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


Songs To Break Up To – Part One

Heartbreak – who doesn’t identify with it? Even though I’m approaching my thirties and I’m happily married, I still remember all the many times I had my heart smashed to pieces either by a boyfriend, or just by some jerk off I shouldn’t been expecting much from in the first place. Along with every heartache I ever experienced, there was typically a song, or many, that helped me through the pain. Sometimes the songs made me feel better, but more often than not, they just amplified the misery and allowed me to wallow. Those songs got me through some tough times and even now, as a happily married adult, I still hear them and get a little choked up, or angry, or both, thinking about how I felt during that time in my life. So here’s my list, in vaguely chronological order.  I’m know I’m forgetting some, so I may have to do a part two at some point.

Bikini Kill – Outta Me

What can I say? I was 14 and I’d had my heart stomped on by someone much too old for me who also had a girlfriend. At that time I was discovering girl rock and was in love with Kathleen Hanna. So angsty! Favorite lyrics: “No, I don’t remember you ever loving me/I think that’s your fucking fantasy/I think you want everything…”

bikini-kill

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The Cure – Untitled

Of course it’s hard to narrow it down to one favorite Cure “break up” song. I mean who hasn’t just listened to Disintegration on repeat after being dumped? This one really sticks for me and I have a very distinct memory of sitting in my darkened bedroom, chainsmoking, and swearing off love forever. Favorite lyrics: “Feeling the monster/Climb deeper inside of me/Feeling him gnawing my heart away/Hungrily…”

thecure1989


The Smiths – Unhappy Birthday

As with The Cure, it’s difficult to pick one Smiths‘ song. There are many, many Smiths songs I have cried and cursed stupid dudes to but this one is fun because it’s so mean-spirited and bitter. Favorite lyrics: “And if you should die/I may feel slightly sad/(But I won’t cry)…”

smiths


Depeche Mode – Shake the Disease

This song has helped me through many angry times. Sometimes when you break up with someone you don’t get the satisfaction of letting them know how much you will not miss them. This song really speaks to that desire, from the very first line, which is also my favorite lyrics: “I’m not going down on my knees/Begging you to adore me…”

depechemode

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The Velvet Underground – Pale Blue Eyes

The number of times I’ve listened to this song and thought of the same person is embarrassing. Fifteen years after the heartbreak I still get a little choked up listening to this. Kind of pathetic. Favorite lyrics: “Thought of you as my mountain top/Thought of you as my peak/Thought of you as everything/I’ve had but couldn’t keep…”

velvet-underground


Bob Dylan – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

Okay, so this song isn’t particularly sad or angry, but the lyrics are so perfect. I had broken up with someone that I knew wasn’t right for me and I wasn’t really too bummed out about it. This song captured my sentiments exactly. Plus, it’s on the soundtrack of my favorite love story of all time, Dogfight. If you haven’t seen it I order you to rent it immediately. Favorite lyric: “I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind/You coulda done better but I don’t mind/You just kinda wasted my precious time/But don’t think twice, it’s all right…”

bob-dylan


Cat Stevens – Wild World

If you don’t like old Cat Stevens you might not have a heart. And if this song doesn’t tug on your heartstrings even a little bit, well then I just don’t know. You have problems. Favorite lyrics: “But if you wanna leave, take good care/I hope you make a lot of nice friends out there/But just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware…”

cat-stevens


Cat Power – Good Woman

Who hasn’t been with someone who was totally bad for them? And who hasn’t wanted to make it work so hard even though you know you’re both beating a dead horse and you’d be better off without each other? Cat Power certainly has, because that’s what this song is all about. This song is so beautiful and heartfelt my eyes well up every time I hear it! Yes, I am a sap. Sue me. Favorite lyrics: “And this is why I am leaving/And this is why I can’t see you no more/This is why I am lying when I say/That I don’t love you no more…”

cat-power


Sebadoh – Soul and Fire

This song is so bitter and it really stings. When I was coming out of a really long relationship I felt like this one was being sung about me and it felt terrible. Sadly, I felt like I deserved it. Favorite lyrics: “As you walk away, think of all the joy we shared/If you decide you need me, I’ll be wondering if I care…”

sebadoh


Crooked Fingers – When You Were Mine (Prince cover)

I seriously love all versions of this song, but this my favorite. It  twings and twangs itself all over my little heart. I also love, love, love Eric Bachmann‘s voice. And who hasn’t completely identified with these lyrics at one time or another? Even when you know your ex is all kinds of bad for you, you can’t help missing them. Favorite lyrics: “When you were mine/You were all I ever wanted to do…”

crooked_fingers


Yo La Tengo – Damage

There aren’t that many lyrics in this song but they are all about running into your ex after you’ve gotten over the whole ordeal of breaking up, but it still hurts and it’s strange to see them. It’s sort of a long, ethereal song that gives way for lots of sad nostalgia. Favorite lyrics: “I used to think about you all the time/I would think about you all the time/Now it just feels weird, that there you are…”

yo_la_tengo


…that’s all I got for now. I’m interested in hearing what other people like to break up to so please post some comments!