WTT: Top 100 Albums of 2009 (70-61)
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Twenty-one artists came together to record this tribute album to the frontman of Polaris and Miracle Legion, Mark Mulcahy, after his wife Melissa (pictured on the cover) died unexpectedly, leaving him with twin three year-old daughters and the hope that he can continue to make music despite this new, staggering pressure on his life. There are a lot of big names present on this compilation, which is all the better to bring attention to it. Among them are Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, Pixies frontman Frank Black, Dinosaur Jr., Mercury Rev, Vic Chesnutt, and the National, which leads to a wide variety of styles and genres being present as these artists cover songs from Mulcahy’s entire career in unexpected and powerful ways. I highly encourage you to purchase this album if you can, to help a wonderful artist continue to follow his passion.
This genre-crossing group from Los Angeles made a lot of noise in the screamo world with …to the Beat of a Dead Horse. Short and to the point, this album screams in your face before retreating quietly back to whimper in a corner (and I say that in the most flattering way possible), then comes back out and does it a few more times. Passion is overflowing from this release, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in it.
Everyone’s got their opinions on U2. Some love them, some hate them, and many are totally indifferent to the group’s existence (though that may just be the reflection of an apathetic generation). I may not align myself entirely with any of those positions, but they’ve always been a band I can appreciate. No Line on the Horizon initially struck me as an uninspired effort from aging and largely irrelevant rock stars, not much more than fodder for the SUV stereos of soccer moms everywhere. But there’s a lot more to this release, and I don’t feel out of line saying it’s their best album in twenty years (or, at the least, 12). This album has a surprising amount of nuance and grace, considering it comes from a band who spent the second half of 2009 touring the world with literally the biggest stadium show ever. Love them or hate them, No Line on the Horizon shows that U2 isn’t about to be irrelevant anytime soon. And if you’re on the fence, this album might pull you over to the side of appreciation, and maybe even love.
People have done a lot of talking and a lot of blogging about this London group who quietly (and successfully) stormed the front gates of the mythical hipster palace in 2009 with their eponymous debut album. Influenced in equal parts by post-punk, goth rock, and electronic music, the xx created a mysterious little gem of an album that feels as if it never really stops hiding in the shadows. An interesting and unique release from a band that sounds like they might have a lot to say, once they find their voices.
Syracuse hardcore Another Breath leaped into this list at the last second, with the December release of The God Complex, which is probably their best album to-date. They’ve been pumping out thrashy, melodic hardcore for most of the decade, and on this album their thought-provoking and personal lyrics, in the words of the band, “dig deep in their search for answers in this world of uncertainty”. A lot (read: most) of otherwise-promising hardcore groups have a nasty tendency to sink their own ships by having only the illusion of passion (which in most cases is immediately transparent), but that’s never been less of a problem for Another Breath than it is on this album.
Living in Norman, Oklahoma and not being a fan of Starlight Mints is something akin to living in Green Bay and not loving the Packers. But that’s okay, because the Mints are a consistently great band, both live and in the studio, meaning the town-wide worship is certainly deserved. So it’s no surprise that Change Remains found its way onto my list, but it’s not here because of pride for a local group – it’s here because it’s a fabulously off-beat album of danceable psychedelic pop. Nobody sounds quite like the Starlight Mints.
This Canadian indie pop group has been making waves for the better part of the last ten years, and their latest effort is no exception. Led as always by Emily Haines’ frail-yet-confident vocals, the band tones down the new wave influence on this album, opting instead for a more in-your-face rock approach. Of course, they’re still a pop band, and they don’t let you forget that as Haines asks the listener “Who would you rather be? / the Beatles or the Rolling Stones? / oh seriously / you’re gonna make mistakes, you’re young / come on baby play me something, like ‘Here Comes the Sun’“.
If you’re hoping for The Ugly Organ Part 2, look elsewhere, because this album isn’t it. But that’s not to say that it’s worse, because it’s not – it’s just different. The tinges of their past emo rock are certainly discernible, but this album has the band taking a more conventional approach at, as much as I despise the term, indie rock. Closing track “What Have I Done?” is a somber reproach against past mistakes, and ends up being an unexpected highlight in what is, at its core, a rock album.
The Swell Season is a collaborative project between 39 year-old Frames vocalist/guitarist Glen Hansard and 21 year-old Czech vocalist/pianist Markéta Irglová, a duo you may be familiar with from the 2007 film Once (in which they were the stars), which earned them an Academy Award for their song “Falling Slowly”. At one point romantically involved, these two have an incredible artistic tension between them, and it floods through every track of this release. It’s hard not to feel that many – if not all – of these tired, bitter songs of love and heartbreak are directed at one another. This pair has quite a history behind them already, and it seems they’re taking all of their listeners along for the ride, wherever it leads.
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New Hopes, New Demonstrations would like a word with anyone who steadfastly believes in the infallibility of the ‘sophomore slump’ phenomenon. The second album from this Brighton group is a tight, concise, focused hardcore release, but unrestrained in all the right ways; I don’t think it’s unwarranted to compare them – favorably – to Refused. Tom Lacey belts out his angry, passionate vocals all throughout, and when he shrieks lines like “Fucking new romantics / it’s only rock ‘n roll / this is our religion / as heaven we’ll never know“, the temptation to shout them back at your stereo is just too much to resist.