In keeping with the KWUR non-conformist style of year-end lists, I’ll throw rankings to the wind and simply list my favorite records of 2009, in no particular order.
The Intern and Klax have already listed some of my picks, namely, Thee Oh Sees, White Rabbits, Jeff the Brotherhood, and Dirty Projectors. They both did a fine job, so you can read their opinions regarding these bands/records here and here.
Micachu and the Shapes – “Jewellery”
Phenomenal weirdness from Mica Levi (Micachu) and Matthew Herbert (the Shapes). Rare is the record that executes new idea after new idea, and does so often, and well, and cohesively. Take “Eat Your Heart,” which begins with some kind of fucked up Hot Chip rhythm under clipped screams, transitions seamlessly to ukulele strums and more coherent vocals, and finishes with a refrain of “cuz I could eat your heart” over plodding, fuzzy bass. Or “Calculator,” which is what I’m guessing “Tequila” sounds like on a lot of drugs. “Jewellery” rides a razor sharp edge from start to finish.
Darlings – “Yeah I Know”
This band, and the next, have been criminally overlooked, critically. It’s a shame, because Darlings play proper homage to twee pop, the kind that Slumberland bands defined circa 1992. I find this funny, and a little bit sad, because it seems like Slumberland’s current roster (which has gotten its fair share of critical praise) has missed the point of twee entirely in trying to emulate it: it’s supposed to be loud and weird, not mumbly and boring. I mean, twee gets a lot of shit for embodying escapist, cuddly, I-want-my-childhood-back nonsense, but even a cursory listen reveals that it was also incredibly abrasive (proof: here and here). “Yeah I Know” maintains some semblance of this messy abrasiveness, but ratchets up the competence – the record sounds like the product of very capable musicians who care about the music they play. Sure, they sing about the cute, little things in life – watching TV, being friends, etc – but they demonstrate that you can do so and still sound like you’re having fun, not like you’re about to fall asleep. One part pretty melody, one part guitar freak-out: twee as fuck, indeed.
Boogie Boarder – “Pizza Hero”
“Pizza Hero” is a 30-minute adrenaline rush committed to tape. I mentioned Boogie Boarder in my CMJ rundown, and everything I wrote there holds true for this record as a whole. Take “Bio Hassle,” my favorite track – it begins with a sloppy, joyful bass/guitar riff, enter frenetic drumming that recalls Brian Chippendale, enter a shouted, barely intelligible chant; rinse and repeat. The song chugs along at 110% until about 3:30, when the guitar/vocal harmonization hits and the energy level rockets through the fucking ceiling. Gets me every time.
Lightning Bolt – “Earthly Delights”
Speaking of repetitive, loud records… the band of Brians put out a new record this year. This was actually the first Lightning Bolt album I’d ever heard, and after giving it a listen, I a.) was significantly more deaf, and b.) grabbed their entire back catalog faster than you can say “Waffles.” Having listened to most of it, “Earthly Delights” strikes me as their loudest to date, although that could be a result of improved production*. It also appears to be somewhat influenced by stoner metal – they’ve embraced the lower registers, and Chippendale’s insane drumming is ever-so-slightly more in step with Gibson’s pummeling riffs (hear “Colossus”). They certainly haven’t abandoned the weirdness that set apart their earlier work – check “The Sublime Freak” or “Funny Farm.” In any case, the last track was my favorite: “Transmissionary” will melt your face and peel the paint off your walls.
*I don’t really know if production is ever really a factor that goes into a Lightning Bolt album – research suggests “no” – but when I listen to their albums successively on my iPod, “Earthly Delights” is by far the loudest.
Other records that deserve a listen:
HEALTH – “Get Color” - “Die Slow” was my jam this summer, and though the rest of the record isn’t quite as good (how could it be? “Die Slow” is damn near perfect), it does not disappoint. Spacey, harsh, lovely.
Hornet Leg – “Ribbon Of Fear” - I haven’t heard a drum’n'guitar duo push the limits of what you can do with drums and a guitar since “White Blood Cells.” Every track is different, all tracks are great.
Red Red Meat – “Bunny Gets Paid” (reissue) - Originally released in 1995 and reissued by Sub Pop this year, “Bunny Gets Paid” hasn’t aged a bit.
Pissed Jeans – “King Of Jeans” - I wish Sub Pop would cut it out with the folksy, pretty shit and sign more bands like this. Sludgy, pounding riffs’n'rhythms and a delightful fuck-you outlook make for a great listen.
Bibio – “Ambivalence Avenue” – This record is busting at the seams with creativity, and just about every idea put forth here is incredibly well executed. “Fire Ant” marries R&B and glitch flawlessly, while “Flesh Rots, Pip Sown” recalls the grainy nostalgia of Boards of Canada. Great stuff.
Talk Normal – “Sugarland” - No Wave’s never been my thing, but this record’s drones and rhythms seep under your skin and possess you. Unsettling and mystifying.
Talbot Tagora – “Lessons In The Woods Or A City” – If you layer dissonance on top of dissonance on top of more dissonance (and do it well), the result is (apparently) a great album.
That’s it. Catch you suckahs in 2010.