quite connect with me as much. I can’t put a finger on what the difference is, but their new album is back to form.

2. Bat For Lashes – Two Suns: You can compare her to Kate Bush, Annie Lennox and others, but no one truly sounds like Natasha Khan. I see her witchy, mystic aesthetic as only continuing a great female tradition. Her voice is unique and powerful. Her way with rhythm and percussion, using tympani, shakers, bells, handclaps and whatever else is, in my opinion, her signature. I loved Fur And Gold, and I think this album is worlds better. “Sleep Alone” is my favorite song of the year so far, with its pulsing bassline, grooving beat, and vaguely Indian guitar. Khan was somehow able to impress Scott Walker enough to lend his voice to the theatrical closing duet “The Big Sleep”, and she stands shoulder to shoulder with someone I consider possibly the greatest living male vocalist. And, of course “Daniel”, which apparently is really about The Karate Kid character and amounts to a great new wave pop song that is in no way as cheesy as it sounds. I could say lots more, but maybe you should look at her performing “Daniel” and “Sleep Alone” on British show Later… With Jools Holland. That should convince you.

3. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career: This is what romance and heartbreak sounds like. If you like Camera Obscura already, you’ll know they’ve been building to this album. Much of My Maudlin Career is full on classical pop, songs like “French Navy” and Careless Love” melodically driven by strings. Other songs, like “Honey In The Sun” are horn and organ driven affairs. Their music is modern 50s and 60s pop, reminiscent of Roy Orbison, girl groups, and country. The album is produced with tons of reverb and echo, which gives it a dream-like quality. Traceyanne Campbell’s voice and lyrics are as sad and lovely as you could ever ask for. Example, “I know you mean well, yes I know that you do, but sooner or later you’re gonna break me in two” from “Towns and Cities”, later saying “Oh still I wanna tell you I love you best”. This album is how you imagine your heartbreak would sound if it were music. And, it should be played loud like you mean it.

4. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone: As I said in my earlier blog entry, Neko Case is an inventive, unique songwriter with arguably the best voice in music. Middle Cyclone is an emotional, dramatic album. It’s poetic and artistic. It’s organic and natural. “This Tornado Loves You” is one of the greatest love songs I’ve ever heard, literally told from the point of view of a tornado and a great metaphor for what love can feel like. She makes her covers of “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” and “Don’t Forget Me” her own songs. Her songs shift and change, like in “The Pharoahs” where it starts with one melody, and quickly shifts to a whole new melody. She does dark noir, like the sax laden “Red Tide”, or bright and fun like “People Got A Lot Of Nerve”. Really, she can do no wrong in my eyes. And yes, I even like to listen to the end track “Marais La Nuit” which is a 30 minute recording of frog song and night ambience.

5. The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love: I was pretty skeptical when I heard that the new Decemberists album was going to be their “rock opera”. I was pleasantly surprised, because I think this album is pretty fucking great. It continues the traditions of Pink Floyd and The Who. They even recall Heart with the vocals of Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) on “The Wanting Comes In Waves”. But, it sounds like The Decemberists. I barely know what’s going on in the story. Something about a girl getting kidnapped and some guy trying to get her back from a Queen? No? Oh well. It rocks, has harpsichords, strings, banjos and accordians. Like a Decemberists album. There are multiple vocalists and musical themes are repeated throughout, just like a rock opera should sound have. They really pull off the whole thing. It easily could have been a disaster.

6. The Juan MacLean – The Future Will Come: I listened to nothing else for two straight weeks. Like I said in my blog entry, I feel like this album is what the last 30 years of electronic dance music has led to. It’s fun, sad, and great to drive to.

7. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – S/t: Their feedback drenched guitars and precious male and female vocals will remind you of a few shoegazing bands. But, so what. Their debut album has 10 fantastic songs. From the drumless opening track “Contender” to the pounding “Be My Baby” drums of last track “Gentle Sons”, all you’ll think is that this is a great band to have around. Especially when they find time for the sweet brit-pop of the acoustic guitar driven “Stay Alive”.

8. Royksopp – Junior: Their third album is a happy medium between their debut, Melody A.M., and their second album, The Understanding. The pretty downtempo of one has been married to the pulsing electropop of the other. You have the pounding techno track “This Must Be It”, sung by The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson, which they drop four songs into the album like they could do it in their sleep. Then the pretty whimsical pop of “Miss It So Much”, sung by Lykke Li (which reminded me how much I love her voice). The string epic “Royksopp Forever” starts off like an Air pastiche, but in the middle shifts into a gorgeous song befitting it’s name. Royksopp are known for being great producers, and this album sounds amazing. It’ll fill your headphones with clicks and whirs and synths, “True To Life” being a great example. I think ultimately what sets Royksopp apart is their music is fun to listen to, and it sounds like they had fun making it. After all, lead off song is called “Happy Up Here” and it samples the video game Space Invaders.

9. St. Vincent – Actor: I like this album more than her first album Marry Me. This album is lush with strings and woodwinds. Some songs groove, some songs float. Songs meander in different melodic directions at will, and at times will suddenly surprise you with sections of loud guitar and percussion. Annie Clark has a lovely voice, and the whole album is gorgeous to listen to. The more times you listen, the more you notice. She seamlessly and artistically mixes rock, jazz, classical, and electronica. There’s so much going on, and it just came out yesterday, so I really can’t begin to discuss specific tracks right now. You should see her live, she’s adorable and a great guitar player.

10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!: I can’t add much more than my previous blog entry. Provided they don’t break up for some reason, it’s safe to say YYYs are one of this generation’s greatest bands. I really never thought I’d enjoy string versions of YYYs songs as much as I do…

I feel I must comment on one more album:

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion: I’ve had a hard time “getting” Animal Collective. Each album is welcomed with tons of praise and love. And, I get that they’re talented, and I agree they have a truly original sound. But, their albums always have seemed like aural soup to me, with little for my ear to grab on to. Animal Collective mix folk, ambient, Beach Boys style vocals, psychedelic rock, etc etc etc. But, their newest album is a conscious effort to streamline their sound into four to five minute structures, and I have to say I really enjoy it. Especially “Summertime Clothes”, which is an actual electronic dance song with a great beat. Their music can be joyful, like “Brother Sport”, and they’re like a playful kitten you can’t help but warm up to despite how pretentious I think they can be. And, they can sing. I have to admit that. I’m going to have to give their earlier albums another chance now.

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One Comment to “Top 10 Favorite Albums 2009… so far”

  1. i just picked up The Juan Maclean. I like it, thanks.

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