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Opinion

Reviewer highlights top albums of the year

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April 23, 2009

April may seem like an unusual time to compile an annual “Best Of” list, but because the end of the semester is only a few weeks away, I thought it would be a great idea to present a handful of the musical highlights of the year thus far.

Andrew Bird—“Noble Beast:” Lyrically scholarly and wholly original, Bird once again wields multiple instruments like weapons to conjure up an offering that is both poetic and fresh. At best, it seems perfectly melodious and baroque, with attention paid to every minor detail. Bird is a whistling, virtuoso violinist in a class of his own, which is made obvious by convoluted lines such as, “proto-Sanskrit Minoans to porto-centric Lisboans / Greeg Cypriots and Hobishots / Who hang around the ports a lot.” Any questions?

Röyksopp—“Junior:” After a four-year absence, the Norwegian duo is back again with an echoing, cracking record that is equally likely to satisfy hardcore fans and casual listeners. Their “The Girl and the Heart” pulsates with a vibrating synth heartbeat, while “Tricky Tricky” buzzes as the electropop vibe waxes and wanes. Listening to this record is like taking a step into the future. It’s hard to not be swept away.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart—“The Pains of Being Pure at Heart:” Channeling The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, the New York indie-rockers give birth to a shy, quiet classic that radiates with brilliance at every turn. Filled with fuzz, the album radiates with a bright, sublime atmosphere, highlighted by the tracks “Gentle Sons” and “Come Saturday.”

Amadou & Mariam—“Welcome to Mali:” The latest effort from the blind African husband-wife duo is world music at it’s best. Carried by an infectious rhythm and unmistakable chemistry, the couple joyously glides through 15 tracks of multilingual bliss. They draw upon inspiration from across the globe, including reggae croons and Latin beats, creating a purely enjoyable hybrid of passion and soul.

Neko Case—“Middle Cyclone:” The title says it all. The talented singer-songwriter channels a whirlwind of animalistic qualities—hunger, desire, anger—into a collection of emotional revelations that range from hopeful to brooding. Whether Case is evoking naturalistic imagery on the track “Magpie in the Morning,” or imagining herself as a killer whale with “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” every word drips with authentic emotion and self-awareness.

Bruce Springsteen—“Working on a Dream:” No list would be complete without The Boss, and no one can tap into the American consciousness like Springsteen. No one can drive an entire stadium crowd into a frenzy quite like him either. He even possesses the power to make the Super Bowl Halftime Show not suck. “I search for the human things in myself, and I turn them into notes and words,” he once said. “And then in some fashion, I help people hold onto their own humanity.” Through a series of poignant portraits, this album does just that.

Franz Ferdinand—“Tonight:” Scottish dance-rock extraordinaires Franz Ferdinand turn down the volume but come equipped with a heavy supply of their trademark catchy-as-hell riffs mixed with elements of techno to compliment the dance-infused choruses. The Glasgow quartet comes energized and ready for a night of partying, armed with heavy bass, keyboards and endless enthusiasm.

The Dream—“Love vs. Money:” After writing mega-hits for the likes of Beyonce (“Single Ladies”) and Rihanna (“Umbrella”), The Dream finally emerges from behind the walls of the studio with a soulful chorus of pop hits and slow jazz numbers filled with contagious hooks. Featuring a plethora of ballads about Dream’s sex life, no one can argue with him when he brags, “Cupid ain’t got shit on me.”

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.