10. Girls - Album Summer songs about girls, goofy in their heartfelt sincerity, sometimes wounded, sometimes triumphant. Despite all the hype, which turned out to be well-deserved, the record itself is free of ironic mustaches. It may fit in with some of the other surfy lo-fi this year, but with hazy odes to partying and sun-baked love songs infused with the spirit of Buddy Holly, the light touch of the Beach Boys, and the jagged swirl of Kevin Shields, it’s a record out of time.
9. Lightning Dust – Infinite Light Some singers’ voices just do it for you, and Amber Webber’s tremulous, emotion-filled warble just does it for me. She’s a huge reason why I dig Black Mountain, but with Infinite Light, she stepped out from the ethereal folk of her first solo record with a confident blast of hook-filled, woodsy Appalachian pop. Rich with piano, but unafraid of drum machines, it’s comfortably rustic but experimental enough to keep things interesting.
8. AC Newman – Get Guilty One of those records that sounds just fine the first time you hear it, but which, like its cover art, doesn’t seem like anything spectacular. The more you listen to it, however, the more you get beyond the hooky power pop surface and take serious notice of how ridiculously amazing the arrangements are, the way the instruments work together in mysterious unpredictable ways, how the melodies zig when you expect a zag, the delicate phrasing of terrific lyrics.
7. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca At first listen, I thought this was going to be the Blueberry Boat of 2009, the record that everyone drooled over for its intricate musicianship and barfed onto their end of year lists, and then never listened to ever again (admit it, when was the last time you pulled that record out?). I was all like, whatever, dude! But I found myself listening to it over and over again as the year wore on, sometimes pulled in by the dancing percussion, sometimes by the sweeping strings, sometimes by the abrupt tempo and instrument changes, and increasingly by the incredibly strong melodies. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some seriously artsy bullshit going on in this record, and I kind of don’t want to reward it, but I can’t help it.
6. Elvis Perkins – Elvis Perkins in Dearland More than any of the hipster beardy rock that came out this year, nothing felt as natural, authentic, raw, and real to me as this record. It’s just completely full of life, by which I don’t mean happy, I mean it has a tremendous range of emotions, and these emotions eschew the simple love/loss of so many pop songs. Shampoo is somehow both danceable and melancholy, with catchy lyrics about strangled rainbows. Perkins’s lyrics continue to sit at the edge of death, but he’s got a wry sense of humor and a mischievous smile and a damned good way with words.
5. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion I read the press, and was sick of the record before it even came out. Their previous records never really did all that much for me, so I found it easy to avoid for months on end. What I didn’t expect was a hard left from freaky folky psych towards full-on experimental Brian Wilson positive jams. I didn’t hear “My Girls” until May, a few weeks after my son was born, and the lyrics cut like a knife: “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things, like social status, I just want four walls and adobe slats, for my girls.” I was a goner.
4. Pains of Being Pure at Heart – self-titled This record had me from the jangly opening bars of “Contender”, but it’s not until the full-on Black Tambourine redux of “Come Saturday” that I knew it was going to be a real keeper. A throwback record, for sure, full of bouncy ballads of teenage love and lust from kids too old to be talking in the present tense about such things, but who can complain when it’s done so well. These guys fit perfectly into the Slumberland catalog, full as it is of the sweet reverb-flush noise that emanated from DC in the early 90s, right under the nose of the Dischord scene. This record may be slight, but then again, so am I, because this love is fucking right.
3. The xx – xx I can’t remember the last time a pop album spoke so loudly through such fully formed silences. These songs are full of negative space. Instruments don’t fade to background, they simply disappear, only to pop back in again when the song calls for them. These absences make the songs delicate, but the confident guitar licks and steady backend provide robustness, and the plaintive vocals smooth the whole thing over. Arranged and edited down to minimal components, yet full of subtle flourishes, it’s one of those records you couldn’t imagine tweaking. It’s perfect as it is and I don’t know anyone immune to its charms.
2. Kurt Vile – Childish Prodigy & God Is Saying This To You I confess, a year ago, I’d never heard of Kurt Vile. But Constant Hitmaker was on a bunch of 2008 best of lists, and shortly thereafter I fell hard and fast for Vile’s oddly affecting bedroom ballads, looped and cut and blurred. Blues riffs, drum machines, keyboards and saxophones, all sludging their way through a lo-fi mix that would make Robert Pollard proud. Then in March, Vile dropped God Is Saying This To You, a more atmospheric and organic play on his sound. This was followed by the Childish Prodigy via Matador in October, which had him backed by a full band (the Violators) on a few tracks. Three records in two years, and each one is different enough to stand on its own. And the thing is, I don’t think I can pick a favorite.
1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix The one-two punch of “Lisztomania” and “1905” was the strongest opening of the year, and the knockout blow of “Armistice” ensures their station in my end of year pantheon of pleasures. Compared to the moody retro soft rock of their past records, this one is a leap square into crossover pop appeal, full of thumping heart and brainy optimism, and damn if it doesn’t wear some dancing shoes. I don’t know that it rocks, exactly, but as I age into a tubby papa with a shirt covered in drool and a penchant for songs I can sing to my plump nugget of an offspring, this one rocks enough for me, thank you very much.
Bookended by a few barnburning pop masterpieces, the heart of this record to me is “Love Like A Sunset” Parts 1 and 2, seven and a half minutes of cinematic, nearly Yo La Tengoin freakout synthrock that takes you on a journey through the mean streets of Seaside Heights, a frantic foot race through darkening corridors that winds its way to a final stop on the cool beach sands of the Jersey Shore, where Snookie will give big Russ talky, toothy blowjobs until dawn. Something tells me that last sentence won’t last the test of time, but this record will carry me over into at least season two.
Lastly, for posterity’s sake, more records I really dug last year:
Circlesquare - Songs about Dancing and Drugs, Cass McCombs - Catacombs, Obits - I Blame You, DJ Quik & Kurupt - BlaQkout, The Fresh & Onlys, jj - no. 2, Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish Were an Eagle, Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It’s Blitz!, The Uglysuit (2008 record, discovered in 2009), Atlas Sound - Logos, The Antlers - Hospice, And So I Watch You From Afar, Andrew Bird - Noble Beast…
Oops, I did it again… I made my list in mid-December, convinced I’d finish it before the year was out this time. I got most of the blurbs done, but then the holidays came, and then January came, and with it, any hope of such a resurgance of will. January has been insane, and so this list has just sat in draft form forever. But I managed to squeek out a blurb a day for the past week and finish the damn thing. So here it is, nearly 10% into 2010, my favorite records of last year…
25. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone In the past, I’ve been most fond of Neko in the context of the New Pornographers, where her emotive yet towering bell of a voice, with its subtle country twang, juxtaposes quite nicely against the angular guitar pop around her. It’s not so much that this record is all that different from her previous solo outings, it’s just better. Her powerful voice is still center stage, but the props are better. The imagery is better. The arrangements are better. The atmosphere, thanks to recording in a barn, is better. The songs are catchier, too. It may be NPR rock, but fuck it, I’m an NPR dad now.
24. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Beware Oldham talked this up as his “big” record and, in sadly predictable manner, the indie-cognoscenti blowback promptly ensued. Pretty much a straight-up country record, it lacks some of his trademark scrappy scraggly intimacy, but the glossy production, full of pedal steel and horns and swaying backup singers, fits these gorgeous songs, and his rueful voice, beautifully.
23. The Smith Westerns – self-titled In the vein of T. Rex, The Pretty Things, or The Kinks, the Smith Westerns churn out 60s-era fuzzy glam garage pop about boys and girls in love. It ain’t the most original business plan in the world, but they do it with skill, enthusiasm, and joyfulness, and they update the sound just enough to sound modern. Like a bunch of bands this year burying solid hooks under piles of unpolished scuzz, these Chicago boys like their fidelity low, but unlike some others they don’t overplay their hand.
22. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic I was not expecting this one. It seems like forever since The Soft Bulletin, and to say I was ambivalent about this record somehow makes me sound too excited. I’m over their goofball antics! I prefer the old experimental Lips to the “wacky” popstar Lips of the past few years. This is a theme of mine, I guess, giving up on bands, and not even bothering to give a listen, but I’m glad I made an exception this time around. Not till after Thanksgiving did I bother with 30 second snippets, and it wasn’t until mid-December that I downloaded the thing. But good gracious, this is a great record, at least if you love the old Lips. It’s as audacious as Zaireeka – a dense 70 minute double-album – but it’s also immediate and raw and catchy. As I write this, I’ve only had a week to digest it, but it might be my favorite record of theirs since Satellite Heart (I know I know, Spiderbite, etc!). If I had two weeks, who knows where it would have wound up on my list.
21. Mi Ami – Watersports For nearly an hour, the mostly instrumental dub jams flicker, fade, and pulse, from whisper to raging yelp, scratchy skittering percussion giving way to slicing guitar arcs, and for at least that long, I don’t miss the Black Eyes so much anymore.
20. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Up From Below Yeah, this is some Polyphonic Spree medicine show bullshit pimped by some fucking LA hippie hipsters, but I don’t give a shit, not when the magic elixir tastes so goddamned good. Listening to my music on shuffle, a song would come on, and I’d be all, “what is this stuff? I love it!” Inevitably, it’d be a number from this record, a harmonious psychedelic singsong duet sung out of time. This is exactly the stuff I love to hate, which made me love it all the more when it broke through that rusted crust of that old musical heart of mine.
19. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest “Two Weeks” is up there with the best pop songs of the year, and for a while Veckatimest was all I wanted to listen to. It’s expertly crafted, with everything in its place, every hair perfectly coifed, and some of the most soaring melodies of the year. I have to admit, though, that this record has really faded for me down the stretch. These songs need to breathe, but often suffocate under boys choirs and strings and all sorts of other instrumental flourishes. What once felt artful now seems like artifice.
18. Mos Def- The Ecstatic The comeback. True Magic was a horrendous record, boring and shallow. Would he follow it with an appeal to the base, a return to the sounds of Black on Both Sides? Would he continue this inevitable trajectory into a guy more interested in selling V-neck sweaters for the Gap than producing records? Neither, it turns out, as The Ecstatic is a huge leap forward, a vibrant slab of forward-thinking hip-hop, full of incredible production and risky eccentric experimentation.
17. Oneida – Rated O When the hipsters were into Oneida, I didn’t want to hear it. Now, six or so amazing records later, the hipsters have moved on to hipper things and I love this criminally disregarded band. Go figure. Rated O is an insane masterpiece, a ridiculous beast, the best three-disc juggernaut since 69 Love Songs. I won’t even bother to describe this triple album, as it’s equal to three standalone records, and it manages to be a bit of a career retrospective, seemingly hitting upon every idea and style ever explored by these maniacs over a long, well-traveled lifetime.
16. Richard Swift – The Atlantic Ocean I adore the 60s pop of “Lady Luck,” a mix staple since it appeared on the Ground Trouble Jaw EP last year, and included here as the exclamation mark on Swift’s most consistent record to date. Though his sound is matured and clarified on this record, the ostentatious piano man still runs through a genre-hopping gamut of plinking ballads, synthy keyboard pop, vaudevillian folk, and blue-eyed soul.
15. St. Vincent - Actor The pleasantness of marshmallowy singer-songwriter types leaves my ears flaccid, and given the soft sweetness of her voice and the orchestral arrangements that often back it up, it took me an idiotically long while to realize just how much St. Vincent was subverting these qualities. With anxious lyrics preoccupied with darkness, strange haunting melodies that bust through convention, and subtle instrumental experimentation, these songs are far more adventurous than they let on at first.
14. White Rabbits – It’s Frightening On their second record, these kids have somehow managed to combine the chaotic barroom intensity of The Walkmen with the coiled Krautrock pop of Spoon. More pop-oriented and toe-tapping than the Walkmen of late, yet with a natural rock-and-roll swagger that’s been missing from Spoon for a while (thanks in part to the satisfying pummeling of two drummers), these guys fill a hole in my record collection I never even knew I had.
13. Test Patterns – Blackout I know nothing about this band except they’re from Pittsburgh, they play some supercatchy power pop punk, and some of their lyrics are in Japanese. They bring a relentless two guitar attack to some 70s punk/hardcore sounds and throw some marshmallow fluff on top in the form of boy-girl tradeoff vocals and some terrific melodies that make the burn go down smooth. 7 lollipops of broken glass clock in at 16 minutes.
12. Jay Z – Blueprint 3 My music year was exceedingly white, full of singer-songwriters and indie-rock boy bands, but a handful of hip hop records stood out. Until September rolled around, I was sure that Mos Def’s The Ecstatic was going to be my favorite. Then, like so many people, I got an earful of “Empire State of Mind.” BP3 isn’t solid all the way through, but 2009 was a whiny goddamned year – everything sucks, I get it already! – and Jay-Z’s ridiculously over the top self-involved swagger was just the cure.
11. The Dodos – Time to Die I admit to a fair bit of disappointment when I first heard “Fables.” Where was the racket from Visiter, the clattering clobbering racket I loved so much? Phil Ek’s “every band should sound like the Shins” production was also a bit of a downer, but after a few listens I found myself increasingly pulled in to the new sound. While the polyrhythmic drumming was center stage on Visiter, the addition of a vibraphone on the new record really brings the melodies to the fore. Slowly, quietly, these songs grabbed a hold of me. For some reason, my favorite album to listen to while mowing the lawn.
“I think the deeper reason people are so inflamed by this petty war is that Conan in his own way has come to represent the aggrieved, the injured, the wrongly terminated. I think there is a sense in this country that giant corporations are ruining everything, even late night talk shows. Something so insignificant takes on greater importance because I think on some level, “The Tonight Show” actually has become a very flawed stand-in for all the jobs lost to corporate greed, arrogance, and stupidity. We see Conan as a victim because we feel as though, like us, he wasn’t given a fair shot. If a guy like that, a guy who has everything, can be downsized and demoted, what hope do the rest of us have? Moreover Leno is installed back in his abdicated throne. It feels like a coup, a particularly unfunny coup. And above him, all the top brass still have their jobs. Just like all the top brass in every other failed or bailed-out corporation. It feels unfair. And it makes people mad.”
Five wildly imaginative short stories plumb the lives and deaths and unfinished works of five major American authors to recreate their final days. Poe is stranded on a remote South American island to man a lighthouse, and after a while becomes one with the wildlife. Dickinson is a genetic replicant bought by a bored husband and wife sometime in the future, and speaks in riddles as she flits around the periphery of their lives. Twain is an old pervert who treasures his time with young girls, while the wealthy James revels in the filth and fury of a London hospital during the first World War, salivating in a way over the young wounded men. Papa Hemingway gripes about women and work in flashbacks just before he Cobains himself all over his bathroom wall.
Through these stories, like in much fiction, Oates explores death, though it’s a bit meta in that it’s also exploring the role of death in writing itself. She messes with the popular images of these writers, and also digs into their journals and correspondence and notes to reveal something of their real character as well. Even though the stories stray from the truth, they attempt to get at these writers “true” selves, and this says something, I suppose, about the potential of fiction to reflect reality better than the most factual of biographies.
With all this heavyweight intent going on, the stories are remarkably light on their feet. They don’t feel ponderous or self-important, and if anything have a sly winking tone. There’s something naughty about writing stories that go the way these go, and something voyeuristic about reading them.
All in all, I’d say I really enjoyed three of the stories (Poe, James, Hemingway), found the Twain story a bit overdone, and didn’t care much for the Dickinson story, which is a shame given she’s the only female writer of the bunch and the one Oates might be most suited to represent.
COCK A DOODLE DO! Jason Kottke and Andrew W.K. are judges. The 16 books in the tournament have been announced, and you have about two months to read them all if you really want to be in on the ground floor when the TOB starts in March. Like some past years, I haven’t read a single one of these bitches. Maybe I’ll pick one just for MF’ing kicks. I like me some Lorrie Moore, maybe I’ll start there. COCK A DOODLE DOOOOOOOOOOO!
In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve been absurdly lucky. That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.
Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over “The Tonight Show” in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004, I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.
But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my “Tonight Show” in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.
Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the “Tonight Show” to 12:05 to accommodate the “Jay Leno Show” at 11:35. For 60 years, the “Tonight Show” has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the “Tonight Show” into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The “Tonight Show” at 12:05 simply isn’t the “Tonight Show.” Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the “Late Night” show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.
So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard, and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of “The Tonight Show.” But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet, a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the “Tonight Show,” I believe nothing could matter more.
There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.
Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.
I love the humor, the humility, the subtle dig at Jay’s lack of prime-time lead in, the way he points to the irony of dealing w/ a failing prime-time schedule by upending the late-night schedule. A classy, but fiery statement. Well done, sir!
When you arrive somewhere crowded alone pretend that you’re waving to your friend across the room. Smile, wave, and shout something like, “Are you going to David’s later?” Then laugh and clap and shake your head like, “Oh, that guy.” Then get to the bar and start drinking.
“The human mind delights in finding pattern—so much so that we often mistake coincidence or forced analogy for profound meaning. No other habit of thought lies so deeply within the soul of a small creature trying to make sense of a complex world not constructed for it.”—Stephen Jay Gould (via butdoesitfloat) (via jeremyturner) (via merlin)
Big time’s got its losers, Small town’s got its vices. A handful of friends — One needs a match, one needs some ice. Call-waiting phone in another time zone! How do you say I miss you to an answering machine? How do say good night to an answering machine? […] The message is very plain. Oh, I hate your answering machine. I hate your answering machine. I hate your answering machine.
Let the record reflect that Let it Be was one of the first 5 CDs I bought in 1988 — on the day I got my first big boy stereo…with a CD player. Oooooo. ↩
never heard this demo until now. i love this song, and this version is perfect for sounding like it’s actually recorded on an answering machine.
plus: whenever i hear this song, it reminds me of the movie kicking and screaming, and the message left for grover on his old answering machine, the kind with the big knob, by jane, from prague, calling to let him know she’s done that thing, that shave your armpits, read the unbearable lightness of being, date a sculptor, and now knows how bad american coffee is thing, i mean how bad american beer is thing, how bad american beer is thing.
What struck me in going back through what grabbed me this year was just how many of them came in short bursts. Of course, every year, there are singles that grab you, songs that you love even though you don’t love the record (The Big Pink’s “Dominos” springs immediately to mind). And every year there are a few EPs that stand out. But for me, this year, there were bunches.
1. Superchunk - Leaves in the Gutter EP + Crossed Wires 7” I should have seen this coming, the return of the Mac. Actually, dude has been bringing it for serious the past few years with Portastatic (both 2005’s Bright Ideas and 2006’s Be Still Please were excellent). But what? Is this 1993 again (I was late to the game)? Who’d a thunk my favorite song of the year would be a Superchunk single, available on vinyl only (OK, with an MP3 download). I can listen to this song over and over and over again, and I do. I don’t even put it on mixes because THIS SHIT RIGHT HERE IS T0O PRECIOUS TO SHARE (until now: it’s sitting over there on Pitchfork, take a listen here). What a year for Merge. Twenty years old, god damn.
2. Local Natives - Tour EP These great bunch of guys from the California coast headlined the first Daytrotter Barnstormer. I first caught them in Sean’s backyard the day of the Bix. Kid in tow, friends on the grass, good times. Sunshiny melodies and intricate percussion took me away, and that was before their revelatory cover of Talking Heads “Warning Sign” (a version of which is on the EP). Don’t know whether they were being coy, but they said they had a record but no deal; now their debut album is out in the UK on Rough Trade and hits shelves in the US in February via Frenchkiss. Hold. Your. Breath.
3. Bon Iver - Blood Bank His year was 2008, but this short EP is terrific. It didn’t seem to stick for a lot of folks; the autotuned song freaked other people out, I guess. For me, it’s the song Babys, with it’s motoring piano line, and a theme about, well, making babies, that’s the real stand-out, and probably the one song I’d choose to represent this year for me in the mixtape of my life.
4. TV Torso - Black Mask + Days of Being Wild 7”s OK, so this isn’t an EP. Sue me. Two 7” records released on the same day counts as an EP in my book. I was lucky enough to catch these guys at a small show here in Rock Island, and was blown the fuck away. The swirling blast of guitar fuzz and moody pop had me enthralled. Bought the records straight away, plugged them in when I got home, and hrmph. Where’s the noise? Where’s the power? Took a while to come around, but all that swirling live mayhem was hiding some superlative songwriting, some sparse brooding pop majesties that slowly revealed themselves to me over time. Buy the 7”s even if you don’t have a record player and get the mp3s.
5. Washed Out - Life of Leisure + High Times Enough has been said about this dude elsewhere, but both of these EPs sat at the top of my pile for significant swaths of 2009. This stuff is right-place-right-time goodness, a nice fit in a year populated with a lot of hazy, nostalgic, surfy glo-fi or whateverthefuck. Some of these songs hem a little too close to the original crate digs to justify best-of status on my list, but there is a shit-ton to love in these 15 tracks. Plus, you have got to give some propers to songs this slow and foggy that still manage to make you bop that skull. (High Times was released on like 12 cassette tapes and six player-piano cores, so yeah, this shit was stolen from the internet, and I’m sure you can find it without looking too too hard.)
6. Jesu - Opiate Sun Got turned onto this pretty damn late in the game by my friend Doug, only a week or so ago, actually, but this is a winner. Now, first things first, I’m really not that into this band, or the dude’s other bands, for that matter. I usually find Jesu a bit wanky and way too heavy on atmospherics and the synth stuff leaves me high and dry, but every once in a while he does it right. And this is some nice dark bottom-heavy shoegaze right here, kind of like an older, smarter, more badass My Bloody Valentine.
7. Victoire - Door Into The Dark One of two out of place but stellar EPs from eMusic Selects, this is an adventurous but never obtuse set of modern classical pieces weaved with chirping electronica and found sounds, sort of like The Books meets The Rachels.
8. Altair Nouveau - Dark Energy The other eMusic Selects EP, this is a set of goofy space disco electronica jams that I double dog dare you not to enjoy. I honestly don’t know what else to say about this. I can’t explain it.
9. The Breeders - Fate to Fatal I grabbed this for the Mark Lanegan song, but found myself surprised by how much I dug the other three tracks, especially the first and last songs, which propelled me through this thing many times on constant loop. I never even bothered to check out last year’s full length because I figured it was just some nostalgic bullshit. I guess I better think again.
10. Kurt Vile - The Hunchback Mr. Vile was simply everywhere this year. I first got thrown on his scent last year about this time, and so in the last 12 months I’ve digested three full lengths and this EP. This EP is the loosest of the four, and the easiest to digest, with only one truly fleshed out song in the bunch, which made it onto Childish Prodigy anyway, leaving the rest of the EP as some sort of I-just-moved-up-to-Matador detritus, but I dig it just the same.
My Favorite Music of 2009, Part 1: The Fucking Ridiculously Long Preface
I love year end lists. I love the push and pull of them. The concept itself speaks to the need for consensus, yet there’s something so individualistic about the modern age that it compels every list to be unique and personal.
I both love and hate how the broad rockist music mediascape winds up having preposterously similar top 10s, as if these really are, on some objective measure, the best records of the year. More likely, they’re all looking over each others’ shoulders, trying not to look like assholes for missing the boat, whilst doing their best multicultural multigenre jig to make sure they’re inclusive enough to seem cool. That’s why they always wind up looking like this.
I love lists that surprise me, that score unexpected albums really high, or which include records I’ve never heard of. Doug’s are always great. I’ve found my way to some of my favorite records from year end lists like his.
But my favorite lists are the personal ones, those which make no excuse for their idiosyncrasy, and which say something about the person doing the listening. Like Chris’s. You can see him in that list, and there are a couple of albums I never even heard of that now I’m gonna check out (specifically, Say Hi & Wale). Perfect.
I generally look at my own lists and find they reflect somehow on the year past. I can’t help but associate songs with events, with people, with emotional times. And the past few years have been crazy. In the summer of 2006, I got married. In the summer of 2007, I moved to the midwest. In the summer of 2008, I bought a house. But this year was crazier than the rest, because in the summer of 2009, my wife and I brought a baby boy into this new house in the midwest.
Honestly, though, I’m not sure I see that much that reflects this year in my list of favorite records. I’d expect to find more intensely emotional records, like the new(ish) one from Antony and the Johnsons. Or I’d figure that something like Dan Deacon would reflect my sleepless nights and frantic days.
I like both of those records, but when I look back for my favorites, I find lots of hooks and lots of pop that I loved on first listen, stuff that, I guess, reflects both that I wanted music to pick me up and that these were pretty joyful times. I did little wallowing in the oh niner - creating life gives you some perspective on things.
When I started pulling my list together, I found a lot of things that sort of snuck up on me, stuff that didn’t really work for me on first listen or which I avoided at first, but then which slithered their way up my spine and coiled themselves around my brain. I don’t know what this says, maybe that I was a bit more passive this year, I just kind of went with the flow, or maybe that I simply started to find comfort in repetition. I don’t know.
But more than anything, when I look back, I find a lot of records I was excited to get, listened to a few times, and then stuffed in a drawer somewhere. The new Tortoise? Blech. New Peter Bjorn and John? Godawful. New Art Brut? Forget about it. New Throw Me The Statue? Ho hum. And the new Avett Brothers? Hated it, immediately, and deeply. On first listen, couldn’t make it through a single song. And although I should keep working at this record, given all the great things people say, fuck it. I never saw Titanic and I may never listen to this record all the way through.
Then there were decent records by decent bands that just didn’t do it for me or for which I didn’t have the time or inclination to tough it out. I dug the new Sonic Youth at first; now I can hardly remember it. The new Mountain Goats has its moments, but doesn’t have me coming back for more. The new Califone is alright I guess; the pieces are all there, great musicianship, good arrangements, but other than 1 or 2 songs, there’s nothing to surprise me, to hold my attention. Bought the new Wilco, and, um, so what. I loved the new Yo La Tengo for a few weeks, and I still think it’s their best in a while, it might even be in my top 50, but most days I’d rather listen to something else. After all those great singles, that Jay Reatard record didn’t stick, and Monsters of Folk turned out to be the Monsters of Boring Bland Likeability At The Expense Of Being Interesting.
And The Clientele? Actually, this record’s good, but right now it just feels like more of the same, horns or no horns, and it’s not there for me yet. I have to admit, though: I’ll probably love it come February, after it slithers it’s way inside. I can kind of sense it.
Interestingly, I was going to list Andrew Bird here, too, as another record now collecting dust. But in putting the list together, and listening to it again, I’m finding a lot to like and remembering how much I did like it for a few months back there. Now I think it’s going to make it’s way back into the rotation. See, another reason to love year end lists, the act of reflection can lead to reconnection.
So after all this, what did I like? Well, I guess that’s another story, another fucking ridiculously long ass story…