Feb 5, 2009

np: "This Life" - Bruce Springsteen

So rather than procrastinate any longer, I thought I'd toss up a quick post with some brief thoughts on the 2009 releases that are rapidly piling up.

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
One of those rare releases that actually lives up to all the pre-release hype. I managed to hold off on all the leaks and sneak previews and waited to digest this thing in whole on the day of release, and I'm very glad I did. The stunning opener, "In the Flowers", set a pace that did not let up until the last notes of closing track "Brother Sport". This is easily the best Animal Collective album yet, which says a lot considering that their previous full-length (2007's Strawberry Jam) was my number 2 album of that year. My early favorite is "My Girls" with its house influence, but the surprisingly straightforward "Summertime Clothes" is growing on me. Definitely check this out.

Bruce Springsteen - Working On A Dream (Columbia)
Between the Obama campaign trail and the Super Bowl halftime show, the run-up to The Boss' sixteenth studio album had us expecting a corker. Unfortunately we only ended up with about 1/4th of a corker. As can probably be expected at this point, Bruce excels when he sticks to the E Street meat-and-potatoes rock and roll of songs like the title track, "My Lucky Day", and "What Love Can Do". Problem is, this album is stacked with failed experiments, ranging from the coulda-shoulda been epic in making "Outlaw Pete" that stumbles when it should stun to the flat-out embarrassing "Queen of the Supermarket". But the album does make a sharp rise in quality at the end, thanks to his terrific contribution to The Wrestler being tacked on as a bonus track. For die-hard Springsteen fans only.

Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light (Secretly Canadian)
It's taken me quite some time to warm up to Antony Hegarty and his vocal histrionics but, between his stunning cover of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" (a song that I thought I never needed to hear again) and his excellent contributions to last year's Hercules & Love Affair album, I've finally recognized the talent. I think this new album, on the whole, outpaces his previous output thanks to tremendous high points like the haunting "Aeon" and the beautiful "Dust and Water". It's not a front-to-back classic, but the best tracks make it well worth keeping around for when the mood strikes.

A.C. Newman - Get Guilty (Matador)
One of the first minor disappointments of the year, part-time New Pornographer Carl Newman's second solo album turns out to be a fizzling slow-burn that fails to take off. It isn't that Newman's songwriting skills have tapered off, his knack for inventive melody is thankfully still intact, the problem is with all the back-to-back-to-back mid-tempo numbers that make the album a chore to sit through. A couple of tracks rise up to leave a solid impression, "The Changeling (Get Guilty)" and "Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer" spring immediately to mind, but let's just hope he's saving the showstoppers up for the next New Porno's album.

Satyricon - The Age of Nero (Koch)
This Norwegian black metal band has slowly added additional "rock" influences to their pure blackened sound over recent albums, much to the dismay of those loyal corpsepainted fans quick to cry foul at any tainting of the one true blackness. As for me, I don't think they could have made a wiser move. The black 'n' roll sound makes for a truly engaging listen, with the production packing a solid punch that is lacking from some of the more lo-fi black metal practitioners. "Black Crow on a Tombstone" and "My Skin is Cold" are among the standouts.

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast/Useless Creatures (Fat Possum)
Maybe this is the point where I should just stop hoping for a start-to-finish stunner of an album from Chicago multi-instrumentalist Bird because, clearly, it isn't going to happen. 2005's The Mysterious Production of Eggs and 2007's Armchair Apocrypha were both maddeningly spotty albums with just as many half-baked sketches as undeniably great pop songs. And, unless this turns out to be one hell of a grower, the exact same can be said of Noble Beast. The back-to-back pairing of "Fitz and the Dizzyspells" and "Effigy" sets a high watermark early in the album with two of his finest songs yet, but the overlong wanderings like "Souverian" and "Masterswarm" manage to suck out much of the album's life. Dude is crazy talented and a fantastic live performer, just too bad he can't get it all together to make a defining studio statement. The instrumental bonus disc that came with some copies, Useless Creatures, is a far more engaging listen - playful, loose and endearing in ways much of the album proper isn't.