Up on the Sun is counting down the days until the unveiling of music editor Martin Cizmar's personal Best of 2009 list with some other lists from Phoenix New Times' stable of excellent freelancers. Today we bring you a list from Michael Lopez, a New Times contributor, and regular blogger at Up on the Sun. Unlike a lot of critics who like to spring obscure surprises on readers with their year-end lists, Michael is doing it the honest way. He's previously written about almost every act on his list -- and reviewed shows by several of them -- so you know it's music he's actually lived with and enjoyed in 2009.
When one thinks of Edmonton, Alberta, they don't usually consider it a hotbed of musical talent. That is not to say that Canada has been absent from the music scene in the past decade. They have provided us with some of the better new bands of the 2000s -- Arcade Fire, Fiest, Metric, Fucked Up, Nickelback. Yet indie funk band/!!!-connoisseurs Shout Out Out Out Out made their name in 2009 with Reintegration Time -- their opus of indescribable electronic indie rock/funk/spazz-time jams. I go immediately to the track "Coming Home" when I think of the album -- it starts off perfectly with a funky, bloated synth cascading into the band's trademark drumming style, a metronomic reminder of this album's immense potential. Driving Reintegration Time home is the song "Remind Me In Dark Times," a slow builder that brilliantly describes just what is Shout Out Out Out Out's unique sound -- at times abrasive, sometimes even a bit too out there, yet absolutely unique and unparalleled in 2009.
What makes an album so special, for me, is the short amount of time after having first heard it that I can truly take a step back and be amazed. I knew from the first listen that Jewellery was my favorite album this year, and music-savant Mica Levi made it as easy as it could be for me. Her experimental pop music is unlike anything I have heard since I first listened to Death From Above 1979's debut album back in late 2004. Her avant-garde sensibility is incredibly refreshing, and her relentless avoidance of convention is what endears me to her music. Jewellery is an album that spends its entirety outside of the realm of conventional pop music. Levi is a genius, an unparalleled genius in the year 2009. A song like "Golden Phone" is brimming with pop potential, yet it is layered with experimental synths and other added instrumentals that drench the song with undeniable charm. Jewellery, like The Invisible before it, was produced by Matthew Herbert, a solid statement of just how brilliant a mind he truly is. I can feel safe by saying that Jewellery is the best album ever -- ever -- to feature the vacuum as an instrument. As odd as that sounds, Levi makes it sound seamless, like its actually built for instrumentation and not for cleaning. Micachu & The Shapes' debut effort isn't spectacularly weird in the way that it is off-putting -- granted, there are a few songs that can be head-scratchers -- but Levi offsets that by offering a song like "Calculator" that samples/borrows an idea from the song "Tequila" and makes it its own. Jewellery is an album that can be listened front to back without skipping that slow, boring song or that song that is obvious filler, and that idea is too far and few between these days with the heaps and heaps of shitty music flooding the market. It is comforting to know there are people like Mica Levi who practice their craft and expand their mind to create some of the best music this year -- if not this decade.
If you were wondering, my favorite song from 2009 comes from Montreal electronic/dance musician Tiga. His song "Shoes" is the most perfect, innocuous song I heard all year. The lyrics are fucking fantastic, the cheekiness is full blown, and the song is just fun. There isn't much to think about when listening to it -- it's painfully simple -- yet Tiga takes the thing and turns it into a mini-opus to the female form.