Admittedly, I listened to less new music this year than in previous ones. With the addition of satellite radio in January of '09, last year I was the virtual kid in a candy shop, tuning from the all-reggae station, to the ultra-relaxing "Cinemagic" soundtrack station, then back to the all Pearl Jam channel.... in a heaven of trebles and bass as a good friend said. This new ambient world flooded the senses and opened me up to a great new selection of music. I'm not a fan of the new 'chill wave' as its been dubbed (musical leaders being artists such as Wavves, Washed Out, Salem, Caribou etc.) and I'm very turned off by the rampant burgeoning of 60's pop rock in bands like Girls, Teen Dream, Vampire Weekend or the re-imagining of Howlin Wolf blues in The Black Keys. Very little new music connected with me, and I sorta relied on the old favorites. Luckily, they smashed my expectations and churned out 4 of the 5 best albums of the year. So, without further adieu, my favorite music of the year:
1. The National- High Violet
The National have been evolving on every album, and "High Violet" is their most mature effort to date, combining piercingly self-deprecating lyrics with a magisterial symphony of music that builds... and builds... and builds on every tune. Sure, they're singing about failed marriages, awkward attempts at lovemaking and cannibalism (sometimes in the same song), but Matt Berninger's baritone voice carries such amazing weight. I know I said this when their last album was released, but they should be huge by now.
2. Jonsi- Go
Sigur Ros is, simply, a transcendent band. Most of that acclaim is due to lead singer Jonsi's voice. With his solo debut album, Jonsi again creates a mountain of sound timed to his uniquely high pitched voice that could've been culled from any lost demo tracks of Sigur Ros. This is music to lose yourself in, and "Go" is a startling compilation.
3. The Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
One of the most exciting somewhat mainstream band working today, The Arcade Fire had everything working against them. Mucho hype, high expectations.... and yet "The Suburbs" still feels fresh and eclectic. It's not quite "Funeral", but not much is.
4. A Silver Mt. Zion- "Kollaps Tradioxionales"
Through several name changes (dropping Thee from their name) and a revolving door of talented musicians, A Silver Mt. Zion has produced some fantastic explorations that blend all types of music. They can go on for awhile and have been cited as nothing more than a soundtrack band, yet "Kollaps Tradixionales" is a stunning work of originality and depth. It's also their most accessible work to date. They still have that go-for-broke insanity, though, as punctuated by the opening 17 minute track called "There Is A Light" that plays like a warped, beautiful Sam Cooke tune on acid. This whole album contains new secrets that amaze on repeat listens, and that's what I expect from great artists.
5. Local Natives- Gorilla Manor
This Los Angeles band have a very propulsive sound, led by lead singer Taylor Rice and a catchy array of songs that ultimately moves the spirits. I don't know if the description of "afro pop" really suits these guys, but I certainly look forward to whatever they do next.
6. Broken Social Scene- Forgiveness Rock Record
Whatever it is about Canada, they churn out some impressive bands, chock full of symphony sections, electronica at just the right moment and a swaying sound that bounces from genre to genre. Three bands on this list qualify. Broken Social Scene have been quietly doing this type of thing for years now, and "Forgiveness Rock Record" is a joyous experiment that blends everything together in a wired display of sounds.
Bonus: if you like what you hear from The National, listen to this:
And the single best use of Broken Social Scene in the movies: