I'm going to continue spamming this blog with my "top ten favorite albums of the first half of 2009" project. Here's some more rambling, and some more mp3s for you all!
5. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Phoenix - 1901
Phoenix's new album managed to take a turn back to the very first, but not in the desperate "return to our roots" kind of way. More like finally acknowledging what the band does best. 2000's United was strutting with French coolness and funky synth-based dance tracks like "If I Ever Feel Better" and "Too Young" (the latter made famous as being that cool song they played at the hip Tokyo party in Lost In Translation). Their association with the French electronic music scene, notably artists like Air, was evident despite them being - at least in their live shows - quite guitar driven. For 2004's Alphabetical they slowed down, and polished the soundscape so much that many tracks gave stronger association of dull radio pop and 90s boyband ballads than with hip French party-floor fillers. 2006's It's never been like that saw a strong counter-reaction to this, exchanging the slow over-polished pop sound for a very rocked out, lo-fi and energetic guitar sound. For Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, they manage to combine the energic guitar pop of the last album with the first album's synth and electronica in the opening tracks and hit singles "Lisztomania" and "1901", and make deep turns into electronica in songs such as "Love Like A Sunset". Overall, the whole album feels like a band who's found their right place after being lost for a little while.
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero
The energetic, screaming, roaring, rough, sweaty and high-paced magic of Fever To Tell captivated every person who touched it in 2003. And thanks to the hit single "Maps" there weren't exactly few of those persons. Ironically, "Maps" is completely unrepresentative for the rest of the debut album, being a sweet ballad that stands in strong contrast to the rough guitar-driven neo-punk/garage of the rest of the album. While singer Karen O sings softly on "Maps", she spends the rest of the album shrieking, yelling and occasionally wheezing and moaning erotically. In 2006's follow-up Show Your Bones, YYYs returned with studio versions of live staples from the dirty and rough Fever to Tell tour, such as "Cheated Hearts", but also experimented with entirely new sounds and instruments, such as the piano in "Turn Into". While it was an above average second album, Show Your Bones lacked the instant danceability and moshpit-inducing beats of Fever to Tell, and also came off as somewhat stylistically inconsistent. Now another three years have passed, and It's Blitz! saw an ass-kicking YYY back on top of their game. From the awesome album cover (which has to be 2009's best cover artwork so far) to the instant energy from the opener "Zero" and on, the album is brimming with attitude. The punkish guitar-driven soundscape has been replaced with a dancefloor friendly synthesizer-enhanced sound, but thankfully it works. Karen O's vocals are less eccentric, screaming and erotic, but she shows maturity while still confirming she's no less filled with energy. The album manages to juggle perfectly between danceable and energetic floor-fillers and more quiet ballads (the beautiful "Skeletons" being my favorite), re-confirming what the already has known from all the way back in 2003: YYYs are talented enough to manage both, and still please the same crowd with every track. One of the biggest indie rock hypes of the start of the 00s proved themselves to have enough talent and longevity to still be just as hip at the decade's final year!
3. The Whitest Boy Alive - Rules
The Whitest Boy Alive - Timebomb
Erlend Øye, of Kings of Convenience and Röyksopp fame, sometime in 2002 decided to leave his beloved Bergen, Norway for the slightly more eventful Berlin, Germany, in order to - among other things - pursue his interest for electronic music. His new life in the clubbing and dance capital resulted in the nice electronic solo album Unrest (2003). Also, in a sequence of incidents unknown to me, it resulted in him forming a live band with his German DJ friends, dubbed Whitest Boy Alive, whose concept eventually became to play electronic music with "no programmed elements" (to quote the band). Initially, Whitest Boy Alive played live band versions of Unrest era b-sides such as "Don't Give Up", "All Ears", turning the somewhat sterile and cold electronic soundscape to guitar and synth based pop. The result was the 2006's Dreams, an album full of accessible, danceable guitar pop. This year's follow-up Rules no longer has the evolved Erlend Øye solo career tracks, but consists entirely of new material created by the band as a whole, and evolved form of the many improvised live jams and covers that characterized their Dreams tour. The funky "1517" especially is clearly an evolution of their many Daft Punk covers. In songs such as Timebomb, it's clearer than ever that this band mainly consists of DJs who picked up live instruments. And that's not meant as a bad thing - in contrary, the electronic DJs expressing themselves through a different set of instruments makes for a wonderful fusion of two worlds. The synthesizer is more prominent in Rules, which combined with the bass takes the lad, with Øye and his guitar taking a modest step back. Øye, while infamous for loving being the center of attention, is less prominent in this album, which allows the listener to appreciate the talents of the other band members as well, and enjoy an evolved and improved band. In other words, this is the perfect second album, and as a fan of the first, I couldn't have hoped for anything better.