There wasn’t much this year in the way of new music that really impressed me, so I’ve narrowed down my best-of list to simply the top 5 albums I’ve been listening to and enjoying the most this year. I don’t know if it’s me getting more selective in what I like to listen to, or if newly released music is getting worse… In any event, here’s the list:
Having been a fan of Tortoise since TNT, I’ve continued to follow their newest releases to see how far their experimentation will take them. This album is a lot noisier, a lot louder, and seems like was a whole lot of fun to make. There’s less soundscapes and more rocking out – perhaps taking cues from the cacophonous tracks Squarepusher’s been putting out lately.
It seems that the U.K. progressive arena rock group can’t get any more grandiose, and then this album drops. Sweeping symphonic passages merge with raucous rock in a way that no one but Muse seems able to pull off. Simultaneously channeling Queen, Depeche Mode, Radiohead, and so many other influences, Muse still finds ways to bring all of them together to create something new and amazing with each new release. This one didn’t disappoint.
Underground hip-hop doesn’t get any better than this. Creative lyrics, incredibly bombastic percussive beats, and melodies that pound into your brain – this album has personality to spare. Punk rock influence abounds, which helped to immediately hook me in with its combination of brash guitars and fast rhyming. A simply amazing collection of tracks that has been unfairly overlooked by many.
The album that almost broke up the band. Armistice represents the decision to throw out everything that wasn’t working and start over from scratch. The result is a great mix of their sensibilities from previous releases and a strong influence on recording in their native New Orleans. They pull off plenty of energetic anthems, subdued jams, and extended offshoots that still point towards their early DJ Shadow influences as strongly as they always have.
It all comes to this. The top pick for the year’s best album, and it’s not even really a proper album. It’s not released by any label. It’s not performed by any paid artist. It’s the next evolution in new expression through music, and it comes from the most unlikely of creators using the most ubiquitous of sources.
A man from Israel, Ophir Kutiel, (a.k.a. Kutiman) has advanced what DJ Shadow started. While instead of pilfering sources from vinyl scavenged from record stores, he’s taken the same approach slaving away in his home studio utilizing the next big content source – YouTube. What Kutiman has achieved is an unbelievably entertaining and impressive mega-mashup of tiny bits of samples from a massive range of YouTube videos. He’s used them as the instruments, the vocals, and as visually stunning, quick-edit, VJ-style music videos to comprise one of the most unique collections of songs ever made. This “album” ranges from reggae to drum&bass to funk to dreamy ballads without a skip in quality. Every track is a testament to the dedication this man has put into crafting such incredibly detailed works from the hundreds of cited sources. For this combination of talent, creativity, and innovation – Kutiman’s masterpiece easily gets my vote for the best “album” of 2009.
What was stuck on constant repeat for you this year? Given my top 5, what would you recommend I check out that I may have missed this year that you consider an amazing album?