Anamanaguchi – Dawn Metropolis
With the chiptune scene becoming increasingly important and interesting, it was only a matter of time before a band like Anamanaguchi showed up with a radical new take on the genre. While many chiptune artists create rocking music using synthesizers and NES sound chips alone, Anamanaguchi complement their sound with live guitar, bass and drums. The synthesis of the two worlds is difficult to categorize; it has the excitement of metal, the timbre of a vintage video game, the rhythm of dance-punk. Dawn Metropolis is an exciting album, pure and simple.
Mos Def – The Ecstatic
Mos Def made a big impact in the late 90’s, both with Black Star and his excellent solo album Black on Both Sides. Unfortunately his releases this decade have been somewhat lacklustre, and adherents have long anticipated a return to form. I doubt The Ecstatic is exactly what they were looking for.
The album doesn’t statically capture his old sound, but rather reflects the tribulations and blessings of the interim decade. Songs with Middle Eastern vibe (“Auditorium” and “Wahid” in particular) echo the complexities of America’s increasing involvement in that part of the world. In contrast, “Life In Marvelous Times” and “Casa Bey” explore the obligations of fulfilment and plenty. It’s a remarkably mature and complex album, more authentic than an anachronistic carbon copy of Black Star.
Fever Ray – s/t
Fans of the Swedish electronic duo The Knife had a lot to be excited about this year, as Karin Dreijer Andersson released her highly anticipated solo album under the alias Fever Ray. The album is significantly murkier and slower paced than the band’s other material; the formerly danceable elements of The Knife’s sound (layered synthesizers, tribal drums) are translated to be mournful and foreboding. The exploration of deep pitch shifting is particularly interesting, given Karin’s haunting voice and distinctive accent. The entire album has a shamanic vibe, an aesthetic that’s reflected in her live shows.
Metric – Fantasies
I’m surprised I haven’t seen this album on more “best of” lists, especially given the long gap since their last record. Have we started taking excellent Metric albums for granted now? Fantasies is loaded with hits: “Help I’m Alive”, “Gimme Sympathy”, and “Front Row” all charted in Canada. The new songs are layered with synthesizers and vocal harmonies; in contrast the lyrics are more romantic and personal. Metric is really hitting their stride as a band, and as a fan I’d be quite content to see more of the same in their next album.
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Like many people, I became aware of Dirty Projectors after the 2007 release of Rise Above, a cover album of Black Flag’s Damaged reinterpreted from childhood memory. It was a really interesting experiment, but the cognitive dissonance caused by knowing the original songs made it a bit difficult to appreciate.
Bitte Orca, on the other hand, is composed of entirely original material and is significantly stronger as a result. The band’s idiosyncratic formula contrasts Dave Longstreth’s strange soaring voice with soft vocal harmonies by Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. While the singing is usually backed by extremely minimal instrumentation, the guitar and drums occasionally crescendo to incredible effect (ex: “Useful Chamber”). I suspect this is the kind of formula you either love or hate, but to me it’s absolutely magical.
- Regina Spektor – Far
- Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
- St. Vincent – Actor
- Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
- Sieber, Kammen, Fulton and Schatz – Braid OST
That’s my perspective on 2009 in music! Did I miss any of your personal favourites? I’m always open to new music suggestions, so please do drop me a comment with your picks.