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Friday, August 28, 2009

Best Albums of 2009: August Edition

Best Albums of 2009

Rather than compiling a huge list at the end of the year, not having enough time to do a good job, and simply throwing something together really fast, I'm going to start compiling my thoughts on albums over the whole year - month by month. Some of these may have actually been released earlier in the year, but are in this months set because this is when I got my hands on them.

Brendan Benson
My Old Familiar Friend

Every once in a while I get down about the indie music scene because it seems like every band is trying so hard to forge a unique indie sound that will get them recognition as doing something groundbreaking. In the process, however, too many veer off into genres and sounds that just aren't listenable. This is one reason for why I have always loved Brendan Benson. There is no shtick here. He just makes good 'ol fahsioned indie-rock albums. I really wish he would dedicate more time to his solo ventures than what he was doing with Jack White and the Ranconteurs. My Old Familiar Friend has been a long time coming too. His last solo release, Alternative to Love, was in 2005! It was a phenomenal album and set the bar fairly high for this new LP. Since then, and especially over the last 12 months a good batch of new demos have been floating around, whetting our appetites. The resulting LP is great. However, there are a few misteps - Garbage Day is a travesty. A few other tracks are good, but not great, and I wonder why some of the really stellar demos I had collected didn't make the cut. In any case. Benson's mix of indie-rock with classic southern rock sounds and tight harmonies is great. No frills rock. I love it. Top tracks include a Whole Lot Better and Misery.


Aim and Ignite

I was saddened when The Format broke up. I had followed them since their first EP was produced by Bob Hoag at Flying Blanket Studio and I was so excited when their 2nd LP, Dog Problems, did so well. In the wake of the break up, lead-singer Nate formed a new band - fun. If you liked The Format, you will like fun. There are quite a few moments on the album where direct links to the Dog Problems sound can be traced. The multi-phase pacing of At Least I'm Not as Sad (as I used to be) is a direct translation of things they did on Dog Problems. There is a greater reliance on string arrangments, rather than brass and woodwinds, throughout Aim and Ignite that signal a new direction. The album is good, but disappointing at times. 4 of the songs are honestly some of the best tracks from any album this year. Some of the others, however, are just "ok." When the good tracks are good, though, they are REALLY good. Consider Be Calm, Benson Hedges, At Least I'm Not as Sad (as I used to be) [download mp3] and Walk the Dog.

David Bazan
Curse Your Branches

Pedro the Lion's frontman (and only man in some ways) David Bazan is now releasing his brand of acoustic indie-rock under his own name. Must be a trend - Conor Oberst, Matt Pryor, etc . . . In any case, I saw Bazan do an acoustic set last year and was very excited to see how the songs he played would translate into studio tracks. It is great in its simplicity - as always. Even when there is full instrumentation to his songs, there always seems to be a very streamlined approach to his music. A welcome addition to an already prolific discography. Top tracks include Hard to Be, Curse Your Branches, Bless This Mess [download mp3] and Please, Baby, Please.


Fruit Bats
The Ruminant Band

Sub Pop's Fruit Bats have taken quite a break since their 2005 Spelled in Bones. The new album is good, consistent and introduces some new sounds to their alt-folk repertoire. Few tracks leap out as amazing masterpieces, but the album as a whole holds together very well. Top tracks are Primitive Man, Being on Our Own and Feather Bed.

The Seaside [EP]

The Seaside EP includes a grouping of songs that had been previously released on splits, 7"s and compilations. While I had already dug most of them up, having them in one place is nice. It has gotten me excited about Owen's upcoming LP New Leaves as well. A good addition to your Owen library. Top tracks are Head Will Ache and I'm Not Seventeen.

Blue Scholars

Blue Scholars MC Geologic grew up in Hawaii in the 1980s before transplanting to Seattle. This EP is all about the island and would have been a better release for the early summer - that way I could have listened to the island-inspired beats and rhymes all summer long! Sabzi's production and beats feature a host of new sounds and tricks. In many ways, the rhymes are secondary to the beats on this EP - which is usually not the case. As a matter of fact, the lyrics are pretty horrible in parts. It seems to me that Sabzi had some new beats he had worked out, and Geologic quickly slapped together some inane verses on top of them. They really lack the sophistication, poetic quality and complex syncopation of the Blue Scholars that have won me over in the past. Come to think of it, "New People" is all around horrible. A few somewhat redeemable tracks are HI-808 and Cruz.

Andrew Bird
Fitz and the Dizzyspells [EP]

This EP came out back in May and features one track off of Noble Beast, with 4 new songs. It is classic Andrew Bird. Not much commentary to make. Favorite track was Ten-You-Us.

Running LP List

  1. J. Tillman - Vacilando Territory Blues (January)
  2. Brendan Benson - My Old Familiar Friend (August)
  3. fun. - Aim and Ignite (August)
  4. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (May)
  5. Shark Speed - Sea Sick Music (April)
  6. Say Hi - Oohs & Aahs (February)
  7. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast (January)
  8. Iron & Wine - Around the Well (May)
  9. David Bazan - Curse Your Branches (August)
  10. The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love (March)
  11. Before Braille - Spring Cleaning (June + July)
  12. Art for Starters - Drugs Made / Drugs Ruined (April)
  13. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Outer South (May)
  14. Fruit Bats - The Ruminant Band (August)
  15. Mos Def - The Ecstatic (June + July)
  16. Jeremy Enigk - OK Bear (May)
  17. The Great Lake Swimmers - Lost Channels (March)
  18. Dent May and his Magnificent Ukuele - The Good Feeling Music of Dent May (March)
  19. Coconut Records - Davy (January)
  20. Jimmy Eat World - Clarity Live (April)
  21. Iain Archer - To the Pine Roots (April)
  22. The Appleseed Cast - Sagarmatha (February)
  23. John Vanderslice - Romanian Names (May)
  24. Peter, Bjorn and John - Living Thing (March)
  25. Jonsi and Alex - Rice Boy Sleeps (June + July)
  26. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (May)
  27. Lateef the Truth Speaker - Truth is Love Mixtape (April)
  28. Vetiver - Tight Knit (March)
  29. General Elektriks - Good City for Dreamers (February)
  30. Dark was the Night compilation (April)
  31. Ben Kweller - Changing Horses (January)

Running EP List

  1. Common Market - The Winter's End (March)
  2. Death Cab for Cutie - Open Door (March)
  3. Owen - The Seaside (August)
  4. Joshua James - Sing Songs (May)
  5. Andrew Bird - Fitz and the Dizzyspells (August)
  6. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice - Moon Colony Blood Bath (April)
  7. Blue Scholars - OOF! (August)

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