Thursday, January 19, 2012
Best Music of 2009: Perspective in Retrospect
(*) Or a week and two years, whatever. I began this on January 7 of 2010, abandoned it (and the blog in general) when things got a bit wonky for me, and honestly forgot it even existed until a couple months ago. It was roughly one third done at the time, and I've tried to complete it the way I would have then, but at the end I'll have some things to say about how two years have affected it. Also, I completely lied about the "less wordy" thing. Honestly, I am encouraging mass skimming of this article, as it's way too long and indulgent. So, do what you always do, but enjoy it less (more?) because of my consent.
First, an honorable mention/explanation of their absence for Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion and Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest. In the case of Animal Collective, I just haven't had it very long (maybe a month). I know, I know, Pitchfork (and just about everyone else) proclaimed their undying love way back in January, but previous albums hadn't done it for me, so I passed. Then, I found it for cheap and discovered it was actually pretty good. "My Girls" and "Summertime Clothes" are both on the list of best songs I've heard this year, and the whole album has a sunny, infectious feel to it that I rather enjoy. On the other hand, in the eight or nine times I've listened to it all the way through, it all seems to blend together in such a way that I forget which songs were which, and that's a problem. Maybe it would have ranked if I had it the whole year, maybe not, but I have both enthusiasm and reservations so far.
Veckatimest definitely does not suffer from the problem of sounding too similar, and it also has two songs that feel like potential classics, "Two Weeks" and "While You Wait for the Others." In fact, I think I like a little more than half of it. My major concern with it is basically the same as the one I mentioned in regard to TV on the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain in my best of the decade list: admiration over enjoyment. And one amazing song that makes the others more frustrating for their lack of accessibility. The odd song structures and arrangements cut both ways; when they work, it can be genius, but when they don't it just sounds like you're trying too hard. Oh, and if you have a song on your album that I actively hate (I'm looking at you here, "Dory"), you are hurting your chances of being on my prestigious list. I'm sure once I finally see them live I'll be reborn, but for now I'll leave my Grizzly Bear Kool-Aid on the kitchen counter and listen to something that I don't feel like skipping through.
Anyway, on to my twelve favorite albums of last year:
Yes, it's only an EP, and yes, it's made up of eight tracks that were released as singles and then later compiled for this, but it's my favorite Modest Mouse since The Moon and Antarctica. I really don't think there's a weak song, with "Satellite Skin," "Guilty Cocker Spaniels," "The Whale Song" and "History Sticks to Your Feet" being especially awesome, and that's a huge change from how I've felt about most previous Modest Mouse efforts. Typically, there are as many as sixteen tracks per album, and that results in a lot of filler. Maybe what this really says is that Isaac Brock and company are better off just writing a couple songs at a time and then collecting them all once they've done enough. In any case, this certainly deserved to be mentioned, even at the back.
If there's one thing you learned about me from my decade list, it's that I love anything that does classic rock well. Blues-rock works too, and that's where this bunch fits in. Lead singer Erika Wennerstrom has a very distinctive drawl, and it can take some getting used to, but I love it. This album's biggest problem is how great the first song is, making it hard to get past. "The Mountain" starts with just a distorted strum for a few measures, before kicking in with a haunting slide guitar that floats behind Wennerstrom's voice during the verses before essentially acting as vocalist for the choruses. It's a beautiful yet rocking song, and the first time I heard the album I listened to it three times before getting to track 2. There's plenty more to love though, with ragers like "Early in the Morning" and songs that tweak the format a little, like "Wide Awake." Definitely my favorite surprise of the year.
When this came out, I was really excited, raving about it perhaps more than it deserves. As the year has gone on, I've become less enamored of it, but not so much that it doesn't deserve a spot. By my reckoning, a somewhat disappointing album by Wilco is still better than most other things. I discussed a lot of the criticism in the previous review, but I think my biggest problem with it is how top heavy it is. Earlier, I defended the slower songs in the back half, but their shine has worn off considerably over time. However, the good stuff is still pretty great, especially tracks 3-6. Yes, you could hear the Feist-guesting "You and I" any time you walked into a Starbucks, but it's still a lovely song, and "One Wing," "Bull Black Nova" and especially "You Never Know" are some of the band's finest rockers from any album. Maybe more time will dampen my feelings for it even further, but I still like it enough to put it here.