Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The 2009 Mixtape

So, I don't send out a Christmas card or anything - let's be honest, you don't want to hear about my incredible year when you're out of work, or my boxed dinners if you're married with kids, or my bar experiences if you're actually a fun person. Instead, like every year, I've put together a mixtape of the best music I heard in 2009 - rules are simple: 1.) fit on a CD 2.) don't suck. It doesn't.


Passion Pit, "Sleepyhead"
As per every other year, I'll start with the track I listened to the most in 2009 - "Sleepyhead" is an absolute masterpiece, hitting all the senses at once. From the oddly-looped samples in the background, to the chopped-and-screwed trills behind the bridge solo, to the low end just beating in . . . just an awesome pop song, one that isn't quite "pop" but definitely isn't "electronic," just "awesome."

Phoenix, "Lisztomania"
From the first second of jangly guitars, you know something amazing is on tap . . . but the left-field surprise is that the song is about exactly that expectation, that build-up. It's a great song about how impossible it can seem to write a great song - using Franz Liszt, who created an absolute hysteria in the late 1800s as a concert pianist in Europe, as the anchor. When Thomas Mars notes songs go "from a mess to the masses" then tells himself "this is your time/ this is your time/ this is you-r time.." he's not just talking about TMZ. Then, the song just ends - bliss, then silence. Metaphor is best subtle.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Heads Will Roll"
Almost like the spiritual (and literal reverse) of the Killers' "Mr. Brightside" - the night shimmers while the song does, but Karen O is the predator. Jagged guitars mix with smooth synth, plus organic-yet-cold drums and low end - try not to shake your ass to this in the car. The YYYs can still be edgy, even when being as cosmopolitan as possible.

Japandroids, "Wet Hair"
Just three lines, repeated about 50 times each - although each change in inflection and timing changes everything. Just two guys, overdubbed guitar and drums - although the wall of sound is impressive and inviting. That's all it takes. "We run the gauntlet/ we must get to France/ so we can French kiss some French girls" is summer in so many syllables.

Surfer Blood, "Swim"
Fun fact: these guys used to call themselves Jabroni Sandwich, which would be the stupidest shit I've ever heard if I hadn't spent all year listening to a band called Japandroids. Luckily the songs are better - just a massive anthem, in and out in 3 minutes, the way it's supposed to be.

Matt and Kim, "Daylight"
In a lot of ways, the 'idea' of Matt and Kim is much more successful than the band itself - their first record was "neat" in all of the ways that can be bad (or, more properly, annoying), but until "Daylight" it didn't all come together. A half-dozen commercials later, and you'll definitely recognize the song (if you don't already hate it), but it's still an absurd anthem I'll take with me.

The Big Pink, "Dominos"
The drum intro portends great things, like the "Mature -N" tag on a Cinemax late-night direct-to-DVD movie. You're expecting the song to just blow up - but the Big Pink has all the time in the world. Fuck that - you can sit through a little bit of an interlude before we break into the FUCK YOU chorus . . . five words, stretched to about 12 syllables, and the best MGMT impression you'll ever want to hear. British people: still awesome.

Animal Collective, "My Girls"
A slow-building, consistently-beautiful swinging ode from Animal Collective's Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox, also featured later) to 'his girls': his wife and young daughter. The music and lyrics swirl and wrap in on themselves, almost like a Celtic knot, ending in a plaintive refrain: "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" . . . then the OOOOoooooooohhh! takes it away and we start it all over again. It's a post-modern serenity prayer, and it's the best song I heard all year - not particularly close.

Grizzly Bear, "Two Weeks"
When the keyboard and oh-ohs begin, pretty much the last thing you expect out of Grizzly Bear is for the low end to drop and a light drumroll to carry the tune through the verse - but that's exactly what happens, and Grizzly Bear does it all over again.

Florence and the Machine, "Kiss with a Fist"
If Neko Case is my indie-rock love affair (and make no mistake, she is - I would sit in her bushes for hours if I weren't scared shitless of her), Florence Welch is the rough-and-tumble UK response. Note that I'm assuming this song is metaphorical, although I guess the domestic violence overtones could go a variety of rad directions on their own. ELIN NORDEGREN WOODS JOKE HERE AMIRIGHT?

The XX, "Crystalized"
Languid, sexual, restrained but only barely, with elements of soul, electronic music, and even R&B. Of all the tracks on this CD, this is clearly the one with the best shot at "crossover" appeal - not Cadillac commercials, but sustainable chart-topping viability, soccer moms to douchebags like me.

Mumford & Sons, "Roll Away Your Stone"
Like a smart Dave Matthews Band who learned to play bluegrass instead of elevator music, a shit-stomping exploration of the self - with a COMPLETELY AMAZING banjo. It's not just the banjo, though - the entire sog oozes credibility, and "Darkness is a harsh term/ don't you think?" asks two questions at once: is it the "name of the term, or the time spent serving the term?

Girls, "Lust for Life"
Song titles matter. Listening to this track with the title in mind proves the rule.

Akron/Family, "River"
What's this? An extended nautical metaphor using a variety of musical styles, ranging from whistling to woodwind sections? Sure, it's not a brand-new formula for indie rock - it's basically what would happen if the Decemberists spent less time in drama class or at Ren Faires and instead smoked weed and spoke like regular fucking human beings. That's a good thing.

Atlas Sound, "Walkabout (ft. Noah Lennox)"
If you know much about Bradford Cox and Noah Lennox, the fact that it's a song about growing up, growing old and holding onto/releasing dreams and beliefs is completely unsurprising. The heavy Beach Boys influence is only slightly surprising. That it's an impeccable pop song makes perfect sense.

Big Boi, "Shine Blockas (ft. Gucci Mane)"
Don't tell Big Boi that rap has passed the Outkast formula by - he'll just prove it hasn't with this retro/funk kick to the dick, with the enigmatic Gucci Mane in tow. "Word to LeBrown James/ he some chicken chow mein/ anyway/ you done say some silly things" - he's talking to you, assholes. Even a Tyler Perry reference, for those huge TBS fans in the fucking HOUSE HOLLER.

Raekwon, "House of Flying Daggers (ft. Ghostface, Inspectah Deck, GZA & Method Man)"
Stunningly, Deck starts off: "We pop off like a mobster boss/ angel hair with the lobster sauce" . . . and we're off, with that same tremor and magic you've wanted since 36 Chambers (probably, Cuban Linx the Original). Not only does Deck sound relevant, Method Man is absurdly good, but most important: the Iron/Chef balance is back, and Ghostface goes fucking crazy: "from Benetton rugby skullies/ Oshkosh conductor jumpers/ the train hats fit me lovely/ Rae's job is to make sure the coke is fluffy/ While I politic his birthday bash with Puffy/ bagged Nia soon as I linked up, the kid ain't inked up/ I'm an old mummy, my gold weigh as much as King Tut/ slippers, robes is minked up, under the do-rag bro/ my three dimensional fade is clean cut" . . .

The Hood Internet, "Solid Gold from New York"
AZ/Ghostface mashed up with the Golden Filter - and it sounds like the way the song should have to start. The stark, street-oriented versus play brilliantly off the glittering synths, almost like an audio tour of the City itself.

Kid Cudi, "Make Her Say (ft. Kanye West, Common, & A-Trak)"
The best Lady Gaga song released, ever. Beautifully vulgar perfection.

Roll Deep, "Shake a Leg"
And now, calypso! I have a grime fixation, so this is no surprise - sure it wasn't released this year (in the US), but I hadn't heard it, so eat a dick son. "Know what would be dandy?/ a little glass of brandy" is my new favorite put-down.

Major Lazer, "Pon de Floor (ft. Vybz Kartel)"
The video says more than I ever could.

Biggy Smalls vs. Miley Cyrus, "Party and Bullshit in the USA"
Yep. Yep. Yep.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top 15 Albums of 2009

OK - since I NEVER F-ING POSTED all year (OK I did, but not at the . . . prodigious . . . pace of yesteryear), I've been pretty bad with music updates. For that reason I'll expand to 15 this year - but I won't like it, and I will probably drink enough to fight you as a result. If you want, drop me a line and I'll upload some of these so you can "sample" THEN CLEARLY GO BUY IT IMMEDIATELY AND IN CONJUNCTION WITH AMERICAN COPYRIGHT LAWS. Get me a smoothie while you're out, with the PlusProtein add-in? Thanks, dollface.

15: The Hood Internet - Mixtape Vol. 4

While not quite on par with the ridiculous "Vol. 1", the fourth installment from the Chicago DJ duo matches up the weird/experimental (Weezer over faux italo?) with legit bangers (AZ/Ghostface over the Golden Filter) and shit that just works (SPOILER: my favorite song of the year over "Back Dat Azz Up"). And it's free. Sick.

14: Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Easily the best AC album, and contains two of the best songs of the year ("Brothersport" and particularly the superb "My Girls" - more on that one later).

13: Major Lazer - Guns Don't Kill People, Lazers Do

Sure, it's inconsistent, jokey and smacks of a one-off . . . and there's a 4-song stretch in the middle that completely sucks (CHOKE ON SOMETHING LARGE, AMANDA BLANK) . . . but the bookends of the album are more fun than watching Cowboys fans lose. A car banger if there ever was one.

12: Roll Deep - Street Anthems

Cheating a little - this is a "retrospective" singles collection. Still, it's everything right with the UK Grime movement, in a tidy package.

11: The XX - xx

It's like Zero7 for smart people - breezy, seemingly-effortless, but with real depth and power. The drum machine actually allows for the band to open up, instead of being a constraint. Just a stunning, out-of-nowhere debut.

10: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Yeah yeah - it's a collection of obvious influences, almost like an indie-rock hybridization experiment (you can see the Mendel squares: "Dominant trait, Stone Roses - recessive, Pixies). But it's a GOOD one - full of harmony and that odd, cloudy-but-sunny disposition that make it work in the car or on the boat.

9: Dizzee Rascal - Tongue n Cheek

So the dude goes out and makes an electroclash album - and why not? Dizzee doesn't sound as fierce, as hungry, as he did in his first albums - but growth is a good thing, and sounding comfortable over an Armand van Buran beat works much better than chatting shit about geezers and gunplay. My British rap fixation continues unabated (insert own abating joke here).

8: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

Probably the best-named record of the year, because it really is a blitz - the YYYs keep the angular guitars, but lose the Joy Division for some New Order. Holy shit, it's an actual dance album - and Karen O's squawks and howls and lyrics fit the dance floor like a fucked-up bloody glove. This is the album the Killers wish they'd made instead of Sam's Town. "Get your leather on", indeed.

7: Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come

John Darnielle might be the best songwriter of this generation - he spins a story better than anyone, and can create consistent yet interesting album better than anyone this side of David Berman. A Biblical album without references to God, a spiritual journey that stops to ask questions, and a teacher who doesn't pretend to have all the answers - just a great, great album.

6: Japandroids - Post-Nothing

Beach songs about French kissing French girls, changing (or losing) dreams while growing up, or just simply reminiscing - all over the kind of fuzzed-out, devil-may-care attitude that takes years to master but minutes to hit hard. It's hard to sound this lackadaisical - and even harder to actually make the music matter as a result. Gorgeous.

5: The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You

Honestly, this was not an album I thought I'd enjoy (along with similar-yet-different group Mumford & Sons), but I and Love and You blew me away at first listen. The North Carolina bluegrass roots collide with an alt-folk mentality that reminds you of Wilco but quickly runs right past its influences - heartfelt and smooth, yet jagged with loss and despair.

4: Girls - Album

Everyone has the same thought their first listen through Album: "the dude who made this is totally and completely fucked up." Of course, the first song proclaims the singer is "fucked in the head" - it's not exactly subliminal, but it's still important, and his loss is our gain. Ranging from surf to 50s R&B to a hint of rockabilly and calypso at times, this is a beach record that wears its influences proudly but uses them to reinforce lyrical themes, rather than the other way around. An incredibly impressive effort from Girls.

3: Passion Pit - Manners

The new era of pop music will accept anything as an instrument - whether it's vocals or computer manipulation or banging on a trash can. Passion Pit's expansion to a full band pushed the falsetto and computer-assisted vocals further to the back but heightened their effect, creating soaring anthems that never cross into "Wind Beneath My Wings" schmaltz for longer than a second or two. Taking the 'build/release' formula of electronic music into the mainstream - the future is grand.

2: Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Part II

A swaggering FUCK YOU to anybody who thought OB4CL2 was vaporware of the music world, or would be a pussy-footed effort like The Blueprint 3 - instead, Raekwon and especially Ghostface blow the doors down then pillage all your snacks and shit. I'm not sure it was the second-best album on artistic merit, but it was certainly the album I listed to the second-most this year.

1: Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Unreal. Surreal. Perfect. Thomas Mars and Phoenix have come a long way in a short time, not by pushing boundaries, but by settling comfortably within their current vein and simply making pop music from a 60 degree angle. This album will always be the sound of 2009 for me, even if I want to murder a child every time I see the car commercial butchering "1901".