Bottom 10 Albums of the Year

So this is the beginning of my year end music blowout thing. Mostly lists, and a few observations and stuff. This will almost certainly be the longest post of this whole thingee, so bear with me.

These are in *no particular order*, unlike my top 10, which will be in order.
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (self-released)
Now, I know XL Records is putting out a slightly different version of this album early next year, but I'm including their self-released cd-r version now because I want to. Fun, light, jangly pop that at times reminds of fellow New Yorkers The Walkmen. Sounds range from the slightly Afro-beat ("Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"), to a somewhat ska tone ("A-Punk"), and string accompaniments add a bit of drama to a number of the songs. It seems like a few people have called these guys out for sort of ripping off Talking Heads or for being young white kids who are trying to ape African bands who do the same sort of thing. These criticisms may be true, but good is good and fun is fun. And that's what this album is. Oh, and I would wager you will be hearing about them non-stop next year. P-fork and all. Just so you know.
Kim Hiorthøy - My Last Day (Smalltown Supersound)
After quite a while away from producing any music of his own, all the while keeping busy with design work (perhaps most notably for the Rune Grammofon label), Norseman Kim Hiorthøy released his first proper album since 2001's Hei. While this album doesn't quite have the sense of surprise that Hei did, or the unbridled over-the-topness of 2004's Live Shet, the collection here manages to find / create its own niche, and is as thoughtfully constructed and melodically pleasant as anything Hiorthøy has done in the past. The songs here are in turns aggressive and dance-ready ("Album," "I Thought We Could Eat Friends," "Alt Går Så Langsomt") to more subdued and pensive ("Beats Mistake," "Wind of Failure," "Goodbye to Song"). Unidentifiable field recordings and samples creep into many parts of the album, giving things a very warm and human touch. Like the favorite sweater you wore to a rave a few times. Or something.
Pantha du Prince - This Bliss (Dial)
For me I would say this is the best strictly-electronic / techno album of the year. Is this technically techno? I'm not sure. In any case, this is a genuinely beautiful album with a great sense of space. Gentle ringing tones / pads resonate against smart rhythm sections. Not quite minimal, but spare enough to give all the elements of each song room to breathe. Everything has a great sense of drama and little touches that just set things off (check out the mini-meltdown at the 3 and a half minute mark of "Moonstruck." Nice.) No one track is less than 6 minutes, but things always feel to be moving along (with the single of exception of "Urlichten," which drags itself to a slow death in its last 3 minutes). Aside from this misstep, This Bliss manages to stand out handsomely among the unending torrent of techno and minimal music released into the world week upon week. Like an updated collection of tracks from the Artificial Intelligence era of Warp Records, just humming with that same uniquely icy warmth / warm iciness.
Studio - Yearbook 1 (Information)
Probably the best example of "Balaeric pop" or "yacht pop" that appears to have come to prominence this year. Trebbly plucked electric guitar hooks, steadily repeating drum machine beats, retro sounding synths and plenty of dub / echo effects add up to a John Hughes movie soundtrack on psychedelics. Not in a fried, freaked-out guitar solo way. In a nearly 16 minute long song kind of way, a pleasantly zoning out swaying side-to-side kind of way. There are some shorter, more digestible and radio-friendly cuts as well ("No Comply," "Self Service," "Origin"). The tracks are danceable and ready for your more tasteful dancefloors, but also highly listenable, and ready for your chill out rooms and sunset beaches. The Swedes do it right yet again.
Tenniscoats - Totemo Aimasho (Room40)
I was only sort of vaguely aware of the existence of Japanese duo Tenniscoats (Saya and Takashi Ueno) prior to this year thanks to a few mentions on Jens Lekman's blog. It seemed like they were just a cute, slightly off-key pop folk act. This album steps far outside such boundaries into a great variety of musical territories. Influenced by their travels and many collaborators and nudged by Room40 label head Lawrence English, the Uneos craft songs that combine folk, pop, and electronic elements into something that is very much their own and, to my ears, doesn't have any other real sonic touchstone to be compared with. Saxes and horns are featured regularly, like on the dissonant and mournful "Cacoy." "Donna Donna" is one of the more traditionally folk styled songs, with a swaying beat and steady acoustic guitar. "Herei" comes across almost as a sound sculpture / field recording, and the gloriously mellow "Jitsurei" is the perfect lazily pitch-shifting accompaniment to an afternoon in the beaches and forests of the northwest (as I found through my own experience). It's tough to describe in words, but its well worth seeking out. Also, a shorter release this year from Tenniscoats, Tan-Tan Therapy (available on the Häpna label) retains a similar vibe to Totemo Aimasho, but I'm mainly mentioning it so I can post the lovely artwork. See:

!!! - Myth Takes (Warp)
Party-starters / rable-rousers of the year !!! bring the durrrty dance grooves on their 3rd LP, their first for Warp records and a big step up from the disappointing 2004 release of Louden Up Now. Following the split of Out Hud (to which a few members of !!! belonged), it seems that the ensemble has absorbed a number of electronic / house-y-ish elements, all for the better it seems. The sprawling "Bend Over Beethoven" climbs to a guitar-reverb and drum-pulse soaked climax not entirely dissimilar from the fondly remembered 'Hud. The title track also shows the band in slightly different but very fitting form, sounding like a meatier version of Tussle. There's plenty of !!!'s signature funk-stomp here; "All My Heroes Are Weirdos" and "Heart of Hearts" stand out as anthemic crowd-movers. The right kind of album to lose your brain to. And get your shoes all dirty while dancing among alcohol-fueled masses.
Battles - Mirrored (Warp)
Now I'm not totally crazy for this band like some folks seem to be, but there's no denying how accomplished and technically impressive Mirrored is. After ramping things up at a snails pace by releasing a couple EPs in 2004 and staying rather mum until now, this record is, if somewhat engorged, pretty mesmerizing. You have to give it up to a band that can stay as tight as the snare John Stanier is wailing on during songs like "Ddiamondd." And even though things might get overly precise and mathy (the splash of coins on the song previously mentioned sounds carefully planned and executed), the rhythms punch hard and the tunes will burrow into your head. This is great stuff, even if it lacks a bit of an emotional core. For all the backtalk I'm giving this album, I really do like it. Honestly. "Atlas" is one of the best songs of the year. I mean it.
A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Scribble Mural Comic Journal (Notenuf)
This is a great shoegaze-revival style record that is faithful to / owes its existence to its sources (your Slowdives, your Rides, your MBVs, etc) while creating a personality all its own. Full, woozy, watery textures and eternally cooing female vocals dominate the compositions, while drum machines and banging snare try to hold the smear together. Whats so engaging about this album and at the same time somewhat frustrating is that there are all these songs just overflowing with ideas and tunes and it's all really good but often things don't get a chance to develop and breathe into something fully realized. The closing trio of tracks, "Watery (Drowning is just Another Word for Being Buried Alive Under Water)," "Things Only I Can See," and "The Best Summer Ever" give a maddeningly fleeting glimpse into what happens when this group gives their ideas enough room to stretch their legs. A gorgeous swirl of sound, an astonishingly strong debut that only bodes well for the band.
The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters (Fat Cat)
This four-piece band appears to be picking up right where fellow Glasgow natives Mogwai left off before they lost their balls and their direction. There's perhaps a bit more pop than rock in what The Twilight Sad are doing, but when they come down they come down hard, with a refreshing and unpretentious intensity. So the vocals might come across as a bit emo, I will concede this point, but big deal, who cares? Lead singer James Graham's thick Scottish accent, thick enough to call it a drawl, is perfect paired with wailing guitars and thunderous drums. An additional concession: the album gets a bit samey when listened to straight through. Fair enough. But each track, on its own, is very well done and very listenable. Hostile and bitter in the best, most satisfyingly grey and rain-drenched and Scottish way possible.
Von Südenfed - Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino)
Another one that's a bit tough to pin down. The guys from Mouse on Mars had Mark E. Smith of the fall do vocals on one of their songs a few years back. This is a whole album's worth of that. It's as impossible and improbable as it sounds (or something). Smith's unmistakable vocal delivery functions in an eerily effective way with Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner's production work. While I can't say how Smith's contributions stack up to recent releases with The Fall, as I'm not a big fan, I think it's safe to say this is some of the best music Toma and Werner have worked on in some time. The skittering bounce of songs like "Family Feud" and "That Sound Wiped" (a reprise of the track that generated this whole ordeal) blend with Smith's sung-spoke vocals seamlessly. It's like Mouse on Mars should have always sounded this way. "Flooded" approaches / reaches dancefloor accessibility with a bunch of grimey low-end thumps and honks as Smith intones about literally flooding a club. Literally. It's a baffling, giddy, and decidedly singular release. One can only imagine what further collaborations will result in.

I apologize for the endless stream of contradictory and non-sensical descriptions. I'm reaching for more concrete and less impressionistic writing but I still can't break free.

I actually have to work tomorrow.

Anyway, more to come in the days ahead.


Udai said...

I've been quite enjoying the output by Studio.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see just how permeant digital memory has become in our every day lives. It's like everytime I turn my head, I see something with a card slot or USB port, lol. I guess it makes sense though, considering how inexpensive memory has become as of late...

Gahhhh, who am I to complain. I can't make it through a day without my R4 / R4i!

(Posted on FFV2 for R4i Nintendo DS.)

Anonymous said...

interesting article. I would love to follow you on twitter.