5. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
Whoever predicted that the disorganized At War With The Mystics foreshadowed the demise of The Flaming Lips’ musical consistency was dead wrong. Instead, the band bounced back with Embryonic, a radical departure from their previous work which still didn’t really come as much of a surprise. Really, a departure like Embryonic was just the thing a band like The Flaming Lips would, and thankfully did do.
What’s most amazing about Embryonic isn’t even it’s sprawling set of experimental jam freak-outs, but rather its production. Whereas the last couple Lips albums were increasingly squeaky clean and polished in all their euphoric wonder, this time around, the Lips sounded like they set up a bunch mics in the basement and just recorded live-off the floor whatever the fuck went down. Again, a brilliant choice. It doesn’t really sound lo-fi – it’s too clear and organized – but it sounds rougher, dirtier, very in line with the sound a lot of indie bands are going for in the late 00s. The density and semi-chaotic nature of this makes Embryonic a bit tough to get into at first, but once you’re in, you’re in for a seriously kick-ass trip.
4. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Its Blitz!
For cultural and economic reasons, moving towards dance rock (or danceable rock music) is a smart move for any band to make. Dance rock is probably the most crossover ready indie music, as the success of bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers and more recently MGMT attests to (even though the later two are not indie bands per say). Rock clubs bring in a sizable draw these days and its a great place for your average or semi-hip shmuck or shmuckess to realize that they might really enjoy LCD Soundsystem, Peter, Bjorn and John, Arcade Fire or, ironically, The Smiths (“Kill the DJ, kill the dj, kill the dj,” anyone?), who are (strangely) often spun.
Add The Yeah Yeahs Yeahs to that list now. For all the kids who could care less about songs even as great as “Gold Lion” and “Rich”, the band definitely hooked a lot of them in with “Heads Will Roll” and “Zero”, two clear and easy big dance tracks, and two of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ best songs ever. The rest of It’s Blitz! stayed in line with the dance rock tendencies of the first two tracks though songs like “Skeletons” and “Runaway” still showcased the intimacy and vulnerable that distinguishes Karen O’s writing.
3. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
It shouldn’t have taken this long for everyone to fall in love with Phoenix but better late than never. Wolgang… wasn’t really that different from anything they’d done before nor was it more ambitious – it was just really, really good. More so than any other band, Phoenix can bust out those gorgeous post-Strokes hooks like clockwork; I swear they’ve got it down to a science or something. This time around things sounded a little bit bigger, a little bit dancier, and its two huge singles, “1901″ and “Lisztomania” actually got heard, whether in clubs, on blogs, over the P.A. at shows or just on your friend’s playlist. Like I said – its about time everyone realized these guys are amazing.
2. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
Back when I was writing for the Dalhousie Gazette, one writer said this album was the new Sgt. Peppers. At the time I thought this was outrageous and hyberpolic, but in the last little while, watching the effect the album has had on the entire world of indie rock, I’m not so sure. In terms of quality I still disagree, even as great as “My Girls” is, it’s not “A Day In The Life”, and the consistency of MPP falls far short of Sgt. Peppers, but in terms of its effect on the musical landscape, perhaps no album released this decade since Kid A or Is This It? has had so profound and apparent an influence on the direction in which indie music is heading. However, unlike even those aforementioned albums which took influences and styles already in existence and applied them in new, exciting ways, MPP is strikingly original and lacking of precedent. Of course, it’s not as though the album was some kind of immaculate conception, as one can point to the influences of dub and dance music apparent in the music, but its application of them is so radical and inspired that this is almost a mute point.
Putting aside the influence and accomplishment of MPP, the music happens to be incredible, and most amazingly, more accessible than anything AC has done before. I remember giving Feels to a friend of mine back in grade 11 or something and him later telling me ( not surprisingly) that he needed to give it some time before he could really get into it. The same holds true with some of MPP, but a song like “My Girls” hits you instantly, as smack in the face as a classic hit single, which is what it will be regarded as in years to come. When people look back on the music of 2009, whether reminiscing about it or
making fun of it in some future Spinal Tap or Walk Hard-like movie, MPP and the samplegaze music it popularized will be an easy touchstone.
1. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Bitte Orca has not and will not affect the musical landscape in the way that MPP will, but rather, it is more along the lines of a brilliant culmination of ideas and sounds taken from a million different and differing places and genres. The reason it narrowly beats out MPP is because it is the stronger album: shorter, tighter, more eclectic, dense, obscure and rewarding. Each song is its own adventure and suggests infinite possibilities for music. Longstreth shows us there’s no reason we can’t learn from afrobeat, Rn’B, riff rock, pop, psychedelia, electro, folk and classical, and there’s no reason we can’t throw it all together and make something so good that anyone anywhere can enjoy it. And yet, it seems the greatest and most admirable thing about Longstreth is that he seemed unafraid to make music that, just as easily nobody would like, with that weird voice of his and his jittery, frantic guitar playing that could be confused for something amateur and goofy, when really its just weird sounding, though technically strong. But as the group’s newfound popularity proves, with talent and strong enough a vision, regardless of how out there the music you’re making is, people just might get it eventually.