Songs of the Year 2009

Another year is over and another decade done and all that’s left for me now is to cook down the music I’ve served up over the past twelve months into an easily digestible, playlist-sized morsel. God…even after all the years I’ve been doing this, it’s still not easy. With all of the inspiringly good music that came out this past year, the wrap-up could have easily been 30 songs long, so I’ll apologize up front if you felt Carbon Leaf or Blitzen Trapper or Wye Oak should have been recognized, but I had to swing the axe on something, otherwise why have an end-of-the-year list at all?!! Surprisingly, none of my faves showed up on lists compiled by Rolling Stone, Spin or any of the other ‘big’ name music mags. Well…NME did have The Horrors ‘Sea Within A Sea’ at #2…does that make me a little bit mainstream?!! And it might sound melodramatic, but many of these songs have become touchstones to my life…they jog my increasingly bad memory and remind me of how I was feeling, who I was with and what I was doing. As I sat here editing down the list and listening to these all again, it was as though I was watching the year musically speed past me…bringing it all back again as the melodies filled me up. So here they are…my favorites songs of 2009……

#1.
AUDRYE SESSIONS
Turn Me Off


DOWNLOAD: Turn Me Off

There was absolutely zero chance this wasn’t gonna be my number one song this year. From the first time I heard it leap outta my Sirius while listening to Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel I was sold. Ryan Karazija has been compared to everyone from Bono to Thom Yorke, but the simple fact is his voice is an amazing instrument all it’s own, his timing and phrasing are extraordinary and he’s backed up with three of the most talented young musicians I’ve seen in years! And the cherry on top was that I got to shoot them when they were in New York back in March! Their self-titled debut album came out in October and you can check them out on their MySpace page

#2.
GREAT NORTHERN
Houses


DOWNLOAD: Houses

The one thing that nobody should ever have to witness is me singing, but this is the one song this year that I find myself harmonizing with (horribly) whenever it plays! Rachel Stolte’s trembling, trilling yet powerful vocals send shivers up my spine and the wall of fuzzy noise that accompanies her gets me swaying from the jump. Great Northern dropped “Remind Me Where The Light Is” in April…check ‘em out on their MySpace page

great_northern

#3.
DINOSAUR PILE-UP
My Rock & Roll


DOWNLOAD: My Rock & Roll

Yup…those three goofballs from Leeds who studied the Nirvana songbook easily grabbed the #3 spot on The List with ‘My Rock & Roll’, certainly the most glorious rock anthem of the year. I found ‘em on MySpace…where else?!!

#4.
MOS DEF
Quiet Dog


DOWNLOAD: Quiet Dog

There’s a certain member of The List who has told me in no uncertain terms that if ‘Quiet Dog’ didn’t make the Songs of the Year List, I would no longer be welcome at her dinner table! Well…she didn’t hafta threaten holding back food to get me to put this thing on, ‘cuz when I saw Mos Def do ‘Quiet Dog’ on Letterman I was instantly maintainin’ the rock and I don’t stop! Mos Def is the King of Kool…and he’s on MySpace

Mos_Def

#5.
ANYA MARINA
Move You


DOWNLOAD: Move You

Just imagine…if it hadn’t been for me tossing and turning from a wicked case of insomnia and then switching on Kimmel I probably never would have known who Anya Marina was, but even in my sleep-deprived state I knew she was the real deal and in an incredibly short time she has rocketed to the top of the indie pile with the kitten-sexy ‘Move You’. In fact, she’s so damned good that she stole the show from headliner Emiliana Torrini when they played the Highline Ballroom this Summer! ‘Move You’ is off of her second album, Slow & Steady Seduction, Phase II and you can hear more on her MySpace Page

#6.
METRIC
Gimme Sympathy


DOWNLOAD: Gimme Sympathy

So what if Metric are electronically-driven popsters from Canada? Every time Emily Haines’ pleading, raspy vocal cries, “Gimme sympathy!”, it pulls at my heart! It’s just one of those perfectly hook-filled pop songs that I find myself humming long after it’s over and what can be wrong with that?!! Head on over to their MySpace page and listen to a bit more.

#7.
BAND OF SKULLS
Blood


DOWNLOAD: Blood

Few bands blew up as big as Band Of Skulls did this past year. Besides touring the World in the summer, they also killed it at the Lollapalooza festival and just when they thought things might die down a bit, one of their songs was featured in the blockbuster movie, ‘Twilight – New Moon’…not bad for a group who last year at this time were still playing skeevy clubs in London and only had a couple of EP’s under their belts! Hit ‘em on MySpace

#8.
FEVER RAY
Now’s The Only Time I Know


DOWNLOAD: Now’s The Only Time I Know

Karin Dreijer Andersson’s solo experiment, Fever Ray, caught even the most diehard fans of The Knife off guard. Where The Knife could wander off into an electronic miasma of utter weirdness, Andersson’s icy-cool vocals, haunting melodies and slickly-produced musical constructions created a surprisingly approachable, yet intensely primal, world of minimalism and harmony…while still remaining pretty damned weird! Hear more Fever Ray on their MySpace Page or over on the Official Website

#9.
KATE TUCKER
Bullet Train


DOWNLOAD: Bullet Train

Kate’s new album, White Horses, isn’t due out ’til next Spring, but I’ve been giving out tastes for most of the year! A document of heartache, lost love and rebirth, it’s an intensely personal diary that she presents with an anguish-filled urgency that you feel from the first few notes. Kate’s a friend of The List, and I’m expecting you all to pre-order a limited edition signed and numbered copy of White Horses (Release date: March 2010), and Kate will send you a free gift! Just go the the ‘NEWS’ section on Kate’s Website for details, and then check her out on MySpace

#10.
THE IDLE HANDS
Loaded


DOWNLOAD: Loaded

The Idle Hands were basically unknown, but they turned a lotta heads at SXSW this year when they debuted a bunch of the new stuff they’ve been working on, including this Nihilistically re-worked version of ‘Loaded’, for an as-yet unnamed new album. All you Emo Boys and Backpack Kids can check out more songs over on MySpace

The Idle Hands

#11.
THE HORRORS
Sea Within a Sea


DOWNLOAD: Sea Within a Sea

What’s a list without a bit of Goth?!! Sure, they wear a lotta eye makeup and they’re probably very full of themselves (I mean, just look at how they pose!), but so did Bauhaus and these guys are the closest thing to that late-great band there is! For those of us with a penchant for gloomy poetics, Faris Badwan’s vocals come across like the like the bastard-child of Peter Murphy and Ian Curtis…just the kinda thing you need to listen to as your life slips away from you…..visit their MySpace page or their website for more.

horrors

#12.
SAY HI
November Was White, December Was Grey


DOWNLOAD: November Was White, December Was Grey

This was the very first Song of the Day when I moved The List from the e-mail distribution to the blog and it has remained one of the most-played songs I’ve come across all year. Seattle-based Eric Elbogen performs as Say Hi, recording albums out of his home, playing a majority of the instruments and vocals. He is often compared to such disparate artists as Belle & Sebastian, The Beatles, The Strokes, Interpol and Gary Numan and since 2002 has put out a pretty damned impressive body of work…visit his MySpace page to hear more.

#13.
THE HAPPY HOLLOWS
Faces


DOWNLOAD: Faces

I’m always fascinated by Sarah Negahdari’s voice…at times it’s like Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but then she’ll get all introspective and moody like Tanya Donelly from Belly and just when you think she can’t morph into something else, she’ll do a mash-up of Patty Smith and Yoko Ono!!! It’s her trilling, high-register vocals that drive this L.A.-based power trio like a buzz saw on steroids. Their new album, Spells, dropped October 6th, and you can head over and make friends on MySpace

#14.
SCANNERS
Salvation


DOWNLOAD: Salvation

Even more tough-girl vocals from Sarah Daly, the lead singer of London-based post punk pop band, Scanners. Daly’s femme fatale swagger…part Karen O, part Chrissie Hynde…fits in perfectly with the eerie vibe on ‘Salvation’, with it’s dark harmonies that overlay a haunting melody. They’re set to release their second album, Submarine, in February on Dim Mak, but for now, check ‘em out on MySpace

#15.
THE SUN
In Perfect Time


DOWNLOAD: In Perfect Time

It’s kinda fitting that we come to the end of a list of the year’s best songs with a band that doesn’t even exist any more. The Sun were a collective of crazy talented musicians from Columbus, Ohio who packed it in back in January, but before they left, they finished Don’t Let Your Baby Have All The Fun that you can download gratis over at their old label, Rock Proper. And if you like following dead bands, head over to their MySpace page and ask ‘em to get back together again, but to maybe come up with a better name!

The Sun

Well…that’s it for another year. I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves! As for me…Hell, I just wanna be a rock star…..!!!

Henry Rollins versus The Techno Viking

Because I can’t get it outta my head, I was searchin’ for the mp3 of that AutoTune mixup of 2009 that I posted a couple of weeks ago, when I stumbled across the website of Steve Porter…the DJ who did the remix…and ended up in an hour-long hole watching a bunch of his videos…but at least my time wasn’t a total waste, ‘cuz this one of Henry Rollins discussing his deep love of Techno is killer, because after all…who doesn’t love anything that features the Techno Viking?!!

And as a bonus, I actually did find an mp3 copy of The Year 2009 Filtered Through AutoTune. The quality ain’t gonna win any awards, but what the Hell…

DJ STEVE PORTER
The Year 2009 In Auto-Tune


DOWNLOAD: The Year 2009 In Auto-Tune

Christmas Song of the Day

VINCE GUARALDI & THE CHARLIE BROWN CHORUS
Christmas Time Is Here


DOWNLOAD: Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal)

DOWNLOAD: Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental)

My friend Adrian confessed to me this week that whenever he hears anything from the Charlie Brown Christmas album he turns into a pile of mush, so, because I’m the kinda guy who likes to make his friends get all mushy around the Holidays, here are a couple of versions of that old Christmas classic, Christmas Time Is Here. Happy Holidays!

Big Musical Mistake of the Day

PETE YORN & SCARLETT JOHANSSON
I Am the Cosmos


DOWNLOAD (Why bother?!!): I Am the Cosmos

Is it just me, or does it seem that most movie stars wanna be rock stars too? I mean, toss a dart in Hollywood and you’ll hit some actor who thinks he’s got the chops to rock out and the simple fact is, 99.9% of them suck at it! Why is it that Billy Bob Thornton, Kevin Bacon, Jared Leto and Russell Crowe all think they can force Bono to the unemployment line? Is the music biz so devoid of talent that there are record executives who think Juliette Lewis, Dennis Quaid and Kevin Costner need recording contracts? Can’t actors just be happy with taking huge paychecks for prancing around in front of a camera and leave my ears in peace?!! I guess not, ‘cuz now comes ‘Break Up’, the second simply God-Awful album from Scarlett Johansson. Apparently ‘inspired’ by the ’60’s duets of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot, she teams up with Pete Yorn…a great singer/songwriter who bloody well should have known better, but was probably blinded by ScarJo’s inner artist and etherial beauty! I had heard the buzz surrounding the release of this album back in the summer, but after her first lame attempt at grabbing the Golden Ring of Rock-God fame, Anywhere I Lay My Head, an ill-conceived mishmash of Tom Waits covers, I could give a damn if I never heard her disinterested moaning voice plod through another collection of self-important garbage, but then last night as I was driving back into the city, this dirge slithered outta the radio and almost forced me off the road. I am slack-jawed over how amazingly bad it is. I would gladly just jump in front of a bus in order to never have to endure the pain of listening even one more time, but I feel it’s my duty to warn all of the Friends of The List to avoid this nightmare set to music at all costs…so please listen at your own peril!!!

Nasty Christmas Song of the Day

ERIC IDLE
F*©K Christmas!!!


DOWNLOAD: F*©K Christmas!!!

Any Monty Python fans out there?!! Well…Eric Idle puts on the Christmas spirit with a Holiday song that will surely warm even the coldest heart!

A Parade of Guys in Suits…..

It seems like in the past few years the overwhelming majority if the people who have stood before my camera have been businessmen….so much so that I’m beginning to have dreams of long lines of guys in suits! I have a bit of a backlog of recent shoots that I haven’t dropped on the blog, so before the holidays take over I figured I had better clean out the closet and put few of them up…

Click on any image for full-size

Henri de Castries for Barron’s

This weeks cover story on AXA Group CEO, Henri de Castries

AOL Executives for BusinessWeek

With the spinning off of AOL from Time Warner, I was sent to shoot CEO Tim Armstrong and his inner circle at the New AOL for a feature story in the first issue of the new Bloomberg BusinessWeek

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong

Jon Brod – Vice President of AOL Ventures

Jeff Levick – President, Global Advertising and Strategy

Bill Wilson – President, AOL Media

Brad Garlinghouse – President, Internet and Mobile Communications

IndexIQ for BusinessWeek

And finally, one more BusinessWeek story. For this one one, we went down to NYU and shot the principals of IndexIQ, a Westchester-based hedge fund with a former Time Inc publisher at the helm and an NYU finance professor at it’s chief investment strategist.

Seated: Professor Robert Whitelaw. Standing (L-R): Adam Patti, Anthony Davidow, Sal Bruno

CEO Adam Patti

Song of the Day

SPOON
Written In Reverse


DOWNLOAD: Written In Reverse

Those Indie darlings, Spoon, are sitting on what is prolly gonna be one of the hottest releases of next year and even though Transference isn’t due out until January 19th (Why blow off Christmas sales…tax implications?!!) the first single, ‘Written In Reverse’, is already burning up the College Radio charts. It’s been almost two years since Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and the Head Spoon, Britt Daniel, calls ‘Transference’ an uglier record….I assume he’s referring to the fact that the new record is loaded up with more spontaneous and raw tunes that started out as throwaways or demos, but there’s no denying the much rougher edge and bluesy feel on ‘Written In Reverse’ is a departure from anything heard on Spoon’s recent albums. Check out more Spoon at Spoon The Band

Song of the Day

SOULSAVERS
Sunrise


DOWNLOAD: Sunrise

Mark Lanegan seems like one of those guys who can’t stay still for too long. WIth a music career that began in the 80’s when he formed Screaming Trees to his work with Queens of the Stone Age, Lanegan has collaborated on side projects along the way that have always caught my ear. He’s worked with artists such as Melissa Auf der Maur, Martina Topley Bird, Belle and Sebastian singer and cellist Isobel Campbell, the electronic outfit, Bomb the Bass, and his new group, The Gutter Twins, but recently he’s been mixing it up with the English knob-twiddlers Rich Machin and Ian Glover, also known as Soulsavers. The atmospheric sounds they weave incorporate influences of rock, gospel, soul, and country, and they’ve taken Lanegan’s song ‘Sunrise’…which was first heard on his 1994 album Whiskey For The Holy Ghost…but instead of having Mark sing it, handed it over to featured vocalist Will Oldham, whose bluesy baritone pays homage to Lanegan while sounding a bit like a theatrical revival preacher. That dirty harmonica, along with the plodding bass and marching-drum back beat, create a dark, moody vibe…I can almost feel the heat from the Sun. ‘Sunrise’ came out as a non-album single just before ‘Broken’ was released a back in August. Besides Lanegan, the album features guest vocals from Gibby Haynes (Butthole Surfers), Mike Patton (Faith No More), Jason Pierce (Spiritualized) and Richard Hawley (Longpigs, Pulp). You can hear more from Soulsavers on their MySpace page

Shooting Kate

Click on any image for full-size

I have taken a rather long time to talk about the two shoots I did with Kate when she was in New York back in October…partly because I was waiting for her to finish her new album, but now that ‘White Horses’ is in the can, I guess this is a good time to bring them up.

Kate was in town for CMJ and we knocked around some ideas for a cover shoot that involved horses…she was thinking of calling the new record ‘White Horses’…so we took a drive up to Connecticut to look for some horses…but the horses didn’t wanna cooperate and with the sun rapidly falling outta the sky, we had to change direction and came away with these shots…

A few days later, back in the city, we talked about doing something a bit edgier and since, like all rock stars, she was staying at the Chelsea Hotel, we thought we might try a commando-style shoot in the halls. Johanna Cranitch, of Johanna and the Dusty Floor, has been singing back-up with Kate and she joined in the fun. We managed to get off one shot in front of Harry Houdini’s eyes before a security guard kicked our asses back to Kate’s room…..

…but once we were in the room, the light pouring in through the windows gave me more than I needed……

Remember…Kate’s album comes out next Spring, but you can pre-order a limited-edition signed and numbered copy of White Horses and receive a free gift from Kate right now…just check out the ‘NEWS’ section on her Website for details.

Song of the Day


KATE TUCKER
Bullet Train


DOWNLOAD: Bullet Train

Fans of The List (and any of you who have been paying attention) surely know that Kate Tucker has been in the studio recording her first post-Sons of Sweden album, but what you don’t know is that I’ve had a finished copy in my grubby hands for a couple of weeks and today…with Kate’s blessing…even though it’s not due out until next Spring, you’re gonna get a taste of ‘White Horses’. Backing up Kate’s bluesy, Tanya Donelly-esque vocals is her Sons of Sweden bandmate, Ed ‘Potatoes’ O’Brien on bass, Casey Foubert on drums, Terrill Bailie on organ and Blake Wescott handling the production and also playing various guitars, a mean melotron and crooning a few background vocals. After 20 straight days in a Seattle studio working on the new songs, the resulting album is a dark, moving, anguish-filled novella sung from the heart. There are times when Kate’s voice strains with such pain that you can almost feel the ache within her.

“I wrote these songs as I was facing some serious questions I had buried along the way, questions about faith and love and the sustainability of relationships in a constantly changing landscape” says Kate. “There was a point, early on in the studio, where it hit me that this record is awfully heavy and I wasn’t sure I could carry it through to completion. I got scared and then I got tough. I talked myself out of the fear and into the story. Some songs came to me so quickly and so late in the process that I hadn’t had time to fully understand the depth of their sorrow…”. This is hardly an ‘easy’ record to listen to, but after having it at the top of my iTunes folder for the past few weeks I can’t get the songs outta my head.

You can pre-order a limited edition signed and numbered copy of White Horses (Release date: March 2010), and receive a free gift (and free shipping) from Kate in the meantime. Go the the ‘NEWS’ section on Kate’s Website for details, and to further follow Kate’s movements, check her out on MySpace

Song of the Day

THE HORRORS
I Can’t Control Myself


DOWNLOAD: I Can’t Control Myself

Todays news from across the pond is that NME has just named ‘Primary Colours’, the second album from the exceptionally stylish goths, The Horrors, as the Album of the Year. Previously featured on The List back in March when I turned you all onto ‘Sea Within a Sea’, the group has gone on to universal acclaim, shedding their reputation as being just another Bauhaus/Cramps/Siouxsie rip-off Halloween novelty act with too much eye liner, extremely tight pants and a lotta jet-black hair dye and instead morphing into a more melodic Joy Division for the new millennium. Sure, they’re somber…and brooding…and seem a bit disillusioned by the World around them…but the wall of complicated sounds, grungy guitars riffs, goth poetry and sense of urgency these five mopey bastards kick out is truly wonderful, even with the downer lyrics…but as long as it doesn’t make you wanna open a vein, I say why not?!! Head over to MySpace to get more of The Horrors.

2009 Filtered Through An AutoTune !!!

Uh-Oh! Somebody must have broke into Kanye’s crib and stole his entire act…ummmm…I mean his AutoTune! Then they used it to put together a pretty damn catchy end-of-the-year dance mix that’s got me groovin’ at my desk! And thank God they didn’t forget that Lady GaGa occasionally dresses like Kermit the Frog…..Brilliant!!!

Song of the Day

VIENNA TENG
Whatever You Want


DOWNLOAD: Whatever You Want

I very rarely hear an artist for the first time and fall and hard as I did for Vienna Teng, but from the moment she opened her set with ‘Whatever You Want’ when she played with Over The Rhine earlier this week, I was hooked! Her slightly quirky, syncopated lyrical delivery, the delicately beautifully but complex rhythms and the totally amazing ways her crazy-talented producer, Alex Wong (and also her only backup musician) can turn a snare drum and a few other simple percussion instruments into an orchestra, all had me shaking my head in wonder. And while I’m tossing out compliments, I hear a lot of Aimee Mann in this girl, both in her vocal style and her smart lyrics. WIth all the amazing indie stuff flying at me from all directions, it has gotten a lot harder to truly impress me, but when her set was done I was moved enough to buy all four of her albums! ‘Whatever You Want’ is off of her 2006 release, Dreaming Through The Noise, but she’s touring now to promote her latest album, Inland Territory, and for all you List Members up in Boston, she’s are playing the Berklee Performance Center tonight! I don’t often push, but I really think this is a CD you should all buy immediately, if for no other reason than the outstanding ‘Grandmother Song’…..if you’re all nice I might feature that one next week…but in the meantime, I’m expecting all of you to head over to both her MySpace page and her Website and report back to me about what y’all think, and when you’re done with that, check out Alex’s other gig on The Paper Raincoat MySpace page.

Todd Oldham For BusinessWeek

Click on any image for full-size

I had the opportunity to spend some time with multi-faceted designer Todd Oldham when I shot him for a BusinessWeek story that documented his nasty public breakup with Old Navy. It’s been a long time since I’ve met someone so completely at ease and refreshingly upbeat, especially given the drama he’s been put through for the past couple of years in his dealings with Old Navy.

One thing that came out of this whole mess was that since Old Navy had most of his trademarks tied up in a contract dispute, Todd couldn’t really work on anything besides book projects. The good news is that he just released a fabulous book, Kid Made Modern, that I would whole heartily recommend to anyone with kids! The book has over 50 craft projects inspired by modern design masters such as Alexander Calder, Noguchi, Charles & Ray Eames, George Nelson and on and on and on and I can’t think of a better way to introduce young minds to art & design. Christmas is coming….are you parents listening?!! Check it out at Todd’s Website (where you can get an autographed copy) or over on Amazon

Although the time we had was short, it was truly inspiring to be able to hang out with Todd for a while.

Let’s Back Up A Little Bit…..

A couple of weeks back, I shot Stuart Janney and John Hilton of Bessemer Trust for Barron’s…but the cool part you didn’t get to see was the location across from St. Patricks Cathedral…go on….click on the photo below for the really BIG view…I dare you!

Scary Thought of the Day…..

“Google keeps every single search query forever.
That’s ‘forever’…as in until the end of Time…!”

The Maria Bartiromo-hosted documentary, ‘Inside The Mind Of Google’, airs tomorrow night at 9:00PM on CNBC…..I’m scared already!!!

Song of the Day

OVER THE RHINE
Poughkeepsie


DOWNLOAD: Poughkeepsie

I was all set to spend a quiet night at home, when I get a call from a friend who wants to know if I’m going to see Over The Rhine at the Highline Ballroom? Embarrassed that I didn’t even know one of the Song of the Day List’s all-time fave bands was in town, I stammered, “Of course!”, and pulled my pants back on and thank God, ‘cuz Linford and Karin put on a stunning show! The highlight for me was the haunting rendition of ‘Poughkeepsie’ from their album, Good Dog Bad Dog. There is something so profoundly beautiful about this sadder than sad ballad…the entire audience was swaying & crying and totally captivated by Karin’s passionate, trembling voice and the almost skeletal backing arrangement…just perfect…..

For those of you who are in the New York area and have the means, it’s a little last minute, but OTR is going up the Hudson to play the Tarrytown Music Hall tonight…if you’re a fan, I say pull on your pants, get in the car and make the trip! And for the rest of you, check out Over The Rhine on their website or over on MySpace…..and make sure to visit the OTR Store to round out your collection of the band’s 20 years of music.