As I had stated on Twitter and other social media, 2009, where are you! I have yet to listen to much beyond a handful of albums, but luckily that handful has been quite good. So instead of 10 albums halfway through, here are the five best of the first half.
5. Pink Mountaintops - Outside Love - Every year there is a ringer of a record that comes out of left field, lands in my lap and pleases my ears with some great tunes. This year is Black Mountain's frontman Stephen McBean's other craggy project, Pink Mountaintops. No longer a solo effort like the self titled and Axis of Evol records that were more experimental with moments of clarity, Outside Love is a beautiful collective work with many elements from other Canadian indie rockers. The result is a sumptuous feast of slow ballads and swirling reverb. Unlike the druggy and drudgy Black Mountain, Pink Mountaintops is hazy and dreamy. "Axis: Thrones of Love" is a buzzing, hazy opener with swooping vocals and fuzzy guitars. This music is somewhere between shoegaze and stoner rock, which makes it a melodic masterpiece. "Execution" follows suit with the harmonized singing and classic drum beat reminiscent of The Raveonettes last effort, Lust Lust Lust. "Vampire" is a gorgeous love ballad ready for usage on True Blood and "Holiday" sounds like a campfire sing-a-long. All in all, Pink Mountaintops have soared passed their first few efforts to make beautiful, fuzzy psych rock.
Best Track - "Vampire"
4. Graham Coxon - The Spinning Top - To be truly honest with you, everything I've heard of Graham Coxon's solo stuff I was a bit on the meh side with. I will probably have to go back to some of it, but from what I gather, The Spinning Top is definitely his most coherent work and it is a superb work of folk rock goodness with a twinge of psych here and there. His influnces are obvious, but that doesn't make the songs any less beautiful in their own way. Opener "Look Into The Light" is a beautiful, woozy track that sets the tone for the most part. Although a long track at over 8 minutes, "In The Morning" has many shifts in sound that keep it going and keep the listener intrigued. The last three tracks of the album is where we see the true brilliance of sound. "Far From Everything", stellar standout "Tripping Over" and "November" sum up the record in a somber and dark way. Graham Coxon has hit a homer here.
Best Track: "Tripping Over"
3. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amedeus Phoenix - A delightful surprise, Phoenix, who before this album I only knew from the Lost in Translation Soundtrack has released easily one of the best pop music albums of the past few years. Call them the French Shins or just the old backing band for Air, Phoenix creates lush dancey pop not overly synthetic. Enough jangly guitars and interesting ryhthms embellished with sweet synts. Album opener "Lisztomania" has elicited a youtube video mashup of the Brat Packers dancing. It's definitely an 80's feel-goody track with plenty of toe tappingly good riffs. "1901" and "Fences" quickly follow suit before we get to the tonal shift in the two part brilliant "Love Like a Sunset." Part 1 is an instrumental build and shift reminiscent of last years M83 track "Couleurs." Part 2 is a minute and a hald long with vocals and an acoustic guitar shift in sound. It's utterly beautiful. The rest of the album is more like the first half, but songs like "Rome" or "Girlfriend" are just as catchy as the rest. Be sure to check these guys out as I am sure they are the next big thing.
Best Track: "Love Like a Sunset Part 1 & 2"
2. Antony & The Johnsons - The Crying Light - Antony Hagerty is the polar opposite of the next bands. His music is sublime and melancholy. Beautiful chamber music laden with themes of loss and mercy that explode with brilliant musical orchestration that is never overbearing. Although some may find Antony's voice a bit too muddled in affectation, but his voice is the main instrument on the album. From the first words of the album on chilling opener "Her Eyes are Underneath the Ground" to the last notes of "Everglade", the record soars to heights of fancy with beautifully melancholoy lyrics and somber, orchestral movements. "Epilepsy is Dancing" sits as a track showing the bodies restrictions as beautiful art. "One Dove" has so much emotion poured into it that it's hard not to tear up upon listening to it. "Aeon" is a flowing and layered anthem that has some of Antony's most intense vocalizations. The Crying Light is an experience and one that demands its full attention. Every facet of the recording is bathed in beauty.
Best Track - "One Dove"
1. Mastodon - Crack the Skye - As monolithic as it gets, Mastodon's latest effort blows all subsequent brilliance out of the water. Although the brutality of the band's first three records are a bit less evident, Crack the Skye stands as a brilliant piece of fantastic metal music. Mixing everything from David Gilmouresque guitar solos to old fashioned heavy chugging, the album spans many different movements. One striking difference is the amount of singing done on the record. Past albums have been mostly heavy and harsh vocals, but three different members show they can be melodic and it works to the bands advantage. The record kicks off with the space traveling "Oblivion" and shows many of the sides and turns the album will take. "Diviniations" is a fantastic metal song that really has a vibe all its own. "The Czar" blasts forth with prog metal beauty in its epic 10 minutes, but the real epic is the riff explosion of "The Last Baron." Non-stop riffing for over 13 minutes with tons of different breakdowns and changes, this song is as intensely beautiful as it gets and is one of the greatest closers to a record ever. You won't hear much better this year when it comes to hard rock. Mastodon has done it yet again with a record that may be better than Leviathan, if that is even possible.
Best Track - "The Last Baron"
A few other albums have landed in my lap and a few others are coming out. What to look forward to:
Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
Wilco the Album
The Flaming Lips - Embryonic (not sure when it's being released.)
Sonic Youth - The Eternal
The Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Bat For Lashes - Twin Suns
St. Vincent - Actor
And hopefully many many more!
Any good suggestions for albums to check out from 2009? Send them my way!