Well, this is it. I think I've hinted at it quite a bit in my last two updates, but we're winding down this year. There have been hundreds of amazing analyses and unabashed musical passions; it's not false modesty when I say that I was humbled when invited to join this collective. Many thanks go out to Jeremy P. Bushnell for starting this project and doing all of the behind-the-scenes updates and work. More thanks go out to the dedicated writers who put a lot of effort into Aught Music, all for the sake of enthusiasm.
So, here are my final selections, a few tracks that I felt were the best of this year. There's still a week left. Keep reading and checking out the other writers, and get the free track downloads while they are still available.
1.) "The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid" and "The Rake's Song" by The Decemberists (from the album The Hazards Of Love)
"The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid:"
Okay, I'm a little biased. I've gushed about the Decemberists for a long time, but still—this is my pick for the album of 2009. It's surprising how many magazines and sites have given The Hazards Of Love borderline reviews. If you're not a Decemberists fan, you might dismiss these tracks. However, this album not only adds more complex storytelling but uses guest vocals for maximum effects.
In "The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid," Shara Worden (of My Brightest Diamond) provides an excellent, compelling interpretation of the evil queen in the album's narrative. She's singing and acting at the same time—listen to her draw out the word 'repaid.' Her voice is stunning and controlling. Meloy wisely lets her have the listener's complete attention.
"The Rake's Song:"
"The Rake's Song" is one of the most straight-up rock tracks that the Decemberists have written. Meloy writes the character as completely without redemption or qualities. How many songs have a narrator describing how he killed his children?
Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove
Dawn was easy: She was drowned in the bath
Isaiah fought but was easily bested
Burned his body for incurring my wrath
It's gratuitous and over the top, but perfectly fitting for a villian straight out of Victorian fiction.
The album needs to be listened to in its entirety, but these tracks are the best examples of the full story. It's an ambitious effort, and a great example of how guest vocalists (Worden and Becky Stark) can add to a song's atmosphere. The Decemberists have a specific style, and it's not for everyone—but it's hard to deny the efforts and dimensions that went into the narrative structure, which enhances the music greatly.
2.) "Effigy" by Andrew Bird (from the album Noble Beast)
When I originally reviewed this album, I gave it some earnest praise, but felt that it didn't match up to Bird's earlier works. However, a few more listens have revealed a few ideas that I intially missed. "Effigy" is moving, and musically, it's one of Bird's minimalist efforts. His penchant for combining varying vocal styles and multiple instruments is stripped down,making for what feels like a soft, singer-songwriter type track. His musical talents and acumen could have made this a longer, more complex song, but "Effigy" is a great example of less being more. Most importantly, it shows that he's comfortable in any given style.
3.) "This Tornado Loves You" by Neko Case (from the album Middle Cyclone)
It's what's on the inside that counts. For all the (well-deserved) attention to Case's sexy, almost campy album cover, the songs on Middle Cyclone were fantastic, with one or two misses. "This Tornado Loves You" is the perfect opening to what's superficially referred to as a 'nature album.' The melody is upbeat, the vocals are confident, and the lyrics are a great example of Case's gift for metaphor:
I carved your name across three counties
and ground it in with bloody hides
broken necks will line the ditch
Perhaps some might view this as a metaphor for a woman scorned, but for me, it goes beyond simple gender classifications. Sometimes, when we're trying to get someone's attention, we end up doing more harm than good.
(Note: This was part of a roundtable post, with further commentary by Rich Thomas. Click on the song link for the full writings. I'd also like to thank Jeff Ignatius of Culture Snob for pointing out that, in interviews, Case explains that the song is meant literally, which rightfully takes away from my interpretations, but also provides another shade to this already poignant track.)
4.) "Summertime Clothes" by Animal Collective (from the album Merriweather Post Pavilion)
Upon reflection, it's staggering to remember the varied albums that came out, of all the months, in January. Andrew Bird, A.C. Newman, Morrissey, Franz Ferdinand...but, no album set the tone quite like Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion. I was working in Seattle before this disc dropped and had the fortune to work with and become good friends with Terrance Terich, co-founder of Treblezine.com. After long discussions about music, he burned me a copy of this album, among others. I immediately agreed with him (and everyone else) that this was already one of the best albums of the year. "Summertime Clothes" is an addicting single, with a varied mix of sounds and influences. The emphasis here is on the notion of "collective"--this is a true group effort. I love how the group blends sampling and small sounds (listen carefully--it almost sounds like there are sound effects mixed in) with vocals and guitar that could have come from the 1970s. I played the crap out of this during the dreary winter, and it helped alleviate the depression of Lynnwood, Washington.