After all the decade in reviews, lets look at this last year for a second and at some of the albums I have been listening to (or trying to.) Lord knows I have some catching up to do for a 2009 Year in Review!
Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca I first heard of Dirty Projectors through the song they did with David Byrne called "Knotty Pine." It's an art rock track that goes in all sorts of musical directions and at first glance put me off a bit. But I was intrigued enough to pick up their latest and what has been touted as "most approachable" record Bitte Orca. What I can gather from that comment is that previous Dirty Projectors albums must be insane. Bitte Orca is a good listen when you are interested in something with a lot of intense mood shifts, unique vocal arrangements and a skewed sense of melody. This is not a record you just throw on in the background or would go driving somewhere to. No, this album demands your constant attention and as it took me about 5 months to finally say "Alright, I am ready for you!" And it was quite the experience. First track "Cannibal Resource" starts off with a pretty decent guitar riff but when the multitudes of backing vocals kick in, it shifts gears. The whole album has this controlled chaos vibe and reminds me of an art rock/post punk version of Captain Beefheart. It all sounds like a din of chaos at times, but you can tell all the intricacies of the music. This stuff was planned. It's really nutty and hard for me to fully grasp. More listens will have to ensue and that is good news for the record. It's not just slapdash weirdness, it's calculated brilliance. It does, however, make it a very intense listen.
Electric Six - Kill - Although it lacks the wow factor that last years Flashy gave fans, Electric Six's latest album Kill has some memorable moments but is more along the lines of their overblown record ...The Master. Don't get me wrong, when E6 does overblown stuff, it's still delightfully enjoyable. Songs like "Body Shot" and "Steal Your Bones" fall in the category of Electric Six expanding their sound a little bit. But most of the rest of the album just relies on your usual heavy power chords and synthy bleeps and bloops to add some fun to the mix. It's not an immediate love like Flashy or Senor Smoke but it has some splendid moments and has easily some of the most ridiculous lyrics yet. Example: "Come a little bit closer... Be my Kenny Rogers Roaster!" For a band who has put an album out every year for the past 5 years, it's no surprise that Kill lacks a little authority.
Air - Love 2 - I guess because I am in such an Air phase (not to mention the French have been killing it this year with good tunes,) but I am really digging this new record. It may be a poor man's Talkie Walkie, but it still has some stellar musical moments and overall enjoyable songs. Nothing stuns, but everything soothes. It's a perfect record for background music or meditation. Songs like "Be a Bee" have a churning back bone behind their smoothness while a track like "You Can Tell It To Everybody" has a more mystical quietude with it's Zelda like chimes in the intro. Air has a knack for making damn good music. Nothing extraordinary but at the same time, the backgroundy elements to the music doesn't make it boring. If you need a good soundtrack to relax to and still have it be a little more than background noise, Love 2 hits the spot.
The Flaming Lips - Embryonic - Ok, where do I start? Well I can first is that this is only a partial review. Let me back up a second. I have only listened to about 1/3rd of the record so this is less a review and more of a commentary on how music can effect mood and reflect mood. Embryonic from what I have gathered with my few false starts sounds much like the usual Flaming Lips record but churned through a meat processor. The ryhthm section is the true hero here, but the recording is extremely abrasive. Hidden beneath the build up of this grating sound is the usual Lips soaring space age prog rock, but the veneer of distortion really hides it. Songs like "The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine" lends itself to Yoshimi's "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21" but where that song is a lush paranoia, "Sparrow" is a grating and dark paranoia. Anyway, I digress from the object at hand. Embryonic so far is a really daunting listen. It's intensity matched by it's complexity and abrasiveness. My mind does not comprehend these sounds right now. But when I am in the mood for a brood fest, I can tell Embryonic will turn out to be one of their best records.
Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young - The Strokes may have been a one trick pony looking back at their three recrods. Is This It was captivating, Room on Fire was a supposed sophmore slump with lots of repeat sounds albeit good songs and First Impressions of Earth just fell flat. It's no surprise after such a forgettable record that the band members would look forward on solo pojects, but it took from 2006 to 2009 for the supposed brain behind the Strokes to drop his first solo output. What we get is Julian Casablancas' What everyone will gather from this record is that Casablancas has taken the sound of the Strokes and fed it into a synthesizer. New Order becomes the muse more so than Television, but the bratty lyrics and overall swagger is still ever present. The real dynamite tracks come in the 1-2-3 punch of "Out of the Blue" , "Left & Right in the Dark" and the superb "11th Dimension." It may be the most Strokesy, but it also turns out to be the most catchy tunes on the album. Altho Casablancas is still hsi sneering self lyrically, he gets introspective and realizes some of his faults that in the past he has basically told the naysayers to "fuck off." This time he's finding time to contemplate his actions. The rest of the short album veers into different territory but it's all welcome. Phrazes is a refreshing twist on the Strokes sound and maybe if they get together again this new sound will come into paly with all the players involved.
Looking ahead: Them Crooked Vultures, Built to Spill, The Raveonettes, A complete review for The Flaming Lips, Reigning Sound and hopefully more! 2009 has been interesting to say the least.