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Best of 2009 December 23, 2009

Posted by ashiah in Music.
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Although I spent most of this year playing catch-up, one thing I’ve noticed within the past couple of weeks as I read all the “Best of the year” features that get published around this time is that 2009 lacked a tremendous amount of consistency. Basically just a bunch of stuff came and went this year, some brilliant and some horrible, and neither made any kind of lasting impression. No new genres were formed, no interesting trends or directions — just a bunch of stuff that came and went. PopMatters explained it best by rambling about all the new electronic artists that emerged this year and then concluded by concluding nothing at all. And Boomkat’s best of 2009 list is so random and baffling, it truly contests what a weird year 2009 was for music (at least for weird, underground experimental music anyway because I know some of you will argue that 2009 was a great year for mainstream pop music).

But anyway, despite the lack of consistency in good music this year, there were the usual golden nuggets. Below I listed my top 10 faves, as well as a few honorable mentions. (I’m throwing this together on the fly, so don’t expect this to be tidy or anything…):

10. Soap & Skin – Lovetune for Vacuum
By far one of my favorite new artists of the year. Soap & Skin is 19-year-old Anja Plasch who makes teenage-dom sound downright scary. Her music is incredibly dark and haunting, plus she has a homepage that creeps me out. Her debut here is a stunning, eclectic mix of piano ballads, glitchy electronics and gothic lullabies. She’s definitely one to watch.

9. Fever Ray – Fever Ray
I remember reading an interview with Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer of the The Knife a few years back. Both were hinting at an impending break up, and both were hinting at going separate directions. Although Silent Shout didn’t sound like an album rife with conflict, Fever Ray proved that there was untouched territory The Knife was incapable of reaching together. Fever Ray is darkly moody, yet somewhat playful from afar, and the concoction somehow works.

8. Tyondai Braxton – Central Market
I’ve never been the biggest Battles fan and was unfamiliar with Braxton’s solo work until this little dooby brushed across my radar. After seeing him perform at Warp20 and hearing Bjork rave about Central Market, I became a little eager to hear it for myself. It was nothing what I imagined it to be. Teaming up with an orchestra, Braxton somehow managed to create these sweeping, cathartic showmanship pieces that echoed classic video games and Peter and the Wolf at the same time. I’m a little surprised at the lack of response it received. I mean, Boomkat creams over Cold Cave and completely overlooks this? I just don’t get it.

7. World’s End Girlfriend – Air Doll
I think by now we all have a certain level of expectation for WEG, and he never lets us down. This soundtrack for the Japanese film Air Doll incorporates everything we love about WEG, although it doesn’t exactly shatter any new ground or open any new doors. In fact, a few of the songs on here already appeared on earlier WEG releases; either that or his music is starting to blend together. The fact of the matter is this: Whenever World’s End Girlfriend releases an album, he’s in my top 10 automatically, OK? That’s just the way it is.

6. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
The last Fuck Buttons album was able to straddle noise music in a way to constrain it enough for mass appeal. Although songs like “Sweet Love for Planet Earth” were near perfect, I just couldn’t make it through the whole album. Fuck Buttons’s sophomore effort is able to step over the flaws of their first album and create an album of nothing but fizzy pieces that grow and explode in interesting ways. It’s no longer noise music anymore, but it’s a step toward perfect controlled chaos.

5. Shogun Kunitoki – Tasankokaiku
Fonal does it again. I don’t think it’s possible for this label to release something I don’t like. But anyway, this Finnish rock ensemble has an interesting approach to music. For one, it wasn’t until recently that I learned Shogun Kunitoki is a band and not just one guy, because they definitely sound like a one-man effort. They kind of remind me of WEG if he was inspired by early M83. The band knows how to create long, drawn-out dizzying songs that never end but just keep getting better and better.

4. Micachu and the Shapes – Jewellery
A great debut from a band that shows a lot of promise. Lead singer Mica Levi snarls over a mess of sounds as she hammers away on a ukulele . The band definitely isn’t short on ideas and they throw every last one of them on here. It’s a delightful, chaotic quirky mess.


3. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Ahh, yes. The Animal Collective album that everyone can like. Everyone has pretty strong opinions about the New York band who often straddle brilliance and obnoxiousness to a point that no middle man can fully appreciate them. Luckily, they somehow were able to create an album that had every ounce of their personality but was constructed in a more accessible way. I mean, how can anyone not like “My Girls”?

Surely you’ve heard “My Girls” by now. I’m saving my bandwidth.

2. Clark – Totems Flare
I’m calling it: Clark is the 00’s Aphex Twin. Of course, I’m not the first person to say that. There’s no other electronic artist that I get truly excited about, and Totems Flare is a plethora of everything that I like about electronic music. In a time when most electronic music lack cohesiveness, Clark seems to be where I imagine it should be, and yet, it’s another album that I thought was widely ignored, which is unfortunate. Awesome album.

1. Ben Frost – By the Throat
Well this wasn’t a surprise, wasn’t it? Since Ben Frost’s debut album Theory of Machines was my favorite album of 2007, I was wary if he could match the greatness of that album. But one thing Ben Frost proved with this album is that he can say so much with so little. Most of the tracks sound like they go nowhere at all, while others explode into this orgy of violent noise. Although a lot of that kinetic energy has been dialed down a notch or two since Theory of Machines, that haunting and brooding energy he’s known for is still here. There wasn’t much debating with this choice. Easily the best album of the year by far.

Honorable Mentions
Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
Biblio – Ambivalence Avenue
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
St. Vincent – Actor
Animal Hospital – Memory
The Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Cortney Tidwell – Boys
Cloaks – Versus Grain

Most disappointing albums of the year
Mum – Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know
I was fine with their new direction in Go Smear The Poison Ivy, but this was too much. They’re no longer the same band anymore.

Rainbow Arabia – Kabukimono
I raved about them last year, but the duo who showed their inner tribal weirdo side on their EP decided to show their inner island/cutesy side for this album. It wasn’t completely terrible, but it was missing that element of excitement.

Little Boots – Hands
I raved about this artist last year, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t predict her inevitable future as a watered down Europop star. And if you think that was bad, “Stuck On Repeat” was revised and given a slightly slower, less awesome edit. Bleh!

Best songs of 2009
(Usually the “best songs” list is a way to highlight great songs that didn’t always appear on great albums. The rule here is that I don’t include any artists mentioned on the best albums list. Oh, and don’t pay too much attention to the ranking. This was pretty much just thrown together.)

10. Lusine – Two Dots
Lusine is one of the last few respectable IDM artists still around, and I liked their last album, although I can’t remember what it was called. Their newest album started off with this little gem right here. I don’t know why the rest of the album didn’t quite gel for me.

9. Hanne Hukkelberg – Blood from a Stone
I stumbled across Hanne Hukkelberg after getting her mixed up with electronic artist Hannu. But her album Blood From A Stone was surprisingly good, and it had this little number on it, which simply melted my heart the first time I heard it. It has this ’80s nostalgic vibe to it that’s so disgustingly sweet.

8. Nynke Laverman – De Untdekker
Laverman is another artist I discovered this year. Her album had some hits and misses, but none of them stood out as much as this sharp album opener.

7. Major Lazer – When You Hear The Bassline
This collaboration record made by Diplo and Switch had plenty of party tracks, but this one stood out on pure energy alone. When that bassline kicks in…well, let’s just say the title is appropriate.

6. St. Vincent – Just The Same But Brand New
I liked Actor a lot more than her debut, and was pleased with most of the songs on that album, but this beautiful lullaby-esque track rarely left my iPod.

5. Telepathe – Chrome’s On It
I don’t know why I was so obsessed with this song. It’s a little amateurish, and the song doesn’t live up to its first minute, and yet I consistently jammed to this song all year. I guess the flaws give it a little something extra I guess?

4. Soap & Skin – DDMMYYYY
OK, so I’m breaking the rules a little bit here. Although I included Soap & Skin in the best album list (and included a clip of her song “Thantos”), I wanted to include this track here because it really stood out on the album (I didn’t include it above because I didn’t think it represented the overall personality of the album). “DDMMYYYY” is a frantic, glitchy mess that easily stands out amongst the gothic piano ballads that surrounds it.

3. The Dirty Projectors – Stillness in the Move
Yes. It’s good.
Sorry, saving bandwidth.

2. Kap Bambino – Red Sign
This French duo is absolutely insane, and this track from their EP is just plain awesome. I also like that they’re stepping away that Miss Kittin and the Hacker-esque sound they had going on a year or two back. Can’t wait for them to release an album already.

1. Florence and the Machine – Drumming Song
Bleh. Despite all the hype, Lungs was a mess that I couldn’t connect with. “Drumming Song,” however, is near perfect. It starts off strong and continues to one-up itself as it continues to climb up a seemingly unclimbable mountain.


Quick Nano update December 22, 2009

Posted by ashiah in Books.
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Since I never got around to completing Week 3 or Week 4 of my Nano update, just wanted to say real quick that I won. Woohoo! Definitely wasn’t easy though. But oh well, that’s in the past now. Now all I have to do is pretend that novel never existed…