The music of 2009, in the order it occurs to me:
Screaming Females: Power Move
An excellent review can be found here at Impose. ’70s guitars hearken back to the ’90s, and all your basic dad rock bands are fused into the soul of Ted Nugent, clarified, and injected into the very small guitar-shredding frame of Melissa Paternoster.
Clark: Totems Flare
I wrote about this record during the summer. It’s all Eerily baroque electronics and unaccustomed sounds, a return to form of his previous milestone, Empty the Bones of You, with its impossibly short intervals between changes. It’s a melding of his talent for off-putting tempo changes and sound processing with his more recent slowed-down and dance-friendlier music. It’s good. Kind of reminiscent of the vocal approach of Matthew Dear these days, but so much more complex sonically and musically. Like Aphex Twin in Flatland.
Wheat: White Ink Black Ink
I also trained my googly eyes on this record earlier in the year, praising the high-energy sincerity, cinematic big-affect pop, loud production, and the elastic, earthquaking time signatures that each of the songs’ parts seem to run independently on. Great new record by a good old band.
Emily Haines and her band come back from the farce of their last album to write a beautifully acerbic, trenchant, and hard pop record critical of those rules of fame, money, capital, and being untrue to oneself taught to all of us from the the first day we enter school. Lesson unlearned.
Subway: Subway II
Fine, fine, FINE krautrock out on Soul Jazz Records. Clean, simple, rhythmic, and electronic with an overt homage to one of my favorite bands of the genre. Naming a song Harmonia and then sounding just like that band on that track counts as homage, right? What an ineffably cool label Soul Jazz is.
Jay Reatard: Watch Me Fall
This week Jay Reatard was discovered dead at 29, well into an already 15-year long music career. He was a prolific artist the frenzy of whose output was never diluted, whose sound only became sharper and more penetrating with time. Watch Me Fall is a furious and fragile work of punk rock and poetry, and when I learned he died I felt the loss of never hearing another new record from such a committed and relentlessly uncompromising musician as a real shock, as a sudden cracked imperfection in the looking glass in which reality is reflected. Everything is wrong and this is sad.
You can listen to one of the last songs he recorded, a cover of Nirvana’s “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” from his website, linked above.
Pissed Jeans: King of Jeans
In addition to coming up with hilariously insouciant record titles and subliminally offensive song titles, these guys are also capable of really, really, really, laying on the loud. If rock were something incendiary, they would not be lasers— they would be a torrent of experimental napalm issuing at torso-bisecting PSI, flame or no. I sort of hesitate to put this record on this list because it’s not great in the sense that I can think of half a dozen lines from songs or any songs that stand out in particular to me, but when it goes on you’re really in a new space. You’re four or five songs in and waiting for more snide banality. They kind of remind me of Fireballs of Freedom, whose sloppy zest for living death, southern shopping mall style, endeared them to the better fuck you angels of my nature. What if Jeff Spicoli had a gun and a PhD in philosophy?
Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Yes, this did come out last year, and yes it’s good and a lot of fun. It is good and a lot of fun. I guess that’s all I really want to say about that. Is this a record I really need to bring to anyone’s attention?
I’m really glad these guys have made it. They’ve never done anything but keep their heads down and put out great pop records. United and all the great tracks on that record made me a permanent fan.
Everything Bradford Cox touches turns to mystery, and from mystery comes wonder. This record is the quiet soundtrack to your fears. Rough Trade also released a companion to this record with acoustic and alternate versions of some of the Logos songs that is well worth checking out. The acoustic version of “Kid Klimax” somehow takes that song even further into the heartbreaking banality of rustaway, workaday life, but youse gots to get the record from Rough Trade to check it for yourself.
I would like to see some kind of collaboration in any medium between Bradford Cox and César Aira. In fact, I think that about sums it up: Every song that Cox and his assembled crews write is the musical equivalent of the experience of reading any one of Aira’s novels. Bradford, if you’re out there, please read Ghosts and tell the world what you think.
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 are from Denmark and put the prog in power pop. Think “what if the Arcade fire were good?” Then play this record and expect an answer.
Capsule: More! More! More!
This came out in 2008, but I don’t care. This record surprised me more than half the things I heard this year, and it still never gets skipped when it comes in the rotation. This is a record that has gone over the top and volunteered to come back around to climb up again.
Air: Love 2
If you had told me 10 years ago I’d advise you to check out an Air record, I’d have punched you in the mouth. Then I’d give you one right in the cake. Figure that one out. I guess if someone has given you as long to get it right as these guys have had, though, you might put out a nice krauty suite of tunes just like Air did. Thank the stars for the sage foresight of record execs and their infinite patience.
Say Hi: Oohs and Ahhs
Say Hi almost solely write songs about vampires. Stripped down, echo-laden vocal tracks with quietly minimal rock riffs about romantic vampires.
David Bazan thinks a lot about life and God and all that drinking and fucking he did. It’s a wonder he has any time to sing so soulfully about it. The above-mentioned Say Hi opened for him on tour and also played in his backing band. While you’re checking this out, pick up 2002’s Pedro the Lion record, Control. It just may be the best ’90s record that didn’t see release in that decade. “Rapture” will blow the thinking adulteress’s pants off.
Propaghandi: Supporting Caste
The last time I listened to these guys was on a Fat Wreck Chords compilation- Fat Music Volume 2: Survival of the Fattest, it was- and back then they were pretty straight-ahead polemical oi-format punk. Whatever happened in the intervening 14 years has created an entirely different animal, one that swings from the trees of a different set of time signatures but still wants to pull corruption and capitalism limb from limb, like an episode from The Murders in the Rue Morgue played on guitar.
Converge: Axe to Fall
I don’t know much about Converge. I know they’ve been around for 10 years or so and they hail from Salem, MA. I read somewhere something about this album featuring a lot of interesting collaborations, but when you hear something this incredibly clean and hard, you don’t ask too many questions. I kind of like not knowing anything about a band when they’ve done something that deserves to stand alone without a backstory. The last thing this hard that excited me anywhere nearly as much as this did was the first Genghis Tron EP. One of those guys appears on this record, too, I think. I would say that Torche was “the last thing this hard…etc”, but, yeah, this is way harder than Torche. My good friend and insane drummer Erick had been anticipating this release since this teaser video and is the mensch responsible for turning me on to these guys:
CONVERGE New album out soon on Epitaph/Deathwish