Well, it’s time for part two of my three part series on the 50 best songs of 2009. As you can see from my entry for songs 50-31, I’ve got a lot to say about these songs, most of it nonsensical, or using the verbs “building” “sprawling” “upbeat” “dancy” or “catchy as hell”. With the ironic twist thrown in there of me calling pitchfork writers retarded.
That’s either a picture of pitchfork writer, or a aged photo of me in 20 years
I also managed to make fun of not one, but two dead people in a thoroughly distasteful manner, and had a gratuitous Robot Sex reference. All in all, pretty standard fair from me, I’d say. So hells yeah let’s keep this train rolling- now that I’ve gotten a lot of the band introductions out of the way for some artists that have repeat mentions, maybe I can cut this down from 6000 words to 4000. No promises, though.
30. Fishboy – Accidents
Listen to it HERE
Another quality track from the quality NOM EP, “Accidents” is probably the most driving, up-tempo track on the EP (apparently, it is even amped up further when performed live). A bit more straight faced than “Gabe Saucido Hates My Guts,” discussing a series of accidents, with lyrics such as, “And as the ambulance looked for my body/ a little phrase entered my head/ What doesn’t kill you, son, only makes you stronger/ Now I’m so strong I should be dead,” which is easily the most “away message worthy” line in the whole EP. More than any other song on the NOM EP, this song sounds the closest, at least in terms of structure and lyrics, to his previous album, Albatross: How I Failed To Save The Lone Star State With The Power Of Rock And Roll. And that album was amazing. This song doesn’t do too badly for itself, either.
29. Dan Deacon – Build Voice
The opening track of Dan Deacon’s Bromst is strange. I can’t decide if helps the rest of the album to catch you by surprise, or if it prepares you for the album by warning you to expect the unexpected. Starting with an incredibly slow build, this track sounds like the Fuck Buttons did a remix of “Did you See The Wind” by Animal Collective. Granted, Dan Deacon well predates the Fuck Buttons, but the slow ambiance build leading into increasingly building hyper electronic instrumentation seems to be the market that Fuck Buttons have decided to corner lately.
But that’s besides the point. The song builds, and it builds gloriously. It’s calculated in its insanity, which is refreshing and exciting to see from Deacon. Now, if only someone decided to mix this track with DRINKING FROM CUPS…that might be enough to cure the ills of man… A man can dream, can’t he? A man can dream….
28. The Mae Shi – R U Professional? (4 Xtian)
Oh hells yeah, I don’t care if this wasn’t a “real” song, I still love it. In a stunt sure to be featured 5 years from now in VH1s “I love the Aughties: 2009 edition”, Christian Bale’s hilariously bizarre bitch out of DP Shane Hurlbut on the set of Terminator: Salvation was kind of the funniest thing to happen outside of a Rageaholics meeting. Which led to this hilarious track by professional crazy people from the future, The Mae Shi. This song, which was written, recorded, and put out on youtube all within two days of the leaking of the Christian Bale tapes, intersperses sample audio from the meltdown over verses that are essentially a glorified Christian Bale imdb filmography.
It’s actually a pretty catchy track, but the cheeky lyrics really make this song incredible. Sample lyrics include, “He is the Dark Knight/ He is professional”, “Empire of the sun / He was like number one/ 3:10 to Yuma/ You can’t stop him, he’s professional,” and “Newsies will get you tonight/ ‘Cause they’re professional”, this song is just fucking hilarious.
See, it’s funny because he has thinly veiled anger issues
27. The Wrens – Pulled Fences (Live at the WorldSpace Sessions at Abbey Road)
Listen to it HERE
Hells yeah, the Wrens! When the Wrens announced that they were going to start working on their third album, the year was 1977, America was falling in love with disco and the Bee Gees, and a little film called Star Wars was tearing up the box office. And as the band celebrated their 20th anniversary this year (okay, I might have exaggerated on the years with that whole 1977 thing), the Wrens promised us some new music. And did we get it? FUCK YES! NEW ALBUM!
…Or, uh, a few demo tracks, and one properly recorded song. Uh…still, FUCK YES! NEW WRENS!
The Wrens business model
So The Wrens decided to play some shows this year, (spoiler alert, when you see them live you will witness the best concert in the history of ever), and even released a few demos online. And we also got this song, “Pulled Fences” which is oh so pretty. Taken from a piano/cello demo that singer/keyboardist/bassist Kevin Whelan recorded last year called “In Turkish Waters”, the band recorded this track live at the Abbey Road Studio (that’s in ENGLAND you guys) with the band largely improvising along with the song (very effectively) to make a proper studio-recorded track. Seriously, you can buy it and everything. Actually, you should buy it! Buy it here! Exclamation point!
26. Woodpigeon – I Live A Lot of Places
Listen to it HERE
You’re no doubt listening to this song right now, so let me narrate it for you. Shhh, shhhh *strokes hair* shhh, preeeety, preeeety, shhhh..
“….Uhhh….” (you know this is a professional site, ’cause of the watermark on the photo)
But seriously, this song is pretty damn gorgeous. Call me a sucker for strings (readers: “You’re a sucker for strings!”) but this song manages to start off with a beautiful orchestral string arrangement that cuts into a pretty, Indie folk rock beat, complete with soft melodies and gentle harmonies that almost bring you back to the heyday of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (I mean that comparison in the good way), before eventually combing the two separate sounds to close out the track awash in a glorious sea of harmonies and strings. Yes please, I like.
25. Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights – My Life in Film Festivals
Listen to it HERE
Indie Rock needs more whistling. Nah, scratch that, the world needs more whistling. It’s got some stigma now, it’s almost like if you’re not Andrew Bird, you can’t whistle in your songs. Or if you’re working at a GAP, they’ll fire you for whistling for thirty minutes while standing outside of one of the changing stations in the woman’s dressing room.
Granted, in retrospect, I might have chose a different song to whistle than Nine Inch Nail’s “fuck you like an animal”
What I’m trying to say is that “My Life in Film Festivals”, easily the standout track from Movie Theatre Haiku, which is a somewhat forgettable album in the grand scheme of things, has whistling, and it’s fucking awesome. You have a slow start, a whistled interlude, and boom, lead vocals jump up a register, more FUCKING WHISTLING YES! And then? And then? A pickup to blast your fucking face off before the guitars take over the whistled section. Hells yeah. You know me (right? No? Hi, I’m Jeff, nice to meet you), and if you know me (you do now, dear reader), you know that I love my well-executed instrumental pick ups, and I like my harmonies. And this song rocks those as effectively this year as any other track I can think of.
24. The xx- Cystalised
Is there like, a website that keeps track of the length of time before a buzz-making pitchfork review of a debut album and when a song from that album first appears on a major network TV show? I mean, England’s The XX were on Lie to Me like, what, 3 months after the album came out? At least that’s how short it felt.
Now, I’ve posted a few reviews on this site, and one thing I’m sure you notice is that I like taking the description shortcut of saying that a band sounds like it has more members than it really does (hell look at this list even). The XX are totally the total fucking opposite. If you told me “this is a two person band” I’d say, “yeah, sounds about right.” But it’s not right. It’s not even fucking CLOSE, man.
The XX live in their sparseness, using minimal instrumentals for long stretches, and only bringing in the full instrumentation of their tracks until it’s perfectly appropriate, exhibiting a sort of mature patience that’s unexpected from a bunch of nerdy looking British kids. I mean, look at these fuckers.
Is the guy on the right a Bizzaro British version of one of the “Jersey Shore” guys?
Grr, begrudging respect for people who are already more well known than I will ever be. I’m only 23 goddamnit, these sort of sobering reminders should be reserved for people in their 30s. Dammit.
23. White Rabbits – Percussion Gun
This little ditty was a rapid climber. I didn’t get as fully into White Rabbits’ s sophomore effort as I did their debut, which had one of my top songs of 2007. Just a solid album. But this track, the single from It’s Frightening, is so good it’s….dare I say?….enjoyable.
“Huh, I wasn’t expecting him to go with that”
The name is quite appropriate, given the driving percussion that guides the track. This is a bass heavy track, the first minute is nothing but drums with some sparse use of bass and some low piano chords. The guitar is sort of an afterthought for this song, just to add an extra layer to the instrumentation, and it does so effectively. The chorus of “ooo’s” help too, it’s just a really catchy song that actually improves on each listen. And that’s key, this song ages really well. Three months ago this might have been in the 40s for my year end list, now it’s 23. Give me three more months, I’ll probably wish I had it in the top 10. It’s that good.
22. Deer Tick – Smith Hill
Listen to it HERE
Research time, bitches. Deer Tick hails from Rhode Island. They started as a two person band in 2004, and now are a four person band with three vocalists and a member who composes their strings arrangements (the strings, by the way, are the primary reason this song is as good as it is, and why it is this high on my year end list).
Born On Flag Day is their second official release, and the character portrayed by Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover appears to be their drummer.
“Smith Hill” is a lush, deliberate alt-folk track, bolstered by a rich choral string arrangement and gentle harmonies that knows how to ebb and flow to maximum effect. Listening to this track, you can almost see yourself swaying with your lighter in the air, surrounded by a bevy of un-ironic-trucker-hat-wearing Southerners in a bar chanting along, raising their Budweisers in a toast. Or, actually, let’s say we all have bourbon in this situation. A smooth sweet brown liquor seems to be more appropriate for this song than shitty beer.
Budweiser- Laughing While Americans Drink Shitty Beers Since 1876
21. The Thermals – When I Was Afraid
Listen to it HERE
The Thermals had a pretty kickass year in 2009. Now We Can See was easily one of the top albums of the year (spoiler alert), and “When I Was Afraid” is one of three tracks to make it to my top 25 songs. The album was an appropriate follow up to the incredible-in-its-own-right album, The Body The Blood The Machine, “When I Was Afraid” shows the poppy punk that The Thermals have mastered, while also highlighting the continuation of the shift away from short low-fi two minute tracks that was prevalent throughout the band’s earlier releases. Longer tracks, tighter production, and as always, a lyrical defeatism that matches cynicism with naivety like no one else can.
20. The Wrens – Marked Up
Let’s hear it again, ladies and gentlemen…Hells yeah, The Wrens! This track is a demo, one of the several demo tracks released to the hungry internet masses by The Wrens this year. This one never received a proper “release”, digitally or on analogue, it just sort of floats around as a free MP3, serving as proof that the band did get together in their own recording studio (get out of here, Abbey Road!) and make a song.
And it’s a good one too. Is it rough? Well, sure, but charmingly so. Is it low-fi? Oh, yes, uh, very much so. Is the mix sloppy? Fine, yes, but that’s what happens when you don’t track everything, and just play the whole thing in your home studio at the same time. But is it good? Oh, fuck yes, it’s good.
Starting with a piano waltz, and Kevin’s suddenly distorted vocals (Damn, there goes my sure fire advice to Wrens listeners that “If you can understand the lyrics, it’s Kevin singing, if you only understand the lyrics while reading the lyrics book, it’s Charles), this track picks up with a surprisingly dark, foreboding guitar and loose drums, and builds itself into a frenzy, which each layer adding an additional level of murkiness to the works. As a potential album track, I can’t see it fitting in with the next album (in your local record stores by the year 2025) in this incarnation- it’d clash with their generally meticulous, ornate production quality. But as a single track, a little treat for the fans to sate our appetites until we get a full meal, it works perfectly. Delicious, more please.
Stop smiling and looking content, and get us our album!
19. Caledonia – Scott’s House
Listen to it HERE
Banjo Banjo Banjo, yes please. “What’s that, Jeff?” I hear you ask, “You’ve been into Indie Folk songs that are banjo driven this year? I had no idea.”
Well, if you’re being serious, you clearly haven’t been reading the descriptions I’ve had for every Indie Folk song that made my list this year. If you were being sarcastic, well, then fuck you, stop being a smartass.
From top-to-bottom: A smartass, a slightly smarter ass
This song uses the banjo as it’s crux, and it drives the song effectively. This song isn’t very complex, it’s banjo, some minor guitar work, nothing-too-special drums, and hand claps. It doesn’t try to do much, but what it does try to do, it does very well. You might not be able to subside on this track, but you’ll at least feel like you’ve eaten. I need to stop making food metaphors for this list. I’m just very hungry right now.
Oh you son of a bitch, don’t tease me like that
18. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Frank AB
Listen to it HERE
Here we go, here’s another heavy hitter of the year. Now, there were a few albums this year that I fudged the release dates with. For example, I got into Elliott Brood and The Tunics this year. But according to amazon.com, and Wikipedia, those were released in 2008. So after an appropriate amount of weeping and tearing at my clothes, and some extensively therapeutic electro-shock sessions, I just swallowed my pride and posted them in my list of 2008’s overlooked hits.
Now…*looks around* if you tell anyone this, I will fucking end you but…*makes sure the internet isn’t watching*, most of what I’ve seen online for this album lists it as a 2008 release. Shut the fuck up, don’t tell a single goddamn soul that, okay? That is our secret! That is our second biggest secret, so don’t you dare tell anyone.
Secret number 1. Make the biggest little mistake of your life in Reno
But, unlike Elliott Brood and The Tunics, pitchfork reviewed this album (come on, pitchfork, get your shit together) and since they listed Hometowns as a 2009 release (it was technically re-released this year, you see), that’s good enough for me. Especially since this the third best album of the year (ohhhh! Spoiler alert!)
And he’s Luke’s father and Leo dies at the end of Titanic and…
The vocal harmonies between Nils Edenloff and Amy Cole is just one of the reasons why I’m madly in love with this band right now. The intricate drum play is another. And how about the cool biographical/geographicsl lyrical emphasis that they throw out there? Oh hells yeah. “Frank AB” is about a town in Alberta that was buried under a rockslide early in the 20th century, and as since it would have been too expensive to clear the rubble, they just left the small village (with a few dozen estimated people still under) buried, which makes the closing a cappella section even more effectively haunting. I really like this band, you guys.
17. The Thermals – When I Died
Listen to it HERE
So, you’re The Thermals. You’re pretty much made out of awesome geek punk. Like, your body is 75% water, 15% awesome geek punk, and the rest is just a combination of organs and humors. Now, how do you want to get high up on Jeff GoodSmith’s coveted (…by some, right? It’s kind of an honor?) year-end best-songs list? How about write a snappy upbeat song that’s totally about drowning.
Okay, okay, no I don’t mean that in a “snuff films are awesome” kind of way, or a “the pain illuminates the darkness inside” kind of way, I do not mean that in any macabre sort of way. I mean, they’re starting their album, the narrative of their album, with a song called “When I Died”. And it’s about going to the sea and trying to be a fish. And it’s happy! And the lyrics! I cannot stress that enough. For example- “Watching their faces as they pulled me from the sea/ feeling for the place I thought my gills would be.” Have you ever heard a song devote a section of it’s lyrics to someone trying to find your pulse?
“I might have? I think I remember”
No, shut up kid, of course you fucking haven’t heard that in a song lyric before. And now you won’t ever again, because you could never write a lyric about checking for a pulse that’s even close to as good as that. And that’s just one couplet of this song! And the rest of it is on that same level, in terms of being effectively metaphorical.
16. Tartufi – Fear of Tall Giraffes, Fear of Some Birds
Listen to it HERE
This song is another climber- it didn’t even start off on this list as the best song by Tartufi made this year, hovering around in the high 30s/low 40s. Well, until I gave it repeat listens while writing this list.
I hadn’t listened to Nests of Waves and Wires with singles in mind, I just play the album front to back and wait for moments that grab me. But half of those moments, it turns out, were in this 7 minute long track. Turns out, I thought this was three separate amazing songs. “It’s that really gorgeous song at the beginning of the album.” Oh right, that was this one. “It’s that song with the really badass pickup and soaring guitars.” Yup, still this one. “It’s that one with the really intricate duel harmonies all coming from the same person.” Still this fucking song, get it!?
See? Midget, cowboy hat, dinosaur. Three separate badass things that, put together, make one AWESOME thing
This song sort of embodies everything expressed in this quote from the NME: “This is huge. Tartufi are just two but sound like twelve. Drummer Brian Gorman must have arms like continents, while the way Lynne Angel loops her vocals makes it seem like three personalities are battling it our for possession of her throat, Hold on to your brains.”
This is a song that just makes you rattle out adjectives to describe it’s splendor. Soaring, precious, fragile, beautiful, raucous, assured, exhilarating, life-affirming, the list goes on and on. It’s a serious of “Oh my God, how are they doing this” moments that hit you like waves crashing on a soar only after the track ends, and you’re left breathless, unsure of what just happened, but ready to rewind to try to find out. And even so, even after all I’ve said about this track, I still listen to it and find myself unable to come up with a description more apt or elegant than, “…Holy hell.”
15. BBU- Chi Don’t Dance
Listen to it HERE
There’s always one hip hop track that really kicks my ass, and not only makes my year-end list, it makes it high on that list. A few years back, Killer Mike’s “That’s Life” was an easy top-20 choice for me, both for it’s organ driven backbeat, as well as the “I don’t give a shit” politically charged lyrics, and the flow to pull it off.
This year’s “Oh man, this song, this fucking song” hip hop selection is decidedly lighter fare, and regional to boot. You see, apparently, us kids in the Chi (Midwest, what what) no longer dance. But we do juke. In fact, all we do is juke.
But in all earnestness, BBU (which is the more PC shortening for their full name, Bin Laden Blowin’ Up/Black Brown & Ugly), makes a hell of a dance song (which, I’m sure, you can juke to as well), while also managing to throw in relevant and inventive lyrics such as “MTV gave me ADD/BET taught me to hate me”, as well as enough regional references for us native Chicagoans to get behind (Let’s make some noise for Lake Shore Drive, everybody). But it doesn’t try to be heavier than it is. It’s a light song, that’s how it should be.
14. Silverun Pickups – The Royal We
This is probably the most concise song on Silversun Pickups’ Swoon. At a shade over four and a half minutes, it’s on the shorter end for most SPU songs, and as a result, the instrumental interludes they’re known to lean on are less prominent. It leads to a leaner song, with less excess- granted, a lot of the “excess” of SPU songs end up being strong points, but here in “The Royal We,” they manage to find their best lyrical/musical combination of the whole album in their chorus, and seem aware enough of that fact to throw in their choruses more often then they normally would. Which is perfect.
The ultimate away-message worthy chorus section (which, yes, I’ve used as an away message many times) states, “You used to do a little but a little won’t fly/ Right before you hit your prime/ That’s where we fell in love/ But not the first time.” It’s perfect, appropriately expressive, manages to resonate both when it was understated to begin the track, and overstated to end it track, and is surprisingly relatable (or is it just relatable to me? Bueller? Bueller?)
I’m sure he never ever ever gets tired of hearing that joke.
When the rest of the song gels around this anchor, you can’t help but have one of the best songs of the year.
13. Art Brut – Mysterious Bruises
Art Brut ages through it’s albums, sort of like they’re writing lyrics from a five year old time capsule. Their first album played off like it was written by a 15 year old- carefree, naïve, and in love with Emily Kane (little known fact, every man, at the age of 15, was in love with Emily Kane. That’s not a metaphor, I’m talking about the actual real life Emily Kane in England. Surprising, but true). Their Sophomore album, they were 17, a little more angsty, a little more anxious, stuck in a sort of awkward life transition. Now, Art Brut jumped ahead a little bit more for their third album, Art Brut Versus Satan, and they’re about 21 years old. Alcohol is a bit of a social obsession (check two spots down on this list for my write up of “Alcoholics Unanimous”), and they have the means and drive to go out, get wasted, and do stupid things.
Oh, what a night
“Mysterious Bruises,” the epic 7 minute long finale track to Art Brut vs. Satan, opens with the line “I’ve had one Zirtek, two Advil, with the drink that made me feel invincible” before the guitar line picks up. What follows is a slew of clever one liners that resonate a bit too closely to, say, college students or people in their early-to-mid 20’s. Here, we can go through them like a photo book
I don’t know how I managed to do this / but I woke up this morning covered in bruises
I can’t remember anything I’ve done / I fought the floor and the floor won
I finally managed to unravel the plot/ It’s not a happy ending but it’s the best that I’ve got
Uh…woo! Party! Irish car bombs on Art Brut’s tab!
12. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Drain the Blood
This is the first song on this list that you could literally, and easily, spend weeks obsessing over. It’s that good. The melody, rhythm, drums, everything, it’s all incredible. Just the idea of this track screams warning shouts that it’s going to be some Canadian emo song for cutters or thrash metal enthusiasts. I mean, think about it, it’s called “Drain the Blood”, and the opening line is “I felt you drain the blood from my left ventricle.” That has the potential to be either a really emo metaphor, or a very literal re-imagining of a scene from the Hostel films.
Though this sort of looks like a mix of both
But no. The song drives along with enough of a rock force, and delves in lyrical vagaries just enough to make a glorious rush of a song. The more you listen to it, the better it gets. In a few months, it’ll probably deserve to be in the top 10 for me. But then again, the top 10 are all equally obsession-worthy, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
11. Art Brut – Alcoholics Unanimous
Remember that whole thing about Art Brut writing a lot about booze in this album? And being clever about it? Well, here we go.
See? Alcoholics…Unanimous? Instead of Anonymous? Get it? Get it?
But apart from that, this Art Brut single is trademark-Brut face-melting Rock, with their typical cheeky lyrical wordplay. “There’s so many people I might have upset/ I apologize to them all with the same group text” Eddie Argos speak-sings at the beginning of the track, just another example of how Art Brut manages to be one of the only bands that can mention modern social technology in their lyrics without it sounding forced. But they do pull it off. They’re not preachy, they’re not cliched, they’re just talking to the kids.
And there we have it. Songs #30-11 of the year. Stay tuned for the top 10 songs of 2009 to be posted within the week.