The Best of 2009: Music

It’s tough for me some times to make lists about new music releases, especially recently. I don’t want to say that I’m completely out of touch with today’s music, though to some extent that is the case. The main issue, truly, is that I haven’t given myself many avenues to find new music. I gave up on the radio years ago. I don’t watch any music television stations or listen to Pandora or anything like that. For the most part, I have a selection of music/bands that I like, and I tend to stick to them through the years. I still discover new bands from concerts (The Exit) or Rock Band (MUTEMATH), but the pickings are slim. Still, I’ve managed to cobble together five music releases from 2009 (three albums and two EPs) that I could use to make a list. So let’s do this.

5. That Handsome Devil — Enlightenment’s for Suckers (EP; Modern Savage Records)

The first of two five song EP’s on this list. That Handsome Devil is one of those bands I know exists entirely from Harmonix Music Systems, thanks to “Elephant Bones” being featured as a bonus song in Guitar Hero 2. Enlightenment’s for Suckers is the follow up to 2008’s A City Dressed in Dynamite, one of the best albums released last year. Considering the quality of the band, this release is almost a let down. There are two excellent songs, the opener “Bullet Math” and the closer “Johnny Wouldn’t Die,” and while I enjoy the follow up to “Viva Discordia,” (“Eristocrats”) and “Stockholm Syndrome,” there is something missing here. The songs are all good, but they lack the punch of the band’s superior first two efforts. For five bucks, it’s well worth it, but there is a twinge of disappointment hiding behind the scenes.

4. Tom Waits — Glitter and Doom Live (Live LP; Anti)

If not for the unbelievably fantastic full live concert from the Glitter and Doom tour that NPR released as a free podcast last year, this would probably rank higher. It might be unfair, but there isn’t really a whole lot of new on this for me. Of course, it’s Tom Waits, and the performances caught on this album are fantastic, but I’ve heard these songs live before, so they lack the impact. Also, the second disc, which contains one 35 minute track called “Tom Tales,” is very good and enjoyable, but once again, I’ve heard most of it before on other releases and bootlegs I’ve acquired post-Glitter and Doom tour. It’s a great album for the more casual Waits fan that hasn’t heard much from this tour. Much like That Handsome Devil, I don’t regret buying it, but I probably should have gotten more out of it than I did.

3. MUTEMATH — Armistice (LP; Warner Brothers)

Ah, here we go. I fell in love with MUTEMATH when “Typical” was released as downloadable content for Rock Band and realized that it’s probably the single most fun drum track ever released for the platform. Their first album is great, and this new release might be better. “Backfire” is a blistering opening track, with lead singer Paul Meany’s distinctive part Peter Gabriel part Sting vocals in full force. The whole album is a heady mix of rock hooks and electronic samples with some fantastic drum work throughout. It is very much a full sophomore effort, as the band has quite apparently taken all steps to improve themselves, and have managed to do so in nearly every way. There may not be a song as single ready as “Typical” or as mesmerizing as “Stare at the Sun,” but as an overall effort, it is exceedingly strong.

2. Nonpoint — Cut the Cord (EP; 954 Records)

Nonpoint just sorta decided to release a five song acoustic EP about a week back. As someone who loves Nonpoint, I was tickled when I found out about this one. I can say without reservation that Nonpoint is the single best hard rock/nu-metal band to come out of the late-90’s, early 2000’s rap rock boom. Much of this, I will admit, is credited to Elias Soriano’s vocal talents. He might legitimately be the best vocalist in the rock world right now. But what I really love about Nonpoint, and by extension this album, is their refusal to follow genre conventions. Cut the Cord consists of five rerecorded acoustic versions of songs from their early career (two from Statement, two from Development, and one from Recoil) with brand new arrangements to fit the more relaxed sound. The Development tracks are the true stand outs. I love that Elias and the group can make “Circles,” a song about racing cars, into this plaintive ballad with gorgeous harmonic chords and a sparse effective drum part. Hell, I love all of it. These are wonderful versions of old gems, and the audacity of mellowing out “Victim” is a treat. This $5 EP is essential for any fan of good music and good vocals.

1. Mastodon — Crack the Skye (LP; Reprise Records)

There wasn’t really a doubt for this one. Thunderous. The single best progressive rock album released since its heyday in the early 70’s (we’re talking about Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound and King Crimson’s Red as the last prog albums as good as this one), and an absolute masterpiece of a record. I need to own this on vinyl at some point. Mastodon has reached their full potential, as the line of evolution can be easily tracked from Leviathan to Blood Mountain to this. It’s a giant, sprawling epic that twists and turns through loud and soft passages, through machine gun drum fills and shredding guitar solos, through impossibly complex riff interplay and the triple headed vocal monster of Troy Saunders, Brent Hinds, and Brann Dailor. Dailor himself is in rare form here, effortlessly laying down some of the best drums tracks of the decade. Sure, the story is completely meaningless drivel, but you could really say the same thing about The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The music is what matters, and this is the best music I’ve heard in years. “Divinations” has the power and the fury of the greatest examples of the genre, churning and swirling through three minutes of chaos. “The Czar” is ten minutes of wonder. Everything comes to a head with “The Last Baron,” the thirteen minute closing track that puts long form progressive rock songs back on the map. It feels natural at thirteen minutes, and to be honest, I couldn’t imagine it being any longer or shorter. It’s just like the rest of the album: Perfect.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more of the best of 2009.

This post was written to the tune of Tom Waits’ Glitter and Doom Live


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