Stranded In Stereo: SIS The Best of 2009 ... So Far, Part One

Thursday, July 2, 2009

SIS The Best of 2009 ... So Far, Part One

I'm going to go out there on the limb of bloggerdom and just say it: 2009 is so better than 2008. I don't remember ever in the history of me charting a course of the best albums of the year (started back in 1998) that by the halftime show already being stacked up with so many quality albums in where I might just have a three-way tie for first. OK, that's a lie - the classic line-up of Guided by Voices couldn't reunite and put out their best album ever in an attempt to top out what is #1 so far. No, I'm not going to give away the high order just yet. Instead, we let the alphabet take precedent as we look back at Part 1 of the Best Albums of 2009 .... so far.

Cymbals Eat Guitars / Why There Are Mountains / Sister's Den
It's pure coincidental that the first album mention was the first to make its impact on me this year. It was a record that 10 years from now I'll still be able to point my finger on the moment I first heard it. After frantically searching the internets, this Staten Island-based quartet's first album was blasting through my Macbook. For a month straight it was all I heard. And now it's everything else the indie world is listening to and more will soon be joining the pack. After a glowing Pitchfork review, the band is playing festivals and hitting the road with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart this fall. Their star is on the rise.

I know of at least one person, a former co-worker, who gave me shit for mentioning this one because it's a compilation, but damnit if it isn't a good one. You get Feist dueting with Grizzly Bear ("Service Bell,") you get Feist dueting with Ben Gibbard ("Train Song"). You get Yo La Tengo committing to tape one of their obscure covers ("Gentle Hour,") and you get new music from every other hot commodity on the indie scene (Spoon, The National, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver.) It's like some great Time Life comp or what have you that was advertised in the 70s for the indie generation, something like a Nuggets compilation except not because these aren't a bunch of one hit wonders, but rather an established sect of bands getting together for a cause. Hopefully the Red Hot organization has another good comp or three in them.

Eels / Hombre Lobo / Vagrant
E had a lot riding on this one for me - he had to follow up the winner of my Album of the Year 2005, the double-opus Blinking Lights & Other Revelations. Since then he occupied the time of myself and the other Eels fans with three grueling tours, penning his memoirs, and putting out a best-of and double-disc set of rarities. So when it came time to finally make a new studio record, he brought the beard back to reivisit the "Dog Faced Boy" of 2001's Souljacker. It's an album that sonically is a gritty sounding Shootenanny: bluesy 60s guitars covered in static and lo-fi aesthetics. Everything's cranked up to 10, there's next to no overdubs unless hums and hisses of feedback count. It a song-cycle based on longing and desire, things E has always written about, but not so much from the third person.

Foreign Born / Person To Person / Secretly Canadian
This album, the second from the California natives, gets almost a daily spin here at the SIS HQ. If you love the French Kicks, you'll love this, maybe even more then that Brooklyn trio. Person comes off as the album Swimming is not: it's bright and sunny and the guitars shimmer, all the instruments coalesce and co-exist in perfect symmetry. There's not a bunch of jangly guitars bogged down by an organic production and darkness, they beam like the sun. "Vacationing People" is a strong contender for one the year's finest tunes, while the album ties itself together with other songs like "Can't Keep Time," "Blood Oranges" and "Can't Keep Time" keeping it in check.

Grizzly Bear / Veckatimest / Warp
I remember writing the Can't Stop Spinning column/letter of love back in February and the second it was done, I was sad it was available for all to read. Months later when the album finally came out and we all helped it get to #8 on Billboard (I bought the CD and the LP and tickets to three shows,) I still was finding new things I loved in and out about this record. A year after debuting it to the world, "Two Weeks" holds up as one of the strongest songs of the year, but it's not just an album about songs it's about the building blocks that make the songs. The lush arrangements on the grand "Ready, Able" and the perfect harmonies of "All We Ask" and the epic angels and demons allusions of Daniel Rossen vs. the Brooklyn Youth Chorus in "I Live With You" are just a few of its perfections making it a strong contender for not just Album of the Year, but Album of the Decade, if not, my lifetime.

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