Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Brian's 25 Favorite Albums Of 2009

2009 has been a year of musical revelation to me. My musical tastes have changed dramatically, ignited by a vast overhaul of my musical palette in 2007-2008. As a result this entire year I’ve been obsessively delving into the back catalogs of dozens of independent bands (and even a little bit of hip-hop) instead of my bubbled in underground-metal-or-progressive-only stance. I've also been keeping up with the new music scene, and more and more I’ve realized that 2009 has been one of the best years musically this entire decade. So here I present to you my favorites from this fruitful year. I didn't realize the list would be this huge, and I may be a little crazy to have written this much (I probably won't do this on as big of a scale ever again), but if you even read some of it or perhaps skim it over I will be incredibly appreciative. I hope you obtain some great new music from my choices, and if you'd like to listen to any of it I included a link for one song from each album. If I didn't include something you loved, I either didn't like it all that much or I didn't listen to it. Suggestions are welcome. So I hope you enjoy, and without further ado I present my 25 favorite albums of 2009.

25. Dan Deacon: Bromst
Genre: Electronic

I absolutely had to write about this album. I’ve never heard anything like it, and every time I hear it I’m charmed to the point of submission. Every song is whimsical to the point of ridiculosity, and somehow it manages to make all the pulsating rhythms and insane choruses stick within your head like gum to your shoe. Honestly, I’ve never been able to get into electronic music, but this is just excellent. Perhaps if you’ve been meaning to get into the genre just as I have this is a good stepping stone. Regardless this is an amazing album, and a perfect start to my epically long 2009 list.

Listen to “Build Voice”:

24. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca

Genre: Indie Pop

What is this? I must say this is surely the only album that I might call progressive indie pop. And just saying that makes me feel weird. But there are moments on this album that I would also call genius. The vocals are top notch and the guitars are overly impressive, and the songwriting fluent and inspirational. Music blogs and publications have gone crazy over this album, and I can see why. However, there are some aspects that bring it down and persuade me to place it in the “overrated” column. Plus, I don’t care what anyone says, “Stillness Is The Move” is an annoying song. But then again, perhaps that’s what bothers me about this record, it is sometimes annoyingly indulgent to me. But no matter, those acrobatic acoustic turned electric guitars get me every time. I can’t wait to see what these three guys and three gals produce next.

Listen to “Cannibal Resource”:

23. Do Make Say Think: Other Truths
Genre: Post Rock

In a world of post rockers who love to play quiet-then-loud cookie cutter epics, Do Make Say Think conforms not. Instead, they’d rather play variating mountains of music that proves much more refreshing than their Godspeed You! Black Emperor worshipping counterparts. And this is what makes DMST one of the greatest post rock bands ever. There are four songs on Other Truths, and each one is a word of the band’s name. “Do” is one of the best post rock songs I’ve ever heard, and honestly is vastly superior to the rest of the album. However, “Make”, “Say”, and “Think” are all gems in their own right, and has something special for everybody. So if you’re tired of the same old post rock, give this a listen- it may pleasantly surprise you.

Listen to “Do”:

22. maudlin of the Well: Part the Second
Genre: Progressive Rock

Toby Driver is a musical genius. Somewhat pretentious, yes, but nonetheless a bonafide genius. On Part the Second, Driver directs his band maudlin of the Well in a direction that possibly more resembles his other main project, Kayo Dot. The record is less filled with screams and impossibly chaotic interludes than Bath or even the classic Kayo Dot release, Choirs Of The Eye. Driver employs his experimental mixture of progressive rock, classical, metal, and jazz that he is so wonderful at creating, and it results in something deep and exciting. The record succeeds on so many levels of creativity, and is truly the music of a thinking man. Driver holds our hand and leads us blissfully through wicked time signatures, strange vocal distortions, and the occasional insane solo to the point where you don’t think the album could get any better. And it does, because it’s free. So enjoy the masterpiece that is arguably Driver’s best release since Choirs Of The Eye, all the while having more room in your wallet.

To download or listen to the entire album 100% free:

21. The Decemberists: The Hazards Of Love
Genre: Indie/Folk Rock

For some reason the idea of The Decemberists releasing a rock opera doesn’t seem too far fetched. The band has always been over the top and deliciously epic. The Hazards Of Love pushes the envelope however, and displays an album filled to the brim with twisted storylines, folky offerings, heavy guitar riffs and repeated choruses throughout. It took me awhile initially to appreciate this album. At first it seems kind of forced (and in many ways it is), but after listening a good many times you start to forget all of that and get swept away in all of the melodies that soon become your own. The album when well digested becomes immediately nostalgic, something Colin Meloy would be undoubtedly overjoyed about. All and all, The Hazards Of Love is a successful rock opera, and ranks among The Decemberists' greatest albums.

Listen to: “The Rake’s Song”:

20. Them Crooked Vultures: Them Crooked Vultures
Genre: Hard Rock

Josh Homme. Dave Grohl. John Paul Jones.
Awesome riffs. Awesome vocals. Awesome bass lines. Awesome drums.
That's all you need to know.

Listen to “New Fang”:

19. Japandroids: Post Nothing

Genre: Indie Rock

This is the perfect soundtrack for cruising with your friends on a hot summer day, or for jamming out on what could be the best night of your life. The infectious line, “Oh, we used to dream, Now we worry about dying” was sang with conviction with me and my best bud this summer while driving down South Florida a few times. Personal affection aside, Post Nothing represents a debut album that is lyrically so simple, but so genius in passion simultaneously. The band only consists of two members, and from just gazing at the cover you understand that singer/guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse are best buds dedicated on getting through life the best they possibly can. The duo shouts “Let's get to France, So we can French kiss some French girls” in a way that surpasses immaturity and resides itself in something special and sincere. Post Nothing catches youth in a way that I have rarely seen before (see: Pinkerton), and leaves you yearning for the days you’ve already experienced to be played back in your head once more.

Listen to “Young Hearts Spark Fire”:

18. Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II
Genre: Hip-Hop

I’m no expert on hip-hop, but I know great rappers when I hear them. Luckily, it’s hard to go wrong with any member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Raekwon is easily one of their strongest members, and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II, the sequel to his classic debut solo album, is easily one of their greatest releases ever. Raekwon spits some crazy verbal acrobatics with help from his close associate Ghostface Killah, who kills every line he delivers as usual. While it’s hard for a middle-class suburban white kid to relate to gangster rappers, it’s easy for me to appreciate the production value of “House Of Flying Daggers” and truly feel the soulful “Cold Outside.”
Raekwon is known as “The Chef” among the Wu-Tang and their devoted followers, and with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II he cooks up the best hip-hop album of 2009 with complete style and substance. As the always smooth Method Man declares on “New Wu,” “Tell a friend, it's that symbol again, That W, Coming through, Bust a shot on your block, Give me a suuuuu!” Obviously, the Wu have proven once again that they’re the definition of classic status.

Listen to “House Of Flying Daggers”:

17. Built To Spill: There Is No Enemy

Genre: Indie Rock

Built To Spill is one of my absolute favorite bands. Their hay-day, however, was in the 90’s with their trinity of indie rock classics, There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, Perfect From Now On, and Keep It Like A Secret. This decade, however, has proven less successful for the legends, with a few releases that were great but never reached their previous genius status. However, There Is No Enemy caps off the “aughts” with their best record in 10 years. Doug Martsch leads us through his band’s trademark guitar saturated jam sessions and dreamy melodies better than any youngster with tracks like “Life’s A Dream” and “Hindsight.” The full album product is incredibly satisfying and enjoyable, and close to the quality of their 90’s classics. If you’re an old fan of Built To Spill or just a lover of guitar driven rock, There Is No Enemy will not disappoint.

Listen to “Life’s A Dream”:

16. Converge: Axe To Fall

Genre: Metalcore

Have you ever been punched in the face in the middle of an adrenaline rush? Imagine that blow, sonically pounding on your eardrums, over and over and over. That is the feeling that Converge has given its loyal audience for years, and they bring it again with Axe To Fall. The riffs blaze your insides and Jacob Bannon’s vocals crush your skull. “Dark Horse” rushes in with a pull-off infested riff, and advances into “Reap What You Sow.” Just when you think the pummeling is over, the title track catches you off guard and drags you back into the ring. A drum roll leads you into “Effigy” and finally “Worms Will Feed” gives you some breathing room with a sludgier, low tempo riff. There are actually a few slower tracks on Converge’s newest opus (“Phoenix In Flight” style), and I definitely welcome that with open arms. Call me a wimp, but their previous albums would wear me out at times. All and all, this is Converge’s greatest record since the legendary Jane Doe, and a very fitting entry into the annals of metalcore, where Converge is king.

Listen to “Dark Horse”:

15. Sunset Rubdown: Dragonslayer
Genre: Indie Rock

Dragonslayer has introduced me to Sunset Rubdown with what apparently is their best album so far. The entire record makes me feel like I’m in some medieval kingdom, about to embark on an epic quest. Each track is incredibly solid, and could be a great example to show anyone who might be interested in hearing the band for the first time. “Idiot Heart” is readily accessible and reminds me of an excellent Brit-Pop song, while “Dragon’s Lair” is a rock epic that’s over 10 minutes long and reaches into your heart and pulls out an altogether different emotion.
If you’re a fan of incredibly expansive and adventurous songs, don’t hesitate to listen to this one. You know that 2009 was an incredible year for an album like Dragonslayer to be only #15 on my list.

Listen to “Dragon’s Lair”:

14. Baroness: The Blue Record

Genre: Progressive/Sludge Metal

Jeez, this sounds like Mastodon. Like, way too much like Mastodon. But amazingly enough, in many ways I would say that Baroness’ The Blue Record is better than Mastodon’s Crack The Skye. This record contains some of the best sludgy, progressive metal riffs I’ve ever been worthy to lay ears upon. The longer songs seem to flow from the shorter “intro” songs that precede them, usually building from soft acoustic passages or harmonized electric guitars to bonecrushing riffs. Baroness has created a modern metal classic that has already been recognized in the metal underground as something very special. I discovered this recently, and it is still growing on me. Every listen seems to make the entire album feel more epic, and every riff more brutal and mind-twisting. Mastodon better watch out, Baroness is right on your heels.

Listen to “A Horse Called Golgotha”:

13. Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest

Genre: Indie Pop

Grizzly Bear have found 2009 to be a very successful year. Among overwhelming critical success it debuted at #8 on the US Billboard charts (quite an impressive feat for an independent band), earned a spot on the New Moon soundtrack (which features some awesome artists, believe it or not), and apparently... Jay-Z and Beyonce love them. After listening to this one a good many times and letting it soak in (trust me, it’s a grower), I must say they deserve it. Veckatimest is meticulously crafted, and delivered by Edward Droste like his very own love child. The songwriting is very proficient, and feels fragile and explosive at the same time. “While You Wait For The Others” is definitely one of my favorite songs of the year, and after listening to it once I promise that you’ll be singing it in your head for days.
So for all the attention it receives is Veckatimest overrated? Perhaps slightly. However that doesn’t stop the fact that it is very, very good. And who couldn’t adore these guys with their exploding heads, anyway (see: “Two Weeks” music video)?

Listen to “While You Wait For The Others”:

12. Mount Eerie: Wind’s Poem
Genre: Lo-Fi Folk (with a tinge of Black Metal)

When I heard the hype earlier this year that one of my favorite songwriters, Phil Elevrum, was creating under his moniker Mount Eerie a “black metal” album, I was stoked- but I was even more curious. I speculated long and hard about what a “black metal” album could mean, and finally I made the realization that Elevrum’s music has never been too far off from the darkest genre of music in the first place. His lo-fi tinkerings and experimentation have always displayed the rawness of Burzum or Xasthur, in whom the latter Elevrum has previously cited as an influence. And when I eventually listened to it, I wasn’t disappointed. This record sounds as huge and expansive as it damn well should be. The sound is something that can’t be easily defined, and is impossible to explain if one has never listened to any of Elevrum’s earlier works or any black metal to begin with.
This is truly a grower of a record, one that I would love to sit out in the dark cold woods and experience with some massively awesome headphones (something that I have seriously considered). Is this the best thing that Elevrum has produced since 2001 with the Microphones’ The Glow Pt. 2 (one of my absolute favorite records of the entire decade)? In my opinion, it is. And with more time, it could easily be higher on this list.

Listen to “The Mouth Of The Sky”:

11. Brand New: Daisy
Genre: Alternative Rock

What has gotten into Jesse Lacey? I always knew he was a dark dude, but this is just nuts. The raw aggression that was put into this album is surprising, and at times frightening. All in all, Daisy with the sum of its honest brutality has served up the greatest surprise for me of 2009.
Brand New has always changed with each album. Your Favorite Weapon was purely pop punk, Deja Entendu was alternative rock fueled by pop punk influences, and The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me was a masterpiece of music that was influenced by alternative, indie rock, and many other genres. Daisy is something altogether different. While every one of their albums before featured a progression of seriousness (and in my opinion, quality) from one record to the next, Daisy throws all that to the wind and drags the sound of Brand New back to Stone Age like rawness. Jesse Lacey’s screams are ear splitting and his melodies are haunting- it all seems so bursting at the seams.
So was this record a good move for them? It took me awhile to figure out it out in my head, but truthfully, it was perfect. Sure, it’s not as good as Devil And God, but the only place they could go production wise was down. Brand New had explored their fun side. Brand New had explored their serious side. Now it was time for them to explore their dark psyche, unashamed and unedited. It is everything Jesse Lacey had built himself up to be, and he tore it down to show all of us. Vicariously, I am very happy about that.

Listen to “At The Bottom”:

10. Noah And The Whale: The First Days Of Spring
Genre: Indie Folk

This album may be titled The First Days Of Spring, but it’s much better listened to in the winter. In fact, I don’t know if I would have liked it as much as I do now if I hadn’t first listened to it on a cold November day.
This album was created when Noah And The Whale’s lead songwriter, Charlie Fink, and his girlfriend Laura Marling (who was also in the band) broke up. Because of this, the bands sound changed completely following their upbeat debut album Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down. They adopted a much richer folk tone, and of course there was an absence of female vocals. And wow, what an improvement this saddening occasion produced. I actually dislike their first album a good deal, but this record is just incredible. Fink’s deep throated vocals bellow out his sorrows and regrets, and his willfulness to move on. Violin strings radiate throughout and give the songs great emotional depth. Even a full-on choir leads the Christmas-like tune “Love Of An Orchestra.” Each song is an exercise in heartbreak, and Fink ends his tale of lost love by repeating “I love with my heart, And I hold it in my hands, But you know, my hearts not yours.”
I don’t know if it’s possible to release a sad album that’s perfect to listen to during Christmas, but Noah And The Whale have created one that’s the closest that you could possibly get. This record is a must listen, especially if you are recovering from a harsh break up. Try putting it on your iPod while sitting outside in the foggy cold, hot chocolate in one hand and tissue in the other. It may just give you one of the greatest musical experiences of your life.

Listen to “Blue Skies”:

9. Dinosaur Jr.: Farm
Genre: Alternative Rock

Before this, I had never immersed myself in the world of J Mascis. And that is exactly why this album hit me so hard. Because I am someone who plays guitar and can appreciate anyone who tears up the fretboard, Mascis’ genius finger acrobatics on his ear searing solos and gut ripping riffs impressed me to no end. The solid songwriting hypnotized me even more, and his droning, sometimes off-key vocals touched me with an authenticity that I haven’t heard many times before. Extended solos lasting around 4 minutes is a rarity in indie rock, and Dinosaur Jr. is one of the only bands that could possibly get away with it. And who in the world couldn't believe in the honesty of each passionate bend Mascis displays?
Yes, Farm introduced me to these rock legends and I’m not afraid to admit it. The act of releasing another absolutely amazing record 20 years after writing an absolute classic (see: You’re Living All Over Me) is nothing short of amazing. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph keep truckin’ in their 40’s and for that I salute them. Here’s to another 20 years of classic riffs and licks.

Listen to “I Don’t Wanna Go There”:

8. Mono: Hymn To The Immortal Wind

Genre: Post Rock

This is one of the most beautiful post rock records I’ve ever heard. Mono may not be unique because of their use of the over-used “quiet and then loud” method that post rock has been so persecuted for recently, but they are quite unique at how well they execute it. They are absolutely transcendent on this album, creating sonic images that correspond to the mental images you create from the song titles. There seem to be reoccurring themes of snow, water, air, and light that mend together flawlessly. The silence between the songs sometimes speak more than the actual instruments. And that’s what the band strove to create in the first place, isn’t it? It’s a hymn to the silent, immortal wind that flows through all of us. It takes us all up, it brings us all down, it fills our lungs and finally we die and bathe in its everlasting light. Hymn To The Immortal Wind is spiritual, uplifting, special, and the best post rock album of 2009.

Listen to “Everlasting Light”:

7. Animal Collective: Fall Be Kind
Genre: Neo-Psychedelic

I normally wouldn’t include EPs on a list like this, but this one is just absolutely excellent. This 27 minute gem actually includes my absolute favorite song of the year, “What Would I Want, Sky?” which features the first cleared Grateful Dead sample ever. Its tricky 7/8ths time beat makes you want to dance but throws you off into oblivion if you try, and the heavily layered vocal chants are some of the most infections sounds I’ve ever heard. This EP includes a couple of the band’s older songs, but hopefully it displays the future direction of the band itself. This record was released less than a year after Animal Collective’s landmark LP, Merriweather Post Pavilion (which you’ll see later on in this list), but in some ways this work makes me even more excited than that album did.
Two excellent pieces of music in one year is unheard of in the modern music industry, and it just goes to show how amazing Animal Collective really are by pulling it off.

Listen to “What Would I Want? Sky”:

6. Mastodon: Crack The Skye
Genre: Progressive Metal

On this new record, Mastodon shed whatever sludge tag they had left and go almost completely into pure progressive metal. However, they maintain most of everything that made them great: the insane story lines, the curious time signatures, the noodly riffs, and the epic songs. But I’ve noticed that much of their dirty aggressiveness they had in the Leviathan era has been traded for a new psychedelic, even more expansive sound. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I preferred the mix between the two styles.
Crack The Skye more than delivers as an amazing album however. Brent Hines and Troy Sanders use their grating “clean” vocals more than ever to swoon throughout each sprawling chapter in this Nostradamus inspired tale. “The Last Baron” is the climactic 13 minute epic album closer with several movements and impressive progressive guitar noodles. This is one of the best songs of the year, and one of my favorite Mastodon songs period.
If you get a chance to see these guys live, do it. When I witnessed their glory a month ago, they played this entire album from cover to cover. The raw energy that shows on this record definitely translates to a live setting, and shows that Mastodon is a true classic metal band that will be remembered as one of the best of 2000's.

Listen to “Divinations”:

5. Cymbals Eat Guitars: Why There Are Mountains

Genre: Indie Rock

There are many bands that come to mind when listening to Cymbals Eat Guitar’s debut album, Why There Are Mountains. Pavement, Built To Spill, Modest Mouse and more may buzz by your head as definite influences. But unlike many artists who take a style and try their best to create an imitation, Cymbals Eat Guitars have crafted an album that uses their influences but creates a style all their own.
The songs seem without structure, weaving from movement to movement with the apathy of Joseph D’Agostino’s crooning voice. The slow parts have an original quality of sloppiness but with so much focus, bursting at the edges with shoegaze influenced saturations. The intense sections feature D’Agostino’s frantic screams and guitar solos that bring to mind a cleaner J Mascis. The climaxes are some of the best in indie rock that I’ve ever heard, and bring a ton of life to this record where there was already enough to go around in the first place.
The collective vibrancy of youth in this band have delivered my favorite debut album of the year. I’m going to see them in March and I can’t wait. I also can’t wait to see what they do next in their undoubtedly bright future.

Listen to “Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)”:

4. Between The Buried And Me: The Great Misdirect
Genre: Progressive Metal

I have a confession to make: I am a huge BTBAM fanboy. Colors was possibly my favorite album of 2007, and every other studio album of theirs I consider musical mastery. This new record adds to the ridiculousness that Colors was so wonderful at generating, and even adds to its immense technicality. But does that makes it a better album to me? Unfortunately no, The Great Misdirect just doesn’t have that emotional connection I feel with Colors. I can't even explain it all that well. The songwriting seems less inspired, and the ending of the record seems to just fade out unlike the glorious "White Walls" off of Colors. However, this record is still beyond incredible, and it is indeed unfair to try and compare it to their classic previous album.
BTBAM continues in 2009 with their signature style that is filled with an abundance of influences. “Fossil Genera...” includes another blatant (-ly awesome) rip-off of Mr. Bungle (just like that one crazy part in “Sun Of Nothing”), and progresses into some awesome sing-a-long chants at the end. “Swim To The Moon” ends the album in style (Almost 18 whole minutes of style to be exact) with riff after riff and solo after solo (drums included). This album even includes a song with no harsh vocals (and pulls it off!) as shown in “Desert Of A Song.” The record feels as if Dream Theater, Mr. Bungle and Dillinger Escape Plan had one awesome baby together.
Thoroughly enjoyable and jaw-droppingly impressive, Between The Buried and Me have delivered another great album with increased musicianship and epicness (amazingly enough). Now, I just can’t wait for the next one.

Listen to “Obfuscation”:

3. The Antlers: Hospice
Genre: Indie Rock

Their are some albums that just crush the heart. Bon Iver did it to me in 2008, and now The Antlers are trying their damnedest to do it to me in 2009. Well, I’d have to say that it has worked. Much like Justin Vernon’s isolated journey into his cabin on For Emma, Forever Ago, Peter Silberman reportedly holed himself up in his apartment for 2 years to write this sickeningly sad tale of a man losing his loved one to bone cancer. The events are apparently semi-biographical (metaphorically or not), which adds even more emotion to his already quivering, overflowing voice.
Additionally, the music itself is actually as deep as the lyrics. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to label this record as “shoegaze.” Effects ridden and epic as hell, Hospice rises and falls and wavers enough to make you bury your head in your pillow in both amazement and sadness. I would say that I am more emotionally connected to this album more than any other this year, and you may feel the same way if you’ve ever had a loved one die. Everyone enjoy, and let yourself get more flustered than your mom after Steel Magnolias.

Listen to “Two”:

2. The Flaming Lips: Embryonic

Genre: Neo-Psychadelic

This is possibly my favorite Flaming Lips album. And I don’t use that lightly, I am in love with Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and The Soft Bulletin, but this album is radically different from those. Wayne Coyne here replaces his weird-but-still-accessible tunes with something that sounds like it came out of the mind of Syd Barrett if he was still alive and well. The funny part about this album is that I don’t find one song that sticks out head and shoulders above all the others. The best thing this album does is flow together as a hugely cohesive whole. 70 minutes of bass grooves that make your mind swim, guitar tones that pierce your skull, drum rolls that rattle your teeth, and the voice of Wayne Coyne that soothes your heart.
It’s a ton to take in at first, but it’s well worth the repeated listens. Many may not even begin to understand why I may pick this ahead of their classics, but to me it’s an instant classic. It is extremely impressive to me that The Flaming Lips, throughout all their years of crafting music, still have it in them to create an album that lives up to a back catalog of what many consider to be among the best of the entire 1990’s and the early 21st century. To me, The Flaming Lips have given the greatest bid to be known as the Pink Floyd of the modern day, and what better way to have shown this by releasing Embryonic.

Listen to “Silver Trembling Hands”:

1. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Genre: Neo-Psychedelic

Big surprise, right? A rather predictable #1 pick, but this record truly deserves it. This year Animal Collective have released their attempt at a “pop” record, which indeed may be a confusing term at first to many who have never lent an ear to this experimental psychedelic powerhouse. But beyond all of the heavily layered samples, strange vocal patterns and reverb are some incredibly catchy beats and unforgettable choruses. “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes” are two of the most irresistible sing-a-longs of the decade, and will have you grinning no matter what you’re going through.
The warm sounds will send nostalgic shivers down your spine and make you remember humid summer fields of the past. Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox, David “Avey Tare” Portner, and Brian “Geologist” Weitz have fully succeeded in their goal of making a record that is an “amazing outdoor listening experience” by molding their impossibly weird songwriting formula into something somewhat accessible. One could say that this is the Pet Sounds of the decade, it draws upon Brian Wilson’s pioneering vocal harmonies and his warm summer demeanor. While this record will not be remembered to be quite as legendary as the Beach Boy’s incredible magnum opus, I think it is a beautifully rendered and erratically updated 2009 tribute, somewhat realized by the band or otherwise. So indeed, this is a “pop” record. But make no mistake fans of Feels or Strawberry Jam, the meditated experimentation and “freak folk” that made Animal Collective an indie legend is preserved in tact, as portrayed by the gorgeous and dreamy “In The Flowers” or the sprawling “No More Running.” Both fans that have been around since Here Comes The Indian and virgin ears never before touched by AC should get a treat out of this one.
To tell the truth, because this was released in January I got sort of burnt out listening to this by close to the end of 2009. But after a couple months of avoiding it I had to come back to it and realize its genius once again. Frantic, beautiful, tribal, and epic, Merriweather Post Pavilion erects a crown jewel onto the end of their first decade of music with arguably their best album. I think it’s more than easy to say that this will cement AC as one of the most legendary independent bands of all time, and in my opinion, hands down one of the best bands of the decade.

Listen to “Summertime Clothes”:

Honorable Mentions:
Modest Mouse - No One's First and You're Next EP
Megadeth - Endgame
Isis - Wavering Radiant
mewithoutYou - It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright!
RX Bandits - Mandala
fun. - Aim And Ignite
The Mountain Goats - The Life Of The World To Come
Mew - No More Stories / Are Told Today / I'm Sorry / They Washed Away // No More Stories / The World Is Grey / I'm Tired / Let's Wash Away
The Mars Volta - Octahedron
Volcano Choir - Unmap
DOOM - Born Like This
Mos Def - The Ecstatic

Saturday, September 5, 2009

First Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven!

There are an infinite amount of different platforms that art can be projected onto. A piece of paper, a wall, a movie screen, even a prop from the outhouse behind Jerry's barbecue can all be used to translate what we feel as humans into a physical form. Each person, however, has their own preferred platform or mode of understanding that best speaks to them. To me, the ears best interpret the complexities of the human condition. When I experience the sonic rapture of music in the right environment, it expands and contracts, bends and pulls, drowns and transcends like no other kind of art.
The art form of music can sometimes be brief, and at other times tedious. And this, of course, is for good reason. The act of a human soul spilling its vibrant contents onto a physical medium is no easy task, and it is one that can be deluded quite quickly and easily. But one thing is for sure: no matter how simple or sprawling, music is meant to be digested. To make the matter go down easier, we mainly digest these sonic bites in the form of albums.

In many ways digesting an album can be compared to digesting a book. Many books can be judged by the cover: silly artwork, trendy font, a terrible name and not much to fill the pages. Others only require one or two attempts to get the full effect, but this isn't to say that many of these opuses have any less value. But a few select albums, like a few select books, are meant to be fully absorbed, taken piece by piece, and set off into our consciousnesses.
One of these such albums is Godspeed You! Black Emperor's 2000 release, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven.

You may be wondering why I required such an introduction for one piece of music. I can assure you that Antennas To Heaven deserves every bit of it to help understand the level of emotion and intellect that this album can reach. The instrumental nine piece (as of 2000) post-rock band from Quebec seemed to have completed its magnum opus in a time period just before the world started changing forever. Its previous efforts, F#A#oo and Slow Riot For Zero Kanada were splattered all over with anarchy and political discourse. But this one seems to let go of that and focus on the spiritual realm. The results, as you can believe, are breathtaking.

This is the kind of album that forces you to listen dozens of times to get its full effect. On your first listen you might understand the general gist of it, just as you would only understand the skeletal points of a textbook after only reading an assigned chapter once. But as you listen and experience different emotions, scenery, and events in your life, you begin to piece together the puzzle that is this work of art. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. You begin to anticipate the large explosions of distorted tremolo picked guitars and crashing cymbals. You mix all these unseen notes with invisible and possibly unrealized images.

Until finally, it clicks.

The greatest feeling in the entire world is at least achieved and you fully possess a piece of music that is your own, one that has become a part of your life and a part of your surroundings. One that will make you shiver, ecstatic and saddened all at the same time.
But before you attempt this accomplishment, consider the length. Antennas To Heaven is a two disc record, with the run time almost reaching an hour and a half. At times, the music can drag on, and one has to be in the correct mood to fully absorb the emotions that beg to be portrayed. Shockingly still, the record only contains four tracks, and each track title besides the final one is comprised of a single word and a single syllable.

Storm starts off the album sympathetically, with simple clean notes strung together to create a longing melody that seems to call for something. Trumpets begin droning along and quivering violins start to carry the mood until drums finally thunder and the guitars explode, completing a medley that resembles a 21st century rain dance.
begins with a manic preacher explaining how to reach "the most high god," all while violins lift his message to supernatural standards. Later the song hits one of the biggest "musical orgasms" of the entire record with its congestion of notes reaching faster tempos swirling together until they combust.
famously starts off with an old man talking about the good old days. He gives his heartbreaking revelation of how the spirits of his past now in the present "don't sleep anymore on the beach." This transitions into perhaps the most diverse and entertaining song on the record, with each movement growing more epic and louder until the final piece ends on a steady drum beat, dragging the rest of the decaying song behind it.
Antennas To Heaven
ends the album perfectly with possibly the most spiritual sounds that have ever passed into my ears. The closing few minutes always piece together for me the narrative of a desperate world crying out to the heavens for help. Drearily the electronic call of the "powers that be" deliver in response their devastating, all knowing answer to its helpless servants.

As the album comes to a close you may realize one of the greatest advantages about this gigantic piece of music: All the sprawling landscapes, roaring crescendos, deafening explosions and withering conclusions leave the entire records interpretation up to you, handing you 4 song titles (or 6 words) to help guide you. The records completed form finally represents the heart of what art is in its final stage: A catalyst to interpret what sorts of emotions the artist was trying to convey. This album allows more of a free range than almost any recording I have ever listened to, and therefore gives an infinitely more interactive and thought provoking experience.

The relevance of this monumental record in the genre that is known as post-rock is unparalleled, and its classic status is denied by no one that understands the genre completely. Although this is a review, I failed to mention any criticisms besides perhaps its massive listening curve and the need to be in the mood to listen to hour and a half of music. However, this isn't a fault but rather a positive aspect because of the satisfaction that comes with it. To find many faults with this album, I believe you would have to either have a short attention span, or a misunderstanding of what the work represents. I would say this album is not for everyone at first glance, but I believe with an open mind everyone can come to appreciate its absolute beauty. You also may notice the impressive score. I assure you, only a few other albums would receive a perfect 10.0/10.0 from me, and I thought I would start this blog off with one of them. By christening my blog Antennas To Heaven, I state my objective to observe our greatest efforts through music to feel that we have transcended to something beyond who we physically are.

Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
not only gives part of its name to the title of my new blog, but it also wins the honor of my favorite album from the new millennium. As the "aughts" come to a close, we should all take the time to absorb (or further enjoy) one of the richest, fullest experiences that has been put down to a listenable format in our latest decade. Just remember to give this more than one, two, three, even eight chances to fully appreciate. Trust me, it's worth the effort.


Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven! (2000)