Friday, February 12, 2010

Favorite Albums of 2009

Same format as last year. I really liked it and don't plan on changing it anytime soon. I mean, putting things in order for me is kind of pointless after awhile because my personal opinion is too subject to change over time. Not to mention that good music is good music for me and I have no desire to compare albums with each other. If I find enjoyment out of it then it's enough for me. The only line I've decided to draw is between the ones I loved and the ones I liked. Other than that, enjoy!

The crème de la crème

Altar of Plagues- White Tomb

On the first go around, I wasn't sure what to think. They sounded somewhat similar to Wolves in the Throne Room. Then I listened again. Now I find that they may be better Wolves in the Throne Room, at least in comparing each band's releases this year. But really, it's rather unfair since the folk aspect of Wolves is not a part of Altar's sound at all, which alone separates them. Comparisons aside though, it doesn't take long before you discover just how well done White Tomb is. Their songs are sprawling and epic, taking more than a few nods from post-rock as well. They're a shining example of the kind of quality required to standout in this crowded genre. Amazing and befitting artwork is icing on the cake.

Blut Aus Nord- Memoria Vetusta II - Dialogue with the Stars

A step away from the industrial and avant-garde direction their music took on The Work Which Transforms God and styled a bit more on the folk and symphonic side, essentially returning to the roots of the band. And what a stunning piece of black metal this is. Worth every bit of your time and money.

Camera Obscura- My Maudlin Career

A band that I just got into this year, and let me tell you that you'd be hard pressed to find a more well put together album of indie pop and memorable melodies. The singer has such a hypnotic voice that you'll hang on every word she says. Pretty much every song on the album is well written and filler is nowhere to be found. Camera Obscura have a bright future with albums like My Maudlin Career under their belt. Out of all the great albums from 2009, this might very well be my favorite album of them all.

Devin Townsend Project- Addicted

This album is crack is music form. It's poppy as fuck, but that shouldn't steer you away. The songwriting is some of the best you'll hear all year. Just about every song on the album will get stuck in your head for hours, even days. The way that Devin Townsend's mind works is truly extraordinary. The man simply has a knack for knowing how to write memorable music. Oh, and in case you were unaware, this album features the talents of ex-The Gathering vocalist, Anneke van Giersbergen. That's right, Devin AND Anneke together. A match made in heaven? You bet. Do yourselves a favor and check this album out pronto.

Fen- The Malediction Fields

This is amazing stuff. Fen's promising EP released in 2007 was but a taste of the quality that this band was capable of. Everything that was promised has been delivered in spades as The Malediction Fields is one of the finest black metal albums released in some time. Bringing in influence from post-rock and folk, Fen are one of the better atmospheric black metal bands around these days. Do not miss these guys.

Fever Ray- s/t

This is a fine debut album from one of the members of The Knife, Karin Dreijer Andersson. Falling in love with The Knife, naturally I was curious to hear this solo effort and I'm happy to say it's a fantastic listen as well. Compared to The Knife, Fever Ray's debut feels a lot more laid back, relaxing and leans more toward an ambient sound overall. The danceable/electronic beats aren't as pronounced here and it works wonderfully for the music. Karin's voice is, of course, a highlight as well. I highly recommend this album if you are into The Knife or electronic music that's more subdued.

Grizzly Bear- Veckatimest

I didn't have a description for this album when I first posted this entry, mostly because I wasn't sure how much I liked it, and because I had a hard time trying to describe the sound of this album, since there are quite a few styles at work. The most standout feature of this band has to be their excellent vocal harmonies. Not only are all the vocal super smooth on their own, but together they're immaculate. The songs are all very well written and aren't the type of songs that will latch on right away. Each new listen will provide more and more nuances that you probably didn't appreciate before. I think I really underrated this album and I'm proud to put it at the top of my 2009 favorites.

Heather Woods Broderick- From the Ground

Another new entry into my library this year and it's a welcome one. A very refreshing album, combining folk music and atmospheric, almost ambient sounds. The singer's voice is soft and caresses your ears with her delightful and vibrant tone. I find myself enjoying this more with each new listen. This is perfect for those relaxing and reflective moods you may find yourself in. A must listen.

Immortal- All Shall Fall

After seven long years, Immortal has returned to take back their throne atop of Norway's black metal scene. Have they succceeded? Yes and no, but mostly yes. It's true this is a logical successor to Sons of Northern Darkness, and some songs sound like they could've come straight off that album. But, that's also part of its strength. Sons of Northern Darkness is so fantastic that to hear anything remotely in that vein is a pleasure. Similarities aside though, 2009 sees Immortal sounding as good as ever. The strong production value helps, but Abbath and co. have made a very fresh sounding album of modern black metal, keeping their influences from thrash and traditional metal in tact, and delivering something new and not boring in the slightest. The energy and passion is there in spades. I'm very satisfied with this album and can say wholeheartedly that I'm glad to have these Norsemen are back.

Klabautamann- Merkur

Did you think Enslaved were the only band practicing at the altar of progressive black metal? Enter Klabautamann. Okay, so it's not productive to compare both bands, but there are definitely some Enslaved influenced traits, such as the harsh vocals, and certainly in some of the riffs. But seriously, the fact that this band has no fear of dabbling in the pool of experimentation is something I applaud. They are daring and wanting to be their own disinctive entity, and not constrict themselves to any rules. I actually got their album, Der Ort, before this one. But I think this album is a step forward, which is impressive considering that Der Ort is extremely solid all the way through. But okay, wrapping this up, if you like black metal, progressive metal, and a nature-inspired atmosphere, then don't hesitate to hear this great band.

Mastodon- Crack the Skye

One of those albums that takes a little while to sink in. It's insane to think this is the same band from Remission. They've really taken their progressive brand of metal to new heights on this one. It's both more accessible and more complex than their previous offerings I'd say. Plus, you've got not one but two 10+ minute epics here. Nothing but quality here, so listen for yourself.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

I'll make this very simple for you. Do you like shoegaze? Skeptical about a new band delivering the classic shoegaze sound from the days of yore? Give this band a try. They're not original, but damn, when you can take a classic style of music and make it sound this fresh and exciting with your songwriting then you have my vote of approval.

Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Another great one from France, this band (who was on the Lost in Translation soundtrack I recently learned) is a new favorite of mine. They have that hard to pull off blend of catchiness and songwriting depth. The songs can be simple, but in a way that makes you want to listen over and over, instead of becoming annoyed. One of those bands that actually makes me want to dance at times, so that alone is worth something. You can't go wrong with this release.

St. Vincent- Actor

I dare say there's nothing this beautiful woman could churn out that would disappoint me. I think that highly of her, and all in the span of less than 3 months. Luckily, I don't have to worry about anything sub-par so far. I literally listened to this album once and I already like it. Basically, if you like Marry Me then you'll like Actor. Although, I will say so far that this album sounds darker all around, if not musically then certainly lyrically. Case in point, see "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood". Don't miss out on one of the more interesting and experimental indie outfits around these days.

Steven Wilson- Insurgentes

Certainly one of the most impressive albums this year. Steven Wilson is a music god as far as I'm concerned. Although I'm a big Porcupine Tree fan, I must admit that this album blows away most of the material released by PT on the past few albums. The Incident will be a grower to for me, I know, but as of now this album comes out on top of PT's this year. Any fans of Wilson's work or progressive music in general will eat this up.

Ulcerate- Everything is Fire

There's something very interesting about this album. Their technical and swirling riffs are packed with enough bite to blow most death metal away. The drumming is insane and don't have that overproduced sound that is a deathtrap for many other bands in metal today. But the atmosphere is perhaps the secret weapon on this release. It's hard to put my finger on, but it's very threatening at times. Not many technical death metal albums are interesting to me, but count this as an exception. Until I hear something else, this is the best release in the genre for 2009.

Not quite as great, but no less worthwhile

Amesoeurs- Amesoeurs

Perhaps I was a bit premature on my judgment for this album, since further listenings have only served to increase my enjoyment of it. Yes, I'll admit, I still like Ruines Humaines more but this in no way diminishes the quality music Amesoeurs have put together here. One of my only qualms with this album now is that the production (while good) would have been better served with having the production on Ruines Humaines. I feel it does the band more justice with what they're trying to achieve. That being said, do not miss out on this album. Black metal and post-punk have never sounded so well together.

Animal Collective- Merriweather Post Pavillion

I still haven't quite figured how to describe this band. But I know that I like them. They don't really sound like any other band I've come across. I guess they sort of have this slight psychedelic vibe to them, but even that's not entirely accurate. The electronic flourishes that inhabit the band's spectrum of sound is very intriguing to me. But again, that's only part of their sound. I need more listens to uncover its layers, but rest assured this is an album worth listening to over and over.

Au Revoir Simone- Still Night, Still Light

A new band that I got into this year. Ironically, they played this album at my workplace. This band lies somewhere between electronic and indie pop. It's a female trio and their style is mostly upbeat and quite charming. At the same time, there's an apparent sadness that shows up throughout the album in the lyrics and certain melodies which is good since it serves as a great contrast to the overall result. Best of all, I can see myself enjoying this album even more upon repeated listens.

Bat for Lashes- Two Suns

This artist really warmed up to me on each new listen. It seems I've had a thing for female vocalists/songwriters in the indie and folk genre lately. I just can't seem to get enough. Going off a recommendation from a friend, I checked this album out. I found myself happily impressed by what's offered here. This is pop music without being overly poppy and cuddly. Definitely look into Two Suns if you like your indie pop with a mature and somewhat darker sound.

Behemoth- The Evangelion

I think it's safe to say this is one of the best albums Behemoth have ever produced. Although I've yet to hear the much lauded Zos Kia Cultus, I've heard just about everything else and I've never heard Behemoth sound so imposing and threatening before. The excellent production certainly plays a part in this, but the songwriting this time around is extremely refined. Nergal is beastly, his riffs sound huge and heavy as...well, a behemoth. The drumming, needless to say, is flawless. There's also a very evil atmosphere in this album that is a welcome addition, especially felt on the closing song. Buy this album.

Black Moth Super Rainbow- Eating Us

What a lovely find this was. Just hearing the band's name made me excited. Black Moth Super Rainbow's Eating Us is an interesting and experimental blend of psychedelic electronic sounds, and they sound unlike any band I've heard before. What's even more impressive is the vocalist uses a vocoder and it doesn't sound like shit, in fact it's one of the reasons this band sounds so unique. At times, the band is downright beautiful and the music lets your mind drift with the clouds. Oh, and I hear the album before this one is just as good (if not better). Highly recommended.

Lifelover- Dekadens

A fabulous EP from one of my favorite bands, Lifelover have found a way to move forward with their sound without moving back. I'm very impressed with what the band has done here. There's a considerable amount of black metal that has been brought back into many of the songs, much more than the past couple full-lengths actually. But don't fret, the post-punk/depressive rock sound has not disappeared either. This is the same band you already love. Expect to fall more deeply in love after hearing Dekadens, it's worth a purchase.

Mono- Hymn to the Immortal Wind

There's some unnameable appeal that Japanese bands seem to have for me. First it was Eastern Youth, with their own take on the indie rock sound; then Boris, and their experimental brand of noise rock, drone and stoner rock; and now Mono, a very cinematic and engaging post-rock outfit. I'm slowly but surely becoming more familiar with this album, as well as their revered You Are There, which is also very good. On Hymn to the Immortal Wind, I once find myself struggling for words. It's hard to pin down exactly what makes this album thrilling, but rest assured it's all there. The songs themselves are long but nothing seems tacked on. It all works to create a successful post-rock album from one of the best ones in the genre as far as I can tell.

Nile- They Whom the Gods Detest

I took a break from Nile, and never got around to Ithyphallic. I had heard one song from that album and it sounded too generic to be coming from Nile. I could've been in the wrong mood, but who knows. I'll most likely still give it a listen because They Whom the Gods Detest has reignited my love for this band. I've always regarded them as one of the best in the genre, and this new release keeps that legacy alive. The technical/brutal nature of the band is very much in tact, and their sound circa 2009 is downright impressive. They sound more focused than ever, and the variety within each song is great to hear. Not only that, but there is a fair share of memorable moments that I've caught on to in only the first two listens. Undoubtedly one of the best death metal releases of 2009 I'm sure.

Our Ceasing Voice- Steadied Stars In The Morphium Sky

I've become rather cynical with post-rock lately and find it more difficult to find bands that do something interesting enough to win me over. Luckily, Our Ceasing Voice is one such band. I was recommended this band from an internet friend and while it took me several spins to appreciate, I like it a whole hell of a lot now. Unlike other post-rock bands that utilize some ambient sounds here and there, usually not standing out much, Our Ceasing Voice breaks that trend and their ambient passages are every bit as delightful as the exploding post-rock moments. I think that's probably the aspect I enjoy most about them. But rest assured, they are good songwriters too and are far from boring. So, if you have desired a genuinely good post-rock band lately, and you like reflective and somber rock music in general, than this debut ought to satisfy.

Porcupine Tree- The Incident

I really do hate that I put off this album for so long because I am loving every minute of it right now. My first listen proved to be a rather forgetful one. Mostly because I've seen this entire album performed live and it didn't sound as powerful. I had to adjust to the studio versions. But now that I have, I can say that this is an extremely good album from this veteran act. The way all the songs are connected works to the album's benefit and they all flow seamlessly together. The songwriting, while at first may sound average for this band, will take a little while to open itself up to you. When it does, I can assure you it's extremely satisfying. I'm not sure if it bests Steven Wilson's solo work from earlier in the year, but no matter. This is still one of the best releases of 2009 and another fantastic piece of work from the band.

Shining- VI - Klagopsalmer

I wasn't sure about how much I liked this record until now. A couple listens were enough for me to put it on my favorites of the year, but at the moment as I listen to it again I feel very engaged this time around. It's tugging at me in all the right places. I think I was too quick to compare this to V (a mistake), and I'm starting to hear the stark difference between it and this one. This very much stands on its own. I suppose I had to just familiarize myself more with this band's style in general to realize it. That being said, this is a step even further into progressive territory and if you've enjoyed their steady evolution away from traditional black metal then you'll no doubt enjoy this new work a lot.

Sun of the Blind- Skullreader

Skullreader also took me a handful of listens to appreciate, even though I immediately knew I liked this band the first time I heard this album. Created solely by one of the masterminds behind Darkspace, this is extremely atmospheric black metal that has a very dark aura about it. Synth is used minimally and to great effect. While you can certainly hear some influence from Darkspace, this release very much stands on its own. I would say this has more of a dreamy/psychedelic vibe. Fans of atmospheric black metal would do well to check this out, as it's one of the finer albums of the genre this year I think.

Velvet Cacoon- P aa opal Poere Pr. 33

I've been enamored by this band since the enthralling work that is 'Genevieve'. It still has no equal as far as I'm concerned. Velvet Cacoon are a band that embrace the concept of drug-induced black metal and pull it off remarkably well. Many ignore this band because of their sketchy reputation (which can be read on their wiki page if you're unaware of said reputation), and quite frankly it's their loss. 'P aa Opal Poere Pr. 33' is the second new album from the band in the same year (I've not heard Atropine though) and there's a definite progression shown between this release and 'Genevieve'. For one thing, this hardly (if at all), fits within the confines of black metal anymore. The overall sound is more drone than anything. Almost like some of the post-metal you may have heard, but still not comparable. This album is about building an ambient and dreamy atmosphere and will not cease to capture your attention from the time it begins to the moment it ends. This isn't the kind of music you can enjoy at any time, but it's mandatory listening nonetheless.

Vinterriket- Horizontmelancholie

I'm extremely happy with what Vinterriket has done on this latest output. Thankfully, despite my love for most of his music, Christoph has decided to explore new territory and expand his repetoire of sounds on this album. Adding in acoustic guitar and clean vocals, most of this album comes across as part neo-folk, mixed in with recognizable ambient textures that Vinterriket has always excelled at creating. I think this is a great new template to experiment with and I only ask that he take his time with releasing new albums. The saying "too much of a good thing" can sometimes be said of Vinterriket, but happily that is not the case here.

Wardruna- Runaljod - Gap Var Ginnunga

I really had to be in the mood to listen to this, and unfortunately I put if off for the majority of the year because of that. But no more! I had a solid listening and I am impressed. What we have here is a tribute to the ancient Norse culture in the form of neo-folk/ambient/ritualistic/pagan music. There's just no one way to describe this musical outfit, but you're getting a top quality effort nonetheless. This is ideal on a cloudy day. You can picture yourself overlooking a vast landscape, surrounded by green hills, fog, and running water. A must listen for the open minded listener.

Wolves in the Throne Room- Malevolent Grain

Yes, I enjoy this EP. No, I was disappointed with Black Cascade. It lacked the freshness and passion I find in all of their other works. In short, it sounded tired. As for Malevolent Grain, we have two very good songs. The first features madrigal-like vocals from I think the same woman that has done vocals with the band previously. Repetitive yet effective. The second song is aggressive in comparison and has one of the best riffs I've heard from the band. It eventually fades out in white noise ambience. These songs are both worth some decent listening time for any fans.


Drudkh- Microcosmos

I'm not going to lie, this album is disappointing to me. Somewhat similar to thoughts on the recent Wolves in the Throne release, Drudkh haven't offered us anything fresh or engaging here. And it's not just that they failed to progress from past glories, it's the fact that Drudkh aren't playing with the same kind of passion and intensity they're known for. What's here isn't bad (some of it is quite good actually), and if this was the band's only output I might think more highly of it. But it's not, and along with Wolves in the Throne's Black Cascade, Microcosmos is one of my biggest disappointments in 2009. I can only hope both bands still have glory ahead of them. Otherwise, it'll be a savage blow for black metal. Oh, this one has lovely artwork too at least.

Wolves in the Throne Room- Black Cascade

I'm alright with evolution, I am more than patient enough to give things a try. Black Cascade, however, does nothing for me. It seems they wanted to try a more aggressive approach, and unlike the second song from the EP in the same year, it just doesn't work. I really wanted to like this, but I'm sad to say it didn't meet my personal expectations. Kudos on the artwork though.

1349- Revelations of the Black Flames

This album has many layers and requires the right mindset going in. This is not the 1349 of yore. This is an experimental album that requires a proper soaking of the mind in. After more listens, I'm still discovering new things I like or don't like. I'll maybe have a different opinion as times goes by, but it's still interesting to hear this band exploring new ground. I'll still tag it as a disappointment, but surprinsgly less so than the Drudkh and Wolves in the Throne Room albums. I may forgive them if I end up liking it for what it is in the future. But yeah, I still wanted a proper follow-up to Hellfire. I hope I get it next time.

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