Saturday, February 06, 2010

Listening Habits 01.2010

The list of our favorite albums for January 2010 includes some brand new releases (Spoon, Vampire Weekend, These New Puritans, Beach House, Midlake) as well as several LPs from last year that we finally got around to listening to.

Two of the January releases have already reached a wide audience, breaking into the top positions of the Billboard albums chart. Vampire Weekend’s debut at number one with "Contra" was followed a week later by the success of Spoon’s "Transference" that reached number four, the highest chart placing ever for both bands. Their commercial success becomes even more significant if we take into consideration that both of them are signed to independent labels (XL and Merge, respectively), while their distinctive sound is far from what is considered commercial these days.

"Transference" builds on the commercial and artistic success of its predecessor, the excellent "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga". Britt Daniel and his band don’t attempt any reinventions or fancy new tricks for their seventh album. They stick to good ol’ fashioned solid songwriting and fervent delivery, keeping it simple and straight to the point. The immediacy and power of tracks like "Written In Reverse", "Got Nuffin'" (the singles) or "The Mystery Zone" and "I Saw The Light" prove that less is more and help Spoon maintain their status as one of America's best indie rock acts. The only thing that I cannot comprehend is why this band has not enjoyed a similar level of success in Europe yet, where they seem to remain a well kept secret. Here you can watch the brand new video for our Track of the Month "Written In Reverse".

"Contra", Vampire Weekend’s "difficult" second album, has retained all the elements that give their sound its unique identity, while adding new elements to their sonic palette. In "Giving Up The Gun", one of the album’s highlights, the power-pop melody is combined with a dance club beat creating a post-modern new wave hit, while in "Diplomat's Son" M.I.A.’s vocal samples and sharp reggae rhythms coexist with sweet orchestral melodies. The breakneck pace of first single "Cousins" proves that the band has studied punk well and knows how to successfully combine it with ska, avoiding the pitfalls of this hybrid. Overall "Contra" proves to be more varied and self-assured than their debut and while afro-pop melodies and punk energy remain the main ingredients of their sound, here they have seamlessly integrated new and so far unexplored influences, keeping their music fresh and winning over once again the critics' and fans' approval.

"Hidden", the sophomore effort by These New Puritans, demonstrates the young band’s towering ambition. Their elaborate art-punk collage this time incorporates a thirteen piece brass ensemble, Japanese Taiko drums and a children’s choir, while the dark and menacing atmosphere of the music is accentuated by the sounds of sharpening knives and rattling chains. Song titles like "We Want War", "Attack Music" or "Fire-Power" bring the "hidden" threat out in the open and reveal the shiny steel of their sonic weapons. "Hidden" has fully justified the expectations created by "Beat Pyramid", These New Puritan’s ace 2008 debut, and justly brings major critical acclaim to the band.

Beach House’s third LP, the slow burning "Teen Dream", has already created a huge buzz in the blogosphere, gathering rave reviews and even suggestions of an Animal Collective-style domination in the "Albums of the Year" lists of 2010. Although all this early hype can certainly become annoying, the album undoubtedly possesses an undisputed charm and demands repeated listening. Fans of Galaxy 500 and Mazzy Star will surely appreciate Beach House’s organ-drenched, make out dream pop and majestic tracks like the recent single "Norway", "Silver Soul", "10 Mile Stereo" or "Take Care" make it easier to overlook the hype and enjoy the record for what it is, a wonderful, nostalgic tribute to young love.

Midlake’s return after four years with "The Courage of Others" is certainly going to be a treat for fans of melodic folk rock. The album is steeped in an early ’70s psych folk atmosphere with acoustic guitars and flutes dominating proceedings. The pace remains slow throughout but thanks to the strong vocal harmonies and the soaring melancholic melodies there’s never a dull moment to be found in its haunting 42 minutes.

The rest of our Top 15 consists of 2009 releases we’ve been listening to lately, with two noise-rock albums, the excellent Japandroid’s debut "Post-Nothing" (which we got to hear just in time to include in our Top 10 debuts of 2009) and Oneida’s epic "Rated O" being the most impressive of the lot. Recent Grammy winners Phoenix are also in here with the infectious pop of "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix", an album that was ubiquitous in the year-end lists. Sometimes buying late can be advantageous as the re-release that I got is coupled with a bonus remix cd and there are instances where the remix is at least as good as the original, as is the case with the Animal Collective remake of "Love Like A Sunset" which is transformed into a track that could well have a place in "Merriweather Post Pavilion" (download the mp3 here).

Top 15 Albums

1. Transference - SPOON
4. Teen Dream - BEACH HOUSE
5. The Courage Of Others - MIDLAKE
6. Post-Nothing - JAPANDROIDS
7. Rated O - ONEIDA
8. Monsters Of Folk - MONSTERS OF FOLK
9. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - PHOENIX
10. Logos - ATLAS SOUND
11. Actor - ST. VINCENT
12. Bird-Brains - TUNE-YARDS
13. Love Comes Close - COLD CAVE
14. Infinite Light - LIGHTNING DUST
15. Baby Darling Doll Face Honey - BAND OF SKULLS

Top 20 Tracks

1. Written in reverse - SPOON
2. Norway - BEACH HOUSE
4. Giving up the gun - VAMPIRE WEEKEND
5. We want war - THESE NEW PURITANS
6. On giving up - HIGH PLACES
7. Wondering what everyone knows - LIGHTNING DUST
8. Children of the grounds - MIDLAKE
9. Ayisha abyss - SERENA-MANEESH
10. Brownout in Lagos - ONEIDA
11. Young hearts spark fire - JAPANDROIDS
12. Jail La La - DUM DUM GIRLS
13. Real live flesh - TUNE-YARDS
14. My Way - JJ
15. Water - PIT ER PAT
16. Odessa - CARIBOU
17. I hear the vibrations (E-Z version) - WOODEN SHJIPS
18. The high road - BROKEN BELLS
19. Love like a sunset (Animal Collective RMX / Deakin’s Jam) - PHOENIX
20. Life magazine - COLD CAVE

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