Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #1

The Horrors-Primary Colours

When The Horrors debuted in 2006, they hit the airwaves amid a frenzy of UK-media hype. They were all black outfits and frizzy hair and Cramps-meets-Bauhaus spaz-outs. They were the goth band for the punk kids, wherever those kids may be. It was pretty heady stuff if you were into that sort of thing, but not a lot of people were. NME made Arctic Monkeys stars. The Horrors were swiftly brushed aside as also-rans.

Three years later, The Horrors returned with a new album and a (slightly) new sound. At first, Primary Colours sounds like an album made by a completely different band. Further listens unwinds the album a bit, however. This is definitely the same dark band; they’ve just wrapped themselves in some gauzy new threads and sounds.

Primary Colours starts with a swirl of bleak electronica that reminisces David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy. 45 minutes later, the album ends with a full-band flurry that album producer Geoff Barrow borrowed from his band Portishead’s “The Rip.” In between, the touchstones are varied. Joy Division… The Cure… The Jesus And Mary Chain… My Bloody Valentine… Primary Colours is best described as “Gothic Shoegaze,” but even that moniker doesn’t do the album justice. The album is 2009 in a nutshell: it’s loud, nonsensical, and a little on the bleak side.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #2

Jarvis Cocker-Further Complications

Jarvis, Jarvis, Jarvis… An album about fucking and divorce, eh? You salty middle-aged sexpot, you! Lyrically, Further Complications hit me harder than just about any other album released in 2009. No, I’m not a salty middle-aged sexpot (though I might be salty.). but he just seems to get it and it’s nice to know that there’s another person out there in this big, mean world who does. Whether it’s ruminations on manwhores (“Homewrecker!”) or allegories about older men and dinosaurs (“Leftovers“), Further Complications never fails to deliver one sucker punch to the heart after another. And all these months after its release later, I just have to admit that “Hold Still” pretty much puts me into a panic attack every time I hear it.

The Best Albums Of 2009 #3

Arctic Monkeys-Humbug

I’ve heard a lot of grousing this year about how the Arctic’s third album is a “disappointment.” About how it’s too sludgy or slow or uncool or whatever. Well, yes, Humbug is sludgy and slow and uncool. It was produced by Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme. Sludgy and slow and uncool is kind of what he does. Which is why Humbug kind of transcends all trends this year. Arctic Monkeys basically made a low-down, dirty rock record in a year when the hip thing to do in rock music was to be psychedelic, low-fi, or twee (and in some cases, all three!). It took a lot of guts to throw all credibility out the window, but the results are pretty heady.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #4

Art Brut-Art Brut Vs. Satan

I just might be Art Brut’s Eddie Argos. It seems like every Art Brut song is about unfortunate mishaps with pills, comic books, self-embarrassment, or that band you really, really like. Their third album, the Frank Black-produced Art Brut Vs. Satan, is chock full of new stories that lovingly ape Jonathan Richman while waving the flag of The Replacements. Art Brut is one of those odd bands that continues to be widely ignored while still crafting utterly brilliant and shockingly honest records. So, I guess if my life is going to continue echoing anyone’s, it might as well be Eddie Argos‘, because I could do a hell of a lot worse.

The Best Albums Of 2009 #5

Franz Ferdinand-Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

You know that feeling you get at 2am when you’ve just been thrown out of the bar onto the cold, dark streets and you’re not really sure where your cell phone is? And you’re pretty sure you left your credit card at the bar, but the bouncer won’t let you back in because, apparently, you called his girlfriend a “crack whore loser?“ And you keep trying to open your car door, but you don’t remember if you drive a Ford Taurus or a Jeep Cherokee? But you know in the back your mind that you are absolutely the most fabulous person about to blow chunks on the street corner? That’s Tonight: Franz Ferdinand.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #6

The Flaming Lips-Embryonic

I was just about to give up on The Flaming Lips after 2006’s At War With The Mystics. Not that the album was terrible by any stretch of the imagination. It just seemed like a typically flat post-success album. Everyone does it. The Flaming Lips’ return to the mainstream in the early aughties was a joyous celebration of a band that’s been doggedly persistent for the last few decades. So a bit of a letdown was expected. Now that it’s all out of the way, The Flaming Lips have returned with Embryonic, a rather shocking nosedive into psychedelic rock that spans two discs. Embryonic is a dense album that rewards upon multiple listens. It’s hard to find the commercial elements here. Every so often, there’s a “Silver Trembling Hands,” or a “Convinced Of The Hex.” But for the most part, Embryonic is chock-full of stuff no radio station is going to touch. The best part? They save the most commercial track, “Watching The Planets,” for the very last song on the second disc. Sheer brilliance!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #7

Phoenix-Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

“Hey, it’s that band with that song in that car commercial!” Ugh. Well, Phoenix is a French band that sounds a lot like The Strokes. This is either a really good or really bad thing. With some bands, sounding a lot like The Strokes comes off as a desperate stab at the mainstream. Here comes that car commercial! Thankfully, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is just a great album of songs that transcend the “Stroke-abees” tag. You’ve probably heard these songs a million times before, but this time around, they’re fun and fresh and 2009. Or 1901. One of the two.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #8

Animal Collective-Merriweather Post Pavilion

I’m sure a good deal of you heard about this album this year, and probably a few of you bothered to download it. Maybe a few of those few actually listened to it all the way through. And of those few, I’m sure a few of you really got into it. I guess that’s the thing about Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Those of us who spent the time getting our heads around the album’s, well, music eccentricities, quickly discovered that it’s Animal Collective’s most “pop” record to date. Which, admittedly, can be like saying that Phillip Glass put out a pop record, but you can catch my drift. There’s something oddly liberating and fun about Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is something I have trouble saying about previous Animal Collective releases. Maybe that’s why so many people are talking about them this year.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #9

A Place To Bury Strangers-Exploding Head

I just adore how loud and discordant A Place To Bury Strangers’ blend of space-rock and shoegaze is. Their second album, Exploding Head, will positively blow out your eardrums at high volumes. True story: I was listening to the record on my turntable quite loudly a while back and, apparently, missed: an ambulance racing down my street, my phone ringing off the hook, someone yelling at my front door, and my cats meowing at me, wondering why the attention I used to give them is now bestowed on some garage trio from New York.

The Best Albums Of 2009 #10

Depeche Mode-Sounds Of The Universe

“Oh, hai, Depeche Mode! Still awesome?”



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #11

Fever Ray-Fever Ray

It’s weird to think that brother-sister duo The Knife’s Silent Shout came out in 2006, because it still feels like it happened five seconds ago. Silent Shout is an album so groundbreaking that it’s nearly impossible to put into a box and put away. That we’re in 2009 now and presented with Fever Ray feels like icing on the cake. “I’m still not over Silent Shout and you give me this?!?” Fever Ray is essentially Karin Andersson’s solo debut, and it strips some of the punch and vigor from The Knife in favor of moodiness and quietude. Where The Knife could be creepy at times, Fever Ray is creepy all the time. Andersson’s voice sounds like it’s coming out from under your bed to drag you off to who knows where. Who knew Sweeden was so dark?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #12

Bear In Heaven-Beast Rest Forth Mouth

Sometimes the best albums just sneak up on you, completely unexpected. I had no clue what I was getting into when I downloaded Bear In Heaven’s “Lovesick Teenagers.” All I was told was that it was brilliant and exactly the sort of thing that someone like me would like (Oh, where have we been burned in that department before?). What I heard was a single that mixed pop, new wave, darkwave, and just about everything else at one point or another. It’s so easy to hear the familiar in Beast Rest Forth Mouth, but difficult to really pinpoint exactly who you’re hearing. There’s definitely some Depeche Mode there. Is that some Nitzer Ebb influence? Can? Possibly some Animal Collective? It’s a pretty enticing mix. Beast Rest Forth Mouth pulls off the neat trick of being comfortable and familiar without sounding like too much of a rip-off.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #13

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart-The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

Much like the dozens of other bands the critical music elite have told you to like this year, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart can come off as pretty easy to pass up. Jangly guitars, melancholy lyrics, off key vocals, etc… It‘s the kind of stuff that makes Pitchfork editors drool and just about everyone else say, “Pass.” But there really is something about the band’s self-titled debut. It took just one listen of “This Love Is Fucking Right!” to get me on board (“In a dark room we can do just what we like/You're my sister, and this love is fucking right.”).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #14

The Raveonettes-In And Out Of Control

In the last two years, The Raveonettes have released three EP’s (Sometimes They Drop By, Beauty Dies, and Wishing You A Rave Christmas) and two long-players, Lust Lust Lust and In And Out Of Control. And, to be perfectly honest, these releases have contained some of the band’s best work. It seems like leaving the majors for an indie label (the polite way of saying “dropped”) has paid off for the Danish duo of Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner. I wasn’t really expecting much out of In And Out Of Control, considering how quickly it came after Lust Lust Lust, but I was pleasantly surprised this time out. The edges are a bit softer and there’s nothing as mind-boggling awesome as “Dead Sound” or “Aly Walk With Me,” but it’s still a damned good album.

The Best Albums Of 2009 #15

Sonic Youth-The Eternal

I was on a road trip with a co-worker this past summer and I had brought along a handful of CD’s for the ride, one of them being Sonic Youth’s 16th album, The Eternal. As I was driving, my rather young passenger seemed to really be getting into it…

Co-worker: “Who is this?”
Me: “Oh, it’s Sonic Youth.”
Co-worker: “Never heard of them. Are they new?”
Me: “Um, no. They’re a few years away from they’re 30th anniversary.”
Co-worker: “No way! You’re lying!”
Me: “Um…”
Co-worker: “They sound new. They must be new…”

The co-worker started looking through the album art in an attempt to find proof that I was lying, I suppose.

Co-worker: “There’s no way these guys are old…”

Ah, to be Sonic Youth…

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #16

Them Crooked Vultures-Them Crooked Vultures

I suppose a band featuring Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones isn’t exactly the most far-fetched-sounding thing ever. As far as musical super-groups go, Them Crooked Vultures falls into the “obvious” category. The band sounds like Queens Of The Stone Age acting like a Led Zeppelin cover band, with Grohl left playing catch-up to Jones’ bass hooks. Regardless of whatever it is, it works. Them Crooked Vultures is a highly enjoyable bit of naval gazing.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #17

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead-The Century Of Self

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead has been known for years for their live shows, where debauchery and instrument destruction is the norm. Yet, the one time I saw them in LA, back in 2002, they seemed to despise their audience. Perhaps it was because they were feeling somewhat restrained by their record deal with Interscope. Perhaps they’re just dicks. Regardless, it’s been years since those days of Interscope trying to make something palatable out of …Trail Of Dead’s noise. Now freed from major label interference, the band can get back to resurrecting its image. The Century Of Self is a good start. It’s easily their best record since 2002’s Source Tags & Codes

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #18

Asobi Seksu-Hush

I, for one, have really enjoyed the resurgence of shoegaze and dreampop in popular music the past few years. Asobi Seksu are a band that has sort of veered between the two genres willy-nilly. Their latest, Hush, is a little bit more in the dreampop department, evoking the criminally underrated British group Lush. Hush is a great rainy-day album; something you can put on, curl up by the space heater, and doze to. Very few bands could take pleasure in something like that; a listener falling asleep to your album. But for a dreampop group, it’s high praise indeed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Best Albums Of 2009 #19

Tom Waits-Glitter And Doom

Yeah, I know. It’s a live album. But it’s a live album that evokes an extreme reaction with me. Listening to Glitter And Doom makes me severely pissed off, mostly because it‘s a snapshot of a tour that I‘m positively miserable for missing. Tom Waits played a mere thirteen shows in North America last year, and the closest one to me was in Phoenix. I do not live near Phoenix. Thus, I’m left with Glitter And Doom, a collection primarily culled from the time period between 1992’s Bone Machine and 2004’s Real Gone. The last few decades have shown Waits to be one of the few true artists left from the singer-songwriters of his generation. Glitter And Doom just piles more proof on top of that.

The Best Albums Of 2009 #20

Julien-K-Death To Analog

I really, really should hate Death To Analog, Julien-K’s first and, likely, only album (I'm only being a snarky asshole. I really don't own a crystal ball). It’s a side-project for Orgy, for Christ’s sake! But for some reason, it didn’t make me throw up the first time I listened to it. Then, a funny thing happened… I actually started to enjoy the album’s KMFDM-meets-Depeche Mode sound. I even wound up seeing them live twice this year. I have lost any shred of indie cred I had with this one. I am going to jail and being flogged by Ian Mackaye until I scream Pavement lyrics. Kim Gordon sends me hate mail now. *sigh*

My 13 Favorite Music Videos Of 2009

In no particular order…

Fever Ray-”Stranger Than Kindness”

Yeah Yeah Yeahs-”Heads Will Roll”

Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Heads Will Roll"

Yeah Yeah Yeahs | MySpace Music Videos

The Dead Weather-”Treat Me Like Your Mother”

The Saturday Knights-”Count It Off”

Doves-”Kingdom Of Rust”

Doves - Kingdom of Rust

doves | MySpace Music Videos


Depeche Mode-”Wrong”

Depeche Mode - "Wrong" (official music video)

Depeche Mode | MySpace Music Videos

Franz Ferdinand-”Can’t Stop Feeling”

The Flaming Lips-”Watching The Planets” (NSFW!)

Lady GaGa-”Bad Romance”


Jarvis Cocker-”Further Complications”

The Horrors-”Mirror‘s Image”