Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jay's Top Ten of 2009

10. Faunts- Thinking.Of.Feelings.Love- Almost did not make it, but this was very hard to leave off the list. I really enjoyed the record and found it unique and different, combing elaborate sythns with nice lead guitar work. The only problem is that there are too many throw away songs to make this an elite album, but the ones that standout are far superior to anything that anyone in their genre is doing. Not bad for a band that got noticed for being on the soundtrack to a video game, maybe Microsoft has better taste in music then what we are giving them credit for? The opening track “Feel.Love.Thinking.Of” is a great opener and is one of the best this year. “Out on a Limb” is a great example of the combination of how guitars and synths can play nicely off of each other. “Explain” is my favorite closing track of the year, it’s got a very epic feel with dueling guitar leads and a nice synth lead that compliments the guitars in a wonderful way. Once again, I may take some heat for putting this on their, due to some tracks that are just kind of okay, but I listened to this record for almost a month straight, and like I stated that standouts on the record are too good to ignore. A band that deserves more recognition then what they have gotten.

9. Great Lake Swimmers- Lost Channels- I listened to this record a lot when I was driving forty-five minutes to work every day for a good junk of months. Great songwriting with catchy choruses and wonderfully painted images. It’s very easy to lose yourself to the stories that are being told in the record, which contains a lot of songs about relationships, but not in an overly sappy way. You can just imagine yourself seeing these stories played out in your head, almost like short movies; I have often casted characters for each of the songs into short films. The music is very elegant and combines nicely with the soft vocal work which is hard to ignore. A great record that combines folk, alt-country, pop, and Americana into enchanting songs about love and friendship. “Pulling on a Line” and “Stealing Tomorrow” are major standouts on the record and “Pulling on a Line” is one of my favorite songs of the year.

8. Discovery- LP- The first time I heard this record I was sitting in a friend’s living room having some beers and talking about the possibility of breaking up with a girl that I was dating. It’s kind of funny how we associate records and songs. I remember that I was seriously struggling with the decision and it was making me feel sick, but then this record came on. I instantly forgot about the whole thing and was instantly drawn into the record. I kept interrupting conversations to point out that I really thought this record was great. This is a very weird and interesting side project from the lead singer of Ra Ra Riot and the one guy from Vampire Weekend (not really a fan and don’t care to look his name up). It’s basically bedroom pop filled with beeps, loops, and some juvenile lyrics, but it’s a great record to listen to on a summer night, if you’re not taking it too seriously. The first track “Orange Shirt” sounds like it should be played on Kiss FM, and it’s quite funny that “Can You Discover?” is actually a Ra Ra Riot song that was off the Rhumb Line. If you get past the goofy lyrics it’s a well constructed album makes you both want to dance and chill on a porch with a beer.

7. White Rabbit- It’s Frightening- I have always enjoyed bands with great drummers, being a drummer myself (or at least being able to fake it well enough) if a band has a great drummer I am immediately pulled in and want to hear the whole record. From the opening beats of “Percussion Gun” I was hooked, and to my surprise the rest of the record was quite good as well. Kind of comparable to the Walkman, thunderous drumming, catchy guitar hooks, gentle and rocking piano lines, and vocal work is eerily similar to Hamilton Leitheiser’s. The main difference is the screaming is kept to a minimum, and sometimes Walkman records have at least one or two throw away tracks or a part where the record sort of drags a bit. White Rabbit has found that nice equilibrium on how to balance their rockers and their softer stuff, which are actually the weaker songs on the record, but still not bad. A great alternative rock record that sounds like something all the cool hispter kids would stand in dark clubs and listen to.

6. Camera Obscura- My Mauldin Career- Tracy Campbell’s sweet soft vocal work is merely a deceiving mask that hides her penned songs about dissatisfied love and longing to be with or somewhere else. Despite the subject matter My Mauldin Career is a fun record to listen to and contains a lot of 50’s and 60’s pop elements that make this a much different effort then their previous work, many of the songs have quite a do wop feel to them. Lush strings and French horns combine with masterful quiet guitar work that is all a nice backdrop to Campbell’s soft vocal work. The strongest parts of the album are the combination of Campbell’s vocal work with her song writing. She can turn the most bittersweet love songs into beautiful tunes that instantly make you want to fall in love with her, despite the fact that you may not live up to her standards, which is kind of a reoccurring theme on the record. Seeing the band in late November solidified this pick for me, not only are they strong in the studio but the songs come to full life on stage as well.

5. Passion Pit- Manners- Listening to Passion Pit is the equivalent of being a kid back in the late 80’s early 90’s and watching Saturday morning cartoons. There is a childlike element to the album, it’s just fun to listen to and you can’t help but be transported back into a time when you had no cares or worries. This is quite dissimilar from the lyrical content which is laced with failed relationships, broken hearts, and love gone awry. Every song has a hook and you do not become bored with it. A lot of people have written it off as a 80’s New Wave rip off, but it’s so much more than that. The choruses are bright and vibrant and demand listeners to sing along at every step of the way. Sadly, this is the one album this year that I have tried to get people into, and they give me a weird look, but I firmly believe with Sprint using them in their new ad campaigns, Passion Pit will become a household name in a manner of months.

4. We Were Promised Jetpacks- These Four Walls- The most raw and emotional album that was made thus year by a quartet from Scotland. They have been compared quite a bit too Frightened Rabbit, another Scottish group known for quick drumming and jangly guitars. But where WWPJ differ, is the power that they bring to the table. All of their rockers are in your face, kick you in the gut, and head but your mom type of smashers. Also the lyrical content is simple, where as Frightened Rabbit tend to get a bit deeper in their songs, WWPJ bluntly states their feelings and doesn’t pull any punches. “Thunder and Lightening” is my track one of the year and starts the record off with no bullshit. Not to say that they are not capable of tugging the heartstrings, the middle of the record calms down quite a bit and shows more of a sensitive quieter approach like on “Conductor” and “This is My House, This is My Home.” But then the end of the record they go back to kicking the shit out of you with “Quiet Little Voices” and “Short Bursts.” One of the best all around straight up rock record of the year.

3. The Decemberists- Hazards of Love- I think we all had to see this coming. Why people were so put off by this record, I have no idea. The writing is solid, the instrumentation is flawless, the story is both crazy and vivid, and Sara Worden pretty much steals the show as the Queen. Each Decemberists record has gotten more and more ambitious and after the The Crane Wife, a perfect record based on a Japanese folk tale, what could Colin Meloy and co. do to top that? The answer is simple, write a crazy rock opera. The record does a nice job with balancing story with bold epic, stoic musical numbers, and soft quieter tracks that let the story carry the record. The only thing I could see hindering the record is that it wasn’t accessible on the first listen. It actually took me a few times to get into it, let alone understand everything that was going on (it also didn’t help that I bought the record on vinyl, two records four sides equals constant flipping). But once everything comes to light the pay off for the listener is outstanding.

2. The XX-XX- Ridiculously impressive debut from a bunch kids who were only nineteen when they recorded this record. It takes most bands years or never in their career to come up with an album this good. To say that the instrumentation is at a minimal level is quite an understatement. The thing The XX understands is how to set an atmosphere to a record. The record has quite a bit of empty space in the landscape which sets for a very spooky, dark, and hazy backdrop to songs filled with introspection and self reflecting. A lot has been talked about the dueling vocals which are often representing characters or perspectives in the songs. But the subject matter that they are talking about is being overlooked quite a bit. They seem to have quite a mature understanding of sex and relationships for their age. Their perspective is almost cold and callous at times, with no real emotion displayed at all. But that’s the haunting draw of the writing, is that they are able to take this subject matter and leave out the overdramatic emotive feelings, it forces the listener to look at sex in a very singular and specific perspective. How does this relationship benefit or destroy me? This is a very clever approach that hasn’t been displayed in a lot of pop writing and works to perfection. If the “Intro” doesn’t hook you in immediately, “VCR” will make you stick around for the best half hour you could spend.

1. Grizzly Bear- Veckamitest- Elaborate instrumentation, Beach Boy type harmonies, and whimsical pop sensibilities make this record my hands down favorite of the year. If you haven’t become familiar with Grizzly Bear yet, this record may take a while to grow on you. But those of you who are familiar with 2007’s Yellow House will be pleased with GB’s ability to take lush sounds and make them more accessible and friendlier to the ear. The first single “Two Weeks” is a phenomenal example of wonderful orchestration combined with a phenomenal pop hook. The “Ooh waw Ohh Wah ohh wa oh’s” in the song are beautiful and provides the catchy and necessary hook to draw the casual listener in. The album is so much more lively and abundantly brighter then Yellow House, and that could be because the sounds are brought much more up front then before. Yellow House’s quiet and dark tone had a lot to do with not only the instrumentation, but the fact that the instruments seemed so distant. You will not find that on Veckamitest, everything is brought on full force. Even the little things such as violin strings being plucked like on “Ready, Able” are brought into the foreground and give the songs depth. There is so much going on every song, it is hard to catch everything at once that GB does. But when you sit and listen to every song and realize the intensity and labor that is put into every song, the appreciation and magnitude for the songs develop more and more as a listener. What Grizzly Bear has done is really just take what they are good at and made it great, developing and harnessing their craft to perfection. On the overall just an eloquent album that takes us on an interpersonal journey of ourselves and our relationships.
Honerable Mentions:

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- If the Smiths and the Psychedelic Furs had a baby, this would be it. “This Love is Fucking Right” is the standout on the record. Great record to sit in the dark and pine away on lost and broken love
David Bazan- Curse Your Branches- This is his best solo effort hands down, and is very close to almost being as good as Control from when he was doing Pedro the Lion. Bazan once again embeds biblical references to modern situations where the exposure of shortcomings is fully displayed in the characters. “Hard to Be” and “Curse Your Branches” are standouts on the record.
Elvis Perkins-Elvis Perkins in Dearland- Many people wrote this off due to the fact this wasn’t a strong enough follow up to Ash Wednesday. I disagree wholly. Perkins creates colorful characters with severe flaws and in unique situations that only Perkins could do. “Shampoo” is a wonderfully painful tale of heartache, and the final track “How’s Forever Been Baby” might be one of the best “Fuck You, I’m over you” tracks I have ever heard.
Plushgun- Pins and Panzers- A band that got it’s break based on the hit Youtube series We Need Girlfriends (Which if fucking brilliant by the way), this band sounds a little like the Postal Service but doesn’t try to imitate it too much. “Just Polite” is the stand out on the record and the soft lead vocal work is very intriguing, and pulls you in to most of the tracks. The album has a nice mix of rocking out and soft tracks you can drive to on a sunny breezy day in the fall. A nice effort from New Yorkers who haven’t taken the same road as their fellow co-inhabitants and tried to be the Strokes, it’s nice to see some originality come from the Big Apple.

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