Top 10 Albums of 2009

The decade closed out strong. While there was only one album that was overwhelmingly spectacular and moving this year (hint: it’s #1), there were more wonderfully solid and balanced albums than there had been in years.

Rather than try and cram my thoughts on these gems into suffocatingly concise little blurbs, I thought it better if I made it so you could just click on the album titles to be linked to the full review.

Enjoy.

1. Hospice – The Antlers
2. Daisy – Brand New
3. Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band – Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band
4. Actor – St. Vincent
5. Yes! – k-os
6. Never Better – P.O.S.
7. Now We Can See – The Thermals
8. Sainthood – Tegan & Sara
9. Mean Everything To Nothing – Manchester Orchestra
10. Mama, I’m Swollen – Cursive

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Top 50 Albums of ’00s (30-21)

The further continuation of looking back at the top albums of the 00s. In case you need a recap on the tenants used to make these rankings or missed the previous efforts: #50-41 & #40-31.

30. Delayer – The Heavenly States

If the heart of rock ‘n roll is indeed still beating then Delayer is the blood pumping through it. Devoid of any elaborate frills or gimmicks, The Heavenly States deliver an album that’s a throwback to a more simple and straightforward time before rock splintered into a million different sub-genres. That’s not to say the songs lack variety, quite the contrary (see the hoedown-esque “Never Be Alright” for proof), it’s just there’s an core feeling when you’re listening to Delayer that this is what pure rock should be. Equally mixing dashes of attitude and fun, The Heavenly States sound like the band that should be appointed as the permanent opening act for The Rolling Stones. The only catch is The Stones haven’t released something this good in decades.

(Full review here.)

29. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand

If Franz Ferdinand’s slickly cool debut album didn’t get you up dancing (or at least vigorously tapping you foot along) then you’re probably a corpse. The rump-shaking possibilities on Franz Ferdinand are endless. You could move with the rhythmic bounce of “Take Me Out,” the guitar non-stop attack of “Jacqueline,” or the bass groove of “Cheating On You,” just to name a few. And there may not be a more wonderfully filthy reason to hit the club dancefloor than the scintillating homoerotic lust ode “Michael.” I hate to steal la line from Lady GaGa to sum up Franz Ferdinand, but f’ it. Just dance.

28. Alkaline Trio – Alkaline Trio

Alkaline Trio might not be a “true” album per say (it’s actually a collection of songs that were previously released by the band on singles or EPs), but that doesn’t preclude it from feeling like one unifed burst of untamed punk bitterness. Matt Skiba’s songs of drowning in booze and heartbreak pierce deep with pointed lyricism as his ripping guitar screams the sentiments even louder. While tracks like “My Friend Peter” and “Cooking Wine” spill over with anger and remorse, but nothing can touch “97” which the most emotionally raw song of the decade. When Skiba throat-destroyingly screams that his ex-love is “a thorn in my side, the size of a Cadillac,” you feel like he means it as much as humanly possible. Alkaline Trio wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve, and that heart is broken, poisoned, and dying.

27. I Am The Movie – Motion City Soundtrack

Apparently OCD is delicious when you put a sugary shell around it. Motion City Soundtracks debut LP is full of bubbly pop melodies and playful synth lines, but it’s singer Justin Pierre’s obsessive-compulsive disorder and the hyper musings which come from it that really carry I Am The Movie. One moment he’s listing a slew of pop culture references that tie together the memory of a relationship (“Perfect Teeth”) and the next he’s spouting specifics about superhero dreams (“Capital H”). The crown jewel in the mix is the undeniable pop perfection of “The Future Freaks Me Out.” Anyone who doesn’t want to bust-a-move when they hear the tune is no one worth associating with. I Am The Movie is so sweet, it makes you glad that there’s no such thing as aural diabetes.

26. Make Up The Breakdown – Hot Hot Heat

It’s really hard to put your finger on just why Make Up The Breakdown is so good. The tight beats? The electrifying keys? Steve Bays’s off-kilter vocals? Truth be told, it’s probably a combo of all those things, but more than anything it’s Dante DeCaro guitar playing. DeCaro takes an approach to the instrument that really sets him apart. On delightful little numbers like “Bandages” and “Oh, Goddamnit” DeCaro’s playing is at times sporadic, jangly, aggressive, and methodic. It makes for a brand of danceable rock that would keep even the hardest hipster on his toes late into the night.

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Top 50 Albums of 00s (40-31)

The ongoing look back at the top albums of the 00s. In case you need a recap on the tenants used to make these rankings or missed the previous effort: #50-41.

40. The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me – Brand New

Brand New’s third album finds the group in a place where fighting off their inner demons took president over any problems they previously wrote about. This turmoil results in the pinnacle of Brand New’s usage of the soft-to-loud dynamic (which many have come to define as the band’s “signature” sound). Whether he’s pouring out his emotions on death (“Sowing Season”) or the end of the world (“Degausser”), Jesse Lacey’s lyrical precision remains in tact. No mention of The Devil And God would be complete without bringing up “Luca,” which features the most startling moment in music I’ve ever experienced. Anytime an album features a track that can literally catch you off guard to the point of a physical reaction (multiple times, none the less) you know you’re onto something great.

39. Highly Evolved – The Vines

During early part of the decade hype swirled like crazy around the “The” bands; The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Hives, and The Vines. Of the set, The Vines were they group that didn’t “deliver” according to most observers. Uhh…bullshit. Just because the radio listeners didn’t dig what The Vines were selling doesn’t mean that Highly Evolved wasn’t fantastic with it’s blend of modern alternative and much more classic (60s/70s-ish) rock. The real brilliance of The Vines is how singer/guitarist Craig Nicholls created pure havoc while his killer rhythm section stabilized everything with super tight playing. Tracks like “Outtathaway!” and “Get Free” spiral completely out of control while others like “Mary Jane” and “Autumn Shade” stay in control only because you can hear how much the reek of reefer. Nicholls is almost assuredly crazy, but that doesn’t preclude him from also being insanely gifted.

38. Songs For The Deaf – Queens of the Stone Age

Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme was born to rock and on Songs For The Deaf he’s out to prove he deserves a place among the coolest cats in rock ‘n roll. Armed with a brutalizing rhythm section (Dave Ghrol and Nick Oliveri) and an array of riffs, Homme creates a soundtrack for scorching desert drives. The opener “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire” might be the heaviest hyper-melodic song ever laid down and that’s only the tip of the quickly melting iceberg. The off-kilter riff of “No One Knows” is polar opposite of the unrelenting downstroke barrage of “Go With The Flow,” but both feel at home on this journey. It’s a long trip and it’s hot out there, luckily Songs For The Deaf can help quench the musical thirst.

37. Good News For People Who Love Bad News – Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse never was and is never going to be a happy band, but on Good News For People Who Love Bad News you could almost catch a glimpse of the corners of their mouths inching to crack a smile. The album seemed to have more a more airy quality than what Isaac Brock and company are used to; the increase in space was somewhat freeing. “The View” and “Ocean Breathes Salty” have actual pep in their step. That’s not to say that Modest Mouse lost any edge, tracks like “Bukowski” and “Black Cadillacs” still pack a vile punch. Yet even on “The Good Times Are Killing Me” there’s an admittance that though the ends might not be desirable, some of these days are actually “good.” It’s a pessimistic brand of hope that somehow got a lot of people through the 00s.

36. The Antlers – Hospice

No album this decade captured a single aspect of humanity as well as Hospice captured death. It’s crushingly sad and real depiction of dealing with the inevitability of mortality. Acoustic guitars and electronic buzzes set the scene for singer Peter Silberman’s soft croon, which tires to keep the listener calm and composed even when he’s uttering the most heartbreaking words imaginable. The sincerity makes the album, anyone who has to deal with a loved one’s passing can identify with the emotions in play here. Statements like, “We’re fucked and not getting unfucked soon,” hit points of our psyche we try desperately to forgot. Hospice is a viscerally brutal piece of artwork that’s beauty and pain will forever linger in your head.

(Full review here.)

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Top 50 Albums of 00s (50-41)

So as someone that writes about music, it turns out I’m contractually obligated to make a “Best Albums of the Decade” list. I was unaware such fictitious contracts existed, but I fear the faux, so here we go.

A quick explanation on the ranking criteria:

This list is very much my own. You be able to tell because almost nothing on here will match in the slightest with most best of lists you read. But I want this to be authentic in a way I don’t find a lot of those countdowns. To me these types of lists should be based on a combination of two main factors: listenability/enjoyability and pure artistic merit (in that order).

To explain that in simplest terms, you won’t find Radiohead on this list. Why? Because even though there music is hyper-intelligent and brimming with artistic aesthetics, do I often find myself sitting down to listen to Kid A? No. That music doesn’t keep me coming back again and again, I don’t connect with it, so why should I put it above things that I listen to constantly?

With that in mind, here are the first 10 (plus one) of my top 50 albums of the 00s.

Honorable Mention

The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show – Blink-182

I left Blink-182’s live album off my list for two reasons: It made it so that all 50 albums are of the studio vareity and, secondly, because I would probably rank it too damn high. If you weren’t in middle school when this came out it is almost impossible to explain how perfect this album is at capturing that confused and immature time period. Boasting some incredibly slick live production, the album blends Blink’s best early pop punk tunes with a consistent barrage of stage banter jokes bandied about between Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge. While the jokes are dirty and dumb, it’s hard not to laugh if you don’t take yourself to serious. Add in hits like “Adam’s Song” and “Dammit” (along with the underrated studio track “Man Overboard”), and The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show is a total entertainment package.

50. Detox – Treble Charger

Lost in the great white north of Canada, Treble Charger was a pop punk act with no desire to reach anyone in the states. As a result, very few Americans have had a chance to hear Detox, which is just a shame. Beginning with the blitz of “Hundred Million” the album delivers a fierce blend of pop punk that is a slice above many of the band’s more well know American “peers.” Could most deliver something a sneakily sinister as “The Downward Dance”? Something as ambiently sprawling as “Drive”? Nope. Detox is a proud feather maple leaf in the Canucks’ caps.

49. Patent Pending – Heavens

What if Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba fronted Interpol? You’d get something akin to Heavens. Consisting of Skiba and Josiah Steinbrick, the duo only released one record but they made sure it counted. Steinbrick’s instrumental arrangements paint a dark and intricate background which Skiba was able to tease details out of. His lyrics are at his macabre best (especially on “Counting,” “Another Night,” and “Leave”) and his vocals gently float across the soundscape in a way that wouldn’t fit with Alkaline Trio. Patent Pending is simultaneously haunting and inviting exhibiting an ability to draw in a listener into its world again and again.

48. Tenacious D – Tenacious D

Some albums are just so epically self-aware of their epicness that there’s point denying it. When Jack Black and Kyle Gass combined forces to become Tenacious D the world was forever shaken (or at least, I believe that’s how they’d put it). Utilizing a two acoustic guitar attack in accord with Black’s powerful vocals, The D rips through songs and skits mainly about how badass and sexual they are. It’s easy to forget how much this album penetrated (yes, penetrated) pop culture. If you don’t think the majority of young adult males have a working familiarity with “Fuck Her Gently,” well you don’t know many young guys. Sure the whole album is completely ridiculous, but who ever said everything has to be so serious? Long live Tenacious D.

47. All Killer No Filler – Sum 41

All Killer No Filler represents a kind of pure about pop punk. Made by four of kids from Ontario, the album overflows with youthful bliss. They don’t try to hard to be anything they are not, they’re kids making songs about being kids. The topics of songs are refreshingly straight forward, be it sleeping in (“Heart Attack”) or how adult pressure leads to laziness (“Motivation”). The idea of them doing a rap song (“Fat Lip”) or an 80s speed metal tune (“Pain For Pleasure”) doesn’t seem absurd because, well, they aren’t trying to impress or appeal to adults in the slightest. It all works because the bands melodic chops (and occasional guitar shredding skills) are honed on a level that defies the band members’ ages. This isn’t youth in revolt, it’s youth in acceptance of who they are.

46. Autopilot Off [EP] – Autopilot Off

Sure it’s short, but Autopilot Off’s self-titled EP packs a wallop into a fleeting few songs. Armed with singer Chris Johnson’s bass-baritone vocals, the group tears through powerful pop punk tracks including “Long Way To Fall,” “Nothing Frequency,” and “Wide Awake” on their way to the best EP of the decade. Chunky power chord riffs rule the day here, as passion and an authentic feel make Autopilot Off the band that the early 00s pop punk surge forgot.

(Full review here.)

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Pill Wonder Feature From The Inlander

Double Life
Seattle’s Pill Wonder is making a splash in the industry — but they still have bills to pay

Dana Jewell has to call me back.

His band Pill Wonder is generating some serious noise. The band and their cluttered lo-fi pop sound are riding a wave of good publicity thanks to a handful of recent frenetic performances, like the one they just gave at this year’s College Music Journal showcase, and their well-received spot on the Underwater Peoples Records Showcase compilation.

When he does call me back, he’s on his break from his job at Trader Joe’s and only has five minutes. Apparently buzz doesn’t pay the bills — at least it hasn’t yet.

Pill Wonder is the brainchild of Will Murder, Jewell’s friend since middle school, who records all of the music on his own. However, Murder’s blend of noise-pop is so layered and chaotic that he needs six other people to help him properly perform it live. Playing the tunes comes easy; finding the cash to tour when you’re in an underground septet is a difficult proposition.

“Even though we’re in a band that’s getting press and that has an LP coming out soon, you know, when you’re splitting $30 [for playing a show] seven ways, you’re not really getting too much money there,” Jewell says.

To build up the financial backbone to tour and sustain the band, some of its members hold down fairly steady jobs. But they’re the lucky ones. Continue reading

Tiny Dots – Yarn Owl

Pullman, Washington’s Yarn Owl is like a nice young gentleman – the kind you’d bring home to meet mom: clean cut, well read, gainfully-employed. You know Yarn Owl is not going to leave you for the hot new secretary or blow all your savings on a weekend trip to Vegas.

The group’s latest effort, Tiny Dots (released as a limited edition cassette tape by local tape label, Leftist Nautical Antiques), is chock-full of soft coos and un-abrasive instrumentation. The crafting of each tune is compositionally spot-on, each track brimming with indie sensibilities. Javier Suarez’s vocals are invitingly relaxed and unthreatening, matching the delicate scene his bandmates set up around him. But despite this, the album lacks a driving passion or gripping hook, allowing Tiny Dots to almost wash over the listener and fade right into the walls. Maybe the track “Without You” will elicit some calm toe tapping, but that’s about as engaging as it gets.
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Top 3 Reason You Don’t Need To Take The Grammys Seriously

No need to sweeten it, music’s biggest award show is a joke once again.

#3

Best New Artist

Silversun Pickups

It’s not like the band has released an album before. Oh wait…they had? You mean 2006’s Carnavas counts? Well I guess it’s only once they get successful. Wait…Carnavas debuted in the Billboard Top 100 (80th)? Uh….

#2

Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance

“Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”
Bob Dylan

“Change In The Weather”
John Fogerty

“Dreamer”
Prince

“Working On A Dream”
Bruce Springsteen

“Fork In The Road”
Neil Young

You must be this old to ride this ride.

And finally…drumroll please… Continue reading