My 13 Favorite Albums of 2009 13-6

Well, here we are in 2010, the year we make contact. For those of you who don’t know, a new federal law went into effect at midnight on New Year’s Day: if you hear any of your fellow citizens call this year “oh-ten”, it is legal to punch them in the face exactly one time.

Having safely seen 2009 out the door, I think it’s time to start talking shit about it. Everyone loves a list, especially one that doesn’t include Animal Collective or Phoenix, so I compiled a list of my 13 favorite albums of 2009. I don’t know if they’re the best albums of the year or not and I don’t care. They’re the ones I like the best and, honestly, I think that’s all anyone can say. Also, my list contains 14 albums (well, technically, 13 albums and an EP) because there was a tie. Anyway, feast yer eyes on this here list (helpfully rendered in a distinctly non-slide-show format):

13. Lord Cut-Glass, Lord Cut-Glass. I’ll just assume everyone knows that Lord Cut-Glass is really former Delgado Alun Woodward. And I know that my review of this record spent a good deal of time bitching about how the Delgados ought to just reunite, come to the U.S. and play shows in the courtyard of my apartment complex. But the fact remains that Lord Cut-Glass is a really beautiful record; Woodward lilts over plucked acoustic guitars and low brass, quietly issuing some of the best melodies of his career. Highlights include “Picasso,” “Even Jesus Couldn’t Love You,” “Holy Fuck,” “A Pulse” and “Big Time Teddy.”

12. Mike Doughty, Sad Man Happy Man. Last year, Doughty put out an album called Golden Delicious that I liked well enough at first. And then it kinda grew off of me with a stunning quickness. Just wasn’t feeling it, I guess. However, because I love Mike Doughty, I’m always willing to listen to his stuff. This year, he put out the superb Sad Man Happy Man, which I nabbed from Amazon’s digital store for five freaking bucks (gargle my balls, I-Tunes). SMHM is driven by Doughty’s chunky guitar strumming and absurd humor, and it’s my favorite album of his since Skittish (which has to be one of the most underrated albums I’ve ever heard). It opens with one of its best moments, “Nectarine (Part Two)” and also includes the coolest prayer ever (“Lord Lord Help Me Just to Rock Rock On”) and “Year of the Dog,” which might be Doughty’s best tune since “Sweet Lord in Heaven.”

11. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz. 2009 was a great year for some of my favorite female vocalists, not least of whom is Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Not only did I get to delight in an affordable deluxe edition of It’s Blitz! (Amazon’s mp3 store has not yet let me down in the cheap goodies department), but I got to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play a kickass set at Coachella (one of the best sets I saw at that festival). The album is filled with awesome turbo-pop (starting with a pair of aces in “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll”) and a few pretty ballads (“Hysteric” splits the difference between the two types of song and is, in two words, fucking awesome). It’s Blitz! firmly established the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as one of the best bands in America and their live shows will back that claim up for the doubters.

10. Brother Ali, Us. I could make a joke about how Brother Ali is the king of white rap (ha ha, because he’s an albino, ha ha), but, taking Us as exhibit A for the prosecution, it’s more accurate to place Ali near the top of the hip-hop heap, regardless of skin pigment. Jay-Z has never, in my estimation, done anything to rival¬† “Tightrope” or “The Travelers.” To my knowledge, he’s never even tried. With Us, Ali threw down a gauntlet of new rules for the hip-hop community, chief among them: no skits and fewer songs about how badass you are (Us has ’em, but they’re matched pound for pound by songs of real substance and at least one tune wherein Ali shows gratitude for his good fortune, saying, “I’m the luckiest sonofabitch that ever lived”). Us is a truly refreshing album, and it stays fresh with every listen.

9. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career. Speaking of refreshing, Camera Obscura released one hell of an orchestral pop album last year. My Maudlin Career, despite its potentially emo-sounding name, starts and ends with a bang (“French Navy” and “Honey in the Sun”, respectively) – in between, Tracyanne Campbell drops lines like “when you’re lucid, you’re the sweetest thing” and “drinking has never been the same again”, the latter from the stellar, mournful ballad “Other Towns and Cities”. My Maudlin Career is so good that I think almost anyone who likes music will like it. But some people who like music like Wavves, so I could be wrong.

8. The Minus 5, Killingsworth. Killingsworth is the album that elevated Scott McCaughey from Person of Interest to Folk Hero in my estimation. It’s basically a dark country rock album, but it’s so fully realized and wittily rendered (“your wedding day was so well-planned/ like a German occupation”) that it cannot be denied. Backed by an excellent chorus of women, McCaughey sings of lurking barristers, broken love, and crowded urban apartment life (“Big Beat Up Moon”) with a drunken weariness that is deeply appealing to young curmudgeons like myself. He also takes the time to satirize fundamentalist Christianity on “I Would Rather Sacrifice You”, a song that never fails to but a big smile on my face.

7. The Future of the Left, Travels with Myself and Another. I have said many times that, all appearances to the contrary, I like more music than I dislike. A small subsection of music that I like is nasty, noisy stuff that almost no one else I know likes. Titus Andronicus comes to mind here, as does the Future of the Left, whose Travels with Myself and Another beat its way into my skull and won my heart last year with its pounding drums and Andy Falkous’s snarling vocals. Subjects range from girls who get off on hitting people (“Chin Music” will only be appropriate at a very small number of weddings:¬† “I only hit him ’cause he made me crazy/ I only hit him ’cause he made me mad/ she only hit him ’cause it gets her wet/ yeah, she’s one of a kind/ she’s got chin music”) to the practical concerns of Satanism (“You Need Satan More than He Needs You”). Travels with Myself and Another pretty much kicks ass, though it’s not for the faint of heart or the humorless.

6. Andrew Bird, Noble Beast. I guess #7 and #6 on my list are a study in contrast. Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast is an understated, mellow, and completely lovely work – his finest to date, if I may be so bold. It blends Bird’s myriad musical talents (no one on earth – no one – can whistle like this motherfucker) into quirky pop (“Fitz and the Dizzyspells”), old school folk (“Effigy,” which is nothing short of stunning), and whatever you’d classify “Not a Robot, But a Ghost” as. Some of the songs have unique movements, but they never seem to wander, even on the seven minute “Souverian.” Bird is a musician’s musician, a guy you can study as well as enjoy, and Noble Beast is the textbook for aspiring musical ninjas.

I know. It’s taken me four days into the new year to even start counting down my favorite albums of the old year and now I’m doing it in two parts. Pitchfork took a week to do their list and they still fucked it up, so maybe it’s better that I’m taking my time. I, for one, wholeheartedly endorse every choice I’ve made so far. Tune in tomorrow or Wednesday for albums 5 through 1, which are bound to include demure rodents, plenty of references to whiskey, a rant about shitty record labels, the best pop album of the year, the word vagina, and plenty of weather.


Metric Fantasies are Easier to Convert


Normally, if you sang, “Everybody just wanna fall in love,” in the chorus of your song, I would probably want to punch you in the face and then pee on you while you’re down. It’s just how I roll.

Clearly, you’re not Emily Haines. Because she’s sung those very words on “Sick Muse,” from Metric’s Fantasies album and… goddammit, I really like that song. I think I’ve mentioned a number of times recently that I don’t normally go for slick, poppy sounding stuff, as if it’s somehow the exception to whatever musical rule it is I follow (I’ll give you a hint – I don’t follow any musical rules). Metric is gonna make me look like a liar. Because Fantasies is a ridiculously poppy album with shimmery guitars and pounding drums and Haines’s cute-as-a-button voice (I believe she supplied the vocal to Broken Social Scene’s standout track “Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl”). So, given my addiction to the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs record and now the aural candy that is Fantasies, what are my options? Am I a hypocrite of some kind? Probably not. Then what? Underneath all the scowl and snark and sn0bbery, am I just one big goddamn teddy bear?

Who cares?

The point is, when you say “pop music”, you might mean Chris Brown or Mariah Carey and I really do hate that shit. I guess what it boils down to is that when I say, “pop”, I start with The Beatles and go from there. The New Pornographers, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Metric; these are great pop bands, I don’t care how few people have heard of them. The fact is, just in time for me to roll down the window and crank up a great driving album, Metric has delivered Fantasies. Too bad some crooked fucker did a hit and run on my poor Corolla last weekend. Guess I’ll be waiting a few weeks for that windows-down, rocking-out thing. (Dont’ mourn, loyal Bollocks! reader<s> – my car is going to pull through this. And I got a witness, so the afore-mentioned crooked fucker is in for a legal smackdown as well).

Fantasies is a whole lot of fun, though it might be too sugary sweet for some people. When I said it’s ridiculously poppy, I was indulging in not one jot of hyperbole – listen to “Stadium Love” and tell me it’s not ridiculous. But I like it. I can’t help liking it. Just for fun, I tried to hate this album after I’d heard it once. Couldn’t be done. Granted, Fantasies isn’t going to change your life, but that’s not Metric’s goal. I’m pretty sure they just want to dance. That might not appeal to some brands of humorless indie dickweed out there, but for those of us who like joy, there’s lots to be had on Fantasies.

Haines has a good ear for 80s style pop tunes (like “Gold Guns Girls”) but isn’t afraid to be a bit subversive here and there (she sings about hearing you “fuck through the wall” on “Satellite Mind.” You should maybe quiet down a little) – her voice sounds cute, but the songs don’t hit you over the head with it. They’re not like, say, the novelty songish shit that you get out of Britney Spears and her herpes-addled ilk. Where your average teenage pop princess telegraphs the “Hey, look at me, I’m coy and sexy,” thing (Britney, and I hate myself for knowing this, has a single called “If You Seek Amy”. As with Wavves, I refuse – refuse! – to see what she did there), Haines makes more organic use of her voice, especially on the good-natured breakup (or is it?) song “Gimme Sympathy.” “Who would you rather be:/ The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?,” she asks her lover, and it’s an intriguing question. Would you rather stay together for forty years and know that your relationship was way better twenty years ago or stay together ten years and be regarded as legendary? I know which one I’d prefer, and when Haines sings, “Come on, play me something/ like ‘Here Comes the Sun'”, she tips her hand quite cleverly. Around the time of Exile on Main Street, you could have had a substantive debate about whether the Beatles or the Rolling Stones were the best band or whatever, but the Beatles quit before they could make a bad album and the Rolling Stones have now put out more bad albums than good ones. This analogy/diatribe will not, for those of you who are curious, be written into my wedding vows. At least I don’t think so.

Pitchfork praises the slower moments on Fantasies for revealing some sense of vulnerability that isn’t there on the faster tunes, but I (big surprise) don’t really see what they’re driving at. None of these songs seem particularly revealing¬† – I don’t listen to Fantasies and go, “Oh. Now I know exactly who Emily Haines is.” And that’s not the point. The slow songs are fine, but the fast songs are fucking fun, and while Pitchfork staffers have this idea that fun = listening to that tool from Wavves masturbate onto a distortion pedal, I happen to think listening to Emily Haines sing about burnt out stars (“Front Row” is my current favorite track on the album”, partly because Haines sounds eerily like Emma Pollock on that tune) is a better bet.

There’s a deluxe edition of Fantasies that has acoustic versions of a couple of the songs, but I can’t imagine why you’d want to hear them – they’re not bad at all, but this album (kinda like It’s Blitz! by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs) needs no unplugging, especially not right after ending on the awesomely silly “Stadium Love”. It needs to be cranked up and enjoyed in all its fully electric, poppy glory. Which I’m gonna do right now.