Best Albums of August & September 2009
Lovable monsters, Middle Eastern obsessions, and why good things only get better with time.
By Maria Popova
August and September have been extraordinarily good months for music, with new releases ranging from remarkable debuts, to much-anticipated new albums by old favorites, to fantastic soundtracks. Here are 8 of our favorites.
VIVIAN GIRLS EVERYTHING GOES WRONG
A 2008 critic darling, Vivian Girls faced great expectations for their sophomore album. And, we have to be honest, the first time around, we really didn’t think the indie duo lived up.
But we’re glad we gave Everything Goes Wrong a second shot. And then a third. And a fourth. And a fifth… Punchy and bold, it’s one of those albums that just keep getting better with every listen.
Favorite track: The End.
THE BIG PINK A BRIEF HISTORY OF LOVE
Trippy and surreal, The Big Pink‘s debut album is difficult to describe — it’s a brilliantly paradoxical mix of fast and slow, sharp and soft, easy and restless. Hear for yourself.
Favorite track: The title one, A Brief History of Love.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE SOUNDTRACK
We fell in love with the pairing of dicrector Spike Jonze and vocalist Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs ever since that wonderful “Hello Tomorrow” adidas commercial. Now, the soundtrack to Jonze’s much-anticipated latest piece of magic makes us love the pair even more. It makes the kid in you hold hands with your inner musicologist as the two stroll together through whimsical forest of modern storytelling.
Favorite track: Hideaway.
A FINE FRENZY BOMB IN A BIRDCAGE
At SXSW 2007, we instantly knew Alison Sudol, a.k.a. A Fine Frenzy, was a force of talent to be reckoned with. Her debut album was an indisputable testament to this, and her much-anticipated follow-up, A Bomb In A Birdcage is every bit as brilliant.
Violins, piano, and an undercurrent of meticulously chosen drum beats give the album an incredible range of sound and emotion as you get lost in her perfect, perfect voice.
Favorite track: Blow Away.
PRINCETON COCOON OF LOVE
We first heard (of) Princeton at this year’s SXSW, where they made waves with The Waves, and we were instantly captured by their Beatlesque vibe bent through a prism of Scandinavian harmonies and instrumentals. Their new album, out last week, lived up to our expectations, and then some.
Cocoon of Love is an eclectic yet consistently excellent anthology of stylistic allusions to indie icons — think Fleet Foxes meet Belle & Sebastian — wrapped in a sound completely their own and dipped in a rich sea of cinematic orchestra instrumentation.
Favorite track: Calypso Gold.
ZERO 7 YEAH GHOST
We’ve loved Zero 7 for years and years and years, ever since the Imogen Heap days.
This year, Yeah Ghost comes as a curious mix of meh and wow. But with the help of Sia, one of our all-time favorite vocalists, they manage to deliver a fw crownjewels on their existing crown of excellence. We even toy with considering Swign the best track they’ve ever recorded.
Favorite track: Swing.
VANDAVEER DIVIDE & CONQUER
There aren’t many 5-star tracks in our iTunes library, especially ones coming from the same album. But Vandaveer’s sophomore album, Divide & Conquer, is a string of 4-stars-and-up excellence.
This isn’t “light” music — it’s drunken with a powerful heaviness that puts the weight of the world on your head as you bob it. From the haunted acoustic guitar, to the profound piano, to the intense lyrical sensibility, you just can’t stop listening in a hurts-so-good kind of way.
Part Citizen Cope, part Paolo Nutini, part something else entirely, Vandaveer — spearheaded by Mark Charles Heidinger, with vocalist Rose Guerin — bring a brilliant balance of male and female vocals, reminiscent of that Damien Rice / Lisa Hannigan dynamic that we miss so much.
Favorite track: Turpentine.
TAKEN BY TREES EAST OF EDEN
We love everything Victoria Bergsman is involved in. You may know her as the female vocal on Peter Bjorn & John’s now-iconic Young Folks, or know her band, The Concretes. But her solo project, Taken By Trees, has been making us smile since 2006.
Taken By Trees’ latest album takes those same haunting-sweet vocals, and layers them on top of a Middle Eastern acoustic sensibility. East Of Eden was inspired by Victoria’s travels to Pakistan — and you can hear it every perfect drum beat, in the superb flutes and enchanted backvocals that adorn her typically rich lyrics.
Favorite track: Day By Day, a beautiful anthem to a bittersweet obsession.
For more curated music, check out tune of the moment, our Tumblr spin-off, where each day, you can listen to a full track that’s making us smile.
Published October 2, 2009