Thursday, December 31, 2009


In lieu of an actual "job," and with gigs few and far between, I like to think of myself sometimes as not only a professional music-creator but a music-listener. If music is a language, then the conversation requires listening as much as vocalizing.

I can still remember a time (during this decade!) when I wouldn't dream of listening to any particular song in pursuit of my own personal enjoyment. Now I've realized, of course, that good music is one of life's greatest pleasures. I've doubled in age in the last ten years, but the increase in musical exposure has been astronomical.

So, since I don't feel qualified to pick the best albums of the decade (you can go here for that), I do want to share with you my favorite albums of 2009. I could probably write six paragraphs about each of these, but since we're running out of time in the year, I'll keep it short.

10. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Ghostly, driven, and moody are not typical country music epithets, but Case definitely earned them, along with her Grammy nom for contemporary folk.

9. Miike Snow - Miike Snow
Somewhere in the bedlam of brash blips and beeps of '09, Andrew Wyatt found a home for piano-driven electropop, and he couldn't be more welcome.

8. The Very Best - Warm Heart of Africa
With a name like The Very Best, most would expect the opposite. But whatever you want to call the kind of music these fellows put out, there's no question they're the very best at it. With a little help from ingenious synths (and special guests Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig and M.I.A.) TVB make African chants into irresistible hooks.

7. Passion Pit - Manners
Don't be afraid to delve deeper than "Sleepyhead." This album is filled with gems that sparkle almost as much as it's dazzling choruses, especially once you realize that Michael Angelakos' vocals are more enchanting than chipmunk.

6. Lady GaGa - The Fame Monster
If I had a dollar for every time I've underestimated the talent of a female pop singer, I'd have one dollar, which I earned from hearing "Bad Romance" for the first time. It's remarkable that an album so danceable, so glitzy, can be equally dark and enchanting. And having the best music video of the year (or decade!?) has gotta count for something.

5. fun. - Aim and Ignite
Never has a band name so completely described their appeal. It's indie pop Sesame Street, with a dash of Queen and a pinch Beach Boys charm to taste. Soaring, gleeful, personal, and infectious.

4. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I liked these guys before they were cool. Key word: liked. Now, with WAP released and renowned, it's a full-blown love affair. They've got the indie pop trifecta down pat: fun, foreign, and famous. Right when you think all the catchy songs have already been written, along comes a tune like "1901," and everyone puts their headphones back on.

3. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
The term "entry-level" is thrown around a lot in music circles, regarding a band or album's "listenability." But while sophistication and detail don't always translate to increased enjoyment, there's something to be said about music that forces you to process a little faster than usual. Dirty Projectors probably aren't something your tweenage cousin is guaranteed to enjoy, but they are enjoyable nonetheless. Projector's true genius, however, isn't in their complexity but in their ability to make great, resounding songs over top. Orca is the culmination of a search for balance between intricacy and accessibility.

2. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
In an arena constantly filling with newcomers, Grizzly Bear are quickly becoming the "new favorite" of broad-listening music critics, and Veckatimest is their masterpiece. The album is filled to the brim with grandiose swells and gloomy, sometimes unsettling creases. I first listened to the CD in my friend's car, and I felt almost crushed by the weight of it. Now it feels more like a heavy blanket to get lost under, dark and comfortable.

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
This album is my generation's Kid A. It made me look at music a different way, and changed the way I enjoyed it. Few other groups devote so much effort to creating tension and resolution in their music than AC. As wave after strange wave of sound washes over you, there's an unbridled joy to be felt wondering what will happen next, or simply in expectation of it if you know what's coming. MPP isn't just a work of art, it's a challenge. "Listen to this," it says, "And then do something new." The ripples are just beginning to take shape, but I expect it will be up to Animal Collective to create the next lofty step.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Passion Pit - Manners

Every once in a while an album comes along that just kidnaps your ears for a while. I try to remain in this state for as long as I can each time it comes because I hate the periods of disillusionment before and after. When each raid ends, I'm left salivating for my next fix. Sometimes I'll even set aside bands to look into later, when I need them, judging only by their reception on blogs. Passion Pit was one such band.

"Sleepyhead" was the first slip down the still-steepening slope for me. It came at the perfect time. I had just recently started to rebuke Owl City, but I still had the itch for catchy electro. My taste for high-pitched male vocals was, and still is, at an all time high, thanks to Animal Collective's recent EP and Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca. Pit hit me in my weak spot.

Don't think of them as passing-phase material, though. I haven't heard electronic so diverse since Kid A. And then the bass drum kicks off on "Eyes As Candles" and they're pop. Vocal melodies are difficult to make energetic without sounding trill and stale, but that's just what you get here. Manners pulls double duty: appropriate for semi-contemplative listening or merely an everyday soundtrack.