Monday, December 28, 2009

So Insane - The Musical Year in Review 2009

"Swing High" Photo from Charles Haynie - personal collection

Welcome to my 2009 playlist. It starts with my favorite concert of the year - The Avett Brothers at the Cuban Club. If you didn't make it, well I'm so so sorry. Look up their dates and do yourself a favor when they're close. I've heard all the discussion, they sold out, they moved on from their roots, they got families and babies. Well, life is about change. If the Beatles kept playing like they did on Help! then where the heck would Revolver or Sgt. Pepper's be? I say, let them grow for better or worse and in this fan's estimation, this record gets better every time it spins in my player. Listen to "And It Spread" and try to fight it, I dare you.

My friend Nicole, elawgrrl is an amazing photographer of music acts and a seriously dedicated fan of Lucero. She honestly won't stop talking about them so eventually I had to give in and give these guys a chance. I caught up with them on this album when they are catching a lot of flack for the same things that the Avetts heard about this year, namely losing their hard edge and adding things like horns to their music. So what!? This album is great and the song I chose "Hey Darlin, Do You Gamble?" is everything that whiskey marinated growling alt-country rock should be. This song will make you want to pack up your black t-shirt, your boots, and your cooler and follow these guys from dive bar to rock bar for weeks on end.

Grizzly Bear has been in the top 5 of Hype Machine for most of the year and the song "Two Weeks" is unavoidable in blog circles. I swear I heard it in Lowe's this weekend. Rather than get bored with a band so obviously blowing up, I can't help but fall for the layers in this thing. It's really beautiful and addicting. This is indie pop at it's best.

Amanda Blank's "Something Bigger, Something Better" has this sound effect that makes it sound a little too much like a knock off Paper Planes. That being said, I f$%^*(ng love Paper Planes still. So I don't really care, and this song is a classic floorfiller as far as I'm concerned. I found it in an uncharacteristically upbeat review from Nine Bullets - one of the best blogs going especially for fans like my buddy Nicole of hard-edged alt-country like Lucero and Jason Isbell.

N.A.S.A. was a massive album undertaking of rap superstars that mixed North American and South American styles and sounds. I made up my mind that I would find some rap I like this year as I am such an old school rap fan that I sound like I am 90 years old when I talk about today's rap music. This song Spacious Thoughts", is bada$$ and explodes at the chorus, Tom Waits anyone?! This is the year of Tom Waits if nobody told you yet. He's been all over and released an amazing live album called Glitter and Doom right before Christmas. I know what our boy Ernie from Nervous Turkey got in his stocking! (if you want to see how the harmonica was meant to be played - take that link to see Ernie at work)

A band that includes members of other bands including Vampire Weekend, Discovery blew me away with this little indie number called "So Insane". I don't need to say much about it because I just really love this sound. Indie and electronic and pop with some really nice beat and mood changes that echo that feeling of really not being able to control how you feel about somebody. This is definitely at the very top of the list this year.

There are two tracks from the XX on the cd. The first "Intro" is a really awesome moody instrumental in a world that doesn't make instrumental tracks anymore and that's all it took. By the time I made it to "Islands" I was hooked. This whole album is awesome. This is a young Brit band and I heard it described as makeout music for cool kids. I can't verify that, but maybe I'll have to try it out in the near future. Put it on and let me know how that goes...

"In My Dreams" from the Eels is a great track from an underrated songwriter E. Again, a great album, but I really liked this gentle and spacey sort of music when they get it right. This is what is affectionately called Nerd Rock like Weezer and many other bands I love. It's just a little introspective quiet tune but it gets stuck in my head a lot.

MGMT technically released this album last year, but I really didn't get into it until this year so I'm going to use a little flexibility and include it. Both "Time to Pretend" and "Kids" are great tracks, but I just had this one on repeat a little too much this year. I couldn't get away from it in all it's fuzzy electronic glory.

The next song from Metric is "Sick Muse" which falls into the classic unrequited love chick rock category and although classifying often takes away some of the fun of this, I love these kind of bands. I donated some of my hearing to an Elastica show in Dublin and don't regret it a bit. I hope you fall in love with her voice as quickly as I did.

The Low Anthem have managed to make a song in "Charlie Darwin" with all of the beauty and sadness of life and make it amazingly attractive. We realize that it all ends and yet songs like this make life worth the pain and heartache. It is the most beautiful song I have heard all year and it gets me choked up every time I listen. That's all I have to say about that.

To rescue us from the water that surrounded us in the last track I included "Pursuit of Happiness" from newcomer rap star Kid Cudi. This is a really awesome track with all of the attitude of a streetwise rapper and yet the intelligence of a good songwriter. This is the type of rap that I knew still existed yet it took my college-age nephew Kyle to educate me on it. It doesn't hurt that this remix includes MGMT and Ratatat.

Elvis Perkins brings out a track that is everything I love about great alt-country. This is what has me listening to the ND hour on wmnf on Mondays. The instrumentation of bluegrass and country with rock style and attitude. Angst and grit with excellent musicianship.

I finish up with one of my favorite bands, Wilco, who enjoy the notoriety of the "Saving Private Ryan Award 2009" which I give out to a great album that came out so early in the year that it gets ignored on most "Best Of" lists much like SPR that lost to "Shakespeare in Love" that came out later in the year. (My theory is that after that year, no "Oscar" movies are released before the fall according to Hollywood superstitions). Wilco makes great music and keeps adding new layers without changing too much. They might be a little stuck in a rut at times, but songs like "You Never Know" just get stuck in my Ipod and refuse to leave.

Thanks for indulging me!

The cd of the year as it stands right now

1. and it spreads - avett brothers
2. hey darlin do you gamble? - lucero
3. two weeks - grizzly bear
4. something bigger, something better - amanda blank
5. spacious thoughts (feat. Tom Waits) - n.a.s.a.
6. so insane - discovery
7. intro - the xx
8. islands - the xx
9. in my dreams - eels
10. time to pretend - mgmt
11. sick muse - metric
12. charlie darwin - the low anthem
13. pursuit of happiness - kid cudi with mgmt
14. shampoo - elvis perkins
15. you never know - wilco


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  2. I love this post and look forward to receiving my 2009 CD of the year... I think I deserve it since you called me out on my lucero obsession:) A photo from the Avett Brothers show made my top ten photo list (and of course so did lucero:
    p.s. love your swing high photo!

  3. i'm all in to this low anthem, charles. really great. 'to ohio' - in ohio in february! can you imagine that?!! ...and not to mention!, they are touring with the avett brothers! way awesomeness! it really is going to be a swinging high year!!! thanks for the great post! happy new year!

  4. I don't know anybody on that list but I'm ready to learn.
    Happy New Year and best wishes for you and you little family for 2010!