The musical landscape of 2009 has been a varied one, filled with ups and downs (so many downs), and the time has come to take a retrospective look at the year’s best, worst, and otherwise interesting albums of note.
Best of 2009: The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
Released in October, “Embryonic” has achieved massive staying power in my musical rotation. From its opening track, the album is drenched in atmosphere. Each song exists in the same hazy, dream-like psychedelia that makes listening to the album in its entirety a rare treat indeed. A good portion of the tracks are instrumental, which only serves to further bind each song together, making it less a group of songs by an artist and more an organic musical creature, sprawling and ever-shifting in its reach. Some songs, like the opener “Convinced of the Hex” and “Evil” are more subdued and drenched in foggy sound, but others, like “Aquarius Sabotage” and “Worm Mountain” emerge from the haze with an almost violent urgency. Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs also makes a guest appearance on several tracks, including the otherworldly “I Can Be a Frog,” which features her part as recorded over the telephone. When taken as a whole, “Embryonic” is a dynamic piece of music, and deserving of the accolades that go along with being the best album of the year.
Worst of 2009: Owl City – Ocean Eyes
I already gave my review of Owl City’s most recent abomination just a couple short months ago, but as time goes on, I am continually amazed at just how bad it truly is. Though he can craft a catchy melody, Young’s songwriting is insipid to the point of madness. His subject matter is so inoffensive and bland that, with repeated exposure, it actually becomes overwhelmingly offensive. The hit single “Fireflies” is cringe-inducing, thanks to the forced cuteness of the lyrics. The liberal application of auto-tuning across the album as a whole leaves much to be desired from Young’s vocal performance. If one wishes to listen to similar music that isn’t completely terrible, then one is better off sticking with Postal Service. “Ocean Eyes” should be avoided at every cost.
Most Overhyped Album: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Released at the beginning of 2009, Animal Collective’s eighth studio album has since garnered critical and commercial praise, and deservedly so; “Merriweather Post Pavilion” is a wonderful album. The problem is that the praise for the album has been so hyperbolic that one might expect it to be the musical equivalent of the Second Coming. Maybe I’m just cynical, but MPP is certainly not that good. It’s enjoyable, and it has unsurprisingly made many other best-of-the-year lists, but the album has drifted away from what made Animal Collective great in the past. With the departure of guitarist Deakin, the group has turned toward a more electronic, synthetic sound. The shouts and wild energy are still there, as is the infectious catchiness, but the new direction serves to distance some fans, such as myself, from the group. Is MPP a good album? Most definitely. Is it as good as so many have made it out to be? Not by a long shot.