Trevor’s Corner 2 – My Albums That Didn’t Make The List

It’s been quite a year, and what better way to celebrate the coming of 2010 by talking about 2009 some more? Let’s jump right into it; these are some of my favorite albums of the previous year that didn’t quite make Avery Island’s Top 25 List.

Aim and Ignite by fun.

Why It Should Have Made the List: One part Jellyifish, one part Queen, all parts Indiepop bliss. Whether or not you can stomach the pure bubblegum amount of sunshine and fairy dust on this album is up to your own judgment, but for those of us who can dig into an album despite these things, you’ll find a very rich, very catchy work of indie and powerpop. “Be Calm” is easily one of the best tracks of the year, with catchiness that even Phoenix couldn’t match. Things stay just as sentimental and sweet on tracks like “Benson Hedges” and “Light A Roman Candle With Me”, and some tracks like “The Gambler” are just plain heartwrenchers; the tale of a man growing older (with a good “50” years left) with his childhood sweetheart. He’s looking back on his life, of raising children, meeting his wife and falling in love at “second sight”, and more Hallmark moments. It’s a love letter, one that is all sentimental, and all overly-dramatic, but the lyrical chops displayed here are too good to make it just another piano ballad. The entire album is thick in horns, strings, and other whimsical instruments, the most prominent of which is the voice of Nate Ruess, who can belt it out like few others, at some points channeling Freddie Mercury in a way that not many can.

Why It Didn’t Make The List: Well, even for someone like me, who stomachs early Weezer, the Cars, The New Pornographers, and other power pop bands fine, even fun. can get just too sweet. The “ooh’s” and “ah’s” get to be a bit much in too many places, and beside this, the album itself isn’t filled to the brim with excellent songs; some fall flat, especially after the best and most energetic songs are the first two. Some songs like “I Wanna Be The One” get much too cute with the self-referential “put it a song” lyrics and “Walking the Dog” is a bit too much with the Afropop; leave it to Vampire Weekend guys. Despite the strength of songs like “Be Calm” and especially “The Gambler”, apart from these two, many of the songs lack anytype of narrative or lyrical punch, most of the words being empty hook-makers. Too much sugar, not enough substance and some songs that fall flat keep this one from greatness, but there is some true shining brilliance on this album. Just not quite enough for the top 25.

Album by Girls

Why It Should Have Made the List: Some guys just don’t get any breaks; Christopher Owens is one of those guys. We’ve all heard about his trials and tribulations in his early life, but forget about all that. Rather than take up an acoustic guitar and belt out bullshit and whining, instead he puts his pain into making some truly great pop songs like “Laura” or “Lust For Life”. These songs are truly catchy, with some of the best hooks this side of Rivers Cuomo in his basement circa 1994, and the bass work by Chet “JR” White, who pics out some truly great lines, is one of the highlights for sure. Apart from the pure pop chops on display, we have some truly great moments, like the outro of “Ghost Lips” or the Post-Chorus/Outro of “Laura”, both of which are lingering and wandering, yet incredibly evocative. Moments like this aren’t exactly peppered out, but when a song works on this album, it works in a big way.

Why It Didn’t Make the List: What it comes down to is that this album, much like Aim and Ignite, has some serious front-loading issues, with huge hits like “Lust for Life” and “Laura” raising the bar to 10, only to have the album never really make it back to that level, or anywhere really close. Owens himself is a lot like Rivers Cuomo in the fact that both are very self-deprecating, but where as Rivers seems to be in on the joke these days (and less interesting as a result), Owens is totally unaware of this. This makes for some truly great lyrics, with “Big bad mean Motherfucker” in particular standing out; however, other than this, many moments on the album feel lyrically mute. He has a lot to say, but he chooses some truly dopey ways to do so, as well as just not trying at all. Sometimes he seems like is incapable of expressing himself, with “Lust For Life” and “Hellhole Ratrace”, the two lead singles, being particularly vapid. They’re obvious and less empathetic as a result. Lyrical shortcomings and mixing aside, what we have here is a purely terrific work of pop that even Elvis Costello would be proud of; unfortunately, it doesn’t really add to much.

Logos by Atlas Sound

Why It Should Have Made the List: Bradford Cox has taken some huge leaps forward as of late (late starting some time last year); Deerhunter have never sounded better, or clearer for that matter, and he’s even starting to come out of his shell a bit. He may be a little too proud of his condition, what with his lanky arms and crooked smile getting a little too close for comfort, but who can blame the guy? He’s a big goof, and a pretty lovable one at that. However, you wouldn’t be able to tell this from his music, which strides dark themes such as abandonment, disintegration, alienation, death, and other things that bands like the Flaming Lips usually make sound like a cakewalk. On Logos, he has truly developed as far as writing those juicy hooks, with songs like “Sheila” and “Walkabout” being some of the best and catchiest songs released this year. He truly shines in the presence of others, with every guest track being a goldmine of pop sensibility and great songwriting.

Why It Didn’t Make the List: Well, inbetween these shining moments, there isn’t much to talk about. Most of these songs feel a bit flaccid, like Deerhunter B-sides destined for single releases. In particular, songs like “Criminals” and “My Halo” sounding like they’re there just to take up space between the gargantuan hits like “Walkabout”. Apart from that, the album really just doesn’t add up to much; it’s concave and lacking any real ruffage or weight, much like the man on the cover (Cox himself). That’s not a stab at him; it’s a stab at the moments that just feel dull and drag on an album that is already pretty short, especially for the guy who wrote Cryptograms. However, the good songs on here are really damn good, it’s just that once their over, you have to wade through his back catalog to get to the next one.

The Blue Record by Baroness

Why It Should Have Made the List: First of all, this has got to be one of the best album covers I’ve seen all year; many people complain that these two seem a bit thick, but they’re some fine specimens to me. Beyond that, the cover sounds exactly like the music inside of it, meaning this piece of sludge metal phantasm sounds like an aquatic, mythical masterpiece. While it may not be a masterpiece, they try their best to make it so, with great riffs, excellent drum fills, and some truly shining moments like “The Sweetest Curse” and “O’er Hel and Hide” sounding like they came straight off of a viking’s stained garbs. The album is just plain made to sound like a mythical take on the typical Progressive Sludge Metal sound, ringing true like not many other metal bands can more often than not.

Why Id Didn’t Make the List: Well, this album also sounds a lot like something else; Mastodon. It’s obvious, it’s glaring, they even come from the same area on the South. It isn’t that big of a deal, but the more you think about it, the more you realize that the biggest thing this album lacks is not riffs or lyrical power, but originality. Many bands have done this take on Neurosis many times, and lots of bands have done it better. The album is good in it’s own right until you realize Mastodon have done this album twice over as it is, Intronaut did it last year, and Giant Squid did it this year as well. This doesn’t make it a bad album, in fact quite the opposite, but it does make it an unoriginal one.

The Ecstatic by Mos Def

Why It Should Have Made The List: Alex and I argue over many things; one of the big ones is Hip-Hop. No, not if it deserves respect or not (It does.), but rather who we like and who we don’t. I like Kanye West. She doesn’t. She likes Wale. I can leave him. However, when it comes to Mos Def, that’s a whole other deal. I think Black On Both Sides is his best album, Alex thinks it’s Black Star, his collaboration with Talib Kwali. But beyond this, we can both agree on one thing with certainty:  The Ecstatic is the best album he’s made in a decade. Between Black On Both Sides and this release, he’s had much more success as an actor (I love me some Be Kind, Rewind) and gone rather flaccid as a rapper. This is far from true on his newest album, with Def sounding tighter than he ever has, whether it be soothsaying in Spanish or going Lupe Fiasco on “Supermagic”. He’s back, hopefully for good this time.

Why It Didn’t make the List: Well, here’s the hard part; there’s not really anything wrong with the album overall. Most songs songs sounding fresh and tight enough to stand on their own, the production is quite good, the lyrics themselves are also quite good. To be honest, this would have been the Hip-Hop album of the year on the list, but to be honest, 2009 wasn’t really that great of a year for the genre; Wale had a debut that wasn’t as good as his mixtapes, Raekwon’s album was overrated, Kid Cuddi was too MTV, and other than that, the year was rules by the idiotic likes of Gucci Mane and OJ da Juiceman. This album looks like solid gold compared to those, but it also isn’t quite good enough to make the top 25. It doesn’t add up to much when you don’t compare it to the Rap drought and his previous crap releases, which is the real tragedy. Get this album, it deserves your attention, but it wasn’t quite memorable enough to make the list.

Middle Cyclone by Neko Case

Why It Should Have Made the List: Neko Case is a strange one; a beautiful voice that sings about violence, death, and the south. She’s a tornado, a Killer Whale, and she tapes frogs as a closing track (for 30 minutes…). She can also write a Alternative Country song that would put even Jeff Tweedy to shame, and on this album, she does. “This Tornado Loves You” and “People Got A Lotta Nerve” are Case at her best and her catchiest, and the rest of the album is full of little gems like “Vengeance is Sleeping” and “I’m An Animal”, and even odd takes like “The Next Time You Say Forever” can stand on their own. This is her best album that wasn’t made with the New Pornographers. Period. Also, that cover is just too fucking cool.

Why It Didn’t Make the List: Well, there is the matter of some songs just not being able to stand up on their own; this may be her best album, but she continues to take one step forward and two steps back. Gone are the lingering and wandering of Fox Confessor, but now we deal with songs that are so forgettable that they are ephemeral in the worst ways. Also, did I mention that the last track is 30 minutes of frogs taped from her backporch? There’s appreciation, there’s evocation, and then there’s annoyance. It’s telling of her dedication to her way of life and her quirks, but these same things are the reason this album tends to drag, no matter how short some of these tracks tend to be. However,  with whats on display here, when it works, it works really well, but when it doesn’t, you can expect it not to for some long stretches of time.

Act II: The Father of Death by The Protomen

Why It Should Have Made the List: If the name sounds familiar to you, then you officially are now nostalgia-bombing; if you’re like me and are a complete and utter nerd, you know this to be the name of Mega Man’s brother from the Mega Man series (Did I mention I write for a videogame site typically?). However, this album is far from childish. What we have here is a group of very talented musicians doing their take on the Mega Man mythology in a way no other band ever has, and that is via rock opera. The album takes on a variety of styles, with songs like “Father of Hope” being straight out of a Western Stand-off and “The Hounds” being right out of a swing dance routine. The album is pure, over-dramatic genius, with tracks like the aforementioned “The Hound” being some of the best this year has heard, videogame-based or not.

Why It Didn’t Make the List: Well, much like Mos Def, there’s really nothing particularly wrong with the album, with each track being very well-written and extremely well-produced for an independent videogame-related release. The album bleeds style and tongue-in-cheek humor, making for a very interesting, very catchy listen that will stay in your head for a while. It’s a very memorable album, and the lyrics themselves can be at once very funny and at another point very unexpectedly effective. Really, what it comes down to is that this album has a very limited audience, and familiarity with the Mega Man games is a very big enhancer. Without it, this sounds like a very overly-dramatic bunch of nonsense, which is a bit of a problem. However, to say so would clearly be ignoring the fact that that its kind of the point. This is easily the best piece of videogame-related music produced yet (Not actual videogame music), and it deserves your attention; it may surprise you how much you get into it. If you’re like me, this is easily top 25 material, but if you’re not in on the “joke”, then it’s not quite on that level.

Born Like This by DOOM

Why It Should Have Made the List: Well, apart from Mos Def, there was at least one other great Hip Hop album this year, and you’re looking at it. MF Doom is back as DOOM, which isn;t so much an acronym as it is an exclamation. What’s it exclaiming? Not really anything, but it does kind of signify everyone’s favorite deep throat MC; as his name gets bigger and bigger, his message gets clearer and clearer. This album is one dark Hip Hop album, with footholds in racism, death, the apocalypse, and other themes we typically see on any release by the Man with the mask. With a voice that gets deeper and deeper with every release, we hear DOOM at his angriest, with Anglo-Saxon bashing on “Ballskin” and a nice big slab of homophobia on “Batty Boys” (Which is obviously meant to be a joke, but still kind of incriminating). However, with some excellent guest spots and the best track he’s ever put out in “Cellz”, which features a cryptic opening of Charles Bukowski’s “Dinosuaria, We” read by the man himself, the album easily earns an accolade, even in a discography as top-notch as Viktor Vaughn himself.

Why It Didn’t Make the List: Well, here comes the hard part; coming up with a reason this didn’t make the list. To be honest, there are just a few niggling details that keep it from making it big. For one, some tracks just don’t cut the mustard, with “Lightworks” in particular being quite annoying, and others like “Microwave Mayo” seem to have no point at all. The biggest problem with the album however, is that it lacks an ass. What I mean specifically is that after “Cellz”, there isn’t much to stick around for. “Still dope” is only okay, and everything after that point are the weakest tracks of the album, and when that means that 6 songs aren’t particularly interesting, that’s a big problem. Don’t let it distract from an otherwise excellent Hip Hop album, but don’t expect much to stick around for after the halfway point.


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