Best Albums of 2009: May

Best Albums of 2009

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I’m going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year – month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

May Edition

1.
Phoenix:
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


Phoenix has been on my shortlist of bands that I have been meaning to try out for quite some time. Boy am I glad that I finally did. First, I saw that they were playing on SNL, so I gave the performances a look and was just blown away. Check them out here and here. This album is so full of energy and is a great blend of electronica without getting overbearing in attempts to be experimental (as it seems SOOOO MUCH of the electronica genre does). This is well crafted indie-pop that is fresh and original while seeming very familiar at the same time. There were no tracks that I had to go back and relisten to because I didn’t quite get it. Yet, I didn’t find myself getting bored with any of the tracks either. An all around awesome, very fun, high engery album. Officially my favorite French band now. Top tracks include all, but certainly check out the 2 singles that have been put out so far: Lisztomania [download mp3] and 1901.


2.
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band:
Outer South


I first heard Oberst’s “solo” debut last summer while on a long solo road trip in Montana. I downloaded it while sitting in the Montana State University Archives and since I only had my laptop with me, could not load it onto my iPod to listen to while driving – so I stuck an audio cable from my laptop to the aux port in my car. Awkward, but satisfying. I found that album refreshing. Distinct from Bright Eyes, but recognizably Oberst (not just the vox, but lyrics and style as well). Coming off of that, Outer South is a little disappointing. I don’t care for any of the songs sung by other band members, and it is clear which songs were not written by Oberst. There are clear deliniations of quality in song-writing throughout the album. I think those songs should have been excised. The album seems a bit bloated and the fat which could be trimmed easy to identify. The songs that are good, however, are very good. Top tracks include Slowly (Oh so Slowly) [download mp3], Ten Women, Nikorette and Roosevelt Room.

Also consider Conor’s previous venture, Bright Eyes

3.
Iron & Wine:
Around the Well


It is hard to believe that an Iron & Wine double-disc (triple vinyl LP) isn’t at the top of this months list! For Iron & Wine fans, it is definitely worth picking up! However, if you are extremely OCD like me and have to collect every single last rarity track of the bands you like, you probably already had most of the songs from Around the Well. With the exception of God Make the Automobile, I had already dug these up. So, if you haven’t dug them up and especially if you like the more lo-fi end of Iron & Wine’s discography, this is a must buy. And, don’t worry, there are plenty of more hi-fi tracks as well. My favorites (which have been played quite a bit on my iPod for the last couple years) are Dearest Forsaken, Communion Cups and Someone’s Coat [download mp3], Sinning Hands and The Trapeze Swinger.

4.
Jeremy Enigk:
OK Bear


First – I would like a pair of the sweet kicks that the kid is wearing on the albums cover. Nice! As Enigk himself has explained, this LP is a bit more similar to Sunny Day Real Estate than his previous solo efforts. That is both good and bad. I like hearing Enigk with a little bit of edge. The Fire Theft was very satisfying in that way. However, I (and my wife) became very attached to the lush strings and acoustics of World Waits, The Missing Link and the United States of Leland soundtrack. I like OK Bear, but if I had my pick, I would plunge Enigk deep back into his most latest styles – rich with strings, piano, acoustic guitars and quite harmonies. Top tracks include Just a State of Mind [download mp3], Same Side Imaginary and Vale Oso.

5.
Joshua James:
Sing Songs [EP]

Joshua James is quickly rising on my list of bands that I sincerely hope break it huge! His songs are intimate, passionate and sincere. His voice took a little getting used to, but now it has really grown on me. This new little 5 song EP is great and combined with Crash This Train/The Garden mini EP from last year spells good things for his upcoming 2nd full length LP. I hate to try and make comparisons, but something like a mix of Elliott Smith, J. Tillman, Bright Eyes, etc . . . You get the general idea. Go buy everything this guy has put out. Support local musicians! Here’s a sample: Baby Boy [download mp3].

6.
John Vanderslice:
Romanian Names

Oh Mr. Vanderslice. I really liked Pixel Revolt. I liked it a lot. I also enjoyed Emerald City, but not quite as much. Romanian Names disappoints me. First, I am fluent in Romanian, so I had high hopes for this LP. I’m not sure why that would make the album inherently better, but I thought, “Holy Crap! Someone other than me mentioned Romania! Awesome!” The album seemed inconsistent. It didn’t hold together well. Some of the better tracks were Fetal Horses [download mp3], D.I.A.L.O. and Carina Constellation.

7.
Grizzly Bear
Veckatimest

After much prodding from friends, I reluctantly gave Grizzly Bear another try. I had given some of their previous work a few listens and really didn’t like what I heard. Veckatimest is better, but not by much. I don’t know what you call this style of vox – but it seems to be spreading like wildfire. Indie band after indie band has singers sounding like this, and I’m not a fan. This said, its not absolutely horrible. There are a few tracks that I enjoyed, but the majority of the album simply bored me. If I was on a road trip and a friend put this in, I wouldn’t be gritting my teeth the whole time, but I probably wouldn’t ask for a repeat spin. Top tracks include Two Weeks [download mp3], Ready, Able and While you were Waiting for Others.

Running LP List

  1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (May)
  2. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  3. Shark Speed – Sea Sick Music (April)
  4. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (March)
  5. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (January)
  6. Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (February)
  7. Art for Starters – Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  8. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South (May)
  9. Iron & Wine – Around the Well (May)
  10. Jeremy Enigk – OK Bear (May)
  11. The Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (March)
  12. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  13. Coconut Records – Davy (January)
  14. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity Live (April)
  15. Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots (April)
  16. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha (February)
  17. John Vanderslice – Romanian Names (May)
  18. Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing (March)
  19. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (May)
  20. Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  21. Vetiver – Tight Knit (March)
  22. General Elektriks – Good City for Dreamers (February)
  23. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  24. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market – The Winter’s End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie – Open Door (March)
  3. Joshua James – Sing Songs (May)
  4. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)

Best of 2009: April

Best Albums of 2009

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I’m going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year – month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

April Edition

1.
Shark Speed
Sea Sick Music


Local bands are a dime a dozen. We have all been to so many small local shows that go something like this: 1. Music starts. 2. We think to ourselves, “Yeah – these few opening chords and riffs sound great . . . these guys have a great sound . . . ” 3. Then, invariably, the singer opens his mouth and ruins the whole thing. SO many local bands with great musicians are ruined by horrible vox. Well, when I came across Shark Speed – a band from Provo, UT (go Cougs!), a place I spent a few years, I was excited. Here’s how I happened upon them: 1. Former Before Braille guitarist Hans Ringger pops up on the “people you may know” feature on Facebook. 2. I send him a note to see if he is still playing music. 3. He replies, Yes, and directs me to Shark Speed. 4. I listen, am impressed and then find the added bonus that they recorded their debut album, Seasick Music with none other than Bob Hoag of the Flying Blanket Studio in Mesa, AZ.

Long story short, when I hit play on the album, I was blown away. They had a great sound – somewhere between Minus the Bear and the Long Winters – and the singer could sing! YES! The Long Winters comparison is apt not only because of overall tone, instrumentaion and style, but the guy’s lead vocals are VERY reminiscent of The Long Winters. If you had given me the album and said, “Here’s the new Long Winters album,” I would have believed you. Hooray for freaking awesome local music! Top tracks are And You’re In the Band, Cast off Dance Off [download mp3] and Deep South Detox.

2.
Art for Starters
Drugs Made my Favorite Bands/Drugs Ruined my Favorite People


Coincidentally, this album comes from my same penchant for local bands and again, Bob Hoag’s Flying Blanket Studio. After the demise of Before Braille a few years back, lead singer Dave Jensen started doing some songs on his own and in some crazy late-night sessions with Bob, recorded them. Then he went to Korea. Eventually he made his way back to AZ and finally released his new material as a 2-CD set. Dave was kind enough to send me quite a few of these songs a couple years back in their demo mixes, and it is great to hear the fully polished versions. The 1st disc – Drugs Made My Favorite Bands is largely electric and the 2ns disc – Drugs Ruined my Favorite People is mostly acoustic. It is similar to his previous Before Braille work, but distinct. The math-rock and heavy guitar noodling of Rajiv Patel and others is gone. More pronounced are thick layering of Jensen’s vocals. Complex harmonies with various vocal tracks and lines interweaving pervade the songs. As a music snob, its good to have the fully polished discs in my collection. Self-released on his own record label – Sunset Alliance. Top tracks include I Hope Ants Crawl Under Your Eyelids (On a Saturday Night) [download mp3], You Deserve a Disease, Pinprick by Prick [download mp3] and Diction.

3.
Jimmy Eat World
Clarity Live

Clarity (1999) still ranks high on my favorite albums of all time. To celebrate the 10th year anniversay, Jimmy Eat World did a short tour where they played the album straight through, plus an encore. This is a live CD of the last show on the tour at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe, AZ. As good as it ever was! Top tracks include . . . well, just take your favorite from the originals and listen to its live version.

4.
The Mountain Goats & John Vanderslice
Moon Colony Bloodbath EP

Yet another Mountain Goats EP. I really like John Darnielle. I really like John Vanderslice as well, but am increasingly thinking that his music is a somewhat hit and miss for me. This is a good solid EP that deserves a listen for fans of both artists. My top tracks are Darnielle’s Satori in Denver [download mp3] and Surrounded.

5.
Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots


Iain Archer has been way off my radar for quite sometime, and it was a somewhat random coincidence that I even stumbled across this album. I’m glad I did. His stripped down indie sounds are straightforward and presented with a marked degree of earnestness. I know that sounds like really schticky reviewer nonsense – “earnestness” – but it really is fitting. Top Tracks are Black Mountain Quarry, Everest and Frozen Lake [download mp3].

6.
Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love mixtape
Oh Quannum! Lateef, why do you keep on teasing me with mixtapes?! I want a full length, full production album of new material! I want Lateef & the Cheif’s follow-up to Maroons: Ambush – I want Ashe! Well, this will have to suffice for now. There are some great tracks and bumps that I had yet to collect from disparate sources, some new takes on things I already had and a few brand new tracks all together. Some great collaborations with Headnotic, General Elektriks / Herve Salters and Fat Boy Slim. The mix blends together well – better than many mixtapes do. Top

7.
Dark was the Night Compilation

I’m sure we’ve all heard more than enough about this indie compilation to end all compilations – ad naseum almost. I think it fine and all. A good number of the artists are ones that I don’t care for. And, even with some of the artists I do like – (The National, Sufjan Stevens, Spoon) – I wasn’t impressed with their contributions. I did like the Andrew Bird track The Giant of Illinois, but already had it from his Daytrotter session. Conor Oberst’s reinterpretation of Lua was interesting, but not needed. Iron and Wine’s Stolen Houses (Die) was phenomonal – but only 1:07 long.

Running LP List

  1. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  2. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (March)
  3. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (January)
  4. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  5. Shark Speed – Sea Sick Music (April)
  6. Art for Starters – Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  7. The Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (March)
  8. Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs (February)
  9. Coconut Records – Davy (January)
  10. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity Live (April)
  11. Iain Archer – To the Pine Roots (April)
  12. The Appleseed Cast – Sagarmatha (February)
  13. Peter, Bjorn and John – Living Thing (March)
  14. Lateef the Truth Speaker – Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  15. Vetiver – Tight Knit (March)
  16. General Elektriks – Good City for Dreamers (February)
  17. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  18. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market – The Winter’s End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie – Open Door (March)
  3. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)

John Vanderslice – Kookabura and The Emerald City

Besides have a very cooler Dutch last name that I have ever heard, John Vanderslice is somewhat of an enigma to me.

I really enjoyed his 2005 Pixel Revolt, but I really don’t like any of her solo ventures before that. However, at the same time I really like what he did in producing The Mountain GoatsWe Shall All Be Healed (2004) and The Sunset Tree (2005).

So, it was with some scepticism that I gave Vanderslice’s new solo album, Emerald City a listen. Generally speaking, it is a good album. Eclectic, eccentric . . . ecumenical (ok . . . I was just trying to think of another ‘ec’ word there . . . its in no way ecumenical). As I listened though, I kept on returning to the first track, wishing that the rest of the album followed more closely in its footsteps. I therefore offer you that first track, Kookabura. Enjoy and please support this fabulous indie artist by purchasing his album here.