Jul 22, 2009

Best Albums of 2009... so far, so good... so what!

Now that we've reached and subsequently passed the halfway point in 2009, time to sit back and take stock of the best music January through June had to offer.

1. Mastodon - Crack the Skye (Reprise)
Another winner from the best American metal band going right now. Prog in all the right ways, surprisingly melodic and still fierce as hell.

2. Sunn O))) - Monoliths & Dimensions (Southern Lord)
The dark drone metal masters create an album that defies easy categorization, incorporating everything from acid jazz to choral music to conch shells (no really).

3. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
By sharpening their songcraft and absorbing lots of dance rhythms has allowed the Collective to give us one of their most listenable and blissful albums yet.

4. Dinosaur Jr - Farm (Jagjaguwar)
The reunion rolls on, with an album that just might even surpass the original trilogy that gave these guys their killer reputation. Every nook and cranny is packed with hooks and crunchy Crazy Horse solos.

5. Wilco - Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch)
It doesn't break any new ground for the band, but serves as a terrific summary of everything they do well - from Tweedy's intimate lyrics to sonic playfulness that reveals boundless depth in these seemingly simple pop songs.

6. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca (Domino)
One of the most pleasant surprises of 2009, this is one of those albums that sneaks up on you and demands your attention. "Stillness is the Move" might just be single of the year.

7. Coalesce - Ox (Relapse)
Nothing better than having the veterans kick back with an album a decade later than positively obliterates the countless imitators the band has spawned.

8. Sonic Youth - The Eternal (Matador)
Much like the new Wilco, this album serves as more of a band sampler than a dipping of toes in a new pool. Still, Sonic Youth reflecting is leaps and bounds above most bands half their age.

9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Slumberland)
Endlessly derivative, but still the some of the best thirty-five minutes of pop pleasure this year has blessed us with.

10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz! (Interscope)
For a band that built its early reputation on skronk and intensity, its somewhat surprising that their best album yet nods more to the dancefloor than the dark corners of post-punk.

11. Kylesa - Static Tensions (Prosthetic)
Thanks to two fantastic drummers, this is one of the heaviest and most intense sounding metal albums of the year. Just when I thought sludge had little new to offer...

12. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (V2)
After a stunning SNL performance that turned heads, Phoenix finally shows the masses what tuned in fans have known for years - namely, these guys got hooks upon hooks. "Listzomania" and "1901" are both pure pop magic.

13. Nomo - Invisible Cities (Ubiquity)
Who knew some of the grooviest Afro-beat in the 21st Century would come from Ann Arbor, Michigan? Well, those of that have been following these kids through four fantastic albums knew.

14. Handsome Furs - Face Control (Sub Pop)
I was a big supporter of this duo's first album, but I'm glad to see that an even better follow-up has led to some much deserved attention. I've had at least seven of these songs stuck in my head at one point or another this year.

15. Isis - Wavering Radiant (Ipecac)
Ever wonder why critics still refer to all young post-metal bands as NeurIsis? Because these guys helped set the template and are still marking out territory all their own.

16. The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love (Capitol)
Stripped down to basics, this is a sweeping concept album about love, magic and forest animals. In no way should it be one of the most engaging albums of the year, but it is. Kudos guys.

17. Wooden Shjips - Dos (Holy Mountain)
Detractors call these guys repetitive and boring, but they're missing the point. They may be a one note band, but when it comes to kraut-infused psych, its a great effing note.

18. Tombs - Winter Hours (Relapse)
Climactic bombast without the slow build, these guys are like the Michael Bay of post-metal. And I mean that in the most positive way possible.

19. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer (Jagjaguwar)
Another great album for fans of quirky pop infused with lots and lots of prog rock, these guys continue to surprise.

20. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (Warp)
The best easy-listening album of 2009! Really, its a compliment. A breezy listen that hits all the right pleasure centers.

21. Black Lips - 200 Million Thousand (Vice)
For all the talk about these guys' wild stage shows, people tend to forget just how tuneful and melodic they can get in the studio. Of course it gets drenched with a fine layer of sleaze, but still.

22. K'naan - Troubadour (A&M)
Really confused as to why this dude isn't mega right now. Too thought-provoking for those still figuring out what the hell Lady Gaga is singing about? To me, this lives up to all the hype Wyclef never delivered, mixing world music, hip-hop, and intelligent, thoughtful lyrics in a compelling manner.

23. Lindstrom & Prins Thomas - II (Eskimo)
Tempting to call this the best electronic record of the year, but that would be about like calling Mastodon the best classical album of the year. This is fuzzed out psychedelia at its peak.

24. The-Dream - Love vs. Money (Radio Killa/Def Jam)
Another entrant in the "should really be massive by now" sweepstakes. Terius Nash is on fire right now, living up to his promise as the Prince of the '00s.

25. Bat For Lashes - Two Suns (Astralwerks)
Who knew we needed a new Kate Bush? Stunningly produced, gauzy pop that winds its way into your head and lodges itself their for weeks on end.

The Honorable Mentions:
Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (Domino)
Cobalt - Gin (Profound Lore)
Glasvegas - Glasvegas (Columbia)
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Outer South (Merge)
Obits - I Blame You (Sub Pop)
Morrissey - Years of Refusal (Attack/Lost Highway)
Fever Ray - Fever Ray (Rabid)
Mos Def - The Ecstatic (Downtown)
Silversun Pickups - Swoon (Dangerbird)
Neko Case - Middle Cyclone (ANTI-)
Dan Deacon - Bromst (Carpark)

Jul 17, 2009

np: "Rocket USA (Peel Session)" - Loop

Given the less than two weeks remaining until taking my next section of the ARE, studying has ramped up to a furious pace and the ol' blog has fallen by the wayside. I know you've been disappointed to click on a link and seeing the Wilco album cover again and again and again (especially if you don't like Wilco), so I figured I'd brighten up your time wasting session by dropping another list on you. Enjoy. Oh yeah, be on the lookout for a special feature for via//chicago post #500!

Songs that have been enthralling me lately:
"Straight To Your Heart (Peel Session)" - Loop (found on 2-disc Heaven's End reissue)
Just an absolutely killer version of an already killer song by a band that has become somewhat of an obsession for me in the past several months. I highly recommend tracking down all four of the reissues of this band's catalog.

"Sing Swan Song" - Can (found on Ege Bamyasi)
Been on a bit of a Can kick this week after discovering some great new (to me) jams from the band's latter days and solo projects thanks to one of my favorite blogs, Musicophilia. Anyway, this is a classic track that never does me wrong.

"Folk Wisdom" - Oneida (found on Rated O)
One of the many highlights from this band's latest triple(!!)-disc release. This album is sure to place high in my end of year rankings.

"Unbreakable" - Michael Jackson (found on Invincible)
Seriously. I'd never even heard this entire album before now, but its not awful! The ballad heavy second-half is a bit of a slog, but the first half is filled with some stellar production from the turn of the century.

"I Want You To Know" - Dinosaur Jr (found on Farm)
Oh Lou and J, so glad you patched things up. This has been one hell of a comeback!

"Sleestak Lightning" - Clutch (found on Strange Cousins From the West)
Such a great, energetic rock tune. You don't even need to appreciate the band to dig this song.

Jul 1, 2009

np: "Country Disappeared" - Wilco

This band Wilco, I tell ya. They've got my number. They really do. With each new album that comes out, I fully expect it to finally be the one that feels lackluster or starts to make the band feel a little less essential. I won't be concerned when this happens, its just one of those things that happens to just about anybody who has ever had a favorite band with a career that stretches out a decade plus. Honestly, I've been expecting Wilco to let me down ever since A Ghost is Born was on the verge of release. Really, they were never going to top that 1-2 punch of Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Both very very different albums, but ones that totally succeeded in what they were trying to accomplish. The former being a modern day pop album that belied any attempts to dump it into the various subgenres people were itching to file Wilco in and the latter, well, I'm still not entirely sure but it certainly does a hell of a job exorcising that post 9/11 anxiety and dread (yes, I'm well aware of when it was recorded... but, still, wow, a very prescient pop culture artifact). So AGIB didn't have a chance. And it didn't top either of the previous two masterpieces, but it really didn't need to. It didn't even try, presenting an artistic left turn that found the band delving deeper into texture and krautrock without sacrificing the gentle beauty of Tweedy's lyricism or losing the pop knack. It was another resounding success. Really, in what world can any album containing "Spiders (Kidsmoke)", "Handshake Drugs", "Wishful Thinking" and "The Late Greats" NOT be considered a success? Masterpiece? No. Fantastic album? Yes. Sky Blue Sky followed three years later, scaling back a little and sounding like a lost singer-songwriter album from the 1970s. While certainly one of the more single-minded releases of the latter portion of Wilco's career, it is far from the boring trip the detractors will claim. Just listen to Nels Cline's life-affirming guitar solo on "Impossible Germany" again. Point being, it was another success. Not my favorite Wilco, but in generous moments I certainly could argue for it placing in the top three.

Which brings us to the cheekily titled Wilco (the album). I'm just wrapping up my second full listen and I'm thinking this will be yet another in their string of winners. It isn't better than YHF or Summerteeth (hell, not even Sky Blue Sky), but god-damn if the thing isn't eminently listenable. All the elements of Wilco's career is on display here, from Cline's fiery fretwork to Tweedy's confessional moments to the band's willingness to just play with sound intermixed with some great pop hooks. There's even an (arguable) alt-country song that wouldn't sound out of place on A.M. ("I'll Fight")!

This won't stand up over time as one of the pillars of the band's discography, but as a collection of great tunes well worth spending some time with - Wilco (the album) is an unqualified success. And in my book, any band with a run of albums like this is making a strong case of being the most vital rock band in America right now.