Tag Archives: HEALTH

Top 20 Albums of 2009 (11-20)

2009 was the year of disappointments. Obama’s change never really took shape, the Lakers and Yankees won championships in their respective sports, and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” sucked ass.  The disappointment flu bug didn’t avoid the music world, where perennial greats like A.C. Newman, Andrew Bird, Beirut, The Decemberist, Handsome Furs, Built to Spill, and The Dodos all released mediocre albums (this list could be longer, but I thought I’d spare you the details).  Fortunately it was not all a wash, with many bands stepping up in 2009 with ambitious albums that beg to be reckoned with.  

Honorable Mention:

And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead “The Century of Self”

Converge “Axe to Fall”

Lightning Bolt “Earthly Delights”

Marissa Nadler “Little Hells”

Megafaun “Gather, Form, and Fly”

Memory Tapes “Seek Magic”

Mount Eerie “Wind’s Poem”

Pissed Jeans “King of Jeans”

Propagandhi “Supporting Caste”

Yeah Yeah Yeahs “It’s Blitz”

 

20. Bats for Lashes

“Two Suns”

“Two Suns” doesn’t feel like an album at all, rather an ancient, epic tale of love and survival.  What would it sound like if C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien were to form a band? This might be it right here, with Natasha Kahn’s voice resembling Lady Galadriel, speaking a tale that only the forest knows.  At times it is over-produced  which is a plus in this case, commanding your attention. A story of this magnitude can not be told in lo-fi (compare the PBS version of “The Chronicles of Narnia” to the latest film versions, and you’ll understand my point).  Although the lyrics tell of a mystical, metaphorical world of chivalry and heart-break, the music sounds like something new and unexplored.

19. Phoenix

“Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”

“Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” is more than a dance record, but you probably already know that.  It fronts as a collection of pop music, but in reality it’s a headphone album.  Every song features an ambience that will envelope your head and have strange sounds bouncing around inside your skull like a magical, musical Pong.  Even in its most mainstream track “1901” there are random bleeps and whistles that surprise you from every which way.  Phoenix, veterans of the pop music world, have mastered their craft, balancing memorable hooks with little nuances that make it an album you’ll go back to, over and over again.

18. Fuck Buttons

“Tarot Sport”

I’ll admit, when I first heard “Tarot Sport” I was a little disappointed. What made their 2008 release “Street Horssing” so great was how every song eventually led into a world of torture, usually a garbled voice howling a la Aphex Twins.  On “Tarot Sport”, the oppressed vocals have been set free.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized why the band had to move on. If they continued relying on the riotous finish to each song, what was at first an original sound would become a gimmick. Instead, the band looked to new horizons, realizing they could take their sound to higher altitudes.  Fuck Buttons want to take dance/electronica beyond the raves and gay night clubs.  Dance music has become a “boom boom boom boom” cliché. Fuck Buttons see that this music style can be grand, can go beyond what is copy and pasted on a laptop. It can build, layer upon layer. It can feature live instrumentation. It can gather sounds from beyond the digital world.  When I first heard the band name Fuck Buttons I thought it was in reference to the clitoris, but  with “Tarot Sport” I now know I was wrong. They are making a statement: “Fuck buttons!”  Electronica has relied on technology for too long. Instead, they take live tribal drums, growling guitars, and toss them into the digital mix.  Fuck Buttons have made an intrepid album that builds, much like their old sound, but shows the Bristol boys can be more potent and spacious than the girtty bite of “Street Horssing” would allow. 

17. Mos Def

“The Ecstatic”

By modern definition, “The Ecstatic” isn’t a rap album. It doesn’t contain any lyrics about driving in a Benz, wearing bling, or drinking Cristal. There are no sexual innuendos, tales of sex acts, or descriptions of shakin’ booties.  You won’t find any auto-tuner, in fact, Mos Def sings throughout the album with a voice that is smooth and rich.   The backing loops don’t even sound like the rap music of today. Mos Def sampled albums from Lebanon, Turkey, and Brazil (oh, and a little Marvin Gaye for good measure). Some songs sound Jamaican, others sound Arabic, and even one (“No Hay, Nadas Mas”) is rapped entirely in Spanish.  In fact, the entire album plays like a journey across the globe, with Mos Def professing lyrics about troubles that go beyond the hood.  Sure, the inner city can be tough, but try living a day in the ghetto of Iraq.

16. HEALTH

“Get Color”

This past fall I reviewed this album and claimed that HEALTH were now writing songs, which may have been misleading. The band is still as vicious as ever on “Get Color”, violently raging through a noise that is both clamorous and discordant like their work of the past. The only difference here is that they understand their music can be more than just noise; it can have peaks and valleys – it can have melodies.  Believe me, their are plenty of both rage and harmony to go around. While their self titled album leaves you beaten and bruised, “Get Color” serenades you to your feet just in time to take another wallop of destruction. 

15. Lightning Dust

“Infinite Light”

Although this album may seem sparse, it is much more complex and ambitious than your first assumptions.  Yes, Amber Webber’s warbly voice does sound lost in some type of echo chamber, but the music as a whole will fill up every corner of your room, drowning you with tales of wisdom and curiosity.  Lightning Dust proves that the folks behind Black Mountain can do more than write psychedelic metal (just imagine what could have happened if Black Sabbath and Joan Baez collaborated in the 70s).  This music is like a lost and distant star.  Amber guides us towards it, leading through the cosmos of sound, visiting strange, ancient melodies, and finally offering us up to the light.

14. Future of the Left

“Travels with Myself and Another”

If you’re expecting Future of the Left to be Mclusky with a different name, you’ve been mistaken. Yes, the lyrics are still witty and wry and the guitars at times still bark and growl at you, but the majority of the album has a different edge to it than the classic Mclusky work. “The Hope That House Built” is a march about jumping on the bandwagon of a hopeless cause, “Throwing Bricks at Trains” is Devo through a hardcore lense, and “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You” is Big Black for the new millenium.  In the song Falco screams “It doesn’t smell like a man! It doesn’t taste like a man! but does it fuck like a man?”  The same question could be asked of Future of the Left. It doesn’t always sound or smell like Mclusky, but it still sure fucks like Mclusky.

13. BiRd-BrAiNs

“tUnE-yArDs”

Merrill Garbus, the brains behind BiRd-BrAiNs, recorded her entire album from her home, using only a loop pedal, a ukulele, a drum set, and a digital recorder.  With such a simple palette, it doesn’t seem like she could take the sound very far, but you would be mistaken.  “tUnE-yArDs” is an accomplishment in resourcefulness because she is somehow able to create music that is complex and ever-changing.  At times it is simple folk music, at others it is calming R&B.  Unlike most of the R&B on the radio, BiRd-BrAiNs is personal and real.  Throughout the album you can hear the echoing voice of a little boy talking, laughing, and coughing in the background (I’m guessing he’s her son but I have no proof of who the mystery child is) and he becomes a part of the music, a character in her little world.  Throughout the album, she somehow takes the sounds of cars passing or a child coughing and meshes them into her tunes, making mistakes sound like an intrical part of the song.  While many artists try to take their sound to uncharted territories, she somehow makes home sound like a new and alien place. 

12. Wavves

“Wavves”

It’s easy to hate Nathan Williams. His melt-down at the Primavera Festival in Spain became a YouTube sensation earlier this year. He was sarcastic, bratty, and simply put, an asshole.  Yet, I feel he’s gotten a bad rap. We all have bad days, right? In the same style as the ESPN show that tries to defend Dennis Rodman’s behavior, I’m going to give you “Five Reasons You Can’t Blame Nathan Williams”:

 5. Wavves never wanted to be famous. Their first album was self-released and recorded in William’s bedroom on a 4-track. It was simply a kid having fun with his guitar.

4. Williams was on a mixture of Valium, Ecstasy, and alcohol the night of the famous Spain show.  Sure, we can blame him for being so fucked up, but do you think his 2009 album would be so damn cool and divergent if he were a sober fella?

3. People from Spain are not worthy of Wavves. Get over it, filthy Imperials.

2. Drummer Ryan Ulsh was holding Nathan back…of course, I have no proof of this.

1. The band got too big, too quick.  Their album came out in February, and within a couple weeks, they were the biggest buzz band of 2009.  Within a month, they were playing before festival crowds (including SXSW) that they never could have imagined when recording their first album. 

Despite these facts, many moved past Wavves, judging Williams by his behavior and not his music.  Their loss. Wavve’s self-titled album is a roller coaster ride through no-fi Valhalla, a combination of crackling guitars and spacey synths with Nathan’s muffled voice shouting throughout.  This is damn good stuff; you can’t deny it. But then again, maybe I’m biased. After all, I always did find Rodman’s behavior on the court to be refreshing and graceful, a beautiful disaster prancing up and down the court.

11. Alela Diane

“To Be Still”

“To Be Still” is not cutting-edge, nor is it going to change the face of music as we know it.  Its strength lies in its familiarity. No, it doesn’t sound like anything on the radio, yet you feel like you know this voice; you know these stories.  Throughout “To Be Still” Alela paints pictures of nature, all images and colors you’ve seen in your time, yet not from her unique perspective.  “To Be Still” is an album that is cozy and welcoming like a campfire.  Sit. Be still. Let Alela’s glow captivate you, filling your soul with warmth and comforting you through the cold winter nights.

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Top 50 Songs of 2009 (1-25)

25. Akron/Family
“River”

In the 90s, Big Bad VooDoo Daddy scored a hit with “You and Me and the Bottle Makes Three”, a title Marilyn Manson jump off from with “You and Me and the Devil Makes Three”. I prefer Akron/Family’s approach in “River” singing “You and me and the fire makes three”, warm imagery of what it’s like to be out in nature with your two companions being a river and a campfire. Oh, but I know there is much more going on here. Could the fire be symbolic of the feelings felt between two lovers, with the female being hard to get a grasp of much like a river? Or maybe I’m just an English teacher in search of symbolism…

24. Wavves
“Beach Demon”

Yes, I know Nathan Williams, the genius behind Wavves, is a dick, but I’m sure John Lennon could be an asshole at times too.

23. Wilco
“You Never Know”

Speaking of the Beatles, is it just me or does this song sound like the spawn of George Harrison? Don’t hear it? Get two minutes and 55 seconds in and maybe you’ll know what I’m talking about – the answers hidden within the sliding guitar solo. Even if you don’t hear the ghost of George, at least take joy in Jeff Tweedy dropping all his worries and singing a happy song for a change.

22. Alela Diane
“White as Diamonds”

There is nothing quite as hypnotic as the sound of Alela’s voice jumping into falsetto throughout this song. Just when you are falling in a dreamlike sleep, the notes shoot out at you, surprising you and casting an irresistable spell like Cupid’s arrow.

21. Bill Callahan
“All Thoughts are Prey to Some Beast”

If you saw “The Hangover”, you may recall the moment where Mike Tyson is enthralled by the pounding drum fill of Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight”. “All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast” has the same rumbling drums, although they don’t attack you like Tyson in the boxing ring. Instead, like a musical Lennox Lewis, the drums slowly overtake you, building and building and building throughout the six-minute opus. This song is larger than life with lyrics to match (I included them all; they’re that damn good):

The leafless tree looked like a brain
The birds within were all the thoughts and desires within me
Hoppin’ around from branch to branch, or snug in their nests listenin’ in

An eagle came over the horizon and shook the branches with its sight
The softer thoughts: starlings, finches, and wrens
The softer thoughts, they all took flight

The eagle looked clear through the brain tree, emptying thoughts saved for me
Maybe I’ll make this one my home, consolidate the nests of the tiny
Raise a family of might like me

Then something struck him, wings of bone
Sweet desires and soft thoughts were all gone
The eagle shrieked, “I’m alone”

Well it was time to flee the tree
The eagle snuck up on the wind one talon at a time
Being sky king of the sky, what did he have to fear
All thoughts are prey to some beast
All thoughts are prey to some beast

Sweet desire and soft thoughts, return to me
Sweet desire and soft thoughts, return to me

20. Mirah
“Generosity”

This song was featured as the intro-music to E!’s “Live From the Red Carpet” show for the Oscars (don’t make fun of me; my girlfriend was watching it). The choice seems fitting for a night where actors and actresses dress to impress. Mirah usually records music that is bare-bones and personal, but her song “Generosity” shows her dressing up her music with an elegant string section and a verbose presentation that fit perfectly amidst Hollywood’s self-congratulatory pomp and circumstance.

19. Cam’ron
“(I Hate) My Job”

It’s too bad this song wasn’t released back in 1999. It would have worked great alongside “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta” on the “Office Space” soundtrack. Actually, 2009 might have been the worst year to release this song. How can you complain about your job when a large portion of our country is jobless? Despite this fact, I still feel this song is an instant classic due to the fact that most people, at some point, hate their job. I love my profession, but at times, the people in power make it very difficult to enjoy what I do. On days filled with frustration at work, there is no better tune to help release the stress on your commute home.

18. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“Skeletons”

There are many facets to Karen O. She can be bratty, loud, sexy, and even at times, psychotic. She is at her best though when she lets down her guard, exposing her vulnerability. “Skeletons” may not be the most upbeat song on “It’s Blitz”, nor is it the catchiest track, but in my humble opinion, it is the album’s high-point. Karen is no longer hiding behind a drum machine or slashing synth riff. Her heart is exposed for all to see, hidden only by the uncoiling back-bone of orchestra and clicking drum sticks, always on the verge of breaking yet somehow staying steady throughout.

17. Future of the Left
“Arming Eritrea”

Fuck Rick. Who ever he is, he must be quite the douche to get such an angry tirade from Future of the Left’s Andy Falkous. We’ve heard Falco get pissed about many things with his influential band Mclusky, but never have I heard him pinpoint one mother fucker this directly. Sure, the title suggests the song has deeper meaning, but I like to believe that the song is primarily about that shit-dick Rick.

16. Dananananaykroyd
“Black Wax”

Speaking of Mclusky,Dananananaykroyd has obviously listened to “Do Dallas” a few times. Although they do a nice job of trying to fill the classic band’s void, their best song is actually a simple pop song that doesn’t follow the Mclusky formula. “Black Wax” shows the band being able to level out their cheeky behavior with just a dash of charm. Cheers to melodies!

15. Eat Skull
“Stick to the Formula”

While on the subject of formulas (damn, I’m getting good at this whole transition thing), Eat Skull want you to “do to the formula!”. Somehow, with all the clang and clamor they create, Eat Skull found a plum of a chorus. Unlike geometry formulas, the chorus of this song will stick in your head for infinity. If I were a math teacher I would use this song in my class daily. Unfortunately, we don’t do formulas in English (I do teach transitions though!).

14. Built to Spill
“Good Ol’ Boredom”

It’s kind of ironic that the best song on Built to Spill’s ho-hum 2009 release “There is No Enemy” is a song with the word “boredom” in the title. There is too much going on in this song to make it boring. The guitars are piled on top of each other cautiously like a seven layer dip, each part adding its own zest to the final product. There is one guitar line that stands out above all the rest, swooping and momentous like a 21st Century “Free Bird”.

13. BLK JKS
“Lakeside”

This song is a lot like “Weekend at Bernie’s” (in a good way). It opens up sounding dreadful, with spooky harmonizing and a menacing guitar line (there is nothing spookier than dragging a dead guy around a beach). Then of course, the band breaks into the chorus, an upbeat, African-ska-energy infused celebration that would even get life-less Bernie to join in on a conga line.

12. Volcano Choir
“Island, IS”

“Unmap” is a strange album. It is made up of “songs” where awkward instruments squawk clumsily, never really taking shape. It is definitely miles away from the melodic folk music we’ve grown accustomed to with Justin Vernon. “Island, IS” plays as the saviour to the album. It’s almost as if Vernon wanted to throw us off with one master work that delves into environs he’s never visited, to remind us there is still more to come from Bon Iver (plus, any song that mentions “the old tits on your hard drive” is a winner in my book).

11. Nadja
“Needle in the Hay”

Who would have thought an Elliot Smith song could be made more depressing? Nadja does just that, injecting the once intimate song with an eery dose of ambient-doom. The voice is buried beneath the bedlam, a ghostly whisper of “needle in the hay” that will send chills up your spine if you ever grew to know Elliot personally through his music.

10. Mountain Goats
“Drug Life”

What happened to the Mountain Goats of old? They were lo-fi before lo-fi was cool. Using his trusty four-track recorder, John Darnielle used to write hilarious songs with titles like “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” and “I Love You. Let’s Light Ourselves on Fire”. A lot has changed. In 2009, the Mountain Goats released “The Life of the World to Come”, a highly polished album of 12 songs about 12 verses from the bible. I may be mistaken, but I don’t remember the bible having any punch lines (unless you count the burning bush). Fortunately, Merge Records released “Score! 20 Years of Merge Records”, a compilation of indie artists covering classic songs by Merge bands from the past. Darnielle is matched up with “Drug Life” by East River Pipe (a band I definitely need to check out after hearing this song and the Okkervil River cover of “All You Little Suckers”). It ended up being a perfect match due to its hilarious lyrics, something Darnielle abandoned years ago. And just to make us nostalgic, Darnielle records it in his familiar lo-fi style. What a tease.

9. Neko Case
“People Got A Lotta Nerve”

You mean to tell me Neko Case wrote a song with the chorus “I’m a man-eater” and it’s better than Hall & Oates classic? I’ll leave that up for to debate, but her “man-eater” is a killer whale while Hall & Oates are afraid of some chick. What pussies.

8. Passion Pit
“Moth’s Wings”

Can you believe this band is on Frenchkiss Records, home of Les Savy Fav, Plastic Constellations, and the Fatal Flying Guilloteens? It seems like a strange fit, but I can’t blame label head Syd Butler for signing them. Their songs are scrumptious treats, frosted in sugary synths and Michael Angelako’s sacchariferous falsetto. Of all their tasty tunes, “Moth’s Wings” would be the cheese cake, with its complex, creamy textures and its rich, fulfilling melody.

7. HEALTH
“Die Slow”

Industrial music died with the 90s, right? Not according to HEALTH. On “Die Slow”, the band explores new territories in the genre, combining metalic synths with BJ Miller’s insane drumming and the hellacious scream of guitars, all of which seems to be traveling through some type of black-hole-vortex. Taking a nod from Nine Inch Nail’s underrated “The Fragile”, the band sees how live and digital instruments can live together in perfect harmony (or in this case, perfect dissonance).

6. Mos Def
“Supermagic”

While most rappers gave up on sampling years ago, Mos Def realizes there is still some magic hidden on the shelves of the local record store. On “Supermagic”, Mos Def pulled an LP out the Turkish Folk section, sampling “Ince Ince”, a song by the 1970s protest singer Selda. To make an already tight song tighter, he rewords Mary Poppin’s classic “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” with his cooler, darker version “Super magic black origin freshly out of dopeness”. Selda meets Mary Poppins? Now that would be one magic woman.

5. Cymbals Eat Guitars
“And the Hazy Sea”

Cymbals Eat Guitars set their listeners up for a major disappointment by putting “And the Hazy Sea” at the start of their 2009 release “Why There Are Mountains”. Nothing can stand up to the climatic nature of this song, yet you listen to the remainder of the album hoping those feelings will return. Like a 12 hour sex romp with Sting, “And the Hazy Sea” jams orgasm after orgasm into six minutes, leaving you sweaty and incapacitated.

4. Matt and Kim
“Daylight”

Matt and Kim are “the little band that could”. I’ve been enjoying their music for a couple years now, thinking of them as my little pop-secret. Never did I expect to hear their boisterous ditty “Daylight” on TV shows (“Community”), advertisements (an ad for “Bacardi”), and video games (“NBA Live 2010, FIFA 2010”, and “Sims 3”). “Daylight’s” success proves that with a great melody, any band can break through that glass ceiling (although, I suspect that Matt blackmailed EA Games at some point in the past year).

3. Animal Collective
“Girls”

There is something childlike to “Girls”, yet the lyrics speak of what it means to grow up and be a father. Commonly, the music of artists begins to wane with age and the added stress of wife, kids, etc. As usual, Animal Collective break the mold, managing to sound better than ever, even making parenthood sound fun…sleep loss, screaming babies, and poopy diapers –fun? Why must you fuck with my head A.C.?

2. The Very Best
“Warm Heart of Africa (featuring Ezra Koenig”

Last year The Very Best took Vampire Weekend’s song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and put the Columbia alums back in their place, bringing authenticity to the African inspired song. In 2009, Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend decided to join forces with his tormentors to lend his vocals to “Warm Heart of Africa”. With their powers combined – The Very Best’s African beats and Ezra’s s tender voice -these musical Avengers berate you until you are up on your feet dancing and singing along to African words that you don’t understand.

1. Phoenix
“Love Like a Sunset Part I and II”

Phoenix is a simple pop band that creates great hooks, right? Yes, and no. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me present to you evidence: “Love is a Sunset pt. I & II”, a sprawling, atmospheric journey of astronomical proportions. Like a ride through “It’s a Small World After All”, the song takes you through all of the regions music can provide your brain – it baffles and broadens, it pacifies and presses, it’s simple yet cinematic, it penetrates and motivates- simply put, this song will change your life, if you can only lend it a moment of your time.

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HEALTH “Get Color”

Health

“Get Color”

Rating: 8

In the liner notes of HEALTH’s third album “Get Color”, Trent Reznor gets sixth billing in the “thank you” section.  Upon first listen to the album, it quickly becomes apparent that the thank you goes beyond a simple shout out for their inclusion in Nine Inch Nail’s “Lights in the Sky” tour.  While the first track “In Heat” is the classic HEALTH sound of tribal chaos, track 2, “Die Slow”, presents a more melodic approach with an industrial-dance backbeat.  The song thrashes yet will have a hum tickling in your throat. Yes, that’s right folks, HEALTH is now writing songs. Deal with it.   

 While I must admit that it is sad to see their drummer constrained by a simple disco beat, HEALTH’s new approach is more distinct and resolute.  They have found their sound, and it’s earth shattering (and ear-drum shattering if you play it at 90 decibels, as requested in the liner notes).  

 HEALTH continues with the “we write songs” approach on tracks like “Nice Girls” and “Before Tigers”.  Jake Duznik’s singing sounds like a forlorn monk, lost amidst the rampage being twisted by the rest of the band.  Unfortunately, the new aproach doesn’t sustain throughout the album.  And heck, do you blame them? Their tour has been a constant for three years now. As a result, the album features older, unreleased songs they’ve been playing live for years: “We Are Water”, “Death+”, and “Severin”.  Not that these songs are weaker by any means, but there is an obvious difference between the older tunes and the newer ones. 

 You can almost feel the enthusiasm in the new material (or maybe that’s just excitement coming from me upon hearing new songs).  Regardless, it is great to see the band pushing their sound toward a new horizon.  The album is organized masterfully, starting with a nod to where they’ve been, “In Heat”, moving through an exploration of what they are slowly becoming, and ending with “In Violet”, a purely synth chill-down song, showing that the possibilities for the future of HEALTH are endless.

 It will be exciting to hear them when they put it all together in one complete album.  Until then, we can enjoy that same rambunctious bedlam that broke HEALTH onto the experimental-noise scene a few short years ago.  They are still having fun, trashing through their material at 90 decibels, and maybe, just maybe, Trent Reznor could learn a thing or two from these kids.

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