in Ramblings, Reviews, Year's Best

Best of 2009: Music

This’ll be a short one, since like usual I didn’t listen to a lot of brand new complete albums this year. More and more I find myself buying singles or a few tracks instead of the whole set, and in a lot of ways this category is becoming irrelevant. This is likely to be the last time I give an award. Here’s three albums I really liked in 2009 – I listened to so few that the choices are almost by default, though I did genuinely enjoy them all:

  • The Swell Season – Strict Joy
  • Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
  • The Protomen – Act II: The Father of Death

Melissa introduced me to the more extensive catalog of the Swell Season, since I only knew the music that band members had done for the Oscar-winning musical ‘Once’. We even went and saw them live in DC this year. Their sound is often mellow, with occasional more intense songs thrown into the mix. Strict Joy is an album I love to listen to in the background while I get things done.

Green Day’s latest is a solid rock album – I like it, but honestly have trouble finding much specifically to say. I like listening to this one while driving around.

The Protomen are a fairly unique band. Their music is more Rock Opera than anything else, structured around telling a story based on the old Mega Man NES games. Yes, you read that right. But the opera is told without a single bit of irony or winking at the audience – they take it very seriously. The result is surreal, but if you can get over the barrier to entry of the odd subject matter and let the story wash over you, Act II reveals deep rewards. The Protomen have cleaned up their sound in a major way since Act I, and the details of the meticulously crafted tracks are easier to detect as a result. Act II is also a real album in a way that a lot of other CDs aren’t. The tracks aren’t just a collection of singles – they foreshadow and repeat themes in their music as the story calls for it, linking everything together. It’s near impossible to listen to just one track. Musical styles on the album range from an almost classical guitar sound to synth-heavy tracks that’d fit right into the Blade Runner soundtrack. But each stylistic shift again plays into the changing story elements, and it all makes perfect sense.

Yes, I fully admit that my musical tastes have very often been called ‘odd’ (among other less generous terms!). But that said, I love Act II. I’ve listened to it more than almost any other CD I own (and please do buy the CD, the included booklet fleshes out the story in a way the MP3s alone can’t), and I hope to see The Protomen perform it live someday. Congratulations Protomen, you win album of the year!