Albums of 2009: Surprises and let-downs

Six months in and 2009 is looking like a great year for new albums, with so many coming out right now that my wallet can’t quite keep up; new records from Frank Turner, Placebo and Taking Back Sunday* are all on the horizon.

As a result of this veritable musical glut, I pondered the idea of doing a top 10 of the year so far, after my tutor Jason praised my top 20 list for last year. Instead, I thought I’d branch out and list my five biggest surprises and five biggest let-downs of the year so far, as powered by Myspace and my favourite new application, Spotify. So here they are, in no particular order:

brakes5 Surprise packages:

Brakes – Touchdown
A fantastically well-written album from a band who have grown beyond bizarre 1-minute tracks about porcupines and pineapples to produce some genuine indie-pop gems.

New Found Glory – Not Without A Fight
Florida’s finest return to what they do best; chugging riffs, massive choruses and enough energy to light up the national grid.

Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
The jury is still out on this 18-track rock opera, but you have to admit (drab lead single aside) it certainly is surprising!

Fake Problems – It’s Great To Be Alive
An explosive third record from this Florida Quartet which makes you feel exactly what it promises. The thunderous vocals and uplifting melodies are simply irresistable.METN

Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing
I’m including this as a surprise, mainly because I’m astonished they they managed to top their fantastic debut, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child. METN is an astonishingly diverse record with crushing riffs and moving acoustic moments. I am giddy with excitement about seeing them at Reading Festival!

5 Serious let-downs:

Maxïmo Park – Quicken The HeartQTH
Not a patch on their first record, with the synth-led approach failing to deliver any big hitting tunes, but may prove to be a grower. See my live review on inthenews.co.uk here.

Hundred Reasons – Quick The Word, Sharp The Action
This turgid effort from HR is inexplicably getting a re-issue, albeit with B-sides as bonus tracks. Admit it boys, this was not your finest moment; move on and write some new material!

Thursday – Common Existence
After talk of an ambitious triple-record, for Thursday to come out with this samey record is quite a let-down. Chunky riffs abound, along with the odd flourish of inspiration, but it’s not quite up to their usual high standards.

Flight of the Conchords Series 2

Something of an inevitability, given how long they had to write material for the first series. I’ve Got Hurt Feelings and You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute are particular highlights, but there is nothing to rival Business Time or The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room).

conoroberstConor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band – Outer South
A muddled second solo record from the former Bright Eyes man, who seems to have lost his sense of quality control. The MVB are afforded seven of the 16 tracks to exercise their vocal talents and none of them are particularly memorable.

As always, any thoughts/recommendations on any of the above are most welcome.

*I know New Again is out today, but I haven’t got it just yet. Steady on!

Spot(ify) The Difference

Take a quick look at this picture:

spotify2

Has iTunes had a gothic makeover?

itunes-invert2

No, iTunes has just met it’s worst nightmare. This month Spotify has arrived in the UK and will change the way we listen to music online forever.

For those not familiar with this free and legal service, I will briefly explain. Spotify is a free-to-download program which allows you to stream music live. A lot of music in fact. Its database currently comprises four million tracks and it is growing by 10,000 a day. Not everything is on there, but I’ve been trawling around for a while and it is yet to disappoint.

The whole thing is not only legal, but is endorsed by several major record labels who see this as less of a threat to their interests than pirated music, because Spotify pay them a small premium to host their entire back catalogue. It’s sort of like America siding with the Russians in WWII because, despite their differences, they were more worried about Germany. In this tenuous analogy, America is the music industry, pirated music is Germany and Spotify is Russia. Revolutionary, power to the people etc. etc.

Yesterday, I downloaded Spotify and listened to the new Morrissey album, Years of Refusal. Hot off the press, came out that day. I listened to the whole thing without any loading time and although it’s quite good I probably won’t buy it.

That sort of decision making could be crucial for the music industry. Now listeners worldwide have the right to listen to (almost) any album in its entirety and then decide if they want to buy it or not. If people still decide they want to own a physical CD to show their loyalty and support to the band, then they will surely head to HMV or Amazon and order a physical copy, complete with artwork, lyrics and other such bonuses.

I cannot see how iTunes fits into this new landscape, though. Ditto, MySpace Music. If you just want to listen to music on your computer, then fire up Spotify and listen to full albums as many times as you want.

At this point, I should pay lip service to the few small drawbacks. Every half hour you are forced to listen to a 15-second advert, thus securing Spotify’s revenue which they use to placate the record labels. Alternatively you can pay a tenner a month to cut this out, but that hardly seems worth it.

Secondly, you don’t actually own the tracks and so can’t upload them to an MP3 player. It hardly takes a genius to record streaming tracks, but of course no-one would be that immoral…

Since downloading Spotify, I have been catching up with bands who I have been too busy or too stingy to follow over the past few years and it is simply brilliant. Some I will buy, most I wont, but one thing’s for sure: I’m never spending money on downloading MP3s again.