Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hopelessly So, Another Top 10

While I am still doing silly things, like listening to Microcastle/Weird Era Continued or chewing on Feel Good Lost for yet another time (seriously who is gonna write a response to that?), the musical universe trudges along without me.
I don't like top ten lists for the reason that they force me to make quick decisions about albums I've only had a few weeks to listen to. Out of all the albums that were released this year 38 or so made their way onto my computer, and I've cut out what I think are the best 10 from that selection. As far as I'm concerned, its a list that could change in the next few days. As I look over it more and more it is possible that it will, but for now it acts as an accurate tell on what impressed me from this year's batch of albums.

10. Bromst - Dan Deacon

Less buzzy fuzz and more melodies.
Okay, so maybe the same energy stacked dace-maker-fuzz, but with this album, Dan really makes Bromst a journey, instead of just a collection of songs that make you want to dance around in your underpants. Despite its early release, Bromst still resonates with me. It reaches the intensity of his previous work, but captures moments that are true, melodic, and kind.

9. Tarot Sport - Fuck Buttons

Quite simply, this album tells me a story that I want to hear. Whenever I listen to Tarot Sport I get this overwhelming sense of narrative. No longer do these songs reach out to you from a sea of noisy noise, but they are able to grab you by the collar and say something. It's an album that reads like a soundtrack to something, somewhere. Its so charged and yet still open, it says something about, well, anything. Heck, walk down the street with Tarot Sport and eventually you'll get the idea.

8. Embryonic - The Flaming Lips

I listened to the first 4 or so songs and was convinced it was one of the best albums this year. Then someone said I should listen to the rest of it to make sure it should belong on here. That's when it was really sold for me. You don't get many chances to hear Karen O cackle behind a list of animal names, nor do you get a song that seems like The Lips are teaching MGMT how to have fun. The most impressive thing about this album has to be that every time a harp sweeps my speakers, I get a feeling equivalent to holding my breath.

7. Get Color - Health

If you get past the first 16 seconds of Severin you arrive in the middle of one of the greatest shoegaze songs this year. I think it was probably Health's way of telling us they have changed. It's a song that is so telling about their transition from more avant-garde indulgences to filling an album with interest and composure. Get Color is an album that favors more traditional song structures. It becomes a more composed way of looking into health's overall structure. Which is lean, distant, downtrodden, but only on the surface of something all the more powerful, loud, and razor sharp. This way, when you listen to Get Color you don't have the excuse of dismissing it by saying that it's "just noise".
Because, now you are only half right.

6. Veckatimest - Grizzly Bear

Maybe a bit too trim and elloquent, Veckatimest sits in this list as one of the more cohesive recordings this year. It's supported by the juggernauts Two Weeks and Cheerleader, but can't we just admit that the best song on this album is Ready, Able? As far as Veckatimes feels: it chugs and coos. When Daniel Rosen is in the driver's seat, it chugs along at a steady pace, and feels porous enough to really see what this new-er electric-er Grizzly Bear is all about. When Droste steps up to the plate, I want to be a 14 year old girl again sitting on my bed singing along with curls in my hair.... er, lets just say I more than get the sentiment. But lets face it, as shockingly beautiful as these Valium soaked vocals get, and as interesting as it is that Veckatimest drips with the flavour of an off shore island, there is a bit of distance between me and certain songs that attempt to place the album in any sort of location. Which translates into distance between me and the album.

5. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix

Whoa whoa whoa! How can you make an album that is packed with so many great songs it ships like a CD of all the years favourite singles? Is that even fair? Besides the fact that it contains all of this years best singles, Wolfgang can spin all night and no one would complain. It strikes a perfectly placed target that is in the middle of everyone's taste. It's just the right amount of indie rock, with just the right amount of texture on just the right amount of synths, which in turn charges the background of an album that picks just the right pace, along with our attention, and never lets go. Not to mention Thomas Mars and his quirky, light ended vocals that tip-toe over prancey riffs, that seals it for me.

4. Merriweather Post Pavillion - Animal Collective

Please listen to this album in headphones.
Also, I'm glad that this wasn't the best album of 2009, because then it would have ruined the rest of my musical year by taking all of the glory, just six days into the running. However, back to my earlier point, and why this album is so good: headphones. It's kind of silly that the most dance worthy release by Animal Collective would be the one that sounds the best as you sit in a chair to don a pair of proper ear cannons. I'm overcome by how intricately mixed Merriweather is, and just as disappointed that most people listening to it will don a pair of pea sized ear stuffers to do so. Still, for all of its schlack and gloss, Merriweather lets me down. As Animal Collective gains more popularity and regard, I fear that no one will notice the minor details missing, such as the reason why we all listened to Animal Collective in the first place. I look to Animal Collective to show me what music can be, but I didn't get my fair share on Merriweather Post Pavilion, even as I sit, yet again memorized by their musical finesse.

3. Bitte Orca - The Dirty Projectors

Bitte Orca is packed with just about every technical demonstration of musical intellectualism that it makes it hard to understand why exactly it is as good as people say it is. There are unstable key signatures, vocal harmonies interlaced like shoelaces, virtuoso guitar riffs that smash apart smoothly placed drum machine beats. The list can go on for a while, because Bitte Orca is a musical index that has everything popular albums shouldn't, but remains able to carry your interest without being too antiseptic. The interesting thing I find about the album, is that my least favourite song is its first single. Besides teaching us that getting a Masters degree can actually turn into something meaningful, I think The Dirty Projectors have proved that an album with so much compositional vigor can also be one of my favourite albums to listen to over and over again.

2. Born Again Revisited - Times New Viking

I'm aware that this album will be disregarded almost immediately, but it is impossible to ignore some of the best songwriting of the year. I have written about this album before so its not a surprise that it is on this list, but why so high is the case in point. In the context of this year, with bands trading in production value for that all too popular "low-fi" glow, Born Again Revisited is an album that was born sipping it from a juice box. Most bands tried to grab our attention this year from behind a wall of buzz, or tape hiss, or amplifier malfunctions. Born Again Revisited was written the same way, yes, however it does not use low-fi as innocent party tricks, it's propelled from within the heart of what low-fi first popped up as. Yes, it sounds 'bad'. Still, Born Again Revisited makes the 'bad' a good thing as we listen to these talented three link together riffs with a sly humor and some badassness. There is a reason for the mess, because the content displays a messiness too, one that is a bit jarring and dirty. This doesn't mean that it lacks substance, but that its substance is keen to its form, and for that I am impressed.

1. Logos - Atlas Sound

Bradford Cox lied to us when he said Logos was less indulgent than his previous release. It's just a different kind of indulgent. One that is less alienating and more persuasive, which ultimately makes for a cohesive but chillingly great collection of songs. They are by no means complex. Yet, Cox uses simple songwriting to punch a hole through my attention span long enough to deliver songs full personal stories of which I will never understand their true meaning.
It is in this way that he is so indulgent. As dark words are delivered through bright songs, I am left wondering what kind of a face he is making behind that flash glare. By no means is it cynical. As I make my way through Logos, I'm aware of the window I'm given into his psyche, and I haven't a clue as to what it means. Maybe they are delivered this way to provoke a great deal of thought, perhaps not. All I know is that, well, I can't stop thinking about them. And I can't stop listening to the album because of it.

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