Wednesday, June 10, 2009

This Is Going To Be A Problem: Best Records Of '09, Part 2

I was going to wait to do another "Best Of So Far" until I had more to write about... you know, in like 4 months But somehow, I've accumulated another FIVE albums since the last roundup. And I'm being picky! So, since reviewing "current" albums might help make this more of a... LEGITIMATE music blog, here's 'Part 2' of the "Best Of '09 So Far", this time in no particular order:

5. Green Day - "21st Century Breakdown"
I think over the past month or so, I've made my feelings on this album pretty well-known. However, to play by the rules, this is a damn fine hard-rocking concept album by an excellent band that has twice now lost cred due to their audience, not their abilities. I remember being a seventh grader who was into Green Day, so it's not the band's fault that today's seventh graders like Green Day. So what if they sell a billion records to the Hot Topic crowd? A well-written, immaculately-produced power-pop-punk by a talented band having a late-career renaissance. This album should have been unlistenable, but to it's credit, not only is it a worthy follow-up to the blockbuster American Idiot, it should be considered excellent all on its own.

4. Mos Def - "The Ecstatic"
Maybe it's me. Maybe it's the fact that I really, truly discovered Mos Def late in the game. His flawless first album knocked me out, and I even really liked the sprawl of his messy second album, The New Danger. But once I was a fan, and saw his third album released with no cover art and not much good music to speak of, all while watching his acting stock rise, i was convinced he'd traded one career for another. In hindsight, the "don't pay for it" True Magic had "contractual obligation" written all over it, I was just too disappointed to see it. The Ecstatic might not be perfect, but for an artist I'd all but written off (as a recording artist), this is an unexpected delight. Clear-eyed, impassioned verse over swirling, razor sharp beats that dissipate into vapor before your eyes, this is what modern hip hop should sound like. Production from some of the Stones Throw Records luminaries I already love doesn't hurt things, but this is Mos Def's game all the way. Maybe I'm too excited about this with the thrill of the new, but if more hip hop records sounded like this, I'd listen to more hip hop.

3. Sonic Youth -"The Eternal"
At this point in the game, Sonic Youth is what it is. Their impact on "alternative" rock music is unquestionable, and they can settle into their role as elder statesmen (and woman) of alt rock. Skronky guitars, jagged rhythms, sassy lyrics about being kool, you name it, they've got it. So why is it such a surprise to me that this is so good? Everyone raved about 2006's Rather Ripped, which was a welcome record to me if only 'cause it shortened song lengths, added more hooks, and got rid of Jim O'Rourke. This feels like the more lived-in version of that sound. It's rocking, edgy, but not trying to reclaim some lost youth. It rocks in a mature way, without feeling like a band past it's prime. And for a band to make a record this rocking, catchy, interesting and fresh THIRTY YEARS SINCE ITS INCEPTION is a pretty good deal for us listeners. To put that in perspective, if Sonic Youth were the Rolling Stones, this would be 1983. Blows the mind, doesn't it?

2. Meat Puppets - "Sewn Together"
Sadly, I'm pretty sure that when the big final list gets made next January, this one will be cut. There's nothing exceptional about it, but I'm sick of asking for exceptional things from my albums. What about a really, really solid record that doesn't break any barriers? Just because something perfects something that's been done before doesn't make it any less than something brand new. This is better than the first reunion album, 2007's Rise To Your Knees, and it's the sound of two brothers locked into a groove, playing vaguely psychedelic, country-tinged alternative rock. Every record they've made since 1985's Up On The Sun has been underrated, and while this isn't on par with their earth-shattering genre-defying second album, it's about as good an album as you could expect anyone to make. Hopefully the Kirkwoods keep making records like this for years, full of lovely songs, wonderful production, skilled performances, good energy, and acid-tinged atmosphere.

1. Dinosaur Jr - "Farm"
It doesn't have that same shock that Beyond had. But that was because the Mascis/Barlow feud ran so deep, and because nobody had made a record that sounded like that since 1994, not even J. Mascis. So finally hearing Farm just proves that this isn't a fluke. Am I bitter? A little. I've been championing this comeback since 2005, and everybody's acting like they haven't been calling me crazy for the past 4 years. My initial reaction to this record was strange, since, as I said, it didn't sound like a time capsule in the way that Beyond did. it's weird to hear Dino Jr take on modern indie-rock. Of course, that's just being really picky, as it still sounds JUST LIKE DINOSAUR JR. But ultimately, for better or worse, it's Sebadoh that's really had the impact on indie rock since the mid-90s. Imagine if your favorite Dinosaur record had more songs where J was trying to sound a little like Lou, rather than the other way around. But this is all details. This is Mascis' album, through and through. Every inch of this album has fuzz growing on it, Big Muffed to high heaven. It's a Jay-Lou-Murph Dinosaur Jr album released in the year 2009. It's got Marshalls and fuzzboxes and Jazzmasters all over it. I shouldn't even be talking about it, I should be spending this time listening to it.

I realize that these reviews spend a lot of time talking about the context, not the content. "Sonic Youth is old", "Mos Def's last album was lousy", "Green Day's fans are twelve", "Meat Puppets did something revolutionary once", and "Dino Jr reunited" could easily have taken the place of most of these reviews. But aren't I going to need something specific to write about once the list is finalized?

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