If nothing else, 2009 was a banner year for new music. Started off kind of slow and I was getting ready to complain about the dry spell before things exploded. I haven’t even had the time (nor resources – meaning money) to catch up on all of it.
Some of the releases mentioned below actually came out in 2008, but it took me a few months to follow up.
We’ll do it a bit differently today; each release I liked will get it’s own category. You’ll figure it out, I’m sure. I have the smartest readers on the internet (based on a very small sampling of one).
MOST WELCOME RETURN
Alice In Chains – Black Gives Way To Blue: Jerry Cantrell has always been the driving force behind the group, anyway, but it was still a pleasant surprise to hear rumors of their return. Even more surprising is them releasing one of their best albums so far. New lead singer William DuVall is no Layne Staley (who is?), but he provides his own vocal punch while filling in those haunting harmonies with Cantrell. Musically, nearly all the songs could have been written 10 years ago.
And while we’re here…
SADDEST SONG OF THE YEAR
Black Gives Way To Blue – Alice in Chains: A moving and surprisingly beautiful song that seems to be written from Staley’s point of view. ‘Fading out by design, consciously avoiding changes, curtains drawn – now it’s done, silencing all tomorrows’. With a wailing guitar and mourning piano accompanying the somber lyrics, the song – like Staley’s life – ends prematurely.
BEST AARP REPRESENTATIVE
AC/DC – Black Ice: The aging Aussies show they haven’t lost a step or their attitude and give lessons to all the youngsters on how to simply rock out. Play this one loud with bass set to 10.
Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another: Coarse, crass, ragged, strange and my favorite album of the year. Be warned, this isn’t for everyone, but click here and listen to the first song on the list. If you enjoy that, you’ll like the rest. Listen to the entire song, though. Or hell, just pick one and make up your own mind.
BEST FOLLOW UP
Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown: On the heels of ‘American Idiot’ Armstrong and friends outdo themselves with an epic love story and some of the best songs they’ve ever recorded. Less political, yet a more complex and rewarding listen.
BEST POLITICAL ROMP
Living Things – Habeas Corpus: A scathing lyrical farewell to President Bush (referred to as ‘Snake Oil Man’ here) and a call to take action for the younger generation set to dark, bluesy riffs. Proof that outrage can be fun if applied correctly.
BEST WAY TO SHAKE THE GROUND
Mastodon – Crack the Skye: Thunderous, menacing and strangely enchanting. There’s no way to get around this: I fucking love this album. I bought the edition that has two versions of every song on it (one with singing, one just the score of the song) and I listen to both versions regardless of when they come on.
BEST NEW VOICE
Metric – Fantasies: Lead singer Emily Haines can vary her singing between shy, intimidating, sweetly innocent, angry, and depressing. She’ll turn you on one instance, make you want to help her feel better (oh yeah!) the next, then make you fearful for you groin area the next. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a one woman show, though. The songwriting and musicianship is top rate.
Mount Eerie – Wind’s Poem: While I’m still not sure what this albums about, a majority of the songs are downright frightening; including one that seems to be their musical interpretation of an avalanche.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Self Titled): Reminds me of the great college bands from the early 90s. Back when REM was first getting started and weren’t so full of themselves.
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: A friend of mine once asked why I wasn’t into pop music. My reply was ‘I like pop if it’s done right’. Well, here it’s done to near perfection. By the way things look, I’ll be sick of these guys by the middle of 2010. Until then, get a jump on everyone and get your toes tapping.
BEST COMPLETE ALBUM
Porcupine Tree – The Incident: I’ve always been a ‘entire CD’ kind of guy and this single song (it’s been split into multiple tracks) rewards the old school listeners. Ever since iTunes began allowing people to buy individual songs off albums, the art of creating a full bodied – beginning to end – one song builds off another seems to be getting lost. Here’s one band that confirms (in spades) that it can still be done.
BEST STEP FORWARD
Stellastarr*- Civilized: Following up a subpar second release, this New York band seems to be finding its true voice. Stranger, more experimental and definitely more creative and fun than anything they’ve done before.
BEST MODERN BLUES REVIVAL
Tinsley Ellis – Speak No Evil: Flashes of Hendrix, Stevie Ray and BB King throughout, yet Ellis puts his own signature on everything. I will pay him my highest compliment: I would pay to see him in concert.
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead – The Century of Self: After the promising creative leap they took with ‘Worlds Apart’, Trail of the Dead stall with a halfhearted, confused release that only momentarily reminds us why we liked them in the first place.
Silversun Pickups – Swoon: Disappointed with the first few listens before enjoying most of the songs before getting sick of them quickly before getting angry that they copped out before coming back around and deciding that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. That an album could evoke such contradictory feelings in me could mean they made a true work of art. Or it could mean it was half assed effort. I’ll go with the latter choice.
BEST INDICATION FOR THE FUTURE
TV On The Radio – Dear Science: Combining hip-hop, electronic, rock and roll, and nearly every other musical form in the universe, this band still manages to make toe tapping, thought provoking, thoroughly enjoyable music. Huge leap forward from their first which was very good in its own right.
OTHER BEST RELEASES OF THE YEAR
Them Crooked Vultures (Self Titled): A perfect combination of classic rock influences topped with present day sensibilities. Shades of Zeppelin, Cream, early Black Sabbath and even some Deep Purple chords are sprinkled throughout but the songs are driving by Josh Homme’s biting lyrics and Dave Grohl channeling his inner Jon Bonham.
Baroness – Blue Album: Heavy and hard yet unafraid to sprinkle downright beautiful passages into their songs. Between Baroness and Mastodon the future of heavy metal and hard rock is being created while we listen in awe.
That’s it for this year, my friends. I’ll follow up later today with a distraction. Have to get ready for work and drop my kid off at school. I should note it’s 15 degrees outside right now. Insert frown face…..HERE.