Monthly Archives: January 2010

“One Fast Move or I’m Gone” Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard

“One Fast Move or I’m Gone”
Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard
Atlantic Records

Rating: 6

“One Fast Move or I’m Gone” is a documentary on Jack Kerouac’s experiences at Big Sur, the subject of his last novel Big Sur.  Taking on this concept album is Uncle Tupelo’s Jay Farrar and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, a strange, yet intriguing combination. They created the album in quintessential Kerouac style with the duo writing and recording all the songs within three days, much like the writer’s improvisational writing style. Again, intriguing approach. 

Unfortunately, the soundtrack doesn’t live  up to expectations.  The songs sound like they were written in three days, mostly mediocre strum-athon’s that never really take shape.  Songs like “These Roads Don’t Move” and “Low-Life Kingdom” could have possibly been strong if given more than a few days to ferment.  Otherwise, one song’s steel guitar bleeds into the next, with nothing much standing out or making a statement.

Farrar’s offerings are stronger than Gibbard’s, but I guess I’ve never been much of a fan of Ben’s voice. I can appreciate Death Cab For Cutie, but that’s about as far as it goes. His vocals really don’t work when conveying Kerouac’s words, while Farrar’s gruff baritone seems more up the bedouin’s rustic road.  Gibbard sounds big city; Farrar sounds a little more like a man that has ridden the rails and sat on mountain tops.

The lyrics are taken directly from the book, almost like the two of them sat with highlighters and picked out their favorite lines. Actually, the lyrics might be the one strength to this album.  They are combined in a way that is poetic and free-flowing, like Jack would have liked it.  Most of the lyrics speak of Kerouac’s depression, which is the focal point of Big Sur. It is easily his most depressing novel, focusing on his deterioration toward the end of his life. The once idealistic buddha had turned to alcohol and let life drag him back down to earth. It’s a damn shame.

To capture this mood, Farrar and Gibbard rely heavily on country tinged folk tunes, which I think kind of misses the mark.  Kerouac was all about jazz and its improvisational form.  As far as I’m concerned, a wailing saxophone always trumps a slow strumming guitar when it comes to portraying loneliness.

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In Memory of Jay Reatard (1980-2010)

   

Jay Reatard (1980-2010)

 

“Jay was what few people have the capacity to be. He created an undeniably classic album that contained so much pain transferred to tape in such an explosive way that it made you feel different after hearing it. He was transgressive and honest. His flaws were something he focused on and overdubbed and distorted until they made you forget who he really was– a person with feelings and a good heart. He loved music and worked hard from a young age to pursue it. He was a self-made and unmade man. I am truly sickened to see him go.” 

Bradford Cox (Deerhunter) 

I don’t know why I’m writing this right now, but I just feel like I have to. I need to release this confusion. I need to try and understand. Jay Reatard is dead. The news hit me hard, possibly harder than any other death to one of my music heroes.  With Kurt Cobain and Elliot Smith, you always sensed that it could all end any day.  When Johnny Cash died, it was sad, yet not unexpected, what with old age and all. But Jay was at the top of his game.  He wasn’t an aging legend nor a suicidal recluse (at least not to my knowledge).  He was a guy who still had so much more to offer; he stood at the doorstep of greatness. “Watch Me Fall” was one of the best albums of 2009, and now I find myself questioning how I couldn’t have put it at the top of my best albums list. Maybe I just became accustomed to his amazing music that seemed to flow out effortlessly like an endless, melodic stream. Maybe I just took advantage of his genius. Maybe we all did. 

This summer, you couldn’t escape Michael Jackson fever, which always irritated me. The guy hasn’t been relevent for decades, yet when he died, everyone forgot about the pedophilia charges and the mediocre albums of the 90s, convincing themselves that Michael still mattered. 

Jay Reatard still matters – God damn it. He was changing the way we look at classic punk rock, building from the foundation that the Ramones laid long ago and showing that a simple pop-punk song could be so much more.  He was an extremely talented guy, heck, he played every instrument on almost every song off all his albums. I feel no shame in stating that he’s one of the best songwriters of the past ten years, and I’m not just saying that because I’m lost in some type of post-death trauma (just check my kind words about him on both of my “Best of 2009″ lists).  Unfortunately, you won’t be hearing much of anything about Jay’s death on major news networks (unless the rumblings of homicide come true, then they’ll have something to exploit, which we know they do so well).  

Fortunately, I had the honor of seeing Jay Reatard perform less than two years ago at South by Southwest. I would go on to name it the best show of the week.  Here’s a snippet of what I wrote: 

We had reached that moment in the week where you’re so exhausted from standing and drinking that your legs feel like they could buckle any moment.  I needed a kick-start, and if classic punk couldn’t do it, my goal of waking up was hopeless.  The instant Jay Reatard and his band of afro haired misfits took the stage the crowd broke into a fist pumping mosh pit.  Throwing caution to the wind, we all joined in, bouncing and po-going around as the upbeat punk rock blew out of the speakers.   As I watched Jay thrash away through fast paced song after fast paced song, I tried to remember the last time I attended a good old-fashioned punk show.  I couldn’t recall, but as the adrenaline pumped through my heart, I knew it had been a long time coming.  

I have no doubt that Jay’s legacy will live on. Just like other unappreciated artists of the past  who died too soon (Nick Drake anyone?) ten years from now people will look back with wonder at Jay’s intricate, masterful approach to pop-punk.  His YouTube performances, which are already something of lore, will continue building the legend, the aura of Jay Reatard. Until then, those of us who knew him and his music intimately will mourn his death.  For now, he is ours to miss.  There’s enough time ahead of us for him to be given the respect from others he so greatly deserves. 

It ain’t gonna save me
It ain’t gonna save me, no how

All is lost there is no hope, All is lost you can’t go home,
All is lost there is no hope for me.
 

“It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” Jay Reatard

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15. Road Trip Blog 2009: Caught in the Undertow

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

 

Maya Angelou

Staring out into the dark clouds that enveloped our little rock island, I came to the realization that I couldn’t ditch Paul; not just yet. Leaving Paul in Idaho and going off on my own would damage our friendship beyond repair. A year earlier, we planned the trip based solely on the premise of having good times with a friend - the mountains, music, and breweries were just an added bonus. Maybe once we reached Montana things would turn around and get back to the way they had been the year prior. I knew our friendship wasn’t worth sacrificing for a week in the Pacific Northwest. If anything, I’d just have to call the trip off if things became worse.

I still needed a distraction. My frustration and anger still bubbled in my stomach. I pulled out my I-POD in search of something that would put a smile on my face, but none of the music, not even Paul Simon, seemed fitting at that moment. I needed something that would put me in high-spirits yet still have a vicious bite…Opie and Anthony radio show! I’d downloaded their episodes from the entire month of June prior to the trip, and I knew that their raunchy, politically incorrect flavor would hit the spot. I laid back on my rock recliner and giggled into the vast mountain range for the next hour. The bit I recall most from that day was a news story about a funeral home that cut a guy’s feet off in order to fit him into a casket, unbeknownst to his family. Somehow, the boys made this horror story funny (at least in my demented opinion).

Here’s just a small clip from the episode I listened to that day on Chief Joseph Pass:

http://bobdylanwrotepropagandasongs.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/lil-jimmy-as-andy-rooney1.mp3

My mood eased thanks to a few dirty mouthed scoundrels in New York. I finally decided I needed to join Paul to try to smooth things over. I hoped his tempers had ceased. When I arrived to our camp site I could see a large pile of rotting logs laying near my tent. As I approached, Paul emerged from the woods carrying more kindling. He walked past me, not making eye contact. He finally ended the silence asking, “Can you break up some of these logs?”

“Sure,” I replied. At least we were back on speaking terms. He continued stocking the pile, and I began the process of leaning a log against a tree and stomping down on its mid-section to break it in half. After ten minutes, I became bored with my methods and decided to switch it up. I picked up a flimsy, rotting limb and cracked it over my knee Bruce Lee style.

"Don't waste yo self."

Paul walked up just as I pulled off the move and chuckled. “Nice double hand, knee smash.” I took his comment as encouragement, and soon I was pulling off a variety of wood breaking moves including the drop-kick, the teeter-totter, and the over head “HULK SMASH!” Once Paul finished his enormous pile, he joined in on the fun. Soon we were pulling off insane WWF tag team moves. At least for the moment we were back on good terms.

If we were the New Age Outlaws I'd be Road Dog and Paul would be Ass Man.

And really, how could we fight with mushroom and swiss burgers on the menu? It would be our first real meal in a week. Paul got the fire started while I prepared the patties. After sautéing some shrooms, we threw the burgers into the frying pan and soon had the aroma of savory meat floating atop the drifting smoke into the Wyoming air – the same night air grizzly bears would be breathing in. I told Paul we had to make sure to hang up the food and clean the grease out of the pan before bed. He agreed, begrudgingly. Part of me wondered if he wanted to meet a bear face to face.

Paul hanging with his homies.

In ten minutes, we were sitting fireside eating amazing, fire-grilled mushroom and swiss burgers. Paul announced that it was the best mushroom swiss burger he’d ever eaten. It was pretty tasty, but it still didn’t compare to the Hardee’s mushroom and swiss burgers I use to inhale before each high school football game, a pre-game ritual.

Unfortunately they had to ruin the swiss burger with their new Angus burger, which taste like greasy plastic.

After our hearty, grease soaked meal, Paul packed up our food and told me he would go hang the food up in the woods. I asked if he needed my help but he said he would be fine. Minutes after he left, I didn’t feel fine at all, just sitting there with the burger scent fresh on my clothes and breath. I decided to go to bed, finding comfort in my flimsy little tent. Despite being inside, I stayed awake until I finally heard a rustling outside 10 minutes later. When I looked out, I discovered Paul, safely returning to camp.

The next morning I awoke to the strange warbling of some mountain bird. It was quite annoying, but Paul somehow continued to sleep through it. I read some “LOTR” for about an hour, until my partner began moving. I packed up camp and he went and got the food.  Eventually, we made the climb back down to the car.

We drove for about 30 minutes and then decided to stop when we came upon the type of scene you’d find on a doctor’s office calendar. Since we could see a pond nearby, Paul thought it would be a good place for us to bathe and eat. 

We pulled into a nearby parking area and found that we sat right next to a river.  I grabbed the camping soap and my swim trunks (I would not be bathing nude today).  In order to reach the water’s edge, I had to rock climb down into a cove of calm water.  It would serve as a perfect bathing area. 

Unfortunately, we didn't have any nature safe bubble bath to use.

I quickly changed into my trunks and waded into the frigid H2O.  Although I’d been bathing in ice water for a week, I still hadn’t gotten used to it.  As I lathered up my bald head, Paul made his way down the rock wall.  He commenced taking off all his clothes and wading into the water, as if joining me nude wasn’t gay at all.  Of course, it didn’t surprise me. At one point, he asked if I thought I could swim across to the other side?  I looked and tried gauging the current.

“Hmmm…I think so,” I replied. The water was moving at a decent clip, but it didn’t seem like anything I couldn’t power stroke my way through. 

“Really?” he seemed surprised. “You should try it.”

My pride took precedence over my logic.  “Sure,” I confidently answered. Feeling like I was becoming the downer of the trip, maybe this would prove I was willing to take chances. Plus, it didn’t look like too strong of a current.  I waded upstream and tiptoed along the wall toward the raging waters. I knew the second I left the wall it would be a free for all freestyle. 

My goal was this...

I step out and instantly went into swim team mode, kicking my legs incessantly, slicing the waves with my arms, pulling the water beneath me.  With my head down, determined to reach the other end, I quickly sensed that things weren’t going according to plan.  I raised my head for an instant to see that the only direction I’d moved was upstream, and fast.  Crap. What had I been thinking?!

I had to think fast. Within moments I would be out of Paul’s site and further up-stream where “God knows what” awaited me.  I turned around and began swimming back towards our bathing pool, and soon found my body approaching a rock wall. I reached out my arm as far as I could and braced myself for impact, knowing I’d have to also grasp a rock to pull myself back toward Paul.

...but the result was this.

I pancaked into the jagged wall and frantically reached out my hands in search of a crevice to grab on to.  Fortunately, my fingers wrapped around a jutting rock and I found my footing down below. Despite finding my balance, the water continued pushing and pulling me out toward the current.  Slowly and cautiously I moved my way away from the treacherous waves and re-entered our bathing area.  I couldn’t believe how dumb I had been.  What did I have to prove?  I’d been a fool. 

Of course, Paul disagreed. “Dude! That was awesome!” I smiled and nodded, knowing deep down that I had just, once again, escaped the culmination of my New Year’s Day omen.  I pulled myself up into the rocks and laid back, disgusted with myself.  Paul got out also and sat down on a nearby rock (still nude). 

As we talked about my raging river exploit, we suddenly heard a rustling up above.  Looking up I caught a glimpse of a guy looking down at the two of us in disgust. I guess the image of two wet guys (one nude) sitting on rocks and conversing calmly can be alarming to some.

There's nothing wrong with a couple of gents having sitting on rocks and talking (even if one is nude).

When I told Paul what I had seen, he began cackling manaically, loud enough that the guy looking down could probably hear him. It was time to go back up to the car; no need sitting around laughing with a naked guy.  I changed back into my dry clothes and climbed back up the rock wall. 

Back at the car I made a sandwich, trying to avoid eye contact with the people in the two other cars parked nearby.  Out of my periphial I noticed someone approaching me.  I turned to see the same guy who had seen us down below. 

He was the epitiomy of red neck: cut off sleeves, Wrangler jeans, a pedophile stach, and a gaudy belt buckle.  I avoided eye contact and glanced down at his buckle, discovering I’d missed a major detail. A gun.  Stuffed into the top of his Wranglers, a Lone Ranger style revolver. My eyes darted back up to his face that was frozen in a scowl.  I returned my attention back to my sandwich, hoping the gun-toting fella wasn’t homophobic. 

Just then, Paul appeared, pulling himself up from the rock ledge, no longer nude, but now wearing only his used Army underwear.  Crap.  Paul moseyed past the gun-man and approached the car with a goofy smile on his face.  The red neck shook his head and made his way down to an area set aside for fishermen.

“Paul…dude…that guy has a gun!” I whispered over my sandwich.  Of course, Paul’s reaction wasn’t what you’d expect.

“Ha, ha! You’ve gotta love Wyoming!” he joked.

“Dude, he’s the guy who saw us down on the rocks.”

“Really?! Ha, ha, ha! That’s even funnier,” he howled.  Instead of throwing on his clothes and avoiding a gun-point conflict, Paul decided to grab the skin lotion and moisturize his skin outside the car. I didn’t say anything, knowing Paul wasn’t antagonizing the gunman; he has a strange post-shower routine of always lotioning up. 

5 minutes later, as Paul was finishing up his lotion routine, the gun man appeared again, this time not wearing a shirt, showing off his farmer’s tan and blubbery beer belly.  The gun still stuck out from his pants, partly buried under his gut, and his pants were beginning to sag off his fat ass, exposing the top half of his Christmas boxers.  It was a sight that remains etched in my memory. 

You can't make this stuff up.

The red neck, with his gun and festive boxers, walked toward us with purpose, keeping his steely glare on my moisturized friend.  He stalked past us, but his revoltion filled the air.  Once back at his truck, I calmly walked up to Paul.

“Let’s get out of here,” I mumbled.

“I’m going to make a sandwich first,” he calmly replied.

“Okay, but make it quick.” To avoid any confrontation, I sat in my front seat, trying to occupy my mind with my book, but not really comprehending the adventures of Frodo at the moment with my mind on the X-Mas Boxer Murderer, pacing around his truck nearby.  “How long does it take to make a sandwich?” I asked myself, looking back to see Paul meticulously construct a super sandwich.

Just then, the sound of a grumbling engine erupted. I turned to see the shirtless wonder, pulling out of his parking spot and slowly driving  by us.  As he passed, he gave me the evil eye, and sped up, shooting gravel in our direction.  I hoped he wasn’t off to find more friends with guns and holiday themed undergarments.

We'd later find out that we met one of the bank robbing Boxer Boys up close.

I got out of the car and joined Paul amidst his creation of the perfect sandwich. “Let’s get going man. You can eat while I drive.”

“Nah, I’m gonna go back down by the water to eat.”

“Come on man. We’ve already wasted an hour here. Let’s get going.” Paul turned, as if he didn’t hear me, and walked away from me toward the water.  Unbelievable.  I knew the likelihood of gun boy returning was slim. My biggest concern was time. We were so close to Montana I could feel it, yet here we sat, waiting.  It seemed that’s all I did the first week of the trip, waiting, waiting, waiting. 

I sat festering for 15 minutes, bubbling with anger, when Paul finally returned. 

“Was that quick enough?” Paul asked sarcastically.

I tried to keep it civil. “Okay, yes, it was dumb of me for getting mad that you were going to eat by the water, but it just seems like we’ll never get out of Wyoming.”

“What’s your deal? We’ve seen some cool shit. You’re being weird dude.”

He was right; I couldn’t argue.  I had to cool down.  I had to forget all the frustrations and arguments of the past week. I had to forget Oregon. We weren’t going to get there. Face the facts.  We have two weeks left in the trip, and one of those weeks will be in Colorado with Tony.  Oregon would have to wait until next year.  Suck it up Andy. Forget the past week. The trip starts now.

Fortunately, we chose to end our Oregon Trail rather then ending it at the hands of some old timey disease contracted from rotten buffalo meat.

Back on the road, finally, our drive instantly turned to pure beauty.  If only we had driven another 30 minutes the day earlier, we could have camped in bliss rather than turmoil pass.

For the next couple hours, we were stopping every minute to soak in the lay of the land. Like zombies to brains, we couldn’t resist it: start car, stop car, get out, stare at mountains for 10 minutes, get back in car, repeat. 

It's too bad that bald creep had to ruin this picture.

Snow cover giants surrounded us, looking down upon the miniscule Element as we shimmyed our way between its shoulders. Unfortunately, we also ran into a slew of tourists/terrorists along the way, taking photo op after photo op, although a couple cool groups brought their own sleds and were riding down the snow drifts on nearby inclines. It was really a magical land,  that even our sour moods couldn’t resist.

Our goal was for the peak of Beartooth to be Paul's party hat. Success or fail?

Jon Jon had been right; Cheif Joseph Pass is one of the most beautiful drives I’d ever taken. Eventually, it turned into a crazy, downward switchback, rollercoaster ride, leading us downward, back and forth, back and forth, like we were marbles rolling down one of those old wooden slide toys they’d sell at my church as a kid.

How this was fun as a kid, I'll never know.

The road continued slithering downward into a valley of green.  Throughout this journey to the center of the Earth we listened to The Thermals “Now We Can See”, and to this day I can’t listen to this amazing album without remembering the incredible drive that day.

Once at the bottom, we drove a short distance before reaching Red Lodge.  We were in search of Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company, a small town, dive brewery located in an old, red, machine shed.  I could still remember our visit there the year prior on the 4th of July – the mass of townies crammed inside, the bearded lumberjacks huddled around the fooseball table, and the gaudy old fridge sitting center stage behind the bar, plastered in an array of stickers.

I swear the shed was red, although this picture from last year seems to contradict my memory.

Despite thinking we’d see the red shed along our downtown drive, we reached the edge of town without spotting it.  Had we missed it? Or had our memory served us wrong? We decided to continue up the road a little fuhter, hoping to spot the illusive tin barn.  After passing through a slight curve we came upon what looked like a red shed, but much nicer with a vaulted glass ceiling, a fresh coat of paint, and a huge black top parking lot out back (rather than the gravel we parked on the year earlier).  We drove past it slowly and spotted the sign. 

“I guess this is it?” I said to Paul in confusion.

“Yeah…I guess…I swear it was downtown last year,” he replied, equally perturbed.

“This looks like a new building all-together. Let’s check it out.” 

We entered timidly, knowing it was the brewery, but unsure whether we crossed into the “Twilight Zone” or if this was the bizarro Red Lodge Brewery. 

Inside the beauty matched the exterior.  The walls, once faded with chipping paint, were now colorfully designed, featuring a vast array of shimmering medals.  A glass wall sat near the back, looking straight into the brewery filled with more shiney goodness.  I took a seat at one of the art deco tables while Paul went up to order our first two brews.

I began looking around the immaculate brewery, everything glistening and new.  As much as I liked the new digs, I missed the old, small town vibe of the year prior.  It just seemed to antiseptic.

As my eyes roamed the room, I stopped upon a recognizeable item. My eyes focused.  An old beat up fooseball table sat in the back corner, the same foose-ball table we saw earlier. I began to scan the room and slowly, recognizable features began to jump out, hidden within the modern design.  As Paul returned with our pints, I could see the  old beat up, sticker infested refridgerator sitting center stage, right behind the bar.

If you look closely behind Paul carrying our beers, you'll spot the old school fridge built into the wall.

Despite all the pieces from the old bar, things had changed, just like our road trip. We still had all the features from the year prior (breweries, mountains, etc) but things hadn’t gone nearly as well as the year before.  At that moment I knew, with only a couple weeks left, I still had time to make the trip memorable. I hoped my new change in attitude would yield different results.

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Top 20 Albums of 2009 (10-1)

10.Dinosaur Jr.

“Farm”

Dinosaur Jr pisses me off.  In 1989 Lou Barlow left the group due to inner-group tension, and as a result, we were robbed of 18 year of amazing music. Don’t get me wrong, the post-Barlow era of Dinosaur Jr still had some great albums but they fail in comparison to such classics as “Bug” and “You’re Living All Over Me”.  Fortunately, they finally got over their little quarrel and got back to rocking a few years back. If you thought the band’s kick-ass 2007 reunion album “Beyond” was a fluke, “Farm” serves as evidence that you are gravely mistaken.  Usually when bands reunite, they sound dated and contrived, but somehow, Dino’s reunion material sounds fervent and fresh.  Yes, J. Mascis is keeping the guitar solo alive, and it’s never sounded better.

9. Sunset Rubdown

“Dragonslayer”

“Dragonslayer” is a grower, not a show-er.  The first few listens may be difficult to wrap your head around, but once you’ve grounded yourself in Spencer Krug’s peculiar realm, you’ll find yourself swept away by his story of the struggle between friendship and love. Soon, Krug will have you wondering aloud “Why DID Anna change her name?” or “how did you get held up at yesterday’s parties?”  Krug buries his tale beneath a pile of vivid metaphors, yet, you still sense there is a narrative haunting around the tombstone. “Dragonslayer” is a lot like a T.S. Elliot poem: the more you listen to it, the more you want to hear it, to know it, to understand it.  “Dragonslayer” is the indie-rock opera the Decemberists were aiming for with “The Hazards of Love”, and Anna is our generation’s Pinball Wizard (I still don’t get why she had to change her name though).

8. Jay Reatard

“Watch Me Fall”

You haven’t heard songs this catchy since The Beatle’s “Hard Days Night”, although if Jay were a member of the Fab Five there would have been a lot of chicks with black eyes (No one charges Jay Reatard without receiving a souvenir).  Don’t be fooled by “Watch Me Fall’s” up-beat, cheery sound; this encourageable little pup’s got bite. Although “Watch Me Fall” is grounded in punk, it shows Jay maturing with his sound, relying more often upon his acoustic guitar and songwriting that is complex and finely tuned.  Complex punk? If you don’t think it’s possible, take it up with Jay.

7. Akron/Family

“Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free”

The cover says it all – there is no other album in 2009 that represents America’s trials and tribulations better than “Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free”.  It of course has the folk backbone throughout, but along the ride, the band takes you through various styles of American music, from big band, 60s psychedelia, 40s doo-wop, 90s hip-hop, to the punk-rock noise of the 70s and 80s.  Like a musical Betsy Ross, Akron/Family have taken all the genres of music that have grown out of the “land of the free” and created an intricate, multi-faceted, harmonious quilt of where we’ve been.  Throughout, these sounds are intertwined naturally and performed wonderfully by non-other than Akron/Family.

6. The Thermals

“Now We Can See”

I would have loved to have the members of The Thermals in my English class.  They understand all the basic Literary Elements: themes, metaphors, foreshadowing, symbolism, etc.  Their 2007 release “The Body, the Blood, and the Machine” relied heavily upon allusions to the bible, using the imagery of the ancient book to tell stories and make a statement about our origin.  “Now We Can See” continues with the origin theme, although in this case they use the motif of evolution.  Every song makes references to the scientific theory that we “grew from the dirt “, then “took off (our) skin” and “crawled to the sea” “to swim!”(these four lyrics were taken from three different songs- now that’s an extended metaphor!). Within these Darwinian tales, the band tells stories of facing your fears, the perils of alcoholism, and the eventual demise of modern society.  Yes, this album is an English/Science teacher’s dream come true. Oh, and did I mention that the songs also kick ass?

5. The Very Best

“Warm Heart of Africa”

I didn’t know how to evaluate The Very Best’s first album due simply to the fact that most of the songs featured music by other artists, whether it be M.I.A., Vampire Weekend, or the music from the “True Romance” soundtrack. Although the music was undeniably delightful, could the band have the same result with their own backing tracks? “Warm Heart of Africa” shames me for doubting. Mwamwaya’s voice is still as smile-inducing as ever, and Radioclit’s contributions are stronger than anything on their self-titled effort. The African vibe is felt throughout, but Radioclit is able to carry the songs discreetly through a series of genres, whether it be new wave or trance.  In a time where regionalism has become almost nonexistent due to technology, The Very Best exemplify what is possible when cultures meld their ideas into one masterwork.

4. Baroness

“Blue Album”

At its core, “Blue Album” is a metal album- yet it is so much more. The band takes all of their eclectic influences and somehow combine them naturally into their powerful assault.  Nothing is forced. Every song evolves organically, taking the listener through an obstacle course of compelling riffs and devastating drums.  Metal is often associated with death, but the “Blue Album” is life its self, a blue flower blossoming in your ears, and then unexpectantly gashing your ear drums with their savage thorns.

3. Japandroids

“Post-Nothing”

About a month ago I had a student I trusted run out to my car to grab a folder I left on my front seat. Of course, I didn’t remember that under the folder laid the coffee table book “Punk: The Definitive Record of a Revolution”.  When he got back to my room his face was all aglow. “You like punk Mr. S?” he asked in amazement. It was like he had just learned that Santa Claus indeed did exist. Like an authoritative dick, I asked him to go to his desk and told him we could talk about it after class. This resulted in him standing in my room for 15 minutes during my lunch time, listing all the bands he was into, none of which I’d heard of.  He then pulled out his I-POD and commenced having me check out mediocre emo band after emo band, the 21st century’s version of punk.  I tried to think of a band to suggest to this kid, to save him, one that would guide him down the right path. Minor Threat? The Wipers? Rancid? No. I had to come up with something new; this kid didn’t want to listen to an old guy’s music by old punks.  Then it hit me: Japandroids.  Nothing screams youth more than two kids from Vancouver singing lines about wanting to leave there stomping grounds, living life without concern, and kissing french girls. I told him he had to get to lunch soon, but that I would play him “Young Hearts Spark Fire”, and as I watched this kid discover real, earnest, punk rock, the young heart in me may have even pumped out a couple heartbeats.

2. Bill Callahan

“Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle”

While “Woke On a Whaleheart” showed Bill trying find himself without his band Smog, “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle” is an overwhelming statement that Bill can in fact do this on his own.  While his band explored stranger terrain, Bill focuses on the tangible here, relying mostly on only the live instrumentation of pianos, guitars, and violins.  The album may seem intimate at times, but there are moments where Bill reminds us that his music can be larger than expected.  For example, when the strings break out on “Eid Ma Clack Shaw”, you’d swear it was a sequel to “Eleanor Rigby”.  But my favorite character has to be the mysterious guitar that lurks in the shadows of the album.  Every song you’ll catch a glimpse of it, a basic electric guitar, no effects needed, meandering in the background.  The only thing to upstage the unassuming guitar is Bill himself with his croaking baritone voice that speaks straight to your soul (I swear even the deaf can hear Bill’s voice).  If Bill Callahan only released his lyrics in poetic form, his words alone would be music to your ears. Oh, but we are luckier than that my friends. Not only is Bill a master wordsmith, but his music speaks volumes as well. Just imagine if Dylan Thomas could sing and play guitar?

1. Animal Collective

“Merriweather Post Pavilion”

On New Years Eve, the group I was hanging out with got into a discussion of who was the biggest band of the decade. The first answer to come to most of our minds was Radiohead. But driving back to Texas, I thought about the question longer and decided we may have been wrong.  TV On the Radio? Arcade Fire? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs? No, none of them created music as influential as Radiohead, but there is one band that did, and maybe even more so: Animal Collective (stick with me here…)

If you look back on Animal Collective’s resume for the past ten years, they’ve released eight albums, four EPs, and a multitude of side projects (Panda Bear’s “Person Pitch” is unquestionably one of the top ten albums of the decade).  If you simply compare “Here Comes the Indian” to “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, you’ll see in an instant how much the band has grown. Every album presents a new way to aproach music. 

“Merriweater Post Pavilion” is quite possibly the band’s best album to date, the perfect culmination to a productive decade.  In this case, it’s not an insult to say that it is their most accessible album because to an outsider, “Merriweater Post Pavilion” would still seem pretty alien.  I hate to say the band has matured because it would be a damn shame, but they have definitely learned how to approach their music from a melodical stand-point (and you’ll never hear them scream once, which has slowly become a crutch for them over the years). 

Even the lyrics speak of growing up and facing adulthood.  Yet I insist, they have NOT grown up.  If anything, the album brings me back to my childhood, sounding like the soundtrack to “Fern Gullie”. The sounds are enchanting, exciting, and will have you conjuring up images of elves and gnomes prancing around a magical mushroom in no time.  It’s too bad Jim Henson is dead because I can only imagine what he could have done with the mystical world on “Merriweater Post Pavilion”. I guess as a consolation you can always rent “Fraggle Rock”, turn the sound off, and blast “Merriweater Post Pavilion” out of your stereo.  Who needs drugs when you’ve got “Merriweater Post Pavilion” and Muppets?

(Note to reader: Sad to say goodbye to our best of 2009 lists? Never fear! Over the tenure of 2010, Paul will be moving methodically through decade, listing what he deems the top albums for each year. Look for it in the coming weeks!)

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