Home > Uncategorized > The Best Albums I’ve Heard So Far in 2009 (by a man at the precipice of middle age who doesn’t get that noisy junk that hipster kids are into these days)

The Best Albums I’ve Heard So Far in 2009 (by a man at the precipice of middle age who doesn’t get that noisy junk that hipster kids are into these days)

I think I’m starting to hit that age where I just don’t and won’t “get” much of the new crop of music that comes out. I don’t mean the poppy stuff that’s on the radio. I still have a good ear from what’s catchy and can at least grasp the appeal of all the Top 40 stuff that I don’t listen to. I’m talking more about the sort of music that seems to give the staff of Pitchfork perpetual boners.

Bands like Phoenix and Grizzly Bear are heralded as breakthrough geniuses who have all put out masterpieces this year, but I simply don’t hear it. To my untrained ear, most of these bands are 21st Century New Wave – they try so hard to stay ahead of the curve that they seem dated on second spin. Then you have groups like Animal Collective whose previous inaccessibility is held up by themselves and critics as a point of pride. Maybe I need to catch it at the right moment, but I can’t even make it through “Meriweather Pavillion.” It’s the musical equivalent of synthesized nails scraping their way down a pretentious chalkboard.

The good news is that with a little effort, I’ve still been able to find music that I can fall in love with. The following are my favorite releases of 2009 so far.

The Crying Light
by Antony and the Johnsons

album_antonythejohnsons-thecryinglight
I know that not everybody was in love with his cover of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” for the soundtrack to “I’m Not There,” and it’s easy to write him off as nothing more than a kitschy gender-bending flight of fancy. But with “The Crying Light” Antony captures something special and unique. There’s a great sadness and a beauty that he seems to almost reluctantly release from his throat and unlike with previous efforts, the barebones pseudo-classical accompaniment provides a suitable backdrop rather than a distraction.

Get Guilty
by A.C. Newman

album_acnewman_getguilty
The latest solo release from the man behind The New Pornographers is loaded with simple but sprawling goosebump-inducing arrangements and hooks every bit as catchy as what you’ll near on a New Pornographers album. “All of My Days and All of My Days Off” is one of the best ending tracks on an album I’ve heard.

Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion
by Fight Like Apes
albums_fight like apes - and the mystery of the golden medallion
With the number of geeky friends I have, I’m surprised I don’t know more people for whom Fight Like Apes is their favorite band. Strange, dorky, accessible, and soaring are only some of the words I’d use to describe the Dublin-based band whose eccentricities don’t make them any less accessible. Some might find their song titles and content a bit too cutesy; for example the song “I’m Beginning to Think You Prefer Beverly Hills 90210 To Me,” whose chorus consists of the lead singer screaming “you’re fired” while a brigade of thick Irish accents chants “suplex, suplex, suplex backbreaker” behind her. Those people are fools. FOOLS!

We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
by Los Campesinos
Albums_LosCampesinos_WeAreBeautiful
Okay, sure, it was actually released late last November. At that time I was pretty wrapped up trying to catch myself up on everything that had slipped under my radar from the previous year, with their previous effort released the same year (“Hold On There, Youngster”) taking up quite a bit of my attention. “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” is every bit as fun, delightfully geeky, and energetic as its predecessor. While there isn’t much variance in their song structure, you can still feel a sense of growth and maturity from them. Keep a close eye on them in the next few years.

Journal for Plague Lovers
by Manic Street Preachers
Album_ManicStPreachers_JournalforPlagueLovers
Despite great accolades and having been around for the better part of almost twenty years, this was the first time I put in a conceited effort to listening to Manic Street Preachers. The initial hook for me was the story behind the album – the Preachers’ former lead vocalist and lyricist, Richey Edwards, disappeared under mysterious circumstances on or around February 1st, 1995 and was finally pronounced presumed just this past November. The lyrics of “Journal for Plague Lovers” were composed by Edwards before his death and his scathing, poetic, and satirical prose is served well by the punk-influenced alternative sound crafted by his former bandmates. One thing’s clear from listening to this album: Manic Street Preachers are what Muse and so many other bands whom get labeled “alternative rock” only wish they could be.

Noble Beast
by Andrew Bird
album_noblebeast
When you ask most people who like Andrew Bird why they like his music, their response will sound like something you would hear from an excited, out-of-breath child. “Violin loops! Whistling! He’s an expert whistler!” However, their brevity and gimmicky pigeon-holing betrays the depth and resonance of “Noble Beast,” which is an album that should stand on its own apart from the savant appeal of Andrew Bird. I suspect I may get tired of his schtick fairly quickly, but for now, I’m enjoying it.

Grace/Wastelands
by Peter Doherty
Album_peter-doherty-grace-wastelands
As much as I sympathize with him for his issues with chemical dependency, I’ve always held a little bit of hate and annoyance for Pete Doherty and his dumb, tabloid antics. With this album, however, I finally hear what I’ve been reading about in terms of his wasted potential and talent. There’s some truly great, classic tracks on this record and as with any trainwrecked addict rock star, I’m sure there’s an army of studio engineers, producers, and musicians that made this album work in spite of Doherty’s personality and personal demons. But the album’s good enough that you can get lost in the beauty of these songs, and they’ll make you forget how sad and tragic it’s all going to be in hindsight.

Middle Cyclone
by Neko Case
album_neko-case-middle-cyclone
Although I’m not as madly in love with this album as I was with 2006’s “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood”, it surely didn’t disappoint me. For my money, Neko Case has the best voice in music in terms of resonance and sultriness. Case isn’t concerned with breaking into the mainstream, and has made it a point to stick with a label whom will give her full creative control. Unlike others in that situation whose work would suffocate under self-importance and pretentiousness, Case still manages to write legitimately great songs.

And looking forward, some notable releases that are (allegedly) coming out later this year:
Dr. Dre (the long-awaited “Detox”), The Flaming Lips, The Fugees (allegedly – I’ll believe that when I see it), Jay Z (The Bluepint 3), Modest Mouse, OutKast (see note for The Fugees), The Roots, and coming this Fall…new Tegan and Sara album, bitches!

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. July 2, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    I agree with you on Phoenix and most everything else you’ve written. However, Grizzly Bear is pretty much the first new band in a long time that I’ve really gotten into. Although everyone’s totally freaking over the new album, I actually think I prefer “Yellow House” and “Friend.”

    I also dig Beirut. The jury’s still out on Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. I’m trying to remain hip and relevant, but god, it’s so hard once you reach your mid-20s….

  2. July 2, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    You’re probably the third or fourth person to say that to me about Grizzly Bear, specifically that they prefer the older stuff. Maybe they (and their new album) are a matter of context and I need to start from scratch with them.

    Fleet Foxes are nowhere near as flawless as everybody thinks they are, but I dig ’em. I’ve always been a HUGE fan of The Band, which I think is one of those weird pre-reqs for being able to enjoying a Fleet Foxes album. Bon Iver I fell in love with on first listen, and that’s because I’m a pansy.

    We’s gettin’ old.

  3. swoontune
    July 8, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    I’m really really glad that someone else appreciates Andrew Bird! He’s one hell of a whistler. Very very mellow, though, so I listen to him in smaller doses.

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