Friday, January 1, 2010

My Year in Music 2009

[I know, I know, you're probably sick of lists. Now that 2009 is officially over, I'd like to present this rough draft of my year music, which ultimately ran in a shorter form on It's not significantly different, just stuffed with more of everything. Also, it features the ever controversial Top 10 Most Disappointing Albums list. Also, the joke about Mikexdude won't really make sense if you don't follow the Org.]

You just have to roll with the blast.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but 2009 was the year shit got real. Friends moved further away, attained real jobs and got engaged or married. Other friends dropped out of school and embraced drugs or abusive partners or both. It’s quite the stupid divide. Hey, for the record, if your partner abuses you, get out. He/she is not worth it. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, he/she doesn’t abuse me. He/she only has only hit me a couple of times,” get out and get help. Your face will thank you later.

At the same time, I suppose that, for me personally, 2009 was a lucky year. Lucky in that I didn’t become an addict, and in that I have family, friends, and a girlfriend who all love me for reasons I’m never gonna understand. I secured a job with a weekly community newspaper in Mt. Airy, only to have the paper go out of business a month later. It sucked, but at least I got a few clips out of it. And I got to see Ghosts of Girlfriends Past for free. It was an awful, misogynistic movie, but a woman from some reality show introduced it with these words: “We’ve all been there. We’ve all been ghosts of… girlfriends past.” I might not remember her name, but I’ll never forget her message. Here I am, a ghost of a girlfriend past. Aren’t we all?

Plus, it was a great year for music. I got to interview John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, who released my favorite album of 2009, The Life of the World to Come. I met Blake Schwarzenbach from forgetters (and Jawbreaker… and Jets to Brazil…), who put on my favorite show of 2009 at the Barbary in Philadelphia. Sunny Day Real Estate and Jawbox reunited. Granted, I had to hear them live via NPR and NBC, but still, how cool is it to be alive right now? I heard life-affirming releases from bands that have been away far too long, like Rancid, Propagandhi, and Lawrence Arms. New Found Glory even pulled it together and dropped another catchy record. Just goes to show… deep down inside I’m always going to be 14, if only mentally.

Contrary to what Mikexdude might tell you, I love music and I’m totally fair and balanced. To that end, I’ve avoided writing reviews about my friends’ bands. I have a clear conflict of interest. But here’s the thing: My friends are talented. So while I’ve tried to avoid tainting the Org’s archives with my biases, I’m not going to leave those bands out here. This is a list of my favorite albums and I’m not bullshitting you when I say that the Next Big Thing’s Condense the Nonsense really was my second favorite EP of 2009 (behind Lawrence Arms. The NBT guys may be my pals, but c’mon now…).

On the Org front, I feel like I got to know the other staffers more. Online profiles were friended. E-mails were exchanged. Shit, Gregorb once recommended me to a guy because he thought I would dig his music. Readers actually thanked me for some of my reviews. Of course, others thought I was a total asshole, which I kind of am. I do hate a lot of things.

New Year’s Resolutions (first come, first serve)

  1. Lose 20 pounds.
  2. Be the change I want to see in the world.
  3. Start a band and open for Venice is Sinking.

So here’s the deal. I’m going to rant and rave about everything that tickled my fancy this year. Top 25 albums. Top 10 EPs. Top five live shows. I was going to do my top labels, but I could only think of two: 4AD, because they dropped some seriously awesome records this year, and Fat Wreck, because they’ve always been nice to me and they also dropped some seriously awesome records. Oh, and I took the time to bitch about my…

Top 10 Most Disappointing Albums of 2009

10. Ace Enders – When I Hit the Ground

Who knew Enders’ follow-up to the triple disc The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path would feel so uninspired? Further proof that the Early November should have stayed together.

9. A Camp - Colonia

Cardigans frontwoman Nina Persson put out a great record under the A Camp moniker. It was called A Camp and had a great electronic/alt-rock sound. Belated sequel Colonia dropped all of that for tepid indie pop arrangements that bear more in common with the Cardigans’ Long Gone Before Daylight, only with half the inspiration.

8. Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown

Up until now, I’ve loved everything Green Day has done. Even Warning. Even American Idiot. I can’t get on board with this. A majority of the songs seem listless and uninspired. What’s say we leave the classic rock revivalism to the Hold Steady?

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

This sparse dance-punk record isn’t exactly 154. I remember hoping YYYs wouldn’t break up after Shake Your Bones. Now I’m not so sure. I’m all for bands challenging themselves, but O neutered guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase here. And for what? So she could write embarrassing dance floor failures like “Heads Will Roll?” I liked you better when you were a drunk.

6. Set Your Goals - This Will Be the Death of Us

Too many guest vocalists. Same thing happened to Biggie on Life After Death.

5. Metric - Fantasies

One day, Metric decided to play brainless, boring dance music exclusively.

4. Cursive - Mama, I'm Swollen

In retrospect, Tim Kasher has been going downhill since 2006’s Happy Hollow. Sure, that was a good album, but it wasn’t exactly The Ugly Organ. It’s been all diminished returns since then. Mama, I’m Swollen is surely better than most of the albums released this year. But I would rather listen to any other Cursive release ever.

3. Fake Problems - It's Great to Be Alive

Way too much joke filler this time around. The record starts and ends strong, but I could do without all those kitschy songs about the devil and alligators. I still consider myself a fan, but these boys are on my watch list.

2. The Rentals - Songs About Time!!

I spent a lot of money on a boxed set of the Rentals’ three EPs. The first two releases aren’t too bad, but the third installment leaves a lot to be desired. Way too wispy and thin. A huge letdown after The Last Little Life EP, and I won't get my physical copy until like halfway through 2010. Poor form.

1. Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream

This one hurt the most. Springsteen had an incredible run this decade, one which I think rivals his ’70s heyday. The Rising is one of his best albums ever, behind Nebraska, Born to Run, and maybe Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. So when he rushed out this undercooked collection, I was pretty hurt by it. Sure, there were mitigating factors – there was a push to get it out around the time of Barack Obama’s inauguration, founding member Danny Federici was dying – but it’s still a rushed, overproduced album. The Boss is still one of the best live performers I’ve ever seen, but his studio output took a nosedive here. Hopefully, “Wrecking Ball” is a sign that Working on a Dream was just a hiccup.

Ah, it feels good to hate. Now strap in for the part where I anti-hate. I think it’s called love. Love! I’d like to present my top 25 albums of 2009. I would. But I want to give credit to those who couldn’t qualify. I’m referring to releases that weren’t strictly studio albums from a single artist. They could have been compilations. Or B-sides collections, demos, or albums that weren’t technically new. They are…

The Very Honorable Mentions of 2009

-Against Me! – The Original Cowboy

White Crosses is still a few months away, but AM! saw fit to grace mine very ears with this solid demo collection. Not to dump on Butch Vig or anything, but I love how raw these songs sound. Disqualified for being alternate recordings of a 2003 record.

-CIV – Complete Discography

Super bouncy punk band (disc 1) turned radio rock (disc 2). CIV had an all too brief run in the ’90s, but it’s great that their albums are back in print. Set Your Goals is such a ridiculously fun record. Disqualified for being two ’90s albums.

-Envy/Jesu – Split

Phenomenal atmospheric post-hardcore/metal/shoegaze split from two really awesome bands. Disqualified for being released abroad last year. Ef you, Rest of the World!

-Modest Mouse – No One’s First and You’re Next

Modest Mouse is such a good band, got-dammit. This would have been my favorite EP of 2009 if it wasn’t a B-side collection. Disqualifications aside, M&M crafts some mighty fine indie rock. Some bands just bleed great songs, and Modest Mouse is one of them.

-Various Artists – Weezer – The 8-bit Album

It combines video game music with Weezer. If it could cook, I would marry it. Disqualified for being all covers of old Weerez tunes, although Lord knows I don’t care.

This was a fantastic year for tuneskis. Whenever I can’t find a place for albums that I thought for sure would make the list (Ben Kweller’s Changing Horses, for example), I get excited. It means there were so many great records that I literally can’t fit them all in. But enough talk of the shoulda-beens and the almost-weres. I want to celebrate the soundtrack to my year, with tunes provided by my…

Top 25 Albums of 2009

25. Mean Jeans - Are You Serious?

The list opens with a pair of Left Coast Ramones acolytes, Mean Jeans and Teenage Bottlerocket. MJ turns out spitfire pop punk, rarely breaking the two-minute mark per song. It’s fast and fun stuff for sure. Are You Serious? is easy to leave on repeat, as it takes the listener back to pop punk’s origins, eschewing the nasally cleanliness of Blink-182 for something a lil more rocking, thrashing and dirty. Who knew the Northwest was a pop punk mecca?

24. Teenage Bottlerocket - They Came From the Shadows

TBR is here to get all Boogadaboogadaboogada! deep inside your Subterranean Jungle, if you catch my meaning, and that’s exactly what they do. Shadows is yet another solid release from a band that, so far, has proven incapable of failing. Heck, the title track is about being attacked by monsters (Zombies? Vampires?), and not in a stupid Misfits way. This Wyoming quartet deserves a doctorate in pop punk dynamics; They Came From the Shadows is a compelling study in the genre’s workings.

23. Patton Oswalt - My Weakness is Strong!

Recorded Feb. 28, 2009 at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington D.C., this CD/DVD combo is Oswalt’s first “grown-up” record, as the best jokes tend to focus on his wife and hopes for his (at the time) unborn daughter. Granted, these topics lead to the time he and his wife disturbed an orgy and then tried to play it off (“He comes out of the bathroom, and he got dressed in whatever was there. And here’s what was in the bathroom: A pair of girl’s sweatpants that he has put on backwards so the word ‘juicy’ is across his groin… which, I hate to say, probably factually accurate”) and how he quit drugs to be a better father to his daughter (“I’m not afraid that I’m gonna be on acid and put her in a microwave or something. What I’m afraid of is… [she remembers] having breakfast with her dad and he was like, ‘What are you having there, Lucky Charms? Alright, let me tell you the whole conspiracy behind Lucky Charms”). Oswalt has said that each of his records is a snapshot of where he was in his life. Hopefully, Weakness is a hint of where Oswalt’s next album will go: still angry, but a lot happier from fatherhood too.

22. O Pioneers!!! - Neon Creeps

While it nearly broke up the band like 30 times, Neon Creeps is the strongest O Pioneers!!! release so far. I’d call it folk-punk if the songs weren’t so dang loud. The act sounds steady, assured, and rockin’ throughout as frontman Eric Solomon exorcises his demons. These demons aren’t exactly alcoholism, drug addiction, or Mephistopheles, but rather shitty friends. If, like Solomon, you’ve had shitty friends, you’ll get a ton of catharsis out of sarcastic Hot Water Music-indebted songs like “Saved By the Bell was a Super Good Show” and “Chris Ryan Added Me on Facebook.” It ain’t political like Against Me! or the Broadways, but O Pioneers!!! still get the job done.

21. Rancid - Let the Dominoes Fall

Dear Rancid,

Please don't ever leave me again. Life is so much better with you around.


Joseph T. Pelone

20. Mew - No More Stories Are Told Today I’m Sorry They Washed Away No More Stories the World is Grey I’m Tired Let’s Wash Away

Mew got even proggier this time around, writing songs that play backwards (“New Terrains”) and/or are long (“Cartoons and Macramé Wounds”). Yet No More Stories has a pop element that makes it more approachable than it should be. It’s expansive and shoegazey and technical and experimental, but it’s also dreamy pop music.

19. Castevet - Summer Fences

Castevet are at their most successful when they open up to more expansive ideas, allowing for spacier fare reminiscent of Envy, Appleseed Cast, and maybe Mogwai, just filtered through a Latterman-esque punk rock viewpoint. It’s gruff vocals and seductive guitar textures ahoy. An easy record to get lost in, Summer Fences fills me up with swirling, gorgeous guitar movements. It’s an ideal autumn album.

18. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career

*Le sigh* I have a weakness for Scottish women. The burning passion. The alabaster skin. The ever so slight connection to Star Trek’s Scotty. Which reminds me… the accents. YES. Of course, to use that attraction as a means for explaining my severe crushing on Traceyanne Campbell’s songwriting on My Maudlin Career, the latest orchestral twee pop smash from her band Camera Obscura, would be a redundantly sexist viewpoint (and prolly get me smacked by my Scotch-Canadian special lady friend). See, the band continues to outpace their peers in Belle & Sebastian with a fine mix of shimmering musicianship, evocative lyrics and gorgeous vocals. It’s not as immediate as Let’s Get Out of the Country, but, given that My Maudlin Career is a mature break-up record, I can deal with that.

17. KASMs - Spayed

Everything about KASMs gets me excited. They record live takes on an old reel-to-reel tape machine. They sound like a mix of Bikini Kill, Hole, Le Tigre, and Teenage Jesus and The Jerks. They write awesome, seductive, provocative songs likes “Male Bonding” and “Bone You.” I said it before, I’ll say it again: Ignore the title; this one’s got balls.

16. New Found Glory - Not Without a Fight

“You can’t get rid of me that easy no / Not without a fight” go the first lyrics of the first song on Not Without a Fight, “Right Where We Left Off.” The song is about a girl (of course), but those lines feel applicable to NFG as a whole. Along with the Bouncing Souls, NFG indoctrinated me to the world of punk rock. But where the Souls already had a healthy discography by the time I got hip to their sound, NFG more or less came up with me. My tastes have changed dramatically since my freshman year of high school circa 2000, but somehow the old Glory has stuck with me. When former label Geffen Records forced out a greatest hits package in 2008, I reviewed for my college paper like I’d never write about NFG again. The collection wasn’t that great, but I felt like I owed my former favorite band something. Just a year after Hits, it blows my mind that the band could drop such a fine collection of heart ache, tour journals, and the almighty pop punk. But then, NFG was always my favorite Drive-Thru band, so should I be that surprised that they’re the only DTR alumni still putting out quality tunes?

15. Big D and The Kids Table - Fluent in Stroll

Having shown their mastery of ska-punk (How It Goes) and two-tone (Strictly Rude), the mighty D opted to look to the future for Fluent in Stroll by creating their own genre. The title refers to that genre, called stroll, a mix of double-dutch, ska, reggae, and soul. They added a backing female vocalist group called the Doped Up Dollies, dialed back their punk/rock elements, and wrote a bunch of summery love songs. And frontman David McWane’s idea of a love song consists of being as honest, positive, and romantic as possible – “Not Fucking Around” is the most direct song about devotion I’ve ever heard, while “We Can Live Anywhere” has to be one of the most hopeful.

14. Banner Pilot - Collapser

Go buy Collapser. Because it’s gonna be a while before those drunks in Dillinger Four drop another gravelly, Midwestern pop punk masterpiece. This Minnesotan gang of band sluts’ Fat Wreck debut is arguably their strongest release to date. Sound engineers Jacques Wait and Dave Gardner buffed out the band’s rough edges a bit. Vocalist Nick Johnson still sounds gruff, but Banner Pilot doesn’t resemble the Lawrence Arms and Jawbreaker circa Unfun so much anymore. What’s left is not unlike D4 circa their Fat years – catchy and rocking. The album opens with a perfect two hit combo – “Central Standard” and “Pensacola” – and then just keeps churning out hits.

13. Nakatomi Plaza - Ghosts

This one hurts. The folks in Nakatomi Plaza were/are really nice, talented musicians. They’ve written some fantastic post-hardcore/punk tunes, 11 of which are contained on Ghosts. It’s great that their swan song is such a solid album, but in a way it just bums me out more. Ghosts is a reminder that Nakatomi Plaza was an amazing live act; it’s like looking at photos of deceased loved ones. But at the same time, it’s hard to get completely down because, hey, this record kicks ass. The dying of the light was raged against, faces were melted, things were golden. Maybe they’ll get back together one day. Until then, I’ve got four full-lengths and a Latterman split to keep me company.

12. Thursday - Common Existence

Got-damn yes. Fucking YES. I was really scared that Thursday was going to break up after their career highlight A City By the Light Divided, but they pulled it together for yet another stellar post-hardcore masterpiece. Common Existence explores the band’s past in the first three tracks (literally on “As He Climbed the Dark Mountain,” which first appeared on last year’s Envy split) before going for more atmospheric fare like “Circuits of Fever” and “Love Has Led Us Astray.” Of course, I can’t leave out “Friends in the Armed Services,” a discussion of what it means to support the troops (oh yeah, and war. All the time. Heh). Please don’t ever stop.

11. St. Vincent - Actor

Two years after she broke out from under the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ collective thumb with Marry Me, Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, returned with her stunning sophomore solo effort, Actor. Arguably superior in every way, the record takes Marry Me’s promises and expands on them. It’s at times grinding and lilting, but always beautiful and otherworldly. If it’s possible to craft a record that simultaneously recalls Nine Inch Nails, Feist, shoegaze, and Disney movies, Actor is that record.

10. Propagandhi - Supporting Caste

While a lot of people tapped into Supporting Caste right away, it took me a few months to get into it. Maybe it’s because I define the band so much with their first two records. But while I wasn’t that interested in Caste after the first listen, I did take away some choice picks – “Dear Coach’s Corner,” “The Banger’s Embrace,” and hidden track “Come to the Sabbat” are awesome. Over time, I found myself putting the record on more and more without really thinking about it. Caste became a natural pick for me a few months after its release, and right now I feel like it’s the best Propagandhi record of this decade. It’s got the best jokes. It’s got frontman/guitarist Chris Hannah’s best lyrics. And dang it all, it knows how to rock me.

9. The Raveonettes - In and Out of Control

Whenever people complain about the Raveonettes, they usually diss the band’s love of the Jesus and Mary Chain, claiming that their fandom prevents them from writing truly new material. That always struck me as arrogant and oversimplified; the Raves’ last three albums have been radically different. Their last record, Lust Lust Lust was a cool, dissonant noise record. In and Out of Control is a total reversal, opting for bubblegum pop, albeit filtered through their ambient, quasi-gothic sensibilities. There’s a bit of a Cardigans effect – uber-catchy pop songs with uber-dark lyrics a la cheery anti-rape song “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)” – and I totally love it. After the Beauty Dies and Sometimes They Drop By EPs, I started 2009 with a rekindled crush for this Danish duo. Then they closed the year out with what I feel is their best overall album. For a band often slagged as unimaginative, that’s some feat.

8. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

I’d like to propose a new trend – calling Pitchfork the bane of music criticism is officially a cliché. Same goes for calling them pompous and/or pretentious. I say this because A) it’s been a while since they’ve run a review that truly pissed me the fuck off and B) sometimes they’re right about stuff. After all, they turned me on to the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the first blog buzz band I ever fell for. They write adorable twee songs disguised as shoegaze, which is brilliant. They put effort into their B-sides and drop rarities into their live shows. Oh yeah, and they released an awesome full-length debut, chock full of shimmering indie rock. I got a bit of flack for my lead in my review of the album, but I’m gonna recycle it here because it’s true: “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s eponymous full-length debut sounds like a tribute album to the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Ramones by Belle & Sebastian.” Side note, it does bother me when Pitchfork runs a glowing review coupled with a middling score, but I’ve always hated attaching numerical values to albums.

7. PJ Harvey and John Parish - A Woman A Man Walked By

PJ Harvey doesn’t usually repeat herself, so I was somewhat surprised when she reteamed with John Parish for a sequel to their fantastic 1996 record Dance Hall at Louse Point. I say “somewhat” because Parish worked on To Bring You My Love, Is This Desire?, and White Chalk. The sequencing on this record is brilliant, opening with the relatively radio-friendly, guitar-driven “Black Hearted Love” before pursuing Harvey’s weird instincts. The hermaphroditic title track, the thrashing “Pig Will Not,” and the hell-bent acoustic ditty “Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen” all serve as proof of this union’s merit.

6. Venice is Sinking - AZAR

Listen to Venice is Sinking, got-dammit. These guys (and one gal) are handing out exquisite orchestral indie pop tunes left and right, by which I mean they dropped a great full-length and EP within a year, and have another LP armed and ready. Since its release, I’ve gone through intense AZAR phases. I’ll listen to it in the car, on my computer, while I’m sleeping (or attempting to anyway). I was listening to it while writing this article, but I had to stop it…so I could listen to the band’s WOXY session. I suggest you check it out for a free taste of three AZAR selections, plus a cut from the band’s upcoming third full-length.

5. Silversun Pickups - Swoon

I was listening to Silversun Pickups on yPod, the podcast for yRock on WXPN in the Philadelphia area, and was struck by how funny and cool the band members seem. Really chill, cracking wise, willing to namedrop as many of their friends’ bands as possible, and OK with all the Smashing Pumpkins comparisons. It’s always cool to find out the bands you like are nice. I also love how much effort they put into their records. The artwork for Swoon is awesome, and it looks even better blown up to vinyl proportions. They also make good music videos. Anyhoozle, I like Swoon. It continues the kinda alt-rock, kinda shoegaze sound of Carnavas. The band’s sound is very much defined by meeting points – the moments when co-vocalists Brian Aubert and Nikki Monninger blend into one androgynous being, or when Aubert’s guitar and Joe Lester’s keys blur into a delicious haze. This one’s a murky but rocking keeper.

4. Morrissey - Years of Refusal

I finally embraced Mozzy Bear’s solo work this year, and 2009 was a good year to do so. Years of Refusal is the best Morrissey record in however many years (Let’s say a thousand!). Opener “Something is Squeezing My Skull” is a fast ‘n’ frenetic stomper about partying, “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore” is a beautiful condescension towards the overly proud (though I can’t help but feel Moz is directing those barbs at himself), “Black Cloud” is a rocking tune about a not-so-rocking day, and so on. It’s been 23 years since The Queen is Dead, but somehow Morrissey continues to drop sarcastic morsels o’ music.

3. The Horrors - Primary Colours

The Horrors went from provocateurs to innovators on Primary Colours. Older fans were disappointed that they dropped their horror-punk sound, but look at the results, man. Primary Colours incorporates Psychedelic Furs, Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Siouxsie & the Banshees’ atmospheric, post-punk sounds. It’s one big swirling, sexy mix, thanks in part to Joshua Third’s guitar parts. His style recalls Kevin Shields circa Loveless, which is awesome. Supremely awesome. This is one of those records I love to get lost in, as wave after wave of songs like “Mirror’s Image” or “Scarlet Fields” wash over me.

2. Strike Anywhere - Iron Front

So, I almost always listen to whatever album I’m writing about, which proved difficult for Iron Front. See, I cued up track one, “Invisible Colony,” but when I finally started typing the first sentence of this paragraph, I was already at track 11, “First Will and Testament.” I think that describes the record better than anything else, but I’ll try to expound. Iron Front is the catchiest, most rocking, plain ol’ best punk/hardcore record of 2009. Strike Anywhere makes me hope for a future devoid of “post-colonies / post-kingdoms / progress twisted / from sea to sea.” It reminds me what liberty means and how good sing-alongs feel. I began the decade singing Chorus of One and Change is a Sound. I’m closing it singing Iron Front. With drums this pounding and gang vocals this huge and lyrics this dynamic, how could I not?

1. The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come

Life of the World to Come is an indie/folk record that’s sort of about the Bible, but it’s also about declining health, drug dealers, extinct animals, and this, that, and the other thing. It still provokes an emotional reaction from me however many listens later. I start rocking back and forth and softly singing to myself and thinking about everything that’s happened to me.

There is no way frontman John Darnielle wrote it about me or anyone I know.

But in my world, it’s also about my grandmother dying December 23, 2003 and all of the numbness and suicidal ideation that followed. It’s about my 18-year-old cousin dealing with lung cancer while getting ready for college. It’s about falling out with people I used to love. It’s about every time I thought I was saying goodbye to someone for the last time, even though I’m always wrong. It’s about my weaknesses and insecurities and it is entirely my own. You can’t have it. But then, I can’t have whatever it is you take from this record either. Surely, when you listen to a song like “Matthew 25:21,” you bring your own baggage to it. Or maybe you bring nothing at all, because you dislike the song somehow.

I don’t pick records based on cultural significance, because I have yet to find a rubric for defining that. Is it sales numbers? Do I wait for history to decide? Should it be based on its impact on a set sub-culture? How do I even define that? All I can account for with complete accuracy is my perspective. Anything less than that is bullshit. I refuse to reward, say, Radiohead or Dirty Projectors for mattering to other people when they mean nothing to me.

The NPR blog Monitor Mix recently conducted a poll on what kind of music review people trust. The majority (40 percent at the time of my writing) said they don’t trust reviews at all, although the Org wasn’t listed in the poll so clearly these folks don’t know how we do. Respondents talked about how critics are pretentious, payola is present in a lot of magazines, etc. I think it’s simpler than that: If we’re being honest, all we can talk about is ourselves. You cannot approach discussing music in certain, scientific terms, because it is an art, and art is felt and somewhat unquantifiable, and we cannot describe the feeling we experience first aurally and then personally through words. Not completely. You might hit the facts (time signatures, keys, lyrics), but you can’t fully capture the flavor (emotion from the players, emotional reaction from you). I’m not going to justify my love of the Mountain Goats by mentioning their musical prowess or band comparisons (even though I did it quite a bit of that for some the other records here. This essay is just shy of 7,000 words long. Be grateful for the occasional shortand). Life of the World to Come is the most rewarding new release I heard all year. It’s a celebration of life and a rumination on death. It’s a touching piano collection that I own on CD and limited edition purple vinyl even though 4AD sent me a digital copy about a month before its release date. It’s my favorite album of 2009.

Ah, but full-lengths don’t tell the complete story. Behold! Another mighty and fearsome list I have dubbed…

Top 10 EPs of 2009

10. Ancestor - Allude to Illusion

Full disclosure: I’m friends with the band (and dating the lead singer’s sister). Ancestor keeps getting more brutal with each release, with Allude to Illusion featuring their heaviest jams yet. Of course, it’s tempered with a dash of sarcasm (“Tonight At 11: Things That Could Kill You By 10,” anyone? Howsabout “D’Terminator?”) If you dig Botch, Spitfire, and grizzly bears, this is the place to be. Plus, they’re giving the dang thing away, so you have no excuse for sleeping on this beauty.

9. Cetus - Centrifuge

Full disclosure: I’m friends with this band too…and, uh, I wrote their bio. But I took on that assignment because I believe in Cetus, and Centrifuge finds the metal/hardcore band going further down their own rabbit hole, complete with backwards guitar solos, breakdowns a-plenty, and some of the most delightfully punishing production I’ve heard on an underground release in some time. They’re also giving this album away for free.

8. The Bouncing Souls - 20th anniversary series

Twenty years in, and the Souls are still dishing out fist-pumping punk tunes. While released a song a month was too much of a tease for my liking, it was still a good kind of tease. The Souls got me into punk, and this project reminded me how much I still love them. And there’s so much to love! They’re still funny (“Badass”), they still know how to rock (“Gasoline”), and they still write catchy tunes (“We All Sing Along” keeps burrowing deeper and deeper into my brain). I grouped the whole anniversary series together. Otherwise this list would be mostly Souls ‘n’ Painted Black seven-inches. Although that wouldn’t have been so bad…

7. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Higher Than the Stars

More danceable indie goth pop something or other. I’ve got a love something fierce for the Pains. As excited as I was by their full-length, their EP was even more tantalizing. It proves that they’ve got more solid tunes in their catalogue. It proves that they don’t have to rely on distortion. And the remix of the title track at the end may very well indicate a future in more electronic-based textures. Do they have a Mixed Up in them?

6. The Loved Ones - Distractions

I was on the fence about including this one, as it consists of odds, ends, and covers. But dang it all, this is the Loved Ones, and that Mescaleros cover rules. And “Distracted” is so catchy. And “Spy Diddley” hearkens back to Keep Your Heart. And…well, I like the Loved Ones. Keep rockin’, boys.

5. Pregnant - Wanna See My Gun?

This Brooklyn band performs furious, grungy punk rock. They get pretty unhinged on songs like “You Give It to Me,” but there’s always a hook to be had as well. I mean, Don Giovanni put this out, so clearly everyone should love it, eh? Cannot wait for their full-length to happen.

4. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice - Moon Colony Bloodbath

It’s a mini-concept album about a cannibalistic massacre on the moon. Oh yeah. Johns Darnielle and Vanderslice take turns on lead vocals, Double Fantasy-like, on this indie/folk seven-song collection. It’s absurd how many great songs TMG releases in a year; Guided By Voices fans should be so lucky.

3. Paint It Black - Amnesia/Surrender

Just a year after New Lexicon, Paint It Black nearly released another full-length’s worth of material. As is the band’s way, the new songs are amazing. Dr. Dan Yemin keeps ranting and raving while the band plays with all their might. And how cool is it that PiB is basically hanging out with some of the best labels? Two seven-inches, nine tunes, get into it.

2. The Next Big Thing - Condense the Nonsense

Full disclosure: Not only are these dudes my buddies, but I sing back-up vox on this EP. I’m awesome. High fives forever! Even if I wasn’t sharing my beautiful golden throat with the masses, though, I’d still be into Condense the Nonsense. The band’s influences include Lifetime, Face to Face, and MxPx, and Next Big Thing totally sounds like an amalgamation of those groups. They sample Mega Man X. They play the fastest beats, scream about hating God at church shows, drink a lot of beer, and are bringing back the 30-second punk song. If you’re in the Philly area, keep an eye for these guys. Everyone else, you can stream four of the songs on the band’s MySpace.

1. The Lawrence Arms - Buttsweat and Tears

The Hold Steady didn’t drop anything major this year, so I’m glad the Lawrence Arms picked up the drunken anthems baton. I keep singing “The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day in the Greatest City” like it’s a mantra, which would be sad if the song wasn’t so catchy.

Being a music fan, I don’t always get to fit a given year’s worth of releases into a year. Sometimes I miss out on good stuff, like…

10 Albums of 2008 That I Didn’t Hear Until 2009

  1. Rivers Cuomo – Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
  2. Damn the Lions - demo
  3. Envy/Jesu - Split
  4. Gatorface – Sick and Stupid EP
  5. High Places – High Places
  6. Lemuria – Get Better
  7. Mogwai – The Hawk is Howling
  8. The Raveonettes – Sometimes They Drop By/Beauty Dies
  9. Star Fucking Hipsters – Until We’re Dead
  10. Thursday/Envy – Split

Most of the albums here were on my radar in 2008, even in my hands, but I didn’t get a chance to spin them until January 2009. While Weezer’s artistic decline continues, frontman River Cuomo has been releasing excellent solo recordings of the lo-fi variety. The disconnect between the solo and Weezer material is a bit depressing, but it’s still rewarding to know that Cuomo still knows how to craft excellent pop songs, even if it isn’t under the W moniker. I sat on Gatorface too late for it to qualify for my best of 2008 coverage, but man what a great punk rock EP. The pressing is really great too. 2009 was the year I finally got into Japanese post-hardcore band Envy, thanks to their splits with Jesu and Thursday. I love those bands, but Envy outdid both of them with their majestic, powerful, suite-like compositions.

In the case of the Thursday/Envy split, I honestly couldn’t find it anywhere, which is what happened to me with Star Fucking Hipsters as well. Until We’re Dead sounds like a mix between Leftover Crack and World/Inferno Friendship Society, which is fitting since it features members from those bands. I feel bad because A) Until We’re Dead definitely should/would have charted on my best of 2008 list and B) I’m probably going to make the same belated mistake with its follow-up, 2009’s Never Rest in Peace. I also had trouble finding Lemuria’s Get Better, which sucked since I spent a lot of time loving that band during 2008. I finally found it on vinyl, and it’s a great indie rock full-length.

Damn the Lions and High Places were introduced to me through friends. Erin Mae Szrankowski from City Paper and La Salle University’s student-run newspaper Collegian turned me on to High Places’ trippy, dreamy, Caribbean-esque tunes when she booked them for a show, while Damn the Lions is the work of one Robb Masters. He’s a good dude who writes good acoustic tunes about road trips, flowers, and other totally cute topics. Let’s see, oh yeah; I’m pissed at myself for not picking up Mogwai’s The Hawk is Howling. The post-rock outfit seemed to take a beating in every review I read for the album. But I’m a sucker for completing discographies, so I picked it up recently and found out that it’s totally awesome. So, eff you in the face, Pitchfork. Hawk is currently my favorite Mogwai album yet, though Young Team and/or Mr. Beast might one day reclaim that title. Still, though, “The Sun Smells Too Loud” is one of the catchiest songs of 2008, and it doesn’t even have a vocal track. Finally, there’s the Raveonettes. 2009 was the year I fell back in love with them, beginning with a January purchase of their EPs Beauty Dies and Sometimes They Drop By, two atmospheric, menacing, romantic, haunting collections that perfectly scored my road trip to Canada. Little did I know at the time that the band had even more tunes in store for me with In and Out of Control.

It was also a good year to be a fan of live shows. Rock ‘n’ roll belongs to the young, a demographic I’m getting further and further away from every day. Still, I went to quite a few shows without feeling too much like somebody’s dirty uncle. My absolutely positutely favoritest shows were…

Top 5 Live Shows of 2009

    5. The Kills and the Horrors at the TLA
    4. Morrissey at the Academy of Music
    3. Bouncing Souls and Lifetime at the Trocadero
    2. PJ Harvey and John Parish at the Trocadero
    1. forgetters, Onion Flavored Rings, and Amateur Party at the Barbary

Just click the links above to find out what you missed this year. I will say this, though: The Barbary is the best venue in Philly, it’s awesome that the Trocadero is finally booking good shows again, and I met Blake fucking Schwarzenbach. He was very polite. I only wish the forgetters had released some songs this year, then I could include one on my…

2009 Mixtape

Side A

  1. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – “Contender”
  2. The Lawrence Arms – “The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day in the Greatest City”
  3. DKD – “Theme Song”
  4. Banner Pilot – “Central Standard”
  5. Nakatomi Plaza – “The Finish Line”
  6. Propagandhi – “The Banger’s Embrace”
  7. Rancid – “Last One to Die”
  8. O Pioneers!!! – “Stressing the Fuck Out”
  9. New Found Glory – “Don’t Let This Be the End”
  10. Teenage Bottlerocket – “Todayo”
  11. Mean Jeans – “Space Trash”
  12. Pregnant – “God is Nein”
  13. The Next Big Thing – “My God Can Beat Up Your God”
  14. Paint It Black – “Bliss”
  15. Ancestor – “Tonight At 11: Things That Could Kill You By 10”
  16. Cetus – “The Riptide”
  17. Thursday – “Circuits of Fever”
  18. KASMs – “Male Bonding”
  19. Silversun Pickups – “There’s No Secrets This Year”

Side B

  1. St. Vincent – “Marrow”
  2. PJ Harvey and John Parish – “A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All the Little Children Go”
  3. Morrissey – “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore”
  4. Venice is Sinking – “Ryan’s Song”
  5. The Horrors – “Scarlet Fields”
  6. Tori Amos – “Strong Black Vine”
  7. Big D and The Kids Table – “We Can Live Anywhere”
  8. Camera Obscura – “Honey in the Sun”
  9. Ben Kweller – “On Her Own”
  10. Wilco – “Wilco (the song)”
  11. The Loved Ones – “Coma Girl”
  12. The Raveonettes – “Last Dance”
  13. The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice – “Emerging”
  14. The Mountain Goats – “Isaiah 45:23”
  15. The Rentals – “Seven Years”

I’ve assembled two hours worth of music. Some of the picks are good songs from albums too uneven to qualify for my top 25 (Tori Amos’ Abnormally Attracted to Sin, for example). Some of these songs need to be heard by everyone ever (DKD!!!). I created the mix under the assumption that maybe you and I could trade actual cassettes through the mail. E-mail me at to get something going. This year, aesthetics win. Next year, well, we’ll see. Speaking of which, I wanted to mention…

Potential Reasons to Choose Life in 2010

  1. Against Me! – White Crosses
  2. Arcade Fire – TBA
  3. The Bird and The Bee – Just Stop, and Think
  4. Crime in Stereo - I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone
  5. Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis
  6. Eels – End Times
  7. H2O - TBA
  8. Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back
  9. Smoke or Fire – TBA
  10. It’s a new decade! Woo!

So that’s how my year went. How was yours?

NEXT WEEK: The Top 100 Albums of the Decade

IN TWO WEEKS: The Top 50 EPs of the Decade

IN THREE WEEKS: The Top 30 Shows of the Decade


Nate said...

fact: everything you like will die

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