My list of the best albums I heard this year, along with some songs from those albums.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs.
This was my favorite record of the year.
There are those that claim music made today isn’t as good as music made years ago. Reflecting on the past few years, I’ve collected quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. There is a lot of good music being made out there, you just have to know where to look. Here are my faves from 2009.
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
This was my favorite release of the year. With their guitar/synthesizer sound, Phoenix’s music definitely has its roots in the 1980s (which is probably why I like it so). At the same time, it has a very fresh and modern sound.
I’ve often said that music is one of those things that helps me get through life, and makes it worth living. About a month ago, Neko Case released the excellent Middle Cyclone, a record that I’ve been listening to a lot, and has played a part in getting me through the stresses of moving and buying a house.
Back in January, Neko and her record label released a free MP3 of “People Got A Lot Of Nerve”, a song which has a deceptively bright sound, but with lyrics that are a bit on the dark side. I was intrigued and couldn’t wait for the album to come out.
I heard a LOT of new music this past year. Quite a bit of it though, seemed mediocre to me. Some albums would have a few great songs, but also a lot of filler. Is that a consequence of the single song sales on iTunes and other online music outlets? Is the complete album dying as an art form? I hope not. Whether I get them on CD or full-album downloads, complete albums are still how I listen to music. Here are the best ones I heard in 2008.
Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
The fresh and unique sound of Vampire Weekend made this my favorite album of the year. It’s also the best debut album of 2008. See my post from last February for a review of Vampire Weekend.
For all the talk in the news about the downfall of the music industry, there certainly has been a lot of new releases over the past few months. I’ve had my hands (or is that ears?) on a lot of new music lately. But the album I keep coming back to is Big Blue Ball.
Almost eighteen years in the making, Big Blue Ball grew from three extraordinary Recording Weeks at Real World Studios in the summers of 1991, 1992 and 1995. The project’s originators and curators were Real World founder Peter Gabriel and Karl Wallinger of World Party and The Waterboys.
So very appropriately named, Big Blue Ball is filled with international artists, collaborating together. On “Shadow” Congolese singer Papa Wemba combines his vocal and musical styles with flamenco guitarist Juan Cañizares.
For the album Trinity Revisited, the Cowboy Junkies celebrated the 20th anniversary of their classic release, The Trinity Session by revisiting Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity to see “what twenty years of experience would bring to those same set of songs.”
Not simply a rerecording, the songs are re-imagined and improved, featuring performances by guest musicians Natalie Merchant, Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt and Jeff Bird. The track that really grabbed me on the first listen is the bluesy shuffle, “I Don’t Get It” (which is available as a free download from the Trinity Revisited website).
You could almost file The Odd Couple, the latest release by Gnarls Barkley, under “old school R&B.” Gnarls Barkley (a duo comprised of producer Danger Mouse and vocalist Cee-Lo Green) brilliantly reference that old R&B style, while adding modern musical elements of their own. Hear that mixing of styles in “A Little Better.”
Following up their critically acclaimed debut album, St. Elsewhere, must have been a daunting task. Even though there isn’t a smash hit like that album’s “Crazy,” The Odd Couple is a more consistent, and better record.
On the first few listens of April, by Sun Kil Moon it’s the hooks (guitar riffs, chorus) that suck you in. Further listening uncovers the multiple layers beneath: the rich textured walls of sound, the expressive lyrics of loneliness, longing and memories of love. As each layer reveals itself and you become more familiar with the song, you move ever closer into the mind of the artists, feeling the depth of their emotions.
The opening track, “Lost Verses” sets the tone. It begins with a lone acoustic guitar accompanying the voice of singer Mark Kozelek. As it continues, instruments are added until the end of the song (a 90 second instrumental coda) has a wonderfully layered, full structure of sound.
The self-titled, debut album by the band Vampire Weekend has received a great deal of acclaim since its release, almost to the point of hype. When a debut causes the band to be the new darlings of the critics, I become skeptical. Is everyone just jumping the bandwagon? Although I’ve been burned by the hype in the past, after hearing some samples online I took a chance and bought the disc.
Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend (mp3) (from the band’s website)
The music from this New York quartet should probably be filed under Indie Rock, but as is often the case with good music, it transcends labels.
It was a bit of a long day at work today. When I left and headed for the bus stop it was snowing — again. While waiting and riding on the bus, I listened to one of my favorite albums of all time, U2’s The Joshua Tree. That helped a lot to changed my mood. I thought about how good that albums is, and I was reminded of the old game, Deserted Island Discs. You probably know the drill: If you were castaway on a deserted island, which albums would you choose to have with you?
What better daydream to have in the middle of a cold and snowy wait for the bus, than being stranded in a tropical paradise with great music?