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Opinion

The best albums of 2009

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February 5, 2010

As we find ourselves entering a new decade, it might serve us well to first take one last look back at the highlights of 2009, as there are a number of wideranging musical highlights full of genius and innovation worth both high critical praise and repeat listens.

“Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”—Phoenix: Fastpaced and filled from start to finish with optimistic, wide-eyed lyrical melodies, the brilliantly-titled “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” is a catchy triumph that finds the French rock trio conveying the best of The Strokes and The Killers to create this wonderful cocktail of instrumentals, hooks and disco. Highlights such as “Lasso” and the brilliant “1901” show the Frenchmen effortlessly channeling a naturally cool swagger that should vault them to superstardom.

“xx”—The xx: These four London youths combine echoy guitars, soft vocals and deep bass to create an impressively unique and atmospheric debut that is introverted and sometimes dark. Perhaps the best track on the album, “Crystallized,” is spacious, echoing and beautiful warning to an overeager lover. “I’ll forgive and forget / Before I’m paralyzed / Do I have to keep up the pace / To keep you satisfied,” singer Romy Madley Croft wonders out loud. Using an ultra-minimalistic formula, the British goth kids have concocted a tense, beautiful album that is both attractive and haunting.

“The Ecstatic”—Mos Def: Contrary to what Grammy results might lead you to believe, the best rap album of 2009 was mos def not “Relapse,” Eminem’s comical failure of an effort. Instead, on “The Ecstatic,” the eternally respected Brooklyn MC Mos Def mixes his deft poetic ability with jazz beats, R&B hooks and a sprinkling of foreign influences. “You can’t stop my go / I’ve been born to be where I am / Bright light from a distant Star / Miracles don’t stop,” he announces triumphantly on “Casa Bey.” The penultimate track “History,” Mos Def reunites with Black Star partner Talib Kweli and lays down a smart, nostalgic verse that shows he’s still at the top of his game.

“The Fame Monster”—Lady Gaga: Say what you like about garish costumes and thumping dance-club ubiquity, but the bottom line is that (like it or not) Gaga, who has churned out chart-toppers with astonishing regularity over the past year, is a figure who has reinvented the figure of pop queen like no individual since Madonna. “The Fame Monster” will probably repulse any non-fan, but offers an interesting glimpse into the life of this flamboyant, otherworldly figure. The explosive, attention grabbing, “Bad Romance,” (similar to “Poker Face,” except way more badass) is by far the best pop song of the year, and is clear indicator that the eccentric New Yorker is no Katy Perry. In other words, she’s here to stay.

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.

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.