Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Top 10 Albums of the Year (thus far)

Obviously taste is subjective, but that doesn't mean that I can't ram my opinions down other people's throats...

2009 has been a pretty good year for music so far and will hopefully continue this trend. As we're, essentially, at the half way point of the year, I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and actually update this blog (I've been meaning to for a while) as well as fill you in with what I've found enjoyable so far in this year of music. Maybe one day I'll do a blog post that isn't centred around music...

10. Faust - C'est Com... Com... Compliqué

This was my first venture into German band Faust's distinctive Kraut-rock style and I was impressed. These guys have been around for a long time and it's good to see they've still got some creative juices flowing. C'est Com... Com... Compliqué is a minimalistic, percussion heavy album that the listener will no doubt find unique. Well worth a listen

9. Moderat - Moderat

Another album recommeded to me by Scott (who, no doubt will be feeling a little smug right now). Moderat is, pretty much, the only electronica/IDM album I've picked up from this year and has certainly set a high benchmark for any others that I look into. Quite similar to Burial, but I think they're a little better. This album has some definite highlights and one of the best closer tracks of the year. Great stuff.

8. Church of Misery - Houses of the Unholy

For a long time, I didn't think Japanese music was much more than J-Pop and Visual Kei. Oh, how wrong I was. This year, I've become hooked on such bands as Boris, Mono and maybe even Merzbow. Church of Misery is an excellent example on how a Japanese band can hold its own in a genre that one wouldn't expect it to be able to. Church of Misery is a doom/stoner metal band (you wouldn't pick it from the album cover) and, whilst my doom expertise is very much minimal, I can tell you they've done a good job with this album. The idea of basing most of their songs on famous serial killers is a little off-putting and maybe a little gimmicky, but there's definite substance behind the premise. To put it simply, it rocks.

7. Mokira - Persona

A late addition to my list (I, quite literally, only got this album yesterday), but a welcome one. Okay, so I lied when I said Moderat was my only IDM excursion of the year, but Moderat and Persona are very different albums. Persona is very much a more ambient album that may even border on drone at times. While I can't give you a full retrospective review of this album due to its recent arrival, I can say that it looks very promising and I'm sure I'll get more enjoyment out of it yet.

6. Amesoeurs - Amesoeurs

Probably the strangest and most sporadic album that is going to come out this year. Amesoeurs is an album that changes its style from track to track. And I don't mean subtle changes in style or similar, I literally mean that one track will be a soft shoegaze type of track, with the next being full on black metal. I'm still not sure how to define this album, though it's main 3 genres it sticks to are shoegaze, post-punk and black metal. It's not surprising that the band broke up after only making this one full LP, they just didn't know what direction they should go in. Don't let the continual mood shift deter you though, all styles are done very well and this album serves as an excellent homage to this versatile, if short lived, band.

5. Sunn O))) - Monoliths & Dimensions

This could have so easily have been my #4, but, for whatever reason, it stays at 5. Sunn (as well as drone in general) are something that I've only gotten into very recently and I'm still in the high of discovering this new territory. Monoliths & Dimensions is, arguably, Sunn's most varied and intricate work yet. Agartha, the album's opener, punches you in the face and then slowly descends into a very brooding chant. Big Church and Hunting & Gathering expand on this and, finally, Alice wraps up the piece in, what is quite possibly for the first time in Sunn's career, a quite beautiful trombone solo. More than 20 people made guest appearances on this record and the variety comes through. In a time of fast paced consumerism and economic uncertainty, it's refreshing to listen to an album that takes its time and makes you listen to everything that's going on. This is an album from a duo that clearly know what they're doing and have refined their art down to a science, highly recommended.

4. ISIS - Wavering Radiant

Isis are one of my favourite bands and their latest offering doesn't disappoint. I don't have In the Absense of Truth, the predecessor to this (the consensus being it's their worst), but apparently Wavering Radiant expands upon new sounds explored in ITAOT. What this meant was that, upon first listen, Wavering Radiant sounded quite different to the Isis that I knew and loved from Oceanic, Panopticon etc. But, in many ways, it was a joy to explore this new territory with a band who I can trust and, as expected, it payed off. If you're new to Isis, I'd probably suggest to start with this record, it's easy to get into and gives the listener an excellent taste of the grand soundscapes Isis are capable of.

3. Mastodon - Crack the Skye

crack_skye_small.jpg image by terminus_000

I've just discussed how Wavering Radiant took Isis into a different place musically, Crack the Skye takes Mastodon to another musical dimension. As Mastodon have matured, their albums have slowly departed from the sludge/extreme sound that encompassed Remission, taking their music to a more progressive metal territory. Crack the Skye is the peak of this; it's practically a prog rock album. The whole band is on top form, delivering great riffs/drums/base lines and even good singing. While Blood Mountain was a great record, this blows it out of the water. With an underlying story of astral projection and, for whatever reason, famous Russian Rasputin, Crack the Skye takes you on a erethreal and hallucinogenic ride, one that you'll definitely want to be a part of.

2. MONO - Hymn to the Immortal Wind

As I explained while discussing Church of Misery, Mono are a Japanese band who I'm very glad exist. Their 2006 album You Are There was an amazing record and Mono's 2009 offering expands on this, amping it up ten-fold. Some may find the departure from You Are There's minimalism a little overbearing (I did initially), this is a fully fledged orchestral soundtrack. While previous Mono work felt like each song was telling a story, Hymn to the Immortal Wind tells a story spread out over the entire album, and it is indeed a very epic story. This would have been further down my list (though definitely still in my top 10) if something didn't happen in my life a few weeks ago. Someone I knew (admittedly not well, but well enough) comitted suicide, something that shocked me quite hard; as the cliche goes, it's always those who you don't expect. Anyway, upon learning of this, the first album I listened to was this record by Mono. It was the perfect thing to listen to as it lead me through emotions of sadness, beauty, but finally: hope. I'm indebted to Mono for helping me through such a tough time, which really shows what the power of music can be capable of in this world.

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

If you told me that this would be my pick for album of the year 5 or 6 months ago, I would have kindly slapped you across the face and probably insulted your mother. When this album was released all the way back in January, everyone was saying how brilliant it was (by everyone I mean the hipster community lead by their hipster overlord, Pitchfork, who, for the record, I usually ignore), so I decided to give it a shot. First listens were bad, very bad. It was unlike anything I'd heard or even considered as music before, but not in a good way. After 3 or 4 listens I pretty much labelled this album as 'disappointing' and moved on. Fast forward a good 2 or so months down the track, when, whilst watching late night Rage (an Australian music video show), the video for My Girls comes on. I immediately make a few comments about how not very good this song or the album it comes from is; but, as the song progresses, so does my attitude. All of the sudden, it actually starts to sound...good, very good. I'm a little perplexed by this and decide to go back to Merriweather and give it another listen, and holy shit, it's amazing! Okay, I admit it took more than just one listen to change my view so rapidly, but my opinion did a complete 180. What this album is, to me, is a celebration of sound, all the nuances and undertones in each track come together to create music that's a joy to listen to. It also helps that Merriweather Post Pavillion has the greatest opening track, if not best song, of the year In the Flowers. Animal Collective, I am your fan.

Yes, in a list that's dominated by metal, it's a little strange to have an experimental pop record top my list, but I've yet to find a record that has come close to challenging its crown (not to say no's 2-10 aren't great, but MPP is really in a tier of its own right now). But the year is not over yet and there's still plenty of promising releases to come. Stay tuned for my top 10 of the whole year post when the time comes.

Albums that, with regrets, didn't quite make the list:
Minsk - With Echoes In The Movement Of Stone
Sylvian Chauveau - Touching Down Lightly

1 comment:

  1. Bah, for some reason the text size is jumping around sporadically. I have no idea why, ignore it.