1. Grizzly Bear – Vekatimest2. Dave Rawlings Machine – A Friend of a Friend
3. Magnolia Electric Company – Josephine
4. Girls – Album
5. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
6. M. Ward – Hold Time
7. St. Vincent – Actor
8. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
9. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
10. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
1. Grizzly Bear – Vekatimest – Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear put their heads together in the follow-up to their 2006 masterpiece Yellow House, which received rave reviews from critics and fans alike. Vekatimest, more pop and more melodic than Yellow House, portrayed an even more mature, well-rounded, and imaginative Grizzly Bear.
Vocalists Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen alternate vocals on the album’s songs, each with his own haunting and morose delivery. Lilting harmonies are scattered throughout every track, each band member contributing to the almost cosmic sound. Heavily distorted, garbled guitars accompany punching keyboards to make this sonic masterpiece a hard one to forget.
“Two Weeks,” the album’s most successful single is sure to have the listener pogo-ing toward the ceiling, while the eerie “While You Wait for the Others” almost sends you right back into your seat and into a daydream. Vekatimest tells us that Grizzly Bear is capable of orchestrating complex, obscure songs along with poppy ones; a goal many bands cannot achieve.
2. Dave Rawlings Machine – A Friend of a Friend – Alt/ folk duo Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch have done it again. A Friend of a Friend is like a trip back in time; back when music’s subject matter was simple and complex at the same time.
Dave and Gillian have a talent that not many musicians have today: the ability to combine new and old lyricism with traditional music. This album’s songs could’ve been released in the ’40s and no one would’ve been the wiser, but the songs can still be related to our own time. Dave’s voice, southern gentleman fused with backwoods moonshiner, and Gillian’s warm, honey-soaked vocals couldn’t better complement each other. It’s no wonder that a host of recording artists have sought the help of these two folkies.
Dave, co-writer and producer of Ryan Adams’ 2000 release Heartbreaker, covers “To be young,” one of the tracks that epitomized the album’s success. Rawlings also accompanied Welch on all of her critically acclaimed studio albums. It’s about time Dave had his chance to belt one out.
3. Magnolia Electric Company – Josephine – Writer, producer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Jason Molina blew alternative country listeners away with 2009s Josephine.
Molina, whose career spans more than two decades made the switch from his previous alias, Songs: Ohia, to Magnolia Electric Company in 2003. If you’re a listener who enjoys poignant, poetic lyrics and flawless delivery you’ll love Josephine. An ode to the South, Josephine, covers such subject matter as whip-poor-wills, country hotels, card games, Knoxville, love lost, and a plethora of other cryptic subjects.
Sometimes simple, sometimes unidentifiable, the album’s lyrics paint a picture and tell a story that could be transposed into an old-time Western, and the music would serve as a perfect background score. It’s nice to see musicians like Molina looking inwardly and coming back with poetry that can almost stop you dead in your tracks, and music that’ll send you flying like you’ve been hit by a freight train.
4. Girls – Album – Musician Christopher Owens of Girls exploded onto the scene last year almost out of nowhere. Owens, raised in the cult “Children of God,” was only allowed to listen to doo-wop and rockabilly tapes from the ’50’s until his teen years. It was then that he was exposed to bands like Guns n’ Roses and Queen and these encounters sent him on a journey to find his own unique sound.
He became an avid member of the Southern California punk rock scene, and he absorbed almost every genre of music he could get his hands on. Album, surprisingly, shows that he revisited the influences that he grew up with, but with his own raw, unadulterated energy. Owens fuses rockabilly and surf rock with the punk and grunge that he later would come to adore. Owens’ lyrics are admittedly simple and straight-forward.
5. Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix- If you got by last year without hearing at least one song by Phoenix, whether it be on a Nissan commercial or a feature film, you’re a member of a small group. Hailing from France, the Euro-pop quartet danced their way into the foreground of the music world last year with their fourth studio album. Working toward success for almost ten years now, Phoenix finally got the attention they deserved when their single “1901” blasted to number two on the US Alternative charts. The seemingly flawless album was and is a staple of many-a dance party, fusing upbeat indie rock with pulsating electronic arrangements. The album, not only an example of ground-breaking musicianship, also features outstanding, thought-out lyrics not typical of many bands within their genre. I implore you to purchase this album, and if you can refrain from dancing.you ain’t got no music in you.
6. M Ward- Hold Time- Folk-rock troubadour Matt Ward killed it again on his 2009 release Hold Time. Ward’s voice can be compared to a light breeze, floating to and fro in a distant whisper, or a powerful and decisive wail. A classically trained guitarist, Ward features both brilliantly-crafted lyrical songs and chunky, attention-grabbing rock and roll songs on his albums. With each album he releases his growing expertise as a producer and musician is evident. It’s almost seems as if he hears the song exactly as it appears on the album in his head long before he begins recording. The songs sound as if they came to him in a dream, which they very well might’ve. 2009 was a busy year for M. Ward, seeing that he recorded with actress Zooey Deschanel on the follow up to 2007s She and Him album, as well as with the Monsters of Folk, a collaborative project with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst. He’s a master of his craft, and I’ll be looking forward to hearing what comes out of his head next.
7. St. Vincent- Actor- St. Vincent’s Annie Clark proved to be one of the most unique artists that released an album last year. Formerly a member of Sufjan Stevens’ touring band, Clark embarked on a recording career of her own in 2007s Marry Me, which saw some critical success. Clark’s vocals are second-to-none, soaring high overhead and floating right back down, only to disappear in her complex musical arrangements. Annie is not only an accomplished vocalist, but she can also shred a guitar just as well, or better than her peers. Actor, more than Marry Me, employs more instruments from the electronic realm. Her voice and synthesizers almost duel at some points, only to befriend one another again in beautiful harmonies. The album sounds spacey and futuristic, letting us know that Clark and St. Vincent strive to move forward rather than remain complacent. They achieved a sound that cannot be duplicated, paralleled, or mistaken for any other act.
8. Dirty Projectors- Bitte Orca- David Longstreth had tried several combinations in early incarnations of Dirty Projectors, but never quite reached the sound he was looking for. This was until two years ago when he discovered vocalists Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. The addition of these two lovely ladies put Longstreth right where he was longing to be, where the Projectors ended up on Bitte Orca. The album, full of awkward time signatures, synthesizer-esque harmonies, and unusual guitar playing produced a huge buzz last year. The voices of Angel and Amber are intoxicating, and at some points, almost hard to believe. Upon hearing the album I thought the voices surely came from a keyboard. I was wrong. This album is an example of true art; unique, exciting, and weird.
9. The Flaming Lips- Embryonic- Confetti, streamers, giant hands, a man in a huge plastic orb.this is the world that Flaming Lips brainchild Wayne Coyne has dreamed up. The Lips’ career started in the early ’80s, only to come into fruition in the nineties. On their last several albums the Lips were poppy, happy-go-lucky, and fun. Embryonic was a testament to the Flaming Lips revisiting their past. A psychedelic explosion of synthesizer, fuzz bass, crashing drums, and drones make up the album. Virtually all the Lips’ music is written by drummer, guitarist, keyboardist, and vocalist Steven Drozd, and Steven really outdid himself on this one. Embryonic is an example of the Lips changing yet again. They could’ve stuck to the vein of music that was exemplified in At War with the Mystics and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and done just fine, but that’s not their style. They had to mix it up and they did.
10. Animal Collective- Merriweather Post Pavilion- Animal Collective, one of the indie buzz bands of the last several years have proven that they are around for a while. On their earlier albums, Animal Collective created a sonic atmosphere that could never have been dreamt up by most. Weird, wild, and overwhelming, Animal Collective is a group of young guys who virtually created a genre of their own. On Merriweather they seem to have settled down a bit, however. Some of the songs are breaching on being almost.poppy, something they haven’t really ever tried. It’s great, though. I love these guys. Creativity at its best.