Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best New Music of 2009 pt. 2

15. La Roux - In for the Kill
There was a time this year that I thought In For The Kill was going to be this year's D.A.N.C.E., not because of popularity (though it seems like the UK got really into it), but because everyone decided to try their hand at remixing it. The results were less in quantity and quality to those inspired by Justice (Skream's take notwithstanding), and seemed to overshadow the original cut. Turns out the unremixed version is the best of the bunch. 80s synth stabs and drum machine punches bop along as La Roux sings along with a slightly strained-sounding croon. I'm still waiting for another song from her that can match this, but luckily I'm not tired of In For The Kill just yet.

14. Hot Chip - Take It In
I was so happy to hear a new Hot Chip song as strong as Take It In is. I was left with a pretty mediocre opinion of the band's last album overall. Nothing was there to match anything from The Warning or My Piano (my favorite Hot Chip song). So this new track and closer to their forthcoming album plays to the band's strengths. We've got basically two modes of play during the track, alternating between dark synth pop and unabashedly sweet balladry. Honestly, it's just their catchiest track in over two years. It's nice to hear them retaining their signature sound (name another band that sounds like Hot Chip, I challenge you) and still being able to pull out new tricks.

13. Julian Casablancas - 11th Dimension
Some may know this already, but until this year, I'd never listened to a Strokes album all the way through. This wasn't because I didn't like the band, I just never gave it a shot. Seeing this solo album coming out, I decided to give it a shot, looking to it as a potential gateway album to The Strokes proper. For the most part it worked, but it had a lot more to do with the single 11th Dimension than anything else. I really like The Strokes' guitar work, but the synthesizer lines here aren't too shabby either. I like this song because it seems to indulge a bit in each component of the song at one point or another. I've actually have to rebuild my liking of the track after seeing Julian perform live on The Tonight Show, which was one of the most embarrassing TV show sets I've ever seen. I can't help thinking of the way he awkwardly slinked around the stage swinging his non-mic arm around (read: dancing), but I'm trying.

12. Basement Jaxx - Raindrops
Jaxx album covers always do such a good job at conveying the so-called maximalist style of the band, always heavy on collage, color saturation, and light-heartedness. Raindrops is a successful, straight-forward house floor-filler that makes you wonder why they only had Felix Buxton (one half of the Jaxx duo) sing on one track from the full LP. It's not an innovation in style, just great execution of a signature. One thing those great Jaxx songs all have in common is a feeling of rich density. Raindrops is no different. The sound is extremely lush, a perfect compliment to lyrics about dripping moisture, created with rising and then cascading synth lines and horn samples. Actually there's a watery aesthetic that is effectively conveyed throughout the whole track, nicely complimenting the ecstatic yearning of the vocals. More Jaxx like this, please.

11. Joker - Psychedelic Runway
For over a year now Joker has had my utmost attention, showing up as one of the biggest players out to change the dubstep scene. Joker probably shouldn't even be referred to as dubstep though, seeing as his sound deviates quite a bit from that genre's standbys. This factors in as part, but not all, of Joker's appeal. He sounds like he's onto something and most everyone else is playing catch-up, singlehandedly putting bloghouse's wobble appropriation to an abysmal shame. Part of the appeal of a track like Psychedelic Runway is its emphasis on creating a likable hook out of grimy synthesizer beats, and matching that with dubstep-y bass modulations. The resulting tracks sit in a weird place, too loud to be mood music, but too methodical to really go crazy with. The fact that a combination like that isn't frustrating to listen to is the real genius.

10. Royksopp - The Girl and the Robot (feat. Robyn)
Royksopp albums only come around every few years, but are always welcome. Their entire third LP was an upswing from their previous effort, but The Girl And The Robot featuring Robyn in Madonna-like pop songstress mode is the biggest winner of the bunch. There's a back and forth in the track between Robyn exclaiming her wavering yearning for a mechanically minded being and what can be interpreted to be the titular robot replying that she's turning a blind eye to reality. That's my take on it anyway. So what are the implications? Going by trademark Royksopp sensibilities, one has to take emotional exposition largely with sincerity, though a strain of humor, perhaps in the form of irony here, is usually present. I mean, they put a real robot figure in the music video, so this can't be seen as a totally serious piece. Whatever the interpretation, the track explodes with glitz and glam and one of the most dance-compelling tracks of the year.

9. 2000F & J Kamata - You Don't Know What Love Is
With Joker's Digidesign on the reverse of this, it's hard to argue against this split vinyl as one of the essential releases of the year and an absolute must-have for dubstep fans. Again, if you want to call this dubstep at all, that is. I have a soft spot for a well-executed heart-wrenching vocal which this has. Though I suspect it's a modified sample and not an original recording, the yearning resonates with an undeniable authenticity. In fact, I can't even make out what most of the lyrics in the song are since they're so distorted; that's how well the emotive tone of the vocal comes across. I've gotten this far without mentioning the backing production which is wonderful all in itself, bubbling drum beats and squeaking analog synth lines stride along as a nice compliment to the aforementioned lyric track. I also recommend 2000F's remixes if you can find them.

8. Shazam - Pool Party 2009
I can only hope Shazam keeps up with the excellent track record he's laid out for himself so far. This 2009 reimagining of his song from last year is his best production to date, though he's also done some truly great remixes for the likes of The Tough Alliance and Bag Raiders. Basically the title here doesn't lie, and Pool Party 2009 sounds like a pool party. There should be a music video for this consisting simply of people sipping drinks around a pool while others perform cannonballs in the deep end and splash-fight on the shallow side. The cascading synthesizer lines perfectly evoke sun-drenched swagger and the general upbeat ensures that this track exists to be fun and nothing deeper. It just manages to be magnificently executed fun. It even has "party" in the title, I mean, c'mon.

7. Flaming Lips - The Impulse / Silver Trembling Hands
The Flaming Lips win the award for most pleasant surprise this year for their wonderful album, Embryonic. I've been only slightly into the band, owning the Soft Bulletin mostly on recommendations about how good it is (I do think it's good btw). So not only did I not know they had a release this year, had I known, I likely wouldn't have really cared. After seeing some pretty positive reviews and hearing that it was a departure from what the Lips had been doing recently, I gave it a shot and was not disappointed. This is such a marvelous treat of a turn for this veteran band. Not being able to get into Dungen's 4 with the same enthusiasm as previous releases, Embryonic more than fills my need for contemporary psychedelic rock. The two songs here represent two of my favorites from the album, but also a great contrast of styles that represent so many aspects of why this album is the gem that it is.

6. Hot Toddy - I Need Love
Hot Toddy is a late-comer to my musical radar, but wow, what an impressive little catalogue he has going. While everything with his name in it is worth checking out, I Need Love was released in vinyl form this year and is the best showcase of the man's talent. It's a slow-burn disco house number that will break your heart when the vocals claim "I can feel my life slipping away," followed by a pointed piano crescendo that just runs you right through. I actually don't know if I'd dance to this if I heard it out somewhere. It fits in a similar category to Hercules & Love Affair's This Is My Love, in both lyrical content and tone, but while that track is about revealing new feelings in an upbeat, fun way, I Need Love feels dark and motivated by desperation. Likewise, you need to check this out if you haven't already along with the perfectly nice Morgan Geist remix that comes with it.

5. The Juan MacLean - Happy House
This track is a victim of my lack of a 2008 singles list, which is why it shows up here. Luckily I'm able to get away with it because it was a part of The Juan MacLean's sophomore LP that came out this year. This is epic disco house that shows that James Murphy isn't the only one that can do it well on DFA. When I say epic, I mean literally as the song lasts for a good 12.5 minutes and can be read as transitioning through no less than 3 movements. Nancy Wang provides vocals with a deadpan singing style that delivers the goods while maintaining a playful nonchalance. The song literally "spaces-out" towards the end with a bare-bones beat breakdown, emphasizing the lyrics "Launch me in to space," followed by a Pink Floydian wobbly build-up that eventually settles and retires the expedition. If there's one track from 2009 that I'd like to see set to a laser light show, it's Happy House.

4. Four Tet - Love Cry
Everything coming out of the Kieren Hebden camp since the Ringer EP has me the most interested in Four Tet that I have been since Spirit Fingers. Basically he's been on a bit of a techno kick lately as opposed to the folk-tronica sound that he's so well known for. This couldn't be a better move for him as Love Cry is absolutely fantastic techno. I realize this makes for yet another song on this list that is explicitly about love, but this track is as different from the rest as they are from one another. The vocals repeat "Love cry," and "Love me," with a mechanical precision, layered over one another, creating a ghostly distance and coldness. Some unintelligible vocal bursts provide nice accents amidst the broken 4/4 beats and whirring drones. Oh, and he puts color gradients on the cover? I'm sold. More like this, please, Mr. Hebden. Maybe you could do some more work with Burial too? Maybe?

3. The Field - Leave It
Given the utter ecstasy that was From Here We Go Sublime, Axel Wilner had quite the mountain ahead of him in preparing his second full-length effort, but for the most part he pulled it off. Though there are some really tight compositions that push The Field into new territory, the highlight is still Leave It which remains stylistically close to Sublime. This is hardly something I can complain about as The Field makes music that transports the listener to another world like no one else. I love they way he can create such a sense of speed and euphoria, it's magic. I feel kind of ridiculous talking about this because I only have such glowing things to say about it and I feel like my 2007 assessment of The Field is still valid when it come to this song here. I should note that the part when the beat drops out at 7:45 and then returns three measures later is my favorite musical moment of the year.

2. Joy Orbison - Hyph Mngo
Let's get the bad out of the way first. Joy Orbison is a stupid name for a band/musician following steadfast in the redundant naming convention of taking celebrity names and changing one of the syllables. Everyone, please stop this. Don't let this prevent you from checking out one of the best tracks of 2009 in Hyph Mngo, though. If you're catching onto a trend with this list here, you'll notice an affinity for dubstep that isn't dubstep. At some level categories become a hindrance, and titles, insufficient. The heck is the title of this song, really? The final version of this track makes good on the widely-circulated edit, merely repeating itself a second time and adding a minute and a half of ambient intro before queuing in the samples. What makes this track work so well is the core loop. Consisting of cut-up female vocals saying something close to "I do" bouncing off "ooo"ing interjections with stop-start beats that keep a herky-jerky pace above heavy bass hits. Basically it wobbles without actually including "wobble," which is a feat in itself. I can't describe what makes this loop hook so much more significantly than others, but it does and it definitely got a hold of me.

1. Animal Collective - Brothersport / My Girls
Booooring to put this on top, I know, but anything else would have been a lie. For what it's worth, I wasn't an AnCo fan before this album, but after being warmed up by Person Pitch, I was totally won over this time. That's not to say that I now have a desire to go back and delve into the band's back catalogue, I've tried. I can appreciate that stuff, but it's just not my thing. In a way this makes MWPP that much more special though. As someone who is often slated as preferring instrumental music to turn a corner with a band who for the first time in their career has largely decipherable lyrics is a noteworthy irony and a humorous contradiction. To be fair, when a band bases one of their standout songs on a Frankie Knuckles tune, we are talking about a foundation that fits squarely in familiar territory for my music preferences. Both of these tracks have been written about to death, but I'd just like to say that I love how triumphant Brothersport is. If the track was meant to be inspirational to Noah Lennox's brother, or whatever the story is, that uplifting wish is contagious as the song asks you, literally, to sing along ("You've got to open up your throat"). It might seem kind of hippieish and cheesy, but it exists outside of the cliches that usually signify that vibe, making it sound like truly nothing else.

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