Well here we go again. After finishing up my contributions to Treble‘s year-end and decade lists, it’s time for me to officially close out 2009 over here. Perhaps a bit late according to internet logic, but all of the upcoming music remains very deserving of your attention. Here are a few more records that were inexplicably overlooked on Chickens Don’t Clap!, lost in the overwhelming flood of new music that circulated through my brain this past year.
Dâm-Funk – Toeachizown
Los Angeles producer, DJ, and “Ambassador of Boogie Funk” Dâm-Funk is here to revive and reinvent the seemingly forgotten funk legacy of bizarro conceptualism. His expansive debut Toeachizown — released first as a staggered set of digital EPs over the course of 2009, then as a double-disc CD — hints at the sexy, cool artistry of Prince and the left-field psychedelia of Parliament-Funkadelic, but is itself grounded in Dâm-Funk’s own unique, contemporary vision. Constructed with vintage equipment and production aesthetics, this distinctly lo-fi endeavor cuts the fat of over-production from its hypnotic batch of mostly instrumental West Coast hydraulic-bounce. Though that’s not to say Dâm-Funk is hesitant to drop a soulful (and often vocoded) croon now and then to equally captivating effect. In this run through spacey low-rider bangers and smooth R&B jams, he just happens to place a lot of faith in extended passages of unadulterated funk. Listen to the record and you will too.
Download: Dâm-Funk – Mirrors
Real Estate – Real Estate
Yep, lo-fi was still goin’ strong in 2009. It’s not too shocking that it’s become a go-to aesthetic for so many new artists — the appropriate recording equipment is nearly immediately accessible to anyone with a computer and it requires minimal instrumental or songwriting talent. But it’s easy enough to draw distinctions between these bands. Taking the high road, New Jersey’s Real Estate doesn’t mask its music in peak-heavy production or feel like a bandwagon hanger-on knock-off, instead opting to organically meld their subdued, surf-tinged psychedelics with subtle atmospheres and textures. Their modestly hyped debut full-length (at least as far as the lo-fi scene is concerned) comes after a series of well-received 7-inches, EPs, and compilations, featuring mostly newly recorded versions of their older songs. Here they come together quite nicely in what is an excellent, chill-out album for warm weather, stoney summer days, pool parties, and the like.
Taken By Trees – East of Eden
Most would probably recognize Victoria Bergsman’s voice from her guest spot on the undeniably catchy (and pop-culturally visible) gem “Young Folks”, but since leaving The Concretes in 2006 she’s also been putting out her own impressive solo material as Taken By Trees. On her most recent album, East of Eden, Bergsman took dramatic steps in order to satisfy a self-professed need to push into new territory. Moving away from the pleasant and familiar kind of indie pop that characterized her past works, she and musical partner Andreas Soderstrom decided to relocate to Pakistan and record the album with all Pakistani musicians (apart from that glorious Noah Lennox backup vocal), imbuing her beautiful, bittersweet compositions with a seductive air of mystery and exoticism. Much of the emotionally rich East of Eden was laid down outdoors, leaving its swirl of percussion, subtle electronics, plucked strings, and woodwinds to exist within a breathtaking breadth of space.
The-Dream – Love vs. Money
When Terius Nash (aka The-Dream) isn’t writing bona fide smash-hit pop anthems, he’s busy crafting his own impeccably produced albums of glossy, synth-driven R&B. Since 2007, this master of wordless hooks (“Ella, ella, ella”) and thug-shout studio punch-ins (“EEYYYYY!”) has made two of the most consistent and irresistible pop records this side of Justin Timberlake with another (and supposedly final) full-length due in 2010. His latest, the stellar Love vs. Money, is soaked in Patrón-fueled infidelities, shimmery sugar daddy love stories, mournful heartbreak, boastful sex jams, and more boastful sex jams. Of course, The-Dream’s infectious melodies and insane production is what really propels this album, its glitzy layers of sound building and collapsing in seamless brilliance. Those quick to judge might write it off as style-over-substance, but give Love vs. Money a few spins and its dense, flawless construction is sure to obscure any misguided objections one might have over its shallow and hedonistic materialism.
Tyondai Braxton – Central Market
Central Market is a different beast than pretty much anything else I’ve heard this year. Branching out from previous loop-based orchestral solo endeavors, Tyondai Braxton (with support from The Wordless Music Orchestra) delves into far more ambitious and grandiose compositions on this most recent record. A whirlwind of percussion, guitar, electronics, strings, woodwinds, horns, kazoo, and whistles, Central Market unfolds with equal parts patience and Looney Toon-mania, recalling the works of some of the greatest twentieth century composers — Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Reich, Eno — as well as more contemporary avant-noisemakers like Black Dice and, of course, Braxton’s own band Battles. Incredibly full of varying tones, textures, and sounds, this is easily one of the more challenging and rewarding listens of 2009, yet also one of the most playful and fun.