Monthly Archives: December 2009

Top 20 Albums of 2009 (11-20)

2009 was the year of disappointments. Obama’s change never really took shape, the Lakers and Yankees won championships in their respective sports, and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” sucked ass.  The disappointment flu bug didn’t avoid the music world, where perennial greats like A.C. Newman, Andrew Bird, Beirut, The Decemberist, Handsome Furs, Built to Spill, and The Dodos all released mediocre albums (this list could be longer, but I thought I’d spare you the details).  Fortunately it was not all a wash, with many bands stepping up in 2009 with ambitious albums that beg to be reckoned with.  

Honorable Mention:

And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead “The Century of Self”

Converge “Axe to Fall”

Lightning Bolt “Earthly Delights”

Marissa Nadler “Little Hells”

Megafaun “Gather, Form, and Fly”

Memory Tapes “Seek Magic”

Mount Eerie “Wind’s Poem”

Pissed Jeans “King of Jeans”

Propagandhi “Supporting Caste”

Yeah Yeah Yeahs “It’s Blitz”

 

20. Bats for Lashes

“Two Suns”

“Two Suns” doesn’t feel like an album at all, rather an ancient, epic tale of love and survival.  What would it sound like if C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien were to form a band? This might be it right here, with Natasha Kahn’s voice resembling Lady Galadriel, speaking a tale that only the forest knows.  At times it is over-produced  which is a plus in this case, commanding your attention. A story of this magnitude can not be told in lo-fi (compare the PBS version of “The Chronicles of Narnia” to the latest film versions, and you’ll understand my point).  Although the lyrics tell of a mystical, metaphorical world of chivalry and heart-break, the music sounds like something new and unexplored.

19. Phoenix

“Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”

“Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” is more than a dance record, but you probably already know that.  It fronts as a collection of pop music, but in reality it’s a headphone album.  Every song features an ambience that will envelope your head and have strange sounds bouncing around inside your skull like a magical, musical Pong.  Even in its most mainstream track “1901” there are random bleeps and whistles that surprise you from every which way.  Phoenix, veterans of the pop music world, have mastered their craft, balancing memorable hooks with little nuances that make it an album you’ll go back to, over and over again.

18. Fuck Buttons

“Tarot Sport”

I’ll admit, when I first heard “Tarot Sport” I was a little disappointed. What made their 2008 release “Street Horssing” so great was how every song eventually led into a world of torture, usually a garbled voice howling a la Aphex Twins.  On “Tarot Sport”, the oppressed vocals have been set free.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized why the band had to move on. If they continued relying on the riotous finish to each song, what was at first an original sound would become a gimmick. Instead, the band looked to new horizons, realizing they could take their sound to higher altitudes.  Fuck Buttons want to take dance/electronica beyond the raves and gay night clubs.  Dance music has become a “boom boom boom boom” cliché. Fuck Buttons see that this music style can be grand, can go beyond what is copy and pasted on a laptop. It can build, layer upon layer. It can feature live instrumentation. It can gather sounds from beyond the digital world.  When I first heard the band name Fuck Buttons I thought it was in reference to the clitoris, but  with “Tarot Sport” I now know I was wrong. They are making a statement: “Fuck buttons!”  Electronica has relied on technology for too long. Instead, they take live tribal drums, growling guitars, and toss them into the digital mix.  Fuck Buttons have made an intrepid album that builds, much like their old sound, but shows the Bristol boys can be more potent and spacious than the girtty bite of “Street Horssing” would allow. 

17. Mos Def

“The Ecstatic”

By modern definition, “The Ecstatic” isn’t a rap album. It doesn’t contain any lyrics about driving in a Benz, wearing bling, or drinking Cristal. There are no sexual innuendos, tales of sex acts, or descriptions of shakin’ booties.  You won’t find any auto-tuner, in fact, Mos Def sings throughout the album with a voice that is smooth and rich.   The backing loops don’t even sound like the rap music of today. Mos Def sampled albums from Lebanon, Turkey, and Brazil (oh, and a little Marvin Gaye for good measure). Some songs sound Jamaican, others sound Arabic, and even one (“No Hay, Nadas Mas”) is rapped entirely in Spanish.  In fact, the entire album plays like a journey across the globe, with Mos Def professing lyrics about troubles that go beyond the hood.  Sure, the inner city can be tough, but try living a day in the ghetto of Iraq.

16. HEALTH

“Get Color”

This past fall I reviewed this album and claimed that HEALTH were now writing songs, which may have been misleading. The band is still as vicious as ever on “Get Color”, violently raging through a noise that is both clamorous and discordant like their work of the past. The only difference here is that they understand their music can be more than just noise; it can have peaks and valleys – it can have melodies.  Believe me, their are plenty of both rage and harmony to go around. While their self titled album leaves you beaten and bruised, “Get Color” serenades you to your feet just in time to take another wallop of destruction. 

15. Lightning Dust

“Infinite Light”

Although this album may seem sparse, it is much more complex and ambitious than your first assumptions.  Yes, Amber Webber’s warbly voice does sound lost in some type of echo chamber, but the music as a whole will fill up every corner of your room, drowning you with tales of wisdom and curiosity.  Lightning Dust proves that the folks behind Black Mountain can do more than write psychedelic metal (just imagine what could have happened if Black Sabbath and Joan Baez collaborated in the 70s).  This music is like a lost and distant star.  Amber guides us towards it, leading through the cosmos of sound, visiting strange, ancient melodies, and finally offering us up to the light.

14. Future of the Left

“Travels with Myself and Another”

If you’re expecting Future of the Left to be Mclusky with a different name, you’ve been mistaken. Yes, the lyrics are still witty and wry and the guitars at times still bark and growl at you, but the majority of the album has a different edge to it than the classic Mclusky work. “The Hope That House Built” is a march about jumping on the bandwagon of a hopeless cause, “Throwing Bricks at Trains” is Devo through a hardcore lense, and “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You” is Big Black for the new millenium.  In the song Falco screams “It doesn’t smell like a man! It doesn’t taste like a man! but does it fuck like a man?”  The same question could be asked of Future of the Left. It doesn’t always sound or smell like Mclusky, but it still sure fucks like Mclusky.

13. BiRd-BrAiNs

“tUnE-yArDs”

Merrill Garbus, the brains behind BiRd-BrAiNs, recorded her entire album from her home, using only a loop pedal, a ukulele, a drum set, and a digital recorder.  With such a simple palette, it doesn’t seem like she could take the sound very far, but you would be mistaken.  “tUnE-yArDs” is an accomplishment in resourcefulness because she is somehow able to create music that is complex and ever-changing.  At times it is simple folk music, at others it is calming R&B.  Unlike most of the R&B on the radio, BiRd-BrAiNs is personal and real.  Throughout the album you can hear the echoing voice of a little boy talking, laughing, and coughing in the background (I’m guessing he’s her son but I have no proof of who the mystery child is) and he becomes a part of the music, a character in her little world.  Throughout the album, she somehow takes the sounds of cars passing or a child coughing and meshes them into her tunes, making mistakes sound like an intrical part of the song.  While many artists try to take their sound to uncharted territories, she somehow makes home sound like a new and alien place. 

12. Wavves

“Wavves”

It’s easy to hate Nathan Williams. His melt-down at the Primavera Festival in Spain became a YouTube sensation earlier this year. He was sarcastic, bratty, and simply put, an asshole.  Yet, I feel he’s gotten a bad rap. We all have bad days, right? In the same style as the ESPN show that tries to defend Dennis Rodman’s behavior, I’m going to give you “Five Reasons You Can’t Blame Nathan Williams”:

 5. Wavves never wanted to be famous. Their first album was self-released and recorded in William’s bedroom on a 4-track. It was simply a kid having fun with his guitar.

4. Williams was on a mixture of Valium, Ecstasy, and alcohol the night of the famous Spain show.  Sure, we can blame him for being so fucked up, but do you think his 2009 album would be so damn cool and divergent if he were a sober fella?

3. People from Spain are not worthy of Wavves. Get over it, filthy Imperials.

2. Drummer Ryan Ulsh was holding Nathan back…of course, I have no proof of this.

1. The band got too big, too quick.  Their album came out in February, and within a couple weeks, they were the biggest buzz band of 2009.  Within a month, they were playing before festival crowds (including SXSW) that they never could have imagined when recording their first album. 

Despite these facts, many moved past Wavves, judging Williams by his behavior and not his music.  Their loss. Wavve’s self-titled album is a roller coaster ride through no-fi Valhalla, a combination of crackling guitars and spacey synths with Nathan’s muffled voice shouting throughout.  This is damn good stuff; you can’t deny it. But then again, maybe I’m biased. After all, I always did find Rodman’s behavior on the court to be refreshing and graceful, a beautiful disaster prancing up and down the court.

11. Alela Diane

“To Be Still”

“To Be Still” is not cutting-edge, nor is it going to change the face of music as we know it.  Its strength lies in its familiarity. No, it doesn’t sound like anything on the radio, yet you feel like you know this voice; you know these stories.  Throughout “To Be Still” Alela paints pictures of nature, all images and colors you’ve seen in your time, yet not from her unique perspective.  “To Be Still” is an album that is cozy and welcoming like a campfire.  Sit. Be still. Let Alela’s glow captivate you, filling your soul with warmth and comforting you through the cold winter nights.

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Top 50 Songs of 2009 (1-25)

25. Akron/Family
“River”

In the 90s, Big Bad VooDoo Daddy scored a hit with “You and Me and the Bottle Makes Three”, a title Marilyn Manson jump off from with “You and Me and the Devil Makes Three”. I prefer Akron/Family’s approach in “River” singing “You and me and the fire makes three”, warm imagery of what it’s like to be out in nature with your two companions being a river and a campfire. Oh, but I know there is much more going on here. Could the fire be symbolic of the feelings felt between two lovers, with the female being hard to get a grasp of much like a river? Or maybe I’m just an English teacher in search of symbolism…

24. Wavves
“Beach Demon”

Yes, I know Nathan Williams, the genius behind Wavves, is a dick, but I’m sure John Lennon could be an asshole at times too.

23. Wilco
“You Never Know”

Speaking of the Beatles, is it just me or does this song sound like the spawn of George Harrison? Don’t hear it? Get two minutes and 55 seconds in and maybe you’ll know what I’m talking about – the answers hidden within the sliding guitar solo. Even if you don’t hear the ghost of George, at least take joy in Jeff Tweedy dropping all his worries and singing a happy song for a change.

22. Alela Diane
“White as Diamonds”

There is nothing quite as hypnotic as the sound of Alela’s voice jumping into falsetto throughout this song. Just when you are falling in a dreamlike sleep, the notes shoot out at you, surprising you and casting an irresistable spell like Cupid’s arrow.

21. Bill Callahan
“All Thoughts are Prey to Some Beast”

If you saw “The Hangover”, you may recall the moment where Mike Tyson is enthralled by the pounding drum fill of Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight”. “All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast” has the same rumbling drums, although they don’t attack you like Tyson in the boxing ring. Instead, like a musical Lennox Lewis, the drums slowly overtake you, building and building and building throughout the six-minute opus. This song is larger than life with lyrics to match (I included them all; they’re that damn good):

The leafless tree looked like a brain
The birds within were all the thoughts and desires within me
Hoppin’ around from branch to branch, or snug in their nests listenin’ in

An eagle came over the horizon and shook the branches with its sight
The softer thoughts: starlings, finches, and wrens
The softer thoughts, they all took flight

The eagle looked clear through the brain tree, emptying thoughts saved for me
Maybe I’ll make this one my home, consolidate the nests of the tiny
Raise a family of might like me

Then something struck him, wings of bone
Sweet desires and soft thoughts were all gone
The eagle shrieked, “I’m alone”

Well it was time to flee the tree
The eagle snuck up on the wind one talon at a time
Being sky king of the sky, what did he have to fear
All thoughts are prey to some beast
All thoughts are prey to some beast

Sweet desire and soft thoughts, return to me
Sweet desire and soft thoughts, return to me

20. Mirah
“Generosity”

This song was featured as the intro-music to E!’s “Live From the Red Carpet” show for the Oscars (don’t make fun of me; my girlfriend was watching it). The choice seems fitting for a night where actors and actresses dress to impress. Mirah usually records music that is bare-bones and personal, but her song “Generosity” shows her dressing up her music with an elegant string section and a verbose presentation that fit perfectly amidst Hollywood’s self-congratulatory pomp and circumstance.

19. Cam’ron
“(I Hate) My Job”

It’s too bad this song wasn’t released back in 1999. It would have worked great alongside “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta” on the “Office Space” soundtrack. Actually, 2009 might have been the worst year to release this song. How can you complain about your job when a large portion of our country is jobless? Despite this fact, I still feel this song is an instant classic due to the fact that most people, at some point, hate their job. I love my profession, but at times, the people in power make it very difficult to enjoy what I do. On days filled with frustration at work, there is no better tune to help release the stress on your commute home.

18. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“Skeletons”

There are many facets to Karen O. She can be bratty, loud, sexy, and even at times, psychotic. She is at her best though when she lets down her guard, exposing her vulnerability. “Skeletons” may not be the most upbeat song on “It’s Blitz”, nor is it the catchiest track, but in my humble opinion, it is the album’s high-point. Karen is no longer hiding behind a drum machine or slashing synth riff. Her heart is exposed for all to see, hidden only by the uncoiling back-bone of orchestra and clicking drum sticks, always on the verge of breaking yet somehow staying steady throughout.

17. Future of the Left
“Arming Eritrea”

Fuck Rick. Who ever he is, he must be quite the douche to get such an angry tirade from Future of the Left’s Andy Falkous. We’ve heard Falco get pissed about many things with his influential band Mclusky, but never have I heard him pinpoint one mother fucker this directly. Sure, the title suggests the song has deeper meaning, but I like to believe that the song is primarily about that shit-dick Rick.

16. Dananananaykroyd
“Black Wax”

Speaking of Mclusky,Dananananaykroyd has obviously listened to “Do Dallas” a few times. Although they do a nice job of trying to fill the classic band’s void, their best song is actually a simple pop song that doesn’t follow the Mclusky formula. “Black Wax” shows the band being able to level out their cheeky behavior with just a dash of charm. Cheers to melodies!

15. Eat Skull
“Stick to the Formula”

While on the subject of formulas (damn, I’m getting good at this whole transition thing), Eat Skull want you to “do to the formula!”. Somehow, with all the clang and clamor they create, Eat Skull found a plum of a chorus. Unlike geometry formulas, the chorus of this song will stick in your head for infinity. If I were a math teacher I would use this song in my class daily. Unfortunately, we don’t do formulas in English (I do teach transitions though!).

14. Built to Spill
“Good Ol’ Boredom”

It’s kind of ironic that the best song on Built to Spill’s ho-hum 2009 release “There is No Enemy” is a song with the word “boredom” in the title. There is too much going on in this song to make it boring. The guitars are piled on top of each other cautiously like a seven layer dip, each part adding its own zest to the final product. There is one guitar line that stands out above all the rest, swooping and momentous like a 21st Century “Free Bird”.

13. BLK JKS
“Lakeside”

This song is a lot like “Weekend at Bernie’s” (in a good way). It opens up sounding dreadful, with spooky harmonizing and a menacing guitar line (there is nothing spookier than dragging a dead guy around a beach). Then of course, the band breaks into the chorus, an upbeat, African-ska-energy infused celebration that would even get life-less Bernie to join in on a conga line.

12. Volcano Choir
“Island, IS”

“Unmap” is a strange album. It is made up of “songs” where awkward instruments squawk clumsily, never really taking shape. It is definitely miles away from the melodic folk music we’ve grown accustomed to with Justin Vernon. “Island, IS” plays as the saviour to the album. It’s almost as if Vernon wanted to throw us off with one master work that delves into environs he’s never visited, to remind us there is still more to come from Bon Iver (plus, any song that mentions “the old tits on your hard drive” is a winner in my book).

11. Nadja
“Needle in the Hay”

Who would have thought an Elliot Smith song could be made more depressing? Nadja does just that, injecting the once intimate song with an eery dose of ambient-doom. The voice is buried beneath the bedlam, a ghostly whisper of “needle in the hay” that will send chills up your spine if you ever grew to know Elliot personally through his music.

10. Mountain Goats
“Drug Life”

What happened to the Mountain Goats of old? They were lo-fi before lo-fi was cool. Using his trusty four-track recorder, John Darnielle used to write hilarious songs with titles like “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” and “I Love You. Let’s Light Ourselves on Fire”. A lot has changed. In 2009, the Mountain Goats released “The Life of the World to Come”, a highly polished album of 12 songs about 12 verses from the bible. I may be mistaken, but I don’t remember the bible having any punch lines (unless you count the burning bush). Fortunately, Merge Records released “Score! 20 Years of Merge Records”, a compilation of indie artists covering classic songs by Merge bands from the past. Darnielle is matched up with “Drug Life” by East River Pipe (a band I definitely need to check out after hearing this song and the Okkervil River cover of “All You Little Suckers”). It ended up being a perfect match due to its hilarious lyrics, something Darnielle abandoned years ago. And just to make us nostalgic, Darnielle records it in his familiar lo-fi style. What a tease.

9. Neko Case
“People Got A Lotta Nerve”

You mean to tell me Neko Case wrote a song with the chorus “I’m a man-eater” and it’s better than Hall & Oates classic? I’ll leave that up for to debate, but her “man-eater” is a killer whale while Hall & Oates are afraid of some chick. What pussies.

8. Passion Pit
“Moth’s Wings”

Can you believe this band is on Frenchkiss Records, home of Les Savy Fav, Plastic Constellations, and the Fatal Flying Guilloteens? It seems like a strange fit, but I can’t blame label head Syd Butler for signing them. Their songs are scrumptious treats, frosted in sugary synths and Michael Angelako’s sacchariferous falsetto. Of all their tasty tunes, “Moth’s Wings” would be the cheese cake, with its complex, creamy textures and its rich, fulfilling melody.

7. HEALTH
“Die Slow”

Industrial music died with the 90s, right? Not according to HEALTH. On “Die Slow”, the band explores new territories in the genre, combining metalic synths with BJ Miller’s insane drumming and the hellacious scream of guitars, all of which seems to be traveling through some type of black-hole-vortex. Taking a nod from Nine Inch Nail’s underrated “The Fragile”, the band sees how live and digital instruments can live together in perfect harmony (or in this case, perfect dissonance).

6. Mos Def
“Supermagic”

While most rappers gave up on sampling years ago, Mos Def realizes there is still some magic hidden on the shelves of the local record store. On “Supermagic”, Mos Def pulled an LP out the Turkish Folk section, sampling “Ince Ince”, a song by the 1970s protest singer Selda. To make an already tight song tighter, he rewords Mary Poppin’s classic “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” with his cooler, darker version “Super magic black origin freshly out of dopeness”. Selda meets Mary Poppins? Now that would be one magic woman.

5. Cymbals Eat Guitars
“And the Hazy Sea”

Cymbals Eat Guitars set their listeners up for a major disappointment by putting “And the Hazy Sea” at the start of their 2009 release “Why There Are Mountains”. Nothing can stand up to the climatic nature of this song, yet you listen to the remainder of the album hoping those feelings will return. Like a 12 hour sex romp with Sting, “And the Hazy Sea” jams orgasm after orgasm into six minutes, leaving you sweaty and incapacitated.

4. Matt and Kim
“Daylight”

Matt and Kim are “the little band that could”. I’ve been enjoying their music for a couple years now, thinking of them as my little pop-secret. Never did I expect to hear their boisterous ditty “Daylight” on TV shows (“Community”), advertisements (an ad for “Bacardi”), and video games (“NBA Live 2010, FIFA 2010″, and “Sims 3″). “Daylight’s” success proves that with a great melody, any band can break through that glass ceiling (although, I suspect that Matt blackmailed EA Games at some point in the past year).

3. Animal Collective
“Girls”

There is something childlike to “Girls”, yet the lyrics speak of what it means to grow up and be a father. Commonly, the music of artists begins to wane with age and the added stress of wife, kids, etc. As usual, Animal Collective break the mold, managing to sound better than ever, even making parenthood sound fun…sleep loss, screaming babies, and poopy diapers -fun? Why must you fuck with my head A.C.?

2. The Very Best
“Warm Heart of Africa (featuring Ezra Koenig”

Last year The Very Best took Vampire Weekend’s song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and put the Columbia alums back in their place, bringing authenticity to the African inspired song. In 2009, Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend decided to join forces with his tormentors to lend his vocals to “Warm Heart of Africa”. With their powers combined – The Very Best’s African beats and Ezra’s s tender voice -these musical Avengers berate you until you are up on your feet dancing and singing along to African words that you don’t understand.

1. Phoenix
“Love Like a Sunset Part I and II”

Phoenix is a simple pop band that creates great hooks, right? Yes, and no. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me present to you evidence: “Love is a Sunset pt. I & II”, a sprawling, atmospheric journey of astronomical proportions. Like a ride through “It’s a Small World After All”, the song takes you through all of the regions music can provide your brain – it baffles and broadens, it pacifies and presses, it’s simple yet cinematic, it penetrates and motivates- simply put, this song will change your life, if you can only lend it a moment of your time.

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Top 50 Songs of 2009 (26-50)

50. Dutchess and the Duke
“Scorpio”


The harmonizing voices on this song perfectly capture the heartbreak of the narrator. Despite being near his lover, he still feels miles apart. A few weeks ago I was playing this song in my classroom during journal time, and one of my students commented that it sounded like something from “Juno”. I agreed, although I don’t remember Moldy Peaches ever sounding this damn beautiful.

49. NOFX
“Best God in Show”

Despite releasing a couple lackluster albums in the past few years, NOFX still have a gift for catching you off-guard. On the surface, “Best God in Show” is a happy-hippy jam, but when you get past the joyful ska riff and cheery organ, NOFX is once again questioning religion in a way that is both humorous and thought-provoking.

48. M. Ward
“Never Had Nobody Like You”

Once you get past the use of a double negative in the title, you will find M. Ward has written another hum-able gem that would fit perfectly alongside other classics on “Transfiguration of Vincent”. It’s just too bad he had to let Budweiser throw it into a comercial about guys hi-fiving…who okays these things and deems them as funny?

47. Jay-Z
“DOA (Death to Auto-Tune)

Jay-Z is the godfather of the rap world. When the Hova says auto-tune is dead, you better take notice. Like a modern-day Biz Markie, Jay-Z howls “Na, na, na, na! Hey, hey, hey! Goodbye!” off-key throughout the song, along with the use of live instrumentation, ranging from a squealing saxophone to a sultry guitar line. While most of the rap world has become a caricature of their former selves, Jay-Z continues to sing his own song, even if it is out of tune.

46. Bon Iver
“Woods”

Wait just one second Jay-Z…like a musical zombie, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon breathed new life into the auto-tuner with this captivating new approach to the played-out device. Somehow the old timey lyrics of “I’m building a still” work perfectly through the 21st century lens, sounding like a robotic barbershop quartet. And somehow, Vernon is still able to convey the loneliness and solitude of being alone in the woods.

45. Slayer
“Americon”

In a year where we got a glimpse of the stock market’s dirty under-belly and the corruption of American big business, it’s nice to see Slayer take a break from wreaking havoc on Christianity and focusing on the sick fucks who have preyed upon the middle class of this country for too long. There is something poetic about such an “evil” band taking on the true evil of this “land of deceit”.

44. Ty Segall
“Lovely One”

Ty Segall is often banging away at his guitar from start to finish, but on “Lovely One” he takes a break from his distortion pedal, starting off with a calming little guitar strum, eventually leading into the infectious chorus that would fit perfectly alongside The Animals and The Loving Spoonful on a classic oldies station.

43. Lightning Dust
“I Knew”

This song seems pressing despite the lack of a real drum track. The pulsing undertone continues from start to finish while the piano and organ truly take shape as percussion instruments, driving the two-minute romp through its existential path. How can something sound aged and cutting edge at the same time?

42. Pissed Jeans
“Goodbye (Hair)”

Historically, hardcore punk songs are about several defined topics: criticizing the government, criticizing the use of drugs/alcohol, or conveying how horrible it is to be a teenager. Pissed Jeans like to take a different stance. On past albums they’ve lamented the difficulties of being a stalker, the shame felt when cumming, and the perils of scrapbooking. On their 2009 release “King of Jeans” they even present the misery felt during the process of losing your hair:

I still can’t believe this is happening. I’m not fifty years old. I consider myself a young adult and want others to see me this way. If my looks deteriorate, it’ll wreak havoc on my self-esteem. Is that what I have to look forward to?

 Although humorous (and hitting a little close to home for a bald fella like myself) the song also conveys the anguish and frustration that is associated with growing old and losing your youth, one hair at a time.

41. Phoenix
“1901”

I know what you’re thinking: “How could he put this song so low on his list?!” Yes, I will admit that when I first heard this song during the spring, I played it endlessly. It’s catchy as hell and is even capable of getting a white boy like myself on his feet dancing (after a few beers mind you). Unfortunately, my love has turned to loathing due to the Cadillac ads played in heavy rotation during the commercial break of every football game. Despite this hatred, I still can’t deny what a great song it is, or was (don’t worry, Phoenix gets more cred on this list…)

40. The Love Language
“Lalita”

You’ve heard this song before, but in actuality you haven’t. Weird? That is the power of The Love Language my friends. Quit trying to remember where you heard it and just sit back and enjoy the tune you’ve never heard before but swear you have.

39. Morrissey
“Something’s Squeezing My Skull”

When Morrissey expresses that he is “doing fine”, you know he’s lying. Despite being an older gentleman, he still seems to be dealing with his demons, some of which take pleasure in squeezing his skull. Drugs? The perils of relationships? Insanity? Who cares really. At least musically Morrissey sounds better than ever, with a Gang of Four, angular riff and the closing chant of “Don’t give me anymore!” that you just can’t get enough of.

38. The Thermals
“Now We Can See”

The fact that you are hooked on this song within 10 seconds says it all.

37. Sonic Youth
“Thunderclaps for Pyn”

http://bobdylanwrotepropagandasongs.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/09-sonic_youth-thunderclap_for_bobby_pyn2.mp3

When I lived in Omaha I liked to go to the Old Country Buffet on barbeque night. I’d skip over the salad bar, the fried foods section, and even noodle salad row in search of one thing: BBQ ribs. I’d fill my plate with ribs, and ribs only. When all that remained was a plate with meat-less bones I’d go back for seconds, engulfing a pig’s entire rib cage by the end of my visit.  Sonic Youth’s “The Eternal” is much like a buffet line, featuring a wide range of Sonic sounds from over the years, ranging from the art noise of early days to the sparser atmospheres of recent albums. But, like a plate of short ribs, this past year I often found myself skipping over the other tunes in search of a nice earful of “Thunderclaps for Pyn”.  Yummy!

36. Lightning Bolt
“Sublime Freak”

How do you make a Lightning Bolt song more chaotic? Add bongos. But there is so much more going on in this song; there is actually a chorus! YES FOLKS! A CHORUS! And if you listen close enough, it almost sounds like a 1960s surfer tune. I can see the beach blanket gogo dancers now…

35. Japandroids
“The Boys are Leaving Town”

Sure, this song has sentimental value for me, reminding me of my road trip this past summer where Paul and I listened to this at the beginning of our trip and later saw the band perform in Boise, Idaho. But this song made its way on this list for more reasons than the memories associated with it. Simply put, it kicks ass. Being the anti-thesis to Cheap Trick’s “Boys are Back in Town”, Japandroids have taken the classic teenage angst of leaving town and given it a jolt with rolling, jumpy drum fills and passionate, lo-fi vocals.

34. Andrew Bird
“Fitz and the Dizzyspells”

Every interview/review I read about Andrew Bird’s 2009 release “Noble Beast” focused heavily on the album’s use of whistling. This is for good reason. Every song on the album features whistling at some point, an aspect that becomes annoying pretty quickly. Only on “Fitz and Dizzyspells” does Andrew find a happy medium between his violin and pierced lips, creating a joyful romp that begs you to put a smile on your face.

33. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“Zero”

Karen O singing about leather? I’m sold.

32. Animal Collective
“Brother Sport”

In the past few years the tribal sounds of bands like MIA and El Guincho have become more and more popular.  How soon we forget that Animal Collective brought this sound to the forefront years ago.  On “Merriwether Post Pavillion” the boys finish the album off with “Brother Sport”, a tropical rumpus that works perfectly as a final track due to its celebratory tone. It also serves as a reminder that the Collective can still make you shake your ass off if they really want to.

31. Lou Barlow
“The One I Call”

I know, I know. I hate love songs too.  And I’ll admit, Lou Barlow’s “One I Call” would probably work great on a John Cusack chick flick.  But you can’t resist its earnest lyrics nor can you deny the comfort of the combination of Lou’s voice and his guitar. If I saw Lou on the street, I’d probably yell to him, “Great song Lou!” to which he’d glare at me in disgust (inside joke).

30. Blank Dogs
“Open/Shut”

Guided By Voices meets The Cure circa 1980s? Oh, what a sweet combination, like peanut butter and jelly.

29. Propagandhi
“Dear Coach’s Corner”

Propagandhi usually rage against racism, government, and of course the fact that “Meat is murder”.  But never before have I heard them write about such unique subjects as they do on “Supporting Caste”.  The best has to be “Dear Coach’s Corner”, a vial criticism of the Canadian hockey show “Coach’s Corner” (I guess with Bush out of office, their song material got cut in half). The ranting tune basically states an annoyance with announcers conveying their own agendas when in the end, it’s just a game. Shut the fuck up:

Dear Ron McLane, I wouldn’t bother with these questions
if I didn’t sense some spiritual connection.
We may not be the same, but it’s not like we’re from different planets.
We both love this game so much we can hardly fucking stand it. 

 There is something admirable in Propagandhi’s approach; no one is free from being criticized. Who wouldn’t like to hear a song ripping into Bill Walton, Bob Davie, or Joe Buck?

28. Jay Reatard
“Wounded”

Everything in this song has its function. The “lade-da-da” that starts the song leads into a sweet little acoustic guitar lick, jumping straight into Jay’s yelling anthem, and finally kicking into the fist pumping chorus. And then, when you think you’ve figured it all out, the song finishes off with a killer closer that would put “Hey Jude” to shame.  Jay Reatard is a master songwriter; it’s about time we all accept his God-liness.

27. Matt and Kim
“Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare”

Matt and Kim songs are so simple. A plinking piano over a pounding drum beat and Matt’s nasally whine. Yet, with only these few elements they are able to write irresistable pop hits. While “Daylight” may be considered their breakout hit in 2009, “Good Ol Fashion Nightmare” is just as charming and replay-able.

26. Beirut
“My Night With the Prostitute From Marseille”

When I heard Beirut was releasing a double CD (one disc of them performing with a mexican mariachi band and another of Zach Condon singing over electronic music), I expected the first CD to be the better of the two but was disappointed by his Mexican offering.  Instead, I fell in love with the second disc of five dance songs, devoid of trumpets and accordians.  While two of the songs are about hookers, “My Night With the Prostitute From Marseille” is the obvious stand-out of the album.

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Best/Worst Album Covers of 2009

Unfortunately, there will not be any “Road Trip” blogs for two weeks due to all of my trip photos being on my home computer.  Never fear! The best of lists are here! Over the next couple weeks we will be unveiling our top albums, songs, and below, our best and worst album covers.  Enjoy your holiday season, and of course, enjoy our look back on 2009.

The Worst…

10. Kenny Chesney
“Greatest Hits II”

It looks like Kenny's roadies left all his gear on the beach. I guess he'll have to load it all himself! Fortunately, he doesn't have any sleeves to roll up.

9. Green Day
“21st Century Breakdown”

I think this album is supposed to look urban, dirty, and rebellious. Instead, it looks like a polished paint by numbers.

8. Susan Boyle
“I Dreamed a Dream”

When you are famous for being ugly with a beautiful voice, you probably shouldn't plaster your ugly mug on the CD cover, even if your hands are covering half of the mess. Like Obama would say, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." (Too harsh?)

7. Monsters of Folk
“s/t”
Oh! I get it! It’s folk stars in cartoon form! There’s Conor Oberst, Jim James, M. Ward and there’s….um…there’s….the dude from “Doonesbury”?
6. Adam Lambert
“For Your Entertainment”

Gay.

5. Twisted Sister
“Big Hits and Nasty Cuts: The Best of Twisted Sister”

I don't know what's worse: five 50-year-olds in ripped jeans and make-up or the monster's claws ripping through their image.

4. Chris Brown
“Graffiti”

Obviously, Chris Brown is not the best at making good decisions, but who knows what he was thinking with this cover. Maybe he's auditioning for the part of Judge Doom in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2". "Hey evil cartoon creatures! If you don't help me with my plan I'll spray you with The Dip!"

3. Ben’s Brother
“Battling Giants”

It looks like somebody went a little overboard with their collage. "But there were so many cool pics to cut out of my 'National Geographic!"

2. Bill Engvall
“Aged and Confused”

God is great. Beer is good. The world is crazy! EL OH EL!

1. Brooke Hogan
“The Redemption”

I know money may be tight for the Hulkster these days but this is God awful...I'm guessing Hulk must have owed a favor to a blind South Beach air-brush artist.

The Best…

10. The Black Lips
“200 Million Thousand”

At first glance this cover may seem lame with its scrawled letters and monotonous black and white lines, but if you stare at it a little longer, a gruesome face will emerge from the mess of lines. Beware!

9. Grizzly Bear
“Vecktamist”

I don't get Grizzly Bear, and it frustrates me to no end. Their 2009 release "Vectamist" has been critically acclaimed, yet I listen to it and find myself yawning. What am I missing here? Well, at least I can appreciate the album's expressionist cover, a vibrant blend of triangular shapes and chipping paint.

8. Baroness
“Blue Album”

It sure is nice having a graphic artist in your band.

7. Weezer
“Raditude”

Sure, this Weezer album sucks dog balls, but you can't deny the shear awesomeness featured in this image of a canine catapulting across a living room. If I could describe this picture in one word, it would "RADITUDE"! (Eck, I just gave myself douche chills)

6. Antlers
“Hospice”

This cover may seem boring and simple, but that is what makes it so brilliant. Everything seems to fit perfectly: the contrast of the colors and the cyclical feel of the two hands reaching out. When you notice that the left upper-hand is wearing a hospital wristband, the album's title "Hospice" takes on a much larger meaning.

5. Flaming Lips
“Embryonic”

This isn't the cartoony water color Flaming Lips cover you've grown accustomed too, which is fitting when considering the stark change in style the album contains. Dark and appalling, both the grimey music and the cover's image of a woman attempting to emerge from a hairy cocoon will leave you confused yet searching for more.

4. Dinosaur Jr.
“Farm”

I'm not sure if these walking plants are inspired by LOTR's Ents, or if they are supposed to be giant pot plants, but there is something damn cool about this image of vegetation dudes carrying cute women away from the city smog. It doesn't really fit the album's grinding riffs and howling guitar solos, but when a cover is this kick-ass, does it matter?

3. Biffy Clyro
“Only Revolutions”

This is a truly captivating photograph that only raises questions. Are these two being held captive? Why is there a fire? What do the sheets waving in the wind represent? Are they being held back? Or do they somehow represent sexual tension? Or am I just going crazy? It's too bad the band's music isn't nearly as interesting as this photo that will lead you to either enlightenment or insanity.

2. Animal Collective
“Merriweather Post Pavilion”

Stare at the picture for a moment. Is it moving like water? What makes it even cooler is how fitting it is alongside "Merriweather Post Pavilion's" watery, spaced out sounds.

1. Yo La Tengo
“Popular Songs”

A rusty, unravelling cassette tape - not only does it make you nostalgic for the age of the mix-tape, but it also makes you a little sad. Kids being born today will never own a physical piece of digital media. All their music, movies, and video games will be kept on a hard drive, not taking up space and gathering dust in the basement. At the same time, they will never know the joy of making that perfect blend of songs to be listened to ad nauseam in your car as your cruise the loop. As much as us "Hippies and a Ouija Board" want to keep this era alive, sometimes "Ghosts Don't Always Want to Come Back".

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Megadeth “Rust in Peace”

Megadeth
“Rust in Peace”
(Capitol Records)

Although I wasn’t old enough to realize it at the time, the 80’s were an oasis, an everlasting cultural paradise. Album after album of classic rip roaring metal coming out, seemingly on a daily basis. Bands that were okay in the 70’s became unstoppable monoliths in the 80’s; promising 70’s metal bands fulfilled their potential and then some. Even bands thought DOA by the end of the 70’s were given new life by the fertile atmosphere of ensuing decade.

All bands had to do was grow their hair long and wear leather in order to release a classic album. Was their something in the water? Was it do with some clandestine CIA operation? Did Reagan know or have anything to do with it? Whatever it was, it worked; the 80’s were and will always remain metal’s peak.

Of course, all the great metal got God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost’s attention. Satan had ruled the 80’s and they could not let it happen again. So on December 31, 1989, they set up a wall of angels in order to shield the people of earth from metal. Every would-be classic metal album was seen coming way ahead of time by the winged sentinels and crushed by the mighty angels. No high quality metal could penetrate this wall, the angels were there to fuck metal’s shit up and that is exactly what they did. Jesus had instructed the Satan pounding angels to especially look out for thrash metal albums. He was worried that the genre was getting too big and that the unholy thrash coming from bands like Exodus, Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, Testament, and Kreator was becoming too much of an influence on potential converts. Plus, the Holy Trinity had decided nothing that technically and compositionally sick could be made without some assistance from Satan. “Their axe wielding and song writing skills, along with their sacrilegious and irreverent lyrics clearly have Satan’s fingerprints all over them,” the Holy Ghost was overheard telling Jesus. “No decent thrash may pass” became a slogan of the holy haloed warriors.

And the 90’s would have stayed a thrash free zone if it were not for a man named Dave Mustaine. Mustaine was the leader of a band called Megadeth whose second album, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying, had particularly pissed Jesus off, cos everyone knows that Jesus owns the biggest peace dealership in the galaxy. But the Trinity were not too worried about Megadeth, as their third album, 1988’s So Far, So Good… So What!, was loaded with filler and 1990 had found Mustaine in a drug rehab facility. Thus, Megadeth was not on the Ass Rapers of All Things Satanic (ARATS)’s watch list. But obviously, this was all part of Satan’s plan. It was Satan that had seen to it that Mustaine suffered from writer’s block during the making of the third album, and it was Satan that convinced Mustaine to fire the guitarist Chris Poland after Peace Sells and replace him with a far less talented axe wielder. Satan knew if he could just get one good thrash album through into the 90’s it would open the floodgates. (His first plan involved Metallica, but they were high up on ARAT’s watchlist and the white army had already made sure they were reduced to whiny babies and pussy sell outs who loved money more than making good music, so Satan hatched another plan). And Mustaine was his chosen man. Mustaine kicked the heroin habit, found a badass second guitarist in Marty Friedman, wrote & recorded nine killer songs in less than a year; all while flying low enough under the radar to sneak up and find a crack in the angels’ wall (now seriously think about it, could that be done without Satan’s help?).

The angels in heaven still to this day kick themselves in the ass for letting Rust in Peace through, cos what an album it is. Not only is it Megadeth’s best album, it is one of the best thrash albums of all time. There is absolutely no filler and every song has some badassed guitar duels between Mustaine and Friedman. These aren’t even songs, they are thrash suites executed with awesome skill. This is one technical mother fucker, with riffs to die for. And for those who say Mustaine’s voice sucks (of which I am not one), should just drown out his voice by singing along with these politically and socially aware anthems. “Brother will kill brother/Spilling blood across the land/Killing for religion/Something I don’t understand.” Or my personal favorite to sing along to: “Take no prisoners, take no shit!” But seriously, “Poison Was the Cure” has the best anti-drug lyrics ever put to music.

This album is seriously underrated, it is a classic that should be in every metal, nay, music lovers library. And it should be heralded for the fact that it was the album that put a crack in the thrash hating angels’ wall, (although the crack was only there for two weeks, just long enough for Slayer to get Seasons in the Abyss through, after which it was discovered and sealed shut. Another decent thrash album was not let through until the 00’s, when the angels realized that listening to metal did not make one murder others or sacrifice goats) but it is hardly ever recognized as such, mostly due to ignorance. (and Jesus’ successful campaign to turn everyone’s attention to Metallica’s Black Album as it obviously sucked and lacked the power of Satan). So we here at BDWPS do what should have been done almost 20 years ago, proclaim it a masterpiece and bestow upon it its deserved status of being an all time Classic album.

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Bob Dylan “Christmas in the Heart”

Bob Dylan
“Christmas in the Heart”
(Sony)

Rating: 5.5

Why Bob? Why? A Christmas album? Really? Is it for the money? No, all proceeds go to charities. Couldn’t you have just asked us to donate money? We would have in order to avoid this, I promise! Have you lost your touch? No, your last few albums, “Modern Times” and “Together Through Life” prove that you still have that magic touch.  Then why Bob? Why a Christmas album of covers by our country’s greatest songwriter?

The only answer that seems to work is that Bob is testing us.  And really, looking back over his 50 year career, he’s fucked with us a lot.  From his days as a folk hero, to the day he turned to the dark side and plugged in his instrument.  From his days as a born again Christian in the 80s, to his 90s work as a 1950s revivalist.  Bob is basically the music equivalent to Andy Kaufman, always testing us and surprising us with an unexpected heel turn just when we think we have him pegged.

Through his career, one constant in Dylan’s ever-changing sound is the fact that he does things his way, never giving in to his label’s request and always staying true to his craft. Heck, our website pays tribute to the man for being a beacon of independence.  But Bob doesn’t care about our reverence.  Once again he’s gone against expectation, doing the most corporate of corporate things and recording an overly produced, schmaltzy Christmas album. 

 The music backing Dylan sounds exactly like the classic Christmas tunes we grew up on: jingling jingle bells, harmonizing choir boys “oohing” and “ahhing”, and a sweeping string section to top it all off.  The only difference between Dylan’s Christmas album and a Bing Crosby Christmas is the voice singing the songs.  Bob’s voice is at its worst here.  Either he had the swine flu while recording or sometime between “Together Through Life” and “Christmas in the Heart” Bob entered a cocoon and emerged as Tom Waits. 

 With Bob’s voice a-rasping, you can’t help but giggle through the majority of the album.  He can’t be serious, can he?  He sounds like your drunk uncle growling out Christmas carols while spilling splashes of his egg nog on the wrapping paper covered carpet. Is this a joke?  If he was aiming for a comedy Christmas, he’s got himself a hit album, but I get the sense he is very serious about these classic holiday standards.  Dylan’s radio show makes it patently apparent that the guy has a strong admiration for the music he grew up on, and that same passion for the past can be heard on this album. But did it have to be a torturous 15 songs?

 The album does have its moments, although few and far between. The first minute of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” seems darkly depressing, giving a new perspective to the classic.  Then of course, the over-production says a big “fuck you” to the listener with a barbershop quartet stepping in and erasing any semblance of artistic sentiment.  “Christmas Island” shows Dylan having some fun with a ukulele, and “Must Be Santa” is a rip-roaring polka romp that will have you on your feet, square dancing around the Christmas tree with a mug of Warsteiner in your hand.

 Who knows what Dylan is thinking, and I guess that’s a good thing.  The day he does what we expect is the day we need to register him in a nursing home.  I’m just waiting for the Tony Clifton version of Dylan.

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