Grizzly Bear – Shields
2009 was a watershed year for a whole group of Brooklyn bands, but it’s the four members of Grizzly Bear who seem to have grown most as a collective since then. Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen’s writing styles – respectively soulful and folky, if we’re pigeonholing – lay the foundations for elegant arrangements, which are grounded by Christopher Bear’s drumming and finished off by Chris Taylor’s production. My album of the year, Shields demonstrates that a group of strong, individual talents can be better for sticking together.
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
The latest of the many collaborations of David Byrne is inter-generational, pitting his art rock eminence against Annie Clark’s 21st Century sweet violence. Their album finds its niche immediately, thanks to bold and unusual choices of instrumentation. The dominant sax and brass band is the album’s most vibrant feature; its constant clarity and bombast put each compositional style on a pedestal. As each writer’s parts intertwine, it’s exciting how easy it is to imagine who came up with the core of each song, and who added which touches later on.
Hot Chip – In Our Heads
This is the latest in a line of Hot Chip albums that don’t shift radically between styles, but which represent gradual steps towards the Londoners’ apparent goal of electro-pop with human substance. Like their beloved Prince, Taylor, Goddard and co. write songs in two basic categories: pop tunes and ballads. Most importantly, In Our Heads beats previous efforts for internal consistency: the wacky, playful singles are matched for impact by moments where the music points less obviously towards the dancefloor, more to the head than the legs.
Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
David Longstreth has used the Dirty Projectors name on an intimidating variety of recordings, which have moved from early musique concrète experiments to his latter day leftfield pop. Although this outing doesn’t take root too far from the Afrobeat and vocal ping pong-ing of his band’s most recent efforts – even with a personnel change, they’re still a vocal-led sextet – the bulk of Swing Lo is more focused on a personal core than more complicated musical play. The great opening R&B/rock fusion ‘Offspring Are Blank’ is a rare exception.