Thursday, 31 December 2009

My Top Five of 2009

2010 is upon us and like everyone else in the universe, I’m busily preparing my ‘Best Of 2009’ list. It is almost an obligation. Indeed, ‘Best Of’ records lists are usually the method by which one attempts to prove how universally cool they have been during a calendar year. This particular document is no exception, no matter what actual reality might dictate.

I’m going to say that I’ll keep it short and sweet, but will most likely fail. Here are my top #5 records of what proved to be a pretty awesome year in music. Let’s hope 2010 brings similar results.

#5 Passion Pit – Manners

“Let this be our little secret, no one needs to know we’re feeling.”

With a name that sounds more like a carbonated beverage or an X rated straight-to-video number, Passion Pit released one of the most fun records in a year full of fun records. Indeed, how can you listen to the opening synths on ‘Little Secrets’ and not dance like some kind of funky robot? This is a record that translates my ordinary boring existence into one not unlike the opening stages of Super Mario Brothers. Great songs lurk everywhere. “The Reeling”, “Sleepyhead”, and “Eyes like Candles” are all super-duper examples of great songs that do not take themselves too seriously and in many ways I believe that is the essence of what makes a great band great. I do recall someone on twithead saying that they were destined to become 2009s’s MGMT. I don’t believe this hasn’t happened, thank god.

#4 Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

“If you come to find me affable, build a replica for me.”

I was fairly stressed for the majority of 2009. Doing a coursework masters and trying to work full time is difficult. Lucky I had access to records like Andrew Bird’s “Noble Beast” to make writing the multitude of essays I wrote on international politics a bit less stressful. I guess it is the manner in which Bird manages to translate breezy moods and fascinating textures on to the recorded media that makes the world seem less tense. I’m enamoured with the tunes that take you firstly in one direction, and then abruptly change. ‘Not a Robot, But A Ghost’ is one great example of Bird’s tune-smithing, where, after the emergence of darker tones released by pianos, Birds capable voice changes the mood from one of brooding to exultation. The lyrical gymnastics of Bird further reinforces just how finely crafted each song is. Some might say they are too abstract, however it is gratifying to see such effort pored into constructing a single tune. ‘Effigy’ and ‘Tenuousness’ are two examples which demonstrate such ability. This is a great record worthy of your attention.

#3 Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

“Save up all the days, a routine malaise.”

It was close, but I think Grizzly Bear’s great record “Veckatimest” just pips “Noble Beast”. My friend Yasmin had been raving on to me about Grizzly Bear for what seemed like eons. Finally, with “Veckatimest” I found a way in. Why is it worthy the universal praise it has engendered? I believe the reason is found in overlapping moods and sheer scope of musicianship that Droste and co have achieved with this release. Not only are the instrumental and structural ingredients solid throughout, the lyrics, both in content and delivery, are not only complex but soothing and reassuring. Pure beauty lurks everywhere here. For instance, the snappy guitar lines of ‘Cheerleader’ contrast perfectly with the more reflective qualities of songs like ‘Foreground’ with the understated beauty of the piano rounding out what is an excellent release. With “Veckatimest”, Grizzly Bear stamped themselves as probably the most important band of 2009.

#2 Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

“But your so-called life, it is such as waste.”

It seems I just discovered a way to transcend the space-time continuum. You see, I’m back in the early eighties. I’m starring in the Breakfast Club. John Hughes is alive and well. Phoenix delivered in spades this year, attracting a French foreign legion of new fans due to a multitude of danceable, kitschy and catching songs on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. While ‘1901’ and ‘Listzomania’ are the most obvious examples, the more disco-orientated approach of this record produced a horde of great tunes. My philosophy has nearly always been that the best songs are the ones that people can dance, or at least sway, to, an inclination that most probably contributes to my hatred of balladry in all its guises. This is the reason why I really think “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” stands out amongst many of the other records of 2009. It is not boring when you look at it from any angle. Every single tune offers something to the listener. “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” made me feel good in 2009, and that’s why it is at number 2.

#1 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Self Titled

“Between the stacks in the library, not like anyone stopped to see. We came, they went, our bodies spent, amongst the dust and the microfiche.”

It is somewhat funny that such an awesome record like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart self titled debut has gone somewhat unnoticed during 2009 in Australia. While I haven’t been listening to triple-arse that much during the year (nor any radio really), I believe there has been little mention of this stellar group. A shame really, because in my book, they released the best record of 2009. My comments from earlier in the year when I first took a look at the record are still relevant today. Using nothing more than mere instruments, POHBAH accurately evocate a sense of youthful exuberance, something humanist and joyful that would have been outlawed in the Soviet Union. Those drab commies would not have appreciated such jangly fuzzed-up guitar sounds. All the songs are more or less quality, with particular praise reserved for ‘Young Adult Friction’, ‘Everything With You’ and ‘This Love is Fucking Right!’. Have a listen to this performance of Young Adult Friction, this is what you have to look forward to if you happen to be catching the band at any one of their Australian tour dates this coming February.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Close but no cigar
The XX - The XX, The Flaming Lips - Embryonic, Knight School - The Poor and Needy Need to Party, Mastodon – Crack the Skye, Mos Def – The Ecstatic, Dark Was the Night Vol XX, Hunz - Thoughts That Move, Ramona Falls - Intuit, Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

It has been a great year in music. If you come back tomorrow and I’ll share some more thoughts on 2009 a bit more specific to Australian music. I'm also going to talk about a few other little things. In the meantime, here are some other ‘best of’ lists of interest.

Pitchfork Media
I Guess I’m Floating
Mess+Noise [Part 1], [Part 2]
Who the Bloody Hell Are They?

To all that have read the blog over the past 12 months thanks for your support (I know you’re there, for god’s sake speak up!). I’m going to be doing some changes to these pages in the next six months of the year which I hope you will appreciate. Enjoy 2010.


Yasmin said...

You're welcome.

Darragh said...

No worries.

Andrew McMillen said...

You're welcome! (I read, but rarely comment! :)

Darragh said...

Cheers Andrew.

jellway said...

Thank you sir... iTunes now filled with nice new stuff :)

Darragh said...

No worries! Thanks for commenting!