Twelve Months, Ten Albums: (Some of) The Top Albums of 2009 Wednesday, Dec 16 2009 

The Decomposed Blog is changing. Yes, I’m opening up our end of the year feature with a manifestation about the blog itself, rather than about the music that will soon be discussed at length, but that’s the point of the masturbatory blog-o-sphere. Still, I think this announcement will be important enough to warrant your forgiveness. Starting once this post is finished, The Decomposed Blog will officially become a group effort. I have recruited four of the best minds in music to share in this wonderful rotting corpse. You’ll come to know them and love them (and hate them), but we’re all here to do the same thing: to go way over-the-top and under-the-radar to express any and all musical opinions we have. Max, David, Evan, and Tim will be joining me from here on out. Also, there will be a new layout pretty soon. Are you excited? Yes, you are.

So without any further adieu, we collectively present our take on (some of) the top albums of 2009. Scroll down further for pop-punk, indie rock, radio R&B and other delicious goodies. If you like what you see, tell your friends and follow us on twitter for more pretentious warbling.

Note: These albums are in no particular order. Also, in no way are we insisting these are the best albums released this year; they’re just our personal favorites, or the best we’ve heard.

Bradley Hathaway – A Mouth Full of Dust

From the opening strums of “Covered in the Blood,” it’s clear that Bradley Hathaway isn’t here to tickle our fancies; the endearing poet-turned-songwriter has a bitterness weighing down his heart, and he can’t dance a single step until it’s been removed. He sits in the middle of a cold, dark cabin with his acoustic guitar, crying out in his weak, quavering voice for peace. His words perfectly balance poetic elegance with conversational intimacy. The somber heaviness is a bit unsettling, but even more unsettling are the moments when he isn’t alone, when songs like “Momma” are enveloped in an otherworldly crescendo of cello, electric guitar, bass, piano, and percussion. As much as this word is overused, A Mouth Full of Dust is truly epic. At the same time, it is also deeply personal. All the stark moments of the album are dark and cold simply because they’re empty. The weight on his heart is the weight of loneliness, the need to belong and give love and be loved, and not just that romantic kind. The darkness isn’t impenetrable, though. In “Look Up,” Bradley finds moments of respite in the gorgeous moon and stars of the night sky and the twinkling in a stranger’s eyes. Even here one can feel the pain in his voice, but that pain somehow doesn’t matter anymore.


P.O.S. – Never Better

Never Better isn’t the album of the decade. There may even be better albums this year. Perhaps some of them are hip-hop albums. But the fact is, none of those hip-hop albums feel as original as P.O.S.’s does. Where “Drumroll (We’re All Thirsty)” juxtaposes rapidfire marching band-style drum parts with the MC’s equally fast flow, rapping about the recession, his rap crew (Doomtree) and the violent overthrow of your suppressors, Jay-Z spent the year collaborating with Alicia Keys while Kanye made a fool of himself and Lil Wayne got arrested. P.O.S. doesn’t use racial epithets or homophobic slurs, endorses Pabst Blue Ribbon, references late comedian Mitch Hedberg, and samples Fugazi- none standard fare for a rapper, especially in 2009, where Auto-Tune and “swagger” rule the charts. P.O.S. and fellow Doomtree-er Lazerbeak produce the album, and the production never falters- from the fresh, tragic feel of “Been Afraid” to the use of cups as the basis for “Optimist.” Never Better is a bold move, and it’s just another example of the great music coming out of the Minneapolis hip-hop scene. P.O.S. stands above his contemporaries because he has so much heart and something original to say. He’s not rapping about “guns, bitches, and bling,” he’s rapping about what it means to be an American in contemporary society – from Obamamania to the freezing-cold Minnesota snow. Never Better is something fresh, and something that sticks with you- a commodity in this world of “Party in the U.S.A” and “I Gotta Feeling.” The world needs a voice like P.O.S.’s here and now in 2009.


Bomb The Music Industry! – Scrambles

Right to the point- Scrambles is absolutely the most diverse album released this year.

Honestly, between its opener, the frantically acoustic lo-fi jam “Cold Chillin’, Cold Chillin’,” and the 21st-century ska-punk anthem “(Shut) Up The Punx!,” there’s little in common aside from the amazing energy that pervades the entire album. When frontman Jeff Rosenstock croons “If you don’t find a steady job now / If you don’t find someone to love now / You will die freezing cold and alone” over the Springsteen-influenced “Fresh Attitude, Young Body,” you feel his pain. He spends the rest of the album touching on everything from 9/11 to bands ruining the punk scene to feeling old and irrelevant. A case could be made for “Stuff That I Like” being song of the year.- where else are you going to hear an anti-drug, pro-bicycle party anthem that bitches about train fare that still find time in its last breath to shred like it’s the very last party on Earth? Musically, lyrically, and emotionally, Scrambles runs the gamut of everything you need to hear and feel in 2009 in punk music.

Scrambles is influenced by all of life- from the gutter to the glory. It’s an initially abrasive album that manages to become an acquired taste- one that’ll have you screaming about bicycles well into your mid-twenties. That’s where Jeff Rosenstock finds himself with this album – 25 and still exploring new musical terrain. Enjoy it while it lasts, ‘cause there may be no tomorrow.


The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love

Fans of the Decemberists are well aware that frontman Colin Meloy enjoys a good yarn. He spent his college years reading them and has been known to spin them quite admirably. This time, however, instead of a scarf, he’s opted for a whole sweater. The Hazards of Love is that sweater your grandmother knits that you don’t want to wear because it’s a little awkward, but it’s also the most comfortable item in your wardrobe. The album is not a book of short stories but rather a novel, grounded firmly in a fairytale realm with a decided dose of Romantic passion. The album succeeds because it is so massive; it’s over the top, yes, but in its grandiosity it finds an escape from the traditionally “irony” that the Decemberists’ fanbase tends to devour. Instead of being ironically over the top, Hazards of Love is earnest about it. It embraces everything about the over the top theatricality of the story and of the execution and as a result basks rather than balks. The ridiculousness of everything is reflected in the heavier, more rock-oriented sound the Decemberists here play with, and the way riffs make their way into the traditional chamber pop this group is known and loved for is perhaps a sign that Meloy once toyed with the idea of majoring in theater in addition to creative writing. Listening to this album is like reading a great novel—no. It’s like seeing a great play, and even though it’s melodramatic, it’s the kind of overblownness that both audience and artist totally agree is absolutely necessary. If you didn’t see any plays this year, at least listen to this album.


Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

Through almost-too-bright guitars playing post-pop chord progressions, through on-again off-again three part harmonies providing the canvas for seemingly random melodies, through touchingly tender acoustic numbers side by side with indie’d out modern R&B numbers, through lead lines that either express guitar virtuosity or a complete lack of playing ability, Dirty Projectors have crafted an album that pleases everything I’ve secretly lusted for as a music fan. Remember when we were younger? We listened to anything and everything, and we danced to it, because we loved music. Before we knew the internet, the blogs, the Pitchfork, the AbsolutePunk, the genres, the cred, we knew unabashed love for sound. This album appeals to that part of our psyche without condescension. Its lyrics are infantile and immature, its music rebels against the rules of both the pop and indie rock worlds. Finally, we have an album that teaches us how to be young again, but does it in a way that we can understand: guitar, drum, bass, laptop, voice. When it comes down to it, that’s all it is. Yet, it’s brilliant.


Beyonce – I am… Sasha Fierce

Put away your preconceived notions and see Beyonce Knowles for who she truly is. She’s not just the former lead singer of the most successful female singing group of all time. She’s not just the most talented vocalists on the radio. She’s not just Jay-Z’s loving wife. She’s a representative of the coolest trend in music right now; modern pop fusing with modern R&B fusing with the experimental mindset of indie-rock. On Sasha Fierce, Beyonce makes a bold statement for pop music, urging its power as a mode of expression; she has both style and substance. Conceptually, Sasha Fierce divides Beyonce’s style into two parts. The soulful, vocally-driven radio R&B of “Halo” and “Ego,” and the robotic futurism of “Sweet Dreams” and “All the Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” the latter of which is a strong contender for song of year. No matter which side of the fence Beyonce is placed on, she outperforms her contemporaries in both fields. Her voices is strong, taking melodies by the horn and wrestling them into submission, and her swag is equally is daring (you’ve gotta have swag to tread the line between awesome and vapid, as she does on “Video Phone”). And with single after single hitting the top 10, this year undoubtedly belongs to Beyonce. She’s got a big ego, and she definitely deserves it.


Modest Mouse – No One’s First And You’re Next

Modest Mouse, what do you have to say for yourself? People claim you guys have sold out, and your music isn’t what it used to be. I used to be one of those people, and then I picked up No One’s First, And You’re Next. Well lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky me again! This 8 song EP, tallying up to be over a half hour in length, is actually a compilation of b-sides, recorded during the Good News and We Were Dead recording sessions. The great thing about this EP is that it is accessible to Modest Mouse fans, new and old. It has the catchy folky pop of We Were Dead with the original MM indie feel of The Moon & Antartica and This Is A Long Drive. Key tracks include Satellite Skin, Guilty Cocker Spaniels, Whale Song, King Rat, and I Got It All (Most).


Thrice – Beggars

After spending all decade evolving from one of the scene’s finest metal acts into a multi-genre spectacle, complete with all sorts of bells and whistles, Thrice uses Beggars to explore a whole new frontier: restraint. No longer concerned with testing the melting point of their metaphorical wax, the Orange County four-piece have melded all their elements into a humble blend of In Rainbows-flavored bluesy punk. The resultant album is very “pedestrian” in the best way possible. Bassist and drummer Eddie and Riley Breckenridge give the rhythm section a new found groove, and lead guitarist Teppei Teranishi’s production work gives this groove sufficient room to breathe. This allows lyricist Dustin Kensure the perfect backdrop over which to sing with his earthy croon these songs of religion, romance, greed, contentment, and death. Everything sounds raw, with all the charm of a band playing at your local bar. No longer interested in staring at the sun for meaning and understanding, Thrice now finds the most profound revelations in humanity, and it’s here that Beggars finds its beauty. We’re reminded that we’re really not anything; we can’t safeguard our breath in the night as we sleep, and our bodies will soon be buried and left to rot. That’s alright, though, for it wasn’t ours to claim in the first place. “Everything’s grace.” This peace fills our hearts with songs of forever; “All is well. I will rejoice.”

Relient K – Forget And Not Slow Down

Let me preface this review right quick… I’m not a fan of Relient K. Well, yet. Never originally listening to Relient K made me skeptical of David and Tim’s recommendation for this album. So, one day, I decided to download it, and just check it out. Well, let me tell you, I was blown away. This is one of the best pop punk cds I have ever listened to. When I’m having a bad day, I put on Therapy, or Over It, and suddenly I don’t feel as bad. Not only that, the main thing with this cd which is most important to me is how I connected with the lyrics. This Is The End (If You Want It) couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. Now, the only slight downfall for this album for me, is the song Candlelight. Why? It sounds like a Death Cab For Cutie song. I’m not a DCFC fan. Yet, for some, this could be, and probably is, a plus. Key tracks include Forget And Not Slow Down, Therapy, Over It, Savannah, and This Is The End (If You Want It).


The Mountain Goats – The Life Of The World To Come

John Darnielle is one of the most consistent and consistently good songwriters around today. Of course, that makes recommending an album for newcomers to The Mountain Goats infuriating and difficult, and The Life of the World to Come is just one more infuriatingly brilliant entry into Darnielle’s oeuvre, but one that brings with it a new level of depth and contemplativeness that has until this point only made brief appearances in the massive Mountain Goats catalog. Every song except for the last on this album is named after a Bible verse, and the lyrics to the songs are all thematically pertinent, though not in a traditional sense. Instead of extolling the verses, Darnielle mulls over them, using his vignettes about faith healers, thieves, and cancer victims—among other things—as a vessel for conversation with the Bible verses. This allows him to discuss the less pleasant but more important and meaningful side of faith that is often overlooked: doubt. The skepticism, the doubt, the uncertainty of this album is palpable. No album released this year carries the kind of thought and emotion that this does. Whether you believe in God or not, this album is a study of faith that lends itself both to powerfully emotional and deeply intelligent lyrics. It’s impossible to listen just once, which is, as far as I’m concerned, the mark of a brilliant album. Looks like Darnielle finally has a best album.



Thrice Respond to Album Leak Wednesday, Jul 22 2009 

By now, we’re sure you’re aware of what happened yesterday/late Monday night, and we’re sorry we weren’t able to comment until now, but we didn’t want to address the issue without taking a day to regroup and discuss our options in dealing with this unfortunate situation. Thanks for your patience in that regard.

Obviously, we’re incredibly disappointed with what happened. We understand that records leak constantly and that it’s almost entirely unavoidable nowadays, but we never thought we’d have to deal with a record leaking three months before it’s release date, and certainly never thought we’d have to deal with a leak before anyone in the band had even gotten a master reference of the record, or before the artwork for the booklet had even been completed. We’re also disappointed that you’re hearing the record for the first time, watermarked, with a Vagrant Records voiceover over every song. And we’re disappointed that the leak has thrown a massive and immovable wrench into the efforts that many people have made to prepare for the three months leading up to release. That said, what’s done is done, and we’re moving forward.

“Beggars” will be available for download, legally and voiceover free–the way it was intended to be heard–as soon as we can possibly make it happen. Leaks happen overnight. Changing an entire retail marketing plan doesn’t.

Finally, we’d like to thank those of you who have resisted the urge to download this leak, those of you who have been supportive of us in online forums as this thing began to spread yesterday, and those of you who have heard the record and are sharing kind words about it. We always appreciate your support, but even more so right now.

While not quite the reaction I was hoping for, Thrice kept it pretty classy in their response to their new album, Beggars, leaking three months before its release date.  I’d still rather them have not posted anything that would separate those who downloaded the leak from those that didn’t, but at least they thanked both sides of the issue.

New Thrice Album Leaks Wednesday, Jul 22 2009 

Although I won’t post the link here, Thrice’s new album Beggars has leaked onto the internet. The finger pointing has begun, with Vagrant Records getting the most digits in their direction for using an insufficient player. I’m more interested, however, in how Thrice will respond to the leak. Although no one can outdo Shawn Harris’ leak reaction, perhaps Thrice will at least treat the situation with class. With their fan base, they could easily still have a successful record release, despite the leak.

Although I don’t see who would want to pay for this record anyway.