Beginning my string of year- and decade-end content, here is my 2CD mix for 2009. (Yes, each of these will fit on a CD. Turn off the two-second gap in between songs.) You can download disc one here, and then download disc two here. Both ZIPs contain the iTunes album art. If either of these links goes down, let me know and I will repost. The track listings are below, which include links to individual YouTubes when available (click the song title), earlier writing on the album in question (click the album title), and additional commentary for albums or songs I haven’t beaten to death already (or will beat to death in the coming weeks in future entries of The Haul; quite a few of these are in the discussion queue).
I consider 2009 a strong year for music, especially considering that this mix doesn’t include many common picks for best songs or albums, i.e. Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Phoenix, St. Vincent, Bat for Lashes, the XX. If you have a strong case for any of these bands, post it in the comment section and I may give them another shot.
Now for the music I do like.
101. Superchunk – “Learned to Surf” (3:50) – Leaves in the Gutter EP
Superchunk is apparently eschewing LPs and instead using EPs and singles as a feeder system for their future greatest hits compilation. I am fine with this development.
102. We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Quiet Little Voices” (4:18) – These Four Walls
103. Deerhunter – “Disappearing Ink” (2:22) – Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP
Just an EP and a single this year? You’re slacking, Deerhunter. (Yes, I know Atlas Sound released an album.)
104. Bill Callahan – “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” (4:15) – Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle
105. National Skyline – “Bloom (Single Edit)” (5:35) – Bloom EP
106. Systems Officer – “East” (3:36) – Underslept
Pinback’s Zach Smith puts out a solo album that sounds remarkably like Pinback, yet I enjoy this considerably more than the last few Pinback albums.
107. Clark – “Future Daniel” (4:03) – Totems Flare
108. J Dilla – “Mythsysizer” (1:44) – Jay Stay Paid
109. Hammer No More the Fingers – “Radiation” (4:04) – Looking for Bruce
For a band that reminds me of the all-too-forgettable Schatzi, I do enjoy Hammer No More the Fingers’ mix of Archers of Loaf indie rock and cleaner hooks. You can read more about Looking for Bruce at Built on a Weak Spot.
110. Wye Oak – “For Prayer” (3:49) – The Knot
I’m on the fence on whether Wye Oak’s sophomore release is better than its predecessor and if it’s one of the top 20 albums of the year. My tentative answers are “Yes” and “No” respectively. The guitar work is considerably better, as “For Prayer” demonstrates, but the album misses the occasional levity of If Children.
111. Wilco – “One Wing” (3:41) – Wilco (The Album)
Wilco’s semi-self-titled LP is unlikely to drop jaws, but it’s a nice halfway point between the dad rock of Sky Blue Sky and the more explicitly postmodern LPs that preceded it. (Halfway might be an exaggeration. It's still dad rock.) I enjoy a few of its songs a lot, “One Wing” in particular, but I rarely listen to the album as a whole.
112. Boston Spaceships – “The Town That's After Me” (1:16) – The Planets Are Busted
At first I was surprised Bob Pollard had released two separate full-lengths with Boston Spaceships (The Planets Are Busted and Zero to 99) this year, but then I remembered that he’s Bob Pollard and that’s par for the course. Both albums are consistently good and will eventually be grabbed on vinyl.
113. Rachel Grimes – “Starwhite” (1:24) – Book of Leaves
114. The Twilight Sad – “The Neighbours Can't Breathe” (5:24) – Forget the Night Ahead
115. Heroes of the Kingdom – “Disasterol” (2:52) – HOTK
116. Tortoise – “Prepare Your Coffin” (3:36) – Beacons of Ancestorship
Pitchfork talks about how Beacons of Ancestorship features more of the dancier side of Tortoise. I knew my issues with this album could be condensed into one sentence!
117. Deleted Scenes – “Ithaca” (4:09) – Birdseed Shirt
I still like the songs, but the mix of this record is criminal. They were so much better live. Have J Robbins do the whole thing next time. He has restraint.
118. Fuck Buttons – “The Lisbon Maru” (8:15) – Tarot Sport
119. Jesu – “Losing Streak” (6:13) – Opiate Sun
Justin Broadrick’s biggest problem is quantity over quality, so a four-track EP of actual songs is a welcome return to the days of Silver.
120. Tim Hecker – “Borderlands” (4:30) – An Imaginary Country
201. Future of the Left – “Arming Eritrea” (2:57) – Travels with Myself and Another
202. Part Chimp – “Sweet T” (3:05) – Thriller
203. Obits – “Widow of My Dreams” (4:21) – I Blame You
204. Raekwon – “House of Flying Daggers Ft Inspectah Deck, Ghostface, and Method Man” (3:51) – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. 2
It’s a Wu Tang reunion with J Dilla beats. Method Man is in rare form.
205. Dinosaur Jr. – “Your Weather” (3:05) – Farm
I recently mentioned my malaise with Farm, but that doesn’t extend to the Lou Barlow songs, which continue to be excellent.
206. Built to Spill – “Pat” (2:36) – There Is No Enemy
My first listen to There Is No Enemy sputtered out before the halfway mark, but there’s some surprisingly inspired material on the back half, especially “Pat” and “Done.” I admittedly need to give this album more of a chance.
207. CFCF – “Crystal Mines” (3:58) – Panesian Nights EP
CFCF’s full-length Continent features deeper hues of the 1980s electronic revival, but I enjoy the 8-bit feel of the EP more. Both are worth checking out.
208. A Place to Bury Strangers – “Exploding Head” (3:32) – Exploding Head
The guitars are straight shoegaze, but everything else sounds like 1986, which predates shoegaze. Strangely jarring.
209. Constants – “Genetics Like Chess Pieces” (5:45) – The Foundation, The Machine, The Ascension
210. Port-Royal – “Balding Generation (Jatun Remix)” (5:02) – Balding Generation EP
Port-Royal’s Dying in Time is two steps forward, two steps back from Afraid to Dance. For every new texture, there’s a recapitulation of the Moog melody from “Anya: Sehnsucht.” For every compelling vocal delivery (“Anna Ustinova”), there’s one that goes too far into electro-pop (“The Photoshopped Prince”). Yet despite these setbacks (and a bloated runtime), I’ve still listened to it an awful lot. “Balding Generation (Losing Hair as We Lose Hope)” is a highlight, but I prefer the stuttering glitch of Jatun’s remix, which condenses the song’s emotional crest into a more digestible package. Additionally, it got me excited for Jatun’s Blanket of Ash LP, which comes out in March.
211. Russian Circles – “Malko” (4:33) – Geneva
Russian Circles officially passed Pelican this year.
212. Polvo – “Beggar's Bowl” (4:59) – In Prism
213. Mastodon – “Divinations” (3:28) – Crack the Skye
214. Gordon Withers – “Defenestrations of Prague” (6:06) – Gordon Withers
215. Mission of Burma – “Comes Undone” (3:08) – The Sound The Speed The Light
216. Isis – “20 Minutes / 40 Years” (7:04) – Wavering Radiant
217. Last Days – “Life Support” (5:27) – The Safety of the North
218. The Life and Times – “The Politics of Driving” (5:01) – Tragic Boogie
Noted exclusions include Neko Case, Shannon Wright, Pelican, Sonic Youth, and the Flaming Lips. Who else did I miss?
When I saw that Floodwatchmusic had posted a list of his favorite records from each year of his existence, I thought “Wait a second, hadn’t I thought of doing that and never followed up on an initial list?” Naturally I only thought about completing such a list, since I pushed the idea back until I was comfortable enough with 1980s records to make a list that didn’t seem embarrassing. It may be a few more years before that happens, but for now I’ll make due with what I enjoy. For the record, 1987, 1991, 1994, 1995, and 1999 were tough calls, but you’ll have to guess what the competing options were. 1985 and 1986 were the stragglers that delayed this list a few days. There are a few 1985 albums that I feel I should enjoy more than the one I picked, but I’ll stick with honesty until one of those other albums takes its place.
1980 Talking Heads – Remain in Light
1981 Killing Joke – What’s THIS For…!
1982 Colin Newman – Not To
1983 R.E.M. – Murmur
1984 Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime
1985 The Dead Milkmen – Big Lizard in My Backyard
1986 The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
1987 The Smiths – Strangeways Here We Come
1988 Dinosaur Jr. - Bug
1989 Pixies – Doolittle
1990 Fugazi – Repeater
1991 My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
1992 Faith No More – Angel Dust
1993 The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen
1994 Shudder to Think – Pony Express Record
1995 Hum – You’d Prefer an Astronaut
1996 Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst
1997 Built to Spill – Perfect From Now On
1998 Dirty Three – Ocean Songs
1999 Juno – This Is the Way It Goes & Goes & Goes
2000 Arab Strap – Elephant Shoe
2001 Juno – A Future Lived in Past Tense
2002 Do Make Say Think – & Yet & Yet
2003 Folksongs for the Afterlife – Put Danger Back in Your Life
2004 Isis – Panopticon
2005 Eluvium – Talk Amongst the Trees
2006 Tungsten74 – Binaurally Yours
2007 The Narrator – All That to the Wall
In addition to FWM’s list, there are a few other examples of such lists, most notably Maura Johnston’s list on Idolator that inspired his post and the countless lists posted in the comments section of that entry and the list that inspired hers, which shares a few of my picks from the 1980s. Rate Your Music is another good resource in case you’re trying to remember good records released in a given year.
1. Guy Fieri: I usually enjoy watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Versus, but certain things—the random intrusion of the Bruins’ color commentator Andy Brickley, Mike Emrick’s beady eyes, Brian Engblom’s roadkill haircut—certainly detract from the experience. Yet those quibbles pale in comparison to the routine airings of a T.G.I. Friday’s advertisement starring Food Network star Guy Fieri. If shoving his over-tanned skin and shocked-blonde hair into my face isn’t bad enough, he immediately tells me what I am going to eat at T.G.I. Friday’s. No, Guy Fieri, I will not eat that shoe-sole piece of sirloin steak. Sorry, Guy Fieri, I do not intend on buying drinks for the townie skanks at the next table. I will leave that one to you, pal. Do you want to know the next thing I’ll eat at T.G.I. Friday’s? Fucking crow, that’s what.
2. My Bloody Valentine Tour Dates: My finances will not allow me to attend what basically amounts to my dream festival this September, at which My Bloody Valentine will beckon the apocalypse by performing live and proving their existence, Built to Spill will perform the entirety of Perfect from Now On with the necessary thirty guitarists on stage for overdubs (I’m probably lying about this), Tortoise will trot out Millions Now Living Will Never Die in hopes of making me forget their post-TNT output, and Mogwai, Shellac, Polvo, Dinosaur Jr, Low, Thurston Moore, Lilys, and the Meat Puppets will combine in to form a Voltron of past and present indie credibility with the sole purpose of melting my soul. No, I will not be able to attend said event unless I drain the blood from my body and sell it to vampires. So finding out that My Bloody Valentine did not include a Boston date on their announced U.S. tour dates angers me just a tad. I need to experience the inside of a jet turbine, Kevin Shields, and I will hold all of your chinchillas hostage until that happens.
3. Missing The Narrator’s Last Show: For reasons similar to those behind item two, I will not be able to make it to The Narrator’s last show in New York City this Saturday. I imagine the following things will happen: they will perform “Son of Son of the Kiss of Death,” “This Party’s Over,” “Ergot Blues,” and “Now Is the Time for All Good Men” (none of which were performed at their last Boston show); Jesse Woghin’s guitar will spin around as if it were in a ZZ Top video; the band will spontaneously combust while performing “Roughhousing”; and finally, their ashes will sing an affecting cover of “All the Tired Horses” as a final encore. If any Boston gas stations would like to hold a Turn Back the Clock sale and charge $0.99 a gallon, I could make the show, but, as is, I’ll just have to read the police report.
4. Ongoing Democratic Primary: I can no longer pay attention to the national news because of the unrelenting teeth-gnashing on the part of both sides. Do you know what that leaves me? Human interest stories on local news. Please, a candidate, defeat the your opponent, behead them with a victory guillotine, and drink their blood during Deal or No Deal to show John McCain who’s really ready to take office.
Or, you know, convince the populace that you are a better fit to lead the nation.
5. Tautologies as Profound Insight: The next person, whether friend, sports analyst, or renowned blogger, who says any variation of “Well, you know, it is what it is” deserves to have any held degrees revoked. Oh, you graduated high school and think such clichéd sayings deserve mantra-like status for those accepting of certain conditions? Sorry, you’d better re-enroll. Don’t forget to stock up on school supplies.
1. Tapes ‘n’ Tapes: I vaguely recall hearing their Pavement-aping indie rock, but their music is not something I’m familiar enough with to critique. What I hate is their name. Every time I see it in print, a voice in my head chirps “Tapes ‘n’ Tapes! Derp!” It pains me to sully this site by reprinting it, but I do it in the hopes that they either change their name or lose all media coverage.
2. ESPN: I discovered ESPN’s existence when I was nine or ten, thereby transitioning my fondness for baseball cards and box scores into live replays. I remember watching the same episode of SportsCenter several times in a row back when Craig Kilborn and Keith Olbermann were hosts. Eventually I got out of this habit, but when I was freelancing after college I’d make sure to reserve an hour of my undivided attention for Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption. When I got digital cable, ESPNews became a constant din in the background of my activities. It is safe to say that I have watched a great deal of ESPN programming.
But what is the state of that programming? Tired, misguided, pedantic. I realized sometime last year that ESPN has devolved into a constant barrage of the same exhausting arguments, typically delivered by the worst commentators on television. I’ve seen more than enough of Skip Bayless’s ridiculous, contrarian rants , thank you very much. Aside from Outside the Lines, there was no actual reporting being done, just rehashes of worn arguments, saccharine-laced human interest stories, or, worst of all, ESPN fluff pieces. Should I mention their live sports programming? Without hockey to draw me in or NHL2Night to cover the sport, it’s of limited interest to me. They have the worst baseball coverage team (Joe Morgan, ahem), Dick Vitale blaring over college basketball games, and far too much poker. Aside from the occasional college basketball or college football game, there isn’t much reason for me to watch the channel anymore. So I decided to make my New Year’s resolution to boycott the network.
Amazingly enough the boycott has stuck. The only time I’ve considered cheating was when the Patriots lost the Super Bowl—perhaps the greatest blow to another hated institution, Boston sports talk radio—and when I skipped to the channel Emmitt Smith was about to open his mouth. The impulse was gone. My stamina has been helped by the fact that my two colleges of interest—University of Illinois and Boston College—were downright wretched at basketball this year. I’d like to think that they’ll improve enough next year to get me to break this resolution, but I can hardly express the same level of optimism about ESPN.
3. 2008 March Madness: Avoiding ESPN for the last three months prevented me from gaining much of a foothold on the happenings of college basketball, so after Illinois made its failed run in the Big Ten tournament, I struggled to interest myself with the prospect of the annual basketball feast. Opting for episodes of Dexter over a large number of the first-round games didn’t help, but neither did the field itself. The coverage I read seemed to applaud having four number one seeds reach the final four as a long overdue justification of tournament’s conclusion, but that is damned chalk. If Davidson had put up a winning basket, they would have been my horse, but instead I’m left with one school that beat my college in its only title game appearance (UNC, who I’ve long hated anyway), a school who poached my school’s coach (Kansas), the school with the most titles (UCLA), and a school whose coach is desperately trying to portray his team as “friends first and teammates second,” gag (Memphis). As it turned out, I will adopt Memphis as a one-game favorite, praying that Bill Self doesn’t get to justify his departure. At the very least, it’ll be entertaining basketball, but I can’t say that my excitement level has flown off the charts. Hell, I forgot the semi-finals were even on today.
4. Murder by Death: When I first heard Little Joe Gould at the Highdive in Champaign, their bass player, Matt Armstrong, was warming up with the bass line to Mogwai’s “Tracy.” That anecdote has stuck for me for two reasons: first, I remember talking to Matt about it afterward and finding out that we had similar musical taste, and second, they actually sounded like Mogwai during parts of that set. I can’t think of the band without thinking of how much has changed. The original keyboard player and drummer are gone. The warm Cure influence from the first record has vanished. Their fixation on the old West is all-consuming. The post-rock elements have disappeared. The spectacle of their live show is gone. The lyrical narratives of Johnny Cash and Tom Waits have become the biggest touchstones for their last two albums, but the scope of the music has been pared down to pop structures. They’ve certainly found their niche, touring with the Reverend Horton Heat on a few occasions, but I’ve accepted that I am not a part of that niche audience. I still enjoy their first few records, though. Like the Exorcist, but More Breakdancing isn’t a cohesive document, but that’s part of the appeal. They wrote Cure-informed pop songs, post-rock epics, and aggressive rock songs, giving their live sets surprising variety. Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them? has gained thematic and structural cohesion, but lost some of its predecessor’s spirit in the process. I miss the band that made those records.
5. Mono: I recently replaced the cassette adaptor for my iPod/CD player, so I didn’t anticipate it going on the fritz this quickly. But almost every time I get in the car, I only hear music out of the right channel. If I tinker with the cord I can get it to work again, but only hearing music from the opposite side of the car is threatening to drive me insane.
This recap took me far longer to finish than anticipated, in large part because I enjoyed not listening to these songs for a few weeks. Here is the zip file of disc two of my year-end mix.
201 / Eluvium / “Amreik” / Copia / Temporary Residence
I would have preferred to include “Indoor Swimming at the Space Station,” but including a ten-and-a-half-minute long ambient song didn’t seem like the best approach.
202 / The National / “Fake Empire” / Boxer / Beggars Banquet
I’d largely avoided The National on the assumption that they were another bland indie rock band that Pitchfork heralded, but after seeing Boxer on too many reputable year-end lists to ignore, I gave it a shot. Turns out that Boxer is an excellent 11:30pm record and "Fake Empire" is an excellent opener. Now I feel like a jerk. Thanks.
203 / Battles / “Atlas” / Mirrored / Warp
You either grow to love the chipmunk vocals of "Atlas"or they quickly drive a hole into your brain. Those are your two choices. On a side note, scene kids have this new thing where they raise their hands in the air and “conduct” all of the words of a song. “Atlas” was a huge target for this behavior. Please make it stop.
204 / Minus the Bear / “Knights” / Planet of Ice / Suicide Squeeze
Minus the Bear’s foray into prog-rock still came with some clear singles and “Knights” was the best of them. While I miss the finger-tapping extravaganza of their early work, Dave Knudson’s “the lead guitar is in this loop pedal and I will stomp it accordingly” act is impressive enough. Two albums until he uses a chainsaw.
205 / !!! / “All My Heroes Are Weirdos” / Myth Takes / Warp
I can only take Nic Offer’s vocals in very small doses (or preferably not at all, in the case of the far superior Out Hud), but “All My Heroes Are Weirdos” was one of the highlights of the generally improved Myth Takes. When !!! swing and miss, it’s ugly, but this song is a nicely condensed version of their aesthetic.
206 / Marnie Stern / “Every Single Line Means Something” / In Advance of the Broken Arm / Kill Rock Stars
“Every Single Line Means Something” is an outlier on Marnie Stern’s debut, since it thankfully never gets too close to album’s standard Sleater Kinney meets Deerhoof approach. Her guitar pyrotechnics are largely held in check here, but it’s for the better of the song. I’m hoping that her second album holds more of these gems.
207 / The Race / “Ice Station” / Ice Station / Flameshovel
Ice Station became my go-to record once a few major storms hit Boston—“There’s no escaping / This ice station” is just too fitting for being stuck in traffic. Previous to the weather changing, my go-to song on Ice Station was “Evil Love,” with its circular vocals and new wave production.
208 / The Twilight Sad / “And She Would Darken the Memory” / Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters / Fat Cat
After seeing the Twilight Sad live at the Middle East Upstairs, I shelved their album for a long time. While I preferred the sonic depth of the record to the band’s curious stage presence, I avoided listening to the album for some unfounded reason.
209 / Port-Royal / “Anya: Sehnsucht” / Afraid to Dance / Resonant
Port-Royal is the best example of a genre record from this year hitting the spot. “Electronic post-rock you say? You’re completely competent at it? Sign me up!” I had to trim this song down a bit since they fade off for a few minutes.
210 / Les Savy Fav / “What Would Wolves Do?” / Let’s Stay Friends / French Kiss
Les Savy Fav records compete with the band’s live spectacle and often lose, but Let’s Stay Friends showed remarkable resiliency against this trend. I would have liked to include both “Pots & Pans” and “The Equestrian,” since I can’t think of any two songs in better conversation with each other musically and lyrically, but in lieu of plugging two tracks from a record into these mixes I chose the single.
211 / LCD Soundsystem / “All My Friends (Single Edit)” / Sound of Silver / DFA
This may be the only LCD Soundsystem song that I like, but any collision of New Order and Steve Reich is worth a listen.
212 / Mary Timony Band / “New Song” / The Shapes We Make / Kill Rock Stars
“New Song” reminds me of Helium’s The Magic City, mainly in the combination of Timony’s guitar riffs and the background keyboard. This comparison is both a blessing and a curse, since while The Shapes We Make is a more accomplished album than its predecessor, the trimmed-down garage rock approach of Ex Hex was a more surprising turn in Timony’s career path.
213 / Shannon Wright / “In the Morning” / Let in the Light / Quarterstick
Shannon Wright was essentially the anti-Tara Jane O’Neil, starting her solo career with the nuanced acoustic songs O’Neil plays nowadays before her gradual progression into furious, oppressive rock songs seething like Rodan’s “Toothfairy Retribution Manifesto.” While I respected this progression, Over the Sun was its logical conclusion and her collaboration with Yann Tiersen was its logical epilogue. Let in the Light is the next book. “In the Morning” has all of the intensity of Over the Sun without the hand to the throat of “Portray” or “Birds.”
214 / Bottomless Pit / “The Cardinal Movements” / Hammer of the Gods / Comedy Minus One
“The Cardinal Movements” was one of four tracks to be released in a pre-album sampler EP last year and resurface on Hammer of the Gods. Since I viewed that EP as an unofficial release, unlike Silkworm’s Chokes! EP, I held off on including any Bottomless Pit songs last year. “The Cardinal Movements” was simply too good to pass up again, even with Midgett’s equally impressive “Leave the Light On” making Hammer of the Gods.
215 / Wire / “No Warning Given” / Read & Burn 03 / Pink Flag
I skipped through Wire’s discography somewhat haphazardly, getting hooked on 154, then moving to Chairs Missing, finally getting Pink Flag, and then fast-forwarding to A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck. I’d dabbled with the first two Read & Burn EPs and the resulting Send LP, but none of those grabbed me as much as Read & Burn 03, which sounds more like the 154-era Wire that originally hooked me. “23 Years Later” is the EP’s biggest statement, but at nearly ten minutes it simply wouldn’t fit.
216 / Mt. St. Helens / “City Of” / Of Others / Two Thumbs Down
Whereas previous Mt. St. Helens albums had one or two songs that were above and beyond their counterparts (“Always on Time,” “Ghostly Presence”), Of Others’ consistency made it more difficult to choose a winner. Despite my fondness for the album’s mid-tempo tracks, I opted for the tight post-punk of “City Of.” It keeps ratcheting up the pressure without losing form. Hopefully they will tour the east coast in 2008.
217 / This Flood Covers the Earth / “The Tetris Chainsaw Massacre” / Barnburner / Self-Released
This Flood Covers the Earth broke up after one too many tours fell apart, but the self-released Barnburner came quite close to approximating the fury of their live set. It would have been far ballsier of me to include the epic hardcore song at the beginning of a disc, but it fit best after the Mt. St. Helens track. I’m a sucker for half-time hardcore riffs and the outro of this song has a prime example.
218 / Last Days / “Swimming Pools at Night” / These Places Are Now Ruins / N5MD
If These Places Are Now Ruins was a bit more consistent in terms of quality, it would have been the third ambient release to make my top twenty. Unlike Stars of the Lid and Eluvium, Last Days stick to the electronic post-rock side of the ambient spectrum, particularly on the gently whirring “Swimming Pools at Night.” The layering of this track forced me to include it over the simple piano ballad “Saved by a Helicopter.”
219 / Jesu / “Blind and Faithless” / Split LP with Eluvium / Temporary Residence
Figuring out the closer for this disc was a difficult process. I didn’t want to mirror the first disc and have the ambient song finish things off, but most of my remaining potential selections (Alcest, Ulrich Schnauss, Nadja) didn’t fit the flow. I preferred Jesu’s Sun Down / Sun Rise, but those tracks were far too long to fit on a mix, and I didn’t allocate enough time for the title track of Conqueror. So instead I included an instrumental cut reminiscent of the Silver EP
I’ve accepted that physical mix CDs aren’t in vogue in 2008, so I’ve included links for the entire CDs and the artwork for my best of 2007 2CD set. Many of these songs have been pared down in order to fit onto an eighty-minute CD, so download presumed duplicates. If you want to receive a physical copy of the CDs—the packaging, as usual, is involved and not a task well-suited to anything other than my assembly-line production—send an email to Sebastian @ this domain name. Otherwise, here is the track listing and my commentary on the first disc of music (111 mb). The second disc and artwork uploads are forthcoming.
101 / Epic45 / “The Stars in Spring” / May Your Heart Be the Map / Make Mine Music
“The Stars in Spring” was the clear highlight of the lite post-rock May Your Heart Be the Map. Thankfully absent are the listless vocals cluttering other songs on the album, thankfully present is a focus to the layered arpeggios and drifting electronics.
102 / Prints / “Easy Magic” / Prints / Temporary Residence
I’ve played Prints’ “Easy Magic” for a number of people and the response is either “I wanted to stop listening to it, but I couldn’t” or “What in God’s name are you listening to?” I fall on the former side of things, obviously. My favorite song of 2007.
103 / Pelican / “City of Echoes” / City of Echoes / Hydra Head
The first time I heard about Pelican was from Centaur drummer Jim Kelly after they’d shared a bill in Chicago. Upon hearing their debut EP, I was surprised that the sludgy instru-metal band raved about Hum. While I caught hints of this affection on The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, the title track for City of Echoes could essentially be a blueprint for a Hum reunion. The dueling leads of “City of Echoes” extract Tim Lash’s flourishes on “Isle of the Cheetah” and “Dreamboat” and combine them with the churning riffs of “Stars” and “Winder.” I would prefer Pelican not to be an instrumental version of Hum, but if this track is any indication, I would wear any potential tribute record out.
104 / The Acorn / “Flood Pt. 1” / Glory Hope Mountain / Paper Bag
Whereas Canada’s more famous indie export spent 2007 disregarding the memories that made their debut a success and taking little joy in commenting on the present, the Acorn provided everything that their countrymen sorely lacked. “Flood Pt. 1” is an organic trip through the singer’s mother’s native Honduras. Given their folk origins, the quieter songs on the record are just as great, but “Flood Pt. 1” does a great job of mirroring the subject matter in the musical composition.
105 / Dinosaur Jr. / “Crumble” / Beyond / Merge
I wanted to include one of Lou Barlow’s excellent contributions to Beyond, since “Back to Your Heart” and “Lightning Bulb” surpass anything Barlow’s done since maybe Bakesale, but “Crumble” was too good of a J. Mascis anthem to pass up. Lou gets the shaft again.
106 / The Narrator / “SurfJew” / All That to the Wall / Flameshovel
All That to the Wall had four songs up for consideration—scorching opener “Son of Son of the Kiss of Death,” the chiming surge of “Breaking the Turtle,” the preemptive regret of “Start Parking,” and the hit single charm of “SurfJew.” It probably came down to my fondness for the doubled vocals on “And on this day son, you’ll be a man / Or on this day, you’ll be just another one of us / Who knows.”
107 / Blonde Redhead / “23” / 23 / 4AD
When I overhead Blonde Redhead’s shoegaze homage “23” in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I figured that my time with the song was coming to a swift and unjust end. Thankfully this did not occur.
108 / Deerhunter / “Hazel St.” / Cryptograms / Kranky
My first listen to Deerhunter’s Cryptograms fizzled out after the first half, which meant that I missed the album’s indie rock payoff. Whoops. “Hazel St.” is a great coming-of-age story that reminds me of a half-asleep (and considerably less saccharine) version of Poster Children’s “He’s My Star.”
109 / Errors / “Salut! France” / “Salut! France” 7″ / Rock Action
Errors should have a full album out in 2008, but the “Salut! France” single was almost enough to tide me over. I’m putting the over/under on the length of their record at 35 minutes. I am going under.
110 / The Berg Sans Nipple / “Of the Sung” / Along the Quai / Team Love
Noticeably absent from this year’s list are Do Make Say Think, whose last three records were in my top fifteen for 2000 through 2004 (a list which needs to be updated). You, You’re a History in Rust took a wrong turn toward Broken Social Scene territory. While I enjoyed finally getting to see them back in March, I was more impressed by their opening act, The Berg Sans Nipple, and spent far more time with their record than with DMST’s album.
111 / Wilco / “Impossible Germany” / Sky Blue Sky / Nonesuch
Two quick points about "Impossible Germany": first, I always hear “Impossible jiminy / Unlikely Japan,” second, the three-guitars-resolving-parts-at-once moment at the end of the song makes me smile regardless of its classic rock cheese factor.
112 / The Forms / “Oberlin” / The Forms / Threespheres
The Forms practice a dangerous brand of lyrical economy. While “Oberlin” floats along on barely recognizable syllables, album opener “Knowledge in Hand” has its more effective vocal melodies worn thin by far too many iterations of its title phrase. I chose less inflammatory option.
113 / Picastro / “Hortur” / Whore Luck / Polyvinyl
Picastro still hasn’t released a fully engrossing album, but “Hortur” is easily on par with past highlights “Winter Notes,” “No Contest,” and “Sharks.” Liz Hysen sounds like she’s sleepwalking through an intense dream, never letting her laconic delivery match the lyrical tumult. It’s a deft trick in which the lulling cello and anxious piano are fully complicit.
114 / Bill Callahan / “Sycamore” / Woke on a Whaleheart / Drag City
Woke on a Whaleheart never fully clicked with me, perhaps because I spent most of 2007 enamored with Callahan’s last release as Smog, 2005’s A River Ain’t Too Much to Love. Yet “Sycamore” stood out when I saw Callahan at the Museum of Fine Arts and not just because of the “I want to be the fire part of fire” lyric.
115 / Menomena / “My My” / Friend and Foe / Barsuk
I never got into Friend and Foe as an album, but “Muscle ‘n’ Flo” and “My My” stuck out as quality indie rock songs with excellent production values. “My My” made the cut because its tone fit the mix better, but both are worth hearing.
116 / Explosions in the Sky / “The Birth and Death of the Day (Jesu Mix)” / All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone Remixes / Temporary Residence
I had initially planned for this song to represent both Explosions in the Sky and Jesu; I prefer it to any of the original versions on All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone and many of the best Jesu songs from 2007 were too long for inclusion (“Conqueror,” “Sun Rise,” “Weightless & Horizontal,” “Farewell”). Eventually I caved on that logic, giving Jesu a song on the second disc. “The Birth and Death of the Day (Jesu Mix)” was one of the few post-rock epics that didn’t disappoint this year. Whereas All of a Sudden lacks the narrative scope of past EITS albums, this remix succeeds through churning layers rather than cathartic crescendos. It may not surpass Broadrick’s remix of Pelican’s “Angel Tears,” but it comes very close to equaling it.
117 / Stars of the Lid / “A Meaningful Moment through a Meaning(less) Process” / And Their Refinement of the Decline / Kranky
I’m fairly sure that putting the ambient classical piece at the end of the disc after the epic post-rock song is an enormous cliché, but it just fit better here. The highly affected piano chords in the last half of the song were too great to pass up.
In the "better late than never" category, here are my top twenty records for 2007. I blame the following things for the delay: ruminating endlessly on fifty-word blurbs, spending too much time trying to one-up last year's design, and attempting to cram a few more 2007 albums into my listening pile after perusing other sites' lists.
More posts to follow now that I have cracked the seal.
Les Savy Fav - Let’s Stay Friends: Besides having one of the best one-two combinations in the “Yes, we’re still a band” lilt of “Pots & Pans” and “Fuck yes, we’re still a band” throttle of “The Equestrian,” Let’s Stay Friends is a solid follow-up to the singles compilation Inches. If “party like it’s 1999” is in reference to repping a solid year in non-trendy indie rock, they are certainly partying in said fashion. Please book US dates in the current calendar year, however.
Port-Royal - Afraid to Dance: Port-Royal made the logical, if instrumental follow-up to the electronic-oriented post-rock of Lights Out Asia’s Garmonia. I’ll take a shorter album comprised of the longer tracks, since “Deca-Dance,” “Anya: Sehnsucht,” and “Leitmotiv | Glasnost” are more memorable than their shorter brethren.
Epic45 - May Your Heart Be the Map: Sometimes I think of records in terms of what format would better suit them. Marnie Stern’s debut would be better suited as a five-song EP, for example. Epic45 would be better off taking a cue from their name and trimming their layered acoustic-meets-IDM melancholy down to the gorgeous, outstanding “The Stars in Spring” and the graceful “We Grew Up Playing in the Fields of England.” Malcolm Middleton released a 2005 single for “Loneliness Shines” b/w “No Modest Bear,” so the precedent has been set. (Album cut “Solemn Thirsty” was equally worthy of inclusion, but it sounds enough like Arab Strap that I don’t need to worry.)
Jesu / Eluvium - Split LP: Jesu’s songs sound like the melancholic cousins of the tracks that made it to Conqueror. Though that may seem like faint praise, I’ve already listened to these three songs more than that album, so perhaps Jesu is better consumed in EP format. (See also: the new-ish "Sun Down" / "Sun Rise" LP.) As for the Eluvium song, it’s long and very ambient, but it is on vinyl, which is more than I can say for the rest of his catalog, cough cough.
Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight: Halfway through this record, I picked up on its repeating subliminal message: “I am a big turd.” “Silver Lining,” the opening track, reminds me enough of Jenny Lewis’s solid solo album to get a free pass, but everything else seemed like a perverse game of “spot our 70s rock influence.” It’s amazing that Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky mines 70s AOR with such success and Under the Blacklight fails mightily in a similar pursuit. Note to all bands: if you sound like Heart, I will turn you off.
In lieu of my monstrous “I’m back from Europe and lord am I behind on my iPod Chicanery” update, here are my thoughts on some recent music.
Feedle - Leave Now for Adventure: A former member of 65daysofstatic provides this solid album as evidence of what his former mates’ newest album is missing: nostalgia mixed in between fuzzed-out electronic loops and thumping beats. It’s not quite the long-awaited sequel to Accelera Deck’s Narcotic Beats, but it’s certainly held up well to a near continuous stay on my laptop for the last week and a half. Start with “Go Home Revolving,” “Man vs. the Hallucinations,” “Song for Dogs,” and “The Way Things Turned Out” and it’s not long before the rest of the album falls in line.
Minus the Bear - Planet of Ice: Sounding like early ’80s Yes and Genesis now counts as creative development, since the vaguely progressive half of Planet of Ice is more intriguing than the echoes of Menos el Oso’s serious party music. I’ll take “Knights,” “Dr. L’ling,” “When We Escape,” and “Lotus” and imagine some sleight of hand that would bridge the enormous gap between Jake Snider’s lyrical inspiration (“Here’s my progressive rock concept album!”) and execution (“So there’s this chick…”).
Lights Out Asia - Tanks and Recognizers: This album is quite a departure from the balance of power between electronica and post-rock displayed on their debut Garmonia. The mix is fuller and more instrumentally varied, but at times—the lunging “Four Square” in particular—Lights Out Asia sound more like Aurore Rien and less like Garmonia’s compelling mix of electronica and Talk Talk–esque vocals. Not feeling it yet.
Lindsay Anderson - If: One half of my beloved L’altra finally has a solo album to supplement the live set from 2005 that I downloaded from eMusic. I’m only one listen in, but it hasn’t quite grabbed me in the same way as Different Days, and not for lack of trying. Most of these songs are fleshed-out, full-band editions with the unfortunate tendency of overwhelming the headliner’s voice. Here’s hoping that If is a grower.
Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist: I made it through almost half of this album, which I felt was some kind of accomplishment given the ear-splitting vocal mix. The sledgehammer combination of the ultra-compressed riffs and Jimmy Chamberlain’s drumming occasionally hits the spot, but more often it just makes me long for spacious mix of Siamese Dream. Oh, “Soma.” At the very least, I can finally agree with my best friend from eighth grade, who insisted that Billy Corgan’s voice cripples the band.
Interpol - Our Love to Admire: The amazing thing about the initial hype about Interpol was that it wasn’t just centered on Turn on the Bright Lights, but salivated equally over their potential as a band. I don’t think there’s much talk of that nowadays. “Pioneer to the Falls” begins the album with a delayed guitar lead that sounds like it’s been Xeroxed twice already, and aside from more Paul Banks lyrical buffoonery, the record holds few surprises and little of my interest.
I had a conversation with Jon Mount a few nights ago about how I’m far more inclined than he is to return to mid ’90s records (or fill in the gaps from records we respectively missed). Well, there are some exceptions. One of our big talking points was the first album on this list, which got me thinking about other indie or alternative albums that I’ll likely never listen from start to finish again. Sure, I may hear a song or two, but this list is about dedicated listens. Most of these albums are from bands I even enjoy or enjoyed in the past. This list could be much, much longer, but these were the albums that stood out upon first glance at my record collection Excel database.
Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Every now and then my mom brings up how I got my dad to drive me to Circuit City/Media Play/etc. to pick up this album on the night of its release. I don’t have the heart to tell her that I sold the album off at some point—likely between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college—or that this record taught me a considerable amount about how artists turn away from their strengths. Jon mentioned how he sold it off within a few days, but it was a far more gradual process of acceptance for me. I think I like some of these songs. Right? That process was helped by Billy Corgan’s radical change in appearance, in which his shaved head and increased heft encouraged me to compare him to a bloated tick in the videos and live appearances. Mirroring your supposed magnum opus’s greatest weakness in your physical appearance is an awfully noticeable tell, Billy.
In terms of the actual album, I could probably make a reasonable single disc from the era, containing the album tracks I wouldn’t mind hearing again (“Bodies,” “Stumbeleine,” “Jellybelly,” “Muzzle”) and maybe a few of the b-sides (“Set the Ray to Jerry”) from the array of singles that accompanied the album. (I officially stopped buying them after 1979 and was rather ticked about that box set.) I could complete this task so long as I never again have to hear one of Corgan’s overblown attempts to grasp at teenage angst or one of James Iha’s horribly bland vocal tracks. Part of me wonders if the switch of the dominant genre tags from “alternative” to “indie” that accompanied my casting aside of my favorite band circa age fourteen might have caused me to be a bit too rough on the Smashing Pumpkins’ later works, but remembering how bland the Zwan record was, even with Pajo and Sweeney in tow, prevents me from worrying too much.
Hum - Fillet Show: If anything, Hum replaced Smashing Pumpkins as my favorite band (admittedly remaining within “alternative”), but my later burn-out on their material had far more to do with the logistics of my fandom, like running a fan site and answering daily questions about their vague demise. Lately I’ve returned to their three main albums and found that my old stances have held up: Electra 2000 is a bit too rough in parts, but has some of their finest moments; You’d Prefer an Astronaut is thematically and musically their best album; and the over-thought gloss of Downward Is Heavenward betrays some of their better instincts (the original edge of “Comin’ Home,” the delay-heavy live intro for “Afternoon with the Axolotls,” the space of the demo version of “Ms. Lazarus”), even if the album stands up fairly well. Their debut, however, is not a record I intend to check up on. I own Fillet Show on cassette, since the CD was out of print by 1996, but I don’t think I made it through the album as a whole more than once. It’s essentially a different band: one that lacks Tim Lash’s focused leads and Matt Talbott’s introspective lyrics. And hey, those are the main things I like about Hum.
New Wet Kojak - New Wet Kojak: Competing with Hum for my favorite band status circa 1997 was Girls Against Boys, which meant that I indulged Scott McCloud and Johnny Temple’s late night jazz-ish project for a few albums. Their self-titled debut established the aesthetic (whispered Beat gibberish, dirty grooves, horns) but I don’t recall more than two actual songs on the album and I don’t want to confirm that assumption. I’m writing this at 1:30pm, which means that any New Wet Kojak material will sound downright hilarious when accompanied with the clarity of daylight. I’ll indulge the better moments of Nasty International or Do Things if I’m driving around late at night, but the self-titled will continue to collect dust on my shelf.
Jawbox - Grippe: I returned to Jawbox’s second album, Novelty, in this round of iPod Chicanery, but that does not mean I’ll be digging their debut out of my CD cabinet anytime soon. Fillet Show is an interesting point of comparison, since debut albums show the respective bands in their infancy, but whereas Fillet Show shows a different band with two different members playing essentially disparate material from the follow-up, Grippe only lacks Bill Barbot’s second guitar position, which filled out Jawbox’s sound. It’s a dry run for the considerably better Novelty, which I even assert pales in comparison to the Zach Barocas–enabled complexity of For Your Own Special Sweetheart. I won’t rule out listening to a track down the road (the Joy Division cover, “Bullet Park”), but the whole thing? No thanks.
Wolfie - Where’s Wolfie: It’s rather unfortunate that Signal Drench’s legacy is essentially a footnote in a Brent DiCrescenzo review of this album on Pitchfork, which calls out one of my contributors’ (Ty Haas) review of the record and then implies that writing Wolfie-esque music would impress “the guy who runs Signal Drench,” or, you know, me. In comparison to the bands I’d actually stake that magazine’s legacy (and the four years of my life that it involved) upon—Durian, Shiner, Rectangle, Bald Rapunzel, Tungsten74, etc.—Wolfie is an outlier. Their youthful, technically deficient indie pop does not hold up well. Whereas Awful Mess Mystery had a few passable songs for the Rentals-obsessed Kick Bright crowd (“Subroutine the Reward,” “Mockhouse”), Where’s Wolfie played up almost all of the band’s embarrassing traits—the nasal vocals, the cutesy lyrics, the fuzzy production as a vague attempt to move forward. The band themselves moved away from this approach with their later records (and the post-Wolfie band The Like Young). I can’t imagine listening to a single song from this record again, except for penance. Oh: I even own a Wolfie side project, Busytoby’s It’s Good to Be Alive, that I picked up for no more than a dollar. That record doesn’t apply to this list since I never listened to it in the first place, but maybe its memory will merit a different list.
Weezer - The Green Album: I bought this disc the week it came out, despite having heard the lead single (“Hash Pipe”) and presumably knowing better, since I had seen the band phone in a performance back in March of that year. Like the Smashing Pumpkins, it took a bit more time to recognize that Weezer had completely lost my interest, but The Green Album certainly confirmed that feeling. This album is one of the laziest displays of songwriting I can fathom. I’d sell it off, but I’m fairly sure that a million smarter people beat me to it.
Centaur - In Streams: Centaur may be the single biggest disappointment in my years of listening to music. Given the combination of the singer from Hum, the bassist from Castor, and a Champaign-Urbana scene drummer who works at Parasol, I figured that getting in on the ground floor of Centaur’s existence by attending their first ever show at a VFW in Danville, Illinois would be a rewarding experience. Most of what I remember from that show is how loose, how seemingly lazy the band’s performance was. They numbered their songs, but debated about which songs those numbers applied to. Every song boiled down to this blueprint: take a heavy riff, repeat it, sing a verse, apply wah and distortion to the riff for a solo, play another verse, sing what may be a chorus, do another solo. It was heavy and sad like early Codeine, but all too repetitive. The skeletal structures of the songs meant that those riffs became tiresome by the end of each song. Little did I know that those songs were much closer to finished than I could have imagined.
The disappointment comes from what Centaur could have been. In Streams is a profoundly sad album about some of Talbott’s personal tragedies, but making through it from start to finish is a nearly impossible task. “Wait for the Sun” is a bit lighter and fleshed out, but it’s still too long. “The Same Place” takes a solid riff and embraces its title far too much. Talbott’s meditations on life and death are intriguing, but there’s so little energy propelling them. I don’t know if adding Tim Lash’s leads would corrupt the album’s topical focus, but it’s so remarkably telling that Lash’s album as Glifted is interesting aesthetically without containing any actual songs, while Centaur’s lone effort has interesting lyrics languishing in a lack of aesthetic. I saw at least six Centaur shows without seeing much improvement from the first. I may pull out a song from time to time, but In Streams as a whole is marked with a profound sadness beyond its thematic ruminations.
Pavement - Terror Twilight: If there’s an album that I might reconsider, it’s this one. I certainly tried to like Terror Twilight, but it just encapsulates too many of late Pavement’s bad tendencies for me to sit through it as a whole ever again. The overdone production values are somewhat understandable, but the forced attempts at spontaneity are downright insulting, the “quirky” tracks like “Carrot Rope” make me shudder, and it’s a precursor to Malkmus’s underwhelming solo career. I’ll willingly listen to the following songs: “Spit on a Stranger,” “Cream of Gold,” “Major Leagues,” “Speak See Remember,” and “The Hexx,” even though the two singles are unsuitably melodramatic and “And Then…” overshadows the “The Hexx.” The middle stretch of the record is something I’d prefer to block from my memory. If I have to choose between the mixed bag swan songs of big 1990s indie rock bands, Archers of Loaf’s White Trash Heroes and Polvo’s Shapes come long before Terror Twilight.
Rex - Rex: Though Rex’s debut contains their finest song (the impossibly melancholic “Nothing Is Most Honorable Than You”), I could never make it past the album’s mid point without a concerted effort. I could probably include Rex’s overlong follow-up, C, on this list as well, and throw in their finale, 3, given its somewhat bland character in comparison to the high points of its predecessors. Rex is by no means a singles band, but they certainly aren’t a band I enjoy enough to stomach an entire album from in one sitting.