Accessible, yet still challenging, Merriweather Post Pavillion is the most rewarding experience of 2009 returning the effort you give it ten-fold. I will admit, it took me a while to actually get into this album, but once I did I couldnt stop spinning it. Songs like "My Girls," "Summertime Clothes," and "Lion in a Coma" envelope into musical nirvana, sending you into a dizzying bliss. Merriweather Post Pavillion is more than worth the price. Also, the album sports the trippiest album art, probably ever. And then, after we've gotten into Merriweather Post Pavillion, and it has worn its way into our minds, they release the Be Fall Kind EP, almost as if to say "...and we're not going anywhere." A great open and close to a year that was full of great, innovative music.
Bat for Lashes- Two Suns
The most soothing album of the year, as well as one of the best, Two Suns, is an experiment in passion. The yearning behind Natasha Khan's voice is infectious, and beautiful. Her most ambitious album to date helps show her maturity as an artist as well as her creativity. Her soulful voice may seem on paper to be at odds with her choice of foreign drum patterns and alien vibes, yet they match perfectly. The trap of "style over substance" is avoided as well, due to Khan's song writing prowess, put best to use on songs such as "Daniel" and "Siren Song." In the latter Khan belts: "My name is Pearl and I love you/the best way I know how." The details on what exactly the "best way" entails is never given, nor is it needed. You hear it in the power of her voice.
Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Yes, the one with the song from the Cadillac commercial. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is the most fun record of the year. To listen to tracks like "1901" and "Lisztomania" is to hear "dance rock" at its best. The highpoint of the album, however, is at the instrumental center of the album with "Love Like A Sunset." The track(s)--depending on how you look at it--start with the simplest of keynotes, but quickly delves into a majestry of tone and songwork. This is indeed, Phoenix's best work to date and shows that they are ready to play with their sound and venture into new territory. I welcome it all the more.
Grizzly Bear- Veckatimest
When Grizzly Bear released their debut Yellow House they were quickly noted as artists to watch in music zines across America. Then they released Veckatimest, which is more of a refinement of their sound than it is a continuation. And what a sound it is. Being best described as melodic-chamber indie rock, Grizzly Bear furthers their ability to create some of the most powerful, albeit gentle, music around. The track "Ready, Able" is one of my favorites of the year as it slow-builds into one of the most dream-like melodys created. It's a strange experience as the album is most certainly on the softer side--the tunes evoke head nods that would most likely be performed during something edgier or more intense. But alas, Grizzly Bear pulls it off, and sucks you into their world of harmonizing vocals and subtle guitars.
Raekwon- Only Built For Cuban Linx Pt. II
The album that most Wu-Tang fans never thought would be made (it had been rumored to be released for years) does the impossible and doesnt dissappoint in the face of staggering hype. While Raekwons rhymes certainly aren't for the faint of heart, his mafia-tales are just as gritty and details as they were when he first came in the scene. With the help of longtime collaborator and fellow Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah, Raekwon bursts back onto the scene as though he never left. Although Only Built For Cuban Linx Part II never reaches the epic heights the first album does (doing so would be near-impossible), the album is a worthy successor, which of course is saying a lot. To those who say "rap has lost it's edge" I'd reccommend giving this record a listen.
Perhaps the best debut of the year, Album is the best Beach Boys record that Elvis Costello never made. Somehow both meloncholic and fun at the same time, Girls take their album the simple route: straight-forward rock, and it works. Stand-out tracks like "Lust for Life" and "Laura" make use of singer Christopher Owens' croon as he sings rock songs about, well, heartbreak. The thing that makes these songs work is their honesty. Owens' life-story is one for the record books as he was raised in a cult, fled, and lived as a homeless teenager for years before being adopted by a millionaire who gave him the chance to let his art flourish. His songs and voice seem wise beyond their singers years because he is.
Mos Def- The Ecstatic
Mos Def has experimented with his music for years, flirting with styles of rock and blues. On The Ecstatic--perhaps the best example of Mos Def's overall style--Def pushes his music to the boundaries and creates the best album of his career. His syrupy flow reaches never-before-seen heights on tracks such as "Quiet Dog Bite Hard" and "Supermagic." And his lyrics are as sharp as ever, mixing political sharpness with street-wise libretto better than anyone in the game. Even though this record is sprinkled with middle-eastern influences and touches, it is still undeniably Brooklyn-esque, and that is due to Mos Def himself.
Yo La Tengo- Popular Songs
A hazy mix of melancholy soft-indie-rock songs from some of the masters. The most impressive part of this album is how it acts as a mixed-bag of a Yo La Tengo songs that have never been released before. The album's opener, "Here to Fall" is a blend of subtly controlled distortion and guitar riffs. "The Fireside" is an eleven-minute jam of beautiful drum-patterns and swying vocals. This is a Yo La Tengo record through and through--and that is obviously a good thing!
Jay-Z- The Blueprint III
Of course Jay isn't rapping about the hood like he used to. He doesn't LIVE in the hood like he used to. The thing that struck me the most about this album is the way it is Jay rapping about the love of his life (sorry Beyonce), hip-hop. This album is all about Jay looking back at what he has done, and the genre that he helped create. On "A Star is Born" Jay pays tribute to rappers before him, and hose that will be getting their shot in the very near future. "Empire State of Mind" is more about the creativity that the city breeds rather than the city itself. "Forever Young" seems to evoke the way music will have an everlasting power over those who embrace it, and will make you feel as though you can live forever. Sure it may not be as good as The Black Album and The Blueprint, but was anybody really expecting that? This album was made for the Jay-Z fans, and as a Jay-Z fan, I love it.
"We used to dream/now we worry about dying." Could there be a more exacting statement on what it feels like to see your youth become a memory. The world seemed so huge when we were young. Now we have jobs, bills, and actual responsibilities. Japandroids debut release is a simple rock album that evokes the feelings of both being young as well as the yearning to be a kid once more. And when I say kid I don't mean a simple eigth grader. I mean a teenager on the precipice of life, drinking to much, staying out too late, and getting into to too much trouble. To say that's what life is about, may come across as shallow. But what I really mean by those statements is that it is the closest we can come to real freedom. In our minds it didnt really matter. Our juvenile actions had consequences but they were neither harsh nor everlasting. Post-Nothing doesn't try to hard to be ground-breaking, or thought-provoking. It wants to be a rock record that you play at 3 AM while you're driving home from the bar with too many people shoved in your sedan. It succeeds.