• Top Ten Albums of 2009

    16. Dez. 2009, 1:48

    as reviewed by Pete Bogenschutz

    Ah, the end of a decade... It seems as if many musical artists wait to release their magnum opus during the last year of a decade. The most recent example is The Soft Bulletin in 1999, which became my favorite album of the 90’s. Will my number one from this year become my number one of the decade? Well, it’s too early to tell who gets that crown, as passage of time best determines how an album holds up (despite what Pitchfork might think). I’ll try to refrain from saying the typical cliches I usually do in these intros... Such as “it’s hard to pick just ten albums”, or “it was the best year ever”, and what not. But it’s hard not to say these things, especially this year when several bands did in fact seemingly release their “magnum opus”.

    10) Travels With Myself and Another - Future of the Left

    I can’t help to listen to Travels With Myself and Another and NOT think it’s the Doolittle of our generation. Of course, minus the female vocal interplay. But the rest of the elements are there, a tightly constructed rock-your-brains out disc chock full of witty-yet-smart lyrics. Not only that, but it’s similarly structured to Doolittle; the first half of the album instantly pulls you in with it’s anthems and hooks while the second half, equally as good, is somewhat of a grower. Each one of these songs is like a mini-epic in it’s own right and selecting individual highlights is difficult because of the high stature of this album. “Arming Eritrea”, the massive opener, however, probably will be remembered as Future of the Left’s crowning achievement. Hell, even the song titles are humorous and entertaining (“You Need Satan More Than He Needs You” and “Stand By Your Manatee”, for example). The Pixies have been talking about reuniting and releasing another anticipated album for quite sometime. Even if we never get that, at least we have something as good as Travels With Myself and Another to tide us over.

    9) Popular Songs - Yo La Tengo

    Taking full risk of sounding cheesy, Yo La Tengo have always had a special place in my heart. Their music is equal parts noisy/experimental and heartfelt. It’s the later point that really draws me in and makes their albums some of the most reminiscently warm music I own. I simply cannot listen to 2006’s I am Not Afraid of You and not be vividly reminded of my life and feelings three years ago when I was compulsively listening to that disc. You could say their albums are like your very own personal time capsules. Popular Songs is no different, an album packed full of irresistibly effecting moments. “Avalon Or Someone Similar”, “I’m on My Way”, and “All My Secrets” do more than just tug at my heartstrings and feel wholeheartedly nostalgic. On the other hand, the more playful moments of the album are pulled off just as effortlessly. “Nothing to Hide” and “If It’s True” are vintage feel-good Yo La Tengo, with some added tricks in the bag. Say what you will about the lengthy trio of songs that conclude the album, as they are equally spectacular (for those that have the patients to explore them), especially “The Fireside”. Yo La Tengo continues to prove they are the perfect band to grow old with.

    8)The Blood - Reykjavik!

    Admittedly, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into with this one. Advertised under the category of “Icelandic Pop” in a certain online music store, I was expecting light and airy pop akin to Sigur Ros. The snowcapped mountains on the cover didn’t do anything to deter this notion either (okay, perhaps the graves should have tipped me off). Needless to say, the first listen for me was somewhat of a shock. Reykjavik! makes unnerving, uncompromising, and LOUD indie rock that can only be described as a cross between death metal and dance pop. From the intense build that opens the first track, to the knock your socks off finale, the album is solid and non-stop. Not a second wasted and not one chance to catch you breath. Especially excellent is the ironically named “Kate Bush”, the Modest Mouse-ian (before they sold out) “Aeji Plis”, and the accessible “Campo Veijo 2004”. The entire album, however, is a spiraling achievement that warps your senses. Although it may be a bit too much for some, The Blood is well worth seeking out for those looking for dash of grit and originality in their indie rock.

    7) Tarot Sport - Fuck Buttons

    Instrumental rock and I have a pretty rocky relationship. As musically diverse as I’d like to think I am, this is one genre that has yet to do much for me (yes, I’m shallow, I need lyrics!). Until, of course, stumbling across this massive gem of an album. Now you could say that I’m on sort of a honeymoon with instrumental rock; experiencing probably the best there is, but I’m sure once I try other bands from this genre I’m sure to be disappointed. However, labeling work of art such as this with a simple title of “instrumental rock” probably makes several Fuck Buttons fans cringe. There are many songs on here which border on the “life-changing” label. “Surf Solar” and “Olympians”, for example, are so delicious they are like sex for the ears. In fact, probably the best musical moment of the year for me is the final minutes of “Olympians” and those breathtaking handclaps. Talk about chills-central! Immense in scope, mind-blowing in execution, and accessible as hell; Tarot Sport is not only is one of the best discs of such a fruitful year but it raises the bar for anything that succeeds it. Natalie Portman’s life would be changed.

    6)Dragonslayer - Sunset Rubdown

    Dragonslayer, Sunset Rubdown’s third full-length album, is downright shocking. Not because of it’s defiant experimentation or it’s epic sprawl. But because it’s simply accessible and immensely enjoyable (yes, this is a Sunset Rubdown album). Two years ago I got really excited when Random Spirit Lover was released, thinking it was the epitome of modern indie art rock. Truth to tell, that album didn’t age quite so well (more specifically, it’s laborious as hell to listen to). Dragaonslayer, I can say with confidence, will not suffer from that problem. It keeps all the elements that made Random Spirit Lover such an intriguing listen yet brings it to another level. This feels like such an emotionally charged album, unlike the obtuse and overtly abstract Random Spirit Lover. “Silver Moons” and “You Go on Ahead” manage to evoke palatable feelings while “Apollo and the Buffalo” is so freakin‘ catchy you might not be able to stop bobbing your head (again, YES, this is a Sunset Rubdown album). But if you crave the epic-ness of this band, then look no further to marvelous finale to this album: “Dragon’s Lair”. Like the title of the disc suggest, this is one MONSTER of an album.

    5) Bitte Orca - Dirty Projectors

    The Dirty Projectors’ back catalogue is wonderfully weird and adventurous. However, nothing in that peculiar jungle is nearly as fun and wonderous to listen to as Bitte Orca, one of the most addicting listens this year. If you need any convincing, just listen to the incredible three-peat of songs mid-album; the near R&B stylings of “Stillness is the Move”, the wonderfully executed ballad “Two Doves”, and the epic “Useful Chamber”. This trio of songs is so densely glorious that it would be easy for the rest of album to pale in comparison. However, Dirty Projectors have bookended these tracks masterfully. The opener “Cannibal Resources” is notable for it’s witty lyrics and subtly catchy melody while “Remade Horizon” nearly serves as two songs in one with it’s schizophrenic tempo changes. The male/female vocal interplay helps to keep this forty minute album feeling more like it’s twenty minutes (a great compliment indeed). Also worth noting is the intriguing album artwork, which is probably the best of the year and serves as a great tribute to the high point of this band’s career.

    4) The Eternal - Sonic Youth

    Sonic Youth have been in an undeniable groove lately. This decade has ushered in some of their most accessible and critically acclaimed music following their (in my opinion) decade long slump since the landmark Daydream Nation. Not only did they keep their streak alive, but The Eternal is Sonic Youth’s best album this decade! A grower for sure, this disk rocks hard; “Sacred Trickster” and “What We Know” are downright swaggering and do more than harken back to the band’s heyday. Even more impressive is Kim Gordon’s insanely exceptional contribution to this album. The aforementioned “Sacred Trickster”, “Calming of the Snake”, “Malibu Gas Station”, and the epic closer “Massage the History” are all probably some of her best contributions to the band’s prolific catalogue. I really thought Sonic Youth would lay an egg with this album, given their tendency to put out great albums in groups of three. Yet The Eternal breaks that bad luck streak and keeps us diehard fans excited to see what else this legendary band has up their sleeves.

    3) Actor - St. Vincent

    To be honest, I really didn’t think Annie Clark could trump her magical debut effort Marry Me. This probably explains why I hated Actor the entire first month I owned it, but once the expectations diminished and I started to listen to this record without any preconceived notions.... Well, HOLY SHIT! Not only is this album better than Marry Me but it is also a strong contender for best album by a female solo artist for this entire decade. While Actor may not have as many individual standouts as Marry Me, it holds together as one artistic body of work beautifully. The important thing to mention is that this album is an incredible grower and one that is insanely addicting once it gets a hold of you. Jam packed with more than just a dozen memorable moments (the guitar swells from “The Strangers”, the delicately sweet melody on “The Neighbors”, “Black Rainbows” Walt Disney-esq coda, or the deceptively sweet sing-a-long stylings from “Laughing With a Mouthful of Blood”), Actor is a masterpiece that should be remembered generations from now as a defining moment in indie rock. The album is so good that I completely forgive Clark for her contributions to the Twilight soundtrack. If Actor isn’t top ten material for the decade, well, it’s hard to say what is.

    2) Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective

    Hype can be a bitch. Released in January, this record garnered so much acclaim it could make one sick of this disc before even hearing it. Critics were already tossing around phrases such as “album of the year” or even “album of the decade”. However, after a listen it was evident that neither of those statements were tossed around frivolously. Merriweather Post Pavilion sees Animal Collective at the top of their already excellent form with an album more sonically airtight than anyone could have imagined. The album’s first half is instantly accessible; opening with the spiraling ambient pop of “In the Flowers” and the irresistible “My Girls” (the feel good song of the year). The second half of the album is more low key, but no less dense and rewarding. “Bluish” is probably Animal Collective’s best ballad, dethroning the amazing “Banshee Beat” from Feels for this title, while the closer “Brother Sport” hits the album out of the park. Merriweather Post Pavilion is an immensely satisfying and dizzying album that pays out rewards ten-fold because of its endless replay value. Throughout most of 2009, I just couldn’t imagine placing this album anything lower than my number one pick of the year. But, as you can see, it fell somewhat short from taking top marks. Read on my friend...

    1) Embryonic - The Flaming Lips

    Ladies and gentlemen, here we have it: The surprise of the decade. Just when I was ready to give up on the band that shoved me down that slippery slope to indie elitism some eight or nine years ago, they go and turn out possibly the best album of their career (whoa, did I just say that?). I love the Lips‘ catalogue from the 90’s, it’s some of the most refreshingly creative and mind-fucking-jarring music I know. Hell, their 1999 magnum opus The Soft Bulletin is my favorite album from the 90’s. But truth to tell, I lost a lot of interest with the Lips lately (well, the past nine years of their music to be exact). Sure, the much lauded Yoshimi gave the Lips a wider audience... But really, Yoshimi bored me to tears. Then there was At War With the Mystics which was an unfocused conglomeration of decent (just decent) songs. It was to the point that I wasn’t even looking forward to the release of Embryonic. Was I ever glad I was wrong!
    The music on this disc is perfectly mirrored by the bizarre album artwork; it doesn’t really make sense, it’s somewhat unsettling, but at the same time you can’t stop listening to it. This music feels like it’s erupting suddenly from a dense wormhole and just like Merriweather Post Pavilion, the album is so brilliantly cohesive it’s as if each track is delicately cut from the same pristine homogeneous cloth. But with that said, this album never feels stale and the long 70 minute running time feels like it goes by in a breeze. Absent from this album are any “Do You Realize” moments that made this band so huge. The closest track, “She Can Be a Frog”, will even likely detract the fair-weather fans looking for another life-affirming moment. What this album does contain is genuine Flaming Lips tracks, as it finally finds the band being true to themselves for the first time in ten years.
    Patients rewards those who are willing to put the effort into this album. While it may not seem like it at first, there are hooks abound in this disc. Take for instance the opening one-two-punch of “Convinced of the Hex” or “The Sparrow Looks Up”, which are some of the very best straight out rock songs of the year. The Lips even turn out a couple of the best ballad’s of their career here; “Evil”, “Powerless”, and the somewhat experimental “The Impulse” are all weirdly beautiful and effecting on this decidedly dark album. Even the more far-out moments of Embryonic work wonders, such as the mathematically heavy “Gemini Syringes” and the multiple instrumental interludes throughout. Best of all, however, is the cataclysmic finale of “Watching the Planets” which ends this defining album on a jaw dropping note.
    As already stated in the foreword of this list, their 1999 masterpiece The Soft Bulletin is my hands down favorite album from that decade. To think that another Flaming Lips album could end this decade with top marks... Well, if you had told me that a few months ago I would have laughed in your face.
  • Top Ten Albums of 2008

    18. Dez. 2008, 20:57

    Here's my annual list of top ten albums, for the year 2008. Some acknowledgments are the SLC library for “lending” me music, my job which allows me to listen to music as I “work”, and Utah Transportation Authority for letting me “write” (okay, I guess I really did write this) this as I rode the bus to “work” to pass the time. Of course, I have to give a shout out to my third grade class because, well, that's apparently what you're supposed to do in 2008 (thanks Sarah Palin). As far as the artists who released excellent discs this year but were not included in the top ten, a few which immediately come to mind are: Vampire Weekend, The Mountain Goats, Kelley Polar, Cut Copy, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Frightened Rabbit, Sybris, Spiritualized, Wolf Parade, Sigur Ros, The Hold Steady, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Harvey Milk, The Walkmen, Stereolab, The Uglysuit, TV on the Radio, Blitzen Trapper, The Week That Was, Marnie Stern, Gang Gang Dance, Deerhunter, and El Guincho to name a very select few. I could go on and on with the honorable mentions.

    10)This Gift - Sons and Daughters

    Winner of the “most overlooked” or “least appreciated” album of the year, This Gift, is a relentless rocking album. It is also winner of the “car album” of the year award. Released very early in the year, this disc has been in constant rotation for my monotonous drives to work or ventures cross country. And you know what... It has never gotten old or sounded stale (as most discs of the genre often do). This Glasgow band is fronted by female vocalist Adele Bethel, who turns in some of the most convincing and effecting female vocals ever. If Bethel doesn't end up attaining “superstar” status, then it's hard to say who will. From the raging opener “Gilt Complex” to the rolling and fantastic closer “Goodbye Service”, This Gift never lets up. The fact that the album is in such high octane mode the entire time could be perceived as a major point of criticism. But if each song maintains such high quality, who cares?! Pick any song off of this disc, any one at random, and that song could be a bona fide hit. In fact, This Gift is so consistent that it almost plays out as a “best of” album. Those looking for wimpy ballads should check out Iron & Wine; while those looking for god's gift to rock music should check out This Gift. Tis a gift indeed.

    9) Offend Maggie - Deerhoof

    Is it too early yet to call Deerhoof the band of the decade? If it is, then I think it's fair to say that they are at least the most polarizing and uniquely creative. However, for those who have been put off in the past by this band's flights of cuddly and maniacal fury, it's not hard to imagine these people actually enjoying Offend Maggie. I prefer to title this album: The Deerhoof Album for Those Who Do Not Like Deerhoof. Now, this isn't to say the band has sold out or gone pop. Deerhoof still requires you to meet them on their terms, these just happen to be the easiest terms to meet them on. While it may not be the obvious masterpiece that The Runners Four was, the album nearly shines just as bright and is a definite improvement over the relatively (key word: relatively) disappointing Friend Opportunity. Offend Maggie is such a solid album that it's hard to pick out highlights. If pressed, the rocking opener “The Tears and Love of Music”, the funky “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back”, or the mini-epic “Eaguru Guru” would all be contenders. But that would be neglecting the beautiful “Chandelier Searchlight”, the jazzy closer “Jagged Fruit”, and the whimsical title track. Part of Offend Maggie's success lies in the fact that it manages to be both eclectic and cohesive. In addition, Satomi Matsuzaki's vocals have never sounded better and more natural. Offend Maggie, is likely to offend very few people.

    8) Hold On Now, Youngster... & We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed - Los Campesinos!

    Okay, okay... So I know that I cheated by listing two albums for the number eight slot. But then again, it's not every year that an artist releases their debut album the same year as their sophomore album. Even more rare is when both albums are extraordinary and both worthy of recognition (yet I'm refusing to offer each album it's own spot to make room for others). Approaching these albums you're going to have to ignore (or embrace) the fact that Los Campesinos! sounds nearly identical to the childlike joyness of Architecture in Helsinki. While critics of the band will scathe them for unoriginality, the others will notice that Los Campesinos! actually does a better job than the excellent Architecture in Helsinki. Many of the songs (notably “My Year in Lists”) features a chorus of what sounds like twenty heavily caffeinated band mates singing in the background. This giddiness carries over into both albums and once these songs dig into you, they will play out in your head for days. Both the overtly exuberant Hold On Now, Youngster... and the slightly more subdued We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed are the feel good soundtracks to this year. Give them a spin, and just try to tell me you didn't smile!

    7)Hercules And Love Affair - Hercules and Love Affair

    Oh Antony, when I heard you were part of the ensemble known as Hercules and Love Affair, I just couldn't resist to buy this album. But instead of slow moving and beautiful ballads that dominate your solo albums, you are part of the group which released the most colorful album I've heard in quite some time. None-the-less, a DANCE album!!! “Blind” is one of those songs that finds me dancing in my underwear, should it come on when my Ipod is on shuffle while getting ready in the morning, while “You Belong” pumps out of my car stereo speakers without guilt or volition. It's so refreshing to hear your voice displayed with such color. But that shouldn't discount the rest of your imaginative group, which also contributes immeasurably to this wonderful disc. The other two vocalists, Nomi and Kim Ann Foxman, force you to share the spotlight. What with the sexy “Athene” and utterly gorgeous “Iris”, could you expect anything else? This is more than a dance or an electronic album, it is also an insurmountable work of art that overshadows other great albums of the same genre released this year. Antony, I know you'll go back to making your solo records laced with beautiful sadness; but oh what a joy it is to hear you having fun.

    6)Visiter - The Dodos

    The opening number to Visiter is a pretty little ditty that sounds a whole heck of a lot like Sufjan Stevens. But, before all of you Stevens fanatics avalanche into your local record store to buy minted copies of this album; it's only a taster. The rest of the disc bursts with original ferocity that makes it one of the most refreshing albums I've heard in years. Not only that, but it's addictive as all hell! This relentless album can only be listened to all the way through; from the crashing toy pianos of “Red and Purple”, the fierce “Fools”, which sounds like Bob Dylan revved up with two gallons of coffee, the delicious Magnetic Fields-esq “Winter”, and the gorgeous closer “God?”. This album is a gleeful winner. The frenetic guitar playing and the folky melodies almost make it seem as if Metallica joined up with Joni Mitchell; making you question whether any other music out there sounds quite like this. Not just recommend, but highly required!

    5)The Airing of Grievances - Titus Andronicus

    FUCK YOU!!! Or so Titus Andronicus announces on their full length debut. They are probably referring to the endless reviewers comparing the lead vocalist to Conor Oberst. Conor Oberst this, Conor Oberst that... I mean, after being compared to Oberst so much, wouldn't YOU want to scream “fuck you”? Don't let that skew your notion of Titus Andronicus, however; while the lead singer may sound a tad like an angry Oberst, their music sounds nothing like Bright Eyes. This is hard driving, compelling, and heart wrenching music that manages to be both distant and triumphant. The music has that introspective and white trash feel that hasn't been heard since the likes of early Modest Mouse (think Lonesome Crowded West). Once the epic duo of “No Future” hits you, it's like that profound feeling of hearing “Trailer Trash”, and the guitar part on “Upon Viewing...” will unapologetically tear your heart out. This is a challenging album, but manages to scatter brief moments of accessibility to keep things palatable on first listen. Such moments are the groovy “My Time Outside the Womb” or the anthemic “Titus Andronicus”. Fuck Conor Oberst and his pansie Bright Eyes... Titus Andronicus will render Oberst obsolete.

    4) Nouns - No Age

    It seems as if everyone is searching for the next Daydream Nation. What about the other, less discussed, Sonic Youth masterpiece: Sister? Well, any indie hipster looking for this generation's collection of tightly constructed and powerful noise/art rock will strike gold with Nouns. This thirty minute sophomore album brilliantly combines edginess and accessibility for what is guaranteed to be the most obsessively played disc of the year in your collection. Anthems such as “Teen Creeps” would be well suited for top 40 radio, had they not been drenched in glorious noise. Then there's the epic two and a half minute “Sleeper Hold” which will have you turning up the volume at each unpredictable twist the song takes. No Age manages to slow things down a few times, both the on surreal ballad “Things I Did When I Was Dead” and the two essential instrumental palette cleansers of the album. With Nouns, No Age have established themselves as a force to watch in the future; and who knows... Perhaps next we will get this generation's Daydream Nation.

    3)Third - Portishead

    Even though it was eleven years ago when Portishead released their self-titled sophomore album, it only takes about ten seconds after hitting the play button for you to know that they are back. Not only have they returned (seemingly out of nowhere), but they are stronger than ever (yes, I went there). From the spy car chase scene-esq opener, “Silence”, to the final echoing drones of “Threads”, Portishead create a deep labyrinth of claustrophobia and terror, with pockets of redeeming beauty. While that description may not render an enjoyable experience, one just has to surrender themselves to this music to fully experience the significance. Amy Gibbon's vocal delivery has never been more on target, one can hear the fear in her voice on “Machine Gun” or the sincerity on the gorgeous “The Rip”. The real stunner of this album is the dynamic “We Carry On” in which the pounding percussion and the distorted guitars nearly steals the show. It's arguably the finest song Portishead has ever done. Third is the type of album that makes one nervous. While it's thrilling that such a great band came out from under the woodwork with little herald to deliver us a stunning album; fans can't help to feel a little dread that we'll have to wait eleven more years for another album of such stature.

    2)April - Sun Kil Moon

    Released on the first of the month in which the album is named after, April seems to get better as the year wears on and as Autumn grasps it's hand on us. After a successful career with Red House Painters and the beauty of the first two Sun Kil Moon albums, Mark Kozelek has finally dropped his fully realized masterpiece. This massive work is mostly comprised of repetitive ballads which clock in over the seven or eight minute mark. In the hands of most artists this would render disastrous and boring results, yet Kozelek makes repetition work to his advantage, similar in the way of Bob Dylan. Take for instance the winding opener “Lost Verses” (also the best song of the year), the warm countrified tones of “The Light”, or the unbelievable tension in the brilliant “Heron Blue”. Had these songs been edited their power would have been restrained a hundred-fold. April is not for anyone who is looking for quick gratification, catchy hooks, or a bitchin party. No, April is one of those rare albums, that given the patients it deserves, ages better with time than almost anything I've ever heard. Perhaps that is the reason Kozelek released this album in April, so that the autumnal bliss can fully be enjoyed in the season the music most matches. Sometimes I just can't get over how beautiful April is.

    1)London Zoo - The Bug

    Angry liberals... They sure give Democrats a bad name, and from the fiery album opener “Angry”, you can sure bet that Kevin Martin has a lot to get off his chest; from the war to Katrina to the ozone layer. However, his rant is far from being whiny and it's not offensive or overtly confrontational, and likely not to put off any conservative dubstep lovers (if there are any). But you know what... That's just the first number of this politically diluted and triumphant album. After a five year absence from the moniker of The Bug, Martin returns with work that can only be called career defining. Screw the dubstep label, and screw dancehall or electronic labels. While London Zoo may fit into those descriptions, it is best described as an album in a league of its own and one that raises the bar and sets precedence for all other albums which follow (much the way My Bloody Valentine achieved with Loveless).

    More hook driven than the ethereal Pressure, London Zoo finds Martin recruiting a larger ensemble of cohorts for this set of songs. Most notably is Queen Warrior, who delivers the album knock out “Insane” and follows up later in the disc with the nearly as good “Poison Dart”. But what's most stunning about the album is perhaps the flawless track ordering. Coming out of the gates on fire with the aforementioned “Angry” and the equally massive (and addicting) follow up “Murder We”, the intensity and piss and vinegar of the tracks slowly diminishes to minimum mid album. This isn't to say these tracks aren't as good as the fiery ones; the two track duo of “You & Me” and the dizzying instrumental “Freak Freak” serves perfect complement to each other and acts as a welcome reprieve. When the thunderous claps of “Warning” kicks in, you're sure to form a thick layer of goosebumps; it is the finest single musical moment of the year.

    London Zoo achieves similar success as last years top pick, Drums and Guns, in that it is culturally significant to our time. Martin spends much of London Zoo reminding us that there is in fact a war still going on overseas. With so much talk about the economy, it's amazing that the war has taken such a background position in our lives. Martin is that singular voice, still screaming in protest (most notably on “Jah War”). In the hands of other artists this all may sound outdated but London Zoo is remarkably fresh. When you hear somebody ask if anything good came out of the Bush Administration, just throw London Zoo in their faces.