Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sunless Shuffle (Take a Bow)

New Year's Eve. I have been working evenings all week for the first time in years. Don't know if I'd love to do this full-time, but it's been a great little break. Combine this easy schedule with last week's cakewalk holiday week and it's almost like a vacation without the vacation. It'll suck tonight when I get off of work shortly before midnight. I should get home before 12 for the countdown and champagne. Then it'll be out the door again for party. Party!

I have about an hour before I have to head to work. I am well-rested and ready for one more...

Yeah, one more...

Current track count: 13,938

1. Weezer - "Don't Let Go" (s/t, The Green Album)
Kind of appropriate, I guess.

2. Electric Light Orchestra - "Down Home Town" (Face the Music)
Random memory tied to music. There was a Saturday when we were living in Virginia Beach when we took Molly's car in for an oil change. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon eating at Cheesecake Factory and shopping at Barnes & Noble. Nothing too atypical, but it was very nice and memorable. Perfect cool and cloudy weather. Oh and we were listening to Face the Music the whole time. So there you go.

3. Jim O'Rourke - "Seven Stars" (Tiny Mixtapes Vol. 1: Darfur)
And the abstract section of my collection makes its first appearance. I own too much abstract music.

4. Aimee Mann - "Invisible Ink" (Lost in Space)
Richmond's own Aimee Mann. Well technically Mechanicsville, but close enough. I really didn't care for Lost in Space, especially as a follow-up to the amazing Bachelor No. 2. Maybe I'll go back for another try.

5. Spoon - "Reservations" (A Series of Sneaks)
Great freaking song. New Spoon album coming out in a couple of weeks. Excited!

6. Guided By Voices - "Underwater Explosions" (Under the Bushes Under the Stars)
One of GBV's more under-appreciated albums. This song is the perfect example of why. This mix is transitioning perfectly so far.

7. Electric Light Orchestra - "Strange Magic" (Face the Music)
The hell?? What are the odds of this happening? I have almost 14,000 songs on this iPod and I get two ELO songs from the same album. Weird. Not that I mind because I am currently singing at the top of my lungs.

8. Lou Reed/John Cale - "Trouble With Classicists" (Songs for Drella)
One great forgotten album here. Half of the Velvet Underground's tribute to Andy Warhol. It's amazing. Go get it.

9. Pavement - "No More Kings" (Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition)
This is originally from that Schoolhouse Rock compilation that came out in the mid-'90s. It was a good comp, if I remember correctly. By the way, you hear that Pavement is back together? Who's excited?? Me!!!

10. Bonny 'Prince' Billy - "Wolf Among Wolves" (Master and Everyone)
Just wonderful stuff. Anybody that hasn't listened to BPB really needs to hurry up and do so.

11. Half-Handed Cloud - "You've Been Faithful to Us Clouds" (Halos & Lassos)
I got back into HHC this fall after the release of the massive Cut Me Down & Count My Rings compilation. I highly suggest everybody check it out. It's kinda weird, but constantly charming. It sounds like when somebody is trying to sing the Beach Boys in their head. This is how it'd really sound if those thoughts were out loud.

12. Guided By Voices - "Sons of Apollo" (Half Smiles of the Decomposed)
This is far less of a coincidence than the two ELO songs from earlier. I have quite a few ELO songs on my iPod, but nothing like my GBV collection. So this doesn't surprise me at all.

13. They Might Be Giants - "Rabid Child" (s/t)
Wow. Somehow this works right in. I don't know how, but it does.

14. Electric Light Orchestra - "Night in the City" (Out of the Blue)
All right, seriously. What the hell.

15. Danielson - "Rallying the Dominoes" (Fetch the Compass Kids)
Perfect!! This is the perfect ending to this excellent mix! Twas fun.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunless Shortlist: Albums 2009

15. Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away

Another year, another great Fiery Furnaces album. Every single one of their albums since Rehearsing My Choir has been on this list. And the only reason Blueberry Boat wasn't was because I didn't do a list that year.

14. John Vanderslice - Romanian Names

Not exactly JV's most instantly enjoyable album, but I didn't give up on it. It is truly incredible. I still may not enjoy it as much as I could, but I understand more of it with every listen. JV is one of the most consistent songwriters out there right now.

13. St. Vincent - Actor

This was the year I finally fell for St. Vincent. I still don't think much about St. Vincent when not listening to her. But in those moments that I am listening to her, I love nothing more.

12. Most Serene Republic - ...and the Ever Expanding Universe

I have to say, and I don't care what anybody thinks about this, but I think The Most Serene Republic is one of the most underrated bands in the world. They aren't the best-reviewed band out there, and they certainly aren't the most popular. However, since they figured out their sound on Phages, they have become something remarkably great.

11. A.C. Newman - Get Guilty

This album is 2009's secret weapon. It was released on January 20th, the most important release date of 2009. It went by mostly unnoticed, but don't underestimate this album. It is subtly remarkable.

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

There is a pattern emerging with every Mountain Goats release. One release is instantly enjoyable (Tallahassee, The Sunset Tree, Heretic Pride). The next release is dense and difficult to understand immediately (We Shall All Be Healed, Get Lonely, and this one). Maybe that makes them even more rewarding in the end.

9. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

Yo La Tengo have always been at emulating their influences. This album might be their finest example. Huge year for Yo La Tengo with this album and the incredible Condo Fucks album.

8. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

With its first listen, you can just tell that this album was going to blow up this year. It was easy to see that this would be their year. Don't worry about a backlash though. These guys deserve the attention for putting together the most instantly gratifying album of the year.

7. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

Speaking of backlashes, if anybody is set up for a backlash right now it has to be Grizzly Bear. The hype machine was in full effect for this band. When they finally released Veckatimest, their most poppy album to date, the music certainly did live up to the hype. You must always expect a backlash when an art band releases something accessible. I hope that doesn't happen any more than it already has because they guys are just great.

6. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

The Dirty Projectors have certainly never been accused of being accessible. It's art rock to its fullest, and art rock should be difficult stuff (except to those that "get it"). What's so remarkable about this album is that they accomplished both. It's remarkable complex, but instantly enjoyable at the same time.

5. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

This is one of the many great albums released on January 20th. I think it's taken me that long to love it as much as I should. I was immediately a little disappointed when I first heard it. But I kept coming back again and again. With every listen I was able to appreciate more and more of it. I listened to it one more time as I was compiling this list and am stunned that I was ever disappointed. This is amazing music.

4. Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

Bill Callahan is definitely one of those "can-do-no-wrong" songwriters for me. When I picked up this album I expected to love it, but I couldn't predict that I'd love it as much as I do. It's full of some of his strongest writing to date.

3. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Of course this album is on this list. Animal Collective has quickly become one of my (and everybody else in the world's) favorite bands. Every release solidifies that status even more. I guess the thing that makes this list a little different is that this album isn't at number one. I absolutely love this album, and it should be number one, but it's just not quite as good as...

2. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer

I am obsessed with this album. I didn't realize how much I was obsessed for a long time though. It just took me completely off guard. I was listening to it constantly and didn't even notice just how much. That obsession is very worthy. This album is absolutely stunning. Everybody should be lucky to be obsessed with it.

1. Flaming Lips - Embryonic

I am still in disbelief that this album is number one. I loved this album the first time I listened to it, but I guess I didn't want to love it this much. My faith in some of my favorite bands has weakened in recent years with every weak release (Wilco, Weezer, Modest Mouse, etc.). I most definitely didn't have much faith in the Flaming Lips after the very tepid At War With the Mystics. I figured that either they had slipped into cookie-cutter commercial music, or they were just always lucky at making great music (or even frauds all along). Embryonic proves me wrong once and for all.

This is a very difficult album to hear, for sure. Especially as they had progressed (digressed?) further and further into pop music, listening to something this difficult is very jarring. But beyond the music, thematically it is even more difficult to hear. The Flaming Lips had always exemplified "the world is fucked but we'll be okay." It was a party. We'll be just fine. With Embryonic they now seem to have figured out that we won't be okay after all. It's very disturbing hearing them come to understand that. It's even more disturbing to understand it because you can't help but believe it as you hear it.

Because of all of this, and simply that the album just sounds great, my faith is completely restored in the Flaming Lips. They are truly giants in music, and now I understand that there isn't reason to be bitter about that. They deserve it. They know what they are doing. Hell, I even found out this year that all the money they got from Kraft for using "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" in salad dressing commercials went to help animal shelters and children's charities. Holy shit, these guys are saints!! They deserve all the popularity, and the money, all the exposure that they have earned this decade. They closed out the last decade with their masterpiece (The Soft Bulletin). Now they close this decade with something that may be even better. Even if the world is ending, I can't wait to party with these guys. That is Embryonic.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sunless Shortlist: Songs 2009

Animal Collective - "Lion in a Coma"
So many songs to pick by Animal Collective this year. I chose the one that gets me the most excited.

Antony and the Johnsons - "Epilepsy is Dancing"
Antony sends us on a lyrical rollercoaster in less than three minutes. Sounds about par for the course.

Andrew Bird - "Masterswarm"
This was the toughest song to pick out for this year's list. My taste for individual songs on this album has changed with every listen. In fact, I had to go back and listen to this album again in order to find the song that best sums up this album for me. This is Andrew Bird's most difficult album to date. Even just picking one song that best exemplifies the album is a near-impossible task. I decided on this multi-tiered masterpiece, but couldn't go wrong with a number of songs.

Bill Callahan - "All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast"
Bill Callahan can transition between lighthearted and super intense like no one else. Moving into this song, he goes deep into some of the most intense territory of his career.

Camera Obscura - "Forest & Sands"
Often when Camera Obscura records a slow song, I find it mind-numbingly boring. Not on this song, however. This song is some of the most beautiful music they have ever performed.

Condo Fucks - "The Boy With the Replaceable Head"
Everything I wanted from this album is right here on this Richard Hell cover.

Decemberists - "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid"
The Decemberists can do melodrama like nobody else. Now this album may not be as strong as their albums past, but this song is absolutely stunning.

Dirty Projectors - "Temecula Sunrise"
The most complicated toe-tapper of the year. It's catchy sure, but it is almost impossible to snap along. I love it.

Flaming Lips - "Silver Trembling Hands/Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast"
Technically these are two songs, but one sounds best with the other. Wayne sings with unprecedented passion, and the songs end wholly disturbingly. It's primal and shakes me to the core every time I listen to these songs.

Grizzly Bear - "Two Weeks"
Yeah, it's sugary stuff. It's sweet and poppy. But I can't resist this song. Grizzly Bear isn't necessarily the most feel-good band, but this song is easily the most feel-good song of the year. Totally irresistible.

Handsome Furs - "Legal Tender"
Brutal synths. Just spine-tingling, stomach-punching, brutal, brutal synths. I loooove this song.

National - "So Far Around the Bend."
There is nothing innovative for the National on this song. However, it is the National's most prevalent new song of the year and it's great for that reason alone.

Phoenix - "1901"
The coolest song of the year. I can be sitting on my couch in sweatpants eating chips and listening to this song and still feel like the hippest guy in the world. And at that moment I am definitely not the hippest guy in the world.

Realpeople - "My Night With the Prostitute From Marseille
Sometimes the best electronic songs are the simplest.

Sunset Rubdown - "Nightingale/December Song"
I grew completely obsessed with this song for a few weeks this autumn. I was listening to it maybe three or four times a day. I eventually was able to take a break from this song. But even now when I come back, my obsession creeps right back in.

((Next post: Best Albums))

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sunless Shortlist: 2009 List & Disappointment

I'm done buying new stuff for the year so I guess I can go ahead and compile my best of lists. Usually I wait until after New Year's, but I don't think I missed much this year. I never did get the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album and Karen O's Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack, but I'm in no rush. I feel pretty complete with my 2009 collection. So here are the candidates:

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light

Apostle of Hustle - Eats Darkness

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

Bonny 'Prince' Billy - Beware

Built to Spill - There is No Enemy

Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career

Circulatory System - Signal Morning

Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications

Condo Fucks - Fuckbook

Decemberists - The Hazards of Love

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

Eels - Hombre Lobo

Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away

Flaming Lips - Embryonic

Franz Ferdinand - Tonight

God Help the Girl - s/t

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimist

Handsome Furs - Face Control

Islands - Vapours

Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine

Most Serene Republic - ...and the Ever Expanding Universe

Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come

AC Newman - Get Guilty

Conor Oberst - Outer South

Jim O'Rourke - The Visitor

Osso - Run Rabbit Run

Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Phosphorescent - To Willie

Son Volt - American Central Dust

St. Vincent - Actor

Sufjan Stevens - The BQE

Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer

Swan Lake - Enemy Mine

John Vanderslice - Romanian Names

Viva Voce - Rose City

Volcano Choir - Unmap

White Rabbits - It's Frightening

Wilco - Wilco (The Album)

Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

Last year I complained a little about the lack of great releases, but this year was certainly not disappointing at all. Tons of surprises all year long. Last year, I struggled to put together a good enough year-end list. This year I struggled again, but this time it was because I couldn't fit everything in. That's good!

Well, it wasn't all good...

Most Disappointing Album of 2009

Apostle of Hustle - Eats Darkness

Usually I like to use this spot to make fun of an artist that has just lost it. Somebody I formally loved and then suddenly don't. Their fault. You know... backlash. Backlashes are fun. Come on, it's fun to bash somebody that thinks that they are great. However, it absolutely pains me to put Apostle of Hustle in this spot because I absolutely LOVE Apostle of Hustle. When I saw Broken Social Scene last year, I was super excited to see that Andrew Whiteman was touring with the band. And he didn't disappoint. This album, however, defines disappointment. The constant sampling is annoying and distracts from the moments of actual music. And the music is pretty weak too. The poetry reading just make no sense. Why are they there? I did appreciate the William Burroughs sample, but it just sounds like his own Spare Ass Annie. Unnecessary.

((Next post: Best Songs))