As confetti is scraped from the streets of Times Square and the music community recovers from its collective New Years hangover, major publications and blogs alike will soon file their Best of ’08 lists away for safe keeping. Most agreed that 2008 was not an overly strong year for new releases, and it was universally acknowledged that it could not stack up to 2007, which featured Radiohead’s watershed “In Rainbows”, the National’s melancholy underdog “Boxer” and M.I.A’s genre bending “Arular”.
As the calendar turns towards 2009, so too do the eyes of the discerning music fan, anxious for what the upcoming year could bring them. 2009 is poised to start with a bang, and below I have outlined 8 upcoming releases that you may see charting high on the year end list of your favorite blog as we ring in the
next new year:
1/20/08 Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
Perhaps the biggest and best winter release comes early, as Animal Collective is scheduled to drop their second album for Domino Records in vinyl on January 6th and follow up with a traditional release two weeks later. The album is hotly anticipated, with online tastemaker Pitchfork Media giving an advanced review of 9.6 out of 10, higher than anything reviewed by the site in all of 2008.
The record is so eagerly anticipated in the indie community that when fellow indie darling, Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear, came across the leaked track, Brothersport, in November he gave the track a breathless review and hastily posted it for download in his personal blog. Unfortunately for Droste, the track was ripped from a French podcast, without the consent of Domino Records. This sort of hipster-on-hipster piracy did not sit well with Domino, who hired something (someone?) called Web Sherriff to harass Droste into removing the track and posting a written apology on his site. Merriweather Post Pavillion leaked in full to the internet to on December 25th, and was quickly downloaded by eager fans on torrents, totally ruining Web Sheriffs Christmas.
1/20/09 Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (Fat Possum)
Everyone’s favorite self-proclaimed “professional whistler”, Andrew Bird, will check in this January with his latest effort for Fat Possum Records, Noble Beast. Bird will embark on a national theater tour in support of the record which will undoubtedly include virtuoso violin work, multiple five syllable words and the glowing praise of scarf wearing English majors everywhere. In the meantime, fans can check out Bird guest blogging for the New York Times “Measure for Measure” blog. Noble Beast will also be made available as a limited edition two disc release, with a collection of instrumental tracks filling out the second disc, entitled Useless Creatures.
1/20/09 Bon Iver- Blood Bank EP (Jagjaguwar)
Justin Vernon appeared unexpectedly on our radar early last year with his haunting and introspective debut under the moniker Bon Iver. After breaking up with both his band and his girlfriend, Vernon retreated to his fathers secluded cabin in northern Wisconsin and spent the winter recovering emotionally. The crippling isolation and unforgiving weather produced a remarkably personal collection of demos recorded in the cabin which would eventually be released as For Emma, Forever Ago.
Vernon stepped into the spotlight last February looking pretty much like a dude who had just spent 3 months in a Wisconsin cabin, a weird hybrid of Tom Hanks in Castaway and every Phish fan you’ve ever met. Armed with a uniquely soulful yet wounded voice, his record carried an air of authenticity unlike any other in 2008. For early live performances, Vernon would hand out lyric sheets to the attending crowd and encourage them to sing along on the sparse acoustic tracks, creating an improbably celebratory event on the foundation of such sorrow. Blood Bank, to be released in January will feature four brand new follow up tracks to “For Emma, Forever Ago”. Unlike the intimate debut record, these tracks will feature Vernon with a full backing band and exploring warmer themes.
1/20/09 Cut Off Your Hands – You & I (Frenchkiss)
In order to generate blogger buzz, it often helps to have an interesting band name and a unique back story more than having, you know, actual good songs. Luckily Cut Off Your Hands, four young lads from New Zealand, have all three boxes checked. After a terrific EP in 2008 and well received live shows in New York and Austin, Cut Off Your Hands seem a good bet to break big in ’09 following the release of their first full length album. Expect angular yet occaisionally atmospheric indie rock with a side of overstated hype, as Cut Off Your Hands seem poised to become the best New Zealand export since the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
3/03/09- The Whip- X Marks Destination (Razor & Tie)
But what If you’re looking for the next big thing in ’09, and New Zealand isn’t really your scene? Well, look no further than The Whip. A four-to-the-floor dance operation, the Whip rode the electro uprising to European prominence in 2008, eschewing things like originality and fresh ideas for slanty haircuts, horizontally striped t-shirts and synthesizers. Still, tracks like Trash and Divebomb, while derivative, are immensley catchy and have serious potential to blow up as dance floor anthems, with the former featuring a pulsing synthesizer and a brash, shout-it-out chorus of “I wanna / I wanna be / I wanna be trash!”. Sign me up for that rubbish lust. Look for the Whip to make their inaugural US tour in support of the record and expect to come away from said concert sweatier than a fat kid in gym class.
3/24/09 The Decemberists – Hazards Of Love (Capitol)
When the Decemberists first appeared on the independent scene from Portland Oregon, they were a indie-purists wet dream. Led by the bookish Colin Meloy, a chubby troubadour complete with thick rimmed glasses and a sharp wit bested only by his extensive vocabulary, the Decemberists created a folk/alt/prog amalgamation that remains truly unique. Fancying epic storytelling and character studies over typical lyrical fare, Meloy and co. rode their formula to the top of the indie scene. After the release of Picaresque, the best of their career, the band that seemingly epitomized independent fled the Northwestern based Kill Rock Stars label for the ubiquitous Capitol Records. Overnight, they became labelmates with the likes of Jay-Z and Keith Urban.
Any fears that the Portlanders would forfeit artistic integrity were quelled with the release of their major label debut The Crane Wife, a semi-concept album loosely based on an ancient Japanese fable. In March they follow up with Hazards Of Love, a record that Meloy has confirmed to be a rock opera. Now, make no mistake, no two words in the English language make me cringe quite like the phrase “Rock Opera” (domo arigato, Mr. Roboto!), but if anyone can pull it off with flying colors it is Meloy.
3/31/09 Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channel (Nettwerk)
Much like Bon Iver, Great Lake Swimmers recorded the majority of their acoustic debut album in an odd location with bleak themes. Unlike Bon Iver, not that many people cared about the finished product. In 2003, Great Lake Swimmers took residence in an abandoned grain silo in Ontario and recorded a quiet, hushed album over the chirp of crickets and the creaking of floorboards. The self-titled final product was a cozy little number and an oddly comforting record, especially considering track titles like The Man With No Skin and I Will Never See the Sun.
The album came and went with little fanfare and remains a hidden jewel. Two subsequent follow up albums saw the band rise to modest fame in their native Canada, and they recently opened for Robert Plant & Allison Krauss at the Molson Amplitheatre in Toronto. Their latest offering of bluegrass and folk will be released in March on their longtime Nettwerk label.
March (undated), Grizzly Bear- Untitled (Warp)
In October of 2006, the members of Grizzly Bear supported TV on the Radio on a club tour. The group had just released Yellow House, their critically acclaimed second record, but much like their first effort it had yet to find a wide audience. Before a show at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, the four members of Grizzly Bear mingled in the cramped corridors of the Paradise wearing homemade nametags reading “hello, my name is: GRIZZLY BEAR”. Nobody stopped to say hi.
What a difference two years makes. Entering 2009, Grizzly Bear are the most sought after bear since Yogi went on his fateful pic-a-nic basket spree of ’62. While you spent your summer playing wiffleball and updating your Facebook, the Grizz went on a sold out stadium tour supporting a little band called Radiohead. They’ve also debuted new songs from the upcoming untitled record on Late Night With David Letterman and Conan O’Brien. Guitarist Daniel Rossen released an album of Sgt. Pepper inspired tunes under the moniker Department of Eagles to rave reviews and de facto leader Ed Droste was virtually arrested by the Web Sherrif (see above). Phew, got all that?
So, how did all this happen? Well, Yellow House is what is defined in the music community as a “grower”. After a quiet release, word of mouth and consistently positive reviews have escalated their status to Radiohead chumming proportions. The album is fantastic and remains one of my top 10 of the decade. Their tireless tour schedule and great live sets certainly didn’t hurt their ascent. As they ready the release of their next full length, it is safe to assume they won’t go unbothered in hip rock clubs anytime soon.