Rockin' My Turntable In 2009: Tankboy
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 30, 2009 8:30PM
This is the year where, in my opinion, a lot of good music was unleashed but very little great music was created. We've hit a stasis point it seems, where the music scene has become so varied and so wild that the end result is a homogeneity that makes it very difficult for anything truly astounding to surface. Sure, loads of critics laud the efforts of Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, and I found their albums this year to be pleasant enough too, but how many people are still listening to them over and over again, months after their release? I don't doubt there are some die-hard fans, but I'd be willing to wager that even most of those placing those discs on their year-end lists haven't fired them up since the summer.
Photo by Great Beyond
I could go on and on about the mainstream quashing the true independent releases by sucking them into it's maw and spitting them back out as commercial soundtracks, but what's the point? None of this is a new development and every generation lives to see their sentimental enthusiasm get dashed as the underdogs become the overlords.
So, instead, I built my list upon the intensely personal experiences I had with the albums below. These are the discs I turn to when i just want to dig music like I did when I was a teenager. Well, at least they give me the closest approximation of that experience. These are the albums I had fun with. They're not all great works of art, but they've held up over the past year and consistently pushed themselves out between the piles of music submissions I get daily as they warranted each return to my headphones or stereo speakers.
I noticed that this year my list is more rock-centric than most, and that's not because there wasn't loads of great pop, rap, electronic, etcetera out there, it's merely because I tend to not listen to much of that in the context of an album. Those tunes are the ones I take in giddy bite-sized chunks, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
So, if you will please humor me, here are the lists of my favorite albums and songs (in alphabetical, not ranking, order) of the year.
Adiam Dymott - Adiam Dymott
Adiam Dymott is a silky voiced Swede who sings with a matter-of-fact approach that's immediately accessible and difficult to resist. Her songs aren't complicated, but the impressions they cause to arise are. On one level it's very simple alterna-pop, but unlike most of its ilk it doesn't tire the ears upon repeated listenings. Why? Because Dymott sings with an unabashed honesty that never rings false.
Annie - Don't Stop
Annie lays her voice over beds of propulsive disco, electro, and dance-pop providing a recipe for success that isn't difficult to appreciate. The production is sleek but there's also a DIY quality to the work that implies the tracks were built with great care, and were intended to bounce under the words and melodies they carry, rather than hewing to some preconceived notion of what they should sound like. This is the shiny new face of pop ad in a perfect world Annie would be stomping all over the bland, faceless, tasteless hordes clogging the charts.
Bad Veins - Bad Veins
O.K., it's true ... Bad Veins sound a LOT like The Killers before that band went and embraced their Las Vegas roots to a ridiculous extent. Bad Veins singer Benjamin Davis bears a striking vocal resemblance to Brandon Flowers -- had Flowers ever taken vocal lessons and gained more control and range -- and the music he creates with drummer and musical partner Sebastien Schultz has that same expansive, epic feel that is catchy instead of monolithic. Live the guys are revelatory, one punds on drums, the other switches between beating his guitar and attacking his synth, and both are anchored by the basic tracks supplied by their trusty reel-to-reel tape player Irene. You have to see it. Bad veins are easily one of the bands I think deserve a LOT more attention in 2010.
The Big Pink - A Brief History Of Love
This duo reaches back into the murky reaches of '80s clubland and MTV's 120 Minutes to concoct a modern brew of shoegaze and titanic melody. Their debut is chock-full of potential singles. A rare few may find themselves immune to the album's charms, and those will probably do so because they will find its sound too derivative of an earlier era. And they're right, it does faithfully mirror a certain feel from a certain time. But what they're missing is that The Big Pink has mastered the language of those days and expertly crafted it into something new to these ears. And isn't one mark of great art to make the impressive look simple and easy?
The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
Embryonic marked the return of The Flaming Lips acting like, well, The Flaming Lips. Gone were the giddy choruses, the layers of cotton candy sunshine strumming, and the burbling happy synths. These sounds were all swept aside and replaced with menacing rhythms, discordant, jarring melodies, and a psychedelic horror-show sheen. The sound is meant to suck you in and toss you around its waves before settling you deep within its forward thrust. It's an album built on delirium that works best if you allow its fever dream to totally consume you. It's a deliciously wonderful new start for the band.
fun. - Aim and Ignite
Simply put, fun. has created one of my favorite albums of the year. Listening to Aim And Ignite is akin to catching an infectious disease marked by non-stop smiles and a buoyant feeling that hovers between constant bliss and the brink of tears. It's the sort of album that is impossible to listen to without feeling the faint tug of heartbreak at the back of your neck. And it's the sort of album that brings to mind the optimistic mood of the perfect sunrise. It's the sort of album I was beginning to doubt was even being made anymore, and thank God I was wrong about that.
Great Northern - Remind Me Where The Light Is
Great Northern's lush recorded arrangements are psychologically epic brutal brawling powerhouses. The boy / girl interplay that carries along the most driving tracks turn from sultry back-and-forths and become molten exchanges by two intertwining and majestic forces. Hyperbole falls by the wayside as the honesty of the band's attack strips away the threat of exaggeration.
Hiawata! - These Boys And This Band Is All I Know
Sometime I admit I just want to crawl back into the sunshiney gauze-pop of Teenage Fanclub circa 1992, and I'm guessing Hiawata! feels much the same way.Their concise album whizzes by in a burst of shambling energy, penning odes to love and the suburbs, and sounding so downright indie college So Cal you'd have zero idea they're actually from Norway. Break out your skateboard, strap on your Walkman and go for a ride with these guys.
Hockey - Mind Chaos
Hockey is not the second coming of the disco king, but damn if they don't concoct some tasty tunes that split equal time between mining the more new wave hip-hop inclinations of Blondie and cross them with the more rockist iteration of Duran Duran. I'm sick of the endless parade of "next big things" but Hockey isn't striving for that. Instead they've proven themselves adept at mimicking that cool-as-shit Brooklyn boogie without resorting to the cold detachment most bands in that vein mine in order to remain ironically aloof. They hit the same sweet spot within me that The Virgins nailed last year; Mind Chaos is a pop album that doesn't lose its gloss upon repeated spins.
I Was A King - I Was A King
Norwegian band I Was A King concocts mini-symphonies -- we're talking under three minutes here -- that range from the smeared psychosis of a low-fi Polyphonic Spree on through to the best indie power pop 1995 forgot to release. Their debut sounds as if the Wall Of Sound was engineered on acid giving the album a rather, um, expansive feel. Theyalso have the honor of composing what I consider my absolute favorite song of 2009, "Norman Bliek," three minutes of absolutely ecstatic pop abandon.
Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications
Further Complications was recorded right here in Chicago with favorite son and studio egghead Steve Albini engineering. It's a sexy beast of an album, one that trades in the gentler strokes of his solo debut for a rougher, raspy, well-fucked feel. Cocker brings together Mick Jagger's swagger with David Bowie's breadth and range and makes it all his own to create a white boy blues with swagger and stomp. Cocker tok the song-stories he perfected in Pulp and builds them into mini-symphonies and bluesy grunts to seduce hipster and housewives in equal measure.
Kelly Clarkson - All I Ever Wanted
Al I Ever Wanted is a twisted take on the pop diva offerings in recent years. Clarkson resists simple pigeonholing by making each and everysong on this album sound as if it could only ever be sung by her. Clarkson is not only the girl you'd like to have a beer with, she's probably the girl you're most likely to actually have a beer with. And it's this utterly human quality that keeps the pop-machine from waxing away the imperfections that make her so alluring.
KiD CuDi - Man On The Moon: The End Of Day
Who knew CuDi had such a dark landscape hidden within him? Sure, breakout hit "Day 'N' Nite" was a quirky little slice of club-hop, but the sngs on Man On The Moon: The End Of Day plumb brand new depths to redefine the broader expectations of CuDi. Nightmare scenarios, intricate production, and complexities of character create a disc that travels through distinct movements. Some might find all of this a bit pretentious but i think it paves the way for a varied and interesting career.
Kid Sister - Ultraviolet
The album was supposed to come out last year under a different title, and after numerous delays we honestly began to wonder if it would ever drop, but we are satisfied in saying the delay produced a better album. Many of the more traditional hip-hop songs on the earlier disc -- "Damn Girl," Family Reunion," and "Beeper" to name a few -- were sacrificed in favor of a pop flavored club banger vibe. The songs that made the cut give the impression of being developed by a lover of ''80s club and hip-hop culture who wasn't old enough to actually experience it first hand. That is to say, Kid Sister takes an idealized view of a particular point in time, updates it with sonic grit from her here and now, and ends up producing a timeless party album.
Metric - Fantasies
Metric has concocted a heady mix of smart songs destined for a jillion remixes that will never be better than the originals. They've learned how to keep the beat driving while lathering it with minor chords and unlikely chordal vocal melodies to keep things from falling into predictable patterns. And when they do slow down the tempo, it serves as a dreamy breather breather instead of a speed bump; it reminds us of what's at the core of the band's music just long enough to remind us to engage in the party with both head and hips. What you end up with is one of the smartest rock records fit for two turntables to come out so far this year.
Pearl Jam - Backspacer
Shorthand? Barack Obama gets elected thus freeing Eddie Vedder and friends to finally rock out again in joy instead of anguish.Backspacer shows a band who has found their way again and seems to enjoy making music for its own sake instead of worrying how to fit it around this or that weighty statement. It's a band high off its own power again, and they're lifting the rest of us along with them.
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
It only took a decade or so for this French "breakout" band to emerge. Heh. The truth is, Phoenix's previous albums always displayed the band's talent at writing catchy hooks, but it only hinted that they could be such geniuses at it. While this is my personal favorite album of the year, I suspect that it is the one that will definitely mark itself as the one I most identify with 2009. It's been a joy to see them emerge as underdogs early in the year, thrill an enthusiastic crowd at Park West mid-point and then sell-out the Aragon Ballroom near the end of the year. I can't wait to see what they have in store for us next.
Soulsavers - Broken
Soulsavers is essentially a studio construction built by the duo of Rich Machin and Ian Glover auigmented by an incredibly potent secret weapon in guest singer Mark Lanegan's vocals. Broken is filled with moody atmospherics and continuous tension, and it's a long slow burning strand of magnesium from beginning to end with brief resites along the way. It's an album of nightmare dreamscapes smeared with kohled eyes, bourbon kisses, and dark redemption. And hope. The overarching theme is that there's still hope, no matter how dire the surroundings. It's a dark world, but one worth submerging yourself in.
Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
For once the term supergroup applies to this trio including Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, and John Paul Jones. These perfect allies come together to create some of the most impressive music in each partner's career. Heavy, groovy, thundering music that sexes up the joints and crushes the bones. From start to finish the album never lags or grows predicable -- each time you think you know what's coming they show a fearless desire to take three left turns and strand you somewhere completely unexpected before bringing you back to relative safety -- and the thrill ride never grows old.
Wilco - Wilco (the album)
Jeff Tweedy finally loosened the reins enough to let the rest of the band join in and it shows. Wilco (the album) provides a varied palette sound-wise and we find the group's enthusiasm for the songs positively infectious. This is not to say all has become sweetness an light in the world of Wilco, while the album opener ambles amiably along, there are moments of dark stress and tension elsewhere, but all of it is connected by the thread of a band truly beginning to work off each other. And that is a joy to listen to.
Adiam Dymott "Cars"
Amazing Baby "Supreme Being"
Andrew Bird "Fitz and the Dizzy Spells"
Annie "I Don't Like Your Band"
Bad Veins "Gold And Warm"
Band Of Skulls "I Know What I Am"
The Big Pink "At War With The Sun"
Black Moth Super Rainbow "Born On A Day The Sun Didn't Rise"
Brendan Benson "A Whole Lot Better"
Cheap Trick "Sick Man Of Europe"
Datarock "True Stories"
The Dirty Projectors "Cannibal Resource"
Electric Owls "Put, The Candle, Back!"
Electric Tickle Machine "Part Of Me"
Fever Ray "Seven (The Twelves Remix)"
The Flaming Lips "Convinced Of The Hex"
fun. "All the Pretty Girls"
The Ghost Is Dancing "Rogues & Heroes"
Hathbanger "Miley Cyrous"
The Heaven Seventies "I Wanna Fuck (All Night Long)"
Hiawata! "That's The Spirit"
Hockey "Song Away"
I Was A King "Norman Bleik"
The Idle Hands "Loaded"
John Legend "Everybody Knows (RAC Mix)"
Julian Casablancas "Out of the Blue"
Jupiter One "Volcano"
Kelly Clarkson "My Life Would Suck Without You"
KiD CuDi "Make Her Say (ft. Kanye West & Common)"
Kings Of Leon "Use Somebody (Andre Anjos Remix)"
Lady GaGa "Bad Romance (Radio Edit)"
Lissy Trullie "Self-Taught Learner"
Little Boots "Earthquake"
The Mae Shi "R U Professional? (4 Xtian)"
Mannequin Men "Massage"
Metric "Gimme Sympathy"
Miike Snow "Song For No One"
Morrissey "Something Is Squeezing My Skull"
Parry Gripp "Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom"
Pearl Jam "Supersonic"
Peter Bjorn & John "Lay It Down"
Simian Mobile Disco "Audacity of Huge"
Skybox "In a Dream"
Sloan "Take It Upon Yourself"
Soft Speaker "Mercury Park"
Soulsavers "Some Misunderstanding"
The Sounds "Dorchester Hotel"
Spanish For 100 "Spider"
stellastarr* "Graffiti Eyes"
SUNBEARS! "I'm Alive!"
The Thermals "We Were Sick"
Thom Yorke "All For The Best"
Tinted Windows "Messing With My Head"
Wale "Chillin' (Feat. Lady Gaga)"
Weezer "Put Me Back Together"
White Rabbits "Percussion Gun"
White Lies "Death"
Wilco "Wilco (the song)"
Yeasayer "Ambling Alp"