Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Halftime Report '09

Damn, 2009 kinda blows. I mean, Mother Nature has been taking a dump over my state for about a month straight, Billy Mays has gone home to be with Jesus, and I'm behind on bills. Maybe that's just June that blew - but either way, we've seen some terrific new music halfway through the year so far.

I have been debating my Top 10 albums of the first half of the year for the past few days now, and have been able to narrow it down to these, but it sure wasn't easy. I had to include 10 runner-ups as well because, who knows? One of those little buggers could end up near the top once this year is all said and done. Without further ado, and in alphabetical order...

The Alternative Ulster's Top 10 of the Year (So Far)

Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You
- How could anyone not love Lily's 2006/7 "Smile"? It was the first pop song in years to have a catchy, non-recycled beat and the word "fuck" in the opening lines of the song. Since then, I've been a bona-fide fan of Lily Allen, and her newest album doesn't disappoint. This girl can really turn on the charm, and it has nothing to do with her filthy mouth and her British accent. Ok, it has everything to do the aforementioned traits. Watch "The Fear" and try not to fall in love with her.

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
- Not surprisingly, this is probably the most hyped, most talked-about album of the year so far. Unless you've been living under a rock (or just don't read about music on the Internet), you've probably heard that Animal Collective's latest is THE SHIT - AND they just made a video for one of my favorite tracks of the year, "Summertime Clothes." Check it out here, and you'll have a good feeling of what this album's all about.

Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan
- Eddie Argos is the lead talk-singer for Art Brut, and the man has a knack for writing funny, clever (but not too clever) ditties about being a dork, being a drunk, and being a hopeless romantic. I see a personal connection here? Even if none of the above describes you, you can laugh along with Art Brut through their hilarious and endearing stories of lost loves, lost childhoods, and loss of memory. "Alcoholics Unanimous" is one of my favorite tracks of the year, and "Mysterious Bruises" has one hilarious chorus: "I can't remember anything I've done/ I fought the floor and the floor won!"

Dinosaur Jr - Farm
- These guys have got to be joking. J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph have put out one of thier best albums 25 years after thier inception as Dinosaur Jr. Granted, they have taken some time off, but with 2007's Beyond, everyone in the music world was shocked. "How can this be so good?" they asked. My answer is because they are incredible musicians, and and it doesn't matter how old someone is, they can still make great music. Beyond is still my favorite Dino Jr album, and Farm proves to be right up there as well. Check out the poppy "Over It" and dig those killer backside 360 flips, brah!

The Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
- The brainchild of David Longstreth, the Dirty Projectors have been shifting styles and lineups for the last decade, but none have gotten more attention than this year's Bitte Orca. Is it because of Talking Head David Byrne's outright gushing over the band? Maybe. Is it because he joined them onstage for the Dark Was The Night concert earlier this year? Didn't hurt. But the main reason for all the fuss over this album is because of it's inventiveness - Longstreth seamlessly flow between African, Byrne-influenced numbers, to Led Zeppelinesque acoustic jams. A great example of the former is "Stillness Is The Move," sung by Projector Amber Coffman.

Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
- It's been awhile since Franz Ferdinand were relevant, and I, like everyone else, thought they were all done. Sure they still toured, but it's been a long time since You Could Have It So Much Better, especially because the band released their spotty sophomore album in just a year after the behemoth that was Franz Ferdidand. So when I first heard "Ulysses," needless to say I was blown away at how good it was. The rest of the album holds up with smart, edgy dance-rock tunes that could probably each have thier own iPod commercial, not just "No You Girls." Alex Kapranos and company have done it again.

Passion Pit - Manners
- Aww, isn't it so cute how Passion Pit became known? Michael Angelakos gave the band's first EP to his girlfriend for Valentine's Day, and the wildfire began to spread among the indie kids (and Emerson College where Angelakos was attending - yuck). The band's first proper LP is addicting, using inventive beats and synths that remind me of the late 80's and early 90's. Is this groundbreaking material? No, it's just a whole lot of fun. "The Reeling" evokes some of that early 90's Reality Bites kinda feel. Mark this up as my "I probably shouldn't like this as much as I do" album of 2009.

Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
- For quite sometime now, we've seen that Wolf Parade can practically do no wrong. In fact, At Mount Zoomer is still in my car rotation from 2007. Spencer Krug proves that point with his side project Sunset Rubdown as well, especially on thier third album, Dragonslayer. The epic opener "Silver Moons" takes the listener on a thrilling, jilted-pop journey for 4:45, and ends up right back where it started, as do gems "Paper Lace" and the poppy "You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)." Dragonslayer only got it's official release about a week ago, and I still seem to be in a trance by it. The awesome folks at NPR are streaming Dragonslayer for free, and if you give it a listen there's a chance you may get sucked in as deep as I have.

The Thermals - Now We Can See
- Jesus, what haven't I said about Portland, Oregon's The Thermals before? They are the Ramones of the 2009 underground, making pop-punk simple and fun again with smart, politcal lyrics. Just when you thought they couldn't top The Body, the Blood, the Machine, Hutch Harris and Kathty Foster give us Now We Can See. Just one listen to "We Were Sick" will sum it all up. My current harbinger for Album Of The Year.

Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
- One review of Wilco's new album said, and I paraphrase, that the album's title sums up exactly what it is: a perfect blend of all of Wilco's styles. That's a great way to put it, but it also shows how much the band has loosened up in just two short years. The album itself was cut almost impromptu after the band visited New Zealand late last year, and many of the songs have more of a freewheeling feel, such as "Wilco (The Song)" and "Sonny Feeling." That's not to say that Jeff Tweedy and company are no longer perfectionists in the studio: "Bull Black Nova" packs a "Spiders"-like punch, and every one of Nels Cline's tasty licks is meticulously placed. With a funny album cover and a funnier back cover, Wilco holds steady and proves that they are still one of the best bands on earth.

My runners-up for the first half:

Cage The Elephant - s/t
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Outer South
Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
DOOM - Born Like This
Eminem - Relapse
Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications
Mos Def - The Ecstatic
Peter, Bjorn, and John - Living Thing
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

This will be an interesting year, as we still have new albums to come from the Flaming Lips, the Beastie Boys, the Arctic Monkeys, and Modest Mouse.

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