Overlooked in 2009

10 Jan

I don’t tend to expect my favourite albums to show up on many end-of-year lists. They’re niche-audience sort of stuff. However, sometimes – only occasionally, but sometimes – there are albums I love that otherwise seem to go totally ignored and fail to appear on said lists when I would fully expect them to show up.

I understand it when the metal albums I write about in gushing, hyperbolic tones get ignored. Metal, it seems, is not quite for everyone – an acquired taste, and a taste I’m convinced more people would acquire if they would just put aside a few stereotypes. I get it when the post-rock albums that totally enchant me are ignored. Apparently some people out there don’t have the attention span for lengthy compositions, or seem to think music just isn’t music without some guy singing D-grade poetry or worse. I know, I know. I’m a cranky arsehole destined to have marginal tastes. I’m destined to sit around with my Agalloch, my Russian Circles, my Isis, my Wolves In The Throne Room, and my Long Distance Calling, all the while wondering why people rate mediocrities such as Radiohead, Animal Collective, and Arcade Fire tremendously highly (yes, I am aware John took this blog’s name from Arcade Fire; he made me an admin so I’ve forgiven him).

But there are times when my tastes cross over. The early 2010 buzz seems keen on Surfer Blood’s Astro Coast; I’m enjoying it myself. Back in 2008, I dug a good few songs from Fleet Foxes despite all expectations. Explosions In The Sky are one of the few post-rock bands that get recognition, and I would happily rank The Earth Is Not A Cold, Dead Place in my top thirty albums of the 2000s. Even Porcupine Tree, my favourite band, have been starting to break beyond prog and metal fans in the last few years. So sometimes I’ll hear an album, think “this is great!”, and then assume it must be all the rage. Then I log onto Rate Your Music or cruise the blogosphere or check end-of-year lists and find … nothing.

Here are three of those 2009 albums.

Cover of Dredg - The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion
dredg: The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion
They began as a post-hardcore band. They became a prog rock band. Now dredg’s songwriting has become so focused that they are more alternative rock than anything. With catchy melodies, strong hooks, clever lyrics, and a great sense of artistry (no doubt due to two of the band members being visual artists), you would think that they would be tearing up the underground, even if the mainstream charts aren’t taking many admissions from alt rock these days. You would think all those radio listeners lapping up U2’s hit singles of the last decade and indie kids giddy about Animal Collective’s hooks on Merriweather Post Pavilion would both be even more excited by dredg. They should be a marketing executive’s dream.

No.

The only charts they appear on are thos by the usual proggy suspects. This album should have crossed out but it hasn’t. I sort of understood when Catch Without Arms failed to do so; it has a couple of excellent songs (Bug Eyes and Ode To The Sun), but it’s pretty patchy and has some duds. The Pariah? Finally, dredg have made a consistent album, packed with quality tracks from start to finish. Yet where’s the excitement for songs such as Information, I Don’t Know, and Pariah?

Maybe dredg haven’t helped themselves by making an album inspired by Salman Rushdie’s essay “Imagine There Is No Heaven: A Letter to the Six Billionth Citizen”. Maybe dredg haven’t helped themselves by releasing an album that is blatantly agnostic (see: I Don’t Know), if not overtly atheistic. Maybe we still have a way to go before that sort of thing catches on. Never mind that U2’s Magnificent is more offensive to opposing opinions than anything on The Pariah. It’s the only factor I can possibly think of besides ineffectual marketing.

But that’s just a guess. In the end … I don’t know.

Cover of Solar Powered People - Living Through The Low
Solar Powered People: Living Through The Low
At least dredg have been on a few radars, even if it’s just the usual suspects. Solar Powered People? I can be entirely honest when I say that I have seen nobody else championing their music on annual lists. I felt terribly alone back in 2007 when I was touting the delay-drenched glories of their captivating self-titled debut, and I feel just as alone now, touting the not-as-delay-drenched glories of their not-as-captivating-but-still-very-good 2009 effort. And indeed, while I find it isn’t quite as good as their earlier effort, that’s because I like shoegaze and I like the delay pedal being used as much as possible.

This album, with its shift that lets alt rock shine through the shoegaze more, seems to me like an album that could have broken them to a wider audience. The vocals are more straight-up at times. The guitarist uses a wider range of effects. There is even an acoustic song! Solar Powered People have by no means lost their unique sound that captivated me on their debut, but now they sound like they could be the darlings of everybody who wants their indie rock to have balls. You know, the people who like shoegaze but reckon The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are all too twee. The people who, if this were 1991, would’ve been listening to Swervedriver and Ride rather than that My Bloody Valentine crap.

Instead … silence. Well, let’s hope their next album has better fortune.

Cover of Sugar Army - The Parallels Amongst Ourselves
Sugar Army: The Parallels Amongst Ourselves
Actually, in Australia, Sugar Army has received some hype courtesy of radio station Triple J. As a matter of fact, I first heard of them due to a friend who still listens to the radio. Externally? Not a peep. I’m not quite sure how to describe these lads from Perth. They’ve obviously been influenced by post-punk, but none of the songs are by any stretch post-punk themselves. They’ve definitely been listening to Aussie hard rockers like Dead Letter Circus and Karnivool (no shit; they’ve toured with the latter!), but don’t end up being hard rock themselves. They like some delay, but they aren’t shoegazers like Solar Powered People.

Whatever the case, they make great rock music. Their hooks are strong and they routinely soar. Often their lyrics are clever or somewhat obtuse, and at times they try for a sort of obscure witticism – not always successfully. The standout section of the album is the three consecutive tracks Detach, Acute, and No Need For Lovers. However, all of the tracks are solid, and the pairing of It’s In The Blood and That’s A Damn Fine Cliche near the end is particularly engaging too. I’m surprised this hasn’t sucked in more people. You’d think it would. With Triple J championing the band, they hopefully have a promising future ahead of them. But come on, people outside Australia. There’s more to this country’s music than rubbish such as AC/DC, Savage Garden, and Kylie Minogue.

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One Response to “Overlooked in 2009”

  1. Tony 09/04/2010 at 16:07 #

    Thanks for the honest review. It is refreshing.

    T

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