Despite the return of Lightning Bolt (with the most anticlimactic release of the year), another Super Roots EP from Boredoms, the masterful drones of Sunn 0))), and the continued prolificacy of Merzbow, 2009 was all about accessibility, even in the so-called “indie” scene. That’s why Bitte Orca is considered to be the greatest album thus far by Dirty Projectors, even though it only slightly edges out 2007’s Rise Above, and why Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion is considered to be the Brooklyn band’s finest hour. Conversely, it’s the reason why Black Dice’s Repo and No Age’s Losing Feeling EP failed to attract any significant attention- both were fairly noisy efforts, with Black Dice failing to make the Animal Collective transition from epic free noise explorations to bouncy electronic pop, and No Age slightly backing off from the indelible melodies of 2008’s Nouns. And if 2009 was all about accessibility, then Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is without a doubt the album of the year. Despite the French band’s dedication to snappy and instantly catchy pop songs (the 2000 single “If I Ever Feel Better” still ranks among their best songs), their albums have always contained either embarrassingly 80’s pastiche tracks (On Fire from 2000’s United), anemic and hookless soft rock songs (roughly half of Alphabetical), or overlong instrumentals (“North” from It’s Never Been Like That). What this means is that while Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective made their most accessible albums to date by cutting back on their intriguingly experimental tendencies, Phoenix were able to make their most accessible album to date by simply cutting out the lesser tracks. The two aforementioned bands stepped down; Phoenix stepped up. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is short- less than 40 minutes long- and does not contain a single track that’s less than addictive. From the quick rip of “Lasso” to the extended jam of “Love Like A Sunset,” Phoenix cover a fair bit of ground, but keep it punchy enough to never sound desperate. All hail the French.
Archive for Bitte Orca
The general consensus last year was that 2008 was a mediocre year in terms of music. Despite the triumphant return of Portishead, the brilliance of No Age, and the epic drones of Fuck Buttons, 2008 simply didn’t live up to its immediate predecessor, 2007, or really any other year in the 2000s, which turned out to be a damn good decade for music.
2009, on the other hand, has been met with much praise; Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest have all been called masterpieces, something that eluded most albums released in 2008. But despite all this praise, there were several records that didn’t get the love they deserved. Four albums, to be exact; Mos Def’s The Ecstatic, Jim O’Rourke’s The Visitor, Annie’s Don’t Stop, and Dan Deacon’s Bromst.
MOS DEF- THE ECSTATIC Even in “underground” hip-hop, large personalities dominate. Perhaps even more in underground hip-hop- Kanye never declared himself a supervillain as MF DOOM did. And that might be the reason that Mos Def’s The Ecstatic didn’t get the attention it deserved. Sure, Raekwon’s comeback Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. 2 was a better album, but The Ecstatic was more of a comeback. It brings Mos back to the largely mellow grooves of 1999’s Black On Both Sides and provides just as pleasurable a listening experience; if Mos doesn’t blow you away as much as he did a decade ago, then that’s a shame and probably the primary reason this album didn’t get as many positive accolades as it deserved.
JIM O’ROURKE- THE VISITOR Jim O’Rourke shot himself in the foot with this one; it’s a single 40-minute track, but not a full out drone piece like 1997’s Happy Days. It’s a brilliant piece of orchestral pop, but it’s still a 40-minute long instrumental. With this paradox, Jim alienates both the people who love him exclusively because of his rock and roll records like Insignificance and the people who love him exclusively because of his free jazz background. Both of these groups could find something to love in The Visitor; it’s a tremendously interesting and beautiful piece that never resorts to clichés of instrumental pop music. Most importantly, there are no prog moments.
ANNIE- DON’T STOP Most of the criticism from this album resulted from the fact that the two great singles- “I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me” and “Anthonio”- Annie released before this LP were ultimately not included on the album. This is indeed a shame- both songs are fantastic, and their inclusion would definitely have aided the album. Still, what’s invigorating about Don’t Stop is how it constitutes a significant artistic step for Annie; she’s making straight up dance pop now, not the dance pop she was making on her first album Anniemal. As great as that album was, continuing in the same vein would have been a dead end (taking the beat from one hipper-than-thou disco epic, as she did on “Come Together,” was enough.). Don’t Stop is more of a regular dance-pop album; what makes it special is how catchy it is. Two reservations; there’s nothing as transcendent as Anniemal’s “Heartbeat,” and The Breakfast Song” is awful.
DAN DEACON- BROMST I classify this as underrated because it hasn’t been praised to high heaven. Dan Deacon has never had any difficulty with engendering euphoria in his listeners, but he’s never succeeded as much as he has here. When he gets philosophical, he makes Snookered, the best song of his career. When he gets artsy, he makes Wet Wings, one of the most interesting songs he’s ever recorded. The first four songs- Build Voice, Red F, Paddling Ghost, and Snookered- are the greatest opening salvo in electronic music since Massive Attack put Angel, Rising Son, Inertia Creeps, and Teardrop at the start of their masterpiece Mezzanine. Best of all, Bromst isn’t even front-loaded. Masterful.
In the last month or so, there have been a flurry of releases that attract lots of attention, be it because the band is famous (Wilco, Sonic Youth), the band and/or record is really, really good (Phoenix, Dirty Projectors), or because the band is really good and Pitchfork gave one of its songs a 10 (Grizzly Bear). With all of this stuff getting released at once, you may be forgiven for not knowing which ones to pick up/which one should be first in your downloads queue. Thus, here’s a helpful consumer guide for the age where Robert Christgau gives everything an A-.
Wilco: Wilco (The Album): Jeff Tweedy (The Increasingly Boring Frontman) and co. serve up another scoop of vanilla songwriting, complete with cutesy lyrics (I’d like to believe that “Wilco will love you baby” has some level of irony to it) and the lack of a production job by Jim O’Rourke (The Guy Who Saved Wilco AND Sonic Youth). In addition, the death of Jay Bennett (The Foil) probably means Wilco (The Horrible Band) will only get worse.
Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca: The only reason it took Dirty Projectors this long to make an album this good is because their frontman Dave Longstreth insisted on doing things like covering Black Flag’s Damaged from memory and being diverse in an ADD kind of way. Now he’s past all that, and guess what? Bitte Orca’s great.
Sonic Youth: The Eternal: Actually, there are several good things about this album.
1) The length of the album is not in fact eternal, though sometimes it feels like it.
2) If you’ve ever gotten depressed by listening to a Sonic Youth album because you think you and your band could never do something as great as this, this album should be a good pick me up.
3) If you’ve ever felt bad about thinking Kim Gordon is sexy, this album should be a good cure.
4) Like… cool album art, dude.
Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: Finally, forty plus years after the Beatles and the Beach Boys, the world produced a pop band that it’s 100% cool for everyone, from hopelessly square teenage girls to tragically hip Pitchfork bitches to enjoy. So, yeah; it’s a really fricking good album.
Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest: Whenever I can’t decide whether or not I should do something, like tell you to buy Grizzly Bear’s latest album, I make a list of pros and cons. And so…
Pros: Beautiful production, some great songs, New York band, guys in said band seem nice enough.
Cons: Not quite as good as their last record, silly cover art.
So the pros barely win out. But, the cons are pretty slight. Buy it.