Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Top Albums of 2009

December 21, 2009

So the year’s over, and while I’ll always be a TV guy, I’ve found myself increasingly interested in music, buying almost 200 albums this year when usually I’d be content with a few dozen.  Of course, most of those didn’t come out this year, so I’m not exactly the strongest source for this.  Still, I’ve listened to enough to feel comfortable forming a list for my favorite albums of the year.  At first I made a top-10 list that didn’t really work for me.  It didn’t succeed in capturing the year in music as I saw it.  So I made this list, which numbers, 1-5, things that felt great about this year in music.  Each number is represented by at least two albums, and there’s a few honorable mentions at the end that didn’t quite fit on this refined list (and in only one case was on the original top 10 list).

1. Merriweather Post Pavilion and Fall Be Kind EP, by Animal Collective

The band that owned 2009.  How did they do it?  They’ve always made music in more interesting ways than anyone else, but here they refined techniques that were incredibly innovative with songwriting that towered over the competition.  Every year has its popular indie albums (see #3), but rarely does it feel like one of them is going to go down as an all-time classic.  But few albums ever have the makings of a classic like Merriweather Post Pavilion and its twin EP, Fall Be Kind.  For newbies, download “My Girls,” “Summertime Clothes,” and “What Would I Want? Sky.”

2. Seek Magic, by Memory Tapes, Psychic Chasms, by Neon Indian, and Life of Leisure EP, by Washed Out

A new genre emerged this year, chillwave, and it rocks.  Although “rocks” is the exact wrong word to describe its sound.  Chillwave is hard to define, and various names have tried.  Popular ones include glo-fi, dream-beat, and hypnagogic pop.  It sounds dreamy, has beats, glows, is hypnagogic, but really, chillwave is the most accurately evocative, even though only half of it can actually be used to describe the sound.  It’s music that takes influence from 80s pop but transforms it into a new aesthetic, something soothing but captivating.  It creates a soundscape that you can dance to or fall asleep to – kind of remarkable.  And these were the three best chillwave releases this year.  Memory Tapes is my favorite, but Neon Indian and Washed Out are a little more popular.  They’re all fantastic though.  If you’re looking for an entrance point, download Memory Tapes’ “Bicycle” and “Stop Talking,” Neon Indian’s “Deadbeat Summer” and “Mind Drips,” and Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around” and “You’ll See It.”

3. Bitte Orca, by Dirty Projectors, Veckatimest, by Grizzly Bear, and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, by Phoenix

These were the Indie buzz albums of 2009 – albums that would probably stop gathering new fans in a few years if the bands responsible ceased producing new albums that people were interested in.  But for this year, this was the music that occupied our hipster consciousness, and we were thankful for it.  The Dirty Projectors were the most innovative, and give a lot of promise to the future of indie pop.  Grizzly Bear indicate that pure beauty will not leave the genre any time soon.  And Phoenix argues that an art pop group that has existed under the surface for a decade has potential to explode into a mainstream sensation when no one expects them to.  Together, they were a finer collection of buzz albums than many other years manage, and I’m glad to have spent the past twelve months with them.  If you didn’t, it’s not too late to – download Dirty Projectors’ “Cannibal Resource,” “Stillness Is the Move,” and “Two Doves,” Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait for the Others,” and Phoenix’s “Lisztomania” and “1901.”

4. Ayrton Senna EP, by Delorean, and Aim and Ignite, by fun.

The #4 and #5 entries on this list, while each containing more than one album like #1-3, don’t quite have the thematic unity of the previous entries.  These two especially have very little in common musically.  Delorean’s instrumentation is electronic, full of synths, and their songwriting highlights repetition.  fun.’s music doesn’t incorporate many modern sounds but it uses old ones in interesting ways, and their songwriting is gorgeous and melodic.  But they fit together in terms of what they make you feel.  These are joyous releases, albums that inspire nothing but good vibrations.  They’re not the best albums of the year – Ayrton Senna is an EP with only four tracks, and one is a remix (although the iTunes version has a good bonus track), and Aim and Ignite, while awesome overall, only has maybe four or five great songs.  But the feelings they inspire makes any weaknesses irrelevant.  Check out Delorean’s “Deli” and “Seasun,” and fun.’s “Be Calm,” “Benson Hedges,” and “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used to Be).”

5. jj n° 2, by jj, and xx, by the xx

I had a list of albums I loved from this year, and when it came to finding a group to form #5 on the list, these two stood out.  Like Delorean and fun., they don’t have much in common in terms of instrumentation, and unlike Delorean and fun. they really don’t make you feel the same way.  But they stand out together for a many reasons: they’re both very mellow and occasionally melancholy, neither surrounds their music with instrumentation that clutters the gorgeous songs, although they each strive for a very different ambience, they’re both remarkably fully-formed debut albums, and, oh yeah, the names.  Of course, it took me a few days to remember I’m not the first person to group these two bands: they themselves did, announcing earlier this year that they’ll be doing seven shows together in March and April.  Sweet.  Check out jj’s “Things Will Never Be the Same Again” and Ecstasy,” and the xx’s “Crystalised” and “Basic Space.”

Honorable Mention
Album, by Girls
See Mystery Lights, by YACHT
Tarot Sport, by the Fuck Buttons

-Zach

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Eminem; “Relapse”

May 30, 2009

So – Eminem’s Relapse.  You already know how much I hated lead single “We Made You,” but what about the rest of the album?  Is it a work of twisted genius like his groundbreaking first three albums?  Or is it all as poorly written and insultingly low-brow as “We Made You”?  Find out which (hint: neither) after the jump!

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Looking back: miscellaneous

May 29, 2009

Another season come and gone, and I’ve been taking a look at some of the peaks and valleys of this memorable year for television.  This will be the final post along these lines, featuring four shows that didn’t quite fit into categories like sci-fi or NBC comedies (although this does contain an ex-NBC comedy).  Reviews coming up after the jump.

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Looking back: sci-fi madness

May 26, 2009

Another season come and gone, and it’s time to take a look at some of the peaks and valleys of this memorable year for television.  Let’s see how three of my favorite sci-fi series fared after the jump.

Battlestar Galactica

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Looking back: NBC sitcoms

May 19, 2009

Another season come and gone, and it’s time to take a look at some of the peaks and valleys of this memorable year for television.  We’ll start today with NBC’s three significant Thursday-night comedies, after the jump.

Parks and Recreation

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SAVE CHUCK!

April 21, 2009

Look guys, Chuck is the best show on TV.  Sure, Lost has been pretty superb this season, but in the end, there’s no show I look forward to more than Chuck.  It is so consistently entertaining that no matter how crappy your week ahead might look, you can depend on one hour of pure, brilliant escapism.  There hasn’t been an episode yet this season that wasn’t at least good (and with one episode left, I don’t expect that to change).  Unfortunately, Chuck‘s ratings are awful, so it’s up to us to save it.  First you can read this excellent letter to NBC by TV critic Alan Sepinwall in which he makes the case for Chuck‘s renewal, but the rest is up to you.  Watch whatever episodes are up on Hulu, rent the first season (buy it if you have some spare cash), write letters, whatever.  The world of television will be a much sorrier place if it returns this fall without Chuck on board.  In the meantime, here are some SAVE CHUCK images I made in Photoshop.  Choose one or two you like and use it as your Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace profile, computer background, print it on a t-shirt (not necessarily these), whatever.  Only we can save Chuck.  Pictures after the jump…

UPDATE Chuck=saved

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Eminem: “We Made You”

April 17, 2009

So, for those of you who tend to drift towards the underbellies of rocks or just haven’t gotten into the whole internet thing, Eminem dropped a new song and music video, “We Made You.” This is the first official single for his once-hotly-anticipated upcoming fifth album Relapse, which will be his first album in four and a half years and three days.

Read Zach’s review of the new single after the jump…

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Dollhouse review

April 12, 2009

Zach takes on the Dollhouse, after the jump…

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Watchmen review

March 29, 2009

Zach’s epic review of Watchmen, the film and the comic, is referenced in the first episode of the podcast.  It contains spoilers for just about everything.

watchmen

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