dirty projectors

2009: The Best of the Year

BlackPlastic tends to vary its approach to the inevitable end-of-year wrap-up a bit each year. Sometimes we do a full detailed breakdown of the best albums and compilations, whereas other times it is less formal summary of all that was good in the past 12 months. 2009 will be treated using the latter approach - this is partly in reflection of the quality of the year but it as much simply a reflection of the way BlackPlastic feels like tackling it this year. Lists are unimportant and to stick to them can constrain what needs to be said.

2009 was not quite the same vintage as 2008 in BlackPlastic's opinion (for more on 2008 see here, here and here) but it did have some absolutely fantastic music all the same:

One of the great things about end of year reviews is that they afford BlackPlastic the opportunity to go back and comment on albums we unfortunately missed at the time. No record from 2009 deserves that more than Girls' first album. Entitled, erm, Album, it was one of those records that sounds like a compilation tape from a mate with impeccable taste. The style is inconsistent but the passion and inventiveness of the tunes more than make up for it. Many have said that the production of this album is somewhat vanilla, classic as opposed to contemporary, and as such this is a record all about the tunes. BlackPlastic doesn't buy that - frankly it just sounds too 2009 for such twaddle to wash. Yes, it may contain classical styles but they have been applied with a modern sensibility and there are hints of too many times, styles and genres for this album to be anything but modern. Track to check: 'Lauren Marie'.

One of 2009's surprise highlights was The Horrors' sophomore album, Primary Colours. Channelling Joy Division and Can what it lacked in originality it made up for in quality of execution. Check: 'Sea Within a Sea'.

Showing off David Sitek's production skills even more than the Yeah Yeah Yeah's rather ace It's Blitz!, one of 2009's best débuts came from Telepathe in the form of Dance Mother. Abstract, dubby and ambient yet accessible and infectious. Check: that sublime production on 'Chrome's On It'.

Junior Boys' third album is perhaps a tricky one to love - it feels like a streamlined version of their precious two. Yet listening to Begone Dull Care it is clear this is a duo at the top of their game - streamlined is actually refined, for nothing this year boasted as much brains, as pure a vision. Frankly it is the best intelligent dance album since Morgan Geist's Double Night Time. Check: 'Parallel Lines'.

And if the Junior Boys refined then the Dirty Projectors' let the chips lie where they fell. Bitte Orca built on previous album Rise Above by growing in every conceivable direction. It still sounds simultaneously timeless and unapologetically futuristic. Check: the R&B anthem 'Stillness Is The Move'.

Another one of those records that got away - Desire's II has only just found its way onto the BlackPlastic stereo but the slightly sinister vibe and dark take on Italo ensures it'll be on rotation well into this year. If you listen to just one track make it the emotive ballad that is 'Don't Call'.

Also dark but without the retro edge was Telefon Tel Aviv's Immolate Yourself. It's been years since BlackPlastic has heard IDM that packs such a punch. Sadly band member Charles Cooper died soon after finishing this album. Rumour has it that his death may have been suicide. Listen to 'You Are The Worst Thing In The World' and it almost feels as though the pain of his passing has infected the songs.

Heart stoppingly beautiful at times, no record made BlackPlastic laugh and almost cry at the same time as much as Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard's 'Em Are I. Check: 'Bugs & Flowers'

Two albums that managed to get BlackPlastic really gurning again: Nathan Fake's Hard Islands and Fuck Buttons' Tarot Sport. Making trance music sound like rock music flicked our switch. Check 'Castle Rising'and 'Olympians' respectively.

Overlooked by practically everyone else but saving a special place in our hearts is The Juan Maclean's The Future Will Come. It may not quite match the heights of 2005's 'Dance With Me' but it is still the best realised concept album from 2009. Check the muted brilliance of 'Tonight'.

It is seriously over-hyped and they were dangerously close to becoming 2009's Burial (stylistically coming off somewhat like the indie equivalent of Burial, too): the XX. Yet they still managed to tug on our heart strings on debut album XX. The atmospheric melancholy and loneliness is one thing but the XX never shine more than when the vocals demonstrate their heart, as on 'Heart Skipped a Beat'.

Some music does it for BlackPlastic simply by being incessantly joyful. That is the case for Passion Pit's Manners - not since Architecture in Helsinki released an album has anything sounded quite so ridiculously happy. Check 'Little Secrets'.

Barely scrapping into 2009, Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion is probably the oldest album on this list yet it is still very nearly took the top spot. From the ecstatic opening of 'In The Flowers' this was an album to lose yourself in. Dizzyingly creative and heart-warmingly joyful, it is telling that it has all but made us forget band member Panda Bear's almost as good solo album, Person Pitch. Most people will recommend 'My Girls' as the top tune but they are wrong - it has to be that delirious opener.

Snuck in at the other side of 2009, Lindstrøm & Christabelle's Real Life Is No Cool is this list's newest album. And glorious it is too, a sunny slither of disco perfection that turned out to be Lindstrøm's career highpoint to date. Check 'Keep It Up'.

Before the wrap with the album of the year a couple of compilations and a reissue deserve a mention.

The reissue is the Units' The Early Years of the Units 1977-1983, a set that proves there were legitimate challengers to Devo's creative dominance of the post-punk period. Seriously - this shit is essential, the cream from one of the best periods in music.

Compilation number one is Jay Haze's Fabric 47, which frankly came out of nowhere and blew BlackPlastic away. By the time this eclectic set arrives at the exclusive hip-hop track 'Something To Say' by Rockey that closes the album we were head over heels. Pure class.

Our other favourite compilation is Phoenix's Kitsuné Tabloid release. After a balls out start from Digitalism, Phoenix took the Tabloid series in a much, much more interesting direction. Featuring barely any tracks from recent years it instead manages to introductive the listener to some gems they won't know as well as reintroducing some they will. It also serves as a perfect autobiography for the band and, more to the point, sounds utterly gorgeous all the way through.

No contest for album of the year though. On BlackPlastic's first few listens it was great... A perfect fit like your favourite jeans. Yet it just got better and better. And better. No album kept us coming back quite like Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Performed live it is even better and it is telling that almost every track on the album is on the set list for the recent tour.

Putting your finger on what makes Wolfgang... so great is tricky, but BlackPlastic will try:

Producer Philippe Zdar (of Cassius) manages to distill a great band into a phenomenal one. Each track is so incredibly tight that it sounds like a band being covered by robots, in the best possible way. And at the same time Thomas Mars' vocals give the whole album a sense of urgency and vitality that most bands can only dream of. If they called it quits now Phoenix would still be one of the best bands of the last decade. Here is hoping they continue being fabulous.

BP x

Album Review: Bitte Orca - The Dirty Projectors

The Dirty Projectors at their best create music that feels so completely their own that they are always unmistakably them. Even when they are collaborating with others, as they did with David Byrne on this year's Dark Was The Night compilation, or covering another band's material, as on last album Rise Above (albeit re-imagined, from the memory of Black Flag records) they lose none of their individuality.

Bitte Orca perfectly retains this over-worldly, unique feeling. With all of the human sexuality that Dave Longstreth's falsetto vocals managed to capture on the sublime Rise Above this is an album from a band that can both see and realise their own potential. Streamlined yet playfully creative, Bitta Orca manages to deliver an album that focuses Longstreth's experimentalism into something coherent and unashamedly "pop".

But it's still by no means conventional - it's just that the songs themselves are now calling the shots. The chorus of 'Useful Chamber' for example, with quick and punchy shouts of "Bitte Orca, Bitte Orca!", gives way to a fret wig-out on the guitar before dissolving into a dreamlike vocal that sounds like a kid spinning around until they fall down dizzy into the arms of love.  It's experimental and interesting and yet still completely immediate and catchy.

Lead single 'Stillness Is The Move' boasts a snappy solo vocal from Amber Coffman that sounds like getting up and stepping over the root cause of your problems, no longer being held back by the daily grind. The strings that kick in halfway through turn it into what is probably the Dirty Projectors finest track to date - an organic, fresh R&B anthem.

Along with bands like TV On The Radio, the Dirty Projectors are forging a new pop-centric future for art-rock. The charm of Bitte Orca is that it sounds totally without time and without classification - taking the best elements from 50 years of pop music and rock without sacrificing any inventiveness. The result is one of the most beautiful records BlackPlastic has heard in a long time.

Bitte Orca is released on Monday on Domino Records on CD, MP3, LP and cassette.  No, BlackPlastic isn't joking. Both the cassette and LP come with codes to download the album as an MP3.  Available to order now on Amazon.co.uk on CD and LP, although obviously everyone knows cassette is the format to go for [Affiliate Links].

BP x

Album Review: Kitsuné Tabloid - Various selected by Phoenix

In a departure for Kitsuné this is neither remotely dance related nor mixed. It is a compilation in the classic sense, as Phoenix select a range of songs - almost all of which are at least ten years old (usually more) - that they love and that inspire them.

Being the well mannered possessors of catholic taste that they are, Phoenix's first compilation is a considered, methodical and, most of all, utterly beautiful affair. From the opening strains of Kiss' 'Love Theme From Kiss' the latest Kitsuné Tabloid (Digitalism provided the first) is like losing yourself in a good book. It's a journey full of texture and detail and feeling beyond that which should be provided by a mere Tabloid.

As you might expect from Phoenix the overall sound oozes intelligent sensuality. The sublime 'Rise Above' from The Dirty Projectors is a case in point - unbelievably for an artist that specializes in covering Black Flag records they have never heard it is a gorgeous piece of folk music with the kind of falsetto vocals that will soon have you making a fool of yourself when no-one is watching.

Pretty much every track is a highlight - whilst Elvis Costello & The Attractions' morose 'Shipbuilding', Urge Overkill's 'Stull (Part One)', Irma Thomas' 'It's Raining' and Lou Reed's stunning 'Street Hassle' stick in BlackPlastic's head but there are plenty more gems here. Oh, and of course Tangerine Dream's 'Love On A Real Train' is always gorgeous as well.

Phoenix have described this album as selfish - it's just what they would make for themselves. What's great is that in the hands of the right person, the selfish album they make for themslves is the most interesting. It's autobiographical and it's genuine.

BP x

Available on Amazon.co.uk on CD (not available on MP3 yet as far as BlackPlastic knows, plus the artwork is lovely).