So here we are, ready to sum up a year in a top ten list. Now, when I originally set up this blog one year ago, it was intended to be a space not only for movies and geekiness, but music as well.
In fact, most of my writing not associated with Fun Run is music journalism, has been since college. So, yea. I have been listening to a boat load of albums lately, trying to catch up enough on 2009 to collect a best of list. I don’t think I quite got it all, but here are some of my favorites of the year.
And for the record, no, Animal Collective will NOT be on this list. They get enough attention and I have not actually listened to it. But also, some of my favorite bands like Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and Morrissey will all be absent from this list. Just know that I still love them.
Ok, here we go. In no particular order, here’s what I remember from 2009.
There is no enemy, but also there is no way a Built to Spill album is coming out and it doesn’t go in my top list. They are simply one of those bands who can do no wrong. They excel at both the heavy psych rock, the short and sweet pop song, the blazing at both ends heavy shit, everything. These guys are the consummate professional, the masters of their craft, and it comes through in every second of There is No Enemy. Not one note is wasted, not one minute misguided. Simply put, Built to Spill rule.
I discovered this band in the course of writing assignments, and they blew me away almost instantly. “…And the Hazy Sea” is one of the best opening tracks of the year, and the rest of the album is a chaotic, catchy and enticing blend of the best of indie rock in the 90’s (I know, right?) and some good post rock thrashing about. Plenty of good stuff to pick and choose from, but the whole album works as a single musical statement.
Ever since Pedro the Lion stopped me cold in my tracks, singer/songwriter David Bazan has been one of my musical heroes. With an emotional and lyrical weight, Bazan has been exploring more and more personal issues in his solo material. This culminates on Curse Your Branches with a fall from grace of sort, a break up with God, and some of Bazan’s best writing in a decade. This was the album I was hoping for, so it’s all the more satisfying when the songs get stuck in my head for weeks on end.
I had always kind of been on the fence with Grizzly Bear until this year. They were always interesting enough, but does that make them a good band? Well, Veckatimest puts all that fence-sitting to rest, as the album breaks down any walls (or fences I suppose) one might be tempted to build. Utterly gorgeous and pitch perfectly arranged, this offering from the Brooklyn based group proves their hype and signals a new step in their rapidly maturing prowess. “While You Wait for the Others” might be my favorite song of the year.
I’m always a fan of anything Twin Peaks, so when Phil Elverum took that and the forests surrounding his own small northwest town as inspiration for this album, he had me at “Through the Trees.” Add to it moments of utterly brutal metal and scenes of wanton vulnerability, and you have one of the most diverse and original sounding records of the year. Full of nature and the fury contained within, Wind’s Poem is the bleakest of Mount Eerie’s material, but also the most accomplished.
My new favorite Portland indie pop band, Nurses excel at a whimsical and disarming psych pop blend of electronics and harmonics. While their long hair and capes may signal hippie rock, their music is anything but. With unique and hook laddened rhythms abundant throughout, Apple’s Acre is a great introduction to a band that is just months away from breaking wide open. Get in on it now, thank me later.
Where to begin with Papercuts? San Francisco’s Jason Quever has been making his off kilter brand of indie rock for years, mostly on his own, and mostly under the radar. This album is easily the best of his career. It’s an unnerving concoction of vintage organs and falsetto shakes. Quever helms some dark territory throughout, playing up his isolation and disconnect to the majority of his surroundings. For me, it doesn’t get much better than “Future Primative.” Not only does it have one of the best bass lines of the year, it breathlessly propels itself and the final act of the album to some unbelievable heights.
You know that RCA ad where the guy is sitting in his chair and the TV is just blowing a hurricane of sound into his face so hard he’s got to wear shades to protect himself from the unstoppable onslaught bearing down on him? Russian Circles is like that. Only more so. Each output by this group gets louder, crunchier, heavier. And Geneva tops all with its gut punching, face tearing, maniacal gleam in the eye brand of instrumental post rock. Get your metal face on kids, Russian Circles is not fucking around here.
The lo fi buzz of Songs of Shame comes as no surprise to fans of Woods, but may raise a few unsuspecting eyebrows otherwise. Certainly it’s the most accessible album of their career, though it’s also one of the more diverse and eccentric works they’ve produced. The boys in Woods are a restless lot, as evidenced in their myriad of side projects and label ownings, but that doesn’t mean Songs of Shame is unfocused, it’s just a spirited and, well, kind of kooky brand of indie rock. Really, I’m not sure how to recommend it, except to say just jump on in. The shock is bracing, but the water’s fine.
Yo La Tengo is in the running for best band of the last 25 years, and they should be. Their music is no less than spectacular. Time and time again they break barriers, exceed expectations, and prove themselves both as sensitive artists and freaks of the scene. Trying to out shred guitarist Ira Kaplan is an exercise in futility, as is any attempt to one up their overall craftsmanship. Popular Songs continues this tradition of kicking everyone’s ass with pop painted aural soundscapes. Long live Yo La Tengo.
That’s enough. I’m spent.