Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 30 Tracks of 2009

Last year I did top 30 tracks but I feel that I have not listened to as much music in 2009 as I did in 2008. Anyway, here are 25 great tracks from the year 2009 and a short description of each. Enjoy!

30. Matt Berry - "Take My Hand" - Funny that a song from one of Britain's finest comedic minds would land on a best tracks of 2009 list, but Matt Berry with his unique voice and knack for writing would be massive hits in another decade still succeeded with his record Witchazel. "Take My Hand" is a dreamy ode to 60's San Francisco pop that is undeniably catchy and melodically soothing.

29. Air - "You Can Tell It To Everybody" - Air's Love 2 may not have been the most memorable album of the year, but it is chock full of excellent tracks, especailly this one. Starting off like a fairy fountain in a Zelda game and slowly woozing in and out with loads of other sounds organic and synthetic, it's a perfect track for spacing out.

28. Fever Ray - "If I Had A Heart" - The Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson produced a solo record that is brooding and sonically different then most anything else I've heard this year. The first single "If I Had A Heart" is indescribable but it's power is something all together intense and riveting over it's long, droning sound scape.

27. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - "Take Me With U" - Covers are rarely good enough to include on a list of favorite songs of the year, but when Spin Magazine gave a free Purple Rain tribute album out this year, I was delightuflly surprised with some of the tracks, mainly Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings 60's funk groove version of Prince's "Take Me With U." James Brown would be proud with just how groovy this track is. Loads of horns and enough soul care of Jones' fantastic voice. No MP3 here, but definitely look into it.

26. Julian Casablancas - "11th Dimension" - Julian Casablancas' first solo effort is a doozy of a record. The second half ventures into some uncharted territory and some riskier sounds, but what shines are the pop elements of the first half of the short record. "11th Dimension" is an anthem for 2009 with it's pepped up hooks and synth riffs. It's a dance track and a strange, introspective look into the singer's darker side. Catchy and comedic at times, it's a wonderful track.

25. Animal Collective - "Bluish" - Animal Collective at first was a strange release for the year to me. Loads of hype and when I listened to it at first, it caught me off gaurd. It wasn't until I got to "Bluish" that the album solidified for me. It's easily the most straightforward song with the most crossover appeal. A cute infatuation song that has plenty of catchy sounds and the same effervescent throb that the rest of the album has, just in a better hook. A beautiful track and one that I will associate with a time and place more so than any other.

24. The Flaming Lips - "See The Leaves" - Another difficult album from this year, The Flaming Lips Embryonic is a tough sell outside of the album experience. It is Floydian in that way as listening to single tracks is sometimes difficult. However, much like Pink Floyd, "See The Leaves" is a dynamic and acidic mantra of a track. Existential lyrics, throbbing and ear shattering rhythm sections make way for a organ infused outro that belongs on A Saucerful of Secrets. It's a trip and a half but one of the best take away tracks from the record.

23. Monsters of Folk - "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)" - Furthest from folk, "Dear God" is a well produced bedtime prayer and a brilliant album opener from the self titled super group record. Each singer takes a turn at existential questions to God while harps and arrpegioed guitars swirl around a sampled beat. It's beautiful and one of the best crafted tracks of the year.

22. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - "The Road" - From the titular film adaptation of the amazing novel, Cave & Ellis hit another soundtrack homerun with their score for The Road. Filled with beautifully stirring strings helmed by Ellis' beautiful violin work as well as a repeating and woeful piano line, "The Road" is a sitrring musical image as poetic as the verse the film is based on.

21. Antony & The Johnsons - "One Dove" - Antony Hagerty has a voice that is operatic and melancholy. On "One Dave", we get easily one of the best songs about longing and hoping, filled with beautiful imagery and some of the best piano work Antony has brought to his recordings.

20. The Raveonettes - "Gone Forever" - The Raveonettes have a knack for the sounds of the 50's via the sounds of the 80's. In what could easily have been a Ronnettes track by way of Jesus and Mary Chain, "Gone Forever" is a break-up song, even if sometimes a break-up is a hard decision. The guitars rock with less distortion then last years Lust Lust Lust but this record is more about the interplay between Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner.

19. Dinosaur Jr. - "Pieces" - Although Farm lacked the long playability that Beyond had, Dinosaur Jr. still had an incredible year and an album chock full of classic riffs and intense rocking. Album opener "Pieces" reminds me of the little brother of the epic "Pick Me Up." J Mascis still croons through a veil of unease and his guitar work is backed up with a phenomenal rhythm section.

18. Phoenix - "Lisztomania" - Phoenix's most dancey number from the excellent Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, "Lisztomania" is a fantastic pop record and one that will stick with you. The precision of the music makes the line between guitar and synthesizer very thin. Try to not bob your head, tap your feet or get up on your desk and kick off all the papers onto the ground when this track comes on.

17. Islands - "On Foreigner" - Islands have been a delightful band taking a page out of their former groups page and creating three different but solid pop albums in the latter half of the Aughts. From Vapours, "On Foreigner" is a dreamy track filled with swirling synthesizers, I fell in love with the track driving through a snow storm. It added a sense of wonderment to the environment around me and is a great soundtrack for any relaxation.

16. Grizzly Bear (feat. Michael McDonald) - While You Wait For the Others - Funny that I should include this version as opposed to the album cut, but what Michael McDonald brings to Grizzly Bear's art pop makes it all the more wonderful. A year of Yacht Rocking led to many more people discovering that when Michael McDonald doesn't butcher Motown favorites, he actually can do some great work. The song is a delightful chamber pop ballad with loads of crooning care of the smoothest Doobie.

15. M. Ward - Epistemology - M. Ward has been one of my favorite songwriters this past year. After getting down with She & Him and Monsters of Folk, I decided to check his solo stuff and his album Hold Time is chock full of great tracks. "Epistemology" hits home on many levels, lyrically and musically it's next to perfect and hits every dynamic I love in an introspective singer/songwriter track. Catchy and with loads of heart, it's a song that I will hold near and dear to my heart.

14. Mastodon - "Divinations" - Mastodon created something special with Crack the Skye. A bridge between their thrash metal and psych prog and a topic so convoluted that it works that a magic metal record came to fruition. It also has one of the fastest, most bad ass tracks in the bands catalog in "Divinations." With a surf guitar breakdown and loads of thrashing and heavy hooks that sink in deep, it's the kind of metal song that needs to be a huge hit.

13. Wilco - "Bull Black Nova" - Wilco (The Album) was nothing short of disappointing overall, but my word if there weren't a few moments. Wilco's own "Riders On the Storm" of sorts, "Bull Black Nova" is an acid washed static track about a serial killer and his titular car. It's a road song filled with loads of dread, which came as a dark surprise on the otherwise fairly bright and cheery record. It's this dark, droning stomp that stood out best among the other tracks.

12. Animal Collective - "My Girls" - It's hard to pinpoint exactly what kind of song "My Girls" actually is. It starts off as a arrpegied synth wave of otherworldly sounds, then adds harmonized vocals then kicks into a full on tribal dance sound. It's one of the most unique and dynamic songs I've ever heard and is definitely Animal Collective doing the best of their art pop. It's breathtaking.

11. Them Crooked Vultures - "No One Loves Me & Neither Do I" - Cryptic teasers and Google Earth shots were all we knew of Them Crooked Vultures just a few months ago, but now that their rollicking debut is out, it's no denying that a musical giant was created. On the albums opener, we get a bluesy first half that is shortly followed by a heavy and pummeling rock riff in it's second half. John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl churn out the sexy rhythm section while Josh Homme croons the lyrics and shreds the guitar. It's a perfect driving song.

10. Graham Coxon - "Tripping Over" - Graham Coxon's The Spinning Top may have some uneven moments, but in it's final third, it's heartbreakingly beautiful. With help from the track "Tripping Over", we get an elegiac track about the end of things. Filled with fluttering guitars and melancholy lyrics, it's one of the most beautiful tracks you'll hear from 2009.

9. Dirty Projectors - "Stillness is the Move" - Avante garde music is sometimes a bit to swallow, but Dirty Projectors track "Stillness is the Move" is noting short of one of the most infectious songs I've heard. The vocals are simmering with beauty and the intensely driving guitars that help the backbone of this song creates a lush pop track that is all at once engaging and difficult yet extremely catchy and relatable.

8. Pink Mountaintops - "Vampire" - There were a lot of excellent tunes on Pink Mountaintops Outside Love, but none so great as the love song "Vampire." Although I am no Twilight fan, this song would work perfectly for that romantic, vampire love. It's an psych pop sing-a-long filled with lyrics of longing and of acceptance. When the vocal chorus comes in at the end, my heart strings melt.

7. Phoenix - "Love Like a Sunset (Part 1 & 2)" - If Phoenix's album is chock full of catchy, radio ready hits, then why is the best song a two part trip into a strangely different sound then what the rest of the record offers? It's in "Love Like a Sunset" that we get the albums most intense musical diversion. Part 1 is a trippy, electro ballad that turns into the lush and shorter part 2 filled with tasty acoustic guitars and the lyrical end. It may be cheating having both parts together, but one without the other even if they are seperate tracks is not recommended.

6. Monsters of Folk - "Whole Lotta Losin'" - A groovy ode to the likes of Roy Orbison or Jerry Lee Lewis, the best Monsters of Folk track is a piano boogie that was made with "The Twist" in mind. Whether M. Ward took full credit for this track or he just excels over the other three members of the group is all speculation on my part, but M. Ward's soothing vocals takes full credit for the hook here. It's one of the danceist tracks of the year and takes all it's credit from the golden age of rock n roll.

5. Antony & The Johnsons - "The Crying Light" - Antony Hagerty crafted one of the best albums this year and the titular track is easily the most beautiful. It has some of the most romantically poetic lyrics he's written and has the slow build into a beautiful ending that takes the album to it's pinnacle in heartbreak.

4. Yo La Tengo - "Here to Fall" - Yo La Tengo excelled on Popular Songs whenever the topic was love. The love songs here are all gorgeous and in this one, even the dark times seem lovely. Sometimes things go wrong, but accepting the good with the bad is what a true relationship takes and "Here To Fall" is about being that crutch. It's a beautiful track and one of the most unique Yo La Tengo songs.

3. Julian Casablancas - "Left & Right in the Dark" - Julian Casablancas gets really introspective on Phrazes For the Young which is surprising as he was once a famous boozehound. His boozey voice still prevails on "Left & Right in the Dark" but it's the lyrical content and the catchiness of the hook that really sells it.

2. Franz Ferdinand - "Ulysses" - Surprisingly getting a #2 spot, Franz Ferdinand may have had a so-so record, but "Ulysses" is one of their finest songs, almost as good as "Do You Want To" and "Take Me Out." Something about Franz Ferdinand and their way to write a great single. A song about an overnight bender with plenty of sexy vocals care of Alex Kapranos and a guitar riff that savagely cuts into you, it's a track about partying for the sake of partying. It also has my favorite video of the year with it's Mean Streets vibe.

1. Mastodon - "The Last Baron" - A 13-minute prog epic isn't always likely to win the top spot, but 13 minutes seems too short for "The Last Baron." The finale of Crack the Skye is constantly changing and shifting track that goes through movements so fast it's hard to keep up. It's the perfect ending to one of the craziest concept albums ever. It has so many riffs it's hard to keep track of. That's whats good about it. Even at a long 13 minutes, you can't stop going back to it and picking apart all the layers. It's turly a masterpiece.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Top Ten Albums of 2009

10. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca It's an interesting turn of events that an album that was first hard for me to get into at all would land on a top ten list for this year in review of albums. However, Bitte Orca, as intense as it may be at times, is a fitfully beautiful record. The music is insanely orchestrated as well are the vocal arrangements. The flurry of female harmonies behind Dave Longstreth's trembling voice add an element of wonder and awe to the record. Album opener "Cannibal Resource" starts of as a standard pop track but quickly veers somewhere else into the world of avante garde. The whole album kind of reels you in back and forth in between traditional pop sounds and arrangements and then swirls in with interestingly structured vocals and off tempo drums or intricate guitars. A nice break from these intense tracks comes in the form of "Two Doves", a beautiful little song stripped down compared to the layers you will see on all other tracks. The closer, "Fluorescent Half Dome" is easily one of the strangest and most beguiling tracks of the year.

9. Pink Mountaintops - Outside Love - There is something to be said about the Canadian rock scene. It's been a refreshing escape at times from the artier stuff that prevails from places like Portland and NYC (and that isn't meant to sound like a cut.) Like it's doppelganger Black Mountain, Pink Mountaintops takes on a poppier element to the psych rock vibe. Mixing in "Wall of Sound" style reverb on tracks like "Axis: Thrones of Love" and with just as many voices layered like the Dirty Projectors record, the band creates a lush sound filled with sound. No empty spaces can be heard. Wether the droning guitars and fuzzed bass or the choir of vocals, there is no room for silence. Even on quieter tracks like "While You Were Dreaming" there is still a hum somewhere in the background to give the music depth of feel. Both Amber Webber and Stephen McBean take helm of the vocal work. Overall, Pink Mountaintops have found there sound after two experimental works. Outside Love is beautiful and shimmering with it's honest faithfullness to the rock of old.

8. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs - As Yo La Tengo albums go, Popular Songs has a distinctly nostalgic vibe to it. As I had said in an earlier post, this is the bands ode to pop music with a dash of their own sensibilities. From track one through nine, we get conventional pop songs. This doesn't take away from it as Yo La Tengo has reveled in 60's garage and psych pop for ages with their own unique twist (see "By Two's".) So a solid disc of 9 great pop songs and three experimental tracks (a droning raga of sorts in "More Stars Than There Are In Heaven", the ambient acoustic crackle of "The Fireside" and the noise guitar epic "And the Glitter is Gone.") These are fun diversions from the record but the best moments lie in the sunny side of tracks like the syrupy sweet love song "I'm On My Way" or the psychedelic ballad "Here To Fall." It's a solid outing that works best as a collection of what Tengo has done best over the past two decades.

7. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion - The more I go back to listening to this record the more I get it. At first I was just like "what?" But it captivated me enough to keep coming back. And the more and more I spun it, Merriweather Post Pavilion is truly a fantastic disc to listen to. I may be a flip-flopper to some going from not enjoying it to loving it but sometimes music has to grow on you. Where I was first truly captivated by this record was the song "Bluish." It's a cutesy song lyrically and musically it is a bubbly trip through a neon landscape. Something about this album is constantly percolating and warming. "Summertime Clothes" is a futuristic beach blanket jam and "My Girls" is a hypnotic travel through a grown up landscape filled with foreign and tribal sounds as well as an echoey Brian Wilson choir. The churning sway of Merriweather Post Pavilion may be the ingredient Animal Collective needed to get their strange avante pop music. They definitely caught my attention and now my admiration.

6. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic - Strange enough that this album also garnered the same reaction that Merriweather Post Pavilion did. The Flaming Lips last two efforts are glossy, well produced pysch rock with a sweet edge to them. Yoshimi will forever stand as one of the best albums I've ever heard so when I first put Embryonic on, it's abrasive Brillo pad edge threw me for a loop. Once I got over that I found the ridiculously great nature of this record. "The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine" may be an update of "One More Robot/ Sympathy 3000-21" but that is not to say it isn't something new as well. The hypnotic blips and bloops, the intensely fuzzed bass and drums constantly battling your ears and Wayne Coyne's signature existential lyrics in a haze of echo, this is the perfect space traveling acid rock track. "See The Leaves" starts as a similarly droning rocker and slips into a full on tribute to Saucerful of Secrets era Floyd. Something is much more dire and serious about this music and for that reason it makes it one of The Flaming Lips finest records. It may be a long daunting listen, but this double album has less lag moments then At War With the Mystics which I also love. That being said, Embryonic isn't as immediately catchy as other Flaming Lips records, but the process of it taking over your listening docket is inevitable. It's just a more harrowing experience and one that is likely to accompany many an acid trip for fans in the future.

5. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young - In a surprising twist, The Strokes main man's first solo output, well belated after other members of the band tried their best at solo outings, comes a a sweet victory. As far as The Strokes go, it seemed as if they were unable to change or do something different with their sound on the last album. It turned out to just be a parody of their first two solid records. Thankfully Julian Casablancas finally dropped Phrazes for the Young and it is a refreshing piece of pop music mastery. Rather then the gritty CBGB influenced Is This It, Casablancas brings in synths and drum machines giving his solo stuff a different sound. Even if the first three tracks sound like Strokes songs, they sound like they were processed through a different lens giving the record a refreshing sound. Whether it be the extremely poppy "11th Dimension" or the brooding organ opening into guitar splashes on "4 Chords of the Apocalypse," we are treated to the same boozey goodness that Casablancas is known for. The stellar and introspective track "Left & Right In the Dark" is a fantastic song, if not one of the best tracks you will hear from 2009. It may be a paltry 8 tracks, but Phrazes For The Young never seems to lull and sometimes brevity is the way to go on an album.

4. Monsters of Folk - After a lot of debate, the triumphant super group from 2009 is the 4 headed beast of Monsters of Folk. Hardly a folk album, this collection of deliscious tracks takes the best of what M. Ward, Jim James, Connor Oberst and Mike Mogis can do in the studio. Songs like "Losing Yo Head" and "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F)" could easily be heard as a My Morning Jacket track. "Sandman, Brakeman and Me" and "Slow Down Jo" is fresh off of an M. Ward disc and "Man Named Truth" drips of Bright Eyes. Although this sounds like it's a fruitless collaboration and more just a smattering of what each of these guys do on their own, there is a sense of magic and charm on the disc. The three voices come together and the insanely talented Mogis' production and guitar work make it something slightly different. Track highlights abound making Monsters of Folk easily one of the most fun listens of the year. Dare to not twist to "Whole Lotta Losin'" and try not to whistle along with Mogis' slide guitar on "The Right Place." It's infectiously good rock and roll that deserves it's constant rotation on your record player.

3. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - It's hard for me to detach the next three records as not deserving the top spot, but in any list there has to be some semblance of order. Phoenix, a band whose been at it for almost ten years, has finally been given their due time in the sun. From first listen of this record to now, there was no doubt it was the kind of album that would capture the hearts of many. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix may not be baroque like the titular composer, but it's beautiful music nonetheless. What Phoenix accomplishes with their instruments is fantastic. Try to discern the difference from a swirling synth line or just a completely effects driven guitar. It's not easy to do. "Listzomania" and "1901" are two fantastic pop songs that will probably be on rotation for some while. The trippy and utterly breathtaking "Love Like a Sunset (Parts 1 & 2)" are the pinnacle of experimentation with pop music. The first half being reminiscent of M83 and the second half being a short little appendage that ads an element of euphoria to the trip before makes it a stellar 1-2 Punch. "Rome" and "Girlfriend" will also find themselves lodged into the part of your brain that will never forget. A fantastic album that deserves listening on a summers day or in the dead cold of winter to warm your bones and put a smile on your face, Phoenix deserve much praise for the delightful album they've unleashed this year.

2. Antony & The Johnsons - The Crying Light - Antony and the Johnsons have easily made one of the most beautiful albums this year. The Crying Light is easily the best work Antony Hagerty has done on his own. It's a beautifully heartbreaking record to listen to. Themes of death, fragility of humanity and bodily deterrence is just fantastic. The lovely opener "Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground" sends chills down my spine with each listen. "Epilepsy is Dancing" shows the both sides of the beauty of humanity, all at once fragile and beautiful. "Another World" laments the loss of reality and pining for a better place. "The Crying Light" oozes with beauty and heartbreak. All throughout, Antony Heagerty's trembling voice seems like it's about to fall apart at the seams at any time yet it stays strong from start to finish. Antony and the Johnsons have explored themes of loss and love and romantic visions of a better place before but never so heart shattering. When "Everglade" hits at the end of the album, we get one last feeling of an atrophied body but a beautiful spirit that remains. It's utterly gorgeous. I haven't even mentioned how beautifully orchestrated this record is with it's sweeping strings, heartfelt woodwinds and gentle piano. The Crying Light is a treasure.

1. Mastodon - Crack the Skye - It should come as no surprise since I basically showed my hand with this record getting high marks on the Decade in Review section of this blog. And after reviewing this record several times, Crack the Skye is still the best thing I've heard all year, even if the margin between the lat two records is small. Mastodon went from a straight up hardcore thrash metal band on Remission and the brilliant Leviathan, moved to a more experimental bridge between both thrash metal and prog on Blood Mountain and created one of the best, no matter how convoluted, concept albums yet here on Ctrack the Skye. Hell, the band even managed to make a metal track bittersweet as the album is highly influenced by Brann Dailor's loss of a sister (named Skye) to the tragedy of suicide. Beyond those crazy plot lines of golden umbillical chords and Rasputin, the music explodes with precision on fury. Many fans were turned off by the different direction, but I applaud the band for doing something different. All to often in the realm of Metal music, bands get stuck in their ways or just play the same shit over and over. When you hear the surf rock soloing on "Divinations" or have your mind exploded through each movement of "The Last Baron," Crack the Skye is an intense sonic journey. "Ghost of Karelia" is reminiscent of Tool while the titular track thrashes with the best in the Mastodon catalog. It's an undeniable masterpiece and an album that has a power and might all its own.

This was an interesting year. Usual stand-by favorites either lacked the ability to spark my listening (Wilco, Franz Ferdinand) or just barely missed this list (The Raveonettes, Dinosaur Jr., Air, Islands are all runners up.) Regardless, it seemd like a year of artists or bands that at first seemed unlikeable or just too strange slowly grew on me. Regardless, 2009 was a tasty year.