24 November 2009

Best Albums of 2009: mpbloggo's Picks

#10 - Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

Sample song: No Intention

This is one you'll likely see on every "Best Of" list this year. I was initially resistant, but these songs stick in your head, which is pretty remarkable given how experimental the timing, song structures, and arrangements are. I get a little weary of all the praise it receives (I already saw it on one "Best of the Decade" list--don't we need more time to determine that?).

#9 - Vetiver - Tight Knit

Sample song: Through The Front Door

Silentkid turned me on to this excellent SubPop band. I've gone back to this album whenever I've been unsure of what to listen to on a given day, and it has never disappointed. Most memorable was driving from Calgary to Banff in a snowstorm. It seemed to hit that situation just right.

#8 - Memory Tapes - Seek Magic

Sample Song: Run Out

One of the more eclectic albums to show up on my list this year. Sometimes it sounds like an old AM radio station. Other songs just find a great groove, like the one posted above.

#7 - Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

Sample song: While You Wait For The Others

Of the three most talked about albums this year (Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, and Dirty Projectors), I liked this one best. Every song has a way of getting under your skin and into your head.

#6 - Atlas Sound - Logos

Sample song: Walkabout (Featuring Panda Bear)

Brandon Cox temporarily escapes the confines of Deerhunter (everybody's 2008 darling) to record some wonderfully hazy, dreary waltzes. Really, who writes in 3/4 time these days? Walkabout is one of a few surprises on this album--very catchy, and very different. I'll take my Panda Bear and Animal Collective in light doses like this any day.

#5 - Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Sample song: 1901

To me, this song is "the sound of 2009". After falling in love with Phoenix from their soundtrack appearance for "Lost In Translation", and then singing their praises to mostly deaf ears ever since, it was nice not to be able to dial up late night TV this summer without seeing these guys just kill with this song. The album is like this track--sparse and to the point.

#4 - Cass McCombs - Catacombs

Sample song: You Saved My Life

This is one of the more unconventional tracks on Catacombs, but it really stands out to me. Cass McCombs has a real ear for writing sparse hooks and setting them to interesting and unconventional lyrics.

#3 - Riceboy Sleeps - Riceboy Sleeps

Sample song: Sokkseyri

Sigur Ros frontman takes two years to record an ambient album with his boyfriend. This disc was really panned by the critics. I didn't get it. Most conclusions amounted to "it's boring". I really have a problem with that. This music makes me feel incredibly alert and introspective. I also feel like my aural pallet has become cleansed after every listen. It amazed me to learn that every sound on this album is organic--no keyboards or synthesizers. No wonder it took so long to complete. Some have compared it to the drivel associated with the New Age genre. I really think this music transcends the trappings of New Age. It sounds ancient, like it is touching some deep nerve buried within the human spirit. And simultaneously it refreshes. You can't put on this album and expect any quick fixes.

#2 - Great Lake Swimmers - Lost Channels

Sample song: Unison Falling Into Harmony

Such a great notion, that. I loved me some Great Lake Swimmers this year. It may be that my acquisition of this album coincided with my week-long trip through their native Canada, for which this music was perfect. Tony Dekker's voice has such a tender, heartfelt quality.

#1 - Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue

Sample song: Fire Ant

Picking one song from this album was incredibly difficult because each track crossed multiple genres and stylings. So "Fire Ant" was just kind of the sure bet. Bibio's previous music is nice, but amounts to little more than noodling on an acoustic guitar in a dreamlike, nostalgic kind of way. After making the unlikely switch to the Warp label this year, I'm not sure anybody (Warp fans and Bibio fans alike) knew quite what to expect. But he delivered a real masterpiece. As my brother Jeff put it, these songs have a very modern, glitchy sound, but they can't escape the nostalgic warmth of Bibio's earlier work. I really think all these factors make this is a breakthrough album.

What are your favorites from 2009? List your 10 (or however many) in my poll.

23 November 2009

Poll: Best Albums of 2009

I hereby inaugurate the second annual "Best Music of the Year" mpbloggo reader's poll. May we not forget the stunning successes of last year's poll.

And let me just get this out of the way. In another month or so I'd like to do a Best of 2000-2009 poll. Ooh, that will be a lot of fun. And very difficult.

Here is a sampling of what one might see in your iPod given that you were a music fan in 2009:

In all, 2009 was a terrific year for music. Much, much better than 2008, say I. It was no 2005/2006, but it certainly beat the last two years.

Some observations. As I look back on 2009, I see a few things.

First of all, you are not going to read an article about 2009 music without hearing something about AnimalColectiveGrizzlyBearDIRTYPROJECTORS. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to see Ann Curry, Oprah, or Doctor Oz doing a 2-minute Today Show style piece telling soccer moms why they should love these albums. So let me just mention them here, say, "they're good", and get that out of the way. In my opinion, if those are the only three releases you feel compelled to talk about this year, you missed a lot of really good stuff. Like:
  • The indie-folk seeds that were sown in 2008, with releases like that of Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, continued to produce this year. The Great Lake Swimmers' "Lost Channels", Cass McCombs' "Catacombs", and Megafaun's "Gather, Form, and Fly" are all good examples, and extremely enjoyable albums.
  • I also noted an explosion in what I'll call "bubble gum indie" this year, with Phoenix's "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" leading the charge. Other notable releases approached similar earworm catchiness, like Passion Pit's "Manners" or Discovery's "LP".
  • There were also some interesting 2009 releases that seemed borne either of frustration with the digital age or nostalgia for analog sounds and recording aesthetic that were common at the time people like me were little kids. Neon Indian's "Psychic Chasms", and Washed Out's "Life of Leisure" both come to mind. I really think "Life of Leisure" was produced on a computer, converted to cassette, dubbed about a dozen times, then converted back to mp3. Anyway, there was a litany of similar releases. But, for having a very wide appeal and for not giving itself over completely to the style, Bibio's "Ambivalence Avenue" is definitely the best of this bunch and gets my vote for one of the best releases of 2009 (not sure where exactly it will end up in my final ranking). Also, don't miss Memory Tapes' "Seek Magic"--I keep going back to that one over and over again.
  • Finally, we heard from some old favorites this year. Wilco gave us "Wilco (The Album)", Son Volt released "American Central Dust", The Flaming Lips offered "Embryonic", Andrew Bird had "Noble Beast", Sonic Youth had "The Eternal", and Yo La Tengo had "Popular Songs".
  • Other bits of miscellany were notable as well: The National's "Dark Was The Night" compilation was a two-disc who's-who of indie rock, Sparklehorse released (kind of) "Dark Night of the Soul", an album/film somehow involving David Lynch that you can't now or ever obtain legally thanks to a contract dispute. But do try nonetheless, because it is really quite excellent. Finally, The Beatles and U2 both issued remastered versions of their back catalog.
And of course, those observations are heavily skewed towards my listening preferences. I know I'm really omitting quite a bit above.

So what trends did you see?

All this makes me think that I really need to ressurect "Song Of The Week".

On to the voting.

The procedure:

Same as last year. You will pick ten new releases and rank them by whatever criteria you care to, but generally the idea should be "good" i.e. "me likey". You will number them 1 to 10, with 1 being your best, most favoritest album of the year. You will then submit the list in the comments form, or if you prefer more anonymity, you can email them to me at michael.b|r|o|n|s|o|n {ampersand} sbcglobal.net, removing the bars of course.

Can't think of ten? No problem. Just give me your top five, three, or even just one.

I will then utilize a highly refined mathematical scoring algorithm, which will consist of me awarding 10 points to all the 1’s, 9 points to all the 2’s, etc.
Hopefully, like last year, we will be gracefully rewarded with a neat little list of 2009 albums that will not only allow us to check our collective hipster credibility against the likes of Pitchfork and AV Club (each of which is industriously compiling its own best-of lists as we speak), but will also show us some interesting intersections of listening tastes among the humble readership here.

The rules:

I will accept submissions through next Friday, December 4th. Or until whenever I get around to compiling the results.

You must choose albums and not EPs or singles.

Any album released from December 4th, 2008, through December 4th, 2009 is eligible.


Assuming I can find the time, and that I have listened to all of the albums that make the list, I will write a blurb for each album. If you would like to contribute your blurb and share some of your own thoughts and experiences with the albums you are nominating, please do so.

My own nominations will appear in the comments.

Good luck! And if you need help, see Wikipedia's (non-comprehensive) list of 2009 albums released.

As a footnote, here are the albums sitting on my iPod that have a "2009" tag (of course, there are others...as items without the tag are missing. And there are lots and I am too lazy to figure it out).

A.C. Newman Get Guilty
Andrew Bird Noble Beast
Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion
Atlas Sound Logos
Ben Kweller Changing Horses
Bibio Ambivalence Avenue
Bibio The Apple & The Tooth
Bibio Vignetting the Compost
Built To Spill There Is No Enemy [Explicit]
Cass McCombs Catacombs
Choir Of Young Believers This Is For The White In Your Eyes
Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca
Discovery LP
Fruit Bats The Ruminant Band
Great Lake Swimmers Lost Channels
Grizzly Bear Veckatimest
Japandroids Post-Nothing
Jeremy Enigk OK Bear
jj jj n° 2
Junior Boys Begone Dull Care
Mark Olson & Gary Louris Ready for the Flood
Megafaun Gather, Form & Fly
Memory Tapes Seek Magic
Neon Indian Psychic Chasms
Passion Pit Manners
Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Riceboy Sleeps Riceboy Sleeps
Sonic Youth The Eternal
Sparklehorse Dark Night of the Soul
The Antlers Hospice
The Beatles All Albums Re-released
The Clientele Bonfires on the Heath
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
The XX xx
Vetiver Tight Knit
Washed Out High Times
Wilco Wilco (The Album)
Wild Beasts Two Dancers
Woods Songs of Shame
Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz!

13 October 2009

Utah: Daytripping

If there's one thing I have to do while in Utah, it's to take a daytrip with Jen's parents. They know the state inside and out, and no matter where you end up, they can tell you a story about the place or point out something unique. Plus, they always manage to find the best food. But even better than those things, it's the excellent conversation and quiet example of their kindness and wisdom that I enjoy the most.

For Thursday's trip, we found ourselves going up over a blustery, colorless Nebo loop, down into Nephi Canyon, and then to the San Pete Valley (truly Heaven on Earth).

We had lunch in Moroni, ice cream in Mount Pleasant, then stopped at the Fairview Museum of Art and History before heading back home.

The museum was both kitschy and charming. This woolly mammoth was discovered in Fairview Canyon. The other art pieces were produced by local artists. I'm always pleasantly surprised at the amount of local talent that comes out of these small Utah towns, and I appreciate their effort to preserve that part of their heritage. Jen whispered to her mom that "everything in [here] is awful." I'd say she was only half right. To me, that's what made it so charming.

Back at home, it was time to check on the horses before the sun went down.

Utah: Fish Lake, Dixie, and Kodachrome Basin

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