Greg Simpson is a staff reviewer at Punknews.org - ed.
This is Where I Shamelessly Plug My Own Band
Before I tell you about all the other bands I love to hypeâ?¦
It seems every year I mention my band/projects in this here intro but never give you any way to actually hear them. I was scared maybe? Well, this year we have something decent for you all to hear. We're called Take Manhattan and we've got our 7-song EP available as a free download at takemanhattan.net. There's a way to get a physical copy too, and you may want that because the booklet is a coloring book of kittens and we shrink-wrap the CD with a four-pack of crayons. That's right.
Plug over = intro over.
My Top 20 Albums of 2009
Bowerbirds: Upper Air
While it's pretty much Hymns for a Dark Horse II, I shouldn't whine because their brand of tasty folk comprised of accordion, piano, booming percussion and smooth male/female harmonies is pretty perfect as is.
Woods: Songs of Shame
Shrimper / Woodsist
While Bowerbirds make pretty indie folk, Woods sure don't. It's lo-fi, reckless and sometimes meandering, with not-always-in-tune falsetto vocals and guitar solos that sound like they were cut and pasted into the wrong song. It's unsettling at first, but ultimately awesome.
Even solo artists need some backup, and Kweller sounds so much more alive with a backing band behind him as opposed to the one-man-band that was 2006's Ben Kweller. Kweller's usual batch of pop gems are country-fried with big ups to pedal steel/dobro player Kit Kitterman.
Jangly, noisy, and poppy but not perfect, these ladies encapsulate the principles punk rock was founded upon. While not as chock full of hits as their debut, Everything has enough zazz along with enough growth to please all camps. Except those that go drinkin' at Applebees.
With Nick Thorburn and Jaime Thompson back together again and a whole new crew rounding out the band, we get a much different album than 2008's good-yet-slightly-bloated Arm's Way. A conscious decision by Thorburn to trim things down gives us the most Unicorn-esque album a Unicorn alum has released. Synthy, drum-machiney and catchy, Vapours is a bit one-note but a lot of fun.
Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca
This record got way too much hype, but after a while I was able to give it a fair shake, and yeah, it's pretty wicked. The musicianship is incredible and tight yet bizarre, and it all works in some weird unique way.
The veteran trio keeps cranking out great stuff, and with Popular Songs they narrow their scope just a pinch while still hitting their strong points of fuzz-rock, Motown bounce, droning jams and sparkling ballads. Give them some props, people!
Ms. Case and I started off on the wrong foot, for sure. First time I heard her was with New Pornographers, so when I was sent her live album The Tigers Have Spoken, comprised mostly of old country covers, I was completely thrown off and disappointed. Years later I have finally given her another chance and am rewarded with a gorgeous album full of thoughtful arrangements and her incredible voice.
While I loved the quote-unquote pop of Rather Ripped it's nice to see SY going berserk with their first indie label release in forever. Adding Mark Ibold (of Pavement fame) on bass lets them add yet another layer of noisy guitar. Booya!
While I didn't connect with the Biblical references, I still found the album to be captivating (as usual) and incredible (duh). While I prefer when Darnielle rocks out a little more, I won't complain because he'll probably give me another album next year. The Lord provides!
This album is so much more clean-cut and dancey than anything else I'm into right now. But with their infectious melodies and undeniable beats these Frenchmen somehow wormed their way onto my list. Kudos! Wait, that's not French.
From the moment I heard "Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)" online for the first time with its bouncy bass line, blast of brass and squiggly guitar lead, I was hooked. Within the span of one song this band can go from Built to Spill laid-back guitar noodling to My Bloody Valentine churning noise to Modest Mouse disco beats and back. Sure, they borrow a lot stylistically, but the songwriting rivals their legendary predecessors. It's rare that a record I love instantly can snare me so deeply and permanently. It feels comfy yet fresh and new. I can't say enough.
The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love; Built to Spill: There Is No Enemy; Sw!ms: Itemlord; Cursive: Mama, I'm Swollen
The Rentals put out three EPs this year (or mini-albums, whatevah) as part of their Songs About Time project, but the first chapter is the only one really worth mentioning. While the other two focus too much on soft and slow stuff, the first chapter rocks the propulsive beats, hooky male/female vocals and melodic synth lines we expect from the resurrected Matt Sharp project. Glad to have a year full of the Rentals, but let's focus strictly on the music for a new full-length next, please.
Bon Iver: Blood Bank
I was late to Bon Iver and got this EP practically at the same time as the debut album. It's more laid-back folk for the first two tracks, but then Justin Vernon stretches his scope with some crunchy piano chords and a track full of vocoder action that somehow fits within his sonic world.
Instead of sitting around while the accolades for their full-length rolled it, the Pains kept working and expand their sound here with dancier, more keyboard-centric tracks and a couple expected and welcome blasts of distortion.
Already talked about these girls. '09 was the year of the Vivian Girls for me apparently.
Now That's What Greg Calls Music VI
Dinosaur Jr. - Over It
Clues - Remember Severed Head
Dirty Projectors - Stillness Is the Move
Black Lips - Short Fuse
Cymbals Eat Guitars - Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)
Wilco - One Wing
Woods - The Number
Modest Mouse - King Rat
Sonic Youth - Thunderclap (For Bobby Pyn)
Yo La Tengo - Nothing To Hide
Art Brut - DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake
Phoenix - Lasso
Sw!ms - Pile of Features
Islands - Vapours
Bon Iver - Woods
The Mountain Goats - Genesis 3:23
Bowerbirds - Ghost Life
Neko Case - People Got a Lotta Nerve
Ben Kweller - Sawdust Man
Built to Spill - Planting Seeds
Vivian Girls - Can't Get Over Your
The Thermals - When I Died
Wavves - No Hope Kids
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - This Love Is Fucking Right!
The Rentals - Song of Remembering
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Dull Life
The Decemberists - The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid
The Raveonettes - Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)
What Will Make 2010 Wicked Awesome
January looks to be killer with Spoon, Vampire Weekend, Los Campesinos! and Magnetic Fields all putting out albums. Later on we hopefully will get stuff from Arcade Fire, the Hold Steady, the National, Surfer Blood, Frightened Rabbit and maybe a new Strokes? As an annual tradition/joke I will also hope for new My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain albums. Pfff.