2009 In Music, So Far

Mon Jul 13 2009

It’s nowhere near list season, but I guess it makes sense to at least do a quick rundown of some key releases of 2009 in the middle of the year. No one should have to wait until January to be told what to buy! At this point, I haven’t listened to most of this stuff enough to judge it anyway, but here’s what’s striking me so far…

Animal Collective: Merriweather Post…ALL RIGHT, FINE, I’LL SHUT UP ABOUT IT.

Grizzly Bear: Veckatamist…it keeps growing on me, even though Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste sing so much better onstage, their records become more underwhelming every time I see them live. There are a lot of themes from 2006’s Yellow House that are repeated here, but as the songs sink in, this is gradually seeming like a very good album in its own right.

Minsk: With Echoes In The Movement Of Stone…this album blew my doors off on first listen, not necessarily a good sign, but its impact has not been blunted with repeated listening. It retains the drone/doom spirit of the band’s previous work, but it’s got a much nastier yet more atmospheric dynamic, and Christopher Bennett’s vocals have become much more powerful, sort of King Buzzo-esque. 2007’s The Ritual Fires Of Abandonment wasn’t dull, but it didn’t quite poke its head out of the post-metal multitudes. This album indubitably does.

The Paper Chase: Now You Are One Of Us…don’t quote me on this just yet, but as far as I can remember, this is the first album I’ve heard that smacks distinctly of Bungleness but that I can’t write off as a ripoff or as hopelessly amateurish and immaturish. I’m not talking about the funk or death metal aspects of Bungle, but this album is that sort of genre-defying smashup, it espouses that sarcastic yet pointed societal critique, it creeps you out even though you can’t help laughing at times, it navigates the tightrope between heavy and frivolous with the same dexterity. The production is a bit thin, the vocals a bit uncontrolled, the orchestration sometimes unsophisticated, making this feel like an act that’s still coming together, but it may be that barely-hinged quality that ends up keeping you coming back to this band. After all, when did Mr. Bungle ever seem like it had arrived? The thrill was in always feeling like its best was still to come.

Blut Aus Nord: Memoria Vetusta II - Dialogue with the Stars…I can never grasp this band’s albums on first (or second, or fifth) listen; they are always so difficult to penetrate. But Swatty has convinced me to be persistent, and this album at first seemed like a regression to completely generic black metal, but it is not; it’s certainly more conventional than 2006’s MoRT, but the more layers you peel, the more progressive and fascinating this thing becomes. The scary thing is that I’m starting to discern vague, er, hooks in these arrangements. Is it even possible that there could be a pop black metal genre? Oh, wait, I forgot about Cradle Of Filth

Les Claypool: Of Fungi And Foe…it was so easy at first to dismiss this album as a grudging acknowledgment that he just needed some new songs to play live, but Jen would not let me give up on it. After letting it rest for a while, I came back to it and found I was loving every song. It may be Les’s best non-Primus album ever. I mean, they’re all at least a little sinister, and they all have a touch of moralizing, but this one contains some of his most blatant lines in the sand, and some of his most imaginative flights of fantasy, and it comes closer than his other albums to capturing the oddity of his live show by pretty much abandoning the guitar altogether and just letting the virtuosity of his bass and the weirdness of his songs dispel any notions of rock music.

Dan Deacon: Bromst…this guy has been under my radar until this year, but this album is one of the most consistently exciting and cohesive albums of electronic pop I’ve heard since the 90’s. Normally, I need to be on my feet in a crowd for this type of beat-driven fare to move me, but I find myself bobbing up and down to this album whether I’m at my desk or in the car; I can hardly wait to see Deacon live! Really ecstatic stuff.

Themselves: The Free Houdini…ever since 2002’s The No Music, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the return of Themselves; abundant side projects like Subtle and cLOUDDEAD haven’t scratched quite the same itch. This album may have been conceived as a mixtape/posse record, but Jel and Doseone traffic in scattershot collaborations and belligerently mismatched beats on everything they do, so it’s pretty much just a return to the classic indie-hop that put Anticon on the map. Dose’s rhymes bite harder than ever, and help from luminaries like Aesop Rock, Slug and BusDriver only punctuate the superior work by him and Jel. And this is only the primer: the real album, CrownsDown, is slated for an August release. Woo-hoo!

Across Tundras: Herds Of The Fathomless Valleys…it’s so easy for a metal-offshoot band to get lost in the vast expanse of mediocrity these days; the industry is just saturated. But Tanner Olson has achieved something rare: he has created a rich, viable brand of guitar rock that, once you become familiar with it, is utterly distinct from everything else out there. I’m calling it stonerrockabilly; it’s got desolate loneliness and frontier imagery and a definite twang, but it’s crushing and slow and anthemic all at once. If you don’t get sucked in by his viscous riffs, his soaring leads will pull you in just the same.

Finally, stuff I’ve just begun to listen to, in brief: The new Sonic Youth (The Eternal) strikes me as awesome on first couple listens, musically very much like Daydream Nation, except they’re having so much more fun with it…Secret Chiefs 3 satellite band Traditionalists has released an album with a title too long to bother typing. It’s alternately stunningly beautiful and chaotically frightening, and of course, I love it, go figure…Milwaukee’s Barrettes were so awesome at Summerfest, I had to pick up the new album (Whole Lotta Melodica); it’s the same thrilling anarchy as the live show, just tightened up a bit, more focused and even a little menacing, but still tons of fun…the new Bat For Lashes (Two Suns) is less monotonously eerie than her first album, thus not quite as emotionally jarring initially, but much more interesting…and finally, Jack White's new band, The Dead Weather, gave a free preview of its forthcoming album, Horehound, last week through its facebook page; my first impression was that, like most of what White comes up with, it's at least initially intriguing, and at least potentially engrossing...

Some of the most anticipated releases of the year (Wilco, Willy Porter, Jesu, Wolves In The Throne Room, Porcupine Tree, MuteMath, Muse, The Roots, Katatonia, Phish...) I haven't gotten to yet, or won't be out for a while, so of course, stay tuned...
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