Monday, August 10, 2009

Off the Hook in '09 & Overlooked in '08

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca (2009)

"Isn't life under the sun just a crazy, crazy, crazy dream?" asks Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors in "Stillness Is the Move," the first single off Bitte Orca. If music can sound this crazy good all the time, then I think it must be.

The Dirty Projectors have finally cleared the hurdles of over ambition and lack of cohesion. Bitte Orca pulses with life, a full out celebration of everything under the sun. Mind blowing arrangements of vocals and all instruments take flight over grooves you'll swear were inspired by your heart and soul on your best day. If David Longstreth's impulsive YEAH!s won't get you, the African beats and queer harmonies will.

All female vocals, precise to the point of sounding alien-like at times, show auto-tuner what's up and then some on "Temecula Sunrise" and "Stillness Is the Move." A seamless transition into "Two Doves" follows, a love song with a gorgeous hook. Love seems to be the order of the day on Bitte Orca, and you will feel it all over; it's impossible to sit still when the electric finale of "Useful Chamber" hits and breaks you into a million happy pieces as Longstreth shouts, "Bitte orca, orca BITTE!" over raging guitars. Even darker lines such as, "... beckoning everyone in for the good news that / no one has any good reason to live!" heard on "The Bride" are delivered as a cause for rejoicing in a big way.

Bitte Orca makes me want to run out into the streets, conjure up an impromptu cultural festival in a major metropolitan area, and then embrace all parties involved under a blazing setting sun. Take that as you wish, but if you give any album a chance this summer, please let it be this one.

Other Top Contenders:

St. Vincent - Actor : Annie Clark is back for another round of weird fantasy meets tragedy storytelling on her sophomore effort, and she's now even harder to pin down. Rock "Marrow" at your house dance party or bring on nightmares with "The Neighbors."

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest : Another harmony and unorthodox instrument party. See review.

Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line (2008)

I'm not sure why I slept on Ra Ra Riot's debut full-length release, but after seeing them live, it's sure got my attention (and love) now. Wes Miles' vocals are disarming, sad but sweet, while violin and cello accompaniments class things up with a gravitas you don't often find in young bands. Their wise-beyond-their-years vibe may very well be rooted in the tragic death of band member John Pike back in 2007. Standout tracks such as "Winter '05" and "Dying is Fine" are given new weight as a result: "If you were here / Winter wouldn't pass quite so slow...."

Still, with the heavy-heartedness comes a bright and steady light of optimism that permeates the album. "Oh, la! / We've got a lot to learn from each other, we have got to stick together," pleads Miles on "Oh, La." The sunny "Each Year," inspired by literary children's classic To Kill a Mockingbird, can sum up the spirit of Ra Ra Riot: innocent but mature, hopeful, and well-meaning. The infectious "St. Peter's Day Festival" is instant favorite material while album closer "Run My Mouth" sports a bridge that will earn repeat listens for days.

The Rhumb Line succeeds because it works on so many levels. It can be poignant and emotional or uplifting, heels-a-clicking fun. It can keep you company in the dead of lonely winter or spring you back to life for summer. Either way, there is not one throwaway track on here.

Also worth checking out:

The Kills - Midnight Boom:
Lead singer Alison Mosshart is dangerous (irresistibly so), and she will take you for a ride on her crazy train. "Tape Song" and "Cheap and Cheerful" showcase the album's gritty, sexy and so very rock & roll attitude.

- Jessy Bartlett

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