December 31, 2009

Favorite recordings 2009

Antony and the Johnsons-The Crying Light
I have yet to encounter an Antony album I haven't liked, and their third full-length record is no exception. Beginning with Antony's plaintive vocals, accompanied by his piano and a cello, the album unfolds with beautifully sparse arrangements in support of plaintive melodies. At times, the album comes across almost like Nick Cave's The Boatman's Call, but with greater fragility. This year I also had the opportunity to see Antony and the Johnsons perform live. The band was tight and played magnificently, shedding new light on the material. I could barely believe my ears.

Au Revoir Simone-Still Night, Still Light
Still Night, Still Light captivates me with its occasional strange shifts in key and harmony, and the dreamy pop tunes that preside over the recording. While this Brooklyn-based, Casio-centric synthpop trio has delivered a melancholy album, the overall downcast pallor is leavened by occasional bursts of energy that leaven the proceedings and propel the album forward.

Ella Fitzgerald-Twelve Nights in Hollywood
I tend to fall on the Billie Holiday side of the Holiday/Fitzgerald divide, but there's something about her energy and exuberance that wins me over during the holidays. This new live recording sees her in fine form, as she makes her way through a series of standards on these loose 1960 and 1961 club dates. She sounds amazing; her vocal lines are incredibly agile and rhythmic timing is impeccable.

JJ-JJ N° 2
An enigmatic Swedish duo, JJ's bubbling synths and delicate harmonies conjure references to everyone from Paul Simon and Toto to Lil' Wayne and the Cowboy Junkies with a dash of the Postal Service. And that's a poor description. When I returned to New York from China, these 27 minutes of music were all I could handle. It was the soundtrack of my decompression and re-emergence into the city.

Lady Gaga-The Fame
I came late to Lady Gaga but once I heard the album I couldn't stop. It's been a while since I've been so taken with a pop/dance record, and while I may not like a song when I first hear it, she always manages to blow open a song with the chorus so that I want to be completely encompassed by it.

Major Lazer-Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do
In the absence of a genre-hopping tropical infused album by the likes of, say, MIA, Diplo teams with Switch to bring forth Major Lazer, a genre-hopping reggae-infused album by an alter ego who "a Jamaican commando who lost his arm in a secret zombie war in 1984. He supposedly fights vampires and various monsters, parties hard, and has a rocket powered skateboard." Sometimes you just have to go along for the ride.

Pastels/Tenniscoats-Two Sunsets
A collaboration between a band from Glasgow and one from Tenniscoats, the album emerged when the Tenniscoats suggested the two bands book some time in Glasgow to see what might happen. It's a pastoral album that feels like summer sunlight collected for a frigid winter afternoon. I shudder at the comparison (and the somewhat cheesy turn of phrase), but here something has definitely been found in translation.

Roll Deep-Street Anthems
A collection of sides from the grime/hip hop collective that brought us Dizzie Rascal, this compilation collects the hits that demonstrate why they're considered the forefathers of the grime scene. As fresh as it must have sounded when it first emerged onto the scene, the music continues to sound fresh, and it's great to have this record to look back on the development of this subgenre of music.

Vijay Iyer-Historicity
I wasn't immediately taken by this recording of Iyer's piano trio, but as I found myself returning to it again and again for his interpretations of recent pop songs (MIA's "Galang"), 70's hits (Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother"), Broadway tunes ("Somewhere"), and Andrew Hill ("Smoke Stack"). A muscular player, Iyer demonstrates his understanding of a wide range of music and musical styles on this record, and he's a pianist I'll be following in years to come.

Pink Mountaintops-Outside Love
The Raveonettes-In & Out of Control
Crystal Stilts-Crystal Stilts
I'm a sucker for bands with a strong kinship to the Jesus & Mary Chain, and this year posted the above three albums that scratched this itch. The Pink Mountaintops tackle the walls of sound from a country bent, the Raveonettes emphasize the 60s girl group aspect, and the Crystal Stilts (on their EP) from the stanpoint of a lo-fi echo-chamber.

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I love The Raveonettes. (And The Jesus and Mary Chain, of course.) You might like The Rosebuds if you aren't already familiar with them. They don't quite emulate JAMC as much as The Raveonettes as much, but they have a similar vibe. I'll have to check out Crystal Stilts. There's a new Pink Mountaintops album?! I totally missed hearing about that. I'll definitely have to get that.

I saw Au Revoir Simone open for We Are Scientists in 2006. They (Au Revoir Simone) were awful, one of the most amateurish bands I've ever seen. It was like they hadn't practiced... ever. Other than the fact that they were three attactive young women, I really thought they had nothing going for them. I thought they'd fall off the map pretty quick. Imagine my surprise when their recent album started to get some buzz. Well, maybe they're better now....

Ed S. | December 31, 2009 5:41 PM | Reply

Of the JMC type bands listed, another one that came out this year was the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I actually saw them live, which was fun, and I liked the album but found it perhaps a little too even or something. It's funny, but I had a similar thing with Crystal Stilts and Passion Pit. I loved the EPs, but the full lengths didn't really captivate me the same way. Maybe I just have a short attention span.

I haven't seen much live music lately. At least not in the pop/rock vein. I'm actually going to the opera tonight tho to see Les Contes du Hoffman with Anna Netrebko. I can't wait!

Author Profile Page eugene | January 2, 2010 11:51 AM | Reply

I saw The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at the end of September. I thought they were good, but it was kind of forgettable. They have potential though. Let's see if they can rise up to it.

Hope you had a fun time at the opera and happy New Year to you!


Ed S. | January 2, 2010 8:15 PM | Reply

Happy New Year to you as well. The opera was really fun. I'll post about it soon. I'm doing a little research into the director, the set designer, and costume designer. Unfortunately, they don't appear to have sites. It'd be great to be able to link to more of their work.

eugene | January 8, 2010 10:12 AM | Reply

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