Sunday, 27 December 2009

Favourite Albums of the Decade

Damn this was tough. I decided against putting any albums from my 2009 list on this because I'm sure a couple were good enough to make it. Then I needed to make some really tough decisions, how could it be a best of list without one White Stripes album? But sadly I had to cut the wondrous 'Elephant' from my list. No Gaslight Anthem with their spectacular albums '59 Sound' (honestly go and download that right now). No Wilco (despite the incredibleness of 'Yankee Foxtrot Hotel'). No OutKast. No LCD Soundsystem, no Knife, no Arctic Monkeys, no Libertines, no Animal Collective, no Thrice, no New Pornographers, no Portishead. All of these bands released superb albums decade and I more or less narrowed it down to 10 (give or take 5). So without further ado.... the honourable mentions.

Honourable Mentions

Boxer - The National
The National are just an awesome band and whilst some people think Alligator is the better album. At first this album sounds good. But the more you listen, the more you realise the genius behind it. People say it's the perfect 20something album. So I don't know what that says about me (although some albums higher up are definitely more teen orientated), all I know is that Boxer is a superb album and one I would definitely recommend to many people. You might shrug it off as boring at first, but give it time and you'll realise the depth behind one of the best indie-rock albums of the decade. Plus the fact that it sounds like a mini-orchestra with lots of piano definitely helps it on this list

Chutes Too Narrow - The Shins
A few months ago I placed The Shins debut album on this list and whilst that's still a great album, Chutes Too Narrow is just a bit better and perhaps a bit more cohesive. The sound is a lot better and whilst no song can top the l0-fi brilliance of New Slang, one song doesn't help make an album the best by a band. The fact that sound quality and maturity just seems to have come on in leaps and bounds make this a great album. Whilst I'd still say to people that they should listen to New Slang to see whether they like The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow is the album I'd tell people to listen to if they liked New Slang. Whilst a lot a of the lo-fi nature is gone, the infectious melodies and James Mercer's voice still shine through. Natalie Portman said in Garden State that they'd change your life, and whilst they haven't given me an epiphany, this album is certainly one of the best of the decade.

Is This It? - The Strokes
Know people in the UK? Know when they say "Indie music all sounds the same"? They're referring to the sound that this band brought. Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand both are influenced heavily by this bands form of guitar based rock for the 21st century. The Strokes were hailed early on in the decade as the saviours of modern rock. Whilst The White Stripes have proven to be one of the most consistent bands of the decade and The Strokes have steadily released less and less polished albums, The Strokes still win because of this album. Simply a masterful album full of infectious guitars and hooks that will be stuck with you for days after hearing it. You might not like this kind of music, and it certainly isn't the best indie rock album of the decade but the modern music scene owes this album so much and if it can still be this fantastic nearly 9 years on, well then it definitely deserves it way onto this list.

And now for the real list. Of course I'm starting at 11, because honestly I just couldn't narrow this list down enough.

11. Illinois - Sufjan Stevens
The king of multi-instrumental indie music. Sufjan has already appeared on this list due to the fact that he played piano on some tracks on Boxer. But here on his own record we have an album of just staggering ambition. So many different styles and tracks on this album (22 different tracks) contain just one of the best albums of the decade. Part of Sufjan's now discarded 50 states project, he showed us what he might be capable of in Michigan, but it was Illinois that really made you sit and take notice. Songs about love and with UFO in the title make you think twice about what sort of album you might be hearing, but in all honesty I'm going to tell you to just listen to the tracks Chicago and Casmir Pulaski Day. If you enjoy both of those (they're his two best tracks) then you OWE it to yourself to go and download this masterwork of the 21st century (at least what little part of it we've experienced so far.

10. a Real Boy - Say Anything
So far all of my albums have been of the indie ilk and whilst this album is too, it falls far more into the realm of scene music. Music that depressed and angry teenagers find themselves listening to. Since I'm still in my teen years I don't feel too bad for putting this album on a list with those great bands I'm going to be putting up higher. Yes this is a pop punk album and yes I'll probably outgrow it. But for where I am in life and just how damn funny and yet awesome the lyrics are. Max Bemis may not have the best voice in the world but his lyrics tell a story. From the holocaust tinged 'Alive With The Glory of Love' or the final rant in the form of 'Admit It!' make it worth it just to hear this album. Plus it's damn catchy and has some pretty damn awesome riffs as well. However it's also probably the sweariest album on my list, but it goes with that emo-teenage angst I must be feeling to put this album on my list.

9. Give Up/Transatlanticism - The Postal Service/Death Cab for Cutie
How could I include two albums in one place? Well for simple reasons. They are both by Benjamin Gibbard, both released in the same year and I honestly couldn't decide between the two of them. Give Up is The Postal Service's only album and is electro-pop at is very best. Whilst I know people who aren't into electronic music at all, The Postal Service however are one of the best. The whole album might not be perfect but it is just a great album, all topped by the song Such Great Heights, which is the greatest song that Benjamin Gibbard has ever written. It's also the most positive song he has written about love, as well all know that Death Cab for Cutie and Transatlanticism is known as one of the breakthrough emo albums ever. However it's also just a superb indie rock album. It's got all the right highs and lows and are just bolstered by Gibbard's voice and lyrics. Like Max Bemis of Say Anything, Ben Gibbard is one artists who I just love to listen to the lyrics of.

8. Kill the Moonlight - Spoon
Spoon are the perpetual underdog. Every single album they've released this decade has been superb and it's honestly difficult just selecting one. But I went for their first which is kind of the crystallization of their sound. You're bound to have heard at least one Spoon song in your life, as their sound is just so unique. That beating drum pattern or particular riff of a guitar and you know what you're in for. Spoon play around with space and strip songs down and still manage to maintain what the song is. Just go and listen to The Way We Get By. Again I seem to be recommending the best song by these guys but if you like the songs then you really owe it yourself to listen. Spoon never failed to be great this decade and whilst every year they released an album they were outshone, I'm here to give them a little bit of their dues. Whilst others might say that White Stripes or Radiohead were the most consistent band of the decade (and they were very consistent) I'm going to have to give that award to Spoon who released 4 superb albums and I can't but wait for their new album Transference which will be out in all of two weeks (I haven't even heard it and I know it's going to be great).

7. Kid A - Radiohead
You can't do a best of list for the last two decades without including Radiohead. In the 90s they released The Bends and OK Computer and this decade whilst all four albums were great, it was really Kid A and In Rainbows that stood out. But Kid A just represented this decade. When it came out people were confused. Why had Radiohead completely left their anthemic rock roots behind and gone electronic. Coldplay came along to fill that anthem space that Radiohead had perfected in the 90s whilst Radiohead went on one of the most creative streaks in history. Kid A is the soundtrack of the 21st century. It turns so many people off when you first listen to but give it time and you realise the genius hidden inside this album, it's eccentric, imaginative and incredible. Whilst people thought that Kid A would be the album that would save rock music (a mantel quickly shifted to The White Strips and The Strokes) what Radiohead did was far more important, they almost changed the way that people should look at music, especially if you look at their recent experiments with releasing songs to the public for free.

6. Origin of Symmetry - Muse
Nope Muse have not made my top 5, but they did beat Radiohead to whom many art snobs say that Muse are inferior copy. Overall I'd say that Kid A and Origin of Symmetry but I put Origin of Symmetry in front mostly because Kid A is getting far more press that Origin of Symmetry. Muse are one of the biggest bands in the world and some of the most experimental. Not experimental in that completely extreme way that Radiohead are but in ways that their sound benefits. But Origin remains their biggest triumph. It's not their breakthrough like Absolution is and sadly far too many fans name that album as their best when really it's a bit uneven. But Origin of Symmetry is the sound of a confident band who know the sound they want to achieve. Look at songs like New Born and Plug in Baby, those are two of the best songs of the decade and they come from the same album. Muse are undeniably one of the best rock bands of the decade. Rock is a fundamentally changed genre from what it meant in the 70s and 80s, but as long as bands like Muse stay in the driving seat, I'll be excited to see where they take us.

5. The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me - Brand New
Brand New used to be an average pop-punk band. There are still fans who clamour for those days. I have trouble understanding that. 70x7 is one of their most requested songs and it just sounds like all those Blink182 and Jimmy Eat World wannabes. Then Deja Entendu happened and Brand New matured. It was still pop-punk but it sounded different. Edgier, rockier. Whilst it wasn't quite the masterpiece that this album it was a move in the right direction. Then TDAGARIM happened and it was one of the best post rock albums ever. They perfected the quiet loud dynamic used by so many different bands with cryptic lyrics (so cryptic that there was an actual outcry from fans that the lyrics weren't included with the CD). Two instrumentals and some absolutely incredible songs. They might be classified as emo, but even if you have distaste for the entire emo movement, there's no denying the expert musicianship found in this album.

4. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver
The story for this album will probably go down in history. There was a break up, so James Vernon decided to go away to get over this relationship. Whilst there he may have gone a little insane and starting to write lyrics all over the wall. However the lyrics and music that he wrote are some of the best to come out of this past decade. If you like acoustic folky music with almost an ethereal sound then you need to hear this album. Yes the album is achingly romantic and the back story has been so oft repeated that it loses a lot of its impact, but it's just amazing music. Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) is now one of the biggest forces in indie music, going so far as to feature on the Twilight soundtrack (along with other list makers, Radiohead, Muse and Death Cab for Cutie). It came out of nowhere with it's immense loneliness and near mythic story. But behind all of that lies one of the best albums to ever be recorded. Just listen to Skinny Love and hear for yourself.

3. The Midnight Organ Fight - Frightened Rabbit
Recently voted as one of the best Scottish albums of the decade, Frightened Rabbit provided not just that, but one of the best British albums of the decade. Considering that includes bands like Radiohead and Muse, that's praise indeed. Whilst I'm probably speaking in hyperbole, I don't think I can convey how much I love this album. Again it's another break up album (much like my favourite album of all time is Pinkerton) but that probably speaks more about my mental state through most of the decade (hence the emo albums on this list). But that doesn't degrade how great this album is. Modern Leper kicks of the album in absolute style and we get taken through 14 tracks of these drunk potty mouthed Scotsmen and their awesome music. One of my anticipated albums of 2010 is Frightened Rabbit's third album and if it's anywhere near as good as this triumph then you should be excited as well. It's hard to convey what makes this album work. They're not the most innovative band in the world but their music is just filled with a vigorous amount of heart that just begs to be listened to. So many different styles that just come to together to make that oh so rare cohesive whole, Frightened Rabbit succeded at make a perfect indie rock record which sadly hasn't received as much attention as countless other Scottish bands this decade who in my mind have just made inferior albums. Sadly two other albums from across the pond managed to beat the best British album of the decade, but let it be known us Brits put some incredible music this decade as well.

2. The Red Tree - Moneen
People who know me might be a little surprised by this albums placement and honestly for months it was going to be number 1. Easily my most played album of the decade and despite not being a concept album or progressive rock, it's just one of the most seamless albums of the decade. There are practically no breaks in sound but you know when each new song begins. They just float into each other and create this seamless whole. Brand New may be one of the best quiet/load bands in the business but Moneen have a seemingly God-like ability to make songs sound as brilliant in either an acoustic or full band form. Some bands are better in one or the other but Moneen are one band I could listen to in either form. Just listen to The Red Tree and then Saying Something You Have Already Said Before and you'll understand. They even managed to perfect the perfect song which I was shocked by. They might be emo, they might be loud but they wrote one of the hardest hitting emotional albums of the decade which just sounds incredible. Moneen might not be the best known band in the world but these Canadian rockers are just so well liked within bands in Canada. Even indie purists know these guys have incredible talent. Whilst Canada has put out some incredible albums this decade, two stand head and shoulders above the rest and rank in at numbers 1 and 2 on my list.

1. Funeral - Arcade Fire
It couldn't not be. It's the most critically acclaimed album of the decade and it came out in 2004. It's the best debut of the decade by far and it's influence is just so far stretching. Hell even Coldplay tried to emulate what this album does on their latest and failed at capturing the heart and soul that this album has. Funeral is lightning in a bottle that even Arcade Fire were unable to catch again on Neon Bible. It's a great album, but Funeral is the try success story of the decade. Win Butler may not have the best voice of all time but you can feel his passion behind every word that he sings. It just makes this album sizzle. It might not be in English all of the time as there are occasionally parts where it lapses into French, but when an album can overcome having French on it you know you have a winner. Dual vocals, a menagerie of instruments and some epic songs. There are danceable tunes and whilst it's not all guitars and drums like many music purists would prefer to see, Arcade Fire have created an orchestra of sounds. This album is my most consistently listened to. I'll bring it at least once a week without hesitation and I can actually remember where I was the first time I heard it, which is more than I can say for a lot of these albums no matter how much I love them. Hearing this album for the first time, you might think it sounds good because it sounds different. Even if you only listen to about 15 minutes of it. After that you just know it's special. You'll come back just to listen again and make sure, but it's still got a spark. That spark will keep you coming back for more and more. If the 2000s are remembered for anything let's hope it isn't terrorism, recessions, natural disasters, the reality TV show boom or corrupt politicians. I hope we're remembered for bringing the world the perfection that is Funeral, an album bound to go down as one of the best albums in history.*

*I was going to say the decade should also be remembered for The Wire, but then I realised that corrupt politicians are a big part of that. So instead it gets listed down here in an addendum.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

First Impressions - Doctor Who - The End of Time

This is only a first impressions post because it's the first two parts and in all honestly this will either be the best thing ever or come crashing down on itself next week. So let's get this underway.

What was good? Well first the obvious parts, David Tennant and John Simm proved that they are two of the best British actors currently and practically any scene with one or both of these actors was mesmerizing (particularly those with both). It's going to be a shame when Tennant leaves, whilst I'm sure the writing will be a lot stronger, we'll be losing one the most talented actors in the world. Depending on how next week plays out, John Simm could actually return in the Matt Smith years, but David Tennant would be relegated to the " 'X number' of Doctors" episodes, which they haven't actually done as a whole episode yet, only the short 'Time Crash' (written by Steven Moffat, so who knows).

However yes these two actors just completely dominated this episode. John Simm particularly, playing almost a complete 180 of the Master he portrayed two years ago. However he was still fantastic and next week with him being around a lot more is just even more enticing. Honestly I do hope that someone has the bright idea to create a show with these two as the lead actors. Maybe a showcase idea where they portray different characters and tell a different story every week or if they wanted series. It would be an amazing showcase for writing and these actors. Just an idea, but its something I'd love to see, especially with actors who have such incredible chemistry on screen (much like Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn do on Lost)

We got RTD normal set up here, whilst I wasn't as pumped as I was a year and a half ago at the end of the Stolen Earth, I honestly can't wait till next week. I will say maybe that's a good thing, this ending felt a lot less epic than last years so would apparently take less to wrap up. Yes the Time Lords are back, but this feels a lot more intimate, with only about 5 characters they could focus on next week, it's a lot better than last years massive cast of character each having to have their own beat. Plus the promise we have for next week is that David Tennant is going to die and we ALL know that's going to happen. RTD can't pussy out like with Billie Piper and Catherine Tate so we will see a proper death (as far as any Time Lord death can be 'proper'). However I feel if he were given the choice some crazy plot-hole would mean David Tennant could stick around (hell he could what with the Other Doctor existing in the parallel world).

Alright other good things? Bernard Cribbens was great but sadly didn't get as much to chew on as John Simm despite being the announced Companion for this two-parter. It is odd that John Simm's involvement was quieted for quite a while (at least as quiet as it can get in this age of spoilers) and yet he has such a massive part within these episodes. I'm glad for it, but you'd think they'd have made a bigger deal of it.

Time Lords coming back was the next logical step for RTD so not massively surprising, however turning the whole world into John Simm was. I have no clue how that will get wrapped up but still I'm intrigued. I've seen all the making of footage for this and listened to the commentary and I have to say how much of a bloody good sport John Simm was to go through so many costume changes for his scenes at the end. Plus I'm surprised to say that all the clothes actually suited him, even the women's.

It wasn't the best set up episode RTD has done, but it felt right. He doesn't have as many loose threads as he has in the past so hopefully he can pull it all together. At the moment whether it's going to more like the Series 1 end or the Series 2 end. Whilst both were great goodbyes, Series 2 suffered with the Daleks being wiped out far too easily. So I'm hoping for more of Series 1 ending, even if that was the last time we had a regeneration and I see David Tennant getting one last meaty scene to chew on as he regenerates. But I can't honestly say.

My main complaints are just normal RTDisms. Such as the stupid campy humour, such as the Silver Cloak with obligatory gay member. I'd braced myself for that because they released all those scenes to the public so it wasn't too bad. However I cannot forgive the music playing during the alien scenes. It was completely wrong and I'm upset because it really costed Murray Gold of his normally impeccable scoring. But those are just niggles and the camp bit came with the territory. However I can say John Simm camp humour I can live with, him in dresses h actually pretty cool (his dance in 'Last of the Time Lords' was pushing it though). So I think it mostly just depends on when the camp humour is used (last year taught us to never do it with the Daleks).

However the episode was quite disjointed. It darted all over the place in terms of setup and whilst I enjoyed the performances (for some reason I've found people who disliked John Simm's performance) I can't say the story was the most satisfying. As I said it worked perfectly well as set up but was definitely one of RTD weaker set up storylines. I can't believe I'm actually somewhat defending a man who's probably going to fuck up everything next week, but this episode felt like he had a lot of ideas he wanted to get down on paper in time for the second part and I hope beyond hope it works.

If I were to rate the episode so far I'd say about an 8 out of 1o. But as I said it all rests on next Friday's episode. Let's see how the joint villains of John Simm and Timothy Dalton are able to kill everyones favourite Time Lord. Hell even if it sucks I've got Series 5 to look forward to with Steven Moffat taking over as writer.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Favourite Albums/Songs of 2009

Here we go. To all those people who read my blog and might at all be interested in what it is that I've been listening to all year. You might have seen the odd song in my monthly posts which might give some idea (although probably not as I do tend to skip around different years when I'm sat listening to music). But here we are at the end of 2009 and in music, 2010 has officially started (albums are already leaking such as the new Los Campesinos! (damn good btw)). So lets look back upon the last 12 months in music. I definitely felt that 2009 was stronger for more alternative music than for critically acclaimed indie music but it does seem that the two tend to swap between being my favourite genre (the last time this happened was 2006 when ironically both Brand New and Moneen had new albums out, so maybe it's something to do with those bands?).

So without further ado, album number 11

11. Hell or High Water - As Cities Burn
Probably the most underrated album of the year. Whilst they may be (unfairly pegged) as a Christian rock band, As Cities Burn made something excellent on this their last record. It's hard to say what exactly makes this album so good. But it was the first album of 2009 I truly dug, so it's just a shame that so much great music was released this year that it only finds itself at number 11

10. These Four Walls - We Were Promised Jetpacks
Another awesome year for Scottish music. Whilst The Twilight Sad released a great album this year, I felt we should give some respect to the newbies. They not be as polished as The Twilight Sad were on their debut or as superb on Frightened Rabbit's last release (still one of the best of the decade) but this album is just a great little album. It's dripping with the style of it's Scottish brethren and post-punkness. And yes, there is a little bit of the Arctic Monkeys in there.

9. xx - The xx
I haven't been listening to The xx for that long but their debut is just that impressive. By far the most intriguing debut of the year (whilst number 1 is technically a debut it is very much linked to a band that disbanded in 2007). The xx are an entirely unique band with a sound like no other. Already this debut is having words thrown around such as it being the most important debut since Arcade Fire's Funeral (I'd be intrigued by any album if it was compared to that album). Whilst completely differently sonically from Arcade Fire, it's an entirely unique album and really very minimalist. Whilst I'm not sure The xx will be able to sustain this level of greatness (one member of the band left due to exhaustion) this debut seems to have captured lightning in a bottle, which I'm sure I'll be enjoying for months to come.

8. Daisy - Brand New
One of the best bands of the decade released their fourth album this year. Whilst it definitely isn't their best work it still shows signs of their ordinary brilliance. The album starts off in extraordinary fashion with 'Vices', one of the biggest mindfucks of the year. Sadly it tails off with 'Bed' (dreadful, dreadful song) then the "obviously made for single" 'At the Bottom' which ruin the flow of the album. Luckily after the weirdness of 'You Stole' the albums shifts it into high gear and opens up as one of the richest and most dense albums of the year. Whilst it's still polarising to fans (it just isn't as good as 2006's 'TDAGARIM') it still comes out on top proving that even when they only make half an album work, Brand New are just one of the bands making music in the world at the moment.

7. The World I Want To Leave Behind - Moneen
One of my favourite bands in the world came back in 2009 with another awesome album. Whilst it might not be as brilliant as The Red Tree (I seem to be saying that a lot of these albums aren't as good as another album) but it still shows that these guys are one of the most underrated bands in the world. The fact that these guys haven't blown up when they are one of the best 'rock' bands in the world at the moment seems insane to me. This record is a lot more produced and clean than their past releases, and in some cases a lot more straightforward (the level of math rock has definitely decreased) but they have come out with some of the best songs of the year on an amazingly cohesive album. It's just a shame that these guys already recorded the perfect album and that this work, whilst brilliant has to live in The Red Tree's shadow.

6. Beggars - Thrice
You've probably heard of Thrice by now. Whilst not in that pantheon of critically acclaimed artists like Radiohead, they receive a lot of praise from the 'scene' for being one of the most creative bands in the world and always striving for a different sound, which is what they achieved here. Gone are the post hardcore screams and instead we get a slower more refined piece which I would argue is the bands finest effort. Beggars is melodic and if you went back to their first release (which came out some 8 years ago) you'd see just how far this band has progressed. Thrice are by far one of the most captivating bands in the world and you'd be stupid to miss out them, another of those under appreciated 'rock' bands.

5. Merriweather Post Pavilion - Animal Collective
It's probably sacrilege by this point to not have Animal Collective on the end of 2009 list. These guys are the new critical darlings and whilst of course that brings with it the backlash of people not normally listening to this genre jumping in and proclaiming it shit (it happens with films all the time, see last years Oscar winner 'Slumdog Millionaire' and the year before 'Juno'). Whilst I can see a lot of the problems that these people (normally from the 'scene') have with it, I have to say it's one of the most fun and original indie pop records ever. It might just be noise but the different vocals and styles make for very layered noise. And 'My Girls' is probably one of the most likable songs of the year. Animal Collective have been around for years but it's with Merriweather Post Pavilion that they blew up to be indie poster boys with the likes of Arcade Fire and Spoon.

4. Mean Everything to Nothing - Manchester Orchestra
Best rock album of the year? Yes they were on Gossip Girl but all that music is chosen by a woman with one of the best ears for music in the world. Manchester Orchestra are best friends with Brand New and whilst Brand New might beat them to one of the defining moments of alt-rock this decade, Manchester Orchestra trounced 'Daisy' this with 'Mean Everything to Nothing'. One of those albums that just needs to be listened to from beginning to end. It's emotional, full of awesome hooks, anthems and is just one of the best albums of the year. The lead singer even described it as 'Pinkerton on steroids' and whilst it might not be the epitome of perfection of that album, it still is worthy of that name. In any other year I might have proclaimed this as the best album of the year, but of course we still have three albums to go. Now those have to be outright incredible

3. Tarot Sport - Fuck Buttons
A band I only discovered recently. Very much a spur of the moment download, it stems from a friend saying that no band with 'Fuck' in their name was good and from a very regular stream of tweets between directors Edgar Wright ('Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz') who was listening to this band whilst editing his new movie and Jason Reitman ('Juno') whom was in discussion of how good the album was. So I listened and was blown away. I'm a big fan of post-rock. No vocals and just instruments building to a climax and then slowly fading into the next song. So many different styles can be found on one album and bands like Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor corner the market, but Fuck Buttons are unique. Fronted by only two people, one raised on rock, the other electronica, we get a wholly unique creation. The birth child of Mogwai and Aphex Twin. 'Tarot Sport' is more easily accessible than 2008's 'Street Horrsing', whilst they're still loud and aggressive there's a lot more subtly. The songs will frequently be 9 or 10 minutes long and take you on a cinematic journey through sweeping epics. With only two albums under their belt, Fuck Buttons have cemented themselves as one of my absolute favourite British bands and I can't wait to see what 2010 has in store for them, I just hope we got more of the best electronic noise band in the world

2. Aim and Ignite - fun.
fun. didn't come from nowhere. fun. is kind of like a phoenix (not to be confused with French band Phoenix who put out a pretty incredible album this year), it rose from the death of another great band, The Format, the band that lead singer Nate Reuss was part of. Luckily fun. feels like an extension of their original sound. The Format had released the brilliant 'Dog Problems' just before they broke up which showcased a brilliant indie pop sound. fun. takes this sound and begis to go in so many different directions. The songs are vibrant, original, full of energy and ultimately unpredictable. There's so many different elements to all the songs and listing them all seems like a pointless en devour. It might not be as seamless as other albums I would normally proclaim as one of the best of the year, but when your album has songs such as 'Be Calm' (I love that song soooo much) then I can forgive it not being as seamless as my favourite album of the year. fun. wrote a pop album which should be the touchstone of the 'pop' albums we hear in the charts. It's uplifting, enlightening and no one could listen to this album without feeling happy afterward. Nate Reuss is one of the best vocalists in the world (so yes that does mean no auto tune) and I'd be a lot happier with the world if decent 'pop' music like that which fun. makes were topping the charts instead of artists like Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus. But I'm also a selfish bastard, and finding an unknown band like fun. is the half fun of music, the fact that I get to hear a new and refreshing sound before it gets bastardized by the corporations or (heaven forbid) covered for the X-Factor.

1. Act III: Life and Death - The Dear Hunter
Before I start this I would like to say, don't start with Act III of The Dear Hunter's six part epic, instead it's necessary to start with Act I and Act II, it shows the evolution of one of the most promising bands in the world. Concept albums are becoming startlingly common and whilst a lot of them are quite bad, Dear Hunter injects new life into the concept. All three of their albums are dense and it's almost a requirement to just sit and concentrate upon them. They're also so dense and it's draining to listen to them (although the hour long length doesn't help). The band have had two albums to experiment and now they come about to hone their sound, it still darts across so many influences and genres but it now sounds like The Dear Hunter, due in no part to the tremendous vocals and effort put in by Casey Crescenzo. So many different genres are littered throughout, jazz, ragtime, prog, rock, bluegrass, ballads. There are slow songs and fast songs but all come to together into a cohesive blend (again this an album that needs to be listened to in its entirety. If you've been listening to this band since the beginning then you know just how far they've matured, but if you're interested in them you need to start from the beginning and be a part of that journey. But for now we have to long wait for Act IV, whenever that might eventually come out.

And of course my favourite songs of 2009.

11. Lady Blue - As Cities Burn
My favourite song from of the most underrated albums of the year. Taking pieces from earlier songs on the album and even using a chain (?) as an instrument. Gang chanting make for a great song which was probably heard by far too few people.

10. Vices - Brand New
Chosen for more for the "Holy Fuck!" moment but an awesome way to kick of an album. Whilst all the momentum in this first song is lost by the awful 'Bed' (I really hate that song) it still stands as a glowing moment on the album which sadly finds itself so disconnected from the superb second half of the album

9. Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear
Sunshine-y indie pop music will litter this list but it was fantastic year for that sort of thing and this Beach Boys tinged song is absolutely superb (although the video is a tad creepy)

8. Crystalised - The xx
The very definition of headphone music. Minimalist beats with dual vocals mean not a single second of this song is wasted on extra elements

7. MK Ultra - Muse
The Resistance wasn't the second coming like many people were hoping and whilst it was a great album it doesn't hold a candle to Muse's other efforts but we still need to recognise the awesomeness of 'MK Ultra'. This was the yer that Muse showed they were fans of Battles ('Uprising') and Queen ('United States of Eurasia'). Hell they even wrote a symphony, but MK Ultra is the true centrepiece of The Resistance. Luckily Muse are still the best live band on the planet, so we can forgive them for the misstep that is 'Undisclosed Desires'

6. Doublespeak - Thrice
I could have chosen any song from Beggars but I chose this one mostly because it's cacthy, has a very cool piano and ends up being one of the heavier songs on the album. Plus references to 1984 are always welcome in my book.

5. I've Got Friends - Manchester Orchestra
The biggest anthem from the undeniably best rock album of the year. Whilst it's another one of those albums that lends better to be listened to all the way through, this lead single is an excellent in point for a band that just brought it in 2009.

4. Waterfalls - Moneen
I love all things acoustic and string. Moneen might be a rock band but they can do acoustic music like no other. Whilst this song is less acoustic than the one released on their EP earlier in the year, Moneen just know how to layer music to make already great songs even better.

3. My Girls - Animal Collective
Yes it's the most critically acclaimed song of the year and yes Animal Collective is now bigger than Jesus (in some circles) and now the backlash is coming in waves. So many people hate these guys but I'm not here to slam them, instead sing their praises for writing one of the most ingenious and near unanimously loved songs of the year/decade. Even haters have to admit the genius behind this one.

2. Surf Solar - Fuck Buttons
10 minutes long of just static I've heard this described as. Whilst that description does hold some weight I can't help but love this song and this band. The rises and the slowly layering of different elements. Rock purists might feel this is an electronic wank fest but honestly I couldn't give a fuck, one of the best songs of the year easily

1. Be Calm - fun.
No other song that came out this could touch this masterpiece. So many different elements make this song as awesome as it is. There's the string instruments, trumpets, accordian, Nate Ruess' vocals. Hell there's even a theremin used. A few months ago I was asked what my 'happy' song is. I can now safely say it's this song easily my most played of 2009.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Of Dexter Season 4

Well it's been a year, Dexter has come to an end once again. This really does mark an end to 2009 American television. Whilst Brits have a plethora of Christmas television to get excited all the big American shows are over. Glee ended last week, Mad Men has been of for weeks and we're now counting to the mid-season premieres of shows like Lost, Chuck and Breaking Bad.

Luckily 2009 ended in spectacular fashion for what has been a fantastic year in television. So Dexter Season 4 was a great improvement over Season 3. Whilst Season 3 was great, it larked the spark of Dexter in Season 1 and 2. Even though the show will probably scale to the heights of Season 1 and those tense last few episodes of Season 2, the show is still absolutely fantastic.

If you've followed my blog long enough then I'm sure you know that Michael C. Hall is superb as Dexter. One of those perfect character/actor blends. But I've spoken way to much about how great his performance in my other Dexter blog posts. So instead this year I'm going to focus on two other actors who made Season 4 so great.

Whilst Michael C. Hall takes almost all of the spotlight for the show, especially since he is named in the title, the other characters on the show are often overshadowed. Julie Benz as Rita is decent but comes off as a tad unlikeable. Also whilst LaGuerta and Batista are likable they're aren't the main draw for the show. The show has had tremendous talent such as Erik King's character of Doakes whose death was certainly one of the more annoying things about that second season finale and Jimmy Smits as Miguel Prado in Season 3 was absolutely brilliant.

But how was Season 4 going to top Jimmy Smits' performance? Well by hiring John Lithgow of course! John Lithgow was absolutely incredible this past season on the show as the Trinity Killer as one of the most detestable serial killers ever put to screen. He abuses his family and has killed four people a year for the past 30 years. Honestly this performance is a tour de force. He's someone you hate and yet whenever he's on screen you just can't look away. You know he could snap at any minute and whenever he's on screen it just ratchets up the tension a staggering amount. Truly one of the best performances that I've seen all year.

Then there was Jennifer Carpenter as Deborah Morgan. Whilst she might be as incredible as her real life husband Michael C. Hall, she holds her own and has to deal with some extremely tricky pieces of acting through the season. Reacting to her loves death at the hands of Trinity as well as finding out that the Ice Truck Killer (Season 1) was her step-brothers brother. She buoys all her scenes with some great emotional actor and has definitely moved on in leaps and bounds since Season 1.

This season of Dexter was interesting off the bat with the idea of that there was someone out there killing all these people and logically Dexter wanted to stop him, but was balancing this with his family and newborn son. However then the first twist of the season came. Trinity wasn't some loner, instead he was a family man, who went to church and built houses for the homeless. Whilst at first the season stalled after this, all was rectified by the time we got to 'Hungry Man'. An absolutely superb episode where we learned the true nature of Trinity and spun the season on to a truly fantastic final string of episodes.

Whilst in the end we all knew what the outcome would be, it was still so tense. Trinity was matching Dexter, and whilst he may not have been as closer as any of the innumerable killers that Dexter has had to dispatch, this one definitely had the biggest impact. Trinity was evil and had a system which he sadly managed to somewhat carry out in the finale episode of the season.

Many people have commented that ending to Season 4 of Dexter was similar to that of 24 Season 1 but that doesn't take away the impact. The finale was great up until that point including the poignant final scene between Dexter and Trinity but it's when we get to see the true extent of his evil. Trinity did not no other killer had done and killed someone close to Dexter, Rita. Those final few minutes of Dexter finding his wife in a bath tub of her own blood (echoing Trinity's first kill on the show) and his son on the floor, covered in her blood (echoing Dexter's own gateway to become a killer) were almost poetic. Upsetting but poetic but really leave us wanting to know what's going to happen in Season 5.

However this leads me to a final point. Whilst Dexter Season 4 was fantastic, the show NEEDS to announce an end date. Dexter is a show that has finite concept. We can't follow Dexter forever and the show needs to end soon. It also doesn't help that Season 2 felt like a final season and that we knew that Season 4 wouldn't be the last. The moment the show announces an end date the tension is really going to ratchet up to levels not seen since Season 2. Luckily the show managed to do something that changes the show this year but it would be nice for a two season arc, but every single season wraps everything in a bow which is quite grating (paticularly Season 2). So please Dexter, end next year whilst you're still on top. Sadly shows that get record breaking ratings in their fourth season don't go away easily. Ahh well Season 6 maybe?

In conclusion Dexter Season 4 was fantastic. It might not be better than Season 1 or 2 but was definitely better than the glacial Season 3 and actually did something that is going to change the show (hopefully for the better). John Lithgow was absolutely superb and we got the normal brilliance from Michael C. Hal. Now that the show has done something to significantly shake up the status quo going into their fifth season, I can't wait to see what happens next. Sadly we're going till next September to find out what the true impacts of this event were.


Monday, 14 December 2009

Of December 2009

Well it's December. And I do mean December. I'm writing this half way through the month so I apologise for the lateness. I would say I've been busy, which I have been, but honestly not too busy to keep putting off a blog post. However I will be doing a lot more later on in the month and early on in the New Year as part of a wrap up of 09 and the decade.

However first up is the important part. It's almost Christmas! Which brings with it the onslaught of Christmas Television! So lets get it started. First off, American television dies this time of year, so us British people have to rely on the shows that our country produces but luckily the best shows are normally on this time of year so that's a good thing.

First up the Glee premiere tomorrow on E4. I'll speak more about Glee in my Top 10 Shows of 2009 (spoilers) but for now if you want a very funny light show which has a very mean sense of humour whilst being on of the most fun shows on television (as long as you don't have any qualms with the idea of popular hits being played). Think of it as my Pushing Daisies replacement without the impeccable art direction and superb dialogue. (On other UK debuts HIMYM and Big Bang Theory start new seasons this Thursday also on E4)

Then are the current seasons of Gavin and Stacey and Top Gear which will be running throughout the Christmas period will have another Special episodes where they go to Bolivia which is guaranteed to be hilarious and Gavin and Stacey will be airing their last few episodes with the penultimate episode being moved to Christmas Day (two years in a row plus the episode that will be airing will only be set a few months after last years) and New Years Day where the last ever episode will air (*sob*).

Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe Review of 2009 will air December 22nd on BBC4 and is a much watch for anyone. The only real shame is that it isn't an entire series but we still get Charlie Brooker's absolutely perfect, biting criticism of the television industry as a whole. It's like Christmas will be coming early.

Then the inevitable elephant in the room, Doctor Who. David Tennat's last ever episodes as the Doctor and of course the BBC's pimping out of David Tennant with his stint as Hamlet airing on Boxing Day and Tennant appearing on shows such as QI and Nevermind the Buzzcocks. Doctor Who is taking over the BBC this year and with good reason. David Tennant was a superb Doctor and it will be sad to see him go, however next year marks the first year with Stephen Moffat in control which will be superb (particularly if rumours of a Neil Gaiman penned episode are true) If you aren't watching Doctor Who this year then something is seriously wrong with you (even if the second episode will probably disappoint).

Outnumbered will be airing a Christmas Special on 27th December but it's airing at 10:30 on BBC1, seems if anything a bit of a kick in the balls for one of the funniest shows on British television airing that late two days after Christmas. Especially when it's one of the few shows which has been able to find endearing and funny child actors (and of the best uses of ad-libbing I've ever seen).

Channel 4 will be airing countdowns of the best songs and TV shows of the decade so I'm curious to see what tops their list. Whilst the song list will probably be dire, the TV show will be forgiven as long as The Wire is at number 1 (or at the very least top 5). Those are both on various points after Christmas Day with the main one being New Year's Eve (however crammed in the middle is "Your Top 20 Celebrity Big Brother moments which thankfully Radio Times have not given their stamp of approval).

Also as the decade ends we get to revisit many brilliant shows with Sky2 spending all of December 30th re-airing Lost Season 5, whilst of course some of it will be censored, if you want to catch up for the inevitably jaw dropping Season 6 in February I'd watch just to remember all the important developments of Season 5. Also More4 from New Year's Eve onwards are doing a Graham Linehan marathon with all of The IT Crowd, Father Ted and Black Books airing for those who love British comedy it's a must see.

Whilst New Year's Day is going to be very busy what with David Tennat's last episode of Doctor Who (plus John Simm is in it and who doesn't love John Simm?) and last ever episode of Gavin and Stacey but Channel 4 are airing their Big Fat Quiz of the Year. Charlie Brooker is one of the contestants (on the same team as David Mitchell) and the only judge I want to see replaced is Claudia Winkelman, for whom I would love to see replaced by Noel Fielding as him and Russell Brand work so well together (even if you hate them). However it's on at the same time as Gavin and Stacey so I'd watch that first and then flip over (I have Sky+ so I can see both)

That should be about it in terms of Christmas television. Look out for my reviews of Doctor Who (they'll be reviewed separately) and Dexter Season 4 and Gavin and Stacey Season 3 (and possibly the show as a whole). Plus a review of Avatar and Where the Wild Things are! (but you probably know I'm lying).

I will also posting my Favourite Albums and Songs of the year/decade and my Top 10 Shows of 2009/decade like last year (without it being spread over 10 days like last year as I've already reviewed most shows on the list properly and it will get very boring to hear me raving repeatedly). I might do a movies list and I'm also looking for recommendations for best songs of the decade as it will be a list of 25 and I want to make sure I include a lot of genres on my list (not just my own personal tastes)

So for now I say goodbye and I wish my small reader base a Merry Christmas!!!

Currently Listening To: Christmas TV - Slow Club
Currently Reading - Blankets
Currently Watching (TV) - Big Bang Theory Season 2 (followed by Damages Season 1