Finicky Ears

Best of ‘09 (Err… Worst)—11 Biggest Disappointments

Posted in Best of '09 by finickyears on January 7, 2010

Barack Obama. Just kidding, Mr. President. I love you, man.

As a music fan, being disappointed with an artist previously held on a pedestal is expected. In fact, I think I was prepared to be let down by more albums this year than I actually was. I thought the Phoenix album was really going to suck. I mean, it was called Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Plus, they hadn’t made a record in what seemed like forever (research tells me it was only 3 years, but it really did seem like a long time). The albums that let me down did so, not because they were unlistenable, but because I simply expected more from them, whether from personal listening experience or the blog hype machine.

Note: I really do respect every artist on this list. If they weren’t good or interesting, I wouldn’t spend my free time writing contemplations on why they went wrong. And if you happen to think any of these albums are redeemable, please drop a comment and show me the error of my logic or listening skills. Ok, let the hating begin! Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…

11. Mo Beauty – Alec Ounsworth

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is an album that will always stay with me. It seemed to appear out of nowhere, gained heavy rotation amongst my housemates and inspired a pilgrimage from Santa Cruz to San Francisco to watch them open for The National (and yes, we were some of the many that ditched out on The National; pretty dumb in hindsight) are vivid in my memory. Countless anecdotes I have from around that time could easily have “Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away” as the soundtrack.  The album still sounds as good today as it did in 2005—and will remain an indie music touchstone both for its effortlessly cool swagger and for the DIY.

Then came Some Loud Thunder. The sophomore (and possibly final) album seemed like an indicator of future disappointment. This is something I’ve noticed with artists: The fall-off isn’t overnight. There is often one album that doesn’t stack up with previous releases, but if you are a fan, you find excuses to avoid the harsh reality, that one of your beloved may be on the decline. Some Loud Thunder is one of these. And, allow me to make some excuses. There are four pretty terrific songs on it! Unfortunately, the album is only 10 songs long, two of which aren’t really songs but, rather, 2-minute bits of randomness that aren’t bad, but could easily go without ever being heard again. And the opening song, though it has a decent melody, is recorded in some weird manner that renders it completely unlistenable. Basically, it could have been a really good EP. Because of these problem, it didn’t gain much positive attention from fans or critics, though I still enjoy the record. Now the band is on hiatus and quite possibly is done for good.

What do we have to look forward to with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? Hopefully, not more of Mo Beauty (was he hanging out with Phoenix?), CYHSY lead singer Alec Ounsworth’s solo debut. He also released a record this year under the moniker Flashy Python,  which I felt like I should lump in with Mo Beauty, but, honestly,  haven’t bothered listening to it. Mo Beauty was that boring. Mr. Ounsworth seems to believe that sloppy sounding  yet somehow way over-the-top instrumentation and vocal melodies that only inspire anxiety, if anything, are equated with creativity or relevance. Basically, he is not playing to his strengths. I liked it when it sounded like Joy Division meets Talking Heads. That was cool. This, unfortunately, is an album that doesn’t beg for repeat listens and significantly lowers my interest in any future projects. I’m sure I’ll get to Flashy Pythons eventually, but for now, I think we should just enjoy these artists at their height:

10. Born Again Revisited – Times New Viking

I don’t have as much emotional attachment to Times New Viking, but I nearly burned a hole in their previous album, Rip It Off. It seems like lots of bands are bringing back low-fi these days, but Times New Viking seemed to take it to the extremes other bands were afraid of. You pretty much have to turn the volume to double whatever you normally listen at. But, when it’s loud, they create an amazing combination of beauty and noise that begs to be discussed, debated even. How can something recorded in such seemingly low quality, something that demands focus and even patience from the listener, actually be a lovely pop album at its core? I, for one, thought the work was worth it.

But, apparently Times New Viking thought differently. While still low-fi, the band changes the sound that I was so fond of. It’s less noisy, it’s recorded louder, and the instruments are easily recognized and differentiated. This move could have worked, but the songwriting tanked on this record. Besides standouts “These Days” and “No Time, No Hope,” the majority of the songs have quite an abrasive sound. So, they basically went from difficult and rewarding to average and unfulfilling. Granted, this is just a misstep after a pretty amazing record, and there is still time to right the ship; I have a feeling the recording will only become clearer from here on. They just better write some stronger songs.

9. The Laws Of The Playground – The Boy Least Likely To

The Laws Of The Playground is the kind of second album that allows you to forget a band even exists. I had pretty much forgotten this came out in 2009. But, just a couple of days ago, “Be Gentle with Me” came on the iTunes shuffle, and I realized that The Boy Least Likely To was pretty much a one hit wonder. And, their one hit wasn’t really even a hit. Nothing on their debut, The Best Party Ever, came close to being as memorable as that first single, but the album was generally enjoyable in a “Sesame Street”-“Belle & Sebastian” kind of way. Whatever promise was built on that record was just as easily squandered, and I am truly sorry I don’t have much commentary on The Laws Of The Playground, but it was completely forgettable.

8. Please and Thank You – The Broken Family Band

British Americana bands are rare. In fact, that’s actually a pretty damn stupid idea. But, for a few albums, The Broken Family Band managed to pull it off. Then they decided they were something else, but I’m not sure what that something else actually is. Well, crap. Essentially, it is crap. I know most people have no idea who this band even is (they have gotten very little coverage in this side of the Atlantic), but trust me in that this was once a band known for its lyrical finesse and quick wit. Kind of like an R-rated They Might Be Giants. Now, lyrically, they are like an R-rated Owl City.

7. I’m Going Away – The Fiery Furnaces

Like a bully who pushes down the smart kids because Dad won’t play catch with him, so are The Fiery Furnaces. I am embarrassed for you.

6. Hold Time – M.Ward

This is actually the most disappointing album of the year, but I couldn’t put it at number one, just because it is also the best album on this list. My expectations were really high for this one. Post-War, M.Ward’s previous album, was the best album of 2006. Not only that, but Ward was on a steady progression before that, each album better than the last. Then M.Ward released a playful project with Zooey Deschanel, and even though it wasn’t his strongest work ever, it was still fun and enjoyable.

Hold Time adds absolutely nothing to M.Ward’s catalog, to the point that it’s quite boring to listen to. To someone who isn’t familiar with his earlier work, this album may work. But to me, it sounds like an artist out of ideas. I surely hope that is not the case.

5. To Lose My Life… – White Lies

This one is solely on here because of the hype. Screw you NME, this shit sucks. Spotting the new derivative UK band is about as stimulating a game as pull my finger, but this one really got to me because of their billing at Coachella, their massive blog coverage and the way they somehow let some band called Friendly Fires ride their coattails to pseudo-fame. This is the kind of music that is hard to listen to and to think, “Adults made this.”

4. Vapours – Islands

Another band that has been slipping down for a little while. Blooming out of the wreckage of The Unicorns (still an amazing album), Islands built out Nick Thorburn’s reputation with a quite remarkable first album, Return to the Sea. But after a lackluster sophomore effort, Islands released Vapours to actually pretty decent reviews. The problem? Well, I wouldn’t know this was the same Islands unless I was explicitly told so. Other problem? It sounds like music designed to soundtrack “One Tree Hill” episodes. Every song is grossly over-produced, kind of bites Of Montreal and isn’t memorable despite all of it. But I think my biggest gripe here comes from my own instinct. I can spot a phoned-in-fake a mile away, and that is, sadly, what Islands has become.

1. Outer South – Conor Oberst

1. Wilco (The Album) – Wilco

1. Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk

Ugh. Such sadness. Some of my favorite all-time artists here. Is it wrong to wish they got back on the drugs? Content Jeff Tweedy and Conor Oberst make for boring artists. Maybe I am to blame? Maybe my tastes should be aging with these artists? But I am not, and I refuse to listen to the old-people music that has been created on these three albums. And why does Conor Oberst have other people singing on his solo album? That doesn’t even make sense.

But seriously, these albums lacked any inspiration, any passion, anything to make me remember why I like them in the first place. Very sad.

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