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best of 2009 – matt

matt’s top albums and tracks of 2009

albums

5. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

It’s not always a compliment to say of an album or band “I have no idea whatsoever how to describe this sound.”  It is in this case, though.  I mean, who the hell are these guys?  What is this?  Where did they come from?  Who do they sound like?  Who cares?

4. Hold Time by M. Ward

So so solid.  Even though it’s been out for a number of months now, I still have a tough time ranking my favorite songs on this album.  And ranking songs on albums isn’t something I always do, but in this case I think it’s a result of there being about four songs that always make me say “Oh yeah, this one has got to be my favorite of the bunch.”

3. Dark Night of the Soul by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse

Gritty, twisted, dark and funny.  I think I remember David Lynch telling Scott Simon that Sparklehorse had many of these songs tucked away but unrecorded because Mark Linkous felt he didn’t have the right voice for them.  If that’s true, that the voices here fit so perfectly with the songs totally validates Sparklehorse’s thinking.

2. Merriweather Post Pavillion by Animal Collective

I brought a lot of baggage to this one.  The little I knew about Animal Collective (not much, but mostly influenced by being bored to death by the last Panda Bear album) made me think this would be over-thought, pretentious art rock.  And it was hyped, to boot.  Before I had heard it, I think I actually read a review of this album as introducing an entirely “new kind of music.”  Praise like that, when attached to a band name like this and all of the preconceived notions I had coming in, was admittedly enough to make me judge a book by its cover.

But then the 2:30 mark of “In The Flowers” happened.

1. Midnight at the Movies by Justin Townes Earle

Last time I’ll mention/list this one, promise. But I just liked it too much not to give it the top slot for the year.

HONORABLE MENTIONS Dark Was The Night by Various Artists, March of the Zapotec & Realpeople: Holland by Beirut, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix, The Fall by Norah Jones

tracks

10. “Gentle Hour” by Yo La Tango – This band had always bored me. But this track (from the amazing Dark Was the Night compilation) jumped up on the earbuds as I walked to Georgetown to renew my driver’s license early one sunny morning.  Slayed me.

9. “Up From Below” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

8. “Jailbird” by M. Ward

7. “Laundry Room” by the Avett Brothers

6. “Daddy’s Gone” by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse featuring Nina Persson – The sleeper track with the beautiful chorus that rewards you on about the 6th listen of the album.

5. “They Killed John Henry” by Justin Townes Earle

4. “Percussion Gun” by White Rabbits – Winner of “Best Air Drum Song of the Year”

3. “Summertime Clothes” by Animal Collective

2. “My Night With The Prostitute From Marseilles” by Beirut – I recommend listening to this one jetlagged and exhausted in a part of the world about which you have no knowledge or expectations.  On the ferry from Piraeus to Naxos, Greece, say.

1. “I Dreamed of My Old Lover” by Elvis Costello – Still not over that standup bass. This one’s ranked #1 because, of all of these songs, I think it’s the most timeless.

(an incomplete playlist can be found here)

… and other good stuff from 2009

BOOK  The Road by Cormac McCarthy – Finally read this at the beginning of the year and it gutted me.  I’ve heard mixed reviews of the movie, but I think that’s because some people have a hard time seeing the redeeming parts of the story.  Which is understandable given the, you know, hopeless post-apocalyptic setting of cannibalistic craziness, death and overall misery.

FOOD The annual OysterFest at Hank’s Oyster Bar – $60 for all you can eat and drink at my favorite DC restaurant.  I tackled 34 raw oysters and the bliss was totally worth the monetary and gastrointestinal cost.  And yes, we kept count.

TV Top Gear from the BBC – Bloody brilliant show of car reviews, challenges and auto-related cross-country adventures.  I’d never seen it until my vacation in Ireland this past summer, when rain kept me and my brothers locked in to our rented shepherd’s cottage for a few days.  I am far from a motorhead– I don’t know the first thing about cars or about their inner workings.  But, as with any other excellent programming, it doesn’t matter because they present it so well– beautiful film work, spot-on humor, easy-to-understand language, the whole nine.  Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond are all hilarious and have off-the-chart “I’d like to get a beer with that guy” ratings.  Now one of my favorite TV shows.

COUNTRY Switzerland – It was even more amazing than in my fantasies of living in a ski chalet in Wengen and skiing through 18 inches of fresh powder to work at the beer and music factory every day.

Knocking people’s music has never been my thing.  But there happened to be a lot of music this year that I heard good things about and seemed right up my alley but that I, for one reason or another, just didn’t get.  So this isn’t a list of the worst music of the year so much as it is a list of misfired love affairs that might have been.  (Except for the track list at the bottom.  That’s really the list of the year’s objectively worst songs.)

albums

5. A Strange Arrangement by Mayer Hawthorne

I love, love, love what this dude is going for and I admire his pluck.  It takes guts to put out a throwback soul record like this.  He just lacks the chops to pull it off.  I’m reminded of the scene in “The Commitments” where Deco says to the band’s backup singers “Ya have fair voices, but yer not puttin’ enougha thaaat into it!”  This album is a sweet, quirky love letter to a better time, but nothing more.

4. Hometowns by The Rural Alberta Advantage

smitch is lucky he got married this year, otherwise I’d have socked him in the eye for recommending this album to me.  I’ll chalk this one up to what I hereby dub “The Apples In Stereo Outlier Comet Effect” where our normally identical musical tastes take one wildly different turn away from one another exactly once every calendar year.

3. Hospice by The Antlers

The beauty of sad music– and until this record came along I thought I was as big a champion as there could be for weepy-bearded-white-dude-with-a-guitar music– is that it takes something horribly sad and makes it beautiful by reflecting on it musically.  There is no reflection going on here.  The Antlers are just dragging you through the muck with them, and the ride is so raw as to be unpleasant.  I know this sounds like a glowing endorsement more than a criticism, so let me be perfectly clear as to why it’s on this list:  I do not like this album because it hurts too much.  Put another way, I do not like this album for the same reason my girlfriend dislikes horror movies.  It may be very effective at eliciting an emotional response, but those are not emotions that I am looking to experience willfully.

2. Post-Nothing by Japandroids

Wanna know who else can compress the hell out of some heavy distortion and yell over three-chord changes?  AN-Y-BO-DY.

1. Blood Bank by Bon Iver

Two things to start with here: 1) I know it’s an EP, but it still makes the cut because it’s my list and I make the rules.  2) I know this one smarts.  I love him too.  But let’s be honest and just get it out there that 75% of this EP sucks.  “Beach Baby” is the only good song in the bunch.  The lyrics to “Bloodbank” are stilted and distracting, “Babys” is a total swing and miss that– admit it– bores you to tears and “Woods”… well, that one tops my next list.

tracks

10. “Fez – Being Born” by U2 – WTF?

9.“Heartbeat Radio” by Sondre Lerche

8. “Southern Point” by Grizzly Bear

7.“These Are My Twisted Words” by Radiohead – For some reason, this song sounds like someone trying to sound like Radiohead.

6.“Blood Money” by Spiral Stairs – Only because I hold you to such a high standard, SS. Eight minutes of plodding through the same… thing… over… and… over…

5.“Tweakers” by Spoon

4.“Haphazardly” by Rhett Miller

3.“Rave On” by M. Ward with Zooey Deschanel – If you’re gonna slow it down so much, lose the backup vocals. They just sounds creepy.

2. “You Are The Blood” by Sufjan Stevens

1. “Woods” by Bon Iver – Not all experiments work. I’ll just leave it at that.

As a fan of– I guess I’ll call it “non-pop”–  country music, I was happy to see 2009 was a year that offered enough new music to allow me to make a top 5 country albums list.  So here it is.

albums

5. Secret, Profane & Sugarcane by Elvis Costello

I have always viewed Elvis Costello as not much more than a curiosity.  His voice was always a barrier to his music, and the fact that he is such an iconoclast and so musically unclassifiable always made me feel like his music was for someone else.  This album, though, feels like it was made just for me.  In the context of slide guitar and stand-up bass set to a waltz rhythm, his voice goes from sounding quirky to sounding right at home.

4. I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers

I’d been aware of the Avetts prior to 2009, but like so many others, this was the year that they worked their way in front of my face and said, “No, seriously, listen to us.”  I had the good fortune of seeing these guys play a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR, which sealed the deal for me.  They know how to build drama, and those harmonies…

3. Changing Horses by Ben Kweller

Who knew?  Well, people from Texas knew, I guess.  All I had known of Ben Kweller prior to this record was that he was supposed to be some sort of rock ‘n roll wunderkind with chubby cheeks.  What makes this record to me is Ben’s voice, which is delicate but composed and completely up to the task that these songs put forward.  The healthy dose of pedal steel doesn’t hurt, either.

2. A Friend of a Friend by Dave Rawlings Machine

This one is on faith alone.  Dave Rawlings has earned as much.  Who else is excited for the release on Tuesday?  Anyone?  Hello?

1. Midnight at the Movies by Justin Townes Earle

In a year where this blog had all of TWO posts on it, this album inspired one of them.  I guess that says enough.  Read that post for more thoughts if you’re interested.

tracks

10. “Another Girlfriend” by Rhett Miller – Rhett’s was not a country album, really… but this is most definitely a country song.

9. “Caroline” by Old Crow Medicine Show

8. “Gypsy Rose” by Ben Kweller

7. “Home” by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros – See explanation for #10.

6. “What I Mean to You” by Justin Townes Earle

5. “Mama’s Eyes” by Justin Townes Earle

4. “Santa Fe” by Gallaramy “Bells of Harlem” by Dave Rawlings Machine

3. “Old Hat” by Ben Kweller

2. “Laundry Room” by the Avett Brothers

1. “I Dreamed of My Old Lover” by Elvis Costello – I love how there is a solitary pluck of the stand up bass in the intro and that you don’t hear from it again until after the first verse, when POW!  The changes go from sweet to devastating.

Listen up, all you little punks.  It’s been a while since we posted anything here, but that’s just allowed the anger to swell that much more.  Maximize iTunes on your desktop and pause that goddamn La Roux garbage you’re listening to and focus here.  The best record of the year is already out (came out in March, as a matter of fact), and it’s not Animal Collective’s.  In fact, it’s a country record. But this ain’t your daddy’s country music.  That’s right.  It’s real country music.  Good country music.

It’s sad, actually, that we’re now at the point where I feel it necessary to say “This ain’t your daddy’s country music.”  But that’s where we are, so it’s said.  I desperately, desperately want all you hipster kiddies in the coastal big cities to have an appreciation for real country music.  Maybe you do and I’m being overly defensive.  But it bears saying just in case, because it’s important.

I gave Justin Townes Earle‘s second album The Good Life a passing mention at the very end of the post where I listed my highlights of 2008.  It didn’t make my top five albums because… well, because it wasn’t all that good.  But damned if it didn’t show promise, and damned if JT hasn’t lived up to that promise with this year’s Midnight at the Movies.

Honest, folks, I could write an essay about the myriad ways in which I deeply love each and every track on this album.  Long, sordid tales of infatuation, flirtation, passion, betrayal and– ultimately– redemption.  Real pulpy stuff, honest.

Like the make-no-bones-about-it, let’s-just-get-this-out-there track about his more-famous old man Steve, “Mama’s Eyes”.  “I am my father’s son / I never know when to shut up / I ain’t foolin’ no one / I am my father’s son.”  I mean, C’MON.

Or the beautiful title track that opens the album and that’ll make you wanna cuddle up with that special someone.  Or the brilliant carefree bluegrass-pitched romp “Walk Out.”  Or the elegantly fingerpicked “They Killed John Henry.” Or the drunken swagger, whistlin’-dixie bliss of “What I Mean To You,” arguably the best tumbler-of-whiskey-on-a-piano song since Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” (though in a completely different way, and with notably less piano).  The track I’ve posted here, “Poor Fool” is fairly representative amalgamation of these last three examples.

And he covers The Replacements.  Not only that, he covers “Can’t Hardly Wait.” It’s fantastic:

He’s touring with Gillian Welch, the only other person to give me this much hope for the state of modern country music since Johnny Cash died.  Dude does everything right.  He even dresses like Hank I.  Just look at that picture above.  Bless his heart.

Please, for the love of all that is holy, go buy this album.  The world needs more of Justin Townes Earle.

“Poor Fool” by Justin Townes Earle (from Midnight at the Movies)

Buy on eMusic

Buy on iTunes

Buy on Amazon

The ‘A Cold Sweat’ ethos has always been to discuss whatever is in your ears at the moment, and not what the newest, hottest shit out there is.  But at the moment, Blind Pilot happens to be both.

Blind Pilot’s record “3 Rounds and a Sound” came out in 2008, but I didn’t spend much time with it until this last month.  What at first blush sounds just pleasant proves to grow better and better with each listen with these guys.

Their song “One Red Thread” seems to be the one that will be driving their growing profile, but the track below was the first to sink its hooks into me.  Something about the opening lyric is mysteriously accusatory and sad in a way that makes you want to know exactly where the protagonist is coming from.

You should really buy this album.

“The Story I Heard” by Blind Pilot (from 3 Rounds and a Sound)

Here’s Blind Pilot making their TV debut on Carson Daly’s show. They did a great job.

jimmymontreal’s top albums and tracks of 2008

albums

5. For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver

I was going to start off with a bunch of excuses about this and that — not enough time to focus on the music this year, etc, etc… — but fuckit. I’m pleased with my “Best Of” for this year ’08. And to kick things off I’m keeping Bon Iver in the starting line-up. Not because of the hype (a bit too much, but whatevs) or because of the songs (which are on the whole quite strong), but because of the lesson it represents: whatever it takes to record what you must, do it. If you need to escape reality, find a shed. If you can’t afford a studio, maybe you can afford a laptop. If all you have is a 57 and a shitty guitar, maybe you don’t need vintage mics to capture what you need. To those who want to get into the digital versus analog debate in recording today — a giant, massive, resounding FUCK YOU!! There is a utility and a place for both.

4. Motion to Rejoin by BrightBlack Morning Light

I have no idea where this group came from or what they’re all about. Frankly, I don’t really care. It’s not superawesome songwise, but I found myself listening to it over and over again this year. And with each listen I’d dorkshat my pants, because kids — THIS is what compression sounds like. Every instrument is just crushed: the rhodes, drums… even the vocals. FLAPjacks, I love that sound! Add to that an album opener that consists of a jam on but one chord… I mean c’mon.

3. Third by Portishead

Time was I listened to Portishead on long car rides on my way to somewhere. Maybe nowhere… I forget. I’m different now. Ten years in the making, PHead’s different too. They’ve traded the turntables for samplers. They’ve traded the huge horn-hits for an out-of-tune fingerpicked acoustic guitar. But they’ve kept Beth’s scorched melodies. The result is a curious and badass album.

2. Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust by Sigur Rós

I myself am relatively late to the Sigur Rós party. I started off with a headfirst dive into ( ) and boy were those waters cold. But mgdistrict encouraged me to take a gander on Takk… and hotdamn I was hooked! Their latest is super good. Sigur Rós’ trademark textured ambiance and falsetto vocals are matched up nicely with a more straightahead rock sound. Must say, this made for perfect airplane listening right over the Rockies as the sun was setting. Just sublime.

1. You & Me by The Walkmen

All the songs on this album are good, yes. But it’s the manner in which it’s produced that gets me goin’. And I don’t want to look up a single thing about how it was recorded, lest I ruin what it does for my imagination: set up in a giant warehouse, room mics set as far away from the band as possible, drums mic’d through the floorboards and guitars through the air vents. And the vox all recorded in the most disgusting bathroom you’ve ever smelled… THAT is what this album sounds like. And I love it.

tracks

10. “Cold Son” by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

9. “Furr” by Blitzen Trapper

8. “Flume” by Bon Iver

7. “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” by She & Him

6. Hold On To Yourself” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

5. “Oppressions Each” by BrightBlack Morning Light

4. “Joe’s Waltz” by The Dodos

3. “Grounds for Divorce” by Elbow

2. “Canadian Girl” by The Walkmen

1. The Rip” by Portishead

… and other good stuff from 2008

ALBUMS THAT I ALSO LIKED: Dig, Lazarus, Dig!! by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Visiter by The Dodos. Furr by Blitzen Trapper. Real Emotional Trash by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks.

MOVIES THAT I LIKED: Man on Wire — just watched it last night… so good. I also liked Gonzo, The Dark Knight and Quantum of Solace. I haven’t yet seen Frost/Nixon, but it looks good.

I HAVE A FEELING: that 2009 is going to be a very good year, music- and other-wise. Happy New Year, kids.

best of 2008 – smitch

smitch’s top albums and tracks of 2008

albums

5. You & Me by The Walkmen

After solidifying my top four, I thought long and hard about which other album deserved to crack the list, and I kept coming back to these bastards. While their 2005 masterpiece Bows + Arrows is a cleaner record, You & Me has moments that rival Bows’ best and preserves its basic essence start to finish.  Which is to say, it’s awesome.

4. Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend

When this album first came out, I couldn’t get enough of it. Almost every song is unbelievably catchy, and the band aimed for a specific niche and nailed it. They’ve got a talent for writing/performing engaging music that explodes out of every song. My initial craving for Vampire Weekend was so intense I wanted to inject the music directly into my bloodstream. Alas, as with so many other things that enter the body intravenously, I overdosed on it, and it’s forever been relegated to awesome-but-infrequently-enjoyed status. And I gotta disagree with mgdistrict on the standout track – see my top songs list below.

3. Dear Science by TV On The Radio

I’ve still yet to crack TVOR’s perplexing exterior and find the rich creamy center, but ever since 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain first clicked with me (it took several listens), I’ve had a thing for these guys. I loved Dear Science from the first time I heard it. Lots of really good, eclectic songs, with a heavier dose of catchy riffs than in past TVOR efforts I’m familiar with. The title’s awesome, too.

2. Visiter by The Dodos

Clocking in at just under one hour, this was one of the most interesting and creative albums of 2008. Lots of hollow, low-production-value percussion, almost like the band picked up whatever was lying around the house (pencils, chop sticks, washboards, driftwood) and used it for drums. The songs meander back and forth from catchy phrases to melodic acoustic guitar numbers to psychedelic chanting sequences, but never wander too far from a generally coherent structure.

1. For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver

This was my favorite album of the year early on, and nothing ever managed to knock it from the top spot. It’s soothing, melodic, creative, and tight, with a handful of just really great songs. Everything about it – the tracks, the cover, the back-story – paint the picture of reflective isolation, of a guy in a cabin somewhere cold making beautiful music about the good times that are now behind him and the fact that he’s okay with that. You know what, Bon? I’m okay with it too.

tracks

10. “Modern Mystery” by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

9. “Furr” by Blitzen Trapper

8. “Red and Purple” by The Dodos

7. “Love Dog” by TV On The Radio

6. “Far Away” by Cut Copy – 80s synth-pop revisited… in a good way.

5. “Red Moon” by The Walkmen

4. “Through the Night These Days” by Jason Collett – LOVE the little piano riff throughout.

3. “Out of Reaches” by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

2. “Lump Sum” by Bon Iver

1. “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend – Even though I do give a fuck about them, I loved this song, which threads the needle between catchy and original.

… and other good stuff from 2008

ALBUMS THAT ALLLMOST MADE IT Here’s To Being Here by Jason Collett; Furr by Blitzen Trapper.  If I hadn’t procrastinated in getting my hands on Blitzen Trapper, this one might have made the list.  Their album Wild Mountain Nation was one of my favorites of last year, and this one’s damn good too.  Just didn’t have enough listens to be totally sure.  Maybe next year, guys.

ALBUMS I PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO AT LEAST ONCE At Mount Zoomer by Wolf Parade; Oracular Spectacular by MGMT.  I loved Wolf Parade’s 2005 album Apologies To Queen Mary, but just never got around to buying their latest.  Probably had something to do with the fact that it’s not on eMusic, and it was released on the same day as (and was therefore overshadowed by) the Coldplay album.  Definitely at the top of the list when I inevitably get an iTunes gift certificate in my stocking.

MOMENTOUS WORLD EVENT Since this is a music blog, not a political one, I’ll just give you a hint: it rhymes with “the first plack bresident.”

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