Of the many releases seen in the music world last year, this one album seemed to stand out on the top album lists of 2009. Although not a new band by any measure, Phoenix has been treated as such by many as their latest album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, really projected them into the American spotlight.
The French band starts their breakout album with the upbeat song, “Lisztomania.” The catchy riffs carelessly thrown into the mix can keep any listener noticing different part of the song each time listened through. The track comes off as a bit eclectic because of this, but is a solid start to the album that closely follows the same musical line.
Following the first track comes the unavoidable “1901.” It is hard to miss this song on the radio, Cadillac commercials, or numerous TV shows and movies, and for good reason. The song can easily be put as the epitome of alternative rock. From the drums to the Vampire Weekend-esque vocals to the fast, lighty-distorted guitar and good use of synth, it incorporates elements that can be heard in every other alternative rock band out there.
After “1901,” the album mellows out with “Fences,” but doesn’t remain that way for long. The catchy “Lasso” and “Girlfriend” continues out the album, but nothing quite as worthy as the starting two tracks.
The problem the last three-quarters of the album faces is that each song is indistinguishable from the previous. After listening through the album a few times, each part of the album is memorable, but still impossible to divide up into distinct songs. The guitars and synth and vocals remain constant from start to end.
While the repetition is obvious, it is not necessarily a problem for Phoenix. As stated earlier, their sound is basically the epitome of alternative rock. By that reasoning, this entire album can really be viewed as a continuous work at the peak of alternative rock. However, little stands out after the first 10 minutes and fades into the background quickly.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is certainly deserving of its Grammy for Best Alternate Music Album since it is nothing but alternative from start to finish. However, some variety would have been nice. It’s not something to sing along to, but rather Grammy-winning background music. Good for fans of Vampire Weekend, Anberlin, and the Killers.
It’s officially 2010! That means that we can all take a few moments to judge the art and culture that 2009 wrought. Most people come up with lists based on personal feelings, record fidelity, or any number or other random factors. Here at Something Like Sound I’ve decided to take a slightly more objective and analytical approach. Rather than compiling my own list of “the best albums of 2009″ I decided to perform a statistical survey on what other people thought.
A few notes about the statistical methods employed here:
- The sample size was 35 lists, gathering mostly from local sources (such as Westword, Reverb, etc.). 35 is an important number in statistics because it is the lower threshold for large-sample stats. In all statistics more samples = better results. If I had time to do every list out there my certainty would go way up (but there’s simply not time for it).
- Ranking vs. Points: Most other surveys of this type use a linear scale where a rank of 1 correlates to a point value of 10, rank 2 with 9 points and so forth. This is fine and dandy, but does not give terribly distinct results. Therefore, I used a point/rank scale based on an exponential curve. The steep, immediate drop-off of this curve provided results that were slightly more interesting. (See the graph of Rank Vs. Points below, with information on the resulting coefficient of correlation).
- Most lists focused on “college rock” or “indie” records (read Westword’s description of the ambiguous genre here). So results are slanted toward such records. Sorry, there aren’t any heavy metal or country records on there.
- To find more “best of 2009″ lists go to Largehearted Boy, they’ve got an excellent and comprehensive collection of lists from around the world.
Without further ado, THE LIST!
- Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
- Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
- Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
- Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
- Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
- The Avett Brothers – I And Love And You
- The xx – xx
- The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
- Girls – Album
… and now some graphs!
To download an Excel file containing all raw data and graphs, click here.
Since this is the first bit of free time I’ve had since getting back from the weekend’s festivities, the review will be for both days. Similar to what I did for the Westword Music Showcase review, each band gets 50 words max.
Gregory Alan Isakov: The first set we saw all weekend was from one of Colorado’s best singer-songwriters. Gregory played a solid set, which included my favorites “Virginia May” and “Big Black Car.”
Speakeasy Tiger: We didn’t catch much of this set, but it reminded me of any number of 80′s girl-pop bands.
Lydia: It was my second time seeing this group, and I actually appreciated their set more having listened to their record. The vocals came off a little sharp, but in the end it turned out to be a well-rounded set.
Danielle Ate The Sandwich: Danielle was in her prime as she played to a packed crowd at the smallest stage. Along with her bassist Dennis, this was probably one of the best sets I’ve seen her put on.
Frightened Rabbit: Only caught a few songs there, really nothing to write home about.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: It was during this set that everything got soaked (and didn’t dry for the rest of the day). ‘Pains’ reminded me of The Clash mixed with a touch of the Smiths (at least Johnny Marr’s guitar tone).
OK GO: Their good song was good, although they didn’t have any treadmills in tow. It was danceable at best.
The Walkmen: Another set in the rain. I might have zoned out for a good portion of The Walkmen. They were good, but didn’t really have any songs that stood out.
M. Ward: While he did play a couple songs from Hold Time, I really wished he would’ve played more from that record. However, ending the set with “Roll Over Beethoven” had to be one of the highlights for the entire day.
Boulder Acoustic Society: We determined that these guys took all of the gypsy and punk aspects of DeVotchKa and boiled them down into pure energy.
Girl Talk: Perhaps the best set of the entire first day, Girl Talk didn’t let the rain keep things from getting good. It was like a high school dance on speed. Not only was it fun to dance to, I also found spotting where samples had come from as another layer of enjoyment.
Of Montreal: I was not prepared for what happened during this set. There were people in costumes and strange projections. It was probably equivalent to taking a bunch of acid then having a psychedelic trip. However, it was still an amazing set and a good way to end the day.
Note: We skipped Yeah Yeah Yeah’s headlining set to beat the traffic. Also, we were cold, wet, and feeling rather miserable.
A Shoreline Dream: We were at it early again the next day and caught this band’s day-opening set. It was rather odd to see such a dark, prog-rock set indoors while the noon-time sun was brightly shining outside.
Jim Mcturnan and the Kids That Killed the Man: I actually ran in to drummer John Fate the previous day and he encouraged me to catch this set. I have also determined that Mike Marchant is in every band in Denver. As far as the set went, I like how Westword described it: “Dinosaur Jr. minus ten 100 watt Marshalls, a few temper tantrums and the pretension.”
We Were Promised Jetpacks: One suggestion I have for Monolith next year is do something different with the indoor stages. We were promised a We Were Promised Jetpacks set, but were forced to wait in the lobby for most of the set since the room was at capacity. However, we did catch the amazing ending to the Broncos game while waiting there, so not all was lost.
There you have it, a review about a band that really didn’t involve the band at all. Actually what we did see was quite good.
Rahzel: I am still in awe of this man’s beat-boxing ability. He had a DJ up there with him, but often just ‘boxed the beats himself. Also, he could actually sing, not something that can be said of all rappers.
Monotonix: I really didn’t know what to expect here. It was like if Borat had a cracked out old-school punk rock band. It was definitely a highlight for the entire weekend.
The Dandy Warhols: Stoner music, ‘nough said.
The Thermals: This Portland group played through a number of mildly enthusiastic songs, including a Sonic Youth cover. Overall, the simplicity of this band had me a little bored.
HEALTH: Since I had a hard time getting any good pictures, I tried to take one that reflected how it felt to be there. A violent jumble of noise and drum beats, HEALTH’s set was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It shook me to the core, but had danceable beats at certain points.
French Horn Rebellion: I got really bored very quickly with this group. It was standard electro-pop with absolutely no attitude whatsoever.
Methodman & Redman: I’m fairly certain there was a cloud of weed-smoke floating over the amphitheater during their entire set.
Passion Pit: More dance music, although this stuff had a full band, so it was more enjoyable. However, I really could not find a way around the singer’s ridiculous falsetto, it was incredibly distracting.
Phoenix: Once again, a decent band, but no real stand-out songs. It was danceable and played well with the main stage atmosphere, but kinda fell short.
Chromeo: This Canadian duo outdid most of the other electro-pop acts in that they also played live instruments.
The Mars Volta: The headliner for the second night was not a let down in the least. The energy that singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez brought to the stage had people in a frenzy. They played through a number of newer songs before playing my favorites “Drunkship of Lanterns” and “The Widow.” At one point they even played “Eunuch Provacateur,” a song from their first EP saying it was a response to the breakup of At The Drive-In.
Suggestion for how to actually sell out Monolith next year: Get At The Drive-In to reunite and play a one-time-only show.
Overall, Monolith was a good weekend, although there were several times during Saturday that I felt like going home (the weather was bringing me down). Overall there were a few gems in there, but for the most part it was a lot of hipster-dance and fairly generic rock.