Friday, 18 December 2009

My Top Albums of 2009

Looks like it's getting towards the end of the year, so maybe its time for the obligatory top lists of 2009. Never having been a slave to tradition, here's my top eight albums of the past twelve months.

8) Hazards Of Love-The Decemberists

This one is an album that is as much an annoyance of mine as it is a love. I'm a big sap for any music so much as hinting at prog-rock which I think is why I listened enough to get past Meloy's whiny annoying vocals. Once I was past that, I was left with an album I fell in love with, grew tired of, stopped listening to, put back on a month later and realized why I loved it so much in the first place, a pattern which repeated through most of the year.
The builds are glorious, the guitars sound fantastic and the musicianship is pretty faultless. The lows are monotonous and the soppy sections are over sentimental.
Still, the peaks more than make up for the troughs and perhaps wouldn't seem as glorious without the arduous slog up hill to get to them.

7) Riceboy Sleeps-Jonsi and Alex

I'm gonna say from the top that I adore Sigur Ros, and that anyone who doesn't like their breed of Icelandic post-rock is going to loathe this release by their lead singer Jonsi and his boyfriend Alex. It sounds an awful lot like Sigur Ros, but even more so, with a whole lot more of the tranquil soundscapes and less of the actual "music". It's gorgeous, its meandering, it's what helped me concentrate on most of my essays this year and it's got me very excited about Jonsi's debut solo album "Go" which sounds all together more like you would expect it to sound. If you love Sigur Ros and you haven't already, you owe it to yourself to give Riceboy Sleeps a good listen. If you're not sold on Sigur Ros yet, give the free track on Jonsi's home page a listen.

6) Octahedron- The Mars Volta

This is by no means ground breaking stuff, I remember reading reviews of this album saying that The Mars Volta had drastically changed their style and being reluctant to listen to it. It is true however that this is a much quieter album than all of their previous efforts. In my opinion, this is a nice middle ground between Omar's meandering solo guitar doodle albums and classic Mars Volta.
All of the slow quiet numbers like Since You've Been Gone make for more intense crescendos into the fast loud tracks and sections such as Cotapaxi.
After two albums that struggled to hold my interest, its nice to see The Mars Volta trying a new direction, even if it did upset a few. There's nothing more boring than a band scared of taking risks

5) Far-Regina Spector

This is an album that, if I had heard earlier in the year, would no doubt be way further up this list, its growing on me like some beautiful voiced fungus.
The simple enchanting melodies sung over a minimal backdrop of mostly drum machines and piano, beautifully arranged and recorded. It makes me feel guilty for not listening to this earlier.
Anyway, listen to this.

4) Backspacer-Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam are an interesting band in that they are one of the only existing grunge bands, due in no small part I'm sure to the fact that they haven't made a grunge record since Vs in 93. There's nothing more embarrassing than middle aged men screaming their teenage angst out (I'm looking at you Green Day) which is why the idea of PJ returning to their punk rock roots worried me.
But that isn't what this album is like at all, it's not all fast, it shows PJ's full range of sounds, from the corny pop-rock, to a few ballads, and yet, those few fast, loose punky tracks which are the best tracks on the album.
It isn't a bunch of old men trying to be hip, as with all of their releases, this is good intelligent American rock music. If their last album hadn't been twice as good this album would likely have been my number two choice this year.

3) Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix-Phoenix

Yet another album I heard too late in the year. Catchy hooks, tongue in cheek lyrics, its much deeper than you might expect from the first listen, but from the first listen I was stuck on this album. Something truly unique, yet pleasingly familiar. Just a well written indie rock album from France.

2) Resevoir-Fanfarlo

A lesson should be learned here by artists struggling to shift units, you're not gonna make a fortune until people know who you are. When I found out that the digital copy of this album was on sale for $1 at their website, it caught my interest, and after some listening I realized that it is a glorious album worthy of a full price purchase (which by the way, their album is selling at again now).
This is an unmistakably British rock album with some really interesting instrumentation and some thoroughly well written songs. Horns and strings are as big of a part of the sound as the guitars and they are used very tastefully. I simply love the atmosphere of this album, from emotional low to dramatic highs. I wish these guys all the luck in the world.

1) Veckatimest-Grizzly Bear
This album grabbed my attention like no other this year. If I love the atmosphere of Fanfarlo's album then I adore the atmosphere of this. Big four part harmonies, dirty bass tones, massive drums, subtle use of strings, and loads of gorgeous reverb. Great dynamics, great musicianship and most of all, terribly ambitious.
All of this note perfect arrangement around a thoroughly interesting and catchy set of songs that I've been listening to religiously since the day it was released back in May. Each song is so very different from the one before it and yet these album sounds very cohesive.
This is very different and utterly brilliant. Couple that with the brilliant videos the band has released for the singles from this album and you have hands down, my album of the year.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Microsoft and the BBC are both stubborn arses.

So it seems that the reason PS3 and Wii users get iPlayer but us 360 owners don't is down to an argument which has ended in stalemate. Apparently, Microsoft want the iPlayer on Xbox Live, but only to gold subscribers, but the BBC has decided that people shouldn't have to pay a premium to get iPlayer as it's license fee funded. So what about people like me who already pay both fees? I couldn't care less if people could get it for free if they were silver members, and I also wouldn't care if it was only available to us gold subscribers. I see why Microsoft want to add value to their gold subscription, although you can already make this work for free with a bit of tweaking if you have a Windows machine (not that I can test that), and I do see the Beeb's problem with people having to pay a subscription to watch it, but what about what their customers want? I cant see any 360 owners getting angry at getting what the PS3 and Wii has had for a while now, and I can't see license payers getting angry at having to pay a gold subscription to use a free service.
The only person looking stupid here (apart from us saps that give both of these companies our money) is Microsoft. If i was looking for a games console now, and I wanted games rather than keep fit activities and gimmicky kids games, I'd have to get a PS3. It wont break, I don't have to pay a subscription to play online (although I would have no friends to play with), it has a Blu Ray drive (not that I'm interested in buying any Blu Rays), built in wifi, cheap HDDs, and it's essentially a DVR for the BBC (and what other British networks ever make good TV anyway). And now after a price drop (at last) its not much more expensive, much cheaper if you factor in however much you will pay for gold subscription, and repairs once it goes out of warrenty.
Its reasons like this that the PS3 is gaining back market share, and why I feel less and less happy paying my TV license. I'm not moving from my Xbox for a while though, I need to play Mass Effect 2.