Each year, we here at Delusions of Adequacy compile our consensus staff list and publish it for all to view. But every year, we are left with a few albums that we, as individual writers, feel should have made that final list. So in an effort to shine light on some of our forgotten favorites, we have provided an album each that we feel should have made our final list. And who knows, amidst all the diverse and various styles, you may come to find something and end up loving it too. By Bryan Sanchez
The Cubists – Mechanical Advantage
While its scope may be wide-ranging, Mechanical Advantage is hardly an inconsistent and rambling affair. At the core of each track is an experimental psych-rock/shoegaze aesthetic and an ethos to conjure up a compelling eddy of sounds that please the mind and satisfy the soul, no matter what the stylistic outcome. From poppy alt-rock that’s all sleek and gritty like something off a Spoon record, to punchy and textured guitar-rock like early Radiohead, to soft and airy synth lines and shoegazing guitar swirls that wouldn’t be out of place on a Deerhunter disc and abstract but soothing song structures with effects-laden and hazy electronics.
The Cubists prove they have a thirst for adventure and pop experimentation as they creatively transform their influences into an integrated and complex sound delivered in various arrangements with a multitude of instruments and effects. It is difficult to absorb all at once and it may take some open-mindedness and a few attentive spins before the brilliance of this mischievous, clever and diverse indie-rock album takes hold, but it is well worth the effort. By Matt the Raven
Guignol & Mischief Brew – Fight Dirty
Although Fight Dirty features two bands it’s definitely a cohesive joint effort, not a compilation. Comparisons to other popular bands that fit in to the rag-tag ethno-mashup bunch are obvious, but what Guignol & Mischief Brew have is something entirely different. The songs include elements of punk, folk, Celtic, gypsy, jazz, and more, but Fight Dirty stands alone as one of the most entertaining albums of its kind in 2009.
The number of styles these guys pull out of their musical hats is astounding and it’s hard to believe they don’t always play together. While some melting pot style bands mimic whatever traditional styles they can muster, many of these groups come off sounding forced. Despite having no take on the backgrounds of the members of Guignol or Mischief Brew, you get the distinct feeling that these guys have the Old World surging through their blood in tandem with their American-ness. By Jenn O’Donnell
Maribel – Aesthetics
Norway’s Maribel is the sonic love child of My Bloody Valentine and Serena-Maneesh. Band members Pål, Liv, Kjetil, and Lewi blend the dreamy with the dissonant, the melodic with the abrasive, and the languorous with the propulsive. The resulting mix achieves a tense balance between acute, relentless rhythms of pounded drums and cymbals, stinging and fuzzed-out guitar riffs and drones, floating layers of lucent, but impassive male and female vocals, and the sound of static that clings to all of the songs. For those awaiting with bated breath a new My Bloody Valentine album, it’s time to move on to Maribel. By Jen Stratosphere Fanzine
Flight of the Conchords – I Told You I Was Freaky
Whilst the second TV series of “Flight Of The Conchords” – and hence this tie-in album didn’t quite match the precision-focus of the first season and its long-playing companion – Kiwi self-exiles Bret Mackenzie and Jermaine Clement still delivered highly-addictive quality goods with I Told You I Was Freaky. Once again, the strength of The Conchords lies in affectionately satirizing portentous musical genre-definers, squeezing more lyrical gags than is strictly possible into 2-3 minute songs and sinking in melodic hooks that stand up to sustainable listening.
Through subverted hip-hop (“Hurt Feelings”), self-deprecating R&B (“We’re Both In Love With A Sexy Lady”), demented disco (“Too Many Dicks (On The Dancefloor)”), cod-reggae (“You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute”), barber shop a cappella (“Friends”), Baltic lamenting (“Petrov, Yelyena And Me”), hippie-balladry (“Rambling Through The Avenues Of Time”), ‘80s electro-pop (“Fashion Is Danger”) and unpretentiously divine twee-pop (“Carol Brown”), I Told You I Was Freaky is undoubtedly one of 2009’s most exuberantly eclectic guilty pleasures. Admittedly, it could prove to be an ephemeral choice by this writer, ripe for future embarrassment, but occasionally exulting something in the recent present isn’t such a bad thing. By Adrian Pannett
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge
Choosing this one is kind of cheating as it doubles as a live album and video of Lambchop’s now legendary performance at the Merge 20th anniversary shows. The consistently underappreciated band showed up 11 members strong, complete with a horn section, and plowed through a set showcasing their varying range of country, soul and late night ballads. Culminating in a frenzied performance of the little known “Give It,” a song by the electronic duo X-Press 2 & co-written by Kurt Wagner, found the Lambchop frontman leaping out of his seat like a crazed Southern preacher, twisting the mic stand, gesturing wildly, and so completely lost in the moment before reciting the chorus to “Once in a Lifetime.”
Beforehand, no one could have predicted their set would be the highlight to XX Merge but as it ended and the chills were dying down, everyone in the club knew it was a performance for the ages. Live at XX Merge is a brilliant reminder of how mesmerizing this band is, as well as serving as a trip down memory lane. By Matthew Smith
Mulatu Astatke and The Heliocentrics – Inspiration Information, Volume 3
Combining the talents of an Ethiopian jazz legend and recent trendsetters that are rightfully making a name for themselves, there is pure magic seeping through every corner of this astounding work. Unlike the music many of us are still salivating from Mulatu Astatke, these new works are entirely newly composed music that branches out into the world of jazz, funk, soul, hip-hop, electronic and, of course, African music.
The two’s contributions are hard to decipher because of their ability to meld their ideas into one boiling pot of delicious goods. The African chants that are combined with trumpet bellowing abruptly jump into a smattering of bumping funk on “Masenqo,” there’s also the boisterous Bari sax and rhythmic pounding of “Fire in the Zoo,” then there’s the mesmerizing sax work on the jazzy “Chik Chikka” and then the brooding, creeping trumpet and Coltrane-esque sax on “Dewel;” each is a representation that united, fit into one cohesive seam of musical brilliance. A collaboration that transcends any preconceived notion of art, or even time, the third volume in the Inspiration Information series is something that needs to be heard by all. By Bryan Sanchez
Jeremy Jay – Slow Dance
Too busy flying over moonbeams to cause much disturbance here on Earth, with his second full-length album, Slow Dance, Jeremy Jay flew under the radar. That’s a shame since he is one of the few musicians who isn’t already known across the world who is playing around with a theme of heroism of the rocker archetype, albeit with a splash of fantasy and corniness.
Best, he doesn’t just tell stories; he lives them. With minimal arrangements, pulling liberally from the traditions of R&B, garage, and new wave, and reminiscent of a more effeminate Jonathan Richman, Jay tells of walking the streets of a lonely town in a pea coat, riding a horse through the sky, cruising the local pizza club with his crew, dates of hot chocolate and ice skating, and a rocker transforming a roller rink into heavenly grounds. This is all executed with hooks that stick after the first listen and a charismatic self-confidence that gives the listener faith in the idea that those small heroes can remind you of the few big things worth living for. By Greg Argo
Passion Pit – Manners
You can thank Passion Pit and their exuberant 2009 debut for providing the city of Boston with a fresh sense of musical identity. With little to speak of for the past nine years (save the occasional Pixies anniversary or reunion), the Hub’s residents had no choice but to tout the rise of Irish punk rockers, The Dropkick Murphys, thanks in large part to a couple of Red Sox championships and placement on the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.
Then came along Manners, an unabashed sugar-fest of electronic dance rock that exploited all of its youthful whimsy with heavy doses of melodies, dense keyboard textures, and vocalist Michael Angelakos’ honeyed falsetto. Musings on human anguish and despair were juxtaposed with the most joyful synth-pop this side of the 1980’s. Just listen to the ear candy of “The Reeling” or “Sleepyhead” and try your damndest not to flail around in total ecstasy. By Adam Costa
Chord – Flora
Hailing from the Windy City come Chord – an innovative collective (not a ‘band,’ per se) that seeks to come together under the unifying expression of just that, the chord. This is the type of music that is realized only when the individual artists work towards the same transcendent goal: rich, textured drone created by methods of deconstructing a chord and dispersing each individual note to the composite members (Chord boasts a rotating roster of talented individuals). This gives their loosely structured pieces plenty of space for the expression of the given chord, while also creating a textured enormity that immerses the listener throughout. As they, themselves, say, “To be in the presence of chord achieved is transcendent.” By Kyle O’Donnell