Category Archives: 2009 Favorites

My Favorite Albums of 2009: 10-1

Well, this is it.  My top ten favorite albums of 2009.  There was so much great music this year that it feels strange to narrow it down to so few albums.  I really did love each of these though, and I hope you do, too.  Let me know what you think.  I probably won’t be blogging too much until 2010, but I can’t wait to hear what happens next year.

I’ve included my favorite song from each album, unless it was on my Favorite Songs list, in which case I’ve included a different favorite.

10) Yeah I Know – Darlings Darlings are charmingly adolescent.  They’re like that adorable kid you used to baby-sit, but who you know is going to grow up to be really attractive.  With lines like “We can do things to each other,” and “We’ll get fucked up in the park/And we’ll get fucked up in the dark” scattered throughout Yeah I Know, there is something innately raw and youthful about these songs.  They give a pretty great picture of what it feels like to be a twenty-something in New York, as well, with songs like “Eviction Party.”  I think they capture something innate about the spirit of Brooklyn right now.  Then you get a song like the title track, “Yeah I Know,” that’s so full of ecstatic songwriting ideas, and sublimely mature for such a young band (and it’s even better live).  This is a great, fun album, but I’m even more excited about it because of what it signals for this band’s future.

MP3: “Yeah I Know” – Darlings

9) Ducktails – Ducktails Matt Mondanile has put out so much music this year.  This self-titled Ducktails LP is probably the most concrete chunk of output, but I’d really like it to represent everything Ducktails has put his name on in 2009.  From splits with Julian Lynch to tapes to work with Real Estate, Mondanile has created a wonderfully unique soundscape and new musical sensibility.  It’s so calming and peaceful without being too easy to accept.  Ducktails is swirly and complicated and totally satisfying.

MP3: “Backyard” – Ducktails

8 ) Here We Go Magic – Here We Go Magic This album deserves to be on any top ten list based on the strength of “Tunnelvision” and “Fangela” alone.  While those tracks circulated around the internet quite a lot in early 2009, Here We Go Magic somehow didn’t get the kind of buzz that other bands have garnered in 2009.  I believe this is due to Luke Temple’s maturity as a musician and songwriter.  These songs age well with repeated listens.  Temple’s been around forever and is finally getting the recognition he deserves.  This album is full of serious compositions, wonderful and bewildering- not the kind of thing that’s easily hyped.  Instead, this album is solid and stable, steeped in talent and vision, and will be a work to remember for years to come.

MP3: “I Just Want to See You Underwater” – Here We Go Magic

7) Hospice – The Antlers This is the saddest album I’ve ever heard.  A year ago, The Antlers were another Brooklyn Antlers band, one that I frequently mixed up with Crystal Antlers and in turn, Crystal Stilts.  A year later, I doubt anyone will make that mistake again.  Dubbed as one of the best albums of 2009 all the way back in January by NPR, Hospice is stark and honest, a frank take on death and mortality, especially from a young person’s point of view.  Hospice feels like an accomplishment, one that must have been difficult to produce.  I saw The Antlers play it, front to back, at Union Hall earlier this year.  I’ve seen the band several times since then, but I particularly remember Silberman’s a cappella vocals at the end of that Union Hall set for “Epilogue.”  That’s when I knew how truly good this album is.  What a talent.   My only worry about Hospice is that it’s so well-conceived, that the extremely talented Silberman will have a difficult time ever creating anything better.  I’m not the only one to be struck so starkly by the Antler’s live show.  I’ve heard others complain that the album sounds like it’s too muted compared to the sound of the songs live.  I think, though, that this only adds to the beauty of Hospice.  Suffocating, choked, and dying.  The whole thing is so despairingly gorgeous.  Truly one of the most remarkable works of art produced in 2009.

MP3: “Bear” – The Antlers

6) Real Estate – Real Estate I feel the same way about Real Estate as I do about Ducktails.  This band really created a sound this year, something that didn’t exist before they started doing it.  Plus, they’ve done it with two guitars, bass, and drums- a remarkable feat at this point in rock and roll’s history.  It’s less that I love this album, and more that I love all of the output from Real Estate that’s been floating around the internet all year, much of which did find its way onto this release.  An immensely talented group of young men.  Not only is Ducktails a side project, but so is Alex Bleeker and The Freaks, another band that I bet you’re going to pay attention to in 2010.  I’d like to crown all the boys in Real Estate champions of 2009.

MP3: “Fake Blues” – Real Estate

5) Songs of Shame – Woods Maybe it’s because one of my favorite tracks off of Songs of Shame is “Rain On,” but this is the perfect album for a rainy day.  There’s just enough melody to ground all of the psychedelic noodling, and it holds together because all of it is so pretty.  Tapes and old microphones and beards and guitars all add to Woods’ homey aesthetic.  There’s a reason why I put Woods and Real Estate next to each other on both this list and my Favorite Songs list.  They’ve both cultivated, in different ways, a laid-back, quiet rock sound without being too much like that lost 60s band from way back when.  I don’t know, I just really love this stuff.

MP3: “The Number” – Woods

4) Smith Westerns – Smith Westerns Young, overconfident, gritty, naive, celebratory, excited, already jaded.  These are all the things a good punk record should be, and the Smith Westerns deliver all of this on their debut self-titled lp.  Boys and girls and girls and boys, I had to exercise a lot of control so that this wouldn’t be the only album I listened to throughout the month of November.  I’m astounded that these guys are only seventeen years old, but at the same time, no one older could have made such a confident, brash, excellent album.

MP3: “Girl In Love” – Smith Westerns

3) Post-Nothing – Japandroids The title really says it all.  Post-Nothing.  Don’t call them post-punk, post-noise, post-Pavement.  Japandroids know that they sound like a lot of things that came before.  In a year that truly did mark the evolution of what indie music means with the enormous proliferation of genre-bending electronic acts like Animal Collective, Japandroids put out a rock and roll album.  And while it might not be a huge step forward for music like the aforementioned band, it’s no less good or important.  The urgency of the vocals and drumming were unparalleled anywhere this year, and few bands put out an album with so much energy and rock and roll grit.  While the Smith Westerns take their burgeoning boy/girl crushes with the humor of a teenager, Japandroids take their crushes a little more seriously, a little more urgently.  Just like this style of music we love, they’re getting older and maybe wiser, and feel the impending sense of time.  You can hear all of this in their songs.  In the end, it makes my heart feel good.  Let’s go French kiss some French girls.

MP3: “Wet Hair” – Japandroids

2) Wavvves – Wavves Amidst the sudden rocket to fame, amidst the drinking and the drugs, the breakdowns, the backlash, the broken arm, and the bar fights, Wavves put out this album.  It’s easy to forget the music, in light of all of the hype-inducing antics.  Let me illustrate this clearly.  I know the number rankings aren’t ultimately important, but Pitchfork gave Wavvves a higher ranking than it did Jewellery.  But Jewellery made it onto their 50 Best list, and Wavvves did not.  After all of the furor (that Pitchfork largely created) over Wavves this year, it’s become gauche to include Nathan Williams in your best of 2009, or possibly to even admit liking him at all.  Well, I don’t care.  I stand by my convictions that when you cut out all of the other bullshit, you’re left with a fantastic, innovative lo-fi album.  Wavves was one of the first of the whole “lo-fi” craze this year, and frankly, I don’t think anyone does it better than him.  If there’s a better representation of contemporary suburban kids’ existential angst than “So Bored” in music, literature, or art, I haven’t heard, seen, or read it.  With his “ooos” and “waas,” Williams also creates a wonderful pop tension above his difficult, scuzzed out guitar.  Lest we forget the more experimental tracks on Wavvves – while other lo-fi artist like Times New Viking incorporate the pop into their noisy songs, Williams actually divides noise and pop into two different types of songs on his album.  There’s “Goth Girls,” “To the Dregs,” and “Killr Punx, Scary Demons.”  Then there’s “So Bored,” “No Hope Kids,” and “Gun in the Sun” – Ramones-worthy punk janglers.  There’s a wonderful logic to structuring an album in this dual way, one that says quite a lot about bedroom music versus live shows (one of the main tensions of Wavves’ act), and it really sets this album apart for me.

Sometimes it may be difficult for an artist to get themselves heard if they’re not getting hyped by the proper sites.  But we’ve reached the other end of the spectrum, where it’s sometimes difficult for an artist to get heard once they’re in the hype machine.  It’s challenging, but we need to put our notions about Wavves aside and stick to the music on this one.  When you subtract how popular or hated or obnoxious or overexposed Wavves might be, you’re left with one hell of an album.

MP3: “Sun Opens My Eyes” – Wavves

1) Jewellery – Micachu and the Shapes Jewellery is the most original, unique record to come out in 2009, hands down. Micachu and the Shapes are an androgynous female-fronted band of twenty-two year olds banging on beer bottles and home made guitars,  who play completely bizarre Waitsian ditties with more dark humor than a Poe short story.  Maybe it’s because they’re British and didn’t tour in America as much as other bands this year, but this is another album that escaped the hype machine.  Pitchfork gave them an unbelievably low review the first time around, but did indeed include the album in their Fifty Best list.  I honestly can’t understand how this album, with its stunning originality, wasn’t in the top ten.  For starters, they are straight-up weird.  For being so strange, it’s a remarkably versatile album.  “Golden Phone” and “Calculator” are two of the catchiest songs of the year.  Jewellery can be dark and scary, or fun and lighthearted, depending on what mood you’re listening in.  They’re also one of the few indie bands that have really incorporated electronics with guitar-based tunes in an exciting, creative, new way.  The first forty seconds of “Just In Case” are a great example.  It’s still, vaguely, rock and roll, but the electronics combined with the home-made guitar make sounds that are totally new.  It might all be a little too wacky for some to take seriously, but to my ears, Jewellry is absolutely delicious and refreshing, and will certainly be one of the coolest, most interesting artifacts of 2009.

“Calculator” – Micachu and the Shapes



Filed under 2009 Favorites

My Favorite Albums of 2009: 25-11

I’m not completely happy with this list.  I’ve been agonizing over it for about a month now, and no matter how I work it, it doesn’t seem to come out right.  I listened to about 250 albums this year, a paltry percentage of the number of total releases.  Even out of those, I only listened to maybe 40 of them multiple times.  I believe in order to really understand an album, you have to listen to it upwards of 30 times, and you can only have so many albums like that in your life at one time.  Making a list of albums, then, seems to be so pointless and somehow dishonest.  All but eight of these artists already had songs on my Favorites Songs list.  Moreover, the whole list seems sort of mainstream/Pitchforky to me.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t fulfill the purpose of this list: to help readers discover new things they may have missed over the year.  Maybe this is actually an indication that the good music really makes it through, and we can have faith in the indie rock portion of the music industry.  Maybe it just means I have boring taste.

I tried to strictly stick to my favorite albums, but that didn’t quite work.  I listen to that Bishop Allen album all the time, but really feel that it doesn’t deserve to be on a year-end list.  I rarely listen to Circulatory System, but I find that album continually exciting when I do listen to it.  The album I picked as number one probably isn’t my favorite favorite album of the year, strictly speaking, but I wanted it to be number one for many different reasons.  So, in the end, I’m not really sure what this list is.  A list of albums that I really enjoyed, in a vague order, that I also feel are somewhat important to this year.  I hope someone finds something new from this list.  All of these albums are very good, if not great.  Yes, there were better albums that came out this year, but this is the list I made.

I’ve included my favorite song from each album, unless it was on my Favorite Songs list, in which case I’ve included a different favorite.

25) Signal Morning – Circulatory System Before I heard this album, I knew nothing about Circulatory System.  I didn’t know that they’ve been around for ten years now, and I didn’t know that Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) is occasionally involved in the project.  All I knew was that I was astounded by how different and how good so many tracks on this album were.  A few tracks are nearly regular rock songs (“Round Again”), a few are noisy experiments (“Blasting Through”), and few are psychedelic masterpieces (“overjoyed”).  Nearly every song on here is a strange gem in one way or another.  It’s an invigorating listen, and a good introduction some more out-there music if you’re usually tentative about these sorts of things.

MP3: “this morning (we remembered everything)” – Circulatory System

24) Monster Head Room – Ganglians This album is almost dull at times.  There’s only so much 60s-garage warbly vocals layered over alternately strummy and twangy guitars that can stay interesting.  But I find Ganglians’ musical project as a whole to be very, very good.  It’s not so much the individual songs on Monster Head Room, but rather the idea of the album, that I find intriguing.  I like that the songs “Candy Girl” and “Modern African Queen” make sense together on the same album.  All of the tracks are vaguely unpolished, but with such nice background “oohs and aahs” and extra psych guitar parts scattered throughout, that they’re just as well-thought out as they ought to be.  Just like the album as a whole.

MP3: “Cryin’ Smoke” – Ganglians

23) Embryonic – The Flaming Lips Embryonic is terrifying.  The album cover is unsettling.  The first words you hear are “She submits as she dominates.”  There are 18 tracks and the album is over an hour long.  The sounds throughout are as thick and alien as everything that’s always come from the cracked head of Wayne Coyne, but are now all dark and frightening, instead of fun and pleasantly existential.  I’ve never liked such an upsetting album so much before.  Once again, Mr. Coyne and his merry band of musicians have created something that sounds like nothing else, and absolutely stands out because of its own insanity.

MP3:“The Ego’s Last Stand” – The Flaming Lips

22) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart I did not intend or want to include this album on my list.  I think this album is overrated.  However, back in February, there was one night when I was really sick with a fever.  I almost never listen to music when I fall asleep, but I felt so strange that night that I decided to put this album on.  As I was drifting off, I came to this feverish realization where I really “got” this album.  That sounds really stupid, but it’s had a secret soft spot for me ever since then.  The songs are very well-constructed and compact.  It’s all just a tad too glossy, but I can’t deny that at least a third of the songs on TPOBPAH are going to be classics.

MP3: “This Love Is Fucking Right” – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

21) Gather, Form & Fly – Megafaun This album likes to trick you.  At first glance, it seems like another good, sleepy folk album.  But then they started dropping songs like “The Process” and “Darkest Hour.”  There are few albums that have such a wonderful, subtle sense of humor right alongside the folksiest of songs.  Plus, all of this is accomplished in an incredibly listenable way.  I feel about Gather, Form & Fly much the same way I do about Signal Morning.  If this type of folk-noise album usually scares you off, this is a great entry point into the genre.

MP3: “Darkest Hour” – Megafaun

20) Rejoicer – Grooms Grooms used to be called Muggabears.  When they were Muggabears, they played a particular brand of noisy rock.  I always thought that the band was good, but felt that if you chose to play that kind of noise music it couldn’t just be good.  It had to be really, really good.  Then, Muggabears (wisely) changed their name to Grooms and put out this incredible album that got weirdly little notice from the bigger blogs.  The twisting melodies and bass lines on this record are endlessly fascinating.  They remind me so much of a young, updated Sonic Youth, and their live show is just as killer as a young Thurston and Kim must have been.  Travis Johnson’s voice is both gloriously strong and mercurial- even paced and then breaking into a falsetto fitting of the screechy guitar parts.  One of the most impressive up-and-coming acts of the year.

MP3: “Dreamsucker” – Grooms

19) Watch Me Fall – Jay Reatard This slot was either going to go to Harlem’s Free Drugs or Jay Reatard.  Ultimately, I had to give it to Reatard.  Forgetting entirely about the persona that Jay Reatard has cultivated, especially this year, this is a wonderful, fun album.  I don’t understand why the suburban kids of American aren’t listening to this instead of all that pop-punk nonsense on the radio.  Reatard truly is one of punk’s finest songwriters.  He understands the original 70s ethos of playing delightfully optimistic songs about terrible things, and he brings enough originality to the table that it’s all still applicable to a post-modern, more current angst.  Coming back to his ethos, it’s also fascinating to hear this tough figure unraveling throughout the album.   Listen to “Can’t Do It Anymore.”  What a great pop song about trying to hold it together.

“Can’t Do It Anymore” – Jay Reatard

18) Con Law – Generationals If Generationals have one problem, it’s that they haven’t quite figured out how to make a song build yet.  But, they have perfectly, utterly, mastered the art of the hook.  The number of songs with perfect hooks on this album is astounding.  “Nobody Could Change Your Mind,” “Angry Charlie,” “Faces in the Dark,” “When They Fight, They Fight,” and “Bobby Beale” all have great hooks that get in your head.  Chances are, if you are a living person who likes rock music, you will adore this album.

MP3: “Nobody Could Change Your Mind” – Generationals

17) Why There Are Mountains – Cymbals Eat Guitars This album deserves recognition based on “And the Hazy Sea” alone, but the rest of the album is also very solid dude rock.  I think Pitchfork actually said this in their original review of the album, but Why There Are Mountains is great suburban driving music, and I only wish that I’d had this album in high school.

MP3: “Some Trees (Merritt Moon)” – Cymbals Eat Guitars

16) Born Again Revisited – Times New Viking The noise!  The glorious noise!  It’s no secret that Times New Viking is one of the best noisy bands out there.  This latest effort is just more confirmation that this is a very important band.  First of all, I love that these guys are from Ohio.  It’s nice they’re not from Brooklyn for some reason.  As for the actual album, it just sounds so pleasing to my ears.  Maybe scuzzy pop songs are the theme to my list this year, but I love finding the buried gems of melody in these songs.  It takes just enough work that it’s an incredibly satisfying but fun listen.

“No Time, No Hope” – Times New Viking

15) Album – Girls I was very, very resistant to this album at first.  I knew it was fun and I knew that every single person I knew liked it.  To me, this signaled that maybe the album was a little too easy to be great.  Despite my desire to keep listening to it, I buried my adoration of Girls in the bottom of my hype-hating heart.  Then, they put out a music video with microphone penises.  The tide was turned, and I was officially won over.  Yes, most of the songs on this album are fun and easy.  But they’re also brilliant.  It’s very difficult to write such well-constructed, upbeat songs, and the half-joking half-pleading vocals give the album a wonderful sarcastic edge.  This is the album I’ll be giving my nephews when they’re teenagers, hoping that it’ll influence them enough to get into indie rock from the 2000s.  I have full confidence that it will.

“Ghost Mouth” – Girls

14) Face Control – Handsome Furs This album has been criminally overlooked.  I don’t know how Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade) comes up with so many good songs, but there are really some astounding tracks on this album.  I’m not normally a fan of the whole dancey rock with synths thing, but these songs are actually just very, very good.  I think that’s why the general public who typically likes this dancey rock sort of thing that’s been so popular this year (I’m particularly thinking of Florence and the Machine and Phoenix, for example), hasn’t taken hold of this album in the same way- because the songs are good and a little more challenging than we usually expect from this genre.  I don’t know.  Maybe I watched the “I’m Confused” zombie music video one too many times, but I will defend this album’s awesomeness (without much coherent argument) to the bitter end.

MP3: “I’m Confused” – Handsome Furs

13) Bromst – Dan Deacon This album builds so slowly that the first audible sound doesn’t even begin until forty seconds have already passed.  And, as said in my “Snookered” write-up, build is what this album is about.  I think I like this album so very much because I’m so surprised how much Deacon has matured.  His Santa Claus-like physique and jolly nature make him a figure to root for, but his wacky tunes and fun live show didn’t exactly make me think he’d ever produce such a stunning piece of art.  But I’m so glad he proved me wrong, and it feel so good to love this album.  Darker, more complex, grander, Bromst is incredible.

“Woof Woof” – Dan Deacon

12) Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors Yeah, it’s good.  It’s really, really good.  This is, in my estimation, the “best” album to come out this year (maybe MPP, but probably Bitte Orca).  There’s not much I can really say about this that hasn’t been said.  But, my favorite reason why this album is so innovative and important, is its amazing incorporation of female hip-hop vocal styles into Longstreth’s weird brand of guitar rock.  It’s incredibly fitting that Beyonce was at their pool party show this summer.  I hear Beyonce all over this album.

“Temecula Sunrise” – Dirty Projectors

11) Power Move – Screaming Females I listened to this album a whole lot this year.  It’s good.  It’s definitely good.  But looking back, I think the reason I’ve enjoyed it so much is because it’s really inspiring to hear such a good female lead guitar player.  Not just a female guitar player, but a true female front-man, who really kicks serious ass, without being generally labeled as a “girl band.”  Maybe that shouldn’t be a reason to pick this as my number eleven album of the year, but also, maybe it should be.  Plus, these are some serious kick-ass harder rock songs no matter which way you slice it.

“Sour Grapes” – Screaming Females

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Filed under 2009 Favorites

My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009: 10-1

To recap:  As for My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009, I made a few rules for myself.  First, a band can only appear once.  Also, this is purely about singles I enjoy.  For instance, I would never put Harlem Shakes’ Technicolor Health on my favorite albums list, but “Sunlight” made it pretty high on this list because it’s a great pop song.  I like a lot of Grooms’ songs and think they’re probably better than many of these, for instance, but none of them made it onto this list because they work much better as a group of experimental songs on an album.  This gave me a chance to give recognition to many bands from this year I would otherwise have left out.  And, for the record, I think this list of songs is less important but more fun than my forthcoming list of best albums of 2009.  You can download all of the songs by clicking on the words in bold.

This ha been really fun.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.  Stay tuned for my favorite albums list.  So here it is, the FINAL installment of My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009.

10) “Snookered” – Dan Deacon Bromst was so much better than I expected it to be.  The album was a huge leap forward for Deacon.  He moved away from dancy, albeit awesome, electronic creations, and transformed them into something a little more serious, a little more sinister.  This song is the centerpiece of that excellent album.  Starting with just a few chimes, adding garbled chanting voices, and layering synth upon synth, this song is the perfect exercise in build.  But it’s not just a simple treatment of how to create tension with electronic music.  This song oozes soul, and honesty.  “I’ve been wrong so many times before/But never quite like this/Heard all/In the rain/But the rain all turned to piss.”  That’s exactly what life feels like sometimes, and Deacon gives us all a hope with the wonderful climax of the song, right before the break down with the voices.  I’m really usually not one for button-pushing, but a mature Deacon reminds me how very human, complex, and downright good it can be.

9) “The Ancient Commonsense Of Things” – Bishop Allen I reviewed Grrr… on the blog earlier this year, and I didn’t give it a very good review.  But this is an album, particularly this song, that I’ve continued to listen to over the months.  Part of that has to do with how good Bishop Allen is live, particularly this song (I saw them for the first time at Northside in June).  I suppose “The Ancient Commonsense of Things” really wouldn’t be included on a “Best” list, but it does what music ought to do.  It makes life feel a little brighter.  There are two concrete reasons, both lyrical, why I like this song so much.  First, I do think that there is an “ancient commonsense of things,” and I’m glad this song points it out.  Also, “There are those/Who know to look/Through all the crannies and the nooks/And when I found you did/What it meant to me.”  This is the problem with doing a Favorites list instead of a Best Of.  I really, really love that line, and I can’t really explain why.

8 ) “Sunlight” – Harlem Shakes This is the best pop song I’ve heard all year.  Honestly, I don’t know why it isn’t played on Top 40 radio all the time.  Maybe Lexy’s voice?  I don’t know, but “Sunlight” is pure ear candy.  It makes me want to dance.  It makes me want to drive fast in my car.  It makes me want to listen to it again and again and again.

7) “When They Fight, They Fight” – Generationals From the outset of this song, you know it’s going to be special.  It starts with a 70s sort of piano/cowbell part, giving “When They Fight” an insistent energy right away.  Then suddenly, you’re right in the middle of a late 50s, Beatlesesque, vaguely doo-wop melody.  “When they fight, they fight/And when they come home at night they say/I love you baby.”  The horns, the choppy vocals, and the “oooohs” are all irresistible.  I can never get enough of this song.  I do think it lacks a strong bridge, but the ideas and general feel of this song are great, and I’m surprised this band didn’t get more attention this year.

6) “Tomorrow Sorrow” – Blake Miller When I posted this song awhile back, it was the single most popular MP3 ever on this blog, by far.  There’s something incredibly relatable in Blake Miller’s quiet freak folk.  Not only is “Tomorrow Sorrow” musically interesting and remarkably mature for someone so young, but I think it has that little bit of teenage angst that everyone can relate to.  He’s right.  Tomorrow will inevitably bring bad things, along with the good, and the idea of “If I could figure out/A way to trick the sun/Into keeping me warm,” is so comforting in its simple beauty.  A remarkable song.

5) “Shine On” – Air Waves Nicole Schneit’s songwriting is so simple, so straightforward.  “I lost someone this year/You gained a start.”  “Shine On” feels true.  That’s what I like about it.  She’s really telling the truth.  I don’t know how else to explain it.

4) “When I’m With You” – Best Coast This song has been on a ton of Best Of lists, and the reason is, without a doubt, because no one likes sleeping alone.  Best Coast pinpointed one of the most private but universal feelings and put it to music.  That takes talent.  “When I’m With You” is also just really well-written.  The slow, lazy start, the sped-up verse, and the completely different, driving end.  The song unfolds so well on itself.  Plus, the production quality is just right.  Best Coast deserves every bit of buzz she gets, and I love this song.

3) “White As Diamonds” – Alela Diane Writers use the words “achingly beautiful” far too often.  But that’s exactly what “White As Diamonds” is.  I believe that Alela Diane will be remembered as one of the most unique singers of this time, or at least she ought to be.  The timbre of her voice is absolutely incredible, and this song stays with you long after you hear it.  Diane paints such a unique aural landscape, creating something entirely new out of strong folk traditions.  Plus, her father is in her band, which is about the coolest thing ever.  A true talent, and a truly classic song.

2) “No Hope Kids” – Wavves I get shit for this all the time, but I love Wavves.  I’m completely and totally fascinated by him.  But I’ll save that for my Favorite Albums list (there, I just gave one away).  Instead, let’s focus on this song.  “No Hope Kids” is a great song.  There’s a lot of reasons I listen to music, but the number one reason is probably as an outlet for my teenage angst.  Isn’t that, after all, when most of us really started to listen to music to begin with?  When we were sullen fourteen year olds and no one else could understand?  It’s a musical habit now.  “Got no car/Got no money/I got nothing nothing nothing not at all/Got no God/Got no girlfriend.”  “Got no friends/Got no family/Just a bunch of people put around me.”  Wow, way to pinpoint the post-modern condition of suburban teens.  His petulant, stuck-up attitude only makes it better.  The energy of this song is unparalleled in all the other lo-fi, schmo-fi bands that came out this year.  “Yeah I know, I know, I know, I know, I know.”

1) “Young Hearts Spark Fire” – Japandroids There was not a single time this year when I was in a moving vehicle and did not listen to this song.  If Wavves is about teenage angst, then Japandroids is about twenty-something angst.  “Oh, we used to dream/Now we just worry about dying/I don’t wanna worry about dying/I just wanna worry about sunshine girls.”  Hold onto your youth while you can.  I can think of no better soundtrack to do that to.  I suppose this song isn’t all that interesting.  It’s fairly derivative and doesn’t bring much new to the table in the way a Merriweather Post Pavilion track does.  But this song is even better than all of those to me because it shows that rock and roll is still worthwhile.  Despite its two-man simplicity, its typical drums and guitar, “Young Hearts Spark Fire” is so good. The rock and roll I grew up on is alive and well and possible, and Japandroids proved that to me in 2009.  This is my absolute favorite song of the year. It understands something about me, and for that, it gets my number one spot.  “Young/Hearts/Spark/Fire.”


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My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009: 20-11

To recap:  As for My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009, I made a few rules for myself.  First, a band can only appear once.  Also, this is purely about singles I enjoy.  For instance, I would never put Harlem Shakes’ Technicolor Health on my favorite albums list, but “Sunlight” made it pretty high on this list because it’s a great pop song.  I like a lot of Grooms’ songs and think they’re probably better than many of these, for instance, but none of them made it onto this list because they work much better as a group of experimental songs on an album.  This gave me a chance to give recognition to many bands from this year I would otherwise have left out.  And, for the record, I think this list of songs is less important but more fun than my forthcoming list of best albums of 2009.  You can download all of the songs by clicking on the words in bold.

So here it is, the fourth installment of my 50 Favorite Songs of 2009.

20) “Tunnelvision” – Here We Go Magic Luke Temple’s newest project settles somewhere between sugary pop and strange noise.  It sounds vaguely alien and upsetting, like a weird dream that you can’t quite remember when you wake up, but you’re sure it was beautiful.  The texture and depth of “Tunnelvision” is only heightened by the cryptic, beautiful, simple lyrics.  “People live and then we die.”  This song is definitely a place I like to visit, and the perfect music to put on when you’re just at home alone.

19) “The Lie/The Truth” – Double Dagger Ah, the never ending quest to listen to the new Pavement.  I’m not saying that Double Dagger sounds that much like Pavement exactly, or even that they’re influenced by them, but the things I like about this song are the same things I like about Pavement.  The sweeping chorus makes my heart skip a beat, and the lyrics are so delightfully clever.  “Living in the middle of nowhere/In a town called exactly right/It’s got a population of you/And everyone sleeps well at night/There’s a reason everything here/Can be explained in ten words or less/The wrong people are never right.”

18) “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” – Jay Reatard Two minutes and twenty-two seconds of pure punk bliss.  Jay Reatard may have called me names, gotten beat up by fans, and has his band quit on him this year, but I still love this song.  He’s 100% the real deal obnoxious punk anti-hero, and if you have any doubts, just listen to this song.

17) “Move To California” – Times New Viking All that guitar noise, ramshackle drums, and scratchy vocals.  Then out of nowhere you get, “Move to California/I hear you’ll have a better time.”  It’s no secret that Times New Viking are the kings of catchy lo-fi melodies, and this song represents some of their best writing.

16) “Eviction Party” – Darlings If the Strokes gave a picture of what it was like to be young and in the city in the beginning of the decade, Darlings are their end-of-the-decade music soul mates.  There’s so much Strokes in this song: a driving bass line, half sung lyrics, and talk of apartments and parties.  Darlings’ feel is so representative of being a twenty-something Brooklynite that it’s nearly impossible not to relate to this song.  Plus, the way Darlings put together their various guitar solos and keyboard riffs make for songs that, dare I say in the midst of all this early 2000s Strokes-nostalgia, are even better than their earlier counterparts.

15) “Walkabout (ft. Panda Bear)” – Atlas Sound I don’t know one person who doesn’t like this song.  I’m sure that it’s going to be on every single 2009 song list.  Panda Bear’s dreamy AnCo aesthetic mixed with Bradford’s precocious sense of play and imagination create a nearly perfect collaboration that revels in the energy of childhood.  “Walkabout” will surely go down as being one of the best of the late 2000s.

14) “Useful Chamber” – Dirty Projectors This might seem like a somewhat strange song choice from Bitte Orca, especially since so many of the tracks are already classics.  Out of all the warbly vocies, sharp guitar work, and R&B-tinged female vocals, I like this track because of the swell halfway through the song.  After all that buildup when Longstreth finally sings, “Bitte orca/Orca bitte,” that’s a pretty remarkable songwriting moment.

13) “Two” – The Antlers “There’s two people living in one small room/From your two half-families tearing at you/Two ways to tell the story (no one worries)/Two silver rings on our fingers in a hurry/Two people talking inside your brain/Two people believing that I’m the one to blame/Two different voices coming out of your mouth/While I’m too old to care and too sick to shout.”  Best lyrics of the year, absolutely, hands-down.

12) “You Can’t Force a Dance Party” – Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele This track might win for most entertaining song of the year.  You really can’t force a dance party.  Truer words have never been spoken, and rarely are cheesier lyrics sung: “We don’t have to dance/Let’s kiss instead.”  Dent May manages to pull it all off with his sincere voice and strummy ukulele.

11) “Home” – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros There are a lot of things I like about this song.  The number one thing that I can never get enough of, though, is Jade Castrinos’ voice.  Down to Earth and homey, I could listen to her sing, “Alabama, Arkansas/I do love my ma and pa/Not the way that I do love you.”  It’s also such a wonderful straight-forward love song, a genre that’s difficult to navigate in today’s post-modern world.  Sweet and caring, this will be another mixtape-worthy song for years to come.

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My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009: 30-21

To recap:  As for My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009, I made a few rules for myself.  First, a band can only appear once.  Also, this is purely about singles I enjoy.  For instance, I would never put Harlem Shakes’ Technicolor Health on my favorite albums list, but “Sunlight” made it pretty high on this list because it’s a great pop song.  I like a lot of Grooms’ songs and think they’re probably better than many of these, for instance, but none of them made it onto this list because they work much better as a group of experimental songs on an album.  This gave me a chance to give recognition to many bands from this year I would otherwise have left out.  And, for the record, I think this list of songs is less important but more fun than my forthcoming list of best albums of 2009.  You can download all of the songs by clicking on the words in bold.

So here it is, the third installment of My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009.

30) “Idiot Heart” – Sunset Rubdown I thought Dragonslayer was pretty good, but it didn’t capture me the way Sunset Rubdown’s previous works have.  I think that’s mostly because Spencer crafted it more for a live setting.  And this song ROCKED in live settings this year.  It gets off to a slow, interesting start.  But the end is stunning with the repeated line, “I hope that you die in a decent pair of shoes/We’ve got a lot a lot of walking to do.”  A cinematic, narrative song with the edge of lyrical nonsense that Kurg always brings to Sunset Rubdown songs.  Even though the album wasn’t a classic, this song is.

29) “Hey Boy” – The Magic Kids Is this song utterly derivative?  Yes, sure.  It is the catchiest, most adorable song to come out this year with an amazing 50s rock vibe mixed with a Beach Boys Je ne sais quoi?  Yes, definitely.  If this song doesn’t make you smile, I’m worried for your poor, broken heart.

28) “Beach Comber” – Real Estate I think Real Estate is my favorite band from this year.  I love everything about this song.  From the opening lines, “What you want is just outside your reach/Keep on searching,” to the easy, flowing guitar riff at the end.  This song is what I want life to be like.  Somehow the tone of the song is hopeful, without being overly sentimental.  It’s all deceptively simple.  Real Estate is one of those bands that come together in just the right way.  Musical magic.

27) “Rain On” – Woods I used to think that Woods sounded like some sort of mystical, forgotten late 60s band.  As the year has progressed, I’ve realized that they sound like 2009.  In fact, I think when we look back on this time in a few years, Woods and Real Estate will have the sound that will ultimately come to define this era.  I like “Rain On” so much that I’m not really sure what to say about it.  Listening to it is like reading a really good book.  It completely transports you into a place other than your own and you want to stay there.  It’s always a little jarring when you finish the book and realize that it’s not a place you can permanently inhabit.

26) “The Other Side” – Paul and the Patients This song consists entirely of awesome guitar build and fun, catchy chorus.  It seems somehow appropriate for this very dude-centric band to have a song entirely about build-up and release.  I admire its pleasant simplicity (much more so than their other single, “Blogspot”) and I wish this band had gotten more buzz this year.

25) “Bone Jam” – JEFF The Brotherhood JEFF The Brotherhood had one of the most exciting live shows I saw this year.  With just drums and guitar, they create really hard songs that are still catchy as hell.  There were a lot of two-man “garage” bands in 2009 (JTB does NOT want to be called a garage band), and these guys were far and away the best.  This is an amazing song, which helps, but they too have that inexplicable mix of charisma and talent.

24) “Bell” – Screaming Females I heard about Screaming Females before I listened to them.  My only thought was what a terrible band name Screaming Females was, especially for a female-fronted band.  Visions of bad Sleater-Kinney impersonations ran through my head.  Then I pressed play on “Bell,” and realized that Marissa Paternoster is one of the most kick-ass guitarists and rockers on the indie scene right now.  Man, woman, or child- she can shred.  Screaming Females melted my face at Market Hotel earlier this year, and I’ve been listening to this song on repeat ever since.

23) “The Red Bow” – That Ghost I’m glad That Ghost came out with an EP this year.  Their latest album, Young Fridays, came out in 2008, so I can’t include it on any of these lists.  “The Red Bow,” is excellent, though, and is definitely an evolution from That Ghost’s output last year.  It’s still got that amazing nineteen-year-old-phenom-in-their-bedroom feel, but is a little angrier, edgier, and slightly less Bright Eyes-y than his previous songs.  Plus, some of these lyrics are just amazing.  “I’d much rather just cut my legs off/So you can carry me home on your own.”

22) “Lust For Life” – Girls This song is so good (and so popular) because everyone can relate to it.  “I wish I had a suntan/I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine.”  Who doesn’t?  The gender confusion, the honesty of admitting to being “fucked in the head,” the adolescent hopefulness; this song has it all.  It’s by far one of the least inventive and challenging songs on Girls’ excellent album, but it’s the most fun.  And at the end of the day, how can you not love a song who’s music video includes penis microphones?  I mean, really.

21) “Talking Hotel Arbat Blues” – Handsome Furs Absolutely one of the most underrated albums all year.  This is my favorite song off of Face Control.  Maybe I’m a shameless Wolf Parade fan, but seriously, but could one band have more top-notch side projects?  Dan Boeckner’s grungy guitar mixed in with his girlfriend’s energetic synth playing creates an entirely new sound for us to enjoy.  I really, really want to use this song in a WWII movie montage.  Fighting, sprawling, and passionate.

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My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009: 40-31

To recap:  As for My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009, I made a few rules for myself.  First, a band can only appear once.  Also, this is purely about singles I enjoy.  For instance, I would never put Harlem Shakes’ Technicolor Health on my favorite albums list, but “Sunlight” made it pretty high on this list because it’s a great pop song.  I like a lot of Grooms’ songs and think they’re probably better than many of these, for instance, but none of them made it onto this list because they work much better as a group of experimental songs on an album.  This gave me a chance to give recognition to many bands from this year I would otherwise have left out.  And, for the record, I think this list of songs is less important but more fun than my forthcoming list of best albums of 2009.  You can download all of the songs by clicking on the words in bold.

So here it is, the second installment of My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009.

40) “Island, IS” – Volcano Choir What would a year-end list be this side of the decade without including Justin Vernon?  Though there was not nearly as much fervor over this album as last year’s For Emma, Forever Ago, this track from Bon Iver’s other project retains the same quiet beauty that marks Vernon as a great songwriter.  The repeating, melodic way the song begins is the perfect underbelly for Vernon’s yearning voice.

39) “23 19” – pow wow! “I was only joking/when I said I loved you.”  Ouch!  What a great opening line.  This ramshackle little song reminds me a lot of Belle & Sebastian’s “The Blues Are Still Blue.”  The upbeat melody, the slight alteration of lyrics between choruses.  It all adds up into an excellently slouchy rock and roll song about lurve.

38) “You Look Good” – Golden Isles It’s been a few months since I’ve heard this song, and I still know next to nothing about this Canadian band.  This song still stands up, though.  “Going out over the weekend/Calling up your girl just to see what’s good,” is a solid opening line sung in a 70s-esque  hang-dog voice.  This is the perfect song to throw on when you’re getting ready for a night out.

37) “Nadine” – Fool’s Gold I would like to declare Fool’s Gold the least irritating Afropop band of the year.  To quote Pitchfork, “They don’t play American music with an Afropop influence.  Rather, it’s Afropop with a slight American influence.”  This statement is fraught with various sociological, racial, and academic issues, but the bottom line is, Fool’s Gold just sounds good.  “Nadine” is pleasant, through and through, and sounds much fresher to my ears than the likes of, say, a certain Vampire band I love to hate.

36) “Vacationing People” – Foreign Born It’s no coincidence that Fool’s Gold and Foreign Born are next to each other in this list.  They share members, but are completely different projects.  I hear the same rolling pace in the beginning of both these songs.  Both come from a particular songwriter’s voice that I was so pleased to discover this year, and can’t wait to hear more from in the future.  This song is my favorite off the album.

35) “Daily Vacation” – Ducktails When I first heard Ducktails in the first months of this year, I’d never heard anything quite like it before.  Matt Mondanile (also of Real Estate) has such a unique sensibility that everything he makes has this wonderful antique, filmy quality to it (and somehow escapes the weird 80s workout quality that I find in so many of his peers’ efforts).  Of all of the weird chill-core or whatever it is we’re calling it (Neon Indian, Washed Out) that came out this year, Ducktails is by far the best.  For such a young writer, he has an incredibly individual perspective, which is perfectly reflected in this song.

34) “The Whole Damn Thing” – Those Darlins Bad-ass Southern chicks unapologetically singing about getting drunk and eating an entire chicken?  Do I need to write anything else?  One of my absolute favorite acts of the year.

33) “Into The Shadows Of My Embrace” – WHY? This song, much like all of WHY?’s Eskimo Snow, is a little goofy.  But somehow, by the end of the song, it turns into poignancy.  I like “Into The Shadows Of My Embrace,” in particular because of how brutally honest it is.  That’s really the most you can ask of a song.  It’s apparently about someone who’s obsessed with sex, and the tension breaks in the middle of the song when he cries, “And I know saying all this in public should make me feel funny/ But you gotta yell something out you’ll never tell nobody.”  Up to that point, the song makes you feel uncomfortable, but it ends with a wonderfully musical release, xylophone and all.  All good songs should put you just a little out of your comfort zone.

32) “Summertime Clothes” – Animal Collective Despite my reluctance to include AnCo towards the top of my list, there’s no denying MPP is a great album.  This is my favorite song off of that album.  Why?  Because if someone was making me a mix tape, I’d want them to include this song.  “And I want to walk around with you/Just you, just you.”  That’s so nice!  Maybe that’s a silly reason, but that’s why I like this song so much.

31) “And the Hazy Sea” – Cymbals Eat Guitars This song is GRAND.  It starts off huge: “Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah.”  There are multiple piano interludes.  There are moments of silence.  And then the song comes sweeping back in with a heart-wrenching chorus after four minutes of noodling around, with two more excellent moments of jamming out.  If my theory that all anyone is really searching for in life is new iterations of Pavement is true, then this band comes close to topping that list for 2009.  This song is enormous in scope, and Cymbals Eat Guitars pulls it off effortlessly.

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My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009: 50-41

First, a word on lists.  Lists are essentially useless, but people who love music often love making them.  It’s impossible to make an ultimate “best” list, because all music means something different to different people.  But that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing a useful list.

There’s a few different “best of” lists I could have made.  I could have done the “Best” Songs or Albums of 2009.  Or the “Most Important” Songs or Albums of 2009.  That would probably go something like this: 1) Dirty Projectors 2) Animal Collective 3) Grizzly Bear.  Bo-ring.  That’s not useful or exciting to you, the reader.  You’ve already heard those albums are good from everybody else, so what do you care?

Instead, I’ve compiled two lists.  My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009 and My Favorite 25 Albums of 2009.  They’re not what I think represent the “best” music this year, but it was the music I found myself listening to the most.  The songs that soundtracked my life.  This is what I listened to when I was working, partying, sleeping, reading, hooking up, cooking, hanging out with friends, feeling sad, feeling anxious, feeling happy.  I’ll look back to 2009 and remember my life in reference to these songs and albums, whether or not they got a good ranking on Pitchfork (though many of them did, I suppose).  My goal with this method is for you to hopefully discover a couple new bands and a few songs that you will love.  I tried to be as honest as I could.  It’s a little embarrassing how much I love some of these bands, but I love them, so I put them high on my list.  This also has its downside, too.  It’s hard to argue against a list like this, because I can just say, “Well, I dunno, I liked it.”  Still, I’m excited to hear any feedback.

As for My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009, I made a few rules for myself.  First, a band can only appear once.  Also, this is purely about singles I enjoy.  For instance, I would never put Harlem Shakes’ Technicolor Health on my favorite albums list, but “Sunlight” made it pretty high on this list because it’s a great pop song.  I like a lot of Grooms’ songs and think they’re probably better than many of these, for instance, but none of them made it onto this list because they work much better as a group of experimental songs on an album.  This gave me a chance to give recognition to many bands from this year I would otherwise have left out.  And, for the record, I think this list of songs is less important but more fun than my forthcoming list of best albums of 2009.  You can download all of the songs by clicking on the words in bold.

So here it is, in five installments beginning today, My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009.

50) “Necro” – Box Elders I think this song is funny.  On one level, it’s about having sex with dead people.  But on another level, it’s about being in love with someone you can never have.  Box Elders have a great punk sound, especially with that thick organ pervading all their songs.  This short, catchy number happens to be my favorite.

49) “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare” – Matt & Kim Sometimes Matt & Kim get a bad rep because they get such a good rep in the mainstream media and aren’t always technically good musicians (seriously, did any other band get more licensing deals this year?).  To that, I say pft.  Was Joey Ramone a good musician?  Matt & Kim’s 2009 album, Grand, is filled with unbelievably catchy songs.  I like the sparse drum beats and cheesy strings on this one.  It’s a different sound for them, and it’s just as infectious as their more keyboard-driven tunes.

48) “Warm Heart of Africa ft. Ezra Koenig” – The Very Best I do not care for Ezra Koenig, but I do care very much for Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit.  This has to be one of the most joyous songs of the year, and certainly one of the best perspectives on the whole “African” trend.  I find this song to be entirely genuine, and Koenig’s inclusion on the track to be mildly hilarious.

47) “Fables” – The Dodos I was never really into The Dodos when everyone else was a couple of years ago.  But I knew they were important enough that I ought to pay attention to this underrated album.  It’s as if suddenly everyone got tired of hyping them.  This is a simple song, but it’s got a lot of heart.  Guitars and pretty melodies.  I find myself humming “I don’t wanna go in the fire,” in the shower in the morning.

46) “Hi-Fi Goon” – Throw Me The Statue This song sounds like the 90s.  Throw Me The Statue came out with a good rock album this year, but I’m not sure that anyone really noticed.  I’m including this song from that album in particular (in addition to the fact that it sounds so delightfully 90s) because in the midst of all the lo-fi shitgaze music that got hyped this year, we really missed out on some great “hi-fi” albums (what up, These United States!).  This song has a great hook that deserves to be recognized.

45) “Not Sorry” – Says She’s Ms. Blat After so much chick music coming out of Williamsburg with airy voices and whiny synths, it’s great to finally hear someone with real piano skills and a voice that kicks as much ass as the songs.  I love the opening of this tune “I’m not good at keeping in touch/I’m not sorry.”  Watch out for this duo in 2010.  You heard it here first.

44) “AXTXTXIXTXUXDXE” – Lovvers This is a great British punk song that sounds even better live.

43) “Dream City” – Free Energy In all honesty, this Philadelphia band is probably getting a little too much hype.  Their live show isn’t particularly remarkable (though I did see them towards the end of CMJ, which could account for any lack of energy), but this song is FUN.  It’s about driving around in cars and being young.  It would go perfectly on the modern-day soundtrack to American Graffiti.

42) “Rich Doors” – New Villager This is song is in the same league as Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead.”  Unbelievably listenable, danceable, and full of interesting new sounds.  I doubt you’ll be able to listen to this one just once.  Kudos to one of the best record labels of the year, Two Syllable, for putting this out.

41) “Ambling Alp” – Yeasayer I’m a little bit dubious about including this track on this list (or else it would have been higher up) because it’s on an album that’s coming out in 2010.  But I had to include it because it’s been on constant repeat for me for the past month and a half.  It’s no secret that this song is a good.  Yeasayer really doesn’t sound like anything else.  Sure there’s lots of synths, but they’re so masterfully layered that even I can’t complain about “too much button-pushing.”  Plus, the lyrics and vocals are achingly beautiful.  The break with the falsetto male voices along with lyrics like “And if anyone should cheat you, take advantage of, or beat you/Raise your head and wear your wound with pride,” make this an exceptional song.   It’s just a beautiful piece of art.

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