Tuesday, December 22, 2009
T O P
T E N
 A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Ashes Grammar
 Jeremy Jay, Slow Dance
 Bob Mould, Life and Times
 Bat For Lashes, Two Suns
 Idlewild, Post Electric Blues
 St. Vincent, Actor
 The Sleepover Disaster, Hover
 Patrick Wolf, The Bachelor
 Mew, No More Stories…
 Morrissey, Years of Refusal
This is the list that I carry with me when, in December 2009, I take the train to St. Paul (in transit I travel back in time one year) and knock on the dorm room door of Geoff, age 21, a senior at Macalester College. Younger Geoff looks at the list and immediately recognizes it as a future top ten. It is easy to surmise, because it is only likely that A Sunny Day In Glasgow will go from making the best debut of 2007 to making the best album period of 2009.
He is happy to learn that Bob Mould will rise again. Bob never stopped making good albums, but after this year’s District Line, young Geoff thought he might be done making great ones. Perhaps it’s a matter of how vulnerable Bob makes himself, as Geoff has recently begun to suspect that he is actually a very likable man. It is also good news that Patrick Wolf, whose Magic Position delighted in 2007, will soon reveal himself to be a true artiste, and not just another pop musician capable of hitting the pleasure centers (if young Geoff had heard Wind in the Wires or listened more thoughtfully to The Magic Position, he would already know this).
Idlewild has never failed to impress Geoff. They haven’t even begun recording their next album and he has already paid his money for it. Delivered from the tyranny of a record label, they are bound to deliver. He thinks Post Electric Blues is not a great title, but it has him excited anyway. It doesn’t even matter if the album’s great; he’ll love it anyway. But it is great! (How can I convince you now that it is?) Another no-brainer: Morrissey’s career has been on an upward trajectory since supposed nadir Maladjusted, so he is due to release more of his best work. Will he soon have a trilogy for the 00s to rival ‘88-‘94’s excellent run of Viva Hate, Your Arsenal, and Vauxhall & I? (Yes.)
Geoff is also excited to learn he will have five new favorites by next year’s end. The Sleepover Disaster have a quiet reputation as great shoegaze revivalists. Why hasn’t he taken note yet? Bat For Lashes is a weird-named thing on a mix CD his sister has recently sent him. Why does he not pay more attention? Mew is too often described as prog rock, so Geoff is forgiven for thinking this label is accurate and avoiding them. St. Vincent is that lady from The Polyphonic Spree who has since asserted her selfhood outside the commune. But is she really her own person? Geoff likes that groovy Jeremy Jay single called “Alpharhythm,” but he doesn’t yet realize how emotional dancing can be.
I snag the list from young Geoff’s hand and return to Montana, where I continue to contemplate my favorite albums of 2009. The list reflects my tastes after all, not his.
I notice that bands proper make a weak showing this year. I count only three: Idlewild, The Sleepover Disaster, Mew. All are admirable rock ‘n’ roll units. The Sleepover Disaster make huge sounds (as dense and obscure as the smog of native Fresno) but never try to convince you that they’re more than a three-piece.
No More Stories is similarly grand, and not because it’s lavishly produced but because it’s so lavishly rehearsed. If time is money, then Mew spent a fortune on this one. The album contains some of the most potent and perfectly calculated musical pleasures since Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, and you don’t arrive there through anything but hard work (and uncanny inspiration). That preternaturally high-pitched “Show me something good” over a quickly de-escalating groove sends shivers like nothing but Corin Tucker’s wail.
Alas, I hope the sort of collective art that a good functional band represents is not on the decline, but for me, 2009 was better as a year of faceless musicians serving the visions of individual artists, bringing to life the singer’s ideas about himself or herself. Actor is a woman standing on a street corner waiting for the light to change, her momentary reveries exploded into fully orchestrated songs. The Bachelor is a boy who has used up all his love and retreated to the moors, where the voice of Tilda Swinton tries to rouse him into action. Two Suns is a lover who wants to be as powerful as the narrator of Little Earthquakes but who simply can’t survive alone, even when no one is deserving of her epic love. Slow Dance is a hopeless romantic walking through the cold city, looking at you through your window. While these albums last you are these characters, or your own versions of them.
There are no characters in Ashes Grammar, but mastermind Ben Daniels similarly empowers the listener. If you’ve had a musical education at all similar to mine, this album tells you that you haven’t wasted your time, that you’ve been listening to all the right music all these years. How can a song sound like R.E.M., Slowdive and The Black Dog all at the same time and not sound like trash? Because there are times, in the lives of many music lovers, when all three are simultaneously all-important. Ashes is pure sound, and doesn’t require the comfort of conjured images to carry you through to the end. I can lie there listening in complete blind stillness and never hit the stop button; in fact I have yet to hear a fragment of this album removed from the whole. The End.
If my list suggests a strong bias toward gay white men, straight white women and Jack Rabid-approved rock ‘n’ roll bands, I apologize, but I hope it also suggests a strong bias toward relevant music.
Sinful omissions: If Dinosaur Jr’s Farm is a sludgefeast, then it is only natural that it gives me a bit of a sludge bellyache. Maximo Park’s Quicken the Heart is like candy to me, and was easily my most played of 2009, but I think it was one spont (unit of spontaneity) short of being truly great. There was much I loved about Wye Oak’s debut last year, but I noted that they lacked any discernible personality. 2009 was the year to commit, and The Knot was another reason to love this band, whether or not they are interesting people.
Here’s everything else I liked this year, so I can’t be accused of forgetting anything I haven’t heard (like new ones by the eminently top-tenable Mary Onettes, Engineers, and Atlas Sound).
Asobi Seksu, Hush
Built To Spill, There Is No Enemy
Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career
Jarvis Cocker, Further Complications
The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love
Doves, Kingdom of Rust
The Flaming Lips, Embryonic
For Against, Never Been
Adam Franklin, Spent Bullets
Maximo Park, Quicken the Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Jay Reatard, Watch Me Fall
The Thermals, Now We Can See
The Twilight Sad, Forget The Night Ahead
Wye Oak, The Knot
Yo La Tengo, Popular Songs
Art Brut, Art Brut vs. Satan
Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
Dinosaur Jr, Farm
The Fiery Furnaces, I’m Going Away
The Hidden Cameras, Origin: Orphan
The Isles, Troika
Daniel Johnston, Is And Always Was
The Kingsbury Manx, Ascenseur Ouvert!
Theophilus London, This Charming Mixtape
Mission of Burma, The Sound The Speed The Light
A.C. Newman, Get Guilty
Sonic Youth, The Eternal
T.S.O.L., Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Free Downloads
Youth Group, The Night Is Ours
Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion
Blue Roses, Blue Roses
Condo Fucks, Fuckbook
Franz Ferdinand, Tonight
God Help The Girl
Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, Goodnight Oslo
Adam Lambert, For Your Entertainment
Lotus Plaza, The Floodlight Collective
Micachu & The Shapes, Jewellery
Obits, I Blame You
Joe Pernice, It Feels So Good When I Stop
Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Woods, Songs of Shame
Brown Recluse, The Soft Skin (3.5/5)
Death Cab for Cutie, The Open Door (3.5/5)
Deerhunter, Rainwater Cassette Exchange (4/5)
The Mary Onettes, Dare (4/5)
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Higher than the Stars (4/5)
Phillip Eno, Templestay Forever YSG (4/5)
Superchunk, Leaves in the Gutter (3.5/5)
The Champagne Socialists- “Blue Genes” (3.5/5)
Jeremy Jay- “Breaking the Ice” (4/5)
Sic Alps- “L. Mansion” (3.5/5)
Devon Williams- “Sufferer” (5/5)
Searching for the Now 5 [Liechtenstein, The Faintest Ideas] (4.5/5)
Searching for the Now 6 [The School, George Washington Brown] (4.5/5)