Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 10 of 2009

10) Mono-Hymn to the Immortal Wind

Everything a good post-rock instrumental band should be: Goliath-sized builds, inevitable pummeling, and cascading descents all driven by implausible guitar work and strings from another world. This Japanese quartet, who carries around a 28-piece orchestra, knows how to summon an army of sound in a matter of seconds and then retreat just as quickly. Hymn to the Immortal Wind is purely cinematic, with wonderful drama and perfect pacing....

9) Micachu and the Shapes-Jewellery

Glass-breaking, pots-and-pans banging, raunchy synth-pop. Mica Levi happens to be a 21 year old classically trained instrumentalist who would rather play homemade guitars and a Hoover vacuum instead. Her sound is kinda like a love triangle between Blood Brothers Crimes, MIA’s Arular and Bow Wow Wow ‘s When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going. As expected, this album is pertinent for the iPod/ADHD generation, seeing that only two songs barely make it over the 3 minute mark. ‘Jewellery’ is an incredibly progressive debut that is straight-up fun. Plus, when you have Bjork out there repping you, you know Mica's phone isn't the only thing that's golden...

8) The Antlers-Hospice

The gut-wrenching forthrightness that comes from this record is astonishing. The album sits at the bedside of a terminally ill child named Sylvia and takes you through the spectrum of emotions you would feel as the hospice worker assigned to her, whether you might want to own up to them or not. The lyrics are certainly the best of the year, seemingly ripped straight from a journal: There was glass inside my feet and raining down from the ceiling, it opened up the scars that had just finished healing. It tore apart the canyon running down your femur (I thought that it was beautiful, it made me a believer.) And as it opened I could hear you howling from your room, but I hid out in the hall until the hurricane blew.’ At the end of the record, its startling how one person’s catharsis can end up being equally shared by the listener...

7) Real Estate-s/t

With ten tracks that gently billow with anticipation, guilt, and melancholy, this Woodsist four piece has captured the youthful honesty of a last bonfire before school starts again. While Real Estate's stratocasters cozy up to the likes of the Shadows and the Feelies, their laid-back harmonies create a sparkling panorama of the most unlikely of places, the Jersey shore. Originally hailing from there, it's quite a wonder how their decades of pollution troubles didn't manage to seep onto this recording (Syringe Tide anyone?). But that's just it I suppose...nostalgia is always a little washed-out and by its own nature, wonderfully forgiving...

6) The Dirty Projectors-Bitte Orca

The Dirty Projectors follow up a fantastic record, Rise Above, with an even more ambitious one that is full of astounding contrasts. It’s unpredictable yet accessible; playful yet virtuosic. Bitte Orca is crammed full of incredible musicianship and unorthodox time-signatures that Zappa himself would be proud of, all while making you want to shake and shimmy. With melodic bravery and pop sensibilities, these art-rockers have packed up and moved out of our planet and I can’t even begin to imagine where they’ll land next...

5) Here We Go Magic-s/t

Bought out of sheer happenstance, this record started out as a pleasantly likable album that slowly burned into a surprise go-to-record for any occasion this year. Luke Temple’s first release under the HWGM moniker is certainly the most unpretentious indie record to come out this year. Think dense Eno-esque multi-track vocals over perfectly restrained acid-folk rhythms, hazy electronica and minimalistic guitar ad infintum. Recorded on a 4-track, this ultra lo-fi album is like basking in a lazy river of sonic bliss that you’ll never want to get out of....

4) Grizzly Bear-Veckatimest

Grizzly Bear surpassed all our expectations this year. After two previous albums that were delicately modest, this record came out brimming with confidence right from the start. Instead of the vocals being awash in some distant reverb, this time the dual vocalists become the shepherds in which the music faithfully follows. And boy do they cover some seriously beautiful and uncultivated terrain. With flourishing string arrangements, complex guitar narratives and fantastic drumming (which is also much more prominent this time around), Grizzly Bear has finally matured into its namesake. There’s so much to take in on this album, I recommend an expensive set of headphones and a good old fashioned record player...

3) The Strange Boys-And Girls Club

The Strange Boys proper debut is actually anything but that. With 16 ramshackle tunes that sound more like something off Chess Records instead of In the Red, these youngsters conjure up the rhythm and blues spirits of Diddley, Berry and Lenoir in a gritty-pop sound all their own. Lead singer, Ryan Sambol, sounds like a sauced young Dylan whose blurred together jocularity and deviousness, while the guitars and drums jangle around him with a Kinda Kinks temper. If, like me, you find yourself watching American Bandstand infomercials instead of what's on MTV2, then take heart! Go grab some moonshine out of your dad's cabinet, your prized white bucks and prepare to boogie your troubles away...

2) Animal Collective-Merriweather Post Pavilion

Merriweather Post Pavilion opened up the beginning of 2009 blooming with the utmost of musical integrity and freshness. This record is a noise collage of technicolor chants, tribal beats, and waves of synths that linger long after the needle stops circling. While each vocal hook snags you in the cheek and forces you to sing along, the lyrics bestow importance on such commonplace things as appreciating ‘the subtleties of taste buds’ in that very same mouth. Avey, Panda, and Geologist proved once again that there is still no other band making this kind of music right now. Not a single track is weak or flawed and MPP is overwhelmingly joyful from start to finish. Basically, this record is like Zoloft for your ears...

1) Girls-Album

Forget the umpteen blogs and stranger than fiction back story. Forget the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello and Spiritualized references. Hell, even forget their sunbeamy, acid-washed videos you've dreamt about being in. So then how did two San Francisco burnouts manage to stand out from the rest of the field this year? Cynics might contend that it's one or all of the reasons listed previously, but if you're willing to look a little deeper, you'll find it's actually much more artful than that.

Firstly, from beginning to end, Album is classic American pop songwriting at its best. Girls perfectly showcase a simplicity of form and finish that is as electrifying as it is resourceful. Front man Christopher Owens, dumpster-dives through music's glutinous past and manages to assemble a fresh spread of surf rock, AM pop, shoegaze, lo-fi noise punk, psychedelia and girl-group ballads. While his guitar is busy breaking a sweat, it's the elasticity of Christopher's voice that carries each new song structure with grace and ease. Staying behind the scenes, bassist JR White delivers just enough glint to his perfectly disheveled counterpart, with production details that are intelligent and just plain old lovely. Solely recorded on reel-to-reel tapes in various bedrooms, you can almost feel the misty effects of alcohol being mixed with painkillers on your stereo speakers. For all intents and purposes, Album is a DIY masterpiece that is instantly familiar as well as highly idiosyncratic.

Secondly, there isn't a shred of irony or cynicism to be found anywhere on this recording. Unlike the other 99.9% of bands out there today who would concede warmth and sincerity as a weakness, it is actually what gives Album its guts and staying power. From Christopher's crushing first words "I wish I had a loving man in my life, I wish I had a father, maybe then I would've turned out right" to his mid-album admission "I don't wanna cry my whole life through, I wanna do some laughing too" to the record's hope-filled finish "...but i found a friend in the song I'm singing...and's coming straight from my heart, and yeah...I gotta let it go", he teaches us that vulnerability isn't a weakness at all, but actually a marvellous strength. Because like all seasoned skateboarders or senseless drunk-drivers know, those who remain open and limber, live to tell about it. And fortunately for the rest of us, they have.

And lastly, the honorable mentions:

1) Sun Araw-Heavy Deeds
2) HEALTH-Get Color
3) Antony and the Johnsons-The Crying Light

4) Wavves-s/t
5) Laura Gibson-Beasts of Season