Tidying Up…

This will be the last thing I ever have to say on 2009, I promise you this. This is me tying up all the loose ends; in case you were wondering what all my “Honorable Mentions” list looked like- it’s all the shit that overflowed from the proverbial toilet that was ’09. I can also assure you that I have little to no “honor” so this list to follow should be read with severe skepticism.

First and foremost:

The Ten Best EPs of 2009

10. Warpaint – Exquisite Corpse (Manimal Vinyl; October 5th)

warpaintMelancholy dream-pop in the vein of the Los Angeles eighties’ Paisley Underground scene; funny I should say “vein” because this six song EP is the aural equivalent of an opiate rush. It’s a mainline to your pleasure center; reverb-drenched guitars set to syrupy sweet vocals from Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman over plodding basses (courtesy Jenny Lee Lindberg) and a steady, understated backbeat from Stella Mozgawa. On their MySpace page, under “Sounds Like” they describe themselves as Happy Nightmare, no doubt a nod to the Kendra Smith-slash-David Roback (and later Hope Sandoval) project Opal (that would eventually morph into Mazzy Star). Pretty nice sound, and wonderful influences, ladies!

9. Suckers – Suckers EP (IAMSOUND; April 14th)

suckersFirst off, four songs at sixteen minutes is too short, and I’d only say that because this is good enough that I want more, at least 40 minutes of it. Second, Suckers make a unique brand of pop-meets-spiritual music in that they share a musical sensibility that’s equal parts Yeasayer and MGMT– so it’s both a gospel-esque sing-along (or shout-along) as well as rhythmic enough to get your head nodding, even danceable at times. Suckers are your urban hippies with synths- when music comes away from the campfire and into a studio full of electronics and midi sounds; the result is sublime- It Gets Your Body Movin’ is one of the best songs I’ve come across this year.

8. Abe Vigoda – Reviver EP (Post-Present Medium; February 17th)

abe-vAbe Vigoda gets a little more sloppy, slightly more experimental (there’s an almost two-minute noise excursion, a re-do of their own song Endless Sleeper; slowing it down by half and giving it a sonic re-interpretation, right in the middle of the mini-record) but for some reason it’s even more listenable- whetting my appetite for another full-length album from these guys. The track House sounds like there’s three or four different rhythms going on at once- each musician playing their respective instrument to the beat of their own disparate heart, yet it works so well; but the main focal point of the album is their cover (and liberal re-explication) of Stevie NicksWild Heart– it’s a pretty good summation of Abe Vigoda’s mission statement (if they were to have one), this band is like a “fever gone higher…” and the line “…running around like a spirit in flight” fit so well capturing the essence of AV. The droning bass line and the plucky guitar work in conjuction with Vidal’s emotive and yearning vocalization make this track one of the young year’s best- and the searing distortion sneaking into the song doesn’t hurt at all- it adds to the urgency. AV is hitting their stride- I’m really excited to see what else comes from their world in the next year.

7. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Higher Than The Stars EP (Slumberland; September 22nd)

higherTake some Power, Corruption & Lies-era New Order, add a dash of jangly twee-pop and a slice of The Jesus & Mary Chain‘s sweet-and-fuzzy feedback and you got yourself a nice little sound here that TPOBPAH have cultivated into an EP of stellar tracks; not to mention their wonderful full-length released earlier in the year. It reminds me also (stylistically speaking, of course) of The Smiths in that the music has a sunny side yet the lyrics are dark and depressive- sort of like a subliminal message, with poppy side-effects…

6. Julianna Barwick – Florine EP (eMusic Selects; April 27th)

barwickWow. As far as I can tell, it’s just a woman, a microphone, various delay and reverb pedals, a looping machine, maybe a keyboard and a whole lot of creativity. This is one of the most soul-achingly beautiful releases of the year, a real sleeper. It sounds like a church service held at the bottom of the ocean, attended by whales and dolphins and run by some type of silken-siren voiced angel of a fairy. I don’t know. It’s psychedelic and it’s pretty. So there.

5. Beirut – March Of The Zapotec EP (Ba Da Bing; February 17th)

march_of_the_zapotec_holland_epAptly named for its Mexican funeral march feel, March Of The Zapotec was recorded with the help of a nineteen piece band, The Jimenez Band hailing from the state of Oaxaca. Inspired by Condon’s recent visit there as well as the Oaxacan/Zapotecan tradition of burying their dead with all their valuables, this EP is rife with the imagery and native folklore- the track La Llorona, (Spanish for “weeping woman”) is loosely based on the similar tale told throughout the Hispanic world. The instrumental My Wife, with its waltz-like tone shows that Condon can’t shake his eastern-European leanings just yet- which makes for an interesting study in an increasingly globalizing world- think of it as Beirut’s one-world philosophy; I think one thing Condon can say through his music is that we’re all basically the same. If indie hipsters can like the sort of music inspired by the clash of the Industrial Revolution and the Ottoman Empire, so be it.

4. Deerhunter – Rainwater Cassette Exchange (Kranky; 5/18)

rainwaterI got a chance to hear three of these tracks at Noise Pop earlier this year; before I went deaf for two days. Yeah, Deerhunter’s live show is akin to My Bloody Valentine’s- you better bring some ear plugs because you’re gonna get some guitars. Anyway, the band treated those shows as pre-tour exercises (meaning: they gave 110% but also used the opportunity to “try out” new tracks Disappearing Ink, Famous Last Words and Rainwater). I remember them being louder for some reason… Anytime Deerhunter can throw out a quick 5-song EP in between albums/tours, even if it sucks, I’ll happily lap it up. This does not suck in the least; yeah, it’s too short- but it’s an EP so it whets the appetite ever so slightly, I’m excited for what they have next. A band that’s big on conceptual continuity; you could lay their releases end-to-end chronologically, hit play and listen to them as a series of ideas, where slight shifts in perception create little ripples in the psyche. Some of these ideas from their earlier stuff are still being felt now- that’s why their albums are musically dynamic yet still true to their vision. I can’t wait for what’s next.

3. Hezekiah Jones – Bread Of Teeth (Yer Bird; September 12th)

breadI run the risk of sounding trite, but Hezekiah‘s been crafting these lovely, soul-crushingly beautiful songs since before I can remember; and I don’t say that because I know the guy personally, I mean it- he’s the best unknown artist in the world right now. You’re doing yourself an awful disservice by not checking out his rusty brand of American folk, but maybe you don’t want to be moved to almost tears by the track Traffic To The Sea, and I understand that, but these aching and fragile tunes (as well as the upbeat Iowa Alligator, a re-worked version of a reggae tune done by Hez’s old band StillWillis) will leave you wanting more; I guess a “stop-gap” EP whets the appetite as such.

2. No Age – Losing Feeling (Sub Pop; October 6th)

No-Age-Losing-FeelingThe guys from No Age sure have been busy- after 2008’s Album Of The Year award from yours truly they’ve gotten themselves fully immersed in the skate industry; first getting a clothing sponsor in Altamont and then an Ed Templeton-designed shoe for Emerica. Everything’s coming up No Age! Dreamy, shoegazey, at times heavy and fast; I guess the best approximation would be to just call them a noise pop band and send you on your way; but they’re so much more than that. Take the track Aim At The Airport; it’s an electro-feedback knob twiddling thing- I can’t tell if they’re using a backward guitar loops or some type of rotating Leslie effect, but either way it’s an interesting listen. I guess I’ll have to claim ignorance as to what studio/gadget trickery they’re using; regardless- it’s pretty awesome.

1. BLK JKS – Mystery EP (Secretly Canadian; March 10th)

blkjksBLK JKS‘ strength lies in its ability to harness the power of the drum. Hailing from Johannesburg, South Africa, and nearby Soweto; these four musicians are straddling the Atlantic- one foot firmly rooted in their traditional mbaqanga, marabi and kwela styles and the other in American indie rock. A perfect blend of polyrhythmic drumming, TV On The Radio’s dark and danceable synth pop, Lee Perry’s Black Ark dub and just a touch of psychedelia. It’s at times sparse, light and airy; others it’s dense, heavy and strangling. I could give you a million different styles of album reviews; however overwrought or unstrung they become with such a cumbersome tool like language- the fact remains that this EP serves as a glimpse into the mindset of the rapidly expanding globalization of our tiny world, a slice of modernization meets traditionalism. BLK JKS have come from a part of the world where I’d least expect this type of music to come from, and the result is rewarding if not compelling.

The Honorable Mentions; Albums #26-40

26. Mew – No More Stories / Are Told Today / I’m Sorry / They Washed Away // No More Stories / The World Is Grey / I’m Tired / Let’s Wash Away (Sony; August 17th)

mew-no_more_storiesAre you fucking serious? That’s not an album title, that’s a poem. Listen, reader- I’m not going to sugar-coat it; this is pretentious art rock with a side of rather proggy pop. It’s like these kids grew up with nothing but a few of their parents’ King Crimson and Yes records and a steady stream of ABBA on Danish AM radio. I saw these guys years ago open up for Bloc Party at The Stone Pony; most famous for being the Asbury Park venue that gave Bruce Springsteen his start. I remember thinking, if Bruce heard these cats play, he’d shit in his hat. And I think that’s why I love it; it borrows from over-the-top prog wankery as much as it does from Scandanavian ear candy (think Ace Of Base on mushrooms and ecstasy).

27. Kurt Vile – Childish Prodigy (Matador; October 6th)

vilePhilly’s Kurt Vile has been killing it consistently, albeit in relative obscurity, for the better part of this decade- so when he releases three solo full-lengths, an EP with The Violators and still has time to play in The War On Drugs; you’d be apt to call him prolific. Lo-fi psych-folk jams that sound crusty and slightly aggro; through the syrupy haze of reverb-drenched vocals Vile‘s message is plain and simple- he’s here to rock. And he’s just getting started; inking a deal with Matador that’ll keep him in front of the pack, and keeping me looking forward to more of his stuff…

28. Califone – All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (Dead Oceans; October 6th)

califoneProbably the biggest sleeper record this past year; I say that because I slept on Califone since their last record, 2006’s Roots & Crowns. Three years between albums can make anyone forget your name; once you hear these fourteen songs you’ll realize that through all the densely layered tracks and intricately laced production, it probably took the better part of the last three years to make this. The result is a gorgeous pastiche of fractured Americana, a post-folk world where the soundtrack to Apocalypse: The Movie* is set to Califone‘s music.

* – not a real movie, this is me taking poetic license. Did you need this note here? Is this insulting your intelligence? Anyway, this album actually is a soundtrack to a real movie, directed by Tim Rutili about a psychic woman that lives deep in the woods somewhere. Califone makes a cameo appearance. That is all…

29. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (Vagrant; July 14th)

sharpeThis is what a traveling revival show would sound like if it was led by a crazy person that grew up on a steady diet that’s equal parts Jesus Christ: Superstar, CSN&Y and lysergic acid diethylamide. Based loosely on the concept that lead Magnetic Zero/Ima Robot guy Alex Ebert (appearing here as alter-ego Edward Sharpe) had of a being coming down to Earth to save us all, yet he keeps getting distracted from his ultimate goal because he falls in love over and over again. Sort of like a horny alien Jesus, or whatever the Scientologists believe in.

30. Dinosaur Jr. – Farm (Jagjaguwar; June 23rd)

farmOkay, I’m ready to drop my hatred for J Mascis– I’ve been holding on to a grudge against him for so long now I forget why I hated him in the first place. Oh, that’s right- for kicking the immensely talented Lou Barlow out of DJr, which, in retrospect- no booting of Lou, then no awesomeness that is Sebadoh, I guess. I still refuse to listen to any non-Barlow Dinosaur records, and that’s just how it is with me. Plus, I’m not really missing anything- all those records are basically Mascis solo records, I mean, he even booted Murph out before recording 1994’s Without A Sound (with that awful Feel The Pain song, but hey- Spike Jonze’s golfing-through-midtown-Manhattan video was rad, right?) and starting a love affair with the mid-90’s fratboy set that fortunately for everyone involved died shortly after as DJr went on a ten-year hiatus. So I’d be remiss if I don’t mention previous offering Beyond (first album with the original lineup since 1988’s Bug); Farm is a rocking continuation of that record; if you’re not bowing at the feet of Mascis‘ guitar prowess right this minute, light a candle and hit your fucking knees at the altar, bitch. His walls of guitar noise, feedbacked distortion that’s been processed perfectly, Lou’s basslines thudding and plodding on top of Murph’s metronomic drumming, it’s the best pure “rock” record I’ve heard this year. What can I say about an almost nine minute song (I Don’t Wanna Go There) that’s isn’t the least bit boring, including an extended scorching solo? Of course, Lou gets his obligatory album closer- so there’s something for everyone.

31. Condo Fucks – Fuckbook (Matador; March 24th)

condofucksCondo Fucks is not Yo La Tengo. Yo La Tengo is Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew. Now; (follow me here) Kaplan, Hubley and McNew are Condo Fucks. Got it? Basically, it’s their new “project”, more of a lo-fi garage sort of thing that totally rocks. I was just thinking the other day, “Man, I need a summer album…” Well folks, this is probably gonna be it, unless Wavves or No Age drop a record in the next three months, which, considering their output, isn’t that far of a stretch. Anyway, Yo La Tengo Condo Fucks would love to have you believe that they’ve been around for years, even going so far as to make a “fake” bio on their Matador Records page. I could care less, this record fucking rocks. Covering songs by The Small Faces, Richard Hell, Beach Boys, Electric Eels, Troggs, Flaming Groovies and Slade– it’s pretty much a raw-ass, gritty sounding record and I love Yo La Tengo Condo Fucks.

32. White Rabbits – It’s Frightening (TBD; May 19th)

white-rabbitsI wish that I could just review a record without having to find out who produced it; when a record sounds as fully-realized as It’s Frightening does, I have to take a peek as the press packet to see who was twiddling the knobs on the other side of the glass. Spoon’s Britt Daniel is (in my opinion) the best producer in music today- just listen to any of his band’s albums from 1998’s A Series Of Sneaks up to now; he’s best at getting the songs to sound exactly what they’re supposed to sound like- this snare goes here, this guitar there, etc. Basically: perfect records. So White Rabbits entrusted Mr. Daniel to take their sound and do as he sees fit- the result is a heavily percussive affair (Percussion Gun) with piano lines doubling as bass lines (Midnight And I), layers of rhythm (Right Where They Left), textured bits of ambient passages (Lionesse)- White Rabbits are poised to make a surprise run at the top of some year-end lists.

33. The Decemberists – Hazards Of Love (Capitol; March 24th)

hazardsI don’t wanna give too much of the plot away, I’ll give you an abridged version- you find out Margaret’s pregnant (in the song A Bower Scene), has the baby (Isn’t It A Lovely Night?), the queen wants it (The Wanting Comes In Waves / Repaid), a terrible roustabout wants to destroy it (The Rake’s Song), Margaret eventually abducted and confronted (The Abduction Of Margaret), the river (Annan Water), the drowning (The Hazards Of Love 3 – Revenge!) and lovers re-united in death (The Hazards Of Love 4 – The Drowned). As far as the music goes on this record; it’s everything The Decemberists are known for: Meloy’s 12-string guitar and adenoidal vocal delivery, Jenny Conlee’s excellent keyboard work (I think there’s even some harpsichord in there, too), Chris Funk doing everything, and Nate Query and John Moen holding down the rhythm section. Take that basic recipe and then add all these newer ingredients: excursions deep into prog-rock, replete with chase music, power chord vamps, dizzying crescendos, the addition of both Shara Worden and Becky Stark and guest appearances from Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Robyn Hitchcock.

34. Real Estate – Real Estate (Woodsist; November 17th)

real-estateDreamy beach-pop (yeah, that shit was hot this past year) that sounds effortless; there were a slew of other acts in ’09 that did something similar but Real Estate did it better. And they’re from Jersey, so the same beaches that inform their brand of sun-kissed pop were the beaches that I grew up on. That’s an unfair bias, but spin this record and try not to smile, I fucking dare you…

35. The Antlers – Hospice (Frenchkiss; August 18th)

antlersSlow-burning anthems of melancholic regret weaved in and around a loose narrative of nurse falling in love with patient; the story line goes like this- lead Antler Peter Silberman moves to the big city, spends two whole years sequestered from society writing this album, losing touch with family and friends along the way only to emerge with this stellar offering of dolorous melodies and heartrending storytelling. Think Radiohead-meets-Bon Iver with an Arcade Fire fascination and you can begin to draw a line connecting The Antlers’ influences to one another. If you like pop songs structured around ambient textures and falsetto-styled vocalizations with anthemic aspirations, Hospice may be your favorite album of the year.

36. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart (Slumberland; February 3rd)

pains-of-being-pureSince it’s a self-titled album, I didn’t feel the need to write it twice, that’s a pretty long name to begin with. And it sounds like a really bad diary entry, maybe something from Angela Chase. Except this is really nice fuzzy noise pop with a heart of darkness; it’s an homage to the best stuff I grew up on in the eighties (Echo & The Bunnymen, et al.) and early nineties (Teenage Fanclub, et al.) as well as lending itself to the shoegazer textures of bands like Ride and My Bloody something. Valentine? Yeah, they like those guys too, a little bit. Actually, their influence is heavy on these twenty-something New York scenesters- listening to songs like Come Saturday and Stay Alive, that wall of guitar sound is all over here, built up around lovely pop structures. My favorite track from the record; The Tenure Itch, sounds as if it was recorded for the Pretty In Pink Soundtrack– it just has that angst-ridden teenager feel to it; set upon a gorgeous late-80s pop sensibility. The album has that overall feel; it goes jangly guitars one song, drony and feedbacked the next; all under awkward and unsure lyrics- it is so teenager it’s not even funny. The track Young Adult Friction is a marvelous little pun; it’s set against the backdrop of the high school library (undoubtedly in the young adult fiction section). So I’ve cut and pasted (from their website) a typically teen all-caps shouting of the lyrics: “BETWEEN THE STACKS IN THE LIBRARY / NOT LIKE ANYONE STOPPED TO SEE / WE CAME THEY WENT, OUR BODIES SPENT / AMONG THE DUST AND THE MICROFICHE”. How innocent, yet there’s a line in the same song about taking vicodins- and another shout-out to opiates later on, on the track A Teenager in Love: “AND IF YOU MADE A STAND, I’D STAND WITH YOU ‘TIL THE END / BUT YOU DON’T NEED A FRIEND WHEN YOU’RE / A TEENAGER IN LOVE WITH CHRIST AND HEROIN”

37. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (Downtown; June 9th)

folder1I had given up on Mos Def. I thought Black On Both Sides was a fluke, and that I’d be consigned to get pissed every time I saw him in some shitty buddy movie, ranting and raving about how he coulda be a great rapper. Then Jimmy told me to check out The Ecstatic, and with skepticism I spent 16 of my valuable emusic credits getting it, swearing I’d never speak his name again if it sucked. Un-fucking believably good. That’s all I have to say. I knew it was all going to be ok when I heard Supermagic and it just kept getting better. His voice glides over the tracks, effortlessly weaving between, under, over and around incredible beats and samples.

Bad news and good dope
powder, potion, pills, smoke
baby how you trying to go
Duro o dulce
fast or slow
yay
no
it’s ok you can have it your way
naw, it aint all good but baby I’m cool
feeling great feeling good how are you
10% condition, 90% response
Survival mathematics the number man’s song

I swear the motherfucker just makes the shit sound easy, and like he was born to do it. I don’t pretend to be a hip hop aficionado, but Mos Def in his best form, as he is here, just inspires the shit out of me. -by Spencer

38. Morrissey – Years Of Refusal (Attack/Lost Highway; February 16th)

years-of-refusalSo what is Moz saying on his ninth solo album? That he’s wealthy (as opposed to “rich”) so there’s no need to worry about selling records (they will sell anyway, good or not) or pleasing the record company (he’s one of the few artists that the word “integrity” actually still means something to) and that he’s been able to maintain some semblance of a private personal life while selling somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 million records worldwide (I’m combining his previous body of work); it’s become painfully clear that Morrissey doesn’t need anyone.

39. Mountains – Choral (Thrill Jockey; February 16th)

mountainsBarring a Brian Eno record in the next eight months, I’d say this is the best ambient album of the year. These two art-school chums (Koen Holtkamp & Brendon Anderegg) make aural art with a slow, atmospheric record- designed to both entrance the listener and melt into the background. As much as you want to walk away from it, it holds your attention. Like a sculpture you didn’t know was in the room and when you suddenly realize it’s there, it’s like the most important thing in there. Remember those cheesy New-Age Pure Moods albums with Enya and Moby from the late 90s? Yeah, fuck those. This album is the shit- floating out there in the ether somewhere between Discreet Music and that Fennesz record from last year.

40. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (Fat Possum; January 20th)

andrew_bird_noble_beastAndrew Bird is a big fan of life; both in an intra-personal aspect and on a molecular level. Continuing on a concept from his three previous records of breaking the biological constraints of life down to its basest parts- the album is again rife with the imagery of elemental vocabulary like calcium mines, radiolarians (some type of protozoic life form that produces intricate skeletal systems), sea anenomes, etc.- it’s as if you need your old bio textbook to read his lyric sheets. I’m going to go ahead and start calling him Dr. Bird, he’s probably the most cerebral songwriter around these days; and I can’t quite call his music “pop”, being that he’s a classically trained violinist his music veers closer towards a baroque sentiment- imagine pop music of the late 1700s set to brainiac post-Ph.D lyricism. But the musicianship coupled with the uber-intelligentsia slant makes for repeated interested listens; highlights include Oh No, Masterswarm, Not A Robot, But A Ghost, and the hands-down best piece of music on the entire record appears after the 2:15 mark of Anonanimal– it’s actually one of the nicest breakdowns in a song I’ve heard in a while. But then again, Dr. Bird can write some really fine melodies; so it’s completely expected.

Honorable Mentions; Songs #26-50

26. You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II) – Sunset Rubdown Dragonslayer
27. Hey, Snow White – The New Pornographers Dark Was The Night
28. It Gets Your Body Movin’ – Suckers Suckers EP
29. Born On A Day The Sun Didn’t Rise – Black Moth Super Rainbow Eating Us
30. I’m On A Boat – The Lonely Island (ft. T-Pain) Incredibad
31. No Intention – Dirty Projectors Bitter Orca
32. Cheerleader – Grizzly Bear Veckatimest
33. Microwave Mayo – DOOM Born Like This
34. You Are The Blood – Sufjan Stevens Dark Was The Night
35. Brothersport – Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion
36. Lucid Dreams – Franz Ferdinand Tonight
37. So Bored – Wavves Wavvves
38. The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid – The Decemberists The Hazards Of Love
39. The Akara – Beirut March Of The Zapotec EP
40. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris – Morrissey Years Of Refusal
41. The Tenure Itch – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart s/t
42. Blue – Julie Doiron I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day
43. I Am Goodbye – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy Beware
44. And The Hazy Sea – Cymbals Eat Guitars Why There Are Mountains
45. Home – Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros s/t
46. Coochie – Blakroc (ft. Ludacris & Ol’ Dirty Bastard) Blakroc
47. Should Have Taken Acid With You – Neon Indian Psychic Chasms
48. Traffic To The Sea – Hezekiah Jones Bread Of Teeth EP
49. Bode – Julianna Barwick Florine EP
50. Papa Was A Rodeo – Bright Eyes SCORE! 20 Years of Merge Records

Alright, that’s it for 2009. Later…

The Ten Best Albums Of The Year; 2009

The intro paragraph is totally over-rated as far as I’m concerned; I never use these to my advantage. I just blabber about nothing, trying to set up the article- that’s all you really want, right?

10. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt.II (Ice H2O Records; September 8th)

raekwonWhenever an album has Ghostface Killah on it, along with an absolute all-star production staff (that beef between Chef & RZA has been squashed over the disagreements in production of 8 Diagrams). Tracks by Dilla, Pete Rock, Marley Marl, Erick Sermon, The Alchemist, Dr. Dre and Mathematics, guest verses a-plenty from Tony Starks, Inspectah Deck, Meth, RZA, GZA, Masta Killa, Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes, Beanie Sigel & Slick Rick. How could this album not be completely awesome? Four years in the making, label changes, beefs arise and beefs quelled, it’s the best hip-hop album of the year, a title previously held by both DOOM and Mos Def’s terrific records from earlier in ‘09. So many standout tracks- House of Flying Daggers, Cold Outside, Black Mozart, Gihad, Penitentiary, Surgical Gloves, 10 Bricks, the ODB-tribute Ason Jones and contender for track of the year New Wu (with Ghost & Meth, produced by Bobby Digital himself) which revisits the classic Wu style of yesteryear.

Key tracks: House of Flying Daggers (ft. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Method Man & GZA), Cold Outside (ft. Ghostface Killah & Suga Bang Bang), Black Mozart (ft. Inspectah Deck, RZA & Tash Mahogany), Gihad (ft. Ghostface Killah)

9. Atlas Sound – Logos (Kranky Records; October 20th)

atlasI love Bradford Cox; I swear that man could pee into my ears and just the sound it makes would be one of the twenty best records of the year. Logos, his second offering under his solo moniker Atlas Sound is a step further into accessibility away from his previous album; here he’s less into the murky atmospherics and sound collages and more into exploring structure and form- take the album’s centerpiece for example, Quick Canal. It’s an eight-and-a-half minute homage to Stereolab‘s influence on Cox, and for good measure the main voice behind the ‘Lab Laetitia Sadier is featured on vocals. Also featured on vocals is (guess who) the most visible performer of the year, Noah Lennox– I swear this guy has had more work doing back-up vocals than anyone in recent memory; check out the standout track Walkabout.

Key tracks: Walkabout (ft. Noah Lennox), Quick Canal (ft. Laetitia Sadier), Criminals, Shelia

8. The Clientele – Bonfires On The Heath (Merge Records; October 6th)

clientele-bonfiresSome bands are able to capture a feeling so well and set it to music it’s as if they were born to do it. Each of The Clientele‘s four proper full lengths are so apt at capturing a specific mood- here on Bonfires On The Heath it’s autumn all year long. The imagery of fallen leaves- oranges, yellows and browns; the English countryside readying itself for a foray into winter time; it’s one of the best “fall” records (makes me miss “real” season changes; we get off easy here in California). It’s sort of been the antithesis to all these “summer beach fuzz pop” records that have completely inundated the landscape; it’s more than welcome, too. In the land of perpetual summer, we need more than one season to be represented. Not all of us love the middle months.

Key tracks: Never Anyone But You, I Wonder Who We Are, Share The Night, Harvest Time

7. The xx – xx (Young Turks Records; August 17th)

the xxSometimes a record has such an undeniable pull on your psyche that it can’t be ignored. I gotta admit, the album cover is what got me (at first); it reveals absolutely nothing about the music within. Then a few listens through and it was like a hook in a fish’s eye; stuck beyond belief. This “too young to sound this sexy” quartet (now a trio) from south-west London made the sleekest and sexiest album of the year; singer Romy Madley-Croft sounds years past her age- think of Portishead‘s Beth Gibbons with less smoke in her lungs. Rounding out the sound is Oliver Sim‘s breathy vocals (not to mention deep basslines), all over top of Jamie Smith‘s minimal but perfect beats and samples. By far the best debut album this year, probably of the last few.

Key tracks: Islands, Crystalised, Shelter, VCR

6. White Denim – Fits (Downtown Records; October 20th)

white-denim-fitsProbably my favorite straight-forward “rock” album of the year; imagine a world where time machines exist- let’s put Grand Funk Railroad in a jam session with Pavement and see what happens. White Denim’s Fits, perhaps? GFR was a riff-heavy power trio and the Pave was the lo-fi, thinking man’s take on said “dude” rock. So to mash them two together would be the closest approximation to what White Denim appears to be going for; and to great success. Crammed full of riffs (the first five tracks); the musical ideas stretch briefly into some dub explorations (Sex Prayer), down home-style country boogies (Paint Yourself), a funky Boz Scagg-meets-Jeff Buckley falsetto number (I’d Have It Just The Way We Were), acoustic-tinged dream pop (Regina Holding Hands and Syncn)- just when I thought “indie rock” was getting boring, here comes something that’s forward-thinking by looking back.

Key tracks: I Start To Run, Mirrored And Reversed, Radio Milk How Can You Stand It, All Consolation

5. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner Bros Records; October 13th)

flaming-lips-embryonicI had pretty much made up my mind that I wasn’t even going to listen to this record, I had completely written the Lips off. Then a friend described it to me as “loose and spacey” so I decided to listen to it, and I’m totally glad I did. Not only is it one of the best records of the year, it’s one of the Lips‘ best (not a huge fan of either of the over-Pro Tooled Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi records, and I thought At War With The Mystics was rather weak) and it hearkens back to a simpler time; i.e. Clouds Taste Metallic-era Lips, sans guitar-centric approach. This album is actually heavier on the bass side of things; favoring the bottom-end as the featured (or dare I say “lead”) instrument. If they used Pro Tools here (and I bet they did, Dave Fridmann again helps out with production and it’s a well known fact that that guy loves the Pro Tools software) they’re trying hard to sound like they aren’t using it; most songs here sound like a minimum of tracks are being used- deep bass, minimal click-and-glitch drums, creepy synths, reverbed guitars, echoed vocals; that’s about it for most of the 18 songs on this double record. I haven’t even mentioned the guests that show up to help out (MGMT, Karen O and some German mathematician guy). How they created something so massively psychedelic, mind-bending, genre-warping, messy; this “thing” that sounds as if it’s going to spin out of control any second yet keeps it together; is the genius of Wayne Coyne and Company. Embryonic is a great title; some of these tracks don’t sound completely finished- there’s a sense of The Flaming Lips gestating this sprawling ball of humanity and birthing  out something so bare and beautiful.

Key tracks: Convinced Of The Hex, Powerless, Silver Trembling Hands, The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine

4. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer (Jagjaguwar; June 23rd)

sunset2Roll the 12-sided die against the troll now, and save your hit points for the wizard on level 9- he has illusion magic. Seriously; this album makes it cool to say you were once into Dungeons & Dragons (even if it was only for a few weeks while you were a Boy Scout in 1988). Sunset Rubdown’s third full-length is a progressive rock concept album with all the imagery of medieval mythologies, twisting melodies, soaring guitars, midi-influenced instrumentation- and for all the shit I’ve given Spencer Krug about his voice; here it works to amazing and eccentric avail. Anyone who has spent more than three minutes talking to me about music can walk away while holding me in contempt for my mentioning how awesome early-70s prog rock is; well, this is akin to that. I have to say I’m really loving this record; all the geekery I once partook in has been neatly packaged into a 49-minute aural landscape of sorcerers, meteors, ancient Greek muses, ghosts and dragons.

Key tracks: You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II), Idiot Heart, Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!, Silver Moons

3. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp Records; May 26th)

grizzly-bear-veckatimest2009’s most highly anticipated album is like that calming voice whispering from beyond the shadows, telling you not to worry, take a deep breath, relax, you’ll get through this- we’re all going to get through this, but first; there’s the topic of trust- we have to take you somewhere, can you offer yourself to us for just fifty-two minutes? We promise to get you home safely, and it may just change you for the better. From the opening notes, it’s obvious that Veckatimest is a marked departure from Yellow House; for one- it’s a warmer sounding record. It has much brighter textures helped by a more developed and inclusive “group” feel to it- the vocal harmonies are wound much tighter. It’s benefited greatly from lead Grizzly Ed Droste’s insistence on including all four members as equals in the collaborative effort. From the subtle turnarounds on Fine For Now to the Hard Knock Life-aping piano riff on Two Weeks to the bass and drum interplay on Cheerleader to the interwoven vocals on Dory; it’s an album that has grown exponentially more interesting upon repeated listens- one of those fabled “sleeper” albums that doesn’t sink its teeth into you fully at first listen, although you know it’s something special. By the third, fourth, fifth listen it has become that record you find yourself listening to daily while on your lunch break or while taking the train, or any spare moment of alone time you have you find that you’ve let Veckatimest fill up those minutes.

Key tracks: Two Weeks, Cheerleader, While You Wait For The Others; Ready, Able

2. Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels (Nettwerk; March 31st)

greatlakeswimI was trying to figure out why I loved this record so damn much; it’s by a Canadian band that plays a nice blend of folky Americana- then it hit me. Canadian bands do Americana better than American bands nowadays- I think that’s because whatever the American Dream once meant means more to Canadians than it does to Americans. Things like civil liberties, freedom of press and universal health care are all American pipe dreams; in Canada they are reality. Politicizing aside; Great Lake Swimmers make great, laid-back folky tunes in that whole echo-chamber aesthetic completed by mandolins, banjos and wistful church organs reminiscent of early-70s MOR light rock. This was the most surprising record of the year, I liked it just fine until I took a long car ride this summer and it made me fall in love with it; blame the vibraphones, jangly 12-string guitars, that aforementioned Hammond organ sound, actual church bells (recorded at Singer Castle), string sections, dobros; all done in various warm, resonant studios in an around the Thousand Islands area where the St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario.

Key tracks: Pulling On A Line, Palmistry, She Comes To Me In Dreams, Everything Is Moving So Fast

ALBUM OF THE YEAR…

Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle (Drag City Records; April 14th)

bill callahanCallahan is a writer’s songwriter- I only have a few Smog records but the general theme of his music that stands out to me is that he’s a master of self-deprecation. Not so much here; it’s still somber and melancholic, but Callahan takes it easy on himself, instead he’s using his supremely masterful wit and deadpan black humor to take shots at the political and religious right. He’s at his most capable when he’s wringing the emotion out of every last word with his dry delivery, aided here by bare bones instrumentation with occasional strings. I’ve listened to this record far more than any other this year (even bought the vinyl copy as well) so not only is it getting the “Best Album of 2009” award, it’s one of the best of the decade and the best of Callahan‘s career. Occasionally a record speaks to me on so many different levels; this year this was the one that hit home the most points. The opening lines of the album worked like a hook into my brain: “I started out in search of ordinary things / How much of a tree bends in the wind / I started telling the story without knowing the end…” and then Bill sets about telling us nine stories without ever knowing the end. There’s the one about half-remembered dreams of the perfect song, another couple songs about birds, wind, or flying in general. There’s a song for a departed friend, and then the almost ten-minute album closer Faith/Void; with its repeated refrain “it’s time to put God away (I put God away)…” I think I know what Callahan‘s talking about here- how to find peace and solace in this crazy world without faith; a level-headed, secular, humanistic way to approach serenity. And that’s why this album is a complete success; the artist formerly known as Smog has accomplished a perfect synergy between music and words; both serve to support each other

Key tracks: Too Many Birds, Jim Cain, Faith/Void, Eid Ma Clack Shaw

Albums Of The Year; 2009

There were a ton of amazing records released this year, and as you’ll see in a minute, most of them were released by Swedish bands (no, wait), I mean Canadians (uh, what?), let me rephrase that; oh just read…

25. Volcano Choir – Unmap (Jagjaguwar; September 22nd)

volcano-choir-unmapBon Iver‘s Justin Vernon and the guys from math rock outfit Collections Of Colonies Of Bees make their debut record; and it’s a fractured take on music, experimenting with sound and structure until the song itself doesn’t so much resemble an actual song as it does a collage of noise and textures. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not experimental in the “I can’t listen to this nonsense” way, it’s experimental in that it seeks to achieve musical harmony without traditional or conventional instruments. In fact, the studio itself is the main instrument on Unmap– that also doesn’t mean you won’t hear Vernon‘s trademark falsetto (it’s there in most of the songs); it just doesn’t dominate the landscape like it does with his day job. And there ain’t a whole lotta guitars on this records either; there’s an mbira, some auto-tuned vocals (that I hate to say really work nicely here) and more cuts and edits with a certain super-expensive premium music software program that I should hate, but strangely have endeared themselves to my ears far too often these past few months.

Key tracks: Island, IS; Husks And Shells, Still, Seeplymouth

24. Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms (Lefse Records; October 13th)

neon_indian-psychic_chasmsDo you miss your old Sega Master System? Cuz I miss mine; I was thinking about buying one off eBay so I can play Out Run and Alien Syndrome and Alex Kidd In Miracle World. See, this album by Alan Palomo (the one-man 8-bit army behind Neon Indian) has got me jonesing something fierce for my old video games. We weren’t as cool as the Nintendo kids, we got Sega for Christmas in 1986, while all of our friends were playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros., we had Hang On and Safari Hunt (the bastard cousin of Duck Hunt). Our friends would come over to play and treat the Sega as a leper, refusing to play or even look at it. That’s what this album reminds me of; the soundtrack to a childhood spent down my basement trying to get to the next level of Black Belt.

Key tracks: Deadbeat Summer, I Should Have Taken Acid With You, 6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know), Terminally Chill

23. Japandroids – Post-Nothing (Unfamiliar Records; April 28th)

japandroids-post-nothingApparently no one plays bass anymore. That ain’t a bad thing- just the other day I saw a bumper sticker that said “Everyone follows the bass” and I immediately blurted out (to no one in particular) “I fucking hate bass players”. Yeah, too bad everyone that starts a band nowadays either wants to be the drummer or guitar player. Later, bass. Vancouver garage duo Japandroids don’t need one anyway, their “heavy-on-the-toms-and-cymbals” sound fills the air with what could be some low-end notes, but a bass would really slow these guys down. They both share singing duties, trading back and forth or going at it together. If there’s one thing the Pacific Northwest can do is rock the shit out of a garage. Without a slow, plodding bass-playing jerk fucking them up. I fucking hate bass players.

Key tracks: Young Hearts Spark Fire, The Boys Are Leaving Town, Wet Hair, Rockers East Vancouver

22. Wildbirds & Peacedrums – The Snake (The Leaf Label; April 13th)

wildbirdsThese Swedes rely heavily on larger-than-life vocals from Mariam Wallentin and drum circle beats from her husband Andreas Werliin. Now Bjork would be too obvious (because of Sweden’s proximity to Iceland) and I’m hearing something else in there as well; but it’s really hard to describe in the context of direct influences. This is pretty unclassifiable as far as a genre is concerned; they won the award for the Best Swedish Jazz Act of ‘08- but it’s not quite “jazz” as much as it’s a freak-out, albeit a controlled one. There’s really no “instruments” besides drums, vocals and occasional ambient synth washes or a few notes here and there; oh, and drums. Did I say drums? Every song is a workout, there’s an amazing amount of range in Wallentin’s voice (sometimes it’s bare, other times she’s multi-tracked over herself, I’m hearing Siouxsie, PJ Harvey, and Kate Bush) and the timbre of the drums go from warm to bright and open to resonant. Wildbirds & Peacedrums The Snake is one of the “dark horse” records of the year- coming from out of nowhere. I’m glad people are making music like this.

Key tracks: There Is No Light, Liar Lion, Island, Chain Of Steel

21. The Rest – Everyone All At Once (Auteur Recordings; April 21st)

The-Rest_fullBig, anthemic songs wrapped in heavily orchestrated strings- I’m hearing great hooks here; the vocals recall both the yelpings of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Alec Ounsworth and the plaintiveness of Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch; the music is akin to Arcade Fire’s brand of baroque pop with a dash of The National’s shadowy melancholia thrown in for good measure- but it doesn’t do this band justice by lumping them into those easy comparisons. Showcasing a vast array of styles, Everyone All At Once is exactly that- you get everything all at once. Retreating to the faraway northern woods of Ontario to record this record, this band has crafted a genuine masterpiece- fully realized, beautifully crafted and dynamic in scope; The Rest should be the next big band to come from The Great White North, and if they aren’t on critic’s “year-end/best-of ‘09” lists I’m formally lodging a criminal investigation to as why they aren’t.

Key tracks: Modern Time Travel (necessities), Walk On Water (auspicious beginnings), Apples & Allergies, The Lady Vanishes

20. DM Stith – Heavy Ghost (Asthmatic Kitty Records; March 10th)

dmstithSince there isn’t a track on the record called Heavy Ghost, I’ll just have to say that the name captures the feel of the record- it’s somber, haunting and reflective. Stith’s vocals are lilting and ethereal, the sparse guitars and reverb-drenched pianos are at times juxtaposed by strange percussion (or none at all); it’s a charming and creepy psychedelic folk album that at times abandons what could be considered “western popular music structure”. DM Stith creates a creepy and fragile (yet insanely interesting and charming) alternate reality within this record- it’s a haunting reminder that some of our waking hours are inhabited by unseen forces that can be a burden; or we can acknowledge them and try to make peace.

Key tracks: Thanksgiving Moon, Pity Dance, Braid Of Voices, Isaac’s Song

19. DOOM – Born Like This (Lex Records; March 24th)

doombornxMF, Metal Face, Metal Fingers, Viktor Vaughn, Supervillain, King Geedorah. Whatever name Daniel Dumille wants to use, he creates a new persona just like that- and here on Born Like This, he uses all the top producers; Jake One and Madlib as well as a few unreleased beats from J Dilla (who is still the best producer in the game, three years after his passing). It never sounds recycled or stale- obviously the work of this gang of hard working crate-diggers is beyond anything anyone else is doing and the samples are getting more obscure. Should I also mention guest rhymers like Raekwon (rhyming over the slowed-down version of ESG‘s UFO) and Ghostface (appearing here as his Tony Starks character) straight slay the mic on their tracks; but they don’t steal the spotlight from DOOM– it’s his record and it’s full of verbal acrobatics.

Key tracks: Microwave Mayo, Yessir! (ft. Raekwon), Angelz (ft. Tony Starks), Gazillion Ear

18. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino Records; June 9th)

bitte-orcaAccessible? You bet- Dave Longstreth‘s music is usually a workout; it can be both hard to listen to and lyrically obtuse (but not even a little bit on Bitte Orca). This is more of a group effort and Dirty Projectors’ sound is rounded out by the lovely voices of Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman; as if their David Byrne-collaboration wasn’t a precursor to how awesome their music was about to sound; when this album leaked the internets basically shit themselves in anticipation, by the time the album hit the shelves the reviews were pouring in with accolades. Crafted with care, it’s artier components aren’t that much of a stretch (try listening to Slaves’ Graves & Ballads or the New Attitude EP if you want to be challenged), conceptually it follows the design laid out by Longstreth in previous releases- brown finches, sleepwalking through life, post-9/11 paranoia, war, etc. There’s music for stupid people and then there’s music for thinkers. Guess which one this is…

Key Tracks: Stillness Is The Move, No Intention, Cannibal Resource, Temecula Sunrise

17. Dark Was The Night – A Red Hot Compilation (4AD Records; February 16th)

dark-was-the-nightYou know; humanity’s defining feature, the one thing that gives me a glimmer of hope for this seemingly doomed world is the fact that when faced with adversity, we humans have a remarkable knack for banding together and breaking down our self-imposed barriers- so at a glance the musical pairings on this record would suggest the gap between artistic differences can be easily bridged. Some not so unexpected; Dirty Projectors have culled a huge influence from David Byrne’s catalog so I can totally hear how the album’s opener Knotty Pine works, Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues (teaming up for a cover of Amazing Grace) have toured together, Leslie Feist’s collaboration with Ben Gibbard is well matched (both write really nice three-minute pop gems) and Conor Oberst paired with Gillian Welch is no stretch; two insurgent country mainstays sharing a track seems natural enough. What’s hard to believe that some of these songs would be considered “throw away” tracks, not making it on to these bands’ albums; The National, The Decemberists, Bon Iver, Yeasayer, Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire and Beirut all have given excellent songs. The centerpiece of the album (placed at the end of the first disc) is Sufjan Stevens‘ cover of CastanetsYou Are The Blood, turning it into a sprawling and strange epic, an electro-classical magnum opus with piano breaks and brass sections over club-banger beats- it’s as if he’s trying to convey the entire scope of his musical output in ten minutes and fourteen seconds, joining the electronica of Enjoy Your Rabbit with his Seven Swans-era and those states-themed concept albums. Canadian hip-hopper Buck 65 remixes this track on the second disc, adding his two cents in the way of furiously spit verses.

Key tracks: Tightrope (Yeasayer), Sleepless (The Decemberists), Knotty Pine (Dirty Projectors + David Byrne), You Are The Blood (Sufjan Stevens)

16. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (V2 Records; May 26th)

wolfgangamadeusphoenixI wanted to hate this so bad. I knew what it was (electro-synth pop/rock), knew who made it (the French) and have read so much hype on this band before the album was even out that I was rolling my eyes every time I saw their damn name. Phoenix Phoenix Phoenix Phoenix Phoenix Phoenix every-fucking-where. You know something, it’s a really great record. Songs like 1901, Lisztomania and the album’s closer Armistice are a few of this year’s better tracks, and they’re all on one record. It’s like that damned MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular– initially I hated its freaking guts, but it kept polluting my mindscape until one day I let my guard down and BAM! I got it. And I get this- it’s supposed to be fun, dancy keyboards-and-guitars pop for the iPod generation. That’s exactly what it is. Can’t fight that…

Key tracks: 1901, Lisztomania, Armistice, Fences

15. jj – n°2 (Secretly Yours; July 1st)

jjn02This album has a stickiness factor of nine; once you get these songs in you you’ll be humming them to yourself throughout the day. They seamlessly jump from genre to genre; at once they’re dipping down low into downtempo chillout trip-hop jams next to African-influenced sing-alongs up against tropicalia beach tracks then on to an acoustic, folky number and back again… Are these kids for real? Oh, they’re Swedish, so they were born with the “Scandanavian pop melody gene” inherited from ABBA and heard in Jens Lekman, The Knife, et al. I knew they were too good to be true.

Key tracks: Ecstasy, Things Will Never Be The Same Again, Are You Still In Valida?, My Love

14. Taken By Trees – East Of Eden (Rough Trade; September 8th)

Taken-By-Trees-East-of-EdenMy god, this is a beautiful record- another Swede (damn they’re talented) named Victoria Bergsman (who you may remember as the female voice from Peter Bjorn & John‘s ubiquitous song Young Folks) made one of the surprise albums of the year by traveling to Pakistan to record with local musicians; let’s just say the effect is stunning. Perfect pop sensibilities crossed with Eastern instrumentation infused with polyrhythmic drumming and Sufi vocalizations from Sain Muhammad Ali. There’s a theme running through East Of Eden; of ancient harmonies given current twists- Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox stops by to lend his ethereal lilt to a track, as well as give his blessing to a cover version of one of his band’s songs. In short; a Swedish singer doing Beach Boys harmonies over Middle Eastern music.

Key tracks: Watch The Waves, My Boys, To Lose Someone, Anna

13. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino Records; January 20th)

merriweatherEnvision The Flaming Lips having an orgy with The Shins on really strong microdot while channeling Brian Eno and Robert Fripp’s tape-loop manipulations, all the while conjuring up a seance with Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds harmonies; that’s a pretty close idea to what Animal Collective has done on Merriweather Post Pavilion. And the artwork is pretty rad; stare at it long enough and you’ll get the sensation of movement. Maybe you can still see it with your eyes closed. Maybe, you can get yourself into that “tunnel” and really trip out. Who out there knows what I’m talking about? Indubitably the Collective’s Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist have been inside that lysergically-induced mind warp and this record will probably serve as some sort of spirit guide for a new generation of chemically experimental kids, much like Dark Side Of The Moon or Sgt. Pepper’s did thirty-plus years ago.

Key tracks: My Girls, Brother Sport, In The Flowers, Summertime Clothes

12. The Love Language – The Love Language (Bladen County Records; February 10th)

thelovelangWhere’s this band been hiding all my life? Ahh, North Carolina, Raleigh to be exact. Okay, next question: how do you get that delicious reverb coating on your songs? This whole record has that wonderfully lo-fi Tascam four-track feel to it (or could be Fostex) and the aesthetic works to great avail; the songs are so wonderfully melodic they could’ve been recorded underwater and I’d still get the point. The back story is also too good to ignore; lead singer/main songwriter Stuart McLamb gets kicked out of previous band, breaks up with abusive girlfriend, drinks a lot, ends up in an overnight holding cell, moves in with parents, sobers up and writes/records this album. I swear, Hollywood writes shit like this; but it’s too good to not believe- and I for one am a believer. Another huge surprise album for me in a year filled with nice surprises.

Key tracks: Lalita, Sparxxx, Two Rabbits, Stars

11. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Ashes Grammar (Mis Ojos Discos; September 15th)

ashes_grammarAshes Grammar is a 63-minute icicle of ambient-electro-shoegaze-dream pop from the Philadelphia sextet known as A Sunny Day In Glasgow (they got the name from a former band member who spent some time in the lovely Scottish city); there are hints of murky psychedelia, club/dance beats half-buried under said murk and noisy passages strung all throughout the journey here- think My Bloody Valentine crossed with Stereolab produced by Brian Eno. It’s got some of the most gorgeous music I’ve heard this year, there are little bits of the record where it drags at times but if you can just sit through those few awkward minutes, you’re rewarded with some true aural beauty, time and time again.

Key tracks: Close Chorus, Shy, Curse Words, Failure

Stay tuned for albums #10 to #1, coming tomorrow!

Songs Of The Year; 2009

occidental type bannerIt’s about time I took a break from all the Best Of The Decade stuff and got my Best Of The Year lists all in order. I was doing all the maths (that’s right, I said maths; that’s what the Brits say…) on everything; it appears that I’ve listened to 273 full-length albums, another 31 EPs and a handful of singles/assorted tracks here and there. So, by my estimation that’s somewhere around 3,000 songs. Relax, that’s only like 8 songs a day. And minus the month of August, because I listened to no new music (just old school hip-hop). So that’s like 9 songs a day (not really a big deal).

Plus, lists are pretty freaking arbitrary; I mean- the only thing I’m using to inform my writing is my opinion, which is ultimately flawed because it only takes my tastes into consideration (not to mention it operates under the assumption that if I like it everyone else must). I’ve stood behind some of my opinions to the point of annoying (or even alienating) but the fact of the matter is that all I’ve ever tried to do when discussing music is to open avenues of discourse; just talking about music and why we like it titillates me to no end, and the only thing more boring than everyone in agreement is no one taking the time to comment or pick up the conversation. So, to anyone who’s ever felt like this is an extremely one-sided conversation, take the time to give me some feedback down at the bottom of this essay…

…and here’s my 25 favorite songs of 2009!

25. Wild Heart – Abe Vigoda (Reviver EP; Post Present Medium)

This is a cover of the 1983 Stevie Nicks‘ song, and I gotta say I absolutely that woman. Well, let’s be realistic; I love 1975-87 Stevie. As a thirteen-year old boy, I was visited by Miss Nicks on an almost nightly basis; she had snuck into my dreams to ah, ummm, okay. Anyway, mad props to Abe Vigoda for re-doing this as a bass-heavy, ambient static-laden churner of a track.

24. Lisztomania – Phoenix (Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; V2 Records)

Everywhere I turned this band was there; commercials, skate videos, more commercials, I imagine they were on the radio a lot (I don’t own a radio and if I did I would punch it in its face). So Phoenix; you write, record and perform super-catchy pop-tastically dance-able little ditties for the world? And you’re big in your native France? Cool. I can’t get your damn songs out of my head, good or bad- and that’s gotta count for something…

23. Knotty Pine – Dirty Projectors and David Byrne (Dark Was The Night; 4AD Records)

In theory, this should be the greatest song ever. I mean, c’mon; David Byrne crooning alongside Dave Longstreth and Amber Coffman is just too good to be true. There’s not enough Byrne (he sounds buried in the mix) but he makes up for his barely-there vocals with a hilariously irreverent guitar solo. Take that, rock gods!

22. The Party – St. Vincent (Actor; 4AD Records)

Annie Clark‘s woebegone tale of a party all wrong plays like a real-life Craigslist Missed Connection; after the realization that she’s not going home with the guy she wants it’s almost like the scene in that movie Sunset Boulevard when William Holden tells Gloria Swanson he doesn’t want her and never did, he’s been secretly meeting with Nancy Olson instead. Basically, St. Vincent‘s character in this song is Swanson’s Norma Desmond character, and she’s ready for her close-up, Mr. DeVille…

21. Too Many Birds – Bill Callahan (Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle; Drag City Records)

There’s this amazing thing that Bill (the artist formerly known as Smog) Callahan does in this song, where he says one word from the chorus on the first bar, then two words with the second, three words with third third and so on until the whole line reveals itself; it’s actually one of the most stunning lyrical devices I’ve ever heard (I’m sure it’s been done before, I haven’t the foggiest notion of who or when) and here it works beautifully as the centerpiece of one of the best albums of the year:

If…
If you…
If you could…
If you could only…
If you could only stop…
If you could only stop your…
If you could only stop your heart…
If you could only stop your heart beat…
If you could only stop your heart beat for…
If you could only stop your heart beat for one heart…
If you could only stop your heart beat for one heart beat.

I remember reading John Darnielle‘s blog back in May after listening to Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle a few times. I am in full agreement with the guy from The Mountain Goats. Behold thy genius that is Bill Callahan.

20. Andrew – Crystal Antlers (Tentacles; Touch And Go Records)

This album was disappointing after their awesome EP last year, but the one stand out track was this one. Crystal Antlers‘ signature sound is all compressed down into a neat little three-and-a-half minutes; that whole “garage psych” thing they got going on could have itself a home on any of those Nuggets‘ comps- the big crunchy guitars, the even bigger organs and the throat-shredding vocals. The suburban wasteland has a new anthem.

19. Sleepless – The Decemberists (Dark Was The Night; 4AD Records)

This sounds like a leftover from Picaresque; it’s got that whole “melancholy” vibe to it that was missing from The Crane Wife and doesn’t fit into their latest prog-folk masterpiece The Hazards Of Love. So what do they do? They give it to the people at RedHot for the compilation album of the decade, Dark Was The Night. And this wasn’t even the best song on that record (but it was the best track The Decemberists did this year)…

18. New Wu – Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah & Method Man (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II; Ice H2O Records)

New Wu sounds like old Wu! RZA did the track, Rae does the first verse, Ghost does the second and Meth does the third verse and all the choruses. It’s like we went back to ’97 and the Wu was as tight a clan as ever. I miss ODB. Anyway; this is an officially certified Wu Banger- Rae and Ghost are the dopest duo in hip-hop, hands down; the addition of Meth doesn’t hurt either.

17. Walkabout – Atlas Sound ft. Noah Lennox (Logos; Kranky Records)

Bradford Cox and Panda Bear?!? Yeah, that’s pretty much the formula for awesome. Try not to smile for this jam; it’s got summer written all over it. Sounding like Brian Wilson with a megaphone, Noah Panda‘s vocals on top of Cox‘s swirling oohs and ahhs sounds like a carnival of happy. This is a perfect four-minute song; akin to aural cotton candy. It’s sticky stuff in my ears…

16. Young Hearts Spark Fire – Japandroids (Post-Nothing; Polyvinyl Records)

“We used to dream, now we worry about dying / I don’t wanna worry about dying I just wanna worry about sunshine girls…” Truer words have never been spoken, that is when you’re young, dumb and full of… you know the saying. This jam was the soundtrack to a summer spent in a beach house with endless 30-packs showing up every night (my cousin has a fake ID, man), a bong made from the cheap plastic vase that came with the kitchen table and the screen from the faucet (we’re so not getting our security deposit back) and chicks from other high schools (awesome).

15. Sleep All Summer – St. Vincent & The National (SCORE! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers!; Merge Records)

This is so much better than the original (a Crooked Fingers‘ tune from their 2005 album Dignity & Shame) and not because it’s a duet between The National‘s Matt Berninger and St. Vincent‘s Annie Clark; those two could set a lake on fire with their alternating croon vs whisper- both are simply smoldering.

14. Islands – The xx (xx; Young Turks)

Picking this as the best song from newcomers-of-the-year The xx is probably making you groan; it seems the consensus “best track from this album” was Crystalised. Listen again; they do so much more with so much less on this track, which is the beauty of these Brit-teens’ sound- in a word: pure simplicity. Singers Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim wrote the teen-love anthem of the year right here; I can’t help thinking The xx‘s lyrics are going to be showing up all over high school yearbooks come June of 2010.

13. Anonanimal – Andrew Bird (Noble Beast; Fat Possum Records)

Upon first listen of this record, this track jumped out at me so ferociously that I had to listen to it three times in a row. This was an ear-worn like the one they put into that dude’s head in Wrath Of Khan; it burrowed into my skull and ate at my brain until liquified grey matter poured out of my nostrils. Between the subtle lyrical entendres and that hook (which comes along at 2:17 0f the track) it’s one of the best things Professor Bird has attached his name to.

12. My Girls – Animal Collective (Merriweather Post Pavilion; Domino Records)

I had this entire record pegged as Album of The Year for the first few months of ’09; based on the strength of this (and two other tracks I really liked) but alas; as summer waned so did the appeal of My Girls. Somewhere in the minds of Panda Bear, Avey Tare and Geologist exists a perfect picture of perpetual summer- this song was the closest approximation of that snapshot. And since I live in California (which is stereotyped as the “land of eternal summer”) I’m kind of biased towards this type of summery feeling electro-pop.

11. Ambling Alp – Yeasayer (Ambling Alp single; Secretly Canadian)

Yeasayer released no albums this year- two tracks; here a single from the forthcoming album Odd Blood (out 2/9/10) and maybe later on down this list you may see another song of theirs, but this one had me at hello. It didn’t hurt the song that this video was one of the trippiest things since that time I ate a bag of mushrooms and got lost on a golf course in the middle of the night and had to punch my way out of the sand trap that tried to eat my legs.

10. Dominos – The Big Pink (A Brief History Of Love; 4AD Records)

Huge booming drums, monster guitars and over-the-top synths- this is UK-based The Big Pink‘s finest offering from their debut album A Brief History Of Love; a scuzzy, arena-sized electro-rock anthem of loving ’em and leaving ’em. With lyrics like “These girls fall like dominos…” I can only hope there’s a new generation of burgeoning exotic dancers swinging from a pole to this jam; it sounds right at home next to Pour Some Sugar On Me and Joan Jett‘s Do You Wanna Touch Me.

9. That’ll Work – The Alchemist ft. Three 6 Mafia & Juvenile (Chemical Warfare; ALC Records)

This is the best track Three 6 has done since Stay Fly, the best thing Juvenile‘s done since Back That Thang Up and as for The Alchemist; it’s the best thing he’s done since… ever, mostly because he’s whack as shit. Nas and Ghostface have thrown him a few crumbs in the past, but those tracks are mostly forgettable affairs. But not this one here; it’s a friggin’ banger. I have no idea what Juve‘s rapping about anyway, something about being the best from the East Bay to the West Bank and smoking hella Cali kush weed, I don’t know. Of course, Three 6‘s DJ Paul & Juicy J are rapping bout about having a shotgun at a bar and running cocaine around Memphis, which I imagine is just a normal night out with those dudes. Word. There’s a funny little skit at the end of this jawn, I guess you’ll have to listen and decide what the hell it means.

8. Run This Town – Jay-Z ft. Rihanna & Kanye West (The Blueprint 3; Roc-A-Fella Records)

The one bright spot from an otherwise weak offering known as The Blueprint 3; after the years that both Rihanna (not her fault) and Ye had (totally brings it on himself) it was refreshing to see these two embattled stars shining together on a track with Jay. What makes this song so infinitely interesting is not only Rihanna‘s awesome vocal hook but Yeezy‘s exploding ego once again stealing the spotlight from someone else. Yeah, this is Sean Carter‘s track, but Kanye steals it with not only his WTF-inducing verse but the stellar production as well. “Whatchu think I rap for? To push a fuckin’ Rav-4?” Great art happens when the artist goes out of his way to alienate himself from his fans; if you don’t have a love-hate relationship with this man, you haven’t been paying attention.

7. Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear (Veckatimest; Warp Records)

So is it ironic that Grizzly Bear is one song above Jay-Z? Now, this will only mean something to you if you’ve seen the video of Jay & Beyoncé at that Grizzly Bear show in Brooklyn over the summer, swaying to Ready, Able. Apparently they’re fans. Who knew? Anyway; this is the most instantly recognizable track from one of the best albums of the year, I could’ve took the high road and not included any tracks from this record and argued that they “all work as one cohesive piece” but that’s music critic-speak for “I can’t decide on my own which is really the best song…” Oh, and to all the other bloggers out there: GB > AC.

6. Ecstasy – jj (n°2; Sincerely Yours)

Sampling Lil’ Wayne could get you killed. Swedish electro-pop band jj (no caps) straight-up ganks the entire beat/bass/synth line from Weezy‘s Lollipop, and if it sucked, there’d be some blonde kids from Gothenburg floating face down in the Göta River. By virtue of its sublime radness (and its club-hopping on MDMA, come-gimme-a-hug lyrics), they will be allowed to live. Don’t do drugs, kids- you could end up like me.

5. Lakeside – BLK JKS (Mystery EP; Secretly Canadian)

South African prog-indie rockers unleash a swirling, psychedelic monster on us and no one is safe. Here’s what I said about the track back in March:

Lakeside opens the four-song EP with some dark synth ambiance; it kicks in with a punching and layered polyrhythmic drum as the bass angrily adds some growl. This is precisely why they’ve drawn the comparison to TV On The Radio’s brand of dark and murky soul; lead singer Lindani Buthelezi’s voice could pass as a dead ringer for Tunde Adebimpe’s twin. This is a re-worked version of the track I originally heard back in December, and it’s the best song here- both danceable and cloudy in mood.

It’s a stunning testament to the one-world mindset of music today; who says the internet is bad when we can have music like this from far away connect to our ears?

4. D.I.A.L.O. – John Vanderslice (Romainian Names; Dead Oceans)

One of those perfect “leaving home” songs; Vanderslice has the ability to couple sincere emotion with great song writing hooks- another song that had me smitten instantly. JV‘s got that pop sensibility where he can both profoundly affect the listener with his storytelling and make it über-listenable. How he does that, I’ll never know; but there’s at least one track from each album he’s done that jumps out at me that I can call my own.

3. Percussion Gun – White Rabbits (It’s Frightening; TBD Records)

There’s got to be like ten drummers on this track, right? No, only two. And two guitars, two pianos and one bass. It sounds bigger- thanks to Spoon’s Britt Daniel and his contributions from the producer’s chair make this track not only one of the best of the year, but of the last few. When everything drops out except the bass and piano and lead singer’s

2. 1901 – Phoenix (Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; V2 Records)

I told you these guys were everywhere; showing up twice on this list. Here’s the stickiest song of the year- between both the vocal hook and the main riff it was like air this year; completely surrounding us. Does it bother me that this track was used to sell Cadillacs? No, not since Caddy’s been using music to sell their vehicles I can understand that they want a piece of the “indie” market since this was the year indie culture completed its migration into mainstream; forever blurring the line between us and them. There is no independent culture anymore and I think that’s sort of been the whole point of pop music in the first place; you can’t keep it a secret for too long if it’s this good. Ask any staffer at Rolling Stone magazine at the beginning of the year if they knew who Phoenix was. Blank stares. But guess which song made it to #5 on their year-end list? Yep, 1901.

SONG OF THE YEAR

Tightrope – Yeasayer (Dark Was The Night; 4AD Records)

So you’re wishing that you never did
All the embarrassing things you’ve done
And you’re wishing you could set it right
And you’re wishing you could stay the night
But then I go again, wishing never solved a problem
If you wanna get it big time, go ahead and get it get it big time

So you think you can solve all your problems by yourself?
Nevermind, nevermind, nevermind, nevermind
And I think I can solve all my problems by myself…
Nevermind, nevermind, nevermind, nevermind

Oh, give it, give it, give it, give it, give it
Until you just can’t give no more
Oh, give it, give it, give it, give it, give it
Until you just can’t give no more

Oh, give it, give it, give it, give it, give it
Until you just can’t give no more
Oh, give it, give it, give it, give it, give it
Until you just can’t give no more


Best Of February

It’s funny how much music you can miss if you’re not paying careful attention; which is stange to me because it’s all I pay attention to. I don’t really know what’s going on in the world, I have no interest in sports until either the NCAA Tournament begins or baseball season arrives (my 2008 World Series Champion Phillies have already dropped their first three spring training games) so if I miss something music-related; it’s kind of a big deal to me. I weep daily about that…

…but I take solace in the fact that you’re never too late to arrrive to the party, the fact is that you made it and you can regale yourself in the splendid (if not partially reflected) glory of others.

So here’s The Musicologists‘ take on “The Month In Music: February 2009 Edition”. A veritable cyber-rebound of missed bricks, using our elbows fiercely as we jockey for position under the boards; cleaning the glass and dishing you an outlet pass as you dribble to daylight into the month of March (and all its associated “madness”).

pains-of-being-pure

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart (Slumberland Records; released February 3rd, 2009)

Since it’s a self-titled album, I didn’t feel the need to write it twice, that’s a pretty long name to begin with. And it sounds like a really bad diary entry, maybe something from Angela Chase. Except this is really nice fuzzy noise pop with a heart of darkness; it’s an homage to the best stuff I grew up on in the eighties (Echo & The Bunnymen, et al.) and early nineties (Teenage Fanclub, et al.) as well as lending itself to the shoegazer textures of bands like Ride and My Bloody something. Valentine? Yeah, they like those guys too, a little bit.

Actually, their influence is heavy on these twenty-something New York scenesters- listening to songs like Come Saturday and Stay Alive, that wall of guitar sound is all over here, built up around lovely pop structures. My favorite track from the record; The Tenure Itch, sounds as if it was recorded for the Pretty In Pink Soundtrack– it just has that angst-ridden teenager feel to it; set upon a gorgeous late-80s pop sensibility. The album has that overall feel; it goes jangly guitars one song, drony and feedbacked the next; all under awkward and unsure lyrics- it is so teenager it’s not even funny.

The track Young Adult Friction is a marvelous little pun; it’s set against the backdrop of the high school library (undoubtedly in the young adult fiction section). So I’ve cut and pasted (from their website) a typically teen all-caps shouting of the lyrics: “BETWEEN THE STACKS IN THE LIBRARY / NOT LIKE ANYONE STOPPED TO SEE / WE CAME THEY WENT, OUR BODIES SPENT / AMONG THE DUST AND THE MICROFICHE”. How innocent, yet there’s a line in the same song about taking vicodins- and another shout-out to opiates later on, on the track A Teenager in Love: “AND IF YOU MADE A STAND, I’D STAND WITH YOU ‘TIL THE END / BUT YOU DON’T NEED A FRIEND WHEN YOU’RE / A TEENAGER IN LOVE WITH CHRIST AND HEROIN”.

Wow. Kids today are into some serious shit, I thought I was a bad ass when I cut school to smoke weed and go to South Street and buy records.

Tracklisting:

1. Contender
2. Come Saturday
3. Young Adult Friction
4. This Love is Fucking Right
5. The Tenure Itch
6. Stay Alive
7. Everything With You
8. A Teenager in Love
9. Hey Paul
10. Gentle Sons


The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart


death

Death – …For The Whole World To See (Drag City; released February 17th, 2009)

This record comes with the raddest story attached- written in 1974, recorded in ’75, then after a falling out with the producer over the band’s name the master tapes were somehow lost. For 34 years. Seriously.

Death started in Detroit as a funk band in 1971 by the Hackney brothers; Bobby on bass and vocals, Dannis on drums and David on guitars. They soon realized that rock music was capable of reaching a bigger audience, and they could shred the shit out of their speakers and listener’s ears with heavy, chugging power chords and bombastic drumming. Self-described as “totally rock-n-roll, totally black hippies”, the Hackney brothers modeled their sound from the likes of Sabbath, Iggy & The Stooges, MC5, Zeppelin, early Funkadelic; bands that were heavy but also could secure a groove. Which is basically what the seven songs on …For The Whole World To See are all about.

The first two tracks; Keep On Knocking and Rock-N-Roll Victim are what could be called ballsy, straight-up, aggressive rock; bordering on punk (or proto-punk, I think punk was still developing itself at the time). The next song, the six-minute long Let The World Turn has got some soul as well as some psychedelic influences, starting with a dream-like guitar and vocal section before careening into an all-out punk fest and a sick drum solo- the strength of Death is their outstanding rhythm section.

You’re A Prisoner could be a Ted Nugent song- hell, it could be a New York Dolls song or even an Aerosmith song from that era. It’s pure rock-n-roll, as perfect an example as the term would allow. Freakin Out starts with a solitary shouted word: DEATH! That’s punk as shit- it’s becoming more obvious to me that this band is deserving of its place in history with all the other proto-punk big names. Even if no one heard this record until thirty-plus years after it was made; it still needs to be championed right along with all those other bands. I’m just saying is all…

Where Do We Go From Here??? has the best bass work on the album; I’ve left out the understated bass playing until now- this song also has the nicest guitar riffage on the record, a direct descendent of Tony Iommi‘s influence. The album comes to a close with Politicians In My Eyes- striking because thirty years ago a huge part of the political climate was predicated on keeping black folks down; let’s hope those days are just a part of our nation’s sad history .

For all its raw energy and spazzy overall feel, the riffs are really tight and the drumming is amazing. It’s like waking up in a sonic wonderland- I keep thinking “where the hell have these tapes been?” How many more bands could’ve taken guidance from Death?

It’s almost like this band never existed.

Tracklisting:

1. Keep on Knocking
2. Rock-N-Roll Victim
3. Let the World Turn
4. You’re a Prisoner
5. Freakin Out
6. Where Do We Go from Here???
7. Politicians in My Eyes

DEATH

March Release Calendar:

3/3

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

Say Hi – Oohs And Aahs

3/10

Bishop Allen – Grr…

BLK JKS – Mystery EP

Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen

Elvis Perkins – Elvis Perkins In Dearland

Julie Doiron – I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day

Mirah – (a)spera

3/17

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Beware

MSTRKRFT – Fist Of God

Wavves – Wavvves

3/23

Lotus Plaza – The Floodlight Collective

3/24

The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love

Swan Lake – Enemy Mine

Best Of January

ff-tonight

Franz Ferdinand

Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (Domino Records, released 1/27/09)

Sexy in a nerdy sort of way because on the one hand you have Alex Kapranos‘ Scottish pub-rock-croon over familiar yet odd, angular post-punk guitar chords and then on the other hand there are all these seemingly out-of-place 8-bit beeps and blips that show up (like the ones used in various old-school video games; the track Live Alone sounds like one of the radio stations you can choose to blast in your Ferrari Testarossa in that Sega game OutRun, circa 1986) which should work as the requisite antithesis for trying to get laid. The excursions of the newly discovered synthesizer are abound as Franz explore dub and electronica; but also keeping the old formula they’re known for: groovy sing-along dancefloor bangers. Since this is FF‘s “night” album, most of the album is an up-tempo affair with hand-claps, drummy freak-outs, stomp-alongs; it shuffles and stutters, stops and starts and eventually drives the point home. Getting weird with the extended acid-house instrumental during the last four minutes of the re-worked Lucid Dreams, the stripped-down acoustic bareness of Katherine Kiss Me, and Ulysses; cribbing its style from the deep space dub echo chamber. There’s also the classic formula revisited on tracks that sound exactly as Franz should; Turn It On and What She Came For. I’m recommending this album- if you’re already a fan of Franz Ferdinand you might be slightly disappointed, if you’re new to the boys from Glasgow- it’ll be exciting.

Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

andrew_bird_noble_beast

Andrew Bird

Noble Beast (Fat Possum Records; released 1/20/09)

Andrew Bird is a big fan of life; both in an intra-personal aspect and on a molecular level. Continuing on a concept from his three previous records of breaking the biological constraints of life down to its basest parts- the album is again rife with the imagery of elemental vocabulary like calcium mines, radiolarians (some type of protozoic life form that produces intricate skeletal systems), sea anenomes, etc.- it’s as if you need your old bio textbook to read his lyric sheets. I’m going to go ahead and start calling him Dr. Bird, he’s probably the most cerebral songwriter around these days; and I can’t quite call his music “pop”, being that he’s a classically trained violinist his music veers closer towards a baroque sentiment- imagine pop music of the late 1700s set to brainiac post-Ph.D lyricism. But the musicianship coupled with the uber-intelligentsia slant makes for repeated interested listens; highlights include Oh No, Masterswarm, Not A Robot, But A Ghost, and the hands-down best piece of music on the entire record appears after the 2:15 mark of Anonanimal– it’s actually one of the nicest breakdowns in a song I’ve heard in a while. But then again, Dr. Bird can write some really fine melodies; so it’s completely expected.

Noble Beast

More albums I missed from 2008 that I’ve been rocking heavily this past month:

deerhoof_offend_maggie

Deerhoof

Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars Records; released October 7th, 2008)

You know, I’m half on the fence with Deerhoof, half-off; I loved Reveille and The Runners Four (but not at first), sort of panned Friend Opportunity and was stand-offish about their latest. Eventually I grew to like all these albums after forgetting about them and revisiting them sometime later- it’s like I can’t get into it right away, it takes a bunch of listens before I get hooked in. I listened to Offend Maggie a few times back in October and let it sit on the shelf until about two weeks ago; now I get it- it’s got bigger guitars, less freaky, more restrained. Each album is less a continuation of the last than a re-invention towards something slightly different, but still essentially Deerhoof-esque.

paavoharju

Paavoharju

Laulu Laakson Kukista (Fonal Records; released July 22nd, 2008)

This record would’ve made my top five, easily- that is if I actually listened to it before I made my flawed and (now) out-dated list, actually there’s about 6 or 7 albums I would’ve slipped in my top twenty that I didn;t get a chance to hear until after the new year, but alas; no need complaining when there’s such sweetly ethereal music like Paavoharju out there. Ambient dream folk electronica from the far reaches of Finland; I have to say this is as fine a record I’ve heard in the last decade; there’s nothing to compare it to because there’s nothing else that I’ve heard that sounds even remotely like this.

the-bug-london-zoo

The Bug

London Zoo (Ninja Tune Records; released July 7th, 2008)

I’ve somewhat maligned the entire genre of dubstep, however this is not only listenable, it’s ridiculously enjoyable. It’s closer to “darkwave” dancehall, if such a thing exists (probably not) but it’s way better than any other dubstep I’ve heard. No wonder this ended up in so many top ten lists at the end of last year- it’s a great record.

Heavy Anticipation for February:

Dark Was The Night Compilation, due out February 17th from 4AD Records.

Morrissey‘s Years Of Refusal, due out February 17th from Attack/Lost Highway Records.

Abe Vigoda‘s Reviver EP, due out Feb. 17th from Post Present Medium Records.

Zach Condon has releases scheduled on Feb. 17th from two separate projects: his well-known day job Beirut with the March Of The Zapotec EP and his electronic side-project Realpeople‘s Holland EP.

Black Lips‘ new record, 200 Million Thousand; out Feb. 24th from Vice Records.