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Best Albums of August & September 2009

Lovable monsters, Middle Eastern obsessions, and why good things only get better with time.

August and September have been extraordinarily good months for music, with new releases ranging from remarkable debuts, to much-anticipated new albums by old favorites, to fantastic soundtracks. Here are 8 of our favorites.

VIVIAN GIRLS EVERYTHING GOES WRONG

A 2008 critic darling, Vivian Girls faced great expectations for their sophomore album. And, we have to be honest, the first time around, we really didn’t think the indie duo lived up.

But we’re glad we gave Everything Goes Wrong a second shot. And then a third. And a fourth. And a fifth… Punchy and bold, it’s one of those albums that just keep getting better with every listen.

Favorite track: The End.

THE BIG PINK A BRIEF HISTORY OF LOVE

Trippy and surreal, The Big Pink‘s debut album is difficult to describe — it’s a brilliantly paradoxical mix of fast and slow, sharp and soft, easy and restless. Hear for yourself.

Favorite track: The title one, A Brief History of Love.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE SOUNDTRACK

We fell in love with the pairing of dicrector Spike Jonze and vocalist Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs ever since that wonderful “Hello Tomorrow” adidas commercial. Now, the soundtrack to Jonze’s much-anticipated latest piece of magic makes us love the pair even more. It makes the kid in you hold hands with your inner musicologist as the two stroll together through whimsical forest of modern storytelling.

Favorite track: Hideaway.

A FINE FRENZY BOMB IN A BIRDCAGE

At SXSW 2007, we instantly knew Alison Sudol, a.k.a. A Fine Frenzy, was a force of talent to be reckoned with. Her debut album was an indisputable testament to this, and her much-anticipated follow-up, A Bomb In A Birdcage is every bit as brilliant.

Violins, piano, and an undercurrent of meticulously chosen drum beats give the album an incredible range of sound and emotion as you get lost in her perfect, perfect voice.

Favorite track: Blow Away.

PRINCETON COCOON OF LOVE

We first heard (of) Princeton at this year’s SXSW, where they made waves with The Waves, and we were instantly captured by their Beatlesque vibe bent through a prism of Scandinavian harmonies and instrumentals. Their new album, out last week, lived up to our expectations, and then some.

Cocoon of Love is an eclectic yet consistently excellent anthology of stylistic allusions to indie icons — think Fleet Foxes meet Belle & Sebastian — wrapped in a sound completely their own and dipped in a rich sea of cinematic orchestra instrumentation.

Favorite track: Calypso Gold.

ZERO 7 YEAH GHOST

We’ve loved Zero 7 for years and years and years, ever since the Imogen Heap days.

This year, Yeah Ghost comes as a curious mix of meh and wow. But with the help of Sia, one of our all-time favorite vocalists, they manage to deliver a fw crownjewels on their existing crown of excellence. We even toy with considering Swign the best track they’ve ever recorded.

Favorite track: Swing.

VANDAVEER DIVIDE & CONQUER

There aren’t many 5-star tracks in our iTunes library, especially ones coming from the same album. But Vandaveer’s sophomore album, Divide & Conquer, is a string of 4-stars-and-up excellence.

This isn’t “light” music — it’s drunken with a powerful heaviness that puts the weight of the world on your head as you bob it. From the haunted acoustic guitar, to the profound piano, to the intense lyrical sensibility, you just can’t stop listening in a hurts-so-good kind of way.

Part Citizen Cope, part Paolo Nutini, part something else entirely, Vandaveer — spearheaded by Mark Charles Heidinger, with vocalist Rose Guerin — bring a brilliant balance of male and female vocals, reminiscent of that Damien Rice / Lisa Hannigan dynamic that we miss so much.

Favorite track: Turpentine.

TAKEN BY TREES EAST OF EDEN

We love everything Victoria Bergsman is involved in. You may know her as the female vocal on Peter Bjorn & John’s now-iconic Young Folks, or know her band, The Concretes. But her solo project, Taken By Trees, has been making us smile since 2006.

Taken By Trees’ latest album takes those same haunting-sweet vocals, and layers them on top of a Middle Eastern acoustic sensibility. East Of Eden was inspired by Victoria’s travels to Pakistan — and you can hear it every perfect drum beat, in the superb flutes and enchanted backvocals that adorn her typically rich lyrics.

Favorite track: Day By Day, a beautiful anthem to a bittersweet obsession.

For more curated music, check out tune of the moment, our Tumblr spin-off, where each day, you can listen to a full track that’s making us smile.

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BP

Sound Meets Image: Visual Tributes to Music

The world’s most international passport, why cassettes are the new Buddhism, and what Thom Yorke has to do with motion typography.

We love music. We love art. Naturally, we love seeing the two meet and make out. After last week’s Meta-Vinyl Creativity, we’re on a mission to dig up creative projects that pay visual tribute to everything music stands for, both aesthetically and conceptually. Here are our top three finds.

RAM FM

To celebrate the culture-crossing, border-blind power of music, Palestinian and Israeli radio station RAM FM channeled its slogan, Music has no boundaries, through a brilliant visual metaphor — artist portraits “painted” with travel stamps.

It’s one of those rare concepts that you instantly get — not merely because the campaign creative captures the positioning brief so wonderfully, but also because you can simply relate to it on a personal level. We certainly can — what better way to live vicariously, to connect and converse, than through music?

RAM FM is actually known as Peace Radio and serves a greater social purpose — to serve as a cultural bridge between the people of Israel and Palestine, through the most universal social glue there is: Music. Which makes us love the campaign on yet another level.

Out of Gitam BBDO, Tel-Aviv.

via Abduzeedo

GHOST IN THE MACHINE

Non-traditional media artist iri5 works with old books, playing cards, magazines, credit cards and other everyday miscellany to create compelling, double-take-requiring artwork. Her Ghost in the Machine series uses recycled cassette tapes to create phenomenal portraits of musicians from their original cassettes.

Bob Dylan

The project is inspired by the philosophical sentiment that the body is but a package for the spirit.

Robert Smith

I imagine we are all, like cassettes, thoughts wrapped up in awkward packaging.

Jimi Hendrix

via NoiseAddicts

MUSIC MAKES US

The GRAMMYs. What a cultural icon. While it’s easy to dismiss them as an entertainment industry popularity contest, we like to think of them as a way of honoring the music that inspires, impacts and moves the greatest number of people.

This year, The Recording Academy wanted to capture this very sentiment in a fully integrated campaign that asks a simple yet profound question: Do we make great music or does great music make us?

It’s no secret we’re big fans of motion typography, so we love both the concept and the brilliant execution.

Out of TBWAChiatDay.

BP

The New Orchestra: Symphonic Innovation Around the World

The world’s biggest concert, what Venezuela has that everyone needs, and why YouTube is the unsuspected shortcut to Carnegie Hall.

Today, we’re doing something different. Instead of the usual indie up-and-comer, we’re going back to the idea that the best of innovation comes from taking tradition and flipping it on its head. In music, it doesn’t get more traditional than orchestras. So, today, we’re looking at three groundbreaking ways of orchestrating orchestras.

HAMBURG PHILHARMONIC

Last Monday, the Hamburg Philahrmonic put on a grand show — in fact, it was the world’s biggest music performance.

Instead of their usual venue, the 100 musicians took to the city, dispensing across 50 locations, replicating the layout of a concert hall stage on a much larger scale.

Overlooking this grand stage from the top of St. Michaelis Church, Hamburg’s highest point, the conductor worked her magic.

The musicians themselves were connected with each other via live video feed, with flatscreens propped right next to their sheet music — a wonderful metaphor for the classical-two-point-ohness of the stunt.

Watch the teaser video to really grasp the brilliance of this endeavor and the scale of the performance. Genius.

via GOOD

GUSTAVO DUDAMEL AT TED

Gustavo Dudamel is known as one of the most exciting and animated conductors of our time. He is also one of the youngest.

At last month’s TED, he led a truly jaw-dropping performance that elicited a standing ovation like no other — he conducted The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra, composed of the best high school musicians from Venezuela’s life-changing music program, El Sistema, of which Dudamel himself is a product.

The performance is nothing short of awe-inspiring. But, more importantly, it’s a testament to the need — the urgency — of preserving and advancing music education, of harnessing youth talent, of fostering the culture and the cult of musical genius.

GOOGLE COLLABORATIVE ORCHESTRA

We firmly believe collaboration is the future of every aspect of culture. And Google is taking the lead on the music front. Last week, they announced the winners of the world’s first online collaborative orchestra.

YouTube Symphony OrchestraThe contest called for professional and amateur musicians to “audition” for the 90 spots on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. Entries came from over 30 countries on six continents, with musicians playing some 26 different instruments. The 90 international winners, who will travel to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall, were selected by the YouTube community and a panel of performers from the world’s most renowned orchestras.

You can see all the winning audition videos on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra Channel. They are, needless to say, phenomenal.

The orchestra will participate in a collaborative summit for classical music in New York next month, wrapping up with their Carnegie Hall concert — which, by the way, will be conducted by none other than San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, also founder of New World Symphony  and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Here’s to making collaboration the new classic.

BP

You Better Believe It

Why we drink, scandal!, the world’s most expensive clock, theft-worthy animation, what Radiohead and Goldfrapp have in common, and how diarrhea can save the planet.

LIFE & BEER, EXPLAINED

Enough said.


Inspired by the ever-amusing Indexed blog — if you’re not already familiar, we strongly suggest you fix that cultural mistake ASAP.

I’M A MAC, AND I’M A MAC POSING AS A PC

The horror! The scandal! You know those annoying new “PC Pride” TV spots for Microsoft that attempted to shove the Seinfeld fiasco under the carpet? Well, an overzealous conspiracy theorist decided to look at the EXIF information of the campaign photos sent to the media — that’s the little piece of file information that shows what program the file was created in.

Guess what — those Microsoft ads were made on…gasp…a Mac. And if you think Microsoft and Crispin, their ad agency, have the relationship equivalent of a Catholic priest caught with his pants down at a gay bar, it gets worse. Turns out, Dell’s agency, Enfatico, did the exact same thing with their client’s campaign. Except in their case, those Macs were actually bought on the Dell dollar.

And just when we thought no one could out-whore-out the ever-irreverent Improv Everywhere…who actually revered quite quickly at the sight of corporate bling.

via Tribble Ad Agency

WE EAT TIME FOR BREAKFAST

Speaking of Seinfeld, here’s something that sounds like one of Kramer’s ideas but is, in fact, completely real:

Corpus Chromophage

One of our heroes, brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking, has just unveiled the world’s strangest clock. Called

Chronophage, which means “time-eater,” the beastly time-keeper cost $2 million and was developed over 5 years in Cambridge’s Corpus Christi College by Dr. John Taylor, a renowned inventor and horologist.

Its shtick: It has no hands — time is displayed by a series of blue LED lights illuminating the 24-carat gold surface through various slits and lenses. The design itself was inspired by the work of legendary innovator John Harrison, who came up with the “grasshopper escapement” mechanism almost 300 years ago.

The clock is only accurate every five minutes, but is wired up to an electric motor that will keep it running for the next 25 years.

We’re fascinated by the idea of a device that captures the relativity of time and how its passage mercilessly eats away at our lives. That, and we like shiny things.

via BBC Technology

AND THEN THERE WAS FLASHLIGHT

On the cool-LED-stuff note, we’re obsessed with chronophage art collective PIKA PIKA. They make abstract animation using LED flashlights, which “draw” an image by tracing its outline over and over. Their movement is recorded in a series of photographs using long exposures, which are then spliced together into an animated sequence.

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In 2005, the team was invited to a conference, where they presented the back-end of how the animation worked. They noticed that the audience of people interested in the concept was incredibly diverse, so they came up with a way to make the animation more interactive and inclusive, recruiting audience members in its production.

PIKA PIKAToday, PIKA PIKA films are made by that audience: Each person gets a flashlight and becomes a part of the animation. The films have since traveled the world and won various awards across a number of art and film festivals.

So that’s where Sprint stole the idea from.

SOLAR-POWERED MUSIC

From one cool audience-made light-employing video to another: After Radiohead’s In Rainbows fan-made video contest, a Goldfrapp fan got inspired to animate the track “Lovely Head” from their first album.

It’s essentially a visualization of the sound data, with the lyrics superimposed, producing the visual equivalent of what we’d imagine goes on in one’s brain when listening to the track on psychedelic drugs.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/658158[/vimeo]

It was made through a process that’s way over our head, which makes us dig it all the more. It also reminds us of binary data sculptor Paul Prudence his video stream data visualizations.

via Coudal

BEYOND THE WC

And since we’re getting into things way over our head, here’s something that blows everything else out of the water. Or, as it just so happens, out of the oil.

Plastic-Producing E. coli

Scientists have developed a new strain of that same pant-pooping E. coli bacterium that can make butanediol (BDO), the material used in stuff like spandex, car bumpers and plastic cups, from scratch. Which basically means they can make plastic without using oil or natural gas, taking a huge energy load off the current plastic production methods.

That’s what we call research-grant-justifying progress. (Unlike, say, the one that measured methane emissions from farting cows.)

Now, if they can only get them to make tacos…

via PSFK

BP

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