WTT: Top 100 Albums of 2009 (30-21)
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This experimental rock band has wide-ranging influences, from folk to psychedelic rock to prog, and they’ve been keeping themselves pretty busy, releasing an album every year (something not many bands do anymore). But instead of churning out a stream of uninspired dribble, Portugal. The Man continues to push their sound in new directions. The Satanic Satanist is a mellow alt rock album drenched in psychedelia, and it warrants repeated plays, over and over and over (it’s an awesome roadtrip album – tested and proven). Something of an amorphous blob made up of similar tracks, every listen brings a new song out of the muck to pop out as your favorite.
I’ve made no secret of my love for Harvey Danger, nor of my sadness and disappointment at their recent breakup. But they’ve left us a wonderful parting gift in the form of Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of demos, live recordings, and various other rare or unreleased tracks (such as their covers of The English Beat’s “Save it for Later” and Hall & Oates’ “Maneater”, both of which they do justice to). This may not be an ‘album’ per sey, if you’re one of those violently-opposed-to-compilations type, but see if I care.
23. Passion Pit – Manners
Passion Pit’s 2008 Chunk of Change EP was a fabulous release, and showed a lot of promise. Their show in support of Ra Ra Riot in early 2009 was equally great, and left me with even more hope about what they could accomplish. But this…well, this is just totally above and beyond what I ever anticipated this unassuming little group from Cambridge was capable of. With soaring falsetto vocals that shouldn’t even be possible, and carefree, flowing beats that urge you – no, demand you – to get up and move your ass, Manners is an amazingly crafted debut album of delicious electropop tunes that will stay lodged in your head for weeks at a time. If you’ve avoided the hype train on these guys until now, it’s time to drop the act and get the fuck on board, because the party’s in full swing.
Yoni Wolf’s Berkeley group used to be pretty non-debatably hip-hop, albeit an odd, mutant version of it. Well, that’s out the door on Eskimo Snow (there was an odd trend in 09 for bands folksing up their sound, eh?). But let’s be honest; we’re here for the lyrics. Wolf’s intricate, unusual wordplay is still in top form here, so no worries there. While some tracks here may lead the listener to view this album as leftovers from 2008’s Alopecia, that quickly becomes a clear untruth, because there are others such as “Into the Shadows of My Embrace” (one of the best songs in Why?’s entire catalog) that give this album a sound all its own. Eskimo Snow is a hauntingly personal and intimate record, and shows one of my favorite groups dropping a lot of the off-the-wall weirdness that puts some people off in favor of a more straighforward, heart-to-heart approach.
Composed entirely with songs written by original lyricist Richey Edwards, who mysteriously vanished off the face of the earth in 1995, Journal for Plague Lovers is a tour de force by a group that’s had varying levels of success and failure since that loss. Not to downplay the triumphs of Nicky Wire, as he’s a fine lyricist in his own right, but the re-emergence of the past voice of the Manics feels like a huge return to form. With a confidant and assured sound, this album sinks its teeth in early and doesn’t ever let go, dragging you along through all the twists and turns of Edwards’ tortured mind. This is what a rock band is supposed to sound like.
Andrew Jackson Jihad, if you’re somehow not aware by now, is undeniably the shit. They’re a folk punk group from Phoenix who make frantically cheerful, impossibly charming acoustic rock, usually with no more than an acoustic guitar and a stand-up bass. With personal, heartfelt lyrics, with topics ranging from politics and the evils of smoking to snobbish, no-talent hipsters, and with song titles like “Love Will Fuck Us Apart”, how can you not fucking love this band? They’re getting bigger and bigger with each release; how long until world take-over?
This thrashy hardcore band from San Francisco make tunes that have no problem ripping your face off and then stapling it back to your head, upside down. With blistering female vocals, pummeling guitars, smothering bass and totally aggressive drumming, this group has been turning a lot of heads the past few months. Their self-titled debut doesn’t have much of a run time (half the tracks don’t even hit the one-minute mark), but it’s a pounding assault from start to finish. Punch is fucking pissed, and they’re going to let you know about it.
Those familiar with mewithoutYou (which in a better world would be everyone) have spent their career making some of the best post-hardcore music of the decade. Over the last couple of albums, however, they’ve gotten progressively calmer and more mature, adding a finer touch to their music, and on it’s all crazy, they ditch the post-hardcore sound entirely and instead make a straight-up acoustic folk album. That’s not to say that there aren’t some rockers to be had here, but for the most part this is a relaxed, thoughtful affair. Lyrically, it might be their best effort yet, and musically, it’s so different from their previous work that it feels odd to even compare it. Some diehard fans of the group have been disappointed by this release; I think those people just can’t handle a little change.
This newly-formed baroque pop duo can’t pick an influence and stick with it. On one song, they might want to be the Beach Boys, on the next, maybe they want to be the B-52’s. The most immediate comparison that comes to my mind is that they remind me of an of Montreal that smokes pot and occasionally rolls ex, instead of doing lines of coke in the bathroom and dropping acid backstage (no, that’s not fair – Kevin Barnes does strike me as a legitimately weird dude, drugs or no drugs). If that doesn’t make any sense (it probably doesn’t), what I mean is that for the most part they’re pretty chilled out, aside from the occasional dance-rock freakout.
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Mouse on the Keys are a math-rocky jazz band from Japan who got together three or four years ago. An Anxious Object is their super-energetic debut full-length, and it’s a doozy, full of frantic instrumentation by all members (but down-key and relaxed in all the right places). This three-piece got an an uncomfortably small amount of attention for this album in the past year, so listen to it, and they’ll almost certainly be one fan stronger.