January 5th, 2010
2009 Bestus Prospectus: Albums of the Year
There are many things that I procrastinate on: Paying bills, writing “Thank You” cards, seeing movies in the theater, taking a right on red, et cetera. One of those things has never been buying new music. Especially after I discovered Cactus Music back in my college days. I used to make monthly (if not weekly) pilgrimages up to the record shop. That tradition has held strong for a long time. After having an email sent to me by a friend of a “Top Ten Albums of 2009″ list, I thought to myself, “self, you should do something similar to that.” So, here it is. If you think it’s late just because it’s already 2010, you’re wrong. If we hadn’t waited this long one of these albums would never have made the list.
10] Tinted Windows – Tinted Windows
I got a lot of slack from friends for playing this album while I was driving them around. “This sounds like Hanson or Coheed and Cambria,” were a majority of the comments. Well, guess what. The Tinted Windows front-man is Taylor Hanson. Sure, Hanson (the band) and their MMMbop craze was the bane of existence for many a music loving, teenage boy (myself included), but we have to move on. Don’t look past the inclusion of Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), and Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick). The music on Tinted Windows is the unique, poppy amalgam of all four members’ sounds. It’s ok if you don’t believe me… But, it’s not coming off this list.
Notable Single: Kind of Girl
9] White Lies – To Lose My Life
Whether I recommended this album to a friend or they told me to buy it escapes me at that moment. In either case, I was happy it became part of my discography. To quote a friend who came to a White Lies show with me this year, “it sounds like they took the best parts of every 80’s song and wrapped them up together.” At the time, I took much offense to that statement. Upon introspection, it’s a rather true quip and no validation is necessary. The band, which hails from London, builds into the crescendo of Death, the first track, and never looks back. Harry McVeigh’s voice is haunting and touching throughout the tragedy-laced album. Each song is well designed lyrically and the music behind the words is a driving force of its own that picks you up and takes you for a ride.
Notable Single: Farewell to the Fairground
8] Elizabeth & The Catapult – Taller Children
There should probably be a note of “full disclosure” for this album. I’ve been waiting for it for it to be released for three years. That’s when Elizabeth & The Catapult’s self-titled EP hit the music racks. Only two of the songs from the EP made it the LP edition (Momma’s Boy and Golden Ink) which is both good and bad. There were a couple of real gems on that original release that most will never hear (Waiting for the Kill which features a fantastic string arrangement and Devil’s Calling which is my favorite). The LP stands on it’s own, even though the band never asked for my opinion on the final cut and arrangement of songs. The multi-taltented line up of Elizabeth Ziman, Dan Molad, and Pete Lalish mix up instruments and tempos track to track on the record keeping you on your toes throughout.
Notable Single: Taller Children
7] Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
No, the inclusion of The Blueprint 3 is not just to bring some diversity to this list (my favorite rap album I bought this year was actually “Remind Me in 3 Days” by The Knux), but Jay-Z “unretired” with such a vengeance that it couldn’t be ignored. Now, I don’t think that this rendition of The Blueprint managed to displace The Black Album as my favorite Jay-Z album, but it gets close. There are a couple of weak spots that the last album Jay-Z recorded before he “came back like Jordan wearing the four five” managed to avoid. Now, if you watch ESPN you are probably sick of hearing tracks on this album as they lead into every “top ten plays” or highlight reel with one of Jay-Z’s new songs. That doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it too popular to make the list of a discriminating, hipster. I am neither of those things (though my choice in music tends to contradict that).
Notable Single: D.O.A (Death of Auto-Tune)
6] Doves – Kingdom of Rust
The longing vocals of Jez Williams wake up the soul on Kingdom of Rust. They are reminiscent of those of Elbow’s Guy Garvey, who snuck into my unpublished “Best Albums of 2008″ based on the merit of one song: Grounds for Divorce. Each song on Kingdom of Rust is an exercise in length for the modern rock band, as most break the four-minute mark. That kind of staying power is reserved for the jam bands of yore. These days it’s “hit the hook five times and get out of the studio.” This is one of those albums that subconsciously makes your foot press stronger on the gas pedal as you cruise the freeways of Houston (and I’ve found, particularly on foggy or rainy days). Maybe it’s something about the abundance of distorted guitars and vocals that makes it perfect for days that are less than ideal.
Notable Single: Winter Hill
5] Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures
Preparing for Austin City Limits this year, there was much conversation about who my friends and I would kill to see and who we were ok by-passing to set up for a different act. Enter, Them Crooked Vultures. None of us had heard of them before, mostly because they didn’t exist. They didn’t play their first gig until early August in Chicago. When you hear that a band is composed of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal), Dave Grohl (Nirvana and Foo Fighters), and, bass legend, John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) you tend to stop what you’re doing and change plans to make sure you’re in the vicinity of three legends on the same stage. It was a long month and a half from ACL to the release date of the self-titled album which did not disappoint in the least. If you like music that will run you over like a Greyhound bus and never look back, this album is for you. Every track on this album, save one (Interlude with Ludes, could stand on its own as a single. And even that one “weak” – or better described: “weird” – song has a prodigious title.
Notable Single: New Fang
4] Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
Having this album on the list means that I’ve included three “supergroups” in my 2009 prospectus (Tinted Windows and Them Crooked Vultures, being the first two). I’m not sure what that means about my musical taste… Monsters of Folk is a band made up of relative monsters of the indie/hipster scene. Bands represented are My Morning Jacket, Bright Eyes and She & Him (though, M. Ward is most notable as a solo artist). The heavyweights are Jim James, Connor Oberst, Mike Mogis and the aforementioned Ward. Those names alone will draw many a fan to purchase the album, but the music is soft, beautiful, and aptly folksy. Listening to this record is like listening to the Highwaymen if they appealed to the vintage store crowd. Having three distinct sounds exist this well together in each song hasn’t worked this well since Waylon, Willie, Kris and Johnny hit the studio together.
Notable Single: Man Named Truth
3] Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
A French product hasn’t been this well accepted since the Statue of Liberty. Phoenix’s 2009 release, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” took the US and the respective “Best Album” lists of the major publications by storm. Credit the viral video that exploded onto the internet scene. Before the album released someone had taken the first track Lisztomania and created a video mash-up of some of the great 80’s movies and their dance scenes. It was almost a shame that this wasn’t Phoenix’s official music video for the song. All in all, the Frenchies provide us with the ultimate pop album of the year that dares, if not forces you to dance along. Not only that, but they managed to have the one of the defining sets at this year’s Austin City Limits, a tough feat to pull off considering the competition.
Notable Single: 1901
2] Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears – Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is
I challenge you to find something wrong with this album. Wailing guitars, adamant bass, howling horns, and drums that drive the music all work together with the gritty vocals of Black Joe to create a masterful return to blues-steeped rock n’ roll. The only thing that I can say that seems negative is that the album is too short, and that’s not really a complaint at all. It’s more of endorsement of its strength and the fact that I just don’t want it to end. Luckily for us, CD players just start at the beginning once that last note fades. It feels like “Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is” was constructed in the basement of the smokiest of jazz joints by the band that is just waiting for its time to take over the scene. Well, wait no more, Honeybears. The stage is yours.
Notable Single: I’m Broke
1] The Whitest Boy Alive – Rules
Simplicity is king this year. The best album that I bought was by the Berlin based quartet, The Whitest Boy Alive. Their sophomore effort is “Rules,” a record that is driven by hardly intricate bass lines and equally simplistic guitar riffs that flirt and dance around each other for eleven songs. The lyrics are not Dylan-esque in depth, by any means, and tend to be more repetitive than poignant, but therein lies the genius. Everything from keyboards to drums to lyrics are boiled down to their lowest common denominator and the melodies thrive because of it. Rules is ultimately listenable in any context from reading, writing, driving, and it even makes a great soundtrack for that party you’re throwing. And if none of that tickles your fancy, there’s always the fact of the album artwork, which is some of the most intriguing yet simple illustrations that have ever graced the liner notes slid into an acrylic case.
Notable Single: Timebomb