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Top 5 releases of 2009 (according to Ben)

By Ben Larson

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-12-06


Well, it’s that time of year again — time for gift giving, drinking too much at the company party, and top five lists. In keeping with that tradition, I thought I’d dedicate this weeks article to my top five releases of 2009, along with a brief explanation as to why I think they belong there. And heeeeeeeere we go:

5. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk
Yet another band in the stream of super groups we’ve been seeing lately, Monsters of Folk is a standout. Comprised of M. Ward (She and Him), Connor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Mike Mogus (Bright Eyes), this album avoids all kitsch or camp by actually being a good album. Tracks such as “Say Please,” “Baby Boomer” and “Whole Lotta Losin’” stand out as great folk-influenced singer-songwriter tunes, and offer the listener pleasures in both the music and lyrics. All the members of the band perform seamless vocal harmonies, and this album stands out as a testament to the understated talent of its members. The only aspect of this album that gives me pause are the songs that seem to come more from James, particularly “Dear God,” and “The Right Place.” I’ve never been much of a Jim James fan, and sometimes his input seems to clash with the rest of the musicians on the album.

4. Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan
Produced by Black Francis, Art Brut’s third album doesn’t seem (at first listen) to offer listeners much new material as far as style or subject matter goes. There’s the same kind of simple instrumentation found on the band’s first two albums (two guitars, bass, drums), and singer Eddie Argos continues to sing about drunkenness, immaturity, and bad luck with women in his Mark E. Smith-influenced vocal style. That being said, there are a lot of elements to this album that make it stand out from its predecessors. First, Francis’ production gives the album a much bigger sound than the band had before, which helps to fill in the gaps and give the songs that rumbling quality that they were missing from the bands earlier albums. Also, Argos’ lyrics, while they continue the same kind of subject matter as the first two, seem to come more from the heart on this album. Songs like “Alcoholics Unanimous” and “The Passenger” continue to describe Argos’ refusal to grow up, but now it seems that he’s finally starting to realize that this might be a bad thing.

3. Metric - Fantasies
The band’s fourth proper release, I’m including it on this list because this is one of those albums that can be appropriate for almost any musical occasion. Singer Emily Haines’ vocals are simultaneously sexy and angelic (even when she sings the line “heard you **** through the wall”), and her lyrics are the kind that speak to a myriad of listeners without sounding cliched. The music, while maintaining a cohesive sound that moves between dance pop (“Gimme Sympathy”) to indie guitar rock (“Gold Guns Girls”) without leaving listeners thinking that they are listening to two different bands. The music on this album is infectious, and I find myself listening to it repeatedly even after I’ve sworn to shelve it for a little while (just so I don’t burn myself out on it).

2. Mission of Burma - The Sound The Speed The Light
You show me another band that can break up for 20 years, reform, and sound like they are still in their 20’s, and I will eat my shoe. This was my most anticipated album of this year, and sounds just as awesome as Signals, Calls and Marches, and Vs., both of which were released well over 20 years ago. Not only does M.o.B NOT sound like a bunch of dated old men, The Sound The Speed The Light is the very picture of a band at the leading edge of guitar-driven indie rock. From the opener “1, 2, 3 Partyy!” to the album’s closer, “Slow Faucet,” there’s not a moment of this album that disappoints. They lyrical content on this album is simultaneously raw and polished, as is the music itself. Sometimes heavily distorted, at times crisp and clean, The Sound The Speed The Light sounds like it’s coming from a band that is just as hungry as musicians half their age. Maybe that’s what makes Mission of Burma so special; they are one of the only examples of a band who has been able to remain hungry even after 20+ years.

Baroness - The Blue Record
This is hands-down my favorite album of the year. Since first hearing it during a road trip to see Mastodon in Chicago, I’ve listened to The Blue Record no less than 50 times. Part Black Sabbath, part Kyuss, this album is as good as hard rock comes. Though Baroness isn’t a metal band in the same sense that Slayer is a metal band, they opt more for a crunchy, classic sound, but keep from sounding like Wolfmother by employing complex riffs and structures, ambient and other electronic sounds, and deep, growling vocals. They also fix the problems that befell their 2007 album, The Red Album. While that album tended to lag at times, and leave listeners wondering when they would stop noodling and get to the damn song already, The Blue Record is a tight collection of rock songs, and any interludes or slower parts work to heighten the overall aesthetic of the album, rather than detract from it. I recommend buying this album right now.

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