Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 #10: Top 10 Albums of 2009 That I Kind Of Thought About Buying But Then Didn't (Part One)

I didn't buy many albums this year; partly because I had less disposable* income, and partly because I've been unsure whether to buy music on CD or via iTunes (and sometimes indecision = no decision). I used to love the physicality and security of a real CD, but these days I usually listen to music through my computer or iPod, so are CDs still worthwhile? My bookshelf full of CDs still looks nice, but it's not so convenient. A few years ago, my collection of CDs was my personal music library; today, it's just an insurance policy in case of hard drive failure.

(Don't even start me on those horrific CDs with the most hardcore copy protection, the ones that won't even let you copy the music into your iTunes library . . !)

And I never buy DVDs, because I figure that the DVD is already a dead medium; so isn't it past time for me to give up on the CD, too? What do you think?

I've been watching Rage regularly all year, so I've heard & seen the singles from practically every new album release of 2009. A lot of these singles made me want to go buy albums, but I don't always do what I want. Here are the Top 10 Albums of 2009 That I Kind Of Thought About Buying But Then Didn't.

(Note, also: when I say "didn't buy", I don't mean "downloaded illegally". I don't like to do that; and it's not like any of these albums were inaccessible or overpriced or only available via an inconvenient delivery mechanism, such as certain television programs might be said to be, hypothetically speaking. Aside from the music videos, and/or songs freely available on myspace, I haven't actually listened to any of these albums.)

Blueberry Boat, the FF's second album (from 2004), is absolutely brilliant. It's bizarre, it's dense, it's complex, and it's very long. I had to listen to it three times before it actually made sense to me. That might sound like a bad thing, and it usually would be, but not here: it's an album that rewards you for paying attention, for remembering that the melody you're listening to now is an echo of the melody from thirty minutes earlier. It's unique, entertaining, catchy and very, very smart.

So yeah, Blueberry Boat impressed me hugely, to the point that I was kind of obsessed with FF for a while. I even saw them live (and they put on a fantastic live performance, too). But every one of their albums since 2004 has been mediocre by comparison, even after repeated listens and much effort on my part. Widow City (2007) was occasionally excellent, but only occasionally. Bitter Tea was mostly weak. And as for Rehearsing My Choir . . . I mean, I really wanted to love that one. I wanted to enjoy it. I did not.

And that's why I haven't bothered to buy this new album: I've been burnt. The single (above) was good, but not mindblowing. Their most recent album (Widow City) was worthwhile, so I'd like to think that I'm Going Away is another step up, but I'm not willing to wager money on it. Not just yet.

I've always kind of liked the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, though I've never been a huge fan. But I always thought their songwriting was clever, and this album looked interesting; the singles were pretty good, at least. I'm kind of fascinated by the way they've changed their sound, too. It should seem like they're selling out, the way they've changed from punky-spiky-00s-rock into an 80s synth-underground feel – it's like a rebranding from one zeitgeist to the next, *cynicism* – but somehow, it just doesn't seem like a sell-out. Their new songs are good, and surprisingly subtle. Their new sound isn't a bland pop makeover. It's worth listening to.

But I actually haven't bought it yet.

Intriguing mix of psych-ish music under really grungey, 80s-punk vocals. (I really love the vocals – guy's got an awesome voice.) This single is probably their least impressive song, I think, but some of their stuff available elsewhere is pretty spectacular. Also, I'm building a collection of albums by cool bands with the word "Crystal" in their name.

The vocals are so English that it's almost distracting; together with the early-80s everything else, they obviously wish they were guesting on The Young Ones. But the more I hear of these guys, the more impressed I am by their pop songwriting & arrangement chops. It's really excellent stuff – the kind of clever, retro-but-not-pointless pop that only England ever seems to produce (see also, Mystery Jets). Damn fine. Even if I don't get a copy of their album this year, I'm sure I haven't heard the last of them.

Arctic Monkeys had such a meteoric rise to fame, and were so damn young and pretty, that their passage through the NME meatgrinder-of-adulation very quickly became the sausage of hipsters' casual dismissal. But they don't deserve to be dismissed: the original fame & adulation was well deserved, because their music at its best is absolutely excellent. Their first two albums were simply great. I haven't bought this third album yet, but I know I will eventually; if it's not also great, I'll be very surprised.

Gosh, there are more words on this list than I thought there'd be! I guess I have more to say about these albums than I thought I would. I'm going to have to split this post in two.

Back soon, with the top half of the Top 10!

(And don't worry, btw – the other Top Ten Top Tens will involve far fewer words than this, I promise :)

*all income is disposable

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