Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Best Music of 2009 Thus Far

While all lists are superfluous, I really enjoy the particular superfluity of evaluating what's best when the year is only halfway over. Still, these past 6 months have seen some obscenely excellent releases, and 2009 is shaping up to be an excellent music year. So here are my top ten-plus-one, the best of 2009 so far:

1.) Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion - I understand the backlash, and I hate how hipster I come off looking on this. But the music.....regardless of where you stand on them, I think Animal Collective are one of the decade's most interesting bands, and this may be their highlight. I kind of miss Avery Tare's random, uncontainable screams of joy on this album, but with songs like "Brother Sport," "In the Flowers," "Summertime Clothes," and "Lion in a Coma," I can let go of some yelps.

2.) Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest - I realize I probably seem like I'm regurgitating Pitchfork talking points here, but sonofabitch if this isn't almost as good as the Animal Collective album. The first listen or two, I thought it would end up being one of the most overrated albums of the decade, but by about spin #3, it had started working its way into my head, and by the fifth listen, I couldn't stop. Not quite as good as the AC album, simply because there is a song or two that doesn't hit quite as strongly as the rest of the album. Still, it's a beautiful album that really works its way into your head over time.

3.) Rock Plaza Central, At the Moment of Our Most Needing, or If Only They Could Turn Aorund, They Would Know They Weren't Alone - When I hear people describe Bonnie "Prince" Billy, this is what I wish he sounded like.

4.) Japandroids, Post-Nothing - Best rock album of the year, without question (also, one of the better titles in awhile).

5.) Alela Diane, To Be Still - I openly admit a weakness for folksy female singer/songwriters (see: Joanna Newsom, Marissa Nadler, Neko Case, etc.). Diane's album is gorgeous, one of those rare albums that's equally perfect on a lazy sunny Saturday morning or a rainy cold night when you're all alone.

6.) Woods, Songs of Shame - More Brooklyn indie-hipster stuff, but the falsetto singing and the fuzzed-out-yet-accoustic sound are extremely satisfying, and offer a nice, more "organic" take on the "indie" scene that has come out of the Brooklyn area.

7.) Matt & Kim, Grand - A synthesizers-drums combo sounds like a terrible idea. But this is the happiest, funnest, most delightful album I've heard in awhile, a perfect "pop" album. And "Lessons Learned" very well may be the single of the year.

8.) White Rabbits, It's Frightening - One of those albums where you immediately think, "why didn't other bands think of this before?" Simple, straightforward rock, only with a heavy reliance on piano and two drummers (in addition to the guitars) - it could have been a disaster, or it could have been great. Fortunately, it ended up great.

9. ) Rural Alberta Advantage, Hometowns - Nils Edenloff's voice is not for everybody, but the music is infectious, and when his nasally tenor joins with drummer/singer Amy Cole's innocent-sounding voice, it's one of the oddest and most endearingly sweet sounds. And the music is pretty excellent, too.

10.) Lotus Plaza, The Floodlight Collective - Deerhunter member Lockett Pundt releases his solo album a year after Bradford Cox, and it's just as good. It's clear how much Pundt has influenced Cox and Deerhunter since he joined, and when I got Cox's Atlas Sound album last year, I thought, "I wish there were more albums like this." Fortunately, Pundt has provided such an album. Now, if only there were more albums like The Floodlight Collective....

11.) Charles Spearin, The Happiness Project - Hands down the most interesting album of the year. Spearin took interviews with seven people, ranging from children to the elderly, each of whom answered what happiness was to them. The album then takes their answers, with Spearin creating guitar (and keyboard) music lines that echo the vocal intonations of the answers, in what is a delightful concept that joins loops, edits, a particular notion of "music concrete," and guitars to make an album that won't grab you immediately, but that can bring you to tears both through the people's answers and the music built on their voices.

Honorable Mentions: Bat for Lashes, Two Suns; Neko Case, Middle Cyclone; Marissa Nadler, Little Hells; Here We Go Magic, Here We Go Magic

Most overrated album of the year (so far): Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - I just don't get the big deal - it's some of the most sterile "rock" I've heard, yet people seem to be absolutely swooning over this album. Comparisons to Spoon are apt - I definitely don't think either band is worth the fuss.