Now that you’re probably tired of these lists, here’s mine. Am I the only one to deliberately wait until the year is over before starting this listmania frenzy? Maybe I just don’t care about the pageviews, ads or the reputation. Or maybe I just couldn’t make up my damn mind. Though I look forward to this time all year, I wait it out. For the same reason The Hype Machine’s Zeitgeist does, not to influence my judgment, but to absorb as much music as possible.
I look forward to this time all year, so lots to talk about and a lot happened in music.
We had the Beatles Remasters which reintroduced me, Jacko went, more remix/mashup floods than ever by so called laptop/garageband producers, more 80′s electro-pop blew up in mainstream media, summery ‘lo-fi’ danceable electronica transformed into a glo-fi/lo-tide trend or whatever, and as every year lots of controlling media trying to shape your style and musical likings. I also think that everyone needs to stop looking back and reference past influences. All we hear is 70s 80s 90s influences and inspiration. It’s driving me insane.
Despite many uncontrollable finger pointing, it was a great great year in music. And again, all this is opinion based. I always say that I favor atmosphere over songcraft which obviously had a big influence in shaping this quite extensive list, so don’t judge.
I’ve already come to my fourth annual favorite albums list on this blog. Time flies you know.
Anyway thanks for reading Josdigital in 2009 and on to the next one.
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Of all artists included in this lists, this band’s intricate chamber pop undoubtedly had the most mainstream appeal this year. It’s not only a big step forward for indie rock, but especially great to see these guys get the recognition financially that they deserve. After their mind-bending 2006 stellar, Yellow House, they succeeded in creating an at least equally great follow-up.
A sophisticated, intriguing and constantly challenging listening experience full of warm, lush sounds and a strive for perfection. I can’t imagine a band with such great devotion towards creating music than the already legendary Grizzly Bear. I’ve called it an influential piece in indie rock history that can’t and won’t be ignored.
Fever Ray – Fever Ray
One of the reasons that I favor atmosphere over songcraft is the way that it plays with your mind, keeps you visualizing things that aren’t there and dream away. This has the perfect balance but it’s the consistent dark atmospheric vibe through the whole record that binds me to it. Karin Dreijer Andersson, notorious as part The Knife, knows how to take advantage of minimal sounds and well placed percussion to draw an exceptional ethereal play with an emphasis on heavy sounds and aural vibe. Everything is carefully placed, for you to get completely lost, drowned in a soundscape of dark cerebral hymns. It’s moody, haunting and takes you in by storm.
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
Only January and already was it hailed as best of 2009. Though many were skeptical and AnCo often misunderstood, Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist were doing pretty good for themselves. Sure, I’m always excited for an Anco release, but that statement was well founded. It’s a real pleasure to listen to their whole spectrum of eclectic sounds, melodies and catchy rhythms, ans still be amazed by its creativity. Their most accessible yet, the album thrives on unexpected turns, experimental, clever and original songwriting. Not to mention a whole lot psychedelic.
Memory Tapes – Seek Magic
Everytime I play this Gorillavsbear approved record, I’m more astonished by its smooth transitions and evolving settling vibes. Even after 15 continuous plays, front to back.
Even though it started as two projects with each their own sound, Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes, the album feels very coherent and mature. Almost as if the record had been produced by a James Murphy -like veteran. It aims and succeeds in creating a perfect summertime vibe, filled with silky smooth electronic vibes, which unfortunately sometimes falls under the rising hype of the reinvented lo-fi sounds. With that, it wholeheartedly distinguishes itself from more generics out there by sheer ingenuity. It all seems so relaxed and easy going, demanding an instant replay. Even more, it doesn’t get any sweeter than this, but if it does, that would be called heaven.
Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
After an impressive debut album, Natasha Khan’s second seems more focused than ever. She’s a very talented singer with a good ear for sensational and wondrous melancholy. I’ve compared her to Kate Bush in a sense that their overall style and ambiance greatly resemble, the purity of her voice alone, best witnessed in “Moon and Moon” is emotionally overwhelming.
Not a straight ahead pop record, nor rock, folk, ambient or electronic, it encompasses all of these to create an expansive musical palette with gorgeously warm harmonies, inventive, yet evocative structure. Ghostly beauty in every which way.
Karen O and The Kids – Where The Wild Things Are
Where The Wild Things Are was a pretty hyped up movie by a visionary filmmaker. There’s no denying. Though the atmosphere was better than the movie itself, this soundtrack perfectly portrays that feeling, regardless of whether you’ve seen the film. Listening to this album with only the trailer and high expectations for the film in mind was enough to make this a moment to remember. The accompanied vocals from the kids in harmony with Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontlady makes this soundtrack a joy to listen to. It feels so simple and easygoing, you can’t help but smile out of pure child-like enjoyment.
Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
Last year’s exhilarating Street Horrrsing left many wanting something remotely similar to their painfully hypnotic chaos. Tarot Sport touched upon that and creates more gradually expanding dense arrangements.
To make songs as repetitive in this genre and still feel as comfortably relaxing and fascinating is masterly songwriting. Filled with subtle differences and smooth transitions while still maintaining dense stretched-out arrangements, brings out a tensionless vibe and leaves you in a completely relaxed mood. Pure bliss. Just let it fill a space, absorb it and witness it.
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
This is probably the least accessible record on this list, which some would differ, but definitely not the least heartening. Dave Longstreth and the girls masterly crafted a very intelligent, complex, yet playful and earthly atmosphere. Their unique contemporary art-rock style doesn’t feel bound by standard songwriting rules. Like Grizzly Bear, this is a band that spent a great deal of time perfecting and tweaking their sound to further unveil each given talent. Even more, it seems all too simple in retrospect with its complex compositions, but never out of control or ‘difficult’ to use that term.
The Antlers – Hospice
How The Antlers’ confessional emo downer got under my skin I have no idea. While the lyrical content might suggest otherwise, it’s an album to put you to sleep and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s conceptually a downer record in every way. Graceful and indulgent use of subtle melancholy makes this an exceptionally personal record with broad appeal. It still sends shivers down my spine when Peter Silberman continuously sings “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you deserve that” on the second greatest track of the album “Wake”. Don’t let the Da Vinci inspired cover art (I think) fool you, it’s more than just a personal record. This is indie in the true sense of the word.
Volcano Choir – Unmap
It’s a revelation to hear such subtle and highly addictive compositions on an ambient record. Justin Vernon’s masterly For Emma, Forever Ago under the Bon Iver moniker was picture perfect. At first I thought Volcano Choir would be a Justin Vernon vs Collections of Colonies of Bees side project unable to convey such great emotion as Justin’s last year effort, but soon after convinced me that this could be one of the best ambient records of 2009. It made me realize that this in certain extend is very similar to Bon Iver’s evocative soundscape, yet toned down into a minimalistic and stretchy electro/acoustic composition. Its hypnotic subtlety and slow progression sucks you in and wonders through your mind, even if you’re not a fan of the genre.
Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
This is a band that I discovered only a month ago, but amazed by its sheer power and elegance, has been at constant rotation in my player. It takes some getting used to the singer’s high pitched eccentric, yet refreshing voice which unfortunately keeps conservative people at distance. Its marvelous melodies are well tucked in which makes for a much more interesting listening experience. Their sound reminds me a lot of early The Cure arrangements, mystical sonic harmonies that expand through time. I’m really glad this caught my ear, because this could just as easily have drowned in the oversaturated fast-forward state of mind of pop music. It’s glorious for its strangeness.
The xx – xx
The xx were a wonderful surprise to us all. These young kids delivered an instantly admirable feeling of growth which many placed in their top ten list. Stripped down of all unnecessary layers, it feels very unplugged and straight forward. But through its isolated instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics, it rapidly gets lodged in your head and keeps you chanting joyously all night long. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Nosaj Thing – Drift
After last year’s incredible and personal favorite Flying Lotus album I was destined to find something similar genre-wise and Nosaj Thing’s Drift was a very welcome surprise. It’s very much alike in style and ambiance but aims for more subtle and moody vibes. But there’s just something to Jason Chung’s flow that’s very dynamic and smooth.
It feels like it’s being played in a big empty space, carefully producing a minimal and spacious sensation at the same time. Best experienced as a whole, the album works its way through a collision of styles with crunchy, sensible and carefully placed beats at first and a soundscape of organic, spacey sounds on a majority of tracks right after. A whirlwind of haunting progression it certainly is.
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
With inspiration from many greats in music (like Grizzly Bear), these French guys delivered one of the most acclaimed albums in indie rock this year. Broad appeal and universal praise in commercial and noncommercial mediums was partly due to their undeniably pleasing mainstream pop song “Lisztomania”, followed up by “1901″. The rest of the record also feels and acts much like an ordinary pop record, but their strength lies beneath their impeccable songwriting skills. You can feel they’re bursting with energy and optimism, that only strengthens with each infectious hook.
The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa
Their exhilarating The Very Best Mixtape from last year was a welcoming surprise, it induces a lot of Southern and East-European vibes without making it sound too distant. With one Malawi born vocalist and a British duo on production, one might expect a mix of Afro-pop and electro hits. True, but even more they took the concept and songwriting a step further. A perfectly structured combo between contagious feel-good chants and heartfelt (mind the pun) atmospheric tracks, strengthened by Esau’s lively voice and shaded by warm lush vibes which reminds you what the album title implies. You can feel the sun, the earth, the energy and still you feel struck by their outright enthusiasm.
Dan Deacon – Bromst
Deacon stirs a multitude of well thought out electronic sounds to create an utter enjoyment. At first this might be overwhelming, but not once does it feel too dense or chaotic, even more he gently strokes the line on which he keeps building. Deacon is a master at what he does, building layer after layer of glorious and well founded sounds and still feel completely effortless and natural. I like to think of it as a mix between an easy going Aphex Twin and more straight-forward Animal Collective. It’s great in its genre, and it all just works so very well together.
Girls – Album
It’s a fact that lo-fi is an up and coming trend, I’m predicting that lo-fi will be bigger in 2010 than now. That said, at the time of release, accompanied with the below video, I was a big fan of Girls’ first single “Hellhole Ratrace”. A very contagious melody and a ‘just don’t give a f*ck what you think’ ‘take life as it comes’ feeling make this one of the best songs of the year. Surprisingly most songs of their aptly titled ‘Album’ age quite good aswell. I like to think they’re kind of like the new hippies. It might just all be an act, but their Elvis Costello inspired sound just takes you over by storm. Though a tiny bit overrated, it succeeds in evoking raw emotion in its purest form possible.
Japandroids – Post-Nothing
Post-Nothing is a term we can take quite literally here, these Canadian youngsters are living their life now and, like the Girls’ album, take life as it comes, which transpires greatly through their lyrics. I’m not really into raw or aggressive rock music, but there are those few exceptions where the song structure and melody are so damn irresistible that I gladly acknowledge the fact that music has no boundaries what so ever. I never thought one electric guitar and drums could sound so griddy, raw and uncut, performed with such relentless velocity and outright enthusiasm.
Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light
I’ve read that some are appalled by all the controversy surrounding Antony’s lifestyle, but that’s beyond me. All I know is that he released a captivating third LP with heartstruck emotion and wither, built on layers of gloominess and melancholy. A highly conceptual album dominated by Antony’s miracle of a voice.
Julian Casablancas – Phrazes for the Young
With the hope for a new Strokes album this year slowly fading away, the solo debut of frontman Casablancas is very welcome. He indulges in larger, more electronically driven arrangements which sounds big, surprisingly simple, straightforward and immediate. His solo effort is however a playful bunch of addictive, highly enticing ballads which forms a coherent piece that ages well. Might be the most suiting album cover of the year for an astonishing first initiation filled with melodious easy going progression.
Beirut – March of the Zapotec/ Realpeople Holland
I wouldn’t call this cheating but these are two EP’s combined together by 2007 favorite, Zach Condon as Beirut/Realpeople, who I ones called a musical marvel. These two EP’s are worlds different in style but definitely not in passion. March of the Zapotec is a continuation under his more acoustic (eastern european) influenced Beirut moniker, this time inspired by his trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. Realpeople Holland on the other hand delivers all electronically driven sounds which, as he proclaims, are inspired by the legendary Magnetic Fields. As an ‘electro-head’ I like the second EP more, but the two form a sort of disjointed boundary, almost like a ying and yang, which works exceptionally well together. This combined effort is often overlooked or dismissed by the ‘EP’ tag alone, but make no mistake, it’s crafted with the same amount of passion as any other Beirut album.
St. Vincent – Actor
Her whole ensemble might be an acquired taste for some, but one can’t help but be impressed by her incredibly engaging and creative songwriting. The former Polyphonic Spree member has a very stylistic almost narrative way of interweaving melodies, which I can’t help but connect with a fictional Tim Burton animated film (like the tba Alice in Wonderland). It’s more complete and more interesting lyrically and sonically than her debut and succeeded in conveying discomfort like an unsettling dream, filled with unique, well composed instrumentation and eccentric vocals.
White Lies – To Lose My Life…
Concerning pop music, this might be my guilty pleasure. Sure, songwriting is a bit stale and predictable compared to others in this list, but gladly makes up in grotesque, ethereal and epic soundscapes. In that, it gives me that same feeling in style and ambiance as when M83′s Before the Dawn Heales Us first came out. Big music, easy cuts but oh so enjoyable and it all just works exceptionally well together. I just can’t stop listening.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
While Karen O’s Where the Wild Things Are score was much more interesting to me, the switched styles and move to electronic synths of YYY’s Show Your Bones follow-up is pretty impressive too. There’s no denying that the evolution in technology provided full acoustic guitar-driven musicians with an extra layer to portray emotion and transcribe passion. It’s Blitz is the perfect example of that. An album filled with catchy hooks, surprisingly effective synth-pop grooves, and irresistible sing-along melodies. It would be higher in my list if it were a little heavier and more aggressive, but still unexpected and surprisingly effective production.
jj – jj n° 2
With jj nº 3 already announced, a record deal signed and a reworked Lil’ Wayne track considered as one of best of the year, these Swedes are officially on the rise. It’s no secret that easy going summery lo-fi electronica always scores for the indie music fanatics, but every once in a while that’s all we need. An afropop influenced uplifting piece of joyous electronica. Just that.
Little Dragon – Machine Dreams
You don’t find many up and coming artists that stay within the boundaries of one genre, in fact it feels like taking risks and coloring outside the lines is the way to get respect and recognition. I don’t blame the ones that do, but it makes the ones that don’t shine and flourish. Little Dragon is one of those consistent electronic artists that delivers glorious upbeat and straight fun electronica, sometimes labeled as ambient background music. One example is their marvelous “Feather” which is just instantly headnodding. Deformed background vocals with organic elements sends shivers down your spine, even when played for the 15th time. It’s an album that will stand the test of time, but sadly will remain an underdog in our fast-forward culture.
Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas – II
Like Lindstrøm’s Where You Go I Go Too, this collaboration induces you in an epic journey of glorious instrumental electronica, stretchy disco-era vibes and almost natural toned down funk, composed in a way that seems incredibly easy going. You rarely see this genre being revisited which Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas do so well. Through its warm, organic sounds, you listening experience floats in subtlety, psychedelia and feels like a revelation with each listen. Feels very spontaneous and every bit as mellow.
Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue
It’s hard to comprehend that on a mere 12 track album, so many different styles are embraced and still sound orderly and highly conceptual. Wilkinson subtly blows a dusty 60′s lo-fi feeling throughout the record, while his distinctive musical influences encompass Boards of Canada -esque IDM on “Haikuesque”, beat oriented experimental hiphop on “Dwrcan” and parts of funk, soul and folk best noticed on ‘”Jealous of Roses” and “Lovers Carvings”. A highly addictive composition of creativity that feels both modern and passé, tense and easy-going, or better yet spontaneous and precise.
Moderat – Moderat
I’ve been a big fan of 2007 favorite (and Thom Yorke approved) Modeselektor and previously featured Apparat. These two German electronic giants joined forces as Moderat to create this collaborative effort, which has Modeselektor’s aggressive rusty edges and Apparat’s celestial synth parts interweaved. They sometimes drift through dubstep territory, and gently stroke downtempo boundaries. It all works well together and still feels very distinctive in style, but somehow combines smooth and subtle progression with stretchy hypnotic drum loops.
Hudson Mohawke – Butter
I like this album for what it is. Hudmo’s long awaited debut sounds very bombastic, headnodding with “sound the alarm!” type anthems, which makes this an album unable to ignore. But lacks coherence and feels more like a beat tape than an actual single form unity. Exploding tracks like “FUSE” followed by the stilled complementary “Star Crackout” beg to differ, but sadly the majority, like the album cover, feels very black and white. But don’t let my criticism fool you, this kid’s got talent. Sure, he’s still evolving, refining and perfecting and this won’t be the last we heard of him, I’m sure.
More albums I thoroughly enjoyed but sadly didn’t make the cut (forgive the name dropping).
Zombi, Florence + The Machine, Major Lazer, Atlas Sound, Mayer Hawthorne, Royal Bangs, Hanne Hukkelberg, Nite Jewel, Letting Up Despite Great Faults, YACHT, Clark, Bear in Heaven, Clues, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Neon Indian, Mos Def, Röyksopp, Matt & Kim, Jay-Z, David Lynch, Raekwon, J Dilla, The Flaming Lips, DOOM, Mew, Jónsi & Alex, The Field.
I predict Sigur Rós’ Jónsi to be a favorite in 2010, along with Vampire Weekend, Four Tet, possible Arcade Fire, I’m still skeptical for The Knife, MGMT, LCD Soundsystem, Fleet Foxes, Of Montreal, and off course many more surprises. But those are just assumptions. It’s just to say, thanks for reading and hopefully til next year.