Seems like it was only yesterday that I was cobbling together the TDoL best of 2008. Yes, time flies when you’re old and surly. And, yes, I know year-end lists are everywhere, cliché, overdone and a dime a dozen—but I do love them so.
These lists are difficult to make, too. I mean who has time to really absorb a full record when you’re being bombarded with hundreds of albums and mp3s? It was chore to make a list that exorcised both my discerning (wax-clogged) ear and my (beer-besotted) gut—the “I can see what this artist is trying to do here” versus the “this fucking rules and I’m going to sing it at the top of my lungs in my car/boxers” if you will. I prefer the latter—less thinking involved.
The following is a semi-in-depth look at what I liked about music in 2009 … in list form. It’s a magical place where good and evil coexist, where big, dumb rock mingles with smarty-pants indie, a place where it’s Christmas year-round. But before we get down to it, I’d like to present to you the following pre-list list.
Thing(s) to do after reading the TDoL Best of 2009:
1. Leave your own list in the comments.
2. Harshly ridicule and mock my list, also in the comments.
3. Praise my list for its fine taste and heterogeneousness.
4. Tweet/tell your friends to read it and do the same.
5. Explain to me what the hell heterogeneousness means.
6. Click on the album cover to purchase.
7. Note there is no Animal Collective on this list …
8. … or Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
9. But there is a KISS on my list.
10. Thank you for reading.
After years of wrestling with major label politics and personal demons—all of which led to members taking a two-year hiatus—The Mother Hips came back to release one of their best albums in 2007′s Kiss the Crystal Flake. Pacific Dust feels like its sister record, the Hips again playing to their strengths—gorgeous Bee Gees-inspired harmonies, pop hooks, country licks and the occasional Sabbathian riff. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Mother Hips are criminally underrated.
“Young Charles Ives” – The Mother Hips
I’m still trying to figure out how Mastodon became so popular among non-metalheads … though they aren’t your typical metal band. With Crack the Skye Mastodon has created a sweeping monster of a record that piles riffs on top of mind-bending prog passages. It’s as beautiful as it is brutal, sort of like Tool. And I guess if hipsters are listening to Mastodon, it means less time spent doting on Merriweather Post Pavilion and It’s Blitz … which is never a bad thing.
“Divinations” – Mastodon
Led by lanky guitar-whiz Andrea Genevieve, Purple Rhinestone Eagle strings together mighty riffs that crackle over the rib-rattling rhythm section of Morgan Ray Denning and Ashley Spungin. Amorum Tali (Talons of Love) stands firmly at the intersection between San Francisco flower power and Birmingham doom, especially on “Walk With the Wizard.” Add the fact that the lyrics often touch on deeper social and political issues and you have an incredibly potent rock machine.
“Walk With the Wizard” – Purple Rhinestone Eagle
The Thermals’ Kill Rock Stars debut doesn’t quite match the barbed nastiness of 2006′s The Body, the Blood, the Machine—it’s still intense, however, as guitarist/vocalist Hutch Harris reflects on his time on Earth after offing himself in the very first song. Now We Can See is a polished piece of wicked pop punk—songs are more refined, hooks sharper. And it took only, what, three releases for bassist Kathy Foster to finally lay down some backing vocals? Now we can hear!
“I Let It Go” – The Thermals
Surrogate hails from Chico, Calif., touring only occasionally and putting out some incredible pop records on a label that puts out some incredibly god-awful records. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Chris Keene has come into his own after playing hired gun in his previous band Number One Gun, writing smart, earnest, well-produced indie rock that should make fans of Nada Surf take notice. Keene’s influences are all over the map, but it only takes one spin to make Popular Mechanics feel like home.
“Whiskey (Vomiting Words)” – Surrogate
Well, hand it to Jeff Tweedy and Co. for coming up with their most experimental album title in 2009. So the music within doesn’t come anywhere near the eclecticism of masterstroke Yankee Hotel Foxtrot —it’s simply another tried-and-true batch of songs that further cements Tweedy as one of the great tunesmiths of his generation. And musical wunderkinds Glenn Kotche and Nels Cline again show magnificent restraint. I just like that Wilco continues to simply do what comes natural.
“Country Disappeared” – Wilco
Screaming Females got a lot of play at TDoL this year, usually in my car as I was being transformed into a screaming male. The aptly-titled Power Move is a fuzzed-out, riff-laden rock ‘n’ roll that shrewdly pulls from each of the last four decades. The highlight, of course, is Marissa Paternoster, the band’s 5-foot-2 guitar goddess who cranks out noodly solos over an air-tight rhythm section. Album opener “Bell” shows that, as is the case with most shredders, it’s usually the riffs that really scream.
“Bell” – Screaming Females
What strikes me most about Portland’s WEINLAND, is the Jekyll and Hyde they pull with their recordings and live shows. Although Breaks In the Sun comes from less of a dark place than 2008′s La Lamentor, there’s still a calmness and beauty to it. Adam Shearer’s hushed vocals are the centerpiece, floating through emotionally-charged country folk songs brimming with pop hooks. Live WEINLAND transforms into a gritty bar band that would probably buy you a beer. It’s rather impressive.
“Autumn Blood” – WEINLAND
It’s unfortunate that Greg Cartwright is known only by weirdos who still like to spend hours scouring dusty bins for records by dead people. Love and Curses is the North Carolina quartet’s first record of new material since 2004, and big guitars and swirly organ still rule here. Cartwright’s voice is a little more ragged this time around, but he sure knows how to convey tenderness and despair whether he’s representing the everyman or a jilted lover. Yes, everyone should listen to more dead people.
“The Bells” – Reigning Sound
Chaim Witz and Stanley Eisen made good on their promise to deliver a klassik KISS album, and the former’s songs are the best of the bunch … don’t tell him I said that. Sonic Boom is one kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll party loaded with sexual innuendo, cheesy lyrics (I’m talking Easy Cheese between two slices of Velveeta sprinkled with Cheetos), riffs, cowbells, ripping guitar solos, walking basslines and anthemic choruses. Attn. hipsters: Wouldn’t it be totally ironic if you played this at your next party?
A holiday album on a year-end list? Take away the snow, Santa and menorahs and you’re left with some damn catchy songs with Brit pop jangle and Beach Boys harmonies. The hardest working band in snow business plows through classics as well as a few equal-opportunity originals like “Hanukkah Mambo!” and “Christmastime Is Here (Again!).” And I’ve been listening to it non-stop since August … which means either I’m weird, or it’s just that good. Probably a little of both.
“Christmastime Is Here (Again!)” – The Yule Logs
Bodhi’s influences are as clear as day—Bowie, The Stooges, Gary Numan—yet they manage to end up sounding like nobody but Bodhi. “Kids Are So Nice” is a fine slice from MTV’s early days when new wave, Nina Blackwood (and videos) ruled. Brian Carr’s voice is the glue that holds the myriad influences in place, even when the band decides to throw a new wave country song into the mix (“Bystander”). Went from 0 to No. 4 on my year-end in less than three weeks.
“Kids Are So Nice” – Bodhi
“Shooting Star” grabbed me before I even knew who Harper Simon’s pops was. Simon’s debut is a love letter to Nashville. He recorded there, recruited producer Bob Johnston (Nashville Skyline) as well as noteworthy Nashville musicians including pedal steel player Lloyd Green (Sweetheart of the Rodeo). Not surprisingly, he ended up with a beautiful, warm country record. Simon can’t help but sometimes sound like his father Paul—not a bad thing unless, of course, we’re talking about Graceland.
“Shooting Star” – Harper Simon
Boy-girl harmonies, jangly guitars and hooks up the wazoo (which is less painful than it sounds) reign throughout the New York quartet’s debut. As guitarist/vocalist Kip Berman explained to TDoL earlier this year: “I feel that pop is so wonderfully broad a style of music that you could never ever get bored or fully exhaust it—it’s infinite.” With all the press that TPoBPaH received in 2009, it’s nice to know that they aren’t interested in resting on their laurels. Hell, they might actually be in this for the long haul.
“Young Adult Friction” – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
In The Red put out some incredible records this year from King Khan and BBQ Show, Reigning Sound and Thee Oh Sees, but nothing grabbed me as immediately as the debut from Austin, Texas’ The Strange Boys. The combination of chops, songs and enigmatic confidence made these young(ish) boys sound well beyond their years. The band doesn’t go for lo-fi or silly garage-rock aesthetics, instead churning out no-nonsense, R&B-fueled rock ‘n’ roll that falls somewhere between Meet the Beatles! and Bob Dylan’s Newport Folk Festival performance. Guitarist/vocalist Ryan Sambol coyly unleashes his general disaffection through nasally vocals, while jangly guitars and a booming rhythm section crank out the soundtrack for a misfits sock hop. Effortless and fun. Come to think of it, the only thing lo-fi about The Strange Boys might be the album’s cover. But who really looks at those anymore?
“This Girl Taught Me a Dance” – The Strange Boys
The Best of the Rest of the Best …
Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors
Paint the Fence Invisible – Drug Rug
To Be Still – Alela Diane
Rose City – Viva Voce
Survival Strategies in a Modern World – Liechtenstein