Music, it seems, has something in common with wine grapes. It’s usually better in years ending with an odd number. 2008 had a few solid albums by some perennial favorites, but on a whole it was underwhelming. So underwhelming, in fact, that I had a tough time finding enough top tracks to make a year-end list (even though we had some great Hold Steady, Man Man, and Frightened Rabbit tracks to choose from). It was so hard to find 50 worthwhile tracks that, like every home grown American hero, I decided, “This is too hard, I give up,” drank myself into a stupor, committed a few hate crimes against Albanians, and then took a nap.
They know what they did
But this year was different. Maybe the stars aligned, maybe my shift from hard liquor to Heroin calmed my nerves a bit, or maybe, just maybe, artists managed to pump out a lot of good music this year. Who knows what sparked it all, but for some reason there were more quality tracks released this year than late night references to Jon and Kate Gosselin.
Dear Jon and Kate,
Fuck you. Leave us alone.
There were lots of tracks to sift through, and for each triumph there was the inevitable disappointment. For example, Immaculate Machine, with whom I have a giant “…is he kidding? Did he just photoshop himself licking her face? Where’s my mace?” crush on on the lead singer of, missed out on making the list entirely. Maybe their album hasn’t grabbed my attention yet. Maybe I’m playing hard to get with Kathryn Calder’s heart. Who knows?
Legally, I’m not allowed within 250 feet of this picture
And of course, Wilco released another old-people-approved, exciting-as-plain-yogurt album for us to be in no way challenged or confronted with. Now, I could say something like “Wilco’s most recent albums have been so boring that it probably largely contributed to the death of Jay Bennett,” but I won’t. That’s just awful. I can’t believe you’d even dream of me saying anything remotely like that.
Wilco: Now with improved continence. RIP Jay Bennett
So, after shuffling through a lot of catalogs, and after a whole lot of soul searching, we found our top 50 songs of 2009. And I love you, dear reader, so much that I felt the need to let you know what those songs were. I needed to post them for the world to see so that you could scan the list and choose a few choice curse words for how there are no Grizzly Bear tracks to make the list. And because you might not have had the benefit of hearing all these nifty tracks, and again, because we love you dearly, dear reader (please give us money) I have either videos or links to allow you to listen to each of these tracks. Copyright laws be damned! Here’s part one of a three part series. The best songs of 2009- #50-31.
50. Dan Deacon – Get Older
Dan Deacon’s really-actually-incredible recently released album, Bromst, works better as a cohesive whole than it does on any particular track. It’s basically a frenzied blur of electronic dancey awesomeness that blasts your face like some sort of hipster flamethrower (patent pending). It’s tough to pick out individual tracks that stand out. Which isn’t to say that they’re bland or not worth mentioning, rather that this spot in the best-songs-of-the-year list can have just about any track from the album interchanged here. I just chose the album’s closing track because, well, it’s very danceable, and sometimes you just want to dance. Well, not me. Not anymore. Not since I let Lady H into my life. But this track also sounds good when you’re slumped in a corner on the nod doing your best Trainspotting impression.
49. Andrew Bird – Anonanimal
Andrew Bird was sort of quietly busy this year. Or maybe I just think that because his albums came out back in January. I mean, honestly, January? Were we even alive back then? Was George Bush still president? Oh wait…
“That’s right, bitches, I was still in office for the first twenty days”
Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast was paired with his all instrumental album Useless Creatures in 2009, with plenty of lush string work and intricate instrumental interplay that we’ve come to expect from Dr. Stringz.
While Armchair Apocrypha more or less blew me out of the water, Noble Beast sort of sits on the sidelines of my heart. It’s eager, it tries hard, and it’s oh so pretty, but while the long lush songs scattered throughout the album make good background music, I yearn for the shot of rock that was injected in Apocrypha. There aren’t really any songs like “Plasticities” to really wow me. Which is part of the reason why this album doesn’t make my top 10 albums list (spoiler alert).
But it does at least get an honorable mention because of the second half of Anonanimal, when the drums kick in and the guitars take over after Bird’s staccato iteration that “I love this song” at the three minute mark. That pick up infuses the upbeat orchestral charm that I loved in Apocrypha, and reminds me that Andrew Bird can still weave styles gorgeously into single tracks like the masterful tradesman he is.
48. Tartufi – Dot Dash
Listen to it HERE
I think the most accurate praise I’ve heard for this San Francisco duo was from the lead singer of the headlining band of a show they opened for in the tiny backroom venue of Ronny’s Bar in Chicago. This lead singer of a far-less-interesting group said, “They make such beautiful sounds.” Crap, I haven’t made a joke in a while. Uh…penis.
Where I get most of my writing tips
Yes. Nailed it. Listening to Tartufi is like listening in on very loud, tantric sex. After a few minutes you start to say to yourself, “Holy shit, there has to be more than 2 people in there.” Boom, I’m on a roll.
Nests of Waves and Wire is Tartufi’s third album, and their second as a two-person band. Lynn Angel and Brian Gorman overlap percussion, guitars, and layered vocals to create incredibly intricate tracks. Dot Dash is one of the strong points of the album, starting off with an effectively echoed gong before morphing into refined harmonies and the complex instrumental play that Tartufi is known for. Listen for yourself, and just try to convince yourself that there’s only two people in the band. Go ahead, I fuckin’ dare ya.
47. Cut Off Your Hands – Let’s Get Out Of Here
It’s sort of refreshing to hear an earnest British Indie Rock band that sounds like they wrote music in the 60’s. Most of the UK scene nowadays seems to want to darken their songs, but the slightly macabre sounding Cut Off Your Hands pretty much wrote a song made primarily out of happy sunshine. “Let’s Get Out Of Here” is just…well, dammit, it’s charming. While the song is about 75% repetition, with the remaining 25% as a spoken interlude, the song doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Right before you might get tired of the song, if ends, leaving you with a fun, upbeat, punchy song to keep you warm this winter.
46. Fuck Buttons – Surf Solar
I could have posted the edited, three minute version of this song, which saves you two minutes of static build before the actual track kicks in and lasts another eight minutes, but to be honest, Fuck Buttons are a band you have to take in entirely. Ever since their track “Sweet Love For Planet Earth” squished my mind grapes last year, I’ve been looking forward to their sophomore release. Tarot Sport doesn’t disappoint, on a whole it may be a better album than Street Horrrsing, though no track really comes close to the splendor of “Planet Earth”. “Surf Solar” does it’s best though, with a base beat that jumps around erratically as the track gradually builds, sort of like a group of cokeheads making homes for Habitat For Humanity in the 80’s.
You just know this motherfucker loves him some yay
Tarot Sport is another one of those albums where the sum of its parts is better than any individual piece, but that being said, there’s something to be said about a song where you can just plug in and zone out for ten minutes.
45. The Lovely Feathers – Family That Doesn’t Know the Game
Listen to it HERE
The Lovely Feathers have changed their sound since their debut album came out three years ago. Part of their initial charm was that they were so…well, schizophrenic. And in the good “Paul Bethany is my friend at school, and I’m Russell Fucking Crowe, esquire” way from the beginning of A Beautiful Mind, not the “Ed Harris is making me find all the evil spies and now I’m cutting myself” way from the ending of A Beautiful Mind.
This movie actually can be used as a metaphor for just about everything
Each track on Hind Hind Legs sounded like four different songs, which was kind of awesome. Fantasy of the Lot is a lot more toned down, which leads to a lesser album, but still allows for some solid tracks, such as this track, the short “Family That Doesn’t Know the Game” is less all-over-the-place, and is all about rise instead.
Which I’m totally fine with. If you give me a 2 minute song that is just one giant build throughout, I’ll listen to it, I’ll like it, and hell, I’ll even put it on my year end list.
44. The Flaming Lips – Watching the Planets
Listen to it HERE
I’m sorry, but something seems wrong here. You have an iconic 90’s/early 00’s Indie behemoth that becomes a famous, bubble-walking, state-song-making act that hasn’t released a quality record since 2002. Granted, they only had one album between Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and 2009’s release, Embryonic. But At War With the Mystics was…pretty damn bad. And how many times have you seen a band become hugely popular, release a crap album, and three years later bounce back with an absolutely mind blowing album? That shit doesn’t happen people. At a certain point (say, after making music for 23 years) you’d think the inspiration to turn shit on it’s head would dampen.
Well, shit, color me surprised, because Embryonic is pretty badass, and I think this song pretty much lets you know that the Lips are not dead.
43. A.C. Newman – Submarines of Stockholm
Listen to it HERE
This is another track that almost slipped under the radar (this is what happens when you release shit in January people!) But when A.C. Newman makes an album, it essentially turns into an album of New Pornographers without Neko Case or Dan Bejar. And it has been scientifically proven that if you have an album that has anything to do with the New Pornographers, it’s either going to be pretty good, and will have at least one song that is among the top 50 songs of the year.*
*note- in order for something to be scientifically proven, it has to happen twice. This is A.C. Newman’s second album. Ergo, science
Pictured above- Science
42. Beaujolais – Splendor in the Attic
Listen to it streaming HERE
Oh, Beaujolais. Joe Ziemba had a rough time of things for a while, as I’ve sort of documented in my double review of his two albums under the moniker of Beaujolais. Watching this song performed live, Splendor in the Attic, while an affirmation of “Yes! I’m getting over my past”, as well as staging a sort of emotional rebirth, is one of the songs that sounds like it could be an honest to god popular song if it were more focused on being an individual single track, as opposed to burdening itself with transitional instrumentals to help the album work better as a cohesive whole. However, that being said, it’s still dancey, hummable, upbeat, and probably one of Beaujolais’ best “single” tracks to date.
41. The Lovely Feathers – Lowiza
The Lovely Feathers, just a fair warning, do not make my top 10 albums of the year. Yes, they have two tracks in my top 50, and other bands will likely suffer the same fate, but as far as whole albums go, I never was really grabbed by Fantasy of the Lot. I was grabbed, however, by the two songs that made this list. Of which, “Lowiza” is not only the best song on the album, but the band seems to think so as well, since they made a music video for it. I know, fancy shit, right?
Again, we see a song that’s more or less all build. And again, that’s never a bad thing. This was the first song I heard from this album, about six months before it even came out, and this song got me really excited about the album coming out. Musically it’s catchy as hell, and lyrically it throws in an interesting sexual confusion/frustration angle. Actually going to songmeanings.com about it lends some interesting critical discussions about the meanings of the lyrics, ranging from
“I absolutely adore this song; it could be because I relate to asexuality. Of course, this guy may have only lost interest in being sexual with his wife, but I think if that were the case he’d leave.
As for what it means, I think he thinks he’s worthless, because he can no longer please his wife in the bedroom. He may still love his wife, but his children are gone, and he feels no reason to be home if he can’t pleasure his wife.”
to the brilliant musings of user gmags2003, who, in a moment of lucid poignancy, offers his interpretation of the lyrics with his dissertation-worthy statement that can only be viewed in it’s purest form. It’s an analysis like this that so thoroughly exposes my immaturity and lack of familiarity with the music, that it’s almost enough to make me stop writing all together, knowing I can never hope to write with such a poignant pen.
“She wants to fuck and he doesn’t want to fuck with her grimy old pussy”. Pure poetry
Thank you ladies and gentleman! You’ve been a great audience! I’m out, I’m done, and enjoy the future of musical criticism.
A future review of the next Animal Collective album. Lulz.
40. Fishboy – Gabe Saucido Hates My Guts
Listen to it HERE
Denton, Texas product, Fishboy, managed to create an incredible concept album with a quirky plot and a whole slew of upbeat, energetic Indie Rock tracks in 2007’s Albatross: How We Failed To Save The Lone Star State With The Power Of Rock And Roll. In the process of recording this album, Eric “Fishboy” Michener wrote a handful of quality tracks that, while very enjoyable, did not fit into the storyline of Albatross. After recording these songs, Michener left them in the hands of a group of local Texas musicians and engineers, including Mark Sonnabaum (who had previously corroborated with Fishboy for the album Little D), Howard Draper (Okkervil River/Shearwater), and local engineer Justin Collins, a group referred to as the Om Nom Noms. They are called this because, as soon as Michener left the studio, the Om Nom Noms scrapped all the recordings, leaving only the vocals, and, as Michener put it himself, they “did whatever they wanted with the songs. Some upbeat songs became downers, some quiet finger picking songs become rockers. It’s all over the place. I love it.”
In the process, the Nom EP was born. It’s a fun, ruckus EP, with Fishboy’s characteristic goofy charm laced throughout. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the track “Gabe Saucido Hates My Guts,” a naively excited song about one of Michener’s friends, Gabe Saucido (lead singer of Red Pony Clock), hating his music. The track glibly discusses Saucido’s (fictional) dislike of Fishboy, followed with iterations that, “I know he’s only joking/ and I know he’s only helping keep my ego down to size,” in a catchy, upbeat, cheeky yet self-effacing track that, if nothing else, stands out due to its sheer awkward optimism.
39. Röyksopp – The Girl and the Robot
I know what you’re thinking. “Hmm, okay, so that last entry was both kind of long, and didn’t really have any jokes in it. You used works like ‘naively’ and ‘self-effacing.’ But no jokes. Oh shit, wait, is this song called ‘The Girl and the Robot’!? Robot sex!?”
Listen, just because a man has written numerous articles with explicit references to robot sex does NOT mean I’m obsessed with it, looking for any excuse to make a joke about it. They’re just too easy, flimsy, and don’t stand the test of time (much like, one would imagine, early prototypes of sex robots in the future).
So, I won’t be making robot sex jokes. I’ll just talk about this Royksopp track, featuring Swedish pop star Robyn on vocals, matched with hauntingly dark electronic instrumentation and eerie background vocals that works effectively as a pop star and as a dance song.
Oh, also, this is Robyn.
This is her boyfriend
He can…push her buttons any day of the week? He’s been built to…the proper specification, amiright ladies? She likes to…do sex with that robot? Okay, maybe that last one could have been a bit more subtle…
38. Cymbals Eat Guitars – And The Hazy Sea
Listen to it HERE
I have a sick feeling in my stomach that, should the Cymbals Eat Guitars’ debut album, Why There Are Mountains not make my top albums of the year list, I will end up getting obsessed with the album and start kicking myself for not choosing it by about…March, 2010. “And The Hazy Sea” would be a good example of why I should be into the band more than I am. It’s never been a playlist worthy track for me, but every time I listen to it I have one of those, “Holy shit, I forgot how good this song is” moments. From its opening chanting vocals to the peaks and valleys within the wall of sound guitar work this band from Staten Island constructs in this hectic six minute track, there’s a lot to get hooked on. Goddamn it, I’m gonna regret not writing more about these guys next year, aren’t I? Wouldn’t be the first time…
37. Deer Tick – Easy
Listen to it HERE
I’ve been on an Indie Folk Rock kick lately, and 2009 has been a pretty good year for that sub-genre. The first track I heard from Deer Tick was almost too country for my tastes, though. I was worried about them, until I got into “Easy” and “Smith Hill” (which you’ll see later in this list. Spoiler alert.)
Another spoiler alert- he was dead the whole time, and rosebud is the name of a goddamn sled
“Easy” rocks the banjo driven folk sound that thankfully does not rely on, or try to really utilize, any sort of country twang. Which is good. For some reason, my ears reject twang faster than Mickey Mantle’s body rejects a liver.
Ha ha, zing! But seriously, he had a horrible alcohol problem
In fact, Deer Tick sometimes ends up sounding like a lighter version of Elliott Brood, especially here on “Easy,” with the banjo focus and the gritty vocal harmonies, and general upbeat nature. The song takes it’s time getting started, beginning with some feedback that doesn’t really match the rest of the song as the instrumentals slowly take shape. The first fifty seconds sounds nothing like the rest of the track, which while somewhat unnecessary, isn’t particularly detrimental to it. Really, the song hinges on its relative simplicity and the strength of the dueling vocal harmonies. When it all falls into place, you end up with one of the better examples of Indie Folk Rock of the year from bands that don’t start with “Rural Alberta Advantage” (spoiler alert).
“GODDAMN IT STOP DOING THAT!”
36. Silversun Pickups – There’s No Secrets This Year
Silversun Pickups took their damn sweet time to release their sophomore album. But they sort of cut to the chase right away by placing their best two tracks of the album at the very start of Swoon, their long awaited follow up to their Fuck-You-Pitchfork-This-Is-Way-Better-Than-A-5.0-And-That-Was-A-Poorly-Written-Review debut album, Carnavas. When I first heard their debut album, and their not-yet-a-single track, “Lazy Eye,” a few months before its release, I predicted that it was good enough to raise that then-obscure band into the limelight. Of course, I was totally right, because I’m a genius and I should be the manager of your band (also because I’ve made that sort of a prediction a few dozen times before, so it was just a matter of time till I got one right)
Why did it take so long for them to make another album? Were they tired of being compared to The Smashing Pumpkins (nope, still happening), or were they just slow workers (sounds more likely)? Either way, it was worth the wait, as evident on the album’s opening track, “There’s No Secrets This Year,” which starts with driving, buzzing guitars and keeps up a breakneck pace throughout the five and a half minute duration of the track.
(Random side note- the retarded pitchfork review of Carnavas retardedly decided that one of the problems with the album is that the songs are too long, since the average track length is between four-and-a-half and five minutes, which is retarded)
Pictured above, the pitchfork review of Carnavas
I’m getting ahead of myself. This song is upbeat and generally kicks my ass, easily earning a spot on my year end list. And I’ll try to keep my pitchfork insults to a minimum from now on, since I’m pretty sure they’re now powerful enough to have me killed and make it look like an “accident”.
35. Dan Black – Hypntz
If I told you that some white dude decided to take a Notorious BIG song, and do a cover of it using a slew of samples, including a drum sample from “Umbrella,” you’d probably tell me to go to hell, and take my dirty hipster sensibilities with me. And you’re totally welcome to do so, but listen to this song. It’s, well, it’s strangely addictive. It’s ineffable (great word, great word), and I don’t particularly have the energy to go into real details of why it works, or how it works. It just does, even if it shouldn’t.
34. My Gold Mask – O My Soul
Listen to it HERE
This Chicago (Really? They’re from Chicago, my hood, and I found out about them from JK while he was living in New York? What a world!) two piece band has a really great sound going for them. Not-quite-lo-fi-not-quite-sprawling, with vocals from Gretta Rochelle that easily rank among the most soulful sounding you’ll hear from a white chick in the Indie scene, O My Soul is a sine graph of rock. For those of us (oh! oh! Like me!) that don’t remember their high school trigonometry, I’ll show this handy graph.
See, it starts soft. Then gets loud. Then gets soft again. Repeat. And if you leave a comment about how it’s actually a Cosine graph or some such, I will fucking end you.
I’m still getting over the fact that these guys were a local band this whole time. I guess I’m going to trick people into seeing them later this month. Score!
33. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Wild Phoenix
Listen to it HERE
Another one of those songs by Cymbals Eat Guitars that makes me think, “Why the hell did I put this so high?” until I hear the opening musical exclamation point (in this case, an awesome case of blaring horns) and I shrug and say, “Oh, that’s right.” I’m going to be so mad at myself for lollygagging about getting really into this band, when they go ahead and release their monster sophomore album because they got their pitchfork acclaim, but not their pitchfork-aided-majorly-successful-careers, and they cram all the originality they can into their next album so they can cross the 9.0 pitchfork review threshold. Seriously, you heard it here first, their next albums will be a highlight of late 2010/early 2011, and it’ll be so good I’ll obsessively listen to it, and their first album, which will make me look back at what I’m writing right now and I’ll say, “Okay, yes, you were right, Jeff, but you didn’t talk about how AWESOME these guys REALLY are!”
It’s going to happen, and I’m powerless to stop it. Goddamn it. This is a pretty song, though.
32. The Decemberists – Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)
My purposefully “of all the songs on this album, why choose THIS fucked up one to single out?” track of the year, easily. There’s nothing like this, the third of four title tracks of The Decemberists’ rock opera The Hazards of Love, which manages to open with a guitar segment used at least half a dozen times throughout the album, while still sounding like nothing else the Decemberists ever have recorded, or ever will again. The guitar turning into a harpsichord waltz? The screech of strings to go along with the gong? How about Colin Meloy singing nothing in the whole song, leaving the lyrics to be sung by a haunting chorus of children who, by the way, are singing about how their father killed them earlier in the album?
Seriously, this is some fucked up shit, and I absolutely love it. “Father I’m not feeling well/ These flowers me you fed/ Tasted spoiled for suddenly/ I find that I am dead”? Seriously? No matter what else happens in a song that says that, those lyrics are so awesomely fucked up that I am putting it on my year end list. Just have to. Is it accessible? Hell no. Is it so crazy it’s fucking awesome? You bet.
31. Harvey Danger – You Look So Happy (demo)
Listen to it HERE
Full disclosure- this song dropped down my list faster than any other song as I was checking and revising it. It’s not technically a new song from 2009, since Harvey Danger (of “Flagpole Sitta” fame, also of “Being an awesome, yet tragically unappreciated band” fame) decided to call it quits this year, they released Dead Sea Scrolls, an album filled with demos, live tracks, and previously unreleased songs. “You Look So Happy” is technically a demo in the way that a post-op tranny is technically still a man. There might be a lingering hint of its past somewhere, but on the whole, it’s unrecognizable now.
Okay, so it’s not a perfect metaphor
One line of the song, which is just a random reprieve, is used as the opening line (and title of) the track “The Same As Being In Love” from Harvey Danger’s amazing and woefully ignored 2000 effort, King James Version. That song is in no way similar to this supposed “demo”, which is more rock and roll and less overtly bittersweet than the song it supposedly spawned. So fuck it, I’ll consider it a new track, even if it’s nearly a decade old.
Here’s the thing about Harvey Danger, though. They get me. I mean, they really fucking get me. Pretty much at any time of my life, there is a Harvey Danger that describes what I’m going through in eerie detail. Which, as a result, leads to an ebb and flow of my appreciation of certain tracks. It’s really highlighted in this song. The song struck a chord in me the first time I heard it. I was having a pretty shit time of 2009, and the song basically sounded like a narrative oddly mirroring my situation. At the time, the song should have been called “You Look So Happy (or, why the first half of 2009 was kinda lame, right Jeff? Wasn’t it lame?)” It was uncanny. At that point? This song would have been in the top 15 of the year, hands down.
But, as time has grown on, and I’ve gotten older, wiser, I’ve adjusted to my surroundings, and I’m generally in a good place with my life at the moment (“boooo! Boring! Shut up Jeff, you’re boring us!”) a lot of the inner depth of the track gets stripped away, leaving behind the bare bones of the song as, well, just a song. As opposed to some strange Indie Nostradamus track. And as “just a song,” it’s a really good song, borderline great. But it did drop down as a result.
But still, given that even their demos are good enough to crack my top 50 songs of the year, let’s have a moment of silence for our homies that ain’t here no more. Harvey Danger, R.I.P. Respect.
Well there we go, the first of my three part series of the best songs of 2009. Stay tuned for tracks #30-11 to be posted within the next week and a half or so.