I spent a few hours this lazy Sunday afternoon buying and backing up some of my favorite new music. In no particular order:
1. Black Kids: Partie Traumatic: I considered Black Kids’s debut EP, which, for a while there, you could download for free on their MySpace page, as one of my favorite albums of 2008. Partie Traumatic is their first actual full-length album, featuring a few re-toolings of songs from their EP. Spin Magazine says:
While Democrats debated whether an African American or a woman should be our next president, Black Kids became the most buzzed-about new band since Vampire Weekend. They resembled the future but sounded like a past only plugged-in Anglophiles could’ve fully inhabited. But now, with confident new songs like “Listen to Your Body Tonight,” they seize the moment by blasting past underground insularity: Their self- assured hooks position the group as winners no matter how hard their leader loses in love. Kissing goodbye to the obsolete racial and gender roles that pop, hip-hop, or indie rock still demand, Youngblood and pals throw a thrillingly subversive victory party to lift the country out of eight years of anguish.
2. Coldplay: Vida la Vida: Sure, they’re a famous, rich rock n’ roll band, and sure, the lead singer is married to Gwenyth Paltrow. But they still know how to crank out catchy (albeit allegedly stolen) riffs. For a so-called “experimental” album, it’s pretty darn easy to listen to, which may just mean that Coldplay’s definition of “experimental” is far different than mine. From Pitchfork:
There’s a thin line between lyrics that speak to everyone and lyrics that suck-up to everyone (see: Bono’s steady devolution over the last couple decades). Even on Coldplay’s best songs, Martin sometimes has trouble reconciling his inner hack with his better judgment. On Viva, he backs away from the wallowing self-pity that tanked X&Y, instead going for black-and-white extremes– life and death, love and lust, dreams and reality– with little regard for any shades of gray. His supposedly ominous headstone obsession on “Cemeteries of London” is about as creepy as a midday graveyard stroll. And “Lost!” is nearly done in by a cringeworthy verse featuring big fish and a small pond. But there are moments when Martin’s band mates push his wide-open words toward more specific meaning. Blissful nostalgia permeates “Strawberry Swing” so thoroughly it’s impossible to deny its “perfect day,” and the hook to Viva‘s closer relishes its immortal rush: “I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends!” He may be a pointed critic of his own broadness– as seen in his guest appearance on “Extras” and in countless humble interviews– but Martin is still a hopeless sap. He’s clearly aware of Thom Yorke’s apocalyptic verve and Bono’s most cunning reflexive confessionals, but thus far he’s incapable of matching either one.
3. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes: This was another one of my favorites of 2008, and apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Pitchfork ranked it as their Number One album of the year. I saw them a few months ago, when I was up in Chicago, and a couple of my friends were nay-sayers. “They sound like a bad Beach Boys cover band” was said, in varying forms, on more than one occasion, which, by the way, is completely inapt. If anything, they’re more like the band America or a Simon and Garfunkel (meets My Morning Jacket). Maybe I’m just a sucker for that type of sound. From Pitchfork’s review:
Listing Fleet Foxes’ debut LP and EP may be awkward, but just feels right. They’re like two sides of a coin, and equally express the band’s mastery of its music, a catchall Americana that takes a wide slice of our popular music’s spectrum and pulls it through a reverse prism to create a gorgeous and focused sound of the band’s own. The threads of Brian Wilson’s intricate coastal pop, Appalachian folk, modern indie rock, Grateful Dead jams, and other influences are masterfully synthesized in the band’s harmonies and simply orchestrated but constantly shifting instrumental arrangements.
The Sun Giant EP introduces the band to the world with a just plain pretty a cappella harmony passage that lays their pastoral tendencies bare, while later on the disc “Mykonos” and “English House” show us their muscle and easy way with loose song structures. The lyrics are non-narrative but vivid nonetheless. See the way the Fleet Foxes refrain “and Michael you would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in summertime” plunges you into the stunning guitar-and-voice counterpoint that blows “White Winter Hymnal” wide open. Lead singer Robin Pecknold has a strong, clear voice and knows when to let fly with a drawn-out, impassioned bellow and when to withdraw into the shelter of his bandmates’ harmonies. The group shares his sense of dynamics, and Fleet Foxes flows like a river, wild and free but logical, filling what needs to be filled and moving on.
4. MGMT: Oracular Spectacular: Amazingly, I heard MGMT’s song “Kids” on the radio today. Here in Alexandria. It was weird. Rolling Stone:
This dazzling electro-psych band is two arty Brooklyn dudes who derive keyboard lines from the jumpy gait of a praying mantis and dress up in matching capes. Their buzz single “Time to Pretend” — a booming, tongue-in-bong sendup of the rock biz — sounds like a Flaming Lips outtake, with good reason: Lips producer Dave Fridmann helmed MGMT’s debut disc, fluffing their glitchy daydream rock into an intergalactic odyssey. There are hints of Joy Division and Sixties nostalgia both acid-tinged and bluesy, but Oracular Spectacular‘s playfulness and remarkable density are best displayed on “Electric Feel,” a surprising bit of funk featuring the original come-on “Ooh, girl, shock me like an electric eel.”
5. Interpol: Our Love to Admire: I haven’t really listened to this album, but I loved Interpol all throughout college. I know it came out in 2007; it’s taken me a while to catch up. Entertainment Weekly apparently really liked this album:
The outcome is akin to an artistic explosion. Instead of falling back on the repetitive thrumming and jangling of their previous recordings, they’ve crowded Our Love to Admire with unexpected rhythmic feints (”All Fired Up”) and Arcade Fire-like orchestrations (”Pioneer to the Falls”) that stymie any attempt at casual listening. Most impressive are the slowly insistent groove of ”Rest My Chemistry” — a glorious pop song in modern disguise — and the desolate soundscape of album closer ”The Lighthouse.” Little more than sporadic guitar bursts layered with singer Paul Banks’ mournful musings, the latter is quite the sonic risk for a band so defined by structure — but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Chances are they’re about to gain an even higher set of expectations.
6. Panda Bear: Person Pitch: Also released in 2007. Again, I’m catching up, and sometimes, it takes a while for indie music to permeate into the Deep South (at least to a place like Alexandria). Pitchfork had this to say:
Person Pitch as a whole– and “Bros” in particular– evokes the sunshine of Lennox’s adopted Lisbon, Portugal home. But it’s the kind of light best experienced with eyes closed– with the rays filtered through eyelids, turning the world into various shades of red and orange. You can feel the warmth pouring out of the music and see abstractions of its inspirations– that whole long list and more– as they cycle around again and again and again. Five of these seven songs have been released in various forms on singles and 12″s previously, so the exceptionally high quality of this music isn’t a surprise to those who have been following Panda Bear closely. Still, hearing it all together in one place and listening to it all at one time is both overwhelming and inspirational.
7. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavillion: Early prediction: This album will be remembered by many as the single best album of 2009. Seriously. I had the chance to see an Animal Collective show last year, and it was one of the greatest live performances I have ever seen. Mesmerizing.
It’s in that regard that Merriweather recalls the Flaming Lips at their best. There’s a real humanity to the songs that makes them indelible. Panda Bear said in a recent interview that the band doesn’t have a particular word for their latest work, but that “it’s our own form of soul music.” He’s right: From the call-to-arms of closer “Brothersport” to the mysticism in the peculiar folklore of “Lion In a Coma,” the album finds Animal Collective in constant marvel of, and gratitude for, both the world and the music that surrounds them. Soulful and almost structurally flawless (it’s the most minor of complaints that the middle run of songs are all about a half-minute too long), Merriweather finds one of the most talented, most creative pop bands finally and gloriously figuring it all out.
8. Gogol Bordello: Super Taranta!: Three of my friends in New Orleans swear that Gogol Bordello’s recent show at the House of Blues was absolutely spectacular. So I had to buy their latest album, which actually came out three or four years ago. And I can definitely understand how they’d put on a rip-roaring, ecstatic show. Rolling Stone:
It rocks in its own language – a defiantly oversimplified gypsy stomp played loud and then double-timed by a Russian violinist, a Russian accordionist, an Israeli guitarist, an Ethiopian bassist and an American drummer. And its optimism of the will makes the futures imagined by competing alt-prophets seem weak-minded.
9. M. Ward: Hold Time: This album was just released, and I haven’t yet given it a full listen. But if it’s anything like She & Him, then I’m sure it’ll stay on the playlist for a while.
10. The Decemberists: Always the Bridesmaid: Volumes I, II, and III: See: Valerie Plame