Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
(May 26) (Warp) (Myspace)
RIYL: Intricately produced soft voiced rock music with real nice harmonies
If I had to whittle 2009 down into the best single part of any song, I think it would be the harmony vocals kick in during the chorus of "Two Weeks." Nothing brings the joy quite as much as those moments in that track, despite many similar sounding (and perhaps nearly equally beautiful) harmonies throughout the entire record. Grizzly Bear was probably one of the most talked about bands this year. Straddling the line between mainstream and indie rock tighter than anyone, their 3rd official album Veckatimest is the first album of theirs that I have actually noticed as something special. It also debuted at Number 7 on the Billboard chart (despite leaking early). Here's the annotated Grizzly Bear: 4 dudes who are probably music nerds and happen to have pretty voices get together and created very orchestral though fairly unique music. They call in strings-wünderkid Nico Muhly to make their songs even more beautiful. They create songs that have a lot of layers. They sing these songs with good vocals and beautiful harmonies. You can't understand their lyrics. It's epic sounding songs without epic length. It can be exhaustive. I just think it's pretty. "Two Weeks" is still my favorite, despite it being pretty popular and played out. Up in the ranks of song of the year, if not the single best song. Oh, and there are other great ones too.
The XX - The XX
(Aug. 18) (XL) (Myspace)
RIYL: The Cure, Young Marble Giants, Interpol fronted by Peter, Bjorn & John
The XX will almost unanimously win the award for Best New Act of 2009. These kids from England are like 5 years younger than me (that puts them in or just out of high school), sport this bizarre Euro-hip-goth look complete with funny haircuts and the absence of any color but black. They cite influences from Aaliyah to The Cure and their music is sort of hard to pin down. The music is sophisticated in its simplicity. Their debut album is short, a joy to listen to (though it sounds like a downer at first), and just unbelievable considering those involved. Throughout their tracks you hear Cure and Interpol and Durutti Column-esque guitars, spattering drum machines, fey indie-pop vocals barely above a whisper. The songs are boy-girl songs and I'm sure are so cute it hurts. The XX succeed because they sound like every hip band that has come before them yet sound entirely like themselves. I'm hard pressed to think of another album that so perfectly captures what it's like to be a teenager in an urban environment. Hyperbole galore. There is a lot of talk about this band and there should be. Let us hope they don't implode.
Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
(June 30) (Nonesuch) (Myspace)
RIYL: George Harrison, Big Star, Americana on the pop side
The album in which Wilco hears the term "Dad-Rock" applied in even greater degress despite the fact that the term is bullshit, especially whena applied to their music. Obviously, Wilco is experimenting in less extreme sonics on Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album) than on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, but to call this band
boring, regressing into some sort of old-man phase of life seems terribly absurd. After trading in Jay Bennett (RIP) for Nels Cline, Wilco HAS changed, but I find it neither better nor worse, just different. Cline's guitar rips through tracks, makes them feel more like George Harrison in 2009 rather than a band blending shoegaze elements with americana song structures. The fact is that this self-titled album might be the tightest album Wilco has ever recorded. If it bores you, or the songs don't seem exciting, I just don't think you're listening. I was close to ready to write them off: Wilco has been my favorite band since YHF, though steadily decreasing through the ranks. This album makes me realize that they may just be finding their groove. I remember remarking last year or the year prior that Spoon is a great band because of all their intricacies in their songs, things you don't notice until you lie in bed listening through headphones. Little chimes, unnoticable guitar parts, any other sort of instrument that is added in just the perfect place. Perhaps Wilco has always been like Spoon in this way, or Spoon like Wilco, but on this album, more than any other - the music is exquisite. It's not the sonic experiment of records past (and really - we're talking one or maybe two records), but the musicianship and the thought process the band went through during the recording was probably excruciating. Put that music with Tweedy's simplest lyrics to date but some of his most emotive singing, and the record is a winner. And it's pretty. AND the songs get stuck in your head. It's a great record.
Andrew Douglas Rothbard - Exodusarabesque
(Feb. 13) (Peaking Mandala) (CDBaby)
RIYL: Panda Bear/Animal Collective, Holy Modal Rounders with Pink Floyd passages and 1970s psych-folk and some Zappa-esque freakouts. Oh and electronics.
Blending equal parts Animal Collective, Aphex Twin, Benoit Pioulard, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and Dr. Strangely Strange, the second solo album by San Francisco-based musician Andrew Douglas Rothbard is the definitive underrated record of 2009. I mean that literally. I haven't seen anything published in typical indie or experimental locations that have mentioned or reviewed this record. I don't remember how I cam upon it. The only place I see glowing reviews are over at RYM. This record is literally all over the place. Twisting, psychedelic electronics and drums patterns, muffled yet high-pitched 70s folk vocals, warm passages with eastern-tuned guitars. You will simultaneously dance, meditate, laugh, and feel paranoia. Most of all you will marvel at this album. I've used a lot of hyperbole in my reviews thus far, but I honestly think that given more listens, this album could be album of the year, or at the very least in the top 3. Do yourself a favor, listen to the samples, get the cd or however you want to hear it, listen, love.
Tyondai Braxton - Central Market
(Sept. 15) (Warp) (Myspace)
RIYL: 20th Century compositions. Not quite avant-garde, but definitely not traditional. Battles.
Despite composing avant-garde classical-esque music for the better part of a decade, Tyondai Braxton today is best known as the leader of indie-darlings Battles. 2007 was the breakout year for Battles, who were praised for the adept musicianship, compositional skills and for putting out music that didn't sound like anything else in 2007. While other prog and post rock bands were still opting for songs that started quiet and then got all Sabbath on you, Braxton and his band created something like Kraftwerk for the 2000s. Tyondai's second solo album titled Central Market is far more delightful than Battles debut, and one of the very best releases of the year. The most striking thing about Central Market is how playful it is in comparison to Mirrored, which often sounded robotic and soulless. There is guitar prevalant in every track, but there is so much more and the general tone wouldn't sound out of place soundtracking some sort of odd cartoon. It's a challenging listen, but Braxton doens't make it so challenging that you feel overwhelmed. Instead, there is joy throughout the record just given to us is some bizarre ways. Springy sounding synthesizer effects, bizarre hip-hop esque beats, woodblocks galore. In my mind these are the kind of compositions that Dan Deacon wishes he could create. The album straddle the classical and the indie rock world and if you want to really delve into it, probably about 10 other genres. Probably the best way to think of it is Copland producing in this time period with a lot more at his disposal. Really engaging.