Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Top 40 Albums of 2009: Part 2

Dylan, Etc's Top 40 Albums of 2009

Part 2: #1-20

A Memphis punk who relieves himself onstage. A Somalian rapper who describes his country’s civil war in blood-curdling detail. A mysterious group of ABBA wannabes about whom nothing is known save a few cryptic videos. All these artists produced some of this year's best albums. Yesterday we counted down #21-40 of the Top 40 Albums of 2009, but those were just twenty small steps leading up to this.

Read about the picks (here are the first twenty), listen to the sample MP3s (or download them all at once from a link at the bottom) and feel free to bitch about why this list sucks in the comments. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion has topped just about every other best-of list…find out if it did here too!

20. Jay Reatard – Watch Me Fall
Jay Reatard’s roller coaster year has established one fact: the guy is an asshole. He urinated on his band onstage, then called them “boring rich kids who can't play for ahit [sic] anyways” when they quit. He hates everyone from his peers (Jay to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: “It must hurt being so bland”) to his fans (Jay to Brooklyn: “Shut up!”) He's such a thoroughly unlikeable individual it’s almost a shame his music is so good. Short punk nuggets pepper Watch Me Fall, smacking the listener in the face then getting out. Hey, it’s better than getting peed on.
It Ain’t Gonna Save Me

19. Matt the Electrician – Animal Boy
No, Matt the Electrician is not some take-off on Joe the Plumber (remember him?) and from the sound of “Bridge to Nowhere” he probably wasn’t pounding the pavement for McCain-Palin. Instead, this quiet Texas folkie spends his time writing nice letters to the Walmart Complaints Department (“For Angela”), solving math problems (“Divided By”) and doing ukulele-and-horn Journey covers (“Faithfully”). Not bad for a guy who only a few years ago was wiring houses all day.
Bridge to Nowhere

18. Mika – The Boy Who Knew Too Much
Very British, very Broadway and very, very effeminate -- Mika has long been a man easy to hate. From the sound of it, he couldn’t care less. His second release after 2007’s debut smash Life in Cartoon Motion finds Mika pumping out shamelessly catchy hooks designed to get in your head and stick. Mika’s the Clueless of music: claim you’re too cool all you want, but the grin on your face will betray you.
We Are Golden

17. Wolfmother – Cosmic Egg
Led Zeppelin’s back, and comes in the form of a jew-froed Australian. Between the first two Wolfmother albums Andrew Stockdale fired the rest of the band and replaced them with three more Zep devotees who sound identical. The quartet leaves no misty mountain unturned, giving us their Stairway to Heaven (“In the Castle”) and Black Dog (“New Moon Rising”). Wolfmother nails the Zeppelin sound so perfectly, calling them derivative is a compliment.
New Moon Rising

16. The Elms – The Great American Midrange
The Elms come from the same Indiana town that gave the world John Mellencamp, so heartland rock is in their blood. Their small-town themes just might be the story of America though, from hope during hard times (“Strut”) to the desire of the disconnected to discover their roots (“Back to Indiana”). From the sound of things, they’re doing a pretty good job.
Back to Indiana

15. K’Naan – Troubadour
Rappers have long boasted about coming from a tougher background than the other guy. Guys, it's over; K’Naan wins, but for him it’s nothing to brag about. Born in Somalia in a neighborhood known as the River of Blood, he experienced the devastating civil war firsthand, only escaping when his mother’s visa was approved on the last day the U.S. Embassy was open. His painfully personal lyrics detail the pains of growing up in war-torn poverty: at age 11 he saw his two best friends shot dead next to him (the third bullet was meant for him), then later that year he casually tossed a rock he'd picked up and blew up half his school (that "rock" turned out to be an active grenade). In spite of it all, hope courses through Troubadour’s veins in optimistic songs like “Dreamer” and “Waving Flag,” the official song of the 2010 World Cup.
Wavin’ Flag

14. The Raveonettes – In and Out of Control
For a band whose musical sensibilities grow out of the teen-crush pop of Buddy Holly and the Ronnettes (“Rave On” + “Ronettes” = Raveonettes), this Danish duo tackle some mature themes on their fourth albums. Serious songs about overdoses (“Last Dance,” “D.R.U.G.S.”) vie with slightly more cavalier songs about sexual assault (“Boys Who Rape (Should Be Destroyed),” “Break Up Girls!”). Heavy topics aside, the pair’s shoegaze pop has never been sharper -- the fact that the lyrics stuck in your head actually say something is just a nice bonus.
Last Dance

13. Aceyalone – Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones
“Right now I would like to introduce you to my band,” Aceyalone says to introduce this album. “These gentlemen and these lovely ladies I have behind me go by name of the Lonely Ones.” Here’s the catch: the Lonely Ones don’t exist. Though these funky soul grooves sound like the second coming of the Delfonics, they were actually cooked up in the studio by rapper Aceyalone and producer Bionik. If you can’t find the perfect ‘70s samples to rap over, you just gotta create them yourself.
Can’t Hold Back (ft. Treasure Davis)

12. Florence and the Machine – Lungs
“The dog days are over,” Florence Welch sings at the beginning of Lungs and by the time the hearty drum wallops kick in you’re inclined to believe her. This eccentric frontwoman surrounds her tales of heartbreak and excess with delectable power-pop, emphasis on the power. When she sings about domestic abuse on “Kiss with a Fist,” it’s clear this gal hits back.
Dog Days Are Over

11. Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers – A Fish Hook An Open Eye
Nick Cave called this his favorite new band, and with song titles like “I’m Not Frigid…Yet” and “Woman Sets Boyfriend on Fire” it’s easy to see why. Shilpa’s girl-punk swagger recalls the garage soul of the Detroit Cobras with a macabre twist.
I’m Not Frigid…Yet

10. We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls
What is it about a Scottish accent? Ever since Franz Ferdinand took over the world in 2004 a hearty brogue has been the height of indie style and We Were Promised Jetpacks wear theirs well. Their swaggering tunes strut and sway in turns, angled hooks giving way to piano codas in defiant blasts of north-of-the-border pride.
Quiet Little Voices

9. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – The Century of Self
Austin’s …Trail of Dead has never been a band to keep ambition in check. On their sixth full-length, one minute they’re imagining the music of angels and the next they’re reflecting on the violent history of the Khyper Pass. Whatever. The pounding drums and wall-of-distortion guitars speak for themselves.
Isis Unveiled

8. Kid Harpoon – Once
September 28 was a long time coming for Kid Harpoon fans. British singer-songwriter Tom Hull released his first single under the Harpoon name in 2006, dropping two incredible EPs since but no album proper. Once was worth the wait. Instead of compiling a bunch of the brilliant EP tracks for a wider audience, Hull released Once with twelve new songs tackling the same old themes. His wharf-rat lyrics hit on auto theft (“Stealing Cars”), rodents (“Running Through Tunnels”) and killing pretty girls (pretty much everything else) but the baroque-pop is as upbeat as ever.
Stealing Cars

7. The Dead Weather – Horehound
When Jack White announced his third band at the beginning of the year, fans everywhere wondered why the greatest guitarist of his generation would get behind the drum kit. The answer is still unclear, but the world of music is a better place because he did. Sultry singer Alison Mosshart’s Janis Joplin growl takes center stage while Jack bashes away contentedly like a man who knows he’s proven the skeptics wrong yet again.
Treat Me Like Your Mother

6. John Frusciante – The Empyrean
The news recently broke that John Frusciante had quit the Red Hot Chili Peppers after twenty years. Good. One listen to The Empyrean shows his ambitions go far beyond adolescent ditties about californicating. His guitar wails with more soul than a dozen Anthony Kiedises, incorporating everything from gospel to ambient in these sprawling psychedelic epics. Though this move may hurt his pocketbook, giving his eccentric creativity free reign can't be a bad thing at all.

5. Eels – Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire
Eels singer “E” may look like a mentally unstable homeless man, but under the monstrous beard lies the soul of a poet, a gruff-voiced balladeer chronicling the ups and downs (mostly downs) of love. “The Look You Give That Guy” portrays the jealous would-be boyfriend imagining what will never be while “In My Dreams” finds quiet hope in what already is.
In My Dreams

4. Music Go Music - Expressions
If happiness has a soundtrack, Expressions is it. Little is known about Music Go Music aside from a glorious series of ‘70s-cheeze performance videos, but watching them grin through their ABBA-inspired pop anthems tells you all you need to know. It’s not the feel-good album of the year -- it’s the feel-invincible.
Just Me

3. David Bazan – Curse Your Branches
There’s a certain irony when a lifetime Christian rocker makes the album of his career the moment he decides God doesn’t exist. Through ten brutally personal songs David Bazan preaches the Gospel of Doubt, describing his fall from faith and the toll it’s taken on the believers around him.
In Stitches

2. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
It seems the more outlandish the Decemberists’ artistic vision becomes, the better they get. In The Hazards of Love they infuse their Victorian folk with a prog-rock crunch to create a swirling 17-song opera that, not surprisingly, will soon become a movie. Their tragic tale this time concerns a woman torn from her shape-shifting lover by a malicious forest queen and a vengeful widower who gleefully brags about murdering his children in the show-stopping “The Rake’s Song.” Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark and My Brightest Diamond’s Sharon Worden come aboard to voice the female characters, but as always it’s Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy’s theatrical vision that holds all the pieces together.
The Rake’s Song

1. Balmorhea – All Is Wild, All Is Silent
Few bands could credibly list among their influences French composer Claude Debussy, post-rock pioneers the Six Parts Seven, and country singer Gillian Welch. On an album that gets richer with each listen though, Texas sextet Balmorhea do indeed sound like the bastard child of all three. To put it another way, imagine Beethoven conducting Fleet Foxes through a set of instrumental Sigur Rós covers. All Is Wild’s nine tracks spin tales too vast to be confined to the spoken word, too emotional for verse-chorus-verse narration. The world Balmorhea creates encompasses snow-capped mountains, isolated brooks, forest clearings. Don’t analyze it, just let the experience take hold.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks! See you in 2010.

Download all MP3s featured in this post here. For #21-40, click here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Top 40 Albums of 2009: Part 1

Dylan, Etc's Top 40 Albums of 2009

Part 1: #21-40

2009 was the year of the three S’s. Side projects, solo discs, and supergroups. While big names like Green Day, U2 and Pearl Jam released new material, more than ever artists found ways to break out of the usual 9-to-5. Everyone from the Strokes to the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the year off to let members pursue solo work while indie mainstays like Sigur Rós and Bon Iver went into hibernation as new groups arose from their shadows. Plus, every month seemed to bring a new band with a wet-dream lineup. What other year has brought us a rock supergroup (The Dead Weather), a folk supergroup (Monsters of Folk) and the most super supergroup since the Traveling Wilburies (Them Crooked Vultures)?

Below, Dylan, Etc presents our top forty albums of 2009. The first twenty are here, the top twenty are coming tomorrow. Each album has a sample MP3 to download - or you can snag 'em all at once from the link at the bottom [all links removed by RIAA - sorry]. Since the main point of these lists seems to be to piss people off when their favorite band didn’t make it, feel free to vent (or, just maybe, agree) in the comments.

40. Pearl Jam – Backspacer
The cry of “sell out” rang louder than ever when Pearl Jam announced an exclusive partnership with Target to promote this album, and for good reason. Eddie Vedder and co. have built a career on sticking in to the man, be that man Bush or Ticketmaster. Times may have changed, but the Pearl Jam sound hasn’t. The grunge quintet rock harder than they have in years, pumping out balls-to-the-wall stomps like it was 1992 all over again.
The Fixer

39. Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures
If a band featuring John Paul Jones only managed to create the second best Led Zeppelin album of the year (see #17 for the best), it’s because Jones has broadened the Zep palatte. With a little help from his friends Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) he soundtracks a demon apocalypse with thunderous riffs, monster drums and a supergroup with a lot to prove.
New Fang

38. Bell X1 – Blue Lights on the Runway
Bell X1 may worship at the alter of the Talking Heads, but frontman Paul Noonan is sick of hearing the comparisons. “"They're good footsteps to follow,” he cagily told NPR, “if that's what we're doing." Face it, Paul, it is, but at least you do it brilliantly.
The Great Defector

37. Frankmuzik – Complete Me
Sorry Gaga, it takes more than bizarre outfits a great electropop album to make. Whatever that “it” factor is though (talent?), Victor Frank has it in spades, churning out infectious club jams about love lost, found, and lost again. “Poker Face” be damned; ”Gotta Boyfriend?” should have been the sassy dance hit of the year.
Gotta Boyfriend?

36. Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
Two Suns may be number 36 here, but it’s number one in the category of Most Pretentious Press Release. “Two Suns digs deeply into the philosophy of the self and duality…touching on metaphysical ideas concerning the connections between all existence”? Please. If the themes sound like the work of an overeager Philosophy major though, the sound is dreamy pop perfection, most notably on song-of-the-year contender “Daniel.”

35. The xx – xx
This band should have added a third X to their name, because they sound like the soundtrack to an arty porno. Thumping beats and sultry vocals get submerged under layers of reverb in what Rolling Stone recently called “booty-call music for the indie-rock set.”

34. A Place to Bury Strangers – Exploding Head
“Exploding head syndrome is a condition that causes the sufferer to occasionally experience a tremendously loud noise as originating from within his or her own head, usually described as the sound of an explosion, roar, waves crashing against rocks, loud voices or screams, a ringing noise, or the sound of an electrical short circuit (buzzing),” says Wikipedia. That sounds about right. Exploding Head’s waves of sound hit like a fire hose, drenching the listener so thoroughly in reverb it takes a few listens to discover the pop nuggets buried in the noise.
In Your Heart

33. Mark Knopfler – Get Lucky
The ex-rock god continues to pretend he’s never heard the phrase “Dire Straits.” Knopfler’s always had traditional balladry in his blood though (see “So Far Away”) so these delicate folk gems come second-nature. Sultan of Swing? Try Baron of Waltz.
Border River

32. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
When Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their acclaimed debut Fever To Tell in 2003, they had all the markings of being a flash in the proverbial pan. Six years later, their edgy art-punk hits as hard as ever. Karen O still belts like Siouxsie on speed while Nick Zinner and Brian Chase take no prisoners with jittery beats and twisty guitar lines. As the album’s second single proclaims, “Heads Will Roll.”
Heads Will Roll

Standing for United State of Electronica, U.S.E. gets the blood pumping and booty shaking on club-ready nuggets like the throbbing “Dance With Me” or the Mr. Roboto-esq “Beat of My Heart.” To pinch another group's acronym, U.S.E. brings the D.A.N.C.E.
Dance With Me

30. Franz Nicolay – Major General
Hold Steady keyboard player, Best Mustache in Rock winner, and now bar-ballad songwriter…is there anything Franz Nicolay can’t do? On his solo debut Nicolay adds a cabaret twist to the wordy Hold Steady sound, offering his own chapters in the perpetual soap opera of drunken fights, burnt-out teens and existential quests.
Jeff Penalty

29. Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange Arrangement
Leave it to a Jewish kid from Michigan to be the next Barry White. You keep expecting a tongue-in-cheek twist during A Strange Arrangement as if to say, “It’s ok, hipsters, I’m just kidding,” but these soul jams don’t lie. John Mayer called this his record of the year -- either he has surprisingly good taste or he just like the guy's name.
Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out

28. Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You
Lily Allen is a tabloid fixture for getting wasted, doing drugs, and chasing boys, but perhaps that’s why she makes such excellent music about just those things. On her second album Lily moans about everything from the Bush administration (“Fuck You”) to a guy who’s bad in the sack (“Not Fair”). Needless to say, the Queen of TMI goes into exquisite detail about each.
Not Fair

27. Noisettes – Wild Young Hearts
Zimbabwean singer Shingai Shoniwa helms this soul-rock three-piece, belting out Aretha-esq choruses over thumping guitar grooves. “Don’t Upset the Rhythm” blew up thanks to auspicious placement in a Mazda ad, but a thirty-second jingle doesn’t do justice to the deep R&B swagger of Wild Young Hearts.
Never Forget You

26. N.A.S.A. – The Spirit of Apollo
Even if this record stank, the guest list alone would make it notable. Tom Waits with Kool Keith, Karen O with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, David Bynre with Chuck D. L.A. DJ duo N.A.S.A. offers more than an enviable Rolodex though, putting innovative soul-hop beats behind all the top-of-their-game performances.
Spacious Thoughts (ft. Tom Waits & Kool Keith)

25. Fanfarlo – Reservoir
It’s hard to hear this majestic album without thinking of Iceland’s Sigur Rós, and for good reason: Sigur singer Jón Þór Birgisson helped guide this London quintet in releasing their debut, even volunteering a picture of his sister (name: Sigurrós) for the cover art. If Sigur Rós come from the heavens, though, Fanfarlo is solidly rooted in the earth, tempering their epic ambitions with a rootsy grit.
I'm a Pilot

24. Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream
Bruce Springsteen forgoing his rock roots for a Beach Boys-influenced pop album seems a shaky career move, but the Boss bridges the gap between Brian Wilson and Wilson Pickett in his most hopeful record in decades. Getting your guy in the White House can have that effect.
What Love Can Do

23. King Khan & BBQ – Invisible Girl
Sixties nostalgia runs thick these days, but lose amidst the Beatles and Stones idolizations are the vast numbers of equally hungry but less successful bands. King Khan is here to remind us. His garage assault recalls the Seeds, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Swingin’ Medallions, and all the other three-chord artists that went from parents’ basements to bargain bins in less time than it takes to say “one-hit wonder.”
Third Ave.

22. Muse – The Resistance
Muse frontman Matt Bellamy is sick of talking about the lizards. You say one time that you think an underground race descended from reptiles secretly controls the world and no one ever wants to talk about something else. It’d be easier to ignore Bellamy’s bizarre political theories though if they didn’t seep into his lyrics. “Interchanging mind control,” he sings in “Uprising.” “Come let the revolution take its toll.” Political paranoia is a dish best served loud, and with Muse’s swaggering Brit-prog beat behind him Bellamy just might incite the mass insurgence he so craves.

21. Anchor & Braille – Felt
When Anberlin lead singer Stephen Christian announced his ambient-pop side project, fans’ first thought was: The Postal Service. When the record finally dropped, fans’ second thought was: The Postal Service. The songs on Felt are like eleven gorgeous dreams though, falsetto choruses and piano codas building up to such great heights (har!) you never want to come down.
Like Steps in a Dance

Albums 1-20 coming tomorrow...

Download all MP3s featured in this post here [link removed].

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Larger Than Life In 3D ft. Dave Matthews Band

Let’s get one thing clear: despite what the Larger Than Life…In 3D filmmakers would have you believe, 3D concert films do not make it “as if you were there.” Thank goodness. Anyone looking for the “as if you were there” experience might be better off watching this movie from a couple hundred feet away with strangers yelling in your ear, spilling beer down the back of your shirt and elbowing you in the eye as they crowd-surf over you. Any regular concert-goer knows that “as if you were there” is hardly a selling point for a movie.

Thankfully, while watching the Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper and Relentless7 and Gogol Bordello in
Larger Than Life, you don’t feel at all like you’re there. Rather than try to force an in-the-crowd perspective (look at some audience-taped concert footage on YouTube to see how well that works), the vivid close-ups, hi-def pans and crystal sound quality substitute a whole different kind of energy. You don’t feel like you’re there, you feel bad for the people who were.

The music sounds just about as anyone familiar with the bands would expect it to (jam-rock, jam-blues and gypsy-punk, respectively), but the 3D technology helps bring out the little moments that make live shows so entrancing. When you watch Ben Harper fiddle with his guitar feedback to end his Mile High Music Festival set, his furrowed brow and piercing stare bring out the concentration pouring into the minute sonic fluctuations. When you see Dave Matthews lazily flopping around the stage during “Funny the Way It Is,” it’s like the frat-rock hippie is noodle-dancing right in your lap (whether you want Dave Matthews noodle-dancing in your lap is another matter entirely).

If the choice of performers to break the 3D concert technology to the post-tween crowd has little rhyme or reason – three different tours at three different festivals in three different states – it may be because this film is really a test run, for the technology and for the demand. Reports indicate that AEG, the company behind
Larger Than Life…In 3D, filmed much of Phish’s recent Festival 8 shows (hopefully including their cover of the Rolling Stones’ entire Exile on Main Street) and more performances from Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. One imagines they’ll be watching the ticket sales for this film’s one-week engagement quite closely to decide what if anything to do with this unreleased footage.

To be fair, this technology is far from perfect. While mid-range shots looked beautiful, anything with a significant depth of field causes stomachs to turn over. It was hard not to flinch every time an errant beach ball flashed across the screen, but worse still was the random stage equipment which would pop up looking hundreds of yards in front of the rest of the action. If anything, this technology works
too well; when Gogol Bordello hypeman Pedro Erazo points at a camera during “Start Wearing Purple,” it’s a wonder no one in the audience lost an eye. Real life isn’t that 3D.

Yes, there’s a long way to go before Digital 3D changes the way we watch concert films. At the screening I attended the inevitable awkward silence at the end of each song where everyone wonders if they’re supposed to clap or not was as uncomfortable as ever. Clap or not, though, the explosive power of Dave Matthews Band’s roaring through “Burning Down the House” in such vibrant quality was hard to deny.

No concert film has yet made you feel like you were there. Most in fact do the opposite: make you
wish you were there, experiencing in person what the screen will only hint at. Larger Than Life…in 3D succeeds because you don’t feel like you’re there, and you don’t particularly want to.

‘Larger Than Life…In 3D’ opens in 350 theaters nationwide for a limited, one-week-only screening from December 11-17.