It seems that 2009 is the year when I shifted my attention back to rock and pop music. Dubstep still holds my attention but not to the extent that it did back in 2006 when it took over my brain. Here are the things I enjoyed most in 2009, in no particular order.
The XX — XX
Thanks to my friend, Tony, who first mentioned this band to me. The XX are a young bunch who make lean pop music consisting of boy/girl vocals, hand-played drum machines and perfectly placed guitar lines. This album quickly became a habit.
The XX — Islands:
Mos Def — The Ecstatic
Mos Def has never quite delivered a studio album to match his great cameos and collaborations. There are no radio-worthy hits here, but this is his most consistently interesting album in years. The combo of Mos Def with Madlib is very very satisfying.
Mos Def — Auditorium ft. Slick Rick:
King Midas Sound — Waiting for You
At the meeting point of dubstep and Lovers Rock this full-length from King Midas Sound expands on the ideas put forth on their handful of singles. Atmospheric yet heavy. The weight of the bass lends physicality to each track, anchoring down the gently floating falsetto.
King Midas Sound — Cool Out:
Tim Hecker — An Imaginary Country
Masterful ambient drone texture explorations. Perfect balance of gentle and abrasive sonic timbres. This work manages to seem empty and emotional simultaneously.
Tim Hecker — The Inner Shore:
Tortoise — Beacons of Ancestorship
“Post-rock” stalwarts Tortoise expanded their sound once again while retaining their core strength of polyrhythmic elasticity. Tortoise came fuzzier in 2009.
Tortoise — High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In:
The Flaming Lips — Embryonic
The Flaming Lips also came fuzzier in 2009. Gritty, overdriven drum sounds gave a low rent haze to the album. Sounding almost like a rehearsal tape sometimes, Embryonic reminded me of Six Finger Satellite circa Severe Exposure and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew with a dash of Can’s Tago Mago or early Pink Floyd. But buried in the fuzz is Wayne Coyne’s dreamy earnestness which floats up out of the muck to hook your heart and keep you afloat.
The Flaming Lips — The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine:
Father Divine — Requiem for Intellect
Here’s what I wrote in my amazon review:
Disclosure: I played in a band with Joe Ferrara from 1992–1995.
My friendship with the singer/songwriter/creative force behind Father Divine may indicate potential bias to some, but I think the association is far enough in the past to give me some critical distance.
The music of Requiem for Intellect is a significant step forward from Great American Pastime. While still stylistically recognizable as the same musical mind at work, there is added textural and rhythmic density in the new music. And it gets heavy when it needs to.
This is music informed by everything from Big Black to Dazzlingkillmen to 90s downtown NYC jazz skronk. And yet, melody still stands front-and-center. Intelligent, unpredictable, unconventional, challenging. But these are SONGS.
The album is sonically fantastic, as well. The guitar tones are especially noteworthy. I bought the mp3s so I am missing out on some fidelity but there is a great level of detail to the production and mixing that really lends the songs depth and layers without getting in the way.
Father Divine — Idyll for a Botched Frontier:
Shlomo — Shlomoshun
Yes, yet another apple fallen from the Dilla tree… reminds me of Flying Lotus, Samiyam, Ras G, etc. but I went back to this more than I went back to Nosaj Thing’s album. Not groundbreaking, I’ll admit, but I like the songs.
Shlomo — Ghosts:
Grizzly Bear — Veckatimest
I didn’t pay much attention to this band before this year, but my ears have been opened. Lush arrangements, interesting vocal harmonies, unusual chord changes… this is like pop music played by a progressive rock band. Slightly psychedelic at times, but decidedly poppy always. Quite enjoyable.
Grizzly Bear — Two Weeks:
Mika Vainio — Vandal
Itchy pounding electronics from Mika Vainio. More akin to Pan Sonic than to his other solo releases.
Mika Vainio — Teutons:
5: 5 Years of Hyperdub
A five year retrospective release from Kode9’s Hyperdub label. This double album contains one album of past releases and one album of new material. A new track from Burial is a highlight, but there is great music across the whole collection.
Burial — Fostercare:
Wiley — Race Against Time
“The most unusual star on the planet…” continues to hold my fascination. I am not very fond of the clubby songs, but a few of these tracks are jawdroppers for their sheer lyrical density.
Wiley — Off the Radar:
The Niyat — Raxus Prime
Snap — Snappage Volume 1
Two mixtapes from Houston-based rappers. Snap is a part of The Niyat, so there is some overlap of material. There is some outstanding stuff in here that warrants further exploration.
Download Raxus Prime
Download Snappage Volume 1
The Niyat — Aintcha: