Greg Simpson is a staff reviewer at Punknews.org - ed.
This is Where I Shamelessly Plug My Own BandBefore 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.
Ben Kweller: Changing Horses
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.
Vivian Girls: Everything Goes Wrong
In the Red
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.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It's Blitz!
While âgoing electronic' is not at all out-there in today's indie world, it just sounds better with Karen O doing her thang over top.
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.
Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs
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!
Neko Case: Middle Cyclone
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.
Wilco: Wilco (The Album)
As far as I'm concerned, with this album Wilco has found the perfect balance between catchy country songs and that wonderful guitar racket.
Black Lips: 200 Million Thousand
The Lips return to a more retro production and feel with 200 Million while still stretching with a couple hip hop-inspired tracks. But watch out, they still might show you their junk.
Sonic Youth: The Eternal
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!
The Mountain Goats: The Life of the World to Come
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!
Dinosaur Jr.: Farm
Less in-your-face fast than Beyond but still melt-your-face loud. How lucky am I that one of my favorite bands of all-time is one of the few to ever pull off a successful comeback?
The Raveonettes: In and Out of Control
The Raveonettes snared me once again with their infectious girl-group melodies about rape, suicide and drugs, but this time they don't smother things as much with ultra-fuzz guitars. I don't mind.
Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Glassnote / Loyaute
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.
The Thermals: Now We Can See
Kill Rock Stars
Catchier than ever and just slightly cleaned up, the Thermals keep climbing higher on my list of favorite current bands. And how did they not get Kathy on the mic sooner?!
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
They don't reinvent the wheel but I'm a sucker for Big Muff-guitars mixed with sweet vocals. These songs are way too addictive to deny.
Cymbals Eat Guitars: Why There Are Mountains
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.
Honorable MentionsThe Decemberists: The Hazards of Love; Built to Spill: There Is No Enemy; Sw!ms: Itemlord; Cursive: Mama, I'm Swollen
Top EPs of 2009
The Rentals: The Story of a Thousand Seasons
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.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Higher Than the Stars
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.
How the Crap Did I Miss this Last Year?
Good Luck: Into Lake Griffy
I live in Bloomington for Christ's sake. Why isn't my band this good? Oh right, no Matt Tobey.
Vivian Girls: Vivian Girls
In the Red
Already talked about these girls. '09 was the year of the Vivian Girls for me apparently.
Now That's What Greg Calls Music VISide A
- 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)