I've been in a state of mental cleaning of late, trying to sweep away cluttered ideas and untangle more useful ones from the inevitable knot they form like the wires connected to countless appliance chargers stored in my kitchen's junk drawer. In the spirit of such a task, I've decided to clear the air of all the remaining 2009 albums that I have marked for review. Though being the self-confessed collecting hoarder that I am, I make no promises that albums from that bygone year won't show up again, I can assure you that as of now, this all of the 2009 releases slated for slander. Trendy Hipsters have no fear, next week will be devoted to 2010, because you all know how we like things that are new, new, new. Until then, dust off your calendars and think back to a time long ago...
Sun Wizard - Maybe They Were Right: Not sure if this band is from California or not, but their music certainly belongs to that fine state. In the tradition of many other Cali bands (especially of the L.A. variety) there is an inflection of some southwestern sound in their sunny indie rock. For me, this six song EP was frustrating. "In the Morning" and the title track are infectiously great. However, the rest of the EP feels quite like a different band and decidedly more generic. But I have high hopes that in the future they will produce a dynamite full-length.
Little Girls - "Concepts": This is a dense album of post-shoegazer tunes from a Toronto based band. Intentionally impenetrable and at times, beautiful, but as a whole I found it rather boring as I do with most of these types of albums. For a few songs, it's a great soundscape album, but as it goes on, it becomes very same-same. If that kind of sound is your thing, check them out. They do it as well as anyone...it's just not my thing.
The xx - xx: This is one of those albums that's very hard to pin down. That's typically a good thing in my book. Not that there's anything wrong with playing a style and doing it well, but an album that is diverse and spans many genres seems to have a longer life. At times this feels like a indie rock record, at times a dance record, and when it works, the songs are stellar. "Islands" is undoubtedly a HIT in ever sense of the world. Overall, I really liked this album but didn't absolutely love it...though I can see why so many people I know do truly love it. It certainly required listening from 2009.
Bad Veins - Bad Veins: Dangerbird is one of the few labels around that I'll still venture a purchase of an album based on one song that I find appealing. After catching a video for a rather catchy song, I decided to pick this up. It's clearly an indie rock record that is wholly enjoyable, if not exactly original. In a way, it reminds me of a angrier, modern-day American garage version The Smiths: less pretty, more direct than witty, but the intent is there. Very enjoyable and worthwhile for any indie rock lover. I feel like comparisons to The Strokes first album are unavoidable simply because of the singer's voice. But I suppose that's the one Strokes album you'd want to be compared with.
Fallout 3: Galaxy News Radio: Frequent readers of this blog will remember that I named this video game as my entertainer of the year for 2009. What I didn't mention at that time was the amazing musical selections used throughout the game, mostly in the background, played through the in-game radio station. This may not be what you imagine when you think of a video game soundtrack, this is mostly '30s and '40s era Big Band tunes, lots of Cab Calloway sounding songs, a bunch of Billie Holiday numbers along with originals that reproduce that sound. A fantastic collection that hopefully will introduce people to an increasingly forgotten era of amazing music.
J. Tillman - Daytrotter Sessions: Yet another of the endless stream of dark folk singer-songwriters that I hail in the Weekend Roundup, but truly, J. Tillman is worth it. Like a scaled-back Bon Iver, Tillman sounds like a tree in the winter woods that has lost its leaves yet still rattles in the cold wind. The songs are haunting and beautiful. A million thanks to the wonderful Daytrotter website for continuing to showcase unheralded bands. After hearing the two sessions he did here, all of his albums immediately found their way onto my wishlist.
Chain and the Gang - Down with Liberty...Up with Chains: The newest project from one of the true geniuses of our generation, Ian Svenonius (of Make-Up, Nation of Ulysses, Weird War, David Candy and author of fantastic book of music essays, The Psychic Soviet). I had no idea this existed until the dANIMAL, my fellow Svenonius admirer, provided me with knowledge of it. This is easily the best release of his since Make-Up and very much uses the garage rock revival sound of that band. But it's also very different at the same time, slower, less maniac, more political, and humorous. Seems like the perfect summer afternoon record when the bong is sitting nearby and there is nothing on the agenda.
Death - ...For the Whole World to See: Not to be confused with the Scandinavian death metal band, this is a Detroit rock outfit that has created a very varied record. At its core this is a garage rock album that one would expect from the Motor City, but it infuses the sound with softer moments, along with 90's indie nods, stoner rock and metal elements. A very solid album on all accounts.
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion: I must admit to my continued confusion as to the incredible love for this band that exists among indie crowds. I keep following the band and listening to their releases in hopes that I might discover what up until now has eluded me. This is the highest rated album for 2009 on rateyourmusic.com and I have no idea why. At moments, there is a brilliance to their swirling Beach Boys-esque experimental psychedelic pop, but overall the result is more of mess than a masterpiece in my opinion.
Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You: Here's an album I never expected to enjoy, and ended-up really liking it. I passionately hated all of the singles from Lily's debut album. I found them to be incredibly annoying on every level. However, I recently heard her covering some tunes and was struck by how much I loved her voice and decided to give this album a try. Given my recent rediscovery of British pop music, I was geared to find something good here. I found something quite unexpectedly great. Super catchy pop tracks are combined with Lily's amazing voice and surprisingly brilliant lyrics. Her view of society as a hypocritical, shallow entity mirror my own at times and to express that point view within a frame work that will appeal to those she's criticizing is quite bold. Bravo. It is rare that my opinion of an artist is so completely reversed.