Who were the two most important artists this year? One's obvious, but the other didn't even release anything this year. Here's a hint: both their names start with "A"...
It's Animal Collective and Ariel Pink! Animal Collective should be obvious, but why Ariel Pink? Because he pretty much single-handedly seems to have influenced all these bedroom pop, lo-fi, and tropical movements that sprouted in the past year. Completely unrelated, but this year seems to have seen a sort of dream pop resurgence, too, with artists like Daniel Land and the Modern Painters, SPC ECO, Horse Shoes, Letting Up Despite Great Faults, The Arctic Flow, etc. I could actually probably do a top 10 or 15 dream pop releases of the year, which is great. (I'm not going to, though.) In addition to this, dubstep's been around for years, but for me, it started to creep into what I've listened to, as well. The wobble-wobble effect of the music is really amazing, and has to be heard to be believed. My crappy headphones really don't do it justice.
For a year that started off with its best release, it was bound to be good. It also marked the conclusion of the 00s, which has managed to be seen off in 2009 with a lot of great music.
This list isn't meant to be objective in the least. It's purely subjective, just skimming through my favorite releases of the year with a brief description attached. Also, it's probably the only list that doesn't have Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, The xx, or Phoenix on it. Hopefully it'll highlight some albums you may have missed. If there's anything in particular you want, I'll upload it. The list will cover (in this order): EP honorable mentions, top 5 EPs, LP honorable mentions, and top 10 LPs... and maybe a surprise at the end.
Note: Artists/albums without Lala players next to the album cover will have a corresponding link that you can access by clicking the artist/album name. It usually directs you to the artist's MySpace page.
Honorable Mentions (EPs):
Keepaway - Baby Style
Another up and coming band that's about as shameless as they could possibly be with their Animal Collective influence. The lead vocalist is definitely doing his best to imitate Avey Tare's spastic vocals. Still, this is a great album, without a weak track. Ranging from subdued electronic tracks, loopy tropicalia and sunny surf. This is an artist with a 2009 release I didn't find out about until 2010.
Multifaros - The Factory
This was a dismal year for chiptunes. Of what I even downloaded, I can't say I'm particularly impressed. Nothing can even begin to compare with last year's "Ecospheric Escape" from Skip or the two EPs L'homme Manete released. The Factory is catchy and jittery, similar to EvilWezil's 2008 s/t release. The problem I have with the album is that some of the tracks are too long and loops parts without progressing for too long as a result.
Memory Cassette - Call & Response/Rewind While Sleepy
These are two separate EPs that were released this year, but fuck it, I'm combining them. Memory Cassette is Dayve Hawk of this year's phenomenal Memory Tapes. Memory Cassette is different from his Memory Tapes release this year, as it shares more in common with the lo-fi, loopy synthpop Neon Indian or Toro Y Moi make. I'm guessing that the vocals on here are Dayve, but they're so processed that they sound like a girl singing (which he's been repeatedly mistaken as due to his high vocals). Anyway, most of Memory Cassette's tracks have a much slower tempo than other "chillwave" releases this year. They also aren't anything spectacular compositionally, but they do sound great. I'd pick "Last One Awake" as the best track from Call & Response, which just repeats a simple, dissonant, reverbed synth over a standard beat. Track pick for Rewind While Sleepy goes to "Ghost in the Boombox", which is a surprisingly accurate title. Gloomy, haunting (though jovial) synths, play over a dance beat, reverbed guitar, airy vocals and a distorted flute. Neither of these EPs can even begin to compare to Memory Tapes' - Seek Magic this year, but they're certainly strong and decent releases in their own right.
Julianna Barwick - Florine
This is one of the most unique releases I've heard this year, definitely. It's an angelic, enchanting album that was created entirely with layered, choir-like vocals. Julianna Barwick's vocals are haunting and melancholic. Each track drones forward, constantly warping and layering more vocal tracks on top of the others. Tracks morph into divine, droning harmonies that can't be described properly with words. It's not an easy album to listen to, but it's well worth investing some time in it.
Dinosaur Feathers - Early Morning Risers
Considering I haven't written this in order at all (this is actually one of the last releases to be added), I can't imagine just how many times I've described something as tropical influenced or sounding. Well, here's yet another entry into the aforementioned list/description. Dinosaur Feathers is a new group with an album due out this year (2010). They released this EP for free in August of 2009, though I didn't hear it until 2010. Tribal rhythms, filtered vocals, choppy melodies, some electronics, light guitar work, etc. make up the majority of this release.
Javelin - Javelin
Another 2009 release that I first heard in 2010. This one's more loopy track music with lo-fi/gritty synths, basically the same as the other "chillwave" releases this year. No vocals, but the melodies stand great on their own. It's an upbeat, nice EP that shows potential for the artist in the future. With an LP due out in April or May of this year, Javelin should be worth looking out for.
Snowing - Fuck Your Emotional Bullshit
A real emo (not screamo, post-hardcore, "modern emo", whatever stuff) release that's really great. Snowing are set to release a full length in 2010, and I couldn't be more excited. Mathy guitar work, strained vocals and garage rock sound quality permeates this EP.
The Morning Benders - Grain of Salt
This is about as typical indie rock as it gets, but it's enjoyable. You'll immediately associate the first track with "Is This It" era The Strokes, as the hooks and general sound are pretty damn similar. It moves forward after that with softer, more acoustic-driven tracks, then a piano ballad. A quality release, though lacking in some respect.
VEGA - Well Known Pleasures
The man behind Neon Indian (Alan Palomo's) side project is the house/dance inpired VEGA. While Neon Indian seeks to solicit a nostalgic response from its listeners, VEGA is definitely wrapped up in contemporary electronic music. VEGA acts as a nice counterpart to Neon Indian, because it shows that Alan Palomo is capable of crafting great tracks outside of the tiny sphere Neon Indian populates. Palomo also provides vocals for the dance beats of VEGA, but the majority of the album is driven by electronics.
Top 5 EPs:
Broaddaylight - The Bell Jar
This shimmering 5 track EP comes from the new dream pop group Broaddaylight. Robin Guthrie actually mastered this, and it shows. It carries a similar aura to it that his work in Cocteau Twins and Violet Indiana does. The vocals are so similar to the legendary Cocteau Twins' vocalist Elizabeth Fraser's that it's almost scary. The majority of the tracks are guitar driven, but with lots of electronic backdrops and general ambience. It's pretty dense for dream pop, but it still works (though modern dream pop seems to be going in to more "dense" sonic territory, anyway). The track "Close" is particularly nice, with its distorted piano, snappy drumming and echoed vocals.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Higher Than the Stars
An absolutely gorgeous EP by one of 2009's darling groups. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart merge indie pop with shoegaze in a truly wonderful manner. Falling somewhere between The Field Mice and Slowdive, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart took those two dynamics and processed it for the modern era. The standout title track swoops with spacey electronics and overlays that with simple drumming and reverbed guitar. Unfortunately, I couldn't get into their full length, but this is a fantastic EP, and a nice consolation.
MillionYoung - Sunndreamm
Note: Lala player is playing the album "Be So True", not "Sunndreamm".
Loops. Loops everywhere is how I would describe this release. MillionYoung is an upcoming artist by the name of Mike Diaz that bridges dreamy vocals with tons of looped percussion and other electronics. It fits somewhere between the tropical/beach craze and "chillwave". It's an interesting release, and he's certainly an artist that'll be worth watching in 2010.
Animal Collective - Fall Be Kind
Animal Collective opened the year with the incredible Merriweather Post Pavilion, but finished it with a great, but underwhelming EP. Fall Be Kind opens with "Graze" which sounds like some intergalatic trip backed by synths, violin, piano, and who knows what else that could seemingly have you aurally grazing past celestial bodies, but segues into toybox-sounding flutes and light drumming. While it seems to be the fan favorite, "What Would I want? Sky" doesn't really do much of anything for me, but still manages to be a decent track. "What Would I want? Sky"'s directionless opening switches over to the manipulated Grateful Dead sample with Avey Tare singing over it, supported by Panda Bear's backing vocals, claps, and some other assorted chimes and loops. Fall Be Kind's strength lies in its last two tracks, though. Both powerful tracks, with Avey Tare fronting the delirious "On a Highway", a track about touring, and the other being "I Think I Can" which places Panda Bear's heady vocals at the forefront. The EP's entertaining for me, but it certainly hasn't had much lasting value. I've only listened to it a few times since its release.
Small Black - Small Black
EP of the year, and no doubt going to be one of the best artists of 2010 goes to Small Black. Small Black is a one-man project that has a full backing band when playing live, though I don't know his name. His music is basically lo-fi synth/distorted guitar/drum machine-centric shoegaze. It's really, really, good, though, and doesn't have the heavy/abrasive quality most (garbage) shoegaze tends to. I forget how exactly I found him, but I'm glad that I did. Very, very much so recommended, but I can understand if you don't like the music.
Honorable Mentions (LPs):
Toro Y Moi - My Touch
Note: Lala player is playing the album "Causers of This", not "My Touch".
Toro Y Moi is the one man project of Chaz Bundick. While it's not the strongest "chillwave" release of the year, it is certainly another great album. Murky synths, drum machines, dance-pop structure and falsetto vocals, the album feels intentionally discordant and does the effect nicely. An enjoyable release and listen, but the album, to me, goes in and out without really solidfying its stay. Still, we'll be hearing plenty more of this type of sound in the coming year. There's also an amazing, almost dubstep-sounding remix of Beach House's song "Master of None" on the album, so that adds some points. You could probably consider this as one of the "honorable mentions" I enjoyed more than the rest.
Alex Mauer - Vegavox 2
I'm not entirely sure, but I think Alex Mauer typically tries to create a soundtrack for NES games that don't exist with his releases. It works, but not every track really manages to convey any particular feeling that would usually be associated with NES scores. There's nothing here that's daring, just some nicely composed tracks that at least understand what made NES scores so great, even if it fails to execute upon it. Standout tracks are "Snipes", with its jittery waves and "AEPOZXLU", starting slow, but building to a macabre, dissonant type sound.
Iqtu - Rollie Poley Years
Chiptunes/ambient album. Some really great tracks on here, but overall it's lacking. It has a nice, dreamy ambience to it, though, with clear jazz and lounge inspired melodies. The opening track "SRS Ending", is probably the strongest, beginning with a subdued haze and escalating to a surge of noise. The album is fleeting, with most tracks only averaging 1:30 in length. With just 9 tracks, it's easy to blow through and not really absorb what you've just listened to.
Japandroids - Post-Nothing
This was one of the releases I avoided for vain reasons. I ended up checking it out once I realized that their first release came out in 2009, despite thinking I had heard them beforehand. To my surprise, it was an enjoyable album. Japandroids are a two piece group -- with just a guitarist and drummer. They manage to convey more than that with their music, though. I, for some reason, feel like they remind me of Taking Back Sunday (circa "Tell All Your Friends"), but I don't think that's particularly accurate. I don't really know, so I'll let you be the judge. Great garage rock/punk, though.
Passion Pit - Manners
Manners is a great electropop album that deserves the recognition it's received. It's not particularly noteworthy for innovation, but it's a fun album that manages to express itself in an endearing manner. I really don't have much else to say considering you've already been introduced to them.
Bear in Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth
I don't really know what I would consider this. It's progressive, but doesn't really have the assertiveness/guitar wankery most progressive music tends to. It's very synth/drum heavy, and the vocals are near indistinguishable. The songs tend to melt into a heavy, amorphous sound that seems somewhat echoey. It's almost like proggy shoegaze, actually. The major problem with this album is that no songs really strike a chord with me, but they all sound pretty good. It's worth at least checking out (well, I think everything in this list is), but don't be surprised if you're not captivated by it.
Atlas Sound - Logos
The latest release from Deerhunter's frontman Bradford Cox delivers a haunting psych/pop/shoegaze album similar to Grouper, but with much more variety. The members from Deerhunter seem to release better solo efforts than joint ones, for some reason. Deerhunter is also very good, though. Most of the tracks are acoustic-driven interspersed with shimmering synths. Echo and reverb blurs just about every track on this release, but it still maintains an undeniable consistency between tracks. Panda Bear guests on the sunshine-pop inspired "Walkabout", which is easily the standout track. Highly recommended, and was initially in my top 10 until I made some adjustments after additional listens.
Datsik - Various Releases
This was the year dubstep really seemed to have taken off. I had never seen it mentioned as much previously, nor really knew it existed. I don't like a lot of it, but some of the artists are doing really great stuff. Datsik is one of them, who released somewhere around 12-15 tracks this year. There's a huge range of dubstep styles, but Datsik's is leaning towards the harder end of it, with the distorted/"wobbly" bass sound prominent in all his tracks. There's really not much to be said, but the "wobble" in Datsik's tracks are quite hypnotic. I recommend listening to his track "Gecko" to at least get a feel for the sound.
Ecovillage - Phoenix Asteroid
The two man etherealwave group's debut LP. I'd say this is another unique release this year with a sound all to its own, fitting somewhere between etherealwave, dream pop, and new age. It's dense, and can be tough to follow, really. Forget even trying to discern the layered vocals, which are buried under the array of reverbed electronics and who knows what else. It's definitely not a release for everyone, but it has some interesting elements to it. There's some African influence in these tracks, and it can have a new age-type vibe to it. Track pick for me is "Dawn was Brand New", which starts with ambient waves crashing on a beach, then joined by dreamy steelpan and some other ambience. It actually reminds me of one track from the SNES game EarthBound, somewhat. ("The Maze of Dreams", to be precise, and you can probably infer what it might sound like based on the title alone.) The album only falters on the 16 minute track "Phoenix Asteroid". It's a slow, meandering ambient track that never really finds a decent footing.
Spirit Spine - Spirit Spine
Spirit Spine is Joseph Denny, a solo artist making hazy, loopy music. The Animal Collective influence is undeniable, but he manages to create an intriguing record without sounding trite. Most tracks skirt a fine line between sunshine pop, psych pop and synthpop. Deep, echoed vocals act as a background instrument to propel the song, usually letting the array of sounds (mostly synth and who knows what else) to take the forefront. It's an interesting album, but probably not for everyone. It's nowhere near as appealing as some of the other albums this year, but it certainly shows promise and talent. As another note, I didn't find out about this guy until 2010, even though this album has been out since the beginning of 2009.
Islands - Vapours
Islands' third release manages to be the one to hook me in. I think Vapours is about as generic as you can get when it comes to indie (pop) music. It tries to encompass a variety of styles and doesn't really do much with any of them. It's mostly guitar and electronic driven, with lots of bloopy-bleepy, wishy-washy type sounds. It is pop, though, and there are some great, catchy tracks on here. "No You Don't", in particular, has an aquatic-type sound to it that's ostensibly about a girl unaware of the dangers associated with doing drugs. "On Foreigner" is a beautifully arranged song with dreamy, shimmering synths, deep bass and vocal harmonies. In a way, this album's more of a let down for me than anything else. The great tracks on here are great, but the mediocre to decent ones are just that. When I first heard the album, I thought it would be in my top 10 easily, but I quickly realized I wasn't that into it.
Holiday Shores - Columbus'd the Whim
More tropicalia and obvious sunshine-pop influenced music. Holiday Shores are (to my knowledge) a new band that have only one release to their name. Most of the tracks seem to be heavily layered with various melodious, jangling guitars. It sounds great, but you can get lost in the haze fairly easily. Throw in droning organs and it certainly fits the beach/tropical sound well, if a little dense. Columbus'd the Whim isn't a perfect release, but it shows huge promise and still stands above many of the other bands sprouting up these days trying to tackle modern beach music. There's definitely a lot to be enjoyed in this album. Another release that was initially in my top 10, but later removed.
Deastro - Moondagger
Deastro is the synthpop/progressive cornucopia project led by Randolph Chabot. Yes, it's weird and filled with sweeping moments. The production on this album is absolutely jaw-dropping. It has a huge sound to it that really should be listened to to fully grasp. The majority of the songs follow synth/electro leads with a full backing band following, along with aggressive male vocals. The album suffers from the same problem that Bear in Heaven's "Beast Rest Forth Mouth" did, though. While all tracks are nice to listen to, not a single one stands out as impressive, and thus really doesn't have much lasting value to me as an album. The reason for this is that both albums are so heavily processed and produced with a huge range of sounds assaulting you at once. Dense music can be great, but it needs to be put on a very tidy trajectory to be successful. I'm pretty sure part of the lead vocal melodies were ripped from other songs, too. "Daniel Johnston was Stabbed in the..."'s bridge sounds like it was influenced heavily by Panda Bear's track "Bros", and "Day of Wonder"'s chorus also sounds very familiar, but of course I can't figure out where it's from now. Deastro's first release, "Keepers" is a considerably stronger and more focused effort.
Fluker Love - Fluker Love
Fluker Love is a one man electro project headed by Andrew Goldspink and based in London. His MySpace page's quote is "Like if Loveless was made for £1.50", which seems highly appropriate. This is an electro-shoegaze album that merges distorted electronic washes with even more distorted vocals. It's echoey and repetitious, but it has the same feel as the legendary Loveless does in that regard. The closest comparison I'd say to this record is Small Black's s/t EP this year, which has the same kind of distorted synths and drum machine kicks, but sans the guitars. Even if this guy doesn't release another album, I'd still be satisfied with just this, because it's a pretty unique and great album as it is. Side note: another artist/album I didn't find out about until 2010.
A Grave With No Name - Mountain Debris
Here's another 2009 release I didn't listen to until post-2009. This one falls probably closest to shitgaze, which is basically just slurry garage rock with shoegaze overtones. I don't think it's particularly the best of the genre, but it's one of the few I actually like, so it's noteworthy for that. I don't really have much to say about them, so it'd probably be better just to listen yourself.
jj - no 2
Here's one of the only albums with a female vocalist that's going to be making this list. What/who is jj? A Swedish male and female duo that emerged in 2009 making electro, dreamy tropicalia with indie pop sensibility. It's weird, but it works. The music has a seemingly organic quality to it that, despite (assumedly) being nearly entirely driven by electronics, is rather unique. They also sampled Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" on "Ecstacy" which is, IMO, the weakest track.
The Arctic Flow - All the Way Until December
A very late 2009 release by one of the best new dream pop artists of the year. The Arctic Flow is Brian Hancheck, a one man artist based out of Myrtle Beach, SC. He had four free releases this year. Two EPs and an LP on Holiday Records and an EP on Reverbnation -- all available for free. His music can best be described as a mix between indie pop and dream pop, with ethereal, melodic guitar over what sounds like drum machines, all guided by light vocals. Until December isn't a particularly notable release for innovation or anything, but it's a nice album that shows undeniable promise.
Oneohtrix Point Never - Russian Mind
Note: The Lala player is playing the 2010 released compilation album that does feature Russian Mind. Russian Mind starts at the song "Months" and ends at "Immanence".
Here's the ambient drone album of the year. Oneohtrix Point Never is a one man artist that released two full lengths this year on two different labels. The first one, Zones Without People, is good, but doesn't stand up to the latter release, Russian Mind. Russian Mind has a spacey vibe to it, similar to old Steve Roach releases. It's an engrossing album, but it's not something you'd really listen to to be entertained by. The sounds are supposed to wash over you in their hazy bliss. Worth at least checking out once, but not something I'd go out of my way to listen to if I wasn't a fan of it. Track pick goes to "Russian Mind" with its layered, hypnotic synths. Side note: another album I didn't listen to until 2010. I actually wasn't aware he released another album this year until I heard about this on Pitchfork.
Horse Shoes - The Imperial School
More glittery, uptempo dream pop, and another free release by the excellent Holiday Records. Horse Shoes is a two piece group based out of Brooklyn. The vocals are standard male indie pop fare (high pitched, mellow and monotone). Most tracks are carried by various subdued electronics, guitar and light drumming. It's a very mellow album and they have a lackadaisical quality to their music. Not a bad album, but somewhat plain.
Emeralds - What Happened
This is a tough album to really pin down. It's something like psychadelic drone post-rock. I don't really get the description either, but those are the three genres I'd really attribute Emeralds to. Most of their music is slow, droning affairs that hover around or over 10 minutes per track. The album's short, at only 5 tracks, but there's a good 50 minutes of music on here. The tracks all start slow, with minimal guitar and some random ambient electronics, but build into pulsing surges of noise.
To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie - Marlone
To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie's second album, and much less noisier than their first. To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie is a male-female duo that make drone music coupled with haunting vocals. Their music is extremely captivating at times, but at other times can just sound completely dull. This album seems to be more about creating pretty drone atmospheres over the abrasive, swirling whirlwinds of drone tracks on their first album. I'd say I prefer The Patron (their first album) more, but this one has its merits, too. Anyway, this is also another album I knew about in 2009, but didn't listen to until 2010.
Health - Get Color
Health's second album is a significant improvement over their first, which I wasn't a fan of. Health are part of the LA noise rock scene, but are easily the best of the groups to emerge from it. Their music can be described as dense noise rock with dreamy vocals, emphasizing crunchy synths, deep drums and melodic guitar work over just being abrasive. Health is probably the only noise rock I can really tolerate. Their music just has a really nice quality to it that you can't find in the other groups that are just chugging with scratchy guitars and spam hitting cymbals. The only real problem I have with this album is that part of it feels directionless, but it really grew on me from the first time I had listened to it.
Mew - No More Stories...
Mew's first release in four years. Following up the tremendous And the Glass Handed Kites would be no easy task, and while No More Stories is a great album in its own right, it can't compare to their previous work. Mew fit under a range of genres, including progressive rock, indie rock, art rock, shoegaze, etc., but No More Stories... is definitely the most progressive of their releases. Gone are the light, melodic guitar tracks that were common on And the Glass Handed Kites and Frengers. While it shares a fair bit with And the Glass Handed Kites, the songs aren't as structured and fluid as And the Glass Handed Kites was. Still, I feel like I'm comparing this too much to albums I don't think you've ever heard before. No More Stories... is very much a progressive album with a rock opera type feel, opening with what sounds like a song playing in reverse, then segueing into a choppy, dissonant guitar-driven track with piano. "Beach" is the track pick for me, which is a gorgeous, shimmering song led by reverbed guitars and synth. For being four years in the making, I can't help but view it as a disappointment, but it has its moments.
Inverness - Forest Fortress
I had already mentioned this group to you before and I know you didn't like it, so I'm only briefly going to go over it. Inverness' washed out tropical tracks are among some of the nicest sounding this year. The problem with this release is that nothing is truly notable off of it.
Real Estate - Real Estate
While this was given the full Pitchfork hype treatment, I still don't think it's that remarkable of an album. There are some nice tracks on here, but the overall feel of it just seems as if it's missing something. Real Estate are a group from NJ that play even more tropical/beach-themed hazy tracks. There is no real gimmick here, plucky, reverbed guitars and light drumming propel every song here with relaxed vocals. Worth listening to, and I'm not disappointed when I decide to randomly put it on, but it's not as impressive as what some of Real Estate's other contemporaries are doing.
Chromatic Flights - Sunset Bell
I actually had this downloaded (and I believe listened to) earlier in 2009, but this is a post-2009 release I didn't really listen to until 2010. Chromatic Flights is the solo project of Kyle Wyss from Blind Man's Colour. Blind Man's Colour's release this year is entertaining, but simple laziness has prevented me from adding it to this list. So, check that out while you're at it. Chromatic Flights' music consists mainly of blurry electronics and filtered vocals. Most tracks are slow and droning, but they have techno/dance/house/hip-hop sensibility, so it's not a bother to listen to. The aural textures on here aren't anything to write home about, but each track is interesting. Track pick goes to the languid "Home is More", which features echoed vocals, dissonant percussion, and some reverbed guitar. Sunset Bell is a free release available on Chromatic Flights' Band Camp page.
Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru - Episode 5 - End of the Golden Witch (When the Seagulls Cry)
The only visual novel release from this year that managed to have an English translation. Umineko no Naku Koro ni: Chiru (episode 5) is the first of what will tentatively be the four part conclusion to the Umineko no Naku Koro ni visual novel. Umineko no Naku Koro ni had four parts/chapters/episodes (they're officially referred to as episodes) prior to Chiru's release with English translations. Each episode takes about 8 to 12 hours to read through, so there's a lot of music to be heard/used.
Umineko no Naku Koro ni has -- without a doubt -- one of the strongest scores I've ever heard from a video game/anime/visual novel. Umineko no Naku Koro ni has (I believe) 15 or 16 very talented Japanese indie game/visual novel composers working on it, with "dai" and "zts" being the two major contributors. This would be #1 for the year if it included the entirety of the visual novel's tracks (with over 130 across the 5 episodes -- episode 5 having around 25 of those). It manages to evoke a range of moods that is near unrivaled.
While the entirety of Umineko's score covers a broad range of sounds from violin concertos, general ambience, discordant dance, trance epics (which the aforementioned "zts" is mostly responsible for), piano tracks, sweeping orchestral tracks, ambient, drum and bass, jazz, etc., Chiru is more limited. It's customary for every episode to have at least one new trance epic, but Chiru ditches the cryptic/spooky tracks that Umineko had in its first four chapters. The reason for this is because Umineko is a murder mystery visual novel, and the first four episodes of it were dedicated to the murder mystery aspect of the novel. Chiru, though, is the answer portion of the novel, which solves, or at least gives hints as to how to solve the many mysteries in it. Chiru's tracks have a different quality to them than the previous four episodes. Many of Chiru's tracks feel urgent and have a pulse-like aspect to them. Chiru's sound is more polarizing than the rest of the score. Some tracks sound as if you've been completely defeated, while others sound gloriously uplifting. It's tough to describe it, really, but it fits within the context of the songs and the novel. Many of the tracks also use a fair bit of organ, which wasn't nearly as present in the previous four episodes. You can probably consider this as the illegitimate #3 or #4 on my top 10 list.
If you have any interest at all in hearing (or playing) this, let me know, because I really think it's worth it. I've included some samples from Chiru for you, though, and a link that gives a brief description of the novel. I'd suggest checking out all the YouTube samples, as they cover a range of different styles. While the characters look like what you'd typically find in anime, the novel itself is nothing of the sort. It's a novel first and foremost with the mystery being the main focus/draw. The character designs can be unappealing, given they look like they were done in MS Paint, but they're very expressive and quite endearing. You can probably tell that I'm pretty obsessive about this, but I'd really like it if you gave it a shot, as I don't think you would be disappointed if you like the mystery genre (the novel even has Mac support!).
Top 10 LPs:
Kettel - Myam James Part 2
The IDM genius Reimer Eising released his follow up to 2008's Myam James Part 1 and delivers in spades. This is, for me, his best and most refined release. Kettel's songs all share similar attributes, and make them easily recognizable. It's also one of the reasons why it's difficult for me to get into other IDM artists, because none of them really can top him when it comes to composition, variety and style. The 18 track epic ranges from jittery dance, piano ballads with ambient noise, slippery jazz, echoey ambience, delicate percussion, etc. Overall, though, the album has a gentle quality to it that will either bore or captivate you. These tracks might not be immediately accessible (they weren't for me), but if they dig in, you'll be surprised just how enchanting it can be.
Desolation Wilderness - New Universe
60s pop with a dream pop coating. It sounds as good as that description makes it. Desolation Wilderness started off as a one-man project that was electro-based. The guy made something akin to glitchy ambient that I think was rather unique. Desolation Wilderness now is a full band, though, that have transformed into a hazy, sunshine-pop infused beast -- ditching the electronics/synths/whatever entirely. They stand above the rest when it comes to this sound, with great melodies and wispy vocals. Very much recommended, and the fact that they've been damn near ignored since they/he started is a shame.
Lotus Plaza - The Floodlight Collective
Here's the second (and better) solo project by one of the members of Deerhunter. Lotus Plaza is Lockett Pundt, who plays guitar in Deerhunter. It's no surprise that this is stylistically similar to Atlas Sound. Lotus Plaza is mainly sunny dream pop with some electronics interspersed in the tracks. The instantly familiar 60 sunshine pop sound makes itself quite evident (especially the simple, washed out drumming and reverbed guitar). Each track sounds like a sunshine pop song glazed over with gobs of echo and light vocals. It has an intangible form to it, but you can hear the pop hooks with ease under the coated mess of songs. Very recommended.
Robin Guthrie - Carousel
Arguably the father of dream pop releases his first real solo album in three years. Guthrie still plays extremely beautiful, melodic dream pop, and his guitar still has the same trademark pitch any Cocteau Twins fan will instantly recognize. However, his music now is more dipped in atmosphere and general ambience. Most songs are extremely layered with around half a dozen or more different guitars going simultaneously. These tracks can be noisy at points, and almost have post-rock type compositional qualities to them. It's probably the most pleasant, ethereal album I've heard this year, but it can be boring to listen to if you're not looking for this type of sound. Still, given he's one of my favorite guitarists, I think there is some awesome work to be heard in this release.
Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport
Fuck Buttons' follow-up to 2008's phenomenal Street Horrrsing shows them exploring similar teritory, but with an obviously more upbeat tempo. Drones and plenty of random white noise still litters the album, but it's clear they wanted to stray away from Street Horrrsing. Crafting some strange mix of dance, drone, ambient and noise, Tarot Sport is a sonic feast to listen to. There is literally no downtime during this album, and not a single track falters in comparison to the rest. It's an experience to listen to the entire album, and will require a number of listens to fully digest the sheer scope of Tarot Sport. The only thing I would say about this is that I don't like it nearly as much as Street Horrrsing. It's an improvement in some areas, but a step back in others. The removal of the distorted, carnal screams that were featured on parts of Street Horrrsing causes for Tarot Sport to sound less aggressive. However, Street Horrrsing went overboard with splotches of ambient noise on some tracks, which isn't present on Tarot Sport. Tarot Sport is longer than Street Horrrsing, but it feels more concise and polished. Overall, Tarot Sport's evolution from Street Horrrsing is welcomed, and what Fuck Buttons intend to do after this will no doubt also be enjoyable.
Former Ghosts - Fleurs
Former Ghosts is Xiu Xiu's lead guy Jamie Stewart, the chick from Zola Jesus (Nika Roza), and This Song is a Mess but So Am I's Freddy Ruppert. Ruppert fronts the group, and I believe writes the lyrics, too. Former Ghosts play very fuzzy, morose synth-pop/post-punk. The moody tracks fit perfectly with the intensely personal lyrics and impassioned vocals. The track "Mother", for instance, is about the passing of Ruppert's mother five years ago, and details what has changed since she's been gone. "And really, mom, I'm doing just fine. I've put a lot of those old demons behind me. And I've got something in my heart called hope, yet nowhere feels like home." It's a very solid release, that covers a range of styles ("Dreams" is a glitchy, IDM-esque track, while "Choices" has a wonderful etherealwave quality to it) but can be draining to listen to, despite being synthpop at its core.
Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms
Psychic Chasms opens with a 25 second lo-fi ambient track with looped voice samples and retro game sound effects. It sets the stage for what to expect on the rest of the album. Neon Indian is Alan Palomo, a one man act that uses old synths, drum machines, tape loops, and other oddities to create mellow, misty, lo-fi synthpop. The filtered vocals float in over the wash of electronics, and almost sound like another instrument. Psychic Chasms is a homage to weird 80s music, and it certainly sounds like a product of the era, though in a different light. The silly synths and effects are used convincingly to create something that doesn't sound past its prime. It's a short album, but every track sounds right. This is one of the strongest releases of 2009, I feel, and it didn't catch on right away with me. There's something in Neon Indian's music that you can't find in the other "chillwave" releases this year.
Alvin Band - Mantis Preying
One of the more out-of-left-field releases that really captured me this year. It's a whimsical pop album that was created entirely by one guy (Miniature Tigers' Rick Alvin Schaier) and his mouth/body slaps. Everything is either digitally manipulated noises he's made with his mouth, layered vocals, and/or a cappella. The range of sounds on this album is simply astounding given how little he worked with. A real achievement, in my opinion, and easily one of the best albums of the year. It's comparable to Bjork's "Medulla", but it has nowhere near the same amount of catchy vocal melodies that Mantis Preying does. I'd say it's closest to probably early/mid-Beach Boys works, such as "Pet Sounds" and "Today!". The lyrics, or what I can at least catch of them, are fairly nonsensical, but it adds to the capricious nature of the album. "Siamese cat clone, living peacefully alone in his summer town home." "Alpha and Omega only out on Sega." I do think the lyrics carry some darker, more abstract elements to them at points, though. Lines like "Wishing you could somehow be here again. Past the point of no return -- for either way you choose you can not win. So, do you end your days with me or send him to his grave?" "Life's so dark and gloomy, I haven't left my room. Heaven's just a palm tree away." Highly recommended, and really deserving of more recognition than it's received. Seriously, he has 650 listeners on Last.fm. Like, what the fuck, this is great music. The more I listen to this, the more impressed I am with each listen.
Memory Tapes - Seek Magic
When I said at the beginning of 2009 that nothing would top Merriweather Post Pavilion, I was pretty sure about that. Then, Seek Magic came along. This is one of the absolute best albums I've ever heard. It's a stunning combination of dream/dance pop, and does it so effortlessly, it makes me wonder why no one has explored the sound before. The power exhibited on some of the tracks is startling, and really sets a stark and dynamic contrast between the exuberance of dance music and dream pop's drowsiness-enducing haze. It'll lull you into complacency, then hit with a cascade of drums and other electronics at its climax. Memory Tapes is actually local, just a one man bedroom act by a guy named Dayve Hawk in south Jersey. He's been around before in another band called Hail Social, which saw moderate success, and releasing stuff under his other solo monikers "Weird Tapes" and "Memory Cassette". Memory Tapes is a combination of the two sounds, with Memory Cassette leaning towards the recent "chillwave" sound, and Weird Tapes being just straight up dance. Hail Social's "Modern Love & Death" almost sounds like a blueprint for Seek Magic, but it's nowhere near as polished (Dayve Hawk acting as the lead singer for the group). The sad thing is, I have a feeling that Seek Magic will be a one-off release with this type of sound. Similar to Love Spirals Downwards' dream pop/atmospheric drum and bass release "Flux" and Slowdive's "Pygmalion", which I'd consider as probably the only post-shoegaze album. Very, very much so recommended, and it's perfect at only 8 tracks, around 40-45 minutes in length. Any longer and it might've been marred down by some less-than-stellar tracks (the last track is actually probably the worst). It peaks at the song "Graphics", which is carried by an incredibly distorted guitar, assorted synths, drums, claps, shakers, and other things I can't recognize in the mass of sounds. At the very least, give this album a try.
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Does anything honestly even need to be said? This album will be considered one of the (if not the absolute) most pivotal releases of the 00s in coming years.
BONUS: 2010 Preview
Notable EPs Released Thus Far:
MillionYoung - Be So True
This guy is an absolute beast. He's put out two EPs worth of consistently great, catchy tracks. I wish he would release a full length soon, because the promise he's displayed thus far is undeniable. Same deal as his other EP, though a bit less organic. Lots of loopy music again with muffled vocals. The songs on this EP are more dance/IDM-inspired than the ones on Sunndreamm. I can hear bits of Memory Tapes in it, to be honest (though nowhere near as developed as his tracks).
Multifaros - Dreams
Multifaros returns with his follow-up to The Factory. Completely eschewing the chiptunes sound, instead going for mostly tacky synthpop with some guitar and vocals. It's a fun, upbeat release with a few very great tracks and a few decent ones. Track pick goes to the languid "My Pillow", which is a fantastic, slow track with light rhythm, one synth lead, and buzzy bass.
Grouper/Roy Montgomery - Split
Consider this as only Grouper, because I haven't even listened to Roy Montgomery's 18 minute track yet, heh. Grouper returns with a very short addition to her haunting, acoustic-gaze (or whatever you want to call it) catalogue. The album opens with a good two minutes of white noise before Liz Harris' delicate vocals float to the surface of the track, eventually to drown out the prior noise. The tracks following this use a single, distorted/echoed keyboard with some minimal vocal work by Liz Harris. This is a great release, and hopefully reflective of what sound she's pursuing for her next full length.
Memoryhouse - The Years EP
Another new dream pop group to sprout up this year. They released The Years EP for free and are slated to release a full length this year. The album's incredibly short, clocking in at just over 10 minutes and four tracks. Every song on here is great, though. This is typical dream pop -- droning guitars, female vocals (but very clear and distinguishable), some random ambient blips and drum machines. Track pick goes to the hypnotic "The Waves", which sounds not far off from Memory Tapes. I'm very eager to hear what they put out on their full length.
Notable LPs Released Thus Far:
Pantha du Prince - Black Noise
I can't really get into the majority of dance music because most of it is just so long with no real payoff. I'd imagine it'd be fine to listen to within its context (UK clubs), but bedroom listening just doesn't do it for me. Pantha du Prince comes from one of the most unlikely areas of dance music and really manages to captivate me, though. Minimal techno is not an easy field to get into, but Pantha du Prince's twinkling synths, hypnotic IDM-esque beats, and slow build ups are done with such finese, I really can't help but be impressed. Black Noise is a considerable improvement from his first album, This Bliss. Panda Bear guests on the fantastic track "Stick to My Side", which is the only track off the album to feature vocals.
The Ruby Suns - Fight Softly
Note: Lala player is playing the album "Sea Lion", not "Fight Softly".
Probably the most cohesive post-MPP imitation release thus far. This is the Ruby suns' follow-up to their 2008 release Sea Lion. Sea Lion had a very tropical-inspired vibe to it, but Fight Softly is mostly cut up, droning or choppy samples, filtered vocals and lots of interesting percussion usage. It's a nice release, but the MPP influence is quite evident. It's also dense, and has trouble really finding proper footing in the haze of electronics, vocals and percussion. I'm not really sure where this'll end up (if at all) on my 2010 list, because it's going to take a while to properly digest. It also doesn't help that it has nowhere near the immediate appeal that Merriweather Post Pavilion did.
Vampire Weekend - Contra
I never expected myself to like Vampire Weekend, given their s/t was mostly trash save a few tracks. They've definitely matured, though, while retaining the general qualities that were found on their s/t. Take the delightful opener "Horchata", which is pushed along by mostly tribal-ish rhythm (marimba) and soft bass. It's unlike anything on their debut, but it certainly is Vampire Weekend. The afrobeat sound is still exceedingly present here, but it's not exclusively used for fancy guitar-work. There are plenty of electronics on this release, and you'll likely be making obvious comparisons to Paul Simon on nearly every track. Still, this isn't a flawless release. While just about every track is enjoyable, there's plenty that fall in the "well, this is okay, but not something I'm huge on" range. There's a positive to that, though, as most of the songs clock in around 3 minutes or less, so you're not stuck trudging through the weaker tracks for too long. Definitely recommended, but not something I'm expecting to see in my year end list for 2010.
jj - jj no 3
Note: I couldn't find anywhere that would let me stream any songs off this. They also don't have a MySpace page, to my knowledge.
Not even half a year later and jj have already released a follow up to their debut. No 3 has a somnolent atmosphere to it that isn't really found on no 2. It opens with a melancholic piano ballad, but quickly segues into the familiar tropical soundscapes they're known for crafting. I'd say "Let Go" is the strongest track, which has some weird new age/dream pop thing going on. This is a very pretty album, and superior to no 2, IMO.
Ghost Society - The Back of His Hands, Then the Palms
Out of nowhere comes yet another dream pop act with their first release. Ghost Society is a (I think) three piece with dual male and female vocalists. They formed in late 2008, and this album was originally slated for a 2009 release but was delayed. This is pretty music, somewhat similar to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (more noisy, less ethereal). Not really comparable to Beach House's "Teen Dream", but it's a nice album.
Toro Y Moi - Causers of This
While "My Touch" wasn't really an LP, I still consider it one. This is Toro Y Moi's "real" debut, but it's not as good as My Touch. The problem with Causers of This is that it lost the dance sensibility that My Touch had, while just trying to construct general ambient bliss with some lounge/dance/funk/hip-hop bits. This is also much heavier sounding than My Touch, with what I can't even imagine how many layers of electronics are buried under the noise. It still manages to sound crisp, though, and it's likely thanks to Chaz Bundick's calm, lucid vocals. There's some cool work to be heard here, but it's not as pop conscious as My Touch was.
Beach House - Teen Dream
This leaked very, very early -- sometime around November. When I first listened to it, I wasn't sure what to think. It's definitely Beach House, but they've moved away slightly from the unique dream pop they were initially producing. Teen Dream almost sounds like a re-worked Devotion, with less emphasis on atmosphere. It's undoubtedly a superior album to Devotion, though, but it still doesn't hold a candle to their original s/t. Of course, Teen Dream sounds like a full band had worked on it, whereas their s/t was basically just guitar, organ and a drum machine. I had a feeling that they had wanted to move away from their original sound, and in an interview with Pitchfork recently, Beach House had said they were tired of always being viewed in a certain manner. Regardless, Teen Dream is the first really great release of the year, and likely to be in my top 10 of 2010. Very highly recommended, as I know you weren't a fan of them originally.
Dinosaur Feathers - Fantasy Memorial
Here it is, the second great release of the year. This is being added extremely late to the list (at the time of writing, this is the last addition of the 50ish albums already on here, plus all the cover art html stuff has already been completed). I've only listened to this once so far, but everything about it has already impressed me, so I'd imagine it's going to have some staying power. The most immediate thing that captured me was the vocal harmonies on here. The vocals really drive this release. Looking at Dinosaur Feathers' Last.fm page reveals that the two vocalists (that go by "Greg" and "Derek") sang a capella together in college, which explains the great, dynamic vocals. This has very obvious African influence, and definitely sounds a fair bit like Animal Collective's "Sung Tongs". Very recommended.
BONUS: Notable Upcoming 2010 Releases
The year's just started, but still, I wouldn't say there's anything immediately great out there besides Beach House's "Teen Dream" and Dinosaur Feathers' "Fantasy Memorial". Just like last year, I expect there to be a number of unexpectedly great releases this year. Plenty of releases from great artists have already been announced, though, so I'll highlight some of the ones I'm most interested in in roughly chronological order.
April 13th - MGMT "Congratulations"
May - Wild Nothing "Gemini"
Early 2010 - Viernes "Debut LP"
Early 2010 - Beach Fossils "Debut LP"
Early 2010 - Memoryhouse "Looms of Youth"
September - Panda Bear "Tomboy"
2010 - Ghastly City Sleep "Moondrifts"
2010 - Of Montreal "False Priest
2010 - Saves the Day "Daybreak"
2010 - I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody's Business "New LP"
2010 - Small Black "Debut LP"
2010 - Active Child "Debut LP"
2010? - Radiohead "New LP"
Obvious heavy hitter of the year is Panda Bear. Most of Tomboy is already floating around on live tracks, but I'm holding out for now. Saves the Day's "Daybreak" is two years late (its original release was planned for 2008), so I'm expecting something great. Deep down, I know we're never going to get another "In Reverie", though. Of Montreal's "Skeletal Lamping" received tons of mixed reception, so I'm hoping they can bounce back with "False Priest". Small Black's debut LP I'd already say is a top 10 candidate for this year, and I've yet to hear anything off it (unless they put some of the EP tracks on there). Wild Nothing should be a great release, regardless, given he put out some of the best music of 2009 ("Drifter", "Pessimist" and his cover of Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting") without actually releasing an EP or LP (just a paltry 7"). I'm hoping Alvin Band or Memory Tapes release another album this year, but I'm not holding my breath. Radiohead posted a blog update saying they were going to record in January, but we'll see, I guess. There's more on my to-be-released list I keep, but these are the ones I'm most looking forward to. I'd say everything's worth checking out if you're not familiar with any of them.
So, that's it. I've worked on this for over three months (almost) every night. It took a lot longer than I initially expected, and I likely won't be doing a really involved one like this next year. Still, it was fun to write about the music I enjoyed this year, and gave me more insight into all these albums in the end. Although, I'm a little upset at just how much of this was on Pitchfork's year end list. I'll probably try to get my 2010 year end list out before theirs next year. I hope you enjoyed it!