05 July 2009

Best of 2009...So Far: Music

The second half of 2009 may turn out to be quite disappointing. After all, it's only once in a blue moon that the best album of the year (and maybe even the decade) gets released in the first few weeks. But that's what happened with my #1 pick. For more on that, and the other tracks that provided the soundtrack from January 6-June 30.


1. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
Everything changed on Jan. 20. Now we'll all have to reevaluate what the best album of the 2000s is. Kid A? Think again. Heartbreaker? Nah. Yoshimi? Jury's still out. What's truly incredible: Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin, and Geologist have delivered not only their most accessible and successful album, but die-hard fans even consider it among their best. No alienation here. Just a mind-blowing experience.

2. Bon Iver, Blood Bank (Jagjaguwar)
After Justin Vernon dropped his haunting debut For Emma, Forever Ago, he followed it up with this sunnier (but no less ethereal) EP featuring four knockout tracks. It's short but sweet, but it's perhaps the best 17 minutes you'll spend listening to music this year.

3. U2, No Line on the Horizon (Interscope)
Five years after their Grammy-winning How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, Bono and co. return with yet another powerful set. More introspective than their past releases, No Line is a meditation on hitting the other side of 50, and who will be by your side when the dust settles (hint: it's not the fans).

4. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (V2)
Though I doubt they'll ever top the inescapable "Consolation Prizes," but this is the French band's most accomplished album yet. From the bittersweet "Lisztomania" to the buoyant "1901" to the beautiful two-part "Love is Like a Sunset," this is indie pop at its finest.

5. various artists, Dark was the Night (4AD)/Heroes (Astralwerks)
Compilations seem to never go out of style, but while the NOW series seems to remind us of how horrid the Top 40 charts have become, along come two charity albums that are more than hardly an amalgamation of heart-tugging "please donate" singles and half-hearted covers. Red Hot Organization's double album Dark was the Night features some of the indie world's best and brightest (like Grizzly Bear and Kevin Drew), while War Child's Heroes features artists (The Hold Steady, Duffy) hand-picked by the originals (Springsteen, McCartney) to cover some of their best tunes.

1. Anything from Merriweather Post Pavilion
A sign of a truly great album: when there's no track you could single out as the best. I've tried, but each week a new song takes the top spot. First it was "My Girls," then it was "Summertime Clothes," then just about every other track. I've recently landed on "Guys Eyes," but I know there'll be another song to take its place.

2. Bon Iver, "Blood Bank"
From the EP Blood Bank
Like a great short story, Vernon transports us to a frozen locale, where love blossoms at donation centers, but as the snow melts, so do hopes of a long and happy romance. Bloody brilliant.

3. Dirty Projectors & David Byrne, "Knotty Pine"
From the Dark was the Night compilation
An infectious little jam from the somewhat heavy 2-disc set, this song, featuring gorgeous vocals from Amber Coffman, is bound to get stuck in your head. But you'll be OK with that.

4. Phoenix, "Lisztomania"
From the album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
One of the many pop gems from the French group's latest album, the song tells the tale of a disastrous love affair, but you'd never know the singer's bitterness. This track is undeniably giddy on the surface, but underneath there's layers of pain.

5. Coldplay, "Life in Technicolor II"
From the EP Prospekt's March
The instrumental intro to their 2008 album Viva la Vida gets wonderfully expanded here into a soaring arena rocker, and stands among the band's best tracks. You'll be lifted so high, your "feet won't touch the ground."

Directed by Jon Vermilyea
Certainly not for the kiddos, this bizarre animated video is creepy but utterly mesmerizing, and not even half as trippy as their video for "Summertime Clothes."

Directed by Akiva Schaffer
Best. Boat ride. Ever. "Don't you ever forget!"

Directed by Blair Young
Matching the band's wistful tune is this home movie-style romance that feels authentic, despite its jewelry commercial appearance. It'll make you feel warm inside, but in the best way.

Directed by Dave Meyers
From the Matthew McConaughey in Reign of Fire school of performance, Pink stars in this video as a woman who kidnaps her boyfriend and tortures him a la Misery. But I don't think she was acting. She really did kidnap and torture a guy.

Directed by Dougal Wilson
Marionettes act as the British band, complete with pyrotechnics. A big budget video on a small scale. Simply wonderful.

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