Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bills Music Roundup: 2009 (Part One)

Back by no demand, it's time for my annual ridiculous musical best-of list. I may be just another self-important opinion howling on the internet, but this is my corner of the internet and howl I will.

I've gone into a bit more detail with each album to (in part) make up for the fact that I've been remiss in my music blogging this past year, and to better handle this increased word count I've decided to things up over multiple posts. As such, I've only got entries 6-10 of my top ten for now, with more to come soon.

And so, without further ado:

Bill's Top Ten for 2009
  • 10. The Mars Volta, Octahedron - I'm not sure you'll find many Mars Volta fans that weren't hanging on for dear life by their last album, the exhausting and busy Bedlam in Goliath which marked the near-unlistenable end point of five years of sonic experimentation. Surprisingly, the Mars Volta have now returned from the unforgiving prog wilds to deliver music that actually has appeal beyond amateur musicians practicing their mixolydian scales at the Guitar Center nearest you. Not only is Octahedron remarkably tasteful by Mars Volta standards--more good ideas survive the production than not--but the songs themselves are the most solid batch these guys have managed since their debut, with gorgeous melodies and hooks that are given enough breathing room to thrive. Not quite as ambitious as their past work, yes, but a much-needed palate cleanser before the Mars Volta head off into digital bagpipe arpeggios, or whatever the hell it is they decide to do next. Sample: "Since We've Been Wrong"
  • 9. The xx, X - Making music that sounds like the way night feels is more difficult than it sounds. You have to capture the shadows, for one, and the dark areas they swallow between sparsely-places lights. And then there's the sensation of a landscape in transition, a hushed tone as the cheerful clamor of day closes shop and activity retreats inside. And, of course, lots not forget the possibility of sex, or of being alone, or of sex that turns against itself and leaves one alone. Effectively capturing all this on song isn't exactly new, of course, but what is stunning is that The xx, a group of four nondescript kids barely out of their teens, could rise out of nowhere to nail it with such deliberate perfection on the first try. Sad and sexy, X provides the surprise essential soundtrack for anyone who gets a second wind as dusk descends. Sample: "Crystalised"
  • 8. Fuck Buttons, Tarot Sport - Fuck Buttons always had two strikes against them in my book: the wall of gibbering vocals they employed to disruptive effect and, well, that name. They're still called Fuck Buttons, true, but they've ditched the meth-addict-behind-the-Shop-n-Go rants on their sophomore effort. What's more important, however, is that Fuck Buttons have expanded upon the strengths hinted on last year's debut and bolted for the horizon, creating an album of noise that twists upon itself to then explode into cathartic melody. Tarot Sport shrugs off unnecessary limitations--genre restrictions, who needs 'em?--and the results, from the wet, electronic pulse of "Rough Steez" to the shimmering, synth-drenched "Space Mountain," is an instrumental masterpiece with surprisingly broad appeal, band-name-being-"Fuck Buttons" notwithstanding. Sample: "Space Mountain"
  • 7. Future of the Left, Travels with Myself and Another - Even the most patient of us have our breaking point--maybe it's trying to debate the moon landing with a conspiracy theorist, maybe it's discussing the tax-exempt status of churches, or maybe it's just when that meathead your friend is dating queues up Creed on the jukebox--but at a certain point social niceties collapse and you want to make it crystal clear exactly how much less you think of the intelligence and taste of the individual in question. Future of the Left make punishing music out of that disdain, that fury at the idiocy of others, but imbue it with a sharp and hilarious wit that renders it approachable, if not exactly good-natured. Smart-assed and sarcastic but never preachy, Travels with Myself and Another turns its guns from one target to another, regardless of politics (overly-sensitive earth hippies receive perhaps the most brutal takedown), and the result is a compact thirty minutes of pointy, pissed off rock for smart asses everywhere--well, smart asses who are cool enough to remain on the right side of Future of the Left's arsenal, which, honestly, probably excludes you. Sample (with goofy fan-made video): "Arming Eritrea"
  • 6. The Lonely Island, Incredibad - Comedy albums are a tricky prospect, as songs that hinge on humor are typically worth only two listens at most--one for you and one for a friend, the end. The Lonely Island's brand of humor avoids this pitfall by typically involving a humorous concept that escalates via repetition until its inevitable horrible conclusion, each song a humorous micro-journey into the absurd that actually gets funnier with each subsequent listen. More importantly, though, The Lonely Island actually brought (and bought) the musical chops to represent on the music, with songs so pop perfect that the line between parody and mainstream radio is rendered meaningless. The opening volley of incredible tracks stack up to the giddy heights of an alternate universe greatest hits collection, and even gimmick tracks like "Sax Man" manage to understay their welcome and operate as breathers before the next onslaught of twisted top 40. Of course, it isn't all perfect--the skits are generally terrible and a few joke genre exercises like "Ras Trent" fall flat--but overall Incredibad managed to not only stand up to repeat listens but somehow become the album I've listened to the most all year. Sample: "I'm On a Boat"
TO BE CONTINUED (suspense!)

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