Thursday, December 17, 2009

FaveAlbums2009 part 2: 25-11

Alright, now it gets srrrrious. Here are my favorite albums of 2009, from 25-11. If you somehow missed my first installment, which included #1 FaveAlbum2009 as well as #s 50-26, go catch up!

25 - YACHT
See Mystery Lights // The Juan MacLean The Future Will Come

Yes, DFA holds it down completely to round off the top 25. I just couldn’t decide if it should be one or the other, or someone else completely, and so they share it. YACHT…. What can I say? Jona Bechtolt is a beat making genius. I saw him open up for Vampire Weekend early last year and he blew me away. Laptop artists are one thing, but Jona took it to another level. He’s the only artist I’ve known to rock a PowerPoint presentation. Über geeky, and über cool. On Lights, “Psychic City” was quick to make friends with me. Those who follow YACHT should know “Summer Song” from last year, released as a standalone single. What else is good.. everything! Opener “Ring the Bell” is a slow funky buildup to a rocking stomp. I critique Memory Tapes for being too stompy and 4/4—but YACHT is another story.

The Future Will Come is another dance album, with trademark Juan MacLean epically long tracks. This is a dance album you don’t dance to. Well, moments like “Happy House” you definitely dance—you shimmy, shake, bounce, hop, slide, too. And “The Simple Life” definitely makes me wanna dance. So what the hell was I talking about? Well…. It’s as much of a headphone listen as it a dancefloor record. The spacey disco is minimal enough to have on and simply listen to, drifting in and out of conscious listening mode. “Happy House” is the standout [one of my FaveSongs2008]. Other notables are “The Simple Life” and “One Day”.

24 – Memory Tapes Seek Magic

I don’t know if I got sick of listening to this or if I got swept away with other things but there was a time when I thought for sure it’d be in my top ten. I think if there were fewer 4/4 jams on here, it would have remained in the top ten. Like, more tracks like opener “Swimming Field”. Or, like…. If Mr Memory Tapes Dayve Hawk and Washed Out or Toro Y Moi made an album together, I would have never stopped listening to it.

“Bicycle” is still a contender for my very favorite song of 2009. True statement [read this space in the next few days to see if it beats out everything else in the FaveSongs2009 list]. I loved “Bicycle” so damn much that I think I may have hyped up Seek Magic a little too much for my own good. Still, tracks like “Green Knight” are great, as is aforementioned “Swimming Field”. It also bugs me that this was released as an album, but with nine tracks barely hitting over 40min, it really feels much more like an EP.

23 – Raekwon Only Built for Cuban Linx Pt II

Holy shit, he actually did it. GZA/Genius kinda did, but RZA sure as hell couldn’t. Ok, so Ghostface did, twice. Method Man wasn’t ever close. And I won’t even bother with ODB. Nobody else even really tried. And who the hell thought Raekwon could? But he did. He followed up one of the best hip hop albums, ever, with another straight banger. This reminds me so much of Ghostface’s 2006 Fishscale, and with good reason—many of the same producers, like MF Doom, J Dilla and Pete Rock, and, of course, many of the same guest appearances. Those guests would of course be other members of the Wu-Tang Clan.

I’m no hip hop expert and so I won’t get into this much. Expertly used samples, and expertly versed rhymes. Period. Besides Clipse, Birdman/Weezy and Lupe Fiasco, this and Fishscale are easily the most dominant hip hop records in my collection [of albums released in the past five years, I should mention]. And until Gang Starr come back with another album, they will continue to be.

22 – Discovery LP

Come on, this album is great! Don’t deny the pure pop bliss, even if it can be cheesy as hell sometimes. They had fun with it, and so should you. I got hold of this the same time Miike Snow and Passion Pit’s records were being blasted, and I think the three together made quite the perfect dreamy springtime soundtrack. Put all three records on, select ‘random’ and you knew you’d have a ray of sunshine beaming on you for the next two hours.

And how could this not be good? Vampire Weekend piano-and-synth-man Rostam Batmanglij and Ra Ra Riot vocalist Wes Miles with their respective bands have made two of the best indie rock/pop albums in recent years. They get cheeky with Autotune, steal some r’n’b ideas and even get Dirty Projector Angel Deradoorian to help out! It’s wonderful. I listened to it and loved it so much it should probably be much higher than this.

21 – Girls Album

This album is marvelous. I haven’t listened to it all the way through for a few weeks, but each time I do I remember how much I actually like it. Originally, I was kinda surprised I liked it as much as I did. I found myself listening more and more. It’s a kid who grew up listening to Elvis Costello and the Smiths, and then ended up recording an album in California on which a lot of times he sounds eerily like Elvis Costello. “Hellhole Ratrace” was really once again an unlikely favorite, but I kept putting that track on repeat—which is strange because much of the track itself is a big repeat of the same lines over and over. But I loved it. “Lust for Life” and “Laura” are other strong tunes.

20 – Bibio Ambivalence Avenue

Bibio released THREE albums this year [ok, so two albums and one EP]. Who knows when the material was actually produced, as I’m certain the man has unfinished tracks lying around all over the place. Avenue is the middle album of the year, released in June. Since I liked it much more than his first, Vignetting the Compost, I’m curious if the third release, The Apple and the Tooth [that one that's really an EP], will be even better. I need to give it a few more attentive listens, but I have a feeling sometime in early 2010 I’ll decide it is just as good if not better than this.

Anyway.. Avenue is for fans of Boards of Canada, Caribou and other Warp and Mush artists, but it’s so much more than that may sound. I think it has pretty broad appeal. Sure, I’ve listened to “this sort of music” for years and so when I hear “weird” bleeps and bloops and unconventional drum patterns, it’s nothing to get all offended by. There are plenty of vocals and poppy moments on this, like “Lover’s Carvings” for instance, that should be able to hold the attention of fans of more mainstream stuff. Give it a chance.

19 – Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

It’s not that I don’t think this is a crazy good album like everyone else does—I just wasn’t blown away by it right off the bat. In fact, I still haven’t been. That’s probably why it’s #19 on this list. I need to let it soak in and hear it’s brilliance throughout. Don't get me wrong, it's damn good [everything on this list is! That's kinda the point]. It's just not.... original enough and so I've let it slip by. I'm saying right now I'm sure it's better than I've let it be.

The first two single, “Lisztomania” and “1901” totally do it for me—they got me moving and singing at the top of my lungs the same way “Napoleon Says” did three years ago. They’re good. They’re both good enough to make my FaveSongs list, I just haven’t loved the rest of the album enough yet, mainly because I haven’t given it a chance.

18 – Fuck Buttons Tarot Sport

On someone else’s blog somewhere recently I likened this record, or the tracks that make it up anyway, as being like Dan Deacon tracks, only dropped in tempo and without the chipmunk vocals. I stand by that extremely insightful and thoughtful comparison. It’s hard to pull any of the tracks fromTarot away from the others and still not hear the others humming along within. No, that doesn’t mean they all sound alike—but hey, so what if it does? Dan Deacon’s songs sound a lot alike. Much of Tarot Sport sounds like a lot more of Tarot Sport. Big deal.

If you’re into this sort of emotional build-up stuff like me, then it's not hard to fall in love with. Try to listen to “The Lisbon Maru” without losing your shit when the guitars screech in or when the drums finally come in full volume. Album closer “Flight of the Feathered Serpent”—which sounds exactly how I expect a flight of such serpent would—also sounds like they hired ex-Underworld beat programmer to supply the drums. In other words, it’s bloody brilliant.

17 – Dan Deacon Bromst

I saw Dan Deacon and his immense ensemble for the first time earlier this year, and it was intense. Seeing them live and listening to the same exact music at home are two completely different experiences, however, each of course enjoyable in their own ways. The album is great because while it’s quite obviously the same goofy-ass Dan Deacon from Spiderman of the Rings, sonically he matured. The same arpeggioed piano and xylophone [and whatever else] phrases are there, as are the same chipmunk vocals and snippets and samples—it all just sounds a little more full and put-together than Spiderman. Personal faves are opener “Build Voice” and “Surprise Stefani”, which are both strongly supported by their long builds. But hell, each individual track builds, not unlike Fuck Buttons record at all. And that's most likely one of the things I like about it the most. It should be noted neither Dan Deacon nor Fuck Buttons should be listened to be schizophrenics.

16 – Culture Reject Culture Reject

I didn’t know much about Culture Reject before, and I still don’t know much about Culture Reject, except for the fact that it’s hard to not call them Culture Rejects—a habit, which out of respect for the band, I need to quit doing. Album opener “Ain’t it on the Floor” is a sublime instrumental ease into the album, which altogether is a great summery indie pop album complete with handclap happiness [as executed perfectly on “Inside the Cinema”], acoustic guitar and piano [as on “Overflow”], horns galore and beachiness throughout.

15 – The Very Best Warm Heart of Africa

If you didn’t have last year’s mixtape from Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit’s collaboration as The Very Best, you missed out. That and this year’s Warm Heart are both sunny mixes of native East African music and western influenced pop. Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koening guests on the title track and it’s a welcome addition. While Koening arguably makes that track, Esau carries himself on the bulk of the album. “Rain Dance” features MIA, which is another nice departure from the rest of the album but all in all the album would be great without guests, too.

14 – Antony & the Johnsons The Crying Light

It’s hard to imagine that this actually came out in 2009. It seems like it was so much longer ago I was stuck in the dark and silent stacks on the sixth floor of UW’s Memorial Library, with Antony’s distinct voice in my ear. Pained and heartbroken, Antony Hegarty reminds me of Elliott Smith, but without the alcohol and drug addiction and horrible affliction of depression. With Antony, there’s hope to share—he yearns for your ear as he sings achingly for a perfect world, the certainties of life and death, and the future. I join Antony in hope whereas with Elliott I empathized, slugged back some bourbon and joined in his pain.

I first heard Antony on Coco Rosie’s Noah’s Ark and I very decidedly hated his voice. It’s definitely not for everyone in the same way that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!’s Alec Ounsworth isn’t, but once you finally come around, it’s beautiful; now I absolutely adore it.

13 – Basement Jaxx Scars

Basement Jaxx are so great and timeless. Like Daft Punk, they have such a distinct style of dance that they never abandon. While Daft Punk is famously robotic and spacecraft sterile, Felix and Simon have a more organic approach. Neither is right nor wrong, of course. The opening title track “Scars” is a perfect example of the sorta off the wall Jaxx production: the affected-vocal “Baaaaaaasssse-meeeeeennnt Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaxxxxxxx” intro, the omnipresent bugs or fairies whizzing by all around [or is it just me who hears that?], the simple drum intro [not unlike Rooty's “Romeo”] and the wonderful lyrics. As with every other Jaxx record Scars contains great guest spots, but perhaps the most notable, Santigold, is actually the album’s least desirable. On the other hand, “Raindrops” is a dance pop gem, and has a solid spot on my FaveSongs list for sure.

12 – Tune-Yards Bird-Brains

Tune-Yards is Brooklynite Merrill Garbus, and she has one of the best female voices in all of the borough’s indie corners. She rivals both Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman, and all three share the same passion of using their gifted voices as a leadinstrument—in the case of the Dirty Projectors, it’s three lead vocal instruments in a band, but in lo-fi wunder-one-woman band Tune-Yards, Merrill’s voice is inarguably the only lead instrument.

Listening to this as I write, I really want to put it higher on the list, but I can’t bring myself to change this blasted thing anymore. "Lions" carries one of the most unforgettable deliveries of the year, where Merrill almost hatefully spits: "we can pretend it's Christmas while we're locked here in this box / while my brother and all his friends whip out their tiny teenage cocks / if I scream they'll hear us so let's count along with clocks". If there’s any fault of this whole album, it’s that on one of my favorites “Hatari”, right at the beginning of the big breakdown there is really clumsy editing. It’s something which lo-fi lovers may find charming, but as an editing perfectionist I find it annoying.

11 - Miike Snow Miike Snow

Nine months ago seldom was a moment when this album wasn't being blasted on my home stereo, my iPod on the way to class, or at my girlfriend's house. Six months ago I was still sure I'd claim it to be #2 or 3 on this list. But I can't remember the last time I listened to this the whole way through, and I think time is very telling about how good an album really is, or how much you even like it. Still, because it totally dominated myTunes for a good portion of the year, it's hard to ignore. Besides, it's an incredible album!

Miike Snow [it's /MEE-kuh/, people!] lead singer Andrew Wyatt is also in the great band Fires of Rome, and I'm a fan of them as well. I think I'm mostly a fan of Wyatt's voice, but the production of this is wonderful, too. It's Euro mainstream, really: it's a dancey pop album, and it doesn't sound like something that would come from America. And it isn't--production team Bloodshy and Avant are Swedes. "Sylvia", "Animal", "Burial", "A Horse is Not a Home" are all highlights--it's hard to not find a track on here that's fun to listen to.


Again, if you missed the first batch, find it here.

Be sure to check back soon for the top 10 OHWNT FaveAlbums2009.


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