Sunday, December 13, 2009

hear, here - top albums of 2009

This is the introduction to the Common-Terry 2009 Year in Music. It’s designed to pique your interest in my point of view. Do you care? Well, possibly not but, hey, you’re still reading, so I’ll just keep writing and you’ll stop when you stop. That said, this is just the introduction; why would you quit so soon? [You quitter, you.]

These lists are always tentative. Invariably, I look back and think, “Yyyyeah, no. Mr. Mister doesn’t really belong on that list,” or some such thing. And of course, there’s the music to which I haven’t yet been exposed or had the opportunity to really dig into [i.e. The Flaming Lips' "Embryonic"], so it ends up being a retroactive thing. Because there are always retroactive things. Ask anybody.

This has been the introduction to the Common-Terry 2009 Year in Music.

Thank you.

10. St. Vincent - “Actor”

It's always hard for me to decide on the ten spot [aka Mr. Irrelevant]. I waffle a lot. [What can I say? It’s my albatross.] You'd think I'd be more decisive being that the free world hangs in the balance. But no. I refer again to the waffling. That said, this year's waffles landed firmly on the head of St. Vincent. The reason this one edged out the others? Annie Clark writes symphonies. Not in the sense that they’re broad, sweeping compositions, but because, to my ear, they could successfully be performed by a philharmonic. Oddly, it also strikes me that she’s likely a student of Peter Gabriel’s early solo stuff. An interesting combination.

Standout track: “Actor Out of Work”

9. Sister Suvi - “Now I Am Champion”

If you lived in Pittsburgh in the early 90’s and followed the indie music scene… I’m sorry.

Wait. That thought took a wrong turn. Let me backpedal... With the aforementioned criteria in mind, you may remember a band called Wimp Factor 14. Wimp Factor had a tremendous lo-fi sound and whenever I listen to "Now I Am Champion," I'm reminded of it. But while Wimp Factor's sound was quirky, almost childlike, Sister Suvi’s gets in your face and makes sure you’re paying attention. On "I Am Champion," the band walks the fence between light and dark. It’s a balance that works well for them and “Now I Am Champion” is a terrific collection of tracks — one that I suspect would make a long-collapsed Pittsburgh ensemble proud. And, hey, how 'bout that cover art? My favorite of the year. No question.

Standout track: “Claymation”

8. The XX - “XX”

“XX” is a late entry. These guys do more with negative space than what metaphor?
A) An 11th century Chinese ink painter
B) Don Rickles
C) A New Orleans prostitute during Mardi Gras

Ha…! Gotcha! Trick question! A and C are the same thing.

Anyhow. There’s a wonderful economy of notes on this album, and I think it takes real bojangles for a band to go that route on their freshman release.

Standout track: “Heart Skipped a Beat”

7. Neko Case - “ Middle Cyclone”

As soon as I put the virtual needle to these mp3’s [I clicked the “play” icon] I was pretty sure this one would end up on this list — or at least teeter on the edge of it. Neko Case could sing the personal ads in the back of your local free newsweekly and make them sound beautiful. [“Thank yeww… This next song is called ‘Bi-Curious…’”] Few can boast a voice as powerful as hers [a fact that became clear when I saw her a couple years ago at the Henry Fonda]. On “Middle Cyclone,” she’s never been stronger. Like all Neko Case albums, each song on this one tells a story, and that’s something only a few songwriters can do successfully.

Standout track: “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”

6. Phoenix - “Wolfgang Mozart Phoenix”

En un mot? Peppy. Non seulement les chansons amusantes, mais ils font aussi envie — acheter une Cadillac. Alors maintenant, les Français ont apporté au monde la démocratie, abandon, le ménage à trois, la langue française, et Phoenix. Alors, je crois que je vais le dire - la restitution “Wolfgang Mozart Phoenix.” Vous serez heureux vous.

Standout track: “1901”

5. Girls - “Album”

I like Girls. Yeah, I said it. In fact, I love ‘em. They’re awesome. They make me sing in my car. They make me think. And I hope to see them live and in person someday. They’re just a damn good band with a damn good album with a damn creative name. With songs like “Lust for Life” and “Big Bad Mean M**********r,” these guys show that they're adept at mixing a classic rock & roll structure with a high-volume, lo-fi sound. [Again, with the lo-fi. Somewhere Bob Pollard is smiling. And drinking. Heavily.] But Girls’ sound isn't lo-fi just for the sake of being lo-fi. I don’t think these songs would work nearly as well with a big production backing it. Unlike my first script. [Call me.]

Standout track: "Lust For Life"

4. The Pains Of Being Pure at Heart - “The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart”

The Jesus and Mary Chain called. They want their blah, blah, blah, blah. Being derivative is excusable if it works. This album is very, very excusable. A fantastic album and — to continue the trend — a lo-fi sound in line with Girls. I’ve had a crush on this one since the day I bought it [aptly, on Valentine’s Day]. Still a fan of that late-80’s sound? Buy this. And if you were, like, five years old at the time, buy it anyway. Then pick up “Psycho Candy.” Trust me on this.

Standout Track: “This Love Is Fucking Right!”

3. Antony & the Johnsons - “The Crying Light”

If you like your music with an “Oh-God-I’m-considering-cutting-myself” vibe, Antony & the Johnsons is the ensemble for you. If you like creepy, “I’m-now-afraid-of-old-people” album covers, “The Crying Light” is your album. Antony is known for delicate, thoughtful songs that have a way of getting under your skin, and this one is the rash you got that one time at summer camp, but in a good way. And if that doesn’t make sense, then you’ve not heard “The Crying Light.”

Standout track: “Kiss My Name”

2. The Antlers - “Hospice”

The story behind “Hospice” is heart-wrenching. The lyric, ”And you were brought into those rooms/With sliding curtains, shining children’s heads/And one of them, that boy/Was not as lucky as you then” makes this clear. “Hospice” is about a young girl suffering from terminal cancer. [Sadly, a true story.] One might expect the melodies throughout the album to be depressing and painful. And although there is an unavoidable pain woven into each track, some tracks have a delicate, achingly beautiful quality to them, others soaring and triumphant. Don’t deprive yourself of this one because of the subject matter. It’s too good to pass up.

Standout track: "Two"

1. Grizzly Bear - “Veckatimest”

Okay. How to follow that?

Well, in this case, you follow it with the year’s best: “Veckatimest.” From the almost-Jazzy opening notes of “Southern Point," it immediately struck me that this was an entirely different animal. [Pun absolutely, positively, shamelessly intended.] These guys have made a piece of music that is as challenging as it is entertaining. Plus, this one boasts what is, I believe, the best single of the year — “Two Weeks.” [If you’re hedging on whether or not to buy it, just fork over the 99¢. If you don’t like it, I’ll send you a check.] But admittedly, this album isn’t for everyone. It won’t be the adrenaline rush you need to jog that extra mile; it won’t be heard on 92% of the nation’s radio stations [I'm being kind]; and it won’t exactly get singer Ed Droste on the cover of “Tiger Beat” [a crime]. What it will do is give you 52 minutes of tremendous music. And isn’t that enough?

Standout track: “Foreground”

Because there always is.

Yo La Tengo - “Popular Songs”

This is as good as Yo La Tengo has been since 1997’s “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.”

Morrissey - “Years Of Refusal”

Yes. I'm old. Sue me. And, y'know? I just gave this another listen through and it could easily have made the 10.

The Rural Alberta Advantage - “Hometowns”

Fantastic find. Honest and straightforward. But be careful. They’re… “Canadian.”

Ida Maria - “Fortress ‘round My Heart”

Were I in a frat, this would be on repeat. I love her Swedishosity and Swedaciousness. [She's Swedish.]

The Postmarks - “Memoirs At The End Of The World”

There's some serious harkening going on here. So, fans of harkening? Enjoy.

Camera Obscura - “My Maudlin Career”

You’d think they were chummy with Phil Spector. Except he’s in prison for murder. [What a jackass that guy turned out to be.]

Tiny Vipers - “Life On Earth”

Mazzy Star fans should just pick it up. No questions asked.

So then. That’s that on Hear, Here. I hope you'll give these albums a shot and if you do, I hope you like them. If you don't like them? Well, I suppose you'll be disappointed just like Tammy was last year. [I just had to, Tammy, I just had to.] If nothing more, the standout tracks might make a good playlist. Or not. It's your call.