Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Best 100 Songs of 2000-2009: Part 2/10

Many Moons (Janelle Monae): 2008’s sweetest surprise was the strong showing by Monae, a woman dubbed the unofficial third member of Outkast. High praise indeed but one that is deserved. Many Moons is a space caper, replete with riffs and jazzy horns. But it is the sheer artistry of her concept that is so damned amazing. The song’s persona, Cindy Mayweather is a renegade robot who has fallen in love with a human, thus, freeing her own self from the homogeneity that her race runs on. Observing from a distance, she starts to list all the maladies that hound mankind while espousing hope. ()

Back To Black (Amy Winehouse): Say what you will about Winehouse but one can literally feel the pain from her voice and the mournfulness of her lyrics on this stunning title track of her sophomore. Not that melancholy music juxtaposed to a voice in bittersweet refrain is anything new---Motown perfected the art in the 1960s with the likes of Aretha Franklin. What Winehouse does add though is the British hardiness and sass that allows lines like, ‘kept his dick wet with his same old safe bet’, to slither through her sweet yet forked lips. ()

2+2=5 (Radiohead): The opening song from Hail to The Thief is one studded with the type of intellectual authority that makes critics wet their underwear for Radiohead. Volumes of fan-based thought has been put up on the internet on it’s cryptic meaning, ranging from Thom Yorke reading Orwell’s "1984" to it being an outright critique of the second Bush presidential term. Both of these ideals are apparently seconded here because “1984” expounded on double think, the replacing of one’s own conscious beliefs for another. Orwell, through the book’s protagonist, arrived at the famous mathematical equation. Lyrically, the track is riddled with Bush references (‘don't question my authority or put me in the box’) as well as a silent judgment of the American people themselves (‘because/ you're not there/ payin' attention/ you have not been/ paying attention’). Juxtaposed to all this intellectual discourse is the harshest rock groove Greenwood has ever constructed so as always it’s a classic. The most devastating rock song of the decade. ()

Gossip Folks (Missy Elliott): Missy Elliott’s repertoire of being a cool cat has never been in doubt but when she started slimming down then she knew tongues would be wagging for different reasons. Never one not to mimic or slide in sideway commentary, Elliott decided to spoof her detractors by simultaneously calling them out and getting them to jive in the process. ‘girl, is that Missy Elliott/ she lost a lot of weight/ girl, I heard she eats one cracker a day…’ goes one of the crisp opening lines before Missy steps up and grabs Ludacris for an amazing cameo. Towards the end of the dazzling performance, the aforementioned ‘haters’ are now eating out of her hand and, with her victory restored, Missy castigates them. It seems like mere puppetry but the format of Gossip Folks is highly copious. The relationship between musician and fan is an immense one but it is fickle too. Missy sizes up this state of things and rocks the night away. ()

DVNO (Justice): After striking gold with D.A.N.C.E a year earlier, Justice was supposed to fade away under the banner of ‘one-hit wonder’ but somehow they didn’t get the memo. Thankfully, the French duo, Gaspard Auge and Xavier de Rosnay had more tricks up their collective sleeve. The brilliance of the track is in realizing that one can rock the masses without blasting their ears to pieces. DVNO rotates synths and lyrical samples along with shards of punk attitude. Not that these ideas have never been presented before but it took these trendy outsiders to sift all the angles to luxuriously. ()

Twinkle (Erykah Badu): Hidden behind the other brilliant tracks from her New Amerykah album lays this gem, a heavy-hitting examination of the African-American experience. Just like her awesome Penitentiary Philosophy earlier this decade, Badu is giving a gut-check to ‘progress’ of the races amid the natural evolution going on. Written and conceived before there was President Obama, Twinkle foresees such a time when racial conflict can no longer be used as an excuse for continuing a slump (‘They say their grandfathers and grandmothers work hard for nothing/And we still in this ghetto/So they end up in prisons’) or allowed to simmer on the brink for too long (‘if we have no choices/then we’re gonna fuck up’). ()

Sugar Assault Me Now (Pop Levi): A smartly contrived three minute pop gem, Sugar Assault Me Now is how most of us would have been introduced to former Ladytron bassist Levi. His skill is in constructing a mathematical groove around his quirky lyrics. The track is not mere gloss though as Levi positively corrals the ending, achieving a fanatical overdrive to his visual imagination. ()

Neighborhood #2 (Laika) (The Arcade Fire): according to lead sing Win Butler, the track is about Laika, the first animal in space by the Russians. One doesn’t immediately glean that from the lyric sheet but the alienation of the song’s persona is obvious. Given the shroud of gloom that hung around the making of Funeral, one can surmise that the group wanted to expand on that central theme, with this track’s aim being to literally bleed the feeling away. Swirling with organ music , violins and accordion, Butler rattle off quixotic lines (‘our older brother bit by a vampire/for a year/ we caught his tears in a cup/and now we're gonna make him drink it’) to absolutely high form. ()

Boyz (MIA): Defined as a urumee/soca mash up, Boyz best demonstrates the global feel MIA had drawn on for her sophomore. Both musical styles outlines are mainly Hindi, one based in India and the other in Trinidad. The video was shot in Jamaica, with local dance groups like Sample Six providing the moves. With all the glorified beats and cultural sampling involved it’s easy to miss the feminist intent dissected by MIA’s politics. Boyz here is used not as dire as, say Anne Rice’s doomed Akasha to vanquish mankind, but still, MIA moves a crooked yet manicured finger in our face, assigning blame for so many ills right where it belongs. ()

Try Again (Aaliyah): No one really remembers the soundtrack this came from (Romeo Must Die) but who doesn’t get exhilarated by the opening horns and Timbaland’s metallic crunk sprinkling so much funk right through the track? One doesn’t even have time to realize the opening lines are in ode to Eric B and Rakim but Tim and Aaliyah had long been the funky gift that never stopped fulfilling. Her soft, silky vocals ride the waves of grooves sent her way. Here was the pop/hiphop hybrid Jay Z would later duplicate with Umbrella. ()

Monday, September 21, 2009

R.I.P Wayne Brown

Two remarkable giants of the local (Jamaica) literary scene died Wednesday, September 16th: of course Trevor Rhone, that great playwright and story-teller. I didn’t know him personally, just saw him a few times around the capital but by all accounts, Mr. Rhone was a real ‘yardie’…as reflected into his stunning interpretative plays. The other giant lost was the Trinidad-born Wayne Brown. I’m sure many read the literary pages on Sunday (both Gleaner & Observer) without being aware of Mr. Brown’s contribution towards both dallies wizening up to the fact that there is (was) a huge swathe of literature lovers, hungrily waiting to devour any worthy local talent being unleashed. Note I said ‘worthy talent’….to get that call from him, telling you that your submission (poetry, short story, ect) was earth-shattering…you felt that you were worthy of The Literary Arts, thus publication would ensue. That was the secondary thrill actually because in this small writers pool that in Jamaica, Wayne Brown had found a way to unite a group that is notoriously hermetic. He didn’t just involve those writers who were already established but also those just on the fringe of such success. Also, he made new, emerging writers like me feel not so tentative at experimenting wildly with styles not inherently used locally. He had the workshops that unfortunately I could not be a part of and I’m sure I have missed out on a huge slice of camaraderie there but Mr. Brown understood and always encouraged. He gave me my break into the literary scene in 2002 and my first international publication in Kunapipi (for a poem I thought no good but he thought had ‘umph’)

Of course his own work inspired me greatly…..the ‘In our Time’ column was a staple of my Sunday reading because along with John Maxwell one was witness to the finest, most stubborn minds that local print had to offer. He wasn’t just an intellectual for the sake of being one but he used it in print to challenge age-old positions. That is the truest form of opinion journalism and, finally, a writer. Alas, one on of my local writing mentors has left the stage but he has played his part well. Now, I’m sure he’d want everyone whom he touched with his gift to continue playing their parts as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

THE 100 BEST ALBUMS of 2000-2009:

Silent Shout (The Knife) (2006):

from obscurity in Sweden to incessant blog hype, The Knife emerged in 2006 to rapturous praise for juxtaposing their cool soundscapes and wry lyrical content. The title track runs a tight gamut with a brilliant production and Karin Andersson’s vocals tagging along for an exhilarating ride. Neverland ups the funk and ditches more cheese simultaneously. Marble House is an arcane in-house tempo that works. What surprises here is how varied and great the results The Knife unearth. Like Bjork before them, they know that electronic music is more than just beats but there can be a connection to something real and danceable at the same time. The centerpiece though is We Share our Mother’s Health, an unrelenting collage of beats mashed up with vocals warbled and set in at the most appropriate places.

THE 100 BEST ALBUMS of 2000-2009:

Is This It (The Strokes) (2003):

it took a while for me to get into this record but one you get past the bland opening title track then one lands in a heavy purple patch of post punk-rock. The Modern Age is the first blast of cool, guitar-wielding magic. Soma is similar, just on a more submerged, basement-like feel to it. The Strokes are all about expressions hurled from a two chord background so a lot of these songs structure is similar but they manage to wield more emphasis on lyrical usage and not just loud guitars. Barely Legal dissects a doomed relationship with as much tenderness one can expect from a garage band.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Best 100 Songs of 2000-2009: Part 1/10

Bro’s (Panda Bear): while comparisons to Brian Wilson’s Beach Boy days are easy to make, most Animal Collective fans also looked beyond that to speculate the true meaning behind this stunning, ten minute electronic mash-up track by member, Noah Lennox. Lyrically, the track is a soliloquy that runs dangerously close to a fight for independence. Is this for the band or for his long-standing and complicated friendship with fellow AC songwriter Avery Tare? We may never know but we can take comfort into the sum of its achievement because this was the moment in the band’s evolutionary process where we first evinced their electronic cohesion and was better for it. ()

Fell in love with a Girl (The White Stripes): in less than two minutes Jack Black re-invigorates two-chord rock. Nothing more than his flinty vocals over Meg’s unrelenting back up guitar and a complicated tale of modern relationships. Quite a slapdash introduction. ()

PDA (Interpol): despite Paul Bank’s detached vocals cutting through superb guitar riffs, PDA achieves a weird type of rollicking sexiness and groove. Maybe it’s the cool comfort found in technology or the eyeliner that smudges just under the eye that betrays his emotion. ()

Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand): it may not have ushered in hard rock again but here was the celebratory single of 2004. Franz Ferdinand gleefully wreaks tasty bloodshed over bleeding guitars and catchy lyrics. ()

Cry Me a River (Justin Timberlake): the first collaboration between Timberlake and Timbaland came on the back of the most famous break-up in teeny bop history. The creepy video aside, Timbaland transforms Timberlake from pop poster-boy to adolescent working on serious traumatic stress. Relationships are messy when they end and the period of dissection here are geared towards a little spite yet deliciously stated. Timbaland doesn’t obstruct the flow but merely enhances it with so many pop flourishes that one realizes that Timberlake gets caught up into a flow that the reigning king of pop, Michael Jackson, would have killed for. ()

Wolf Like Me (TV on the Radio): The search for the decade’s Prince has led us to the path of Tunde Adebimpe, lead singer of TV on the Radio, the critically-acclaimed pop/rock band. The lead track from their sophomore, Return to Cookie Mountain, the track opens to thunderous guitars with Adebimpe in a perfect refrain. Literally an ode to lycanthropy, the song’s meaning can also hearken to that clannish and fierce feeling Prince fans had in the 1980s…the recognition of a musical leader emerging, one who will lead the way forward. This was one such glittering moment. ()

Morris Brown (Outkast feat. Scar & Sleepy Brown): we have grown so accustomed to Outkast broadening the scope of hip/hop with other genres that we forget how devastating they are when they play within confines. Morris Brown is an insanely, catchy piece of bragging rights, a kind of turf being reclaimed while throwing out some new tentacles from their ever growing influence. ()

Umbrella (Rihanna): In one infectious instance, Rihanna moved from a Caribbean exotic to the undisputed queen of teen pop with this synth-driven mash up of electro-claps and punishing bass-lines. The writers, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, Kurt Harrell and Terius “The Dream” Nash wrote the track with Britney Spears in mind then it passed on to Mary J. Blige who had to pass on it due to Grammy consideration stipulation. But for L.A. Reid, the track may still be languishing somewhere in the ether because there was still reservation even after Rihanna laid down the first demo. Enter Jay-Z and his altering rap verse and the rest is history. Its success grew slowly but once radio caught on then the song moved from #42 straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. A part of the success is the video, which features Rihanna dipped in metallic liquid and a cutesy dance number with an umbrella. With all of that geared and manufactured towards a ‘hit’, the song is a triumph of so much commercialism yet also artistic value. ()

Bamboo Banga (MIA): After the breakout success of her debut, MIA came up against a brick wall trying to get into America to record Kala, her sophomore. Thus, the tale goes, she ended by-passing the North and we’re all the better for it. Of course, with the critics sharpening their collective pens for any letdown, the album needed a strong opening track and that is exactly what Bamboo Banga is. MIA coming back with power, power, goes the mantra and we’re hooked. For nearly five minutes we’re treated to an astonishing mixtape of heavy-hitting pop, MIA’s own steely idealism, Hindi-inspired choruses juxtaposed with a sample of Jonathan Richman’s Road Runner. Though some would easily pigeon-hole it as ‘world music’, the genius of MIA and the track is to identify a clear boundary overstep….why, as MIA must surely posit, should one be content to rule towns when there’s an entire world to conquer? ()

What You Waiting For (Gwen Stefani): Everyone loves Gwen Stefani so when word was that she would finally go solo from No Doubt, the fan excitement grew. Of course fans never see past their own expectations but artists have to because there are investors, music execs and their own fears to deal with. The Alice in Wonderland-inspired music video expertly tracks the aforementioned process but even it pales in comparison to the fantastic groove of the track. Not that Stefani conceived the idea herself. Linda Perry, whom Stefani was initially reluctant to work with, added her usual electro-pop flourishes as well as the title, by accident. The song is thus a confessional dubbed into the New wave style that she enjoys dabbling in (You're still a super hot female/You’ve got your million dollar contract/And they're all waiting for your hot track). ()

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Look to You (Whitney Houston) (2009)

Humble Mumble

Perhaps the most thankless part of criticizing popular music is post-analysis of the review. Whereas buyers of albums have their tastes and stars selected for them by record labels to an extent, the critic must never fall into this state of affairs. It’s not easy because critics are music lovers themselves and music lovers only really criticize once they’ve fallen out of love. Critics must stay in the nexus of such emotional upheaval to pointedly encourage or, more direly, assault musical complacency. The feedback leveled against me by several U2 fans of my No Line on the Horizon review has nothing to do with actual music but with my daring to criticize the band in the first place.

Well, the axes will grind again because now it’s Whitney Houston’s turn. Houston, aka the Voice was the woman whose stratospheric rise in the mid-80s paved the way for future black female soul singers. They’ve all been influenced by her in some manner…from her many talentless clones to the current ‘it girls’ Beyonce and Rihanna. She was the first of the Clive Davis-led fembots that rose through the Arista stables to gain global superstardom. Without her there may have been no Vegas opening for Celine Dion, no Mimi being emancipated or sentimental musings from Deborah Cox, et al. Now, if you for even a second thought that the non-emergence of any of these singers would have been right as rain, then you get the perilous scope in which Houston returns with I Look to You.

Perilous because the music industry eats its own stars in the end. Houston may not end up a walking plastic-surgery disaster like Michael Jackson but her emotional scars are just as devastating. An ill-timed divorce, allegations of drug abuse and the skeletal-frame health she looked in at a MJ tribute show years ago have wagged tongues of even her most ardent fan. Her resurgence is akin to that of the doomed Anne Rice vampire character, Akasha. If you’ve read that brilliant novel then you see the same fated parallels: the revered yet out of place goddess returning to conquer a scenario that holds her as key yet running totally oblivious of her participation.

I Look to You is more than an album; it is a timely PR stunt to launch her career back on track. So, it features big names contributing songs, including R. Kelly and Alicia Keys. Million Dollar Bill, written by the latter, isn’t bad but in true Keys manner, it asks little of Houston vocally and the lyrics are far from revealing. In a sense it is totally fitting that the song should sound so nice yet empty. Kelly tries to unearth more with Salute but despite the feisty lyrics, Houston’s vocals cannot match its insistency. The loss of her tremulous voice hits the listener immediately. Several of the dance-oriented tracks (Nothing but Love, Like I Never Left) set up for something totally mind-blowing only to turn technically competent and curt. Without Houston providing her trademark vocal firepower then unfortunately these songs serve more for curriculum vitae purposes than anything else. Her remake of A Song for You comes the closest to a bona-fide hit but again her trained vocal use curtails it before it can spin blissfully out of control. Some clever DJs will no doubt splice it up in the clubs to a much greater effect. I Look to You is thus divided into dance tracks and ballads but if the former just fail to catch afire then the latter never get going at all. Which is odd because Houston has never been engineered for sustained club purposes. Ballads have always been her bread and butter but here they feel like spam. Dianne Warren contributes the cold title track and Houston barely avoid cracking up on the boring I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.

Clive Davis is quoted as saying that the album’s aim is to side-step popular music trends and to keep Houston’s influence intact. This is not surprising as her career, like the music industry in which she’s inexorably tied, operates on this motif. No one expected to hear the infamous ‘crack is whack’ refrain used in a sample but smothering her recent personal tumult with feel-good music is equally insulting. It’s as if the past decade of her life, all the ugliness involved, can be avoided if not too much emphasis is put on it. Whereas other soul singers naturally turn their pain into personal art that reflect truthfully a state of mind, Houston through her handlers acts as if she is above discussing it all. Hasn’t this shadow approach been the hallmark of her career for far too long? Would the end result be just as wooden if she dared pen a few tracks herself? Also, when one considers it, after nearly twenty-five years as a megastar what do we really have been allowed to know about the woman behind the voice?

Davis treats Houston just as carefully as his music empire but his short-sightedness has never been so at fault. Houston is no longer relevant in popular music and neither are big labels. The evolution of music is leaving both ideals behind. I Look to You will no doubt debut no.1 on Billboard but then sink fast as the next big release comes along—ironically it should be Mariah Carey’s latest—and no amount of couch-time with Oprah will garner new fans if Houston doesn’t get ‘with it’. I Look to You never cracks a realistic hint of pain behind its making for too long, instead it slips rigidly back in place once things start to get too real.

Therein lays the extent and overwhelming problem of Houston’s legacy however. She was the last of the great four pop stars tied to the big label system (MJ, Prince and Madonna being the other three) and she’s now the only one left caught up in it still. As long as that system continues to breathe then the prospect of the real Whitney Houston emerging from years of puffed-up divadom is dim. As the years creep up on her and with her once great voice gone one wonders though if she will realize her irrelevance too late. How much longer is she willing to be the product of other people’s perspicacity and talent instead of reclaiming her zeal for belting out big tunes again? After a decade of perfecting the art of saying pretty much nothing at all, now is the time for the Voice to ring out truthfully for once with (he)art.

RATING: 4/10

Friday, September 11, 2009

THE 100 BEST ALBUMS of 2000-2009:

Apologies to the Queen Mary (Wolf Parade) (2005):

Perhaps the decade’s best rock debut, the introduction many of us got to Wold Parade, namely Spenser Krug and Dan Boeckner. Starting with the fantastic You are a Runner and I am My Father’s Son, the album’s themes of inter-personal relations and obsessive paranoia. Krug’s lyrical genius shines through as he lilts things towards a funky disposition (Grounds for Divorce), lyrical melodrama (Fancy Claps) and idealism steeped in mere self-belief (Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts). Krug manages to twist his voice into very timeless ether to records these tracks—especially the groovy ender, It’s A Curse---as if his band is sojourning along space and time and not lighting up the joint for the first time. Then there’s the huge groundswell of I’ll Believe Anything which shifts Krug’s now trademark tense refrain. Though they’ve spawned other projects, namely Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs, the team best shines here and even after so many spins and years passed, it’s clear to see why.

THE 100 BEST ALBUMS of 2000-2009:

Veckatimest (Grizzly Bear) (2009):

Depending on your musical taste, this would have been the most or second most anticipated album of 2009. The initial leak was a bad rip but by the time the real stuff hit, it was clear that a year-end list contender was here. Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen create the type of tender brilliance (Live with You, Foreground) that no one else can. Their chorale, heavenly harmonies are spun so tightly, so cleverly crafted that it leaves one gasping for breath afterwards. Then there are simple ballads like While You Wait for the Others that simply reel out sickly brilliance that even Animal Collective might be a bit jealous. Yet if Droste and Rossen play around each other then it’s left up to Christopher Bear to connect whatever seams spill.You hear the guitar riffs lulling Two Weeks into precision as well as the tenderness of All We Ask. Not to mention the beautiful, poetic lyrics that indicate the creative process involved on this project. Whereas Animal Collective returned home from different point origins to Merriweather Post Pavillion, Grizzly Bear manifest time well spent on the island of Veckatimest…bringing us their wondrous result.

THE 100 BEST ALBUMS of 2000-2009:

Kid A (Radiohead) (2000):

Any attempt at following up the massive Ok Computer would prove to be a task so consider Kid A the reverse of that album, the opposite image staring out of the mirror. If Radiohead ended the previous decade on the cusp of drawing art and technology together then they entered the new one showing withdrawal symptoms. This is a sharp withdrawal, an acute understanding of how pyrotechnics work and maneuvered for an effect that ironically comes to the same conclusions. It opens with Everything in its Right Place, a fitting last kiss goodbye yet it emits warmth and loneliness in buckets. The title track threads minimalism to a new high because up to then bands hadn’t figured out how to assimilate so many technological gains in music into a simple, humane body of work. And yet for all the triumphant artificial intelligence (The National Anthem) there is enough of the human touch to keep things vitally in check (Optimistic, Idioteque).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

THE 100 BEST ALBUMS of 2000-2009:

For Emma, For Ever Ago (Bon Iver) (2007-8):

The story of Justin Vernon going off to mourn the end of his band (or is it a love-affair?!) has been well chronicled but if this self-journey is what it takes to produce such beautiful art then I think such a move should be mandatory for all musicians. This stuff is best listened when rain is lightly falling on a morning when you can toss around in bed. If the opening falsetto of Flume doesn’t soften you up then the swelling of vocals and guitar work of Lump Sum will. There’s a peacefulness juxtaposed with raw emotion at work if trying desperately trying to resolve itself while it pleases the ear. Skinny Love breaks out of its holding pattern then turns lyrically dark and accusatory. The Wolves (Act I and II) is even sparer but works. It pales to Blindsided but then the tenderness emitted here is of a rare kind. I haven’t even touched on Creature Fear swirling giddily into the stuff of greatness.

THE 100 BEST ALBUMS of 2000-2009:

Back to Black (Amy Winehouse) (2007):

Initially I had felt Winehouse’s sophomore had potential but looking back now I realised I hesitated because it seemed too bizarre an existence to what she sung about to be real. Alas it is but so too is the lascivious soul-weariness on display here. Back to Black is a smartly configured opus of 60s big brass sounds that was perfected by Motown before her. Every track is layered with heavy trumpets, stoned lyrics and a heart-felt realness steeped in modernity. Credit her for keeping the album above sea-level too even with the jazzy textures that don’t require much fire-power. Rehab is a stunning ditty reportedly done as her refusal to seek help in an institution for her emotional instability. When she hits a winning formula though---the blissful title track, Tears Dry on Their Own, Rehab, You Know I’m no Good—it all simmers into a slow melting pot of sedative-like escapism. Winehouse totally immerses herself into character because this is her life and all producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson have to do are keep up with her.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

THE 100 BEST ALBUMS of 2000-2009:

Robyn (Robyn) (2005-8):

Released so many different years, with so many different versions yet Robyn’s core brilliance has not been diluted since its original home country release (Sweden). To describe her music one must consider the hustling groundings of M.I.A, the vocal uniqueness of Bjork and a physical resemblance---but with a more daring pop presence—to Pink and presto, you now start to realise the triple threat the diminutive Swede is. Handle Me and Cobrastyle have so much booty-shaking funk that it’s futile to resist. Even the pure pop With Every Heartbeat is of a higher standard than the average Billboard Hot 100 tune. The great thing about Robyn though is her insistence to merge pop with her special brand of production. Many view pop as inferior to other genres but Robyn is pure pop and brilliant too.

THE 100 BEST ALBUMS of 2000-2009:

Funeral (The Arcade Fire) (2004-5):

To understand the elegant Funeral, one need to consider the many paths that came entwined in order to make it possible. The band lost nine family members during the recording process, then broke up only to rebuild. Funeral thus is in memory of that emotional upheaval: the beginning and end of things. Its heightened sense of fragmented loss serves its purpose well on the ten tracks that are orchestrated with a wide range of instruments, sadness and loss. This only reinforces Ren Butler’s lead vocal work and the wretchedness associated here. His sound is reminiscent of early Michael Stipe; smouldering insistence of the heart-breaking Neighbourhood #2 (Laika). The track best captures everything that is so magical on the album. It is defiant and powers on a type of refrain that even more established bands will never master. Haiti, the saddest track, features Regine Chassange alone as she rekindles love for her country of birth and she takes a moment to breathe on In the Backseat. Fittingly, this is the last track and The Arcade Fire achieved what most rock albums hadn’t up to that point: a time to exhale. This was to prove a trademark as well as irrefutably influential.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

THE 100 BEST ALBUMS of 2000-2009:

Merriweather Post Pavillion (Animal Collective) (2009):

If it seems Animal Collective has been growing from strength to strength then it is true but even I felt topping Strawberry Jam would be impossible. That said, the band has made a serious effort to do just that. The opening two tracks—In the Flowers and My Girls---make this abundantly clear with their restless beats and opulent timing. Also Frightened overdubs itself more pointedly with each verse, with no apparent hook other than repeating its chorus and dragging its lines along to full psychedelic effect. Such audacity only comes from a band assured in its stature and not concerned with playing it safe. Even bolder is the anthem aspirations of songs like Bluish and Guy’s Eyes, both swirl with heavy grooves and outperform the others within the headphones space that it demands. It even gets better the more listens one gives it proving that though other experimentalists are out there manifesting efforts, none come close to these guys who, for the third album running, continue to evolve further away from the ensuing pack. And yes, even though there are three more months left in the year, rest assured, you won’t find a better album in ’09 than this epic release.