We're now well past the year's halfway point. Accordingly, some sites, including SPIN.com, have taken stock of the year's best albums so far. [Read SPIN's list here.] With that in mind, I'd like to give a shout out to five albums that likely won't appear on anyone's year-end list, but deserve a listen anyway. Have a look, then tell us about your 2009 favorites in the comments section.
1. Astra, The Weirding (Rise Above): The Weirding is these shaggy San Diegans first album, but I have a suspicion they may have released something in a past life--10-minute-plus prog fantasies like "Ourobouros" and the title track recall the early '70s heyday of Yes and King Crimson with uncanny accuracy. But even with their virtuoso guitar solos and thrillingly labyrinthine song structures, Astra's songs have a focus--they explore, but never meander.
2. Fruit Bats, The Ruminant Band (Sub Pop): There's nothing complicated about The Ruminant Band. And that's exactly its charm. Fans of the Shins will dig the bright guitars and airy harmonies of "My Unusual Friend" and "Primitive Man." The polar opposite of Astra, Fruit Bats prove that simple is also effective, as shimmering indie pop is rarely executed with this much summery charm and musical wit.
3. Indio, Big Harvest (EMI): A reissue. The brainchild of one Gordon Peterson, Big Harvest sold squat when it was originally released in 1989. Some prominent folks did manage to hear it though--Eddie Vedder covered the album's "Hard Sun" on his soundtrack to 2007's Sean Penn-directed Into the Wild. That song isn't even the album's best, as moody, impressionistic folk-rock tracks "Ship on a Sea" and "Grinding Wheel" call to mind a rootsy Peter Gabriel.
4. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse, Dark Night Of The Soul (no label): If DNOTS ever actually came out, people would've been more excited about it. Due to legal wrangling too complicated to get into here, this collaboration between producer Danger Mouse and singer-songwriter Mark Linkous (a.k.a. Sparklehorse) never got an official release. It's well worth searching RAR blogs for, though. The aforementioned duo composed a bunch of moody soundscapes and asked famous friends like Iggy Pop, Julian Casablancas, and Suzanne Vega to provide melodies and vocals. The result is a mini-masterpiece of darkly dreamy electro-folk.
5. Josh Reichmann Oracle Band, Crazy Power (Paper Bag): Reichmann earned some notice a few years back with his now defunct garage-rock band Tangiers. But rather than return to gritty guitars, Reichmann's latest project finds him concocting a wiggy stew of noisy psychedelia, glam, and R&B. The change-up was a good one. "Shivering Black," among others, sounds like T. Rex and Funkadelic rolled in a joint and smoked by the Beatles.
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SPIN's 20 Best Albums of 2009 http://www.spin.com/gallery/20-best-albums-2009-so-far
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