Sunday, January 03, 2010

Guest Post: We all live downtown, we all die downtown, step over ourselves.

Hi, my name is Wes, you may remember me from such blogs as Smashingly and (untitled). I'm here today to tell you about my top albums of 2009. Christielli has been nice enough to let me publish my list for the past couple of years, and I thank her so much for it. I would like to start off by having a moment of silence for my computer. The computer I used to do all my blogging for over three years, the computer I poured myself all over, finally crunched its last byte yesterday.

Thank you so much unnamed computer.


Ok, that's enough, on with the list!

10) "21st Century Breakdown" by Green Day. I start off the list with probably the biggest disappointment of the year. After the wildly successful American Idiot, it was going to be hard for Green Day to top that album in critical acclaim and fan devotion. The fact that they were still releasing singles and winning awards for that album more then two years after its release really says it all. 21st Century Breakdown is merely just a rehashing of the most mediocre elements of American Idiot, with only a few highlights here and there, which is how it just barely made my list. BTW, my disappointment in this album has prevented me from purchasing the new Weezer album this year, in fear that I will suffer the same disappointment and begin to resent them, as I have with Green Day.

9) "Middle Cyclone" by Neko Case. I hate to say this album was a disappointment, but it kind of was. After the much loved "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood", I had high hopes for the new album. Its certainly not a terrible album, and doesn't fall as short as 21st Century Breakdown did for me, but it lacks the heart that Fox Confessor had. For whatever reason, I just couldn't get into this album, it just never sat right with me. It felt like she is trying to change her sound, but only went half way, and I feel like I am being pulled in two different directions, if that makes any sense. I got to see Neko in concert this year as well, it was a good show. As good as a show could be in a non-air-conditioned theatre in the middle of a heat wave could be.

8) "Masters of the Burial" by Amy Millan. Another year and no new Stars album, very disappointing. I guess Masters of the Burial is supposed to tide me over. The songs on this album are much more mature than the songs on Amy's other solo album, Honey From The Tombs, and rightfully so. All those songs were written many years ago, and recently recorded, whereas the songs on Masters are new and fresh. Amy's voice is as soulful as usual, and some unique sounds are utilized, for instance, the unconventional percussion sounds on Day To Day. Its a solid album, but I'm holding out for more Stars.

7) "The BQE" by Sufjan Stevens. Ok, so only Sufjan would drive along a congested, headache creating highway that winds through the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens for eight months, and then make an album and a movie dedicated to that experience. It kind of makes you question his sanity, but then you listen to the album and you immediately realize that this is not the case. What results out of this experience is a beautiful album that only Sufjan could create. It begins with a muddled mess of noise and dissidence, and ends with the sweet, and subtle caress of a single piano. In between, you get, well, everything in between, including one song that seems to be the collision of every techno/electronic song you have ever heard before. However, each song is undoubtedly Sufjan . The only thing better then listening to this album, is watching the images along with the music, which creates a most joyous ride.

6) "Years (By one thousand fingertips)" by Attack In Black. Christielli introduced me to this great band during her brief visit to Vancity a few years ago. We both enjoyed the rocking nature of Marriages, their debut album. Well, Attack In Black have released a different kind of album this time. Instead of a rocking 12 track album, they have released a stripped-down, acoustic inspired 16 track album. Its a complete change of pace from their first album, but its a change that I have enjoyed. Gone are the upbeat riffs and tempos, and what is left is authentic and pure. From a production stand point, its an incredibly interesting album, as many unusual techniques and sonic capabilities are used. But just from a listeners stand point, its a great album that will probably never reach its full potential.

5) "Its Blitz!" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. So I have been a huge fan of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ever since Show Your Bones came out. It was one of my favorite albums of that year. But their mainstream success was lacking with that album, not enough hits I guess. I thought it was brilliant. Now enter Its Blitz!, which is an obvious attempt at more mainstream attention. Out are the roaring guitars and smashing drums. In are the electronic synthesizers and 80s inspired percussion sounds. Gone are the dynamics and creative structures. Enter the tightly controlled sonic spectrum, and probably the trendiest sound of the year. Now, don't get me wrong, I still enjoy this album a lot, otherwise it wouldn't be so high on my list. But I just can't help but notice the contrast between this album and their previous. Maybe they were feeling the pressure to hit it big in the mainstream like Canadian acts such as Feist and Metric, or maybe this was purely how they wanted to present themselves, but I just can't help but feel like this album was created with a calculator.

4) "Fantasies" by Metric. Ok, I heart Emily Haines. In my eyes, she can do no wrong. She could create an album using only the sounds found on an Atari video game system, and I would still buy it, and love it to death. The same goes for Fantasies, I love it more then anything she has done before. Like the previous album discussed, Fantasies seems the most "pop-y" and mainstream of all the Metric albums. It is an obvious attempt for radio play, but I'm fine with that when its done this well. I don't get the feeling that they have changed their sound all that much to adjust to the mainstream, it feels more like the mainstream has finally caught up to Metric. All of the creative attempts are still there, they are just more tightly controlled and channeled. Its an album with no filler that hits you smack between the eyes, but then gently cradles you into musical bliss.

3) "Swoon" by Silversun Pickups. Welcome to Smashing Pumpkins v5.0. I'm kidding, they don't sound that much like the Pumpkins, I just like perpetuating the stereotype. After the huge success of their debut full length album Carnavas, the Silversun Pickups had a lot to live up to. Ok, I just checked, Carnavas only made it to number 5 on my Best Albums of 2006, but that was because it was behind four brilliant albums that year. So even though I like Swoon a little less, it made it to number three, I guess this year wasn't as good for music for me. ANYWAYS, let me cut off that Chuck Klosterman side-track before it gets too far. Silversun Pickups have definitely matured since Carnavas and have become much more clever, not so literal. Instead of going straight for the heart of the matter, they curve, twist, and sneak up behind the matter at hand. Now if only The O.C. was still on the air so I could see the entire album utilized during intense moments between emotionally driven teenager-ish kids on my tv screen.

2) "One Fast Move or I'm Gone" by Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard. Like Emily Haines, I heart Benjamin Gibbard. And like The BQE, this is a soundtrack to a movie, making it two soundtracks on my list this year. That's a new record! What can I say about Ben Gibbard that I haven't already said? Well nothing really, other then he never ceases to amaze me. This time he creates an album with Jay Farrar that is nothing short of brilliant. Its soft, inspiring, and most of all, beautiful. Its showcases yet another side of Ben Gibbard that had yet to be revealed, but it was one that we all kind of knew was there. Jay Farrar provides a nice contrast to Ben's voice, giving the album a real full sound. The album is full of great "twankiness" and signature Gibbard phrasing. If he really wanted to, Ben Gibbard could make the dictionary sound musical and melodic with his phrasing.

1) "Vancouver" by Matthew Good. So there was really no competition here for my top spot, Mr. Good had it the moment Vancouver slipped into my CD player. And I'm not biased because I live in Vancouver, because I'm not really from here, so I don't have any sort of connection to here like Matt Good does. But I won't lie, its pretty cool to have an awesome CD named after the city I currently reside in. So how good is "Vancouver"? I'm still not sure where it falls in the spectrum of Matt Good solo albums yet because only time will tell me where it needs to be, but for the time being, Vancouver definitely has some attributes that his other albums lack. Most of which being focus and coherency. His three previous solo albums were all a little bit of a mess, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and this was not more evident then in his last album, "Hospital Music". That albums featured everything from long, epic type of songs, to short little sound bites, and everything in between. But Vancouver is focused behind its title, its the most evolved album that he has recorded so far. Taking bits and pieces from previous work, he seems to be on a new plane, a new plateau, a new level. Everything that he has ever known was channeled and focused into ten complete songs behind one theme, one idea, one message. And for the first time, I truly think we finally see what Matt Good is capable of.


Christielli said...

Wow - we have four albums in common this year! We only had one in common last year.

Anyway, first of all, I think I have to go add some Bailey's into the hot chocolate that I am currently drinking so that I calm down. I cannot believe that you used the word disappointing while writing about Middle Cyclone. I cannot decide whether I like it better than Fox Confessor. It is so great. The only direction I was ever pulled into with this album was whether it would be this year's #1 or #2.

I have not listened to the new Green Day. I dunno about doing two concept albums in a row that seem so similar. I didn't have the time for it I guess.

I liked Masters of the Burial a lot, but there was a lot I liked better so it didn't make top ten.

I heard one song from The BQE and I got scared off. I need singing.

I have AIB's Years but I just haven't gotten into it. However, I predict that at some random moment in the future, I'll connect with it.

I like calculators, so it's fitting that I like It's Blitz!

Fantasies in my fave Metric album.

I didn't listen to Swoon at all.

I wasn't aware of the existence of #2.

And I totally knew that Vancouver would be your #1. No doubt. But it's deserving.

But seriously, where's the Plaskett? Did you pick up Three?? I can't remember your stance on Joel.

All right, I figured since you blog once a year now, a long comment is warranted. See ya with the best of 2010!

Christielli said...

Oh and I think that 2010 will be a good year. There are already three albums I'm looking fwd to that are coming out in January: new Owen Pallett, new Hawksley, and new Los Campensinos!

Commenting on my own blog is fun. I'll stop now.

Claire said...

Yay Wes! Great list, but I'm with Christy - no Plaskett?


wigsf said...

When a top ten best list contains something described by the writer as "disappointment" and "resent" then this year was truly a sad year for music.

And people, hello, you hafta listen to the new Black Crowes album cuz you all is missing out.

Miss Ash said...

I'll have to check some of these out (my famous line when I read a music post)as I haven't heard songs by a few of them. Or perhaps I have in passing and of course have not noticed.

wes said...

Hi Christielli, I knew we wouldn't see eye to eye on Middle Cyclone. I just didn't like it near as much as Fox Confessor. Don't bother with Green Day, it isn't that great. BQE is much better with movie, but yeah, singing is better, but I still liked it. I agree with you about Fantasies. Check out Swoon, if you liked Carnavas. You definitely need to check out #2, its fantastic. I guess I am a little predictable, but I still believe that it was just that good. I'm just not a huge fan of Joel, no idea why, just can't connect with him. I don't know of anything coming out that I am looking forward too, I'm still waiting for a new album from Damien Rice and a real album from Sufjan Stevens, but nothing seems to be happening. :)

Hi Claire, yeah sorry, not a big Joel fan. :)

Hi wigsf, nice to meet you. Yeah, I totally agree, it was a terrible year for music for me, hopefully 2010 will be better! :)

Hi miss ash, nice to met you as well! Glad I could be of any help, I love getting people into different music. :)