The other day, a friend pointed out that this past year the usual high output of songs that got put up on The List was decidedly less than past years, to which I replied, yes…the necessity to work from time to time had certainly put a crimp in my ability to give away my usual amount of free music, but what did get tossed up was of such high quality as they more than made up for the diminished quantity. And with that in mind, here are the best of the best…the Songs of the Year…
Ryan Karazija didn’t just come up with the best song this past year, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t also have the best album, too. I could have put any one of the twelve tracks from the album on the annual list…they are all that good…and it’s only a coincidence that ‘Give Up’ is the first track on the album. I’ve already yelled at you guys enough to BUY THIS RECORD, but if you haven’t, do it now! And mark your calenders kids, cuz Ryan’s gonna be taking a flight from Iceland over to New York to play a gig at Piano’s January 19 and MilkBoy in Philly on January 22nd.
If not for Low Roar, Cameras would have certainly been sitting on the top of the heap this year. I’ve played ‘Polarise’ so often, I’m pretty sure even Camille is getting sick of it! Nothing like a wall of hard-to-understand, harmonic, atmospheric, shoegazey melodies to win my heart.
We all should have a dose of sweaty, angst-ridden rock to wake us up from time to time. They’re almost unheard of over here, but these four Scottish lads are burning up the clubs in Great Britain. Powerful, lotsa fun and yes…very sweaty!
#4. BIRD CALL
The Ballad Of New York
DOWNLOAD: The Ballad Of New York
I swear Chiara Angelicola may have been plucked out of a Jazz Club from the 50’s and transported to the Here & Now to remind us what real music is like. She’s got a voice that can drop so low it will rattle your bones…and then outta nowhere she’ll crack a high note that will give you goosebumps. The Ballad Of New York is going to be on her next album, but in the meantime she’s got a lot more sitting over at iTunes just waiting for you to enjoy.
There’s just something so comfortably reassuring about the way Cass McCombs sings. From the very first time I heard ‘The Same Thing’ I was won over. The melody, the slightly syncopated vocal style, the sad/lazy way it made me feel…it all works.
Another strong contender for my favorite album this year was Civilian by the Baltimore duo, Wye Oak. It’s a noisy mashup filled with masterful guitar work, shoegazey distortion, wonderful storytelling and Jenn Wasner’s languid voice holding it all together. It’s another record that you should seriously consider buying!
We’ve been friends for quite a while and I even shot her album cover earlier this year, but when Gabrielle Aimée sent me ‘Have You Ever’ I was knocked out. I had never heard her slide into such a bluesy place and be so damned sexy on a song before, and the vibrato from the Farfisa-like organ transported me back in time.
Kate Tucker has been a staple on The List from the moment we first heard her with the Sons of Sweden and since then we’ve followed her from Seattle to Ohio to New York and now to Nashville, so when she recorded an EP with Nic Danielson as K+Nikku we were on board. I’ve been goofin’ on her…calling her Katemau5…because of the slightly electronic edge to the EP, but she knows I love her…
The Pack A.D. is Becky Black & Maya Miller and they’re a hard-hitting garage duo outta Vancouver B.C. that has released four albums of stripped-down, pissed-off, dirty punk rock…and they’re bloody great! ‘Sirens’ is off of their latest release, Unpersons.
Going from the grungy goodness of The Pack A.D. to Sherlock’s Daughter shoegazing their way through ‘Reprise’ might be a bit jarring, but I’ve had their EP near the top of my iTunes folder all year and there was no chance it wasn’t making it on this list. Call it nonsensical aural wallpaper if you must, but Tanya Horo’s voice always has a calming effect on me…like a neural tranquilizer…I can feel any tension I’m feeling fall away as soon as she whispers in my ear…
We’ve come to the end, but I’ve turned it up to “11” and hearing Chaz Tolliver channel Mick Jagger one more time seems like a perfect way to close out this years Best Of List. The Booze play boogie-rock that can’t help but make you think of the early Stones and The Kinks, and Tolliver seems to have mastered the fine art of Jagger-esque posing…in a good way!
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……
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
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
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?!!
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 Patti 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
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
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!
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…..!!!