Our Favorite Shit: 2009

By brian longtin • Jan 26th, 2010 • Category: side notes • Popularity: 20%

Our panel of two sat down for an epic virtual discussion of our absolute favorites of 2009 — in every category we could think of — and set about explaining why each one made the list.


Best Album That Didn’t Make It On Any Other Best Of Lists That I’ve Seen

Brian: Okay, I’m sort of cheating with this one. I found this album through Onion AV Club’s Best Metal of the Decade list, and had never even heard of this band prior to that. So even though it came out in 2005, I still have to recommend Pelican’s The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw. Big sweeping instrumental rock that’s not quite metal, not quite post-punk, but a terrific soundscape to throw on while reading or writing.

Spencer: I’m going with a heavy one, too.  This year, I saw a lot of lists that had Axe To Fall by Converge on it as the “Token Heavy One”, but that’s only because those critics didn’t hear Ox and OXEP by Coalesce (henceforth just falling under the catchall Ox). For me, the album poses one question: what is the minimum amount of copies a CD has to sell to qualify as a legend? To me, there’s no doubt it belongs in the list of greats, worthy of mention in the same genre-defining works as Reign in Blood, Vulgar Display of Power, Aenima, Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, etc. There’s no hyperbole here, but at the same time, I can’t explain why the critical and commercial success those other albums have hasn’t carried over to Coalesce.  Regardless, metal fan or not, this is a masterpiece that you need to pick up: also, even if it’s not on the best of lists, it’s unquestionably the best vocal performance of the year.

Favorite Album That IS on a Lot of Other Best Of Lists

Spencer:  A lot of people have talked about the seeming critical unanimity with respect to the best indie rock releases of the year, with the same four albums (Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Phoenix) appearing on everybody’s list. As opposed to group-think, I think it speaks more to the strength and preeminence of some of the year’s best albums. Three difficult cult bands that incorporate nontraditional sonic elements expanded their range to record their version of a pop album. The fourth, Phoenix, was an instance of an already accessible cult pop band expanding its range to record an even poppier album.

The fact that people have tended to be so strident in their criticism of one of the albums to promote the strengths of the other is kind of funny; it’s not a zero-sum game and we should really just be grateful that potentially memorable music was released at all. On the other hand, we all have to pick our flavor, and mine would be the Dirty Projectors.

Bitte Orca built off the comparative accessibility of Rise Above and managed to give the band something absent from their past: a consistent, definable sound (the Grizzly Bear and Phoenix CD’s achieved the same things for their bands). That that Dirty Projectors sound is simultaneously a tasteful nod to Dave Longstreth’s influences and utterly sui generis is the exact sort of wild-ass tension the band specializes in these days. Speaking of tension, it’s hard as a listener not to be aware that Bitte Orca is one hell of a plate-spinning act; a few songs over a lot of minutes displaying a level of virtuosity not just unusual for pop music, but basically unneeded until now.

I’ve heard Bitte Orca at least a hundred times this year and the compositional sophistication (or perhaps insanity) and sheer originality reveal something new with each listen. Based on what I’d heard from the Dirty Projectors in the past, I never would have guessed that I’d close out the year by calling Bitte Orca my favorite CD, but here we are. Whether the band maintains making music in this vein or goes back to inscrutable dissonance (like Xiu Xiu did after Fabulous Muscles) remains to be seen. All I know is that the deep excitement Bitte Orca inspires in me stems from the fact that it feels like right now, the Dirty Projectors are a band who can do anything; technically, physically, creatively. Anything.

Or, as perhaps better stated by my friend Andy when we saw the group go into one of their patented insane-o-harmonies, “Something about when they do that hits a really good spot of my brain.”

Brian: The two of us have discussed that album probably more than any other piece of music ever recorded, so it’s no surprise it’s your pick for this year’s Undie. And though I totally respect and agree with your praising its virtuosity, originality, and compositional sophistication, what’s interesting is that the albums I loved most, I responded to for almost opposite reasons.

Where Bitte Orca was created by a team of masterminds making layered, cerebral art-pop, Japandroids is two party guys with a guitar, drums, two mics and some distortion pedals making straightforward love-sick garage rock; and I listened to their album Post-Nothing more than anything else this year. Maybe it’s because in a year where all the bands you mentioned were pushing farther and farther with their layered production and carefully crafted soundscapes, Post-Nothing is so sloppily jubilant. Maybe because while the critic in me wants to dissect something like Bitte Orca, the fan in me just wants an energetic anthem that makes me want to bounce along in a crowded club.

Neko Case nearly ties for the Undie. Though I’d never accuse her songs of being simple, what makes them stick with you more than anything is her clear, powerful voice, which is always front and center. Without any of the odd flourishes or harmonic parlour tricks that the Projectors are so good at, her Middle Cyclone is equally virtuosic, only with a single talent laid bare instead of a band of mad geniuses gone wild with their own abilities.

Most Overrated Album

Spencer: The Wavves story (at least by the end of 2009) was a potent illustration of an advantage traditional print media will always hold over the blogosphere: enough time to reflect on its subject matter so that its criticism actually makes fucking sense. Laudatory reviews in February claiming that Wavves would unanimously be considered one of the best albums of the year gave way to accusations of overhype, followed by the band’s career imploding at a high-profile festival appearance. After that, Wavves garnered more attention for tabloidy drug abuse and brawling than anything music related.

The fact is, Wavves was a CD whose aesthetic and songwriting were more exciting to hear people respond to than to actually hear. For all the adjectives and praise showered upon them, other bands actually delivered what Wavves promised to; for me, I’d label this year’s Summer of Hate by the Crocodiles as what Wavves was shooting for. Anyways, in conclusion, Wavves was unlistenable garbage promoted by clumsy pseudo-tastemakers forced to celebrate anything they could get their hands on by the demands of the Internet’s publishing cycle; the emperor’s nudity has rarely been revealed so quickly.

Brian: Mine doesn’t come with a moral to the story, just a general sense of befuddlement. The XX are a band that are impossible to call garbage because their music is so inoffensive. Their songs are slick and steady and decent, but generally lacking climax or emotional impact. They’re like the indie-electro version of smooth jazz.

The one thing that jumps out about this album is how totally and completely okay it is. Fine selection for dinner party background music? I’d give you that. Fitting choice for a melancholy montage in a hipster romance? Definitely. One of the best albums of the year? Give me a fucking break.

Best Random Single Track I Listened to Repeatedly

Brian: Between the original version of Matt and Kim’s Daylight and one particularly excellent remix featuring De La Soul, I must have racked up hundreds of plays since the summer. Such a gleefully foot-stomping tune, and a perfect upbeat track for some masters of hip hop to rhyme over. Everyone’s heard this song either in ads from Bacardi or the soundtrack to Community, but it’s no wonder — this shit is pop gold.

Spencer: It’s weird because it’s officially for ‘10, but I can’t stop listening to Silver Soul on the new Beach House album.  My God, it’s a hell of a song.

Best Live Show (Concert or Otherwise)

Brian: In the running on my list for Best Album was the DecemberistsHazards of Love, and they spent most of this year on the road playing the whole record live beginning to end. It’s an album that’s meant to be taken as a whole, and played on stage the rock parts are louder and the soft parts more hushed, making the whole thing even more epic. When guest vocalists Becky Stark or Shara Worden get their turns to blow you away, it’s awe-inspiring. When the first big drum brake on ‘The Rake’s Song’ hits and almost the full band is pounding percussion at once, it’s glorious. Few live music moments can match up.

Spencer: Both bands I wrote about for my two favorite albums were the same for the live shows, only more so.


Most Eagerly Anticipated Things Coming in Early 2010

Brian: Having never been into the whole swords and dragons fantasy setting, a lot of role playing games don’t really appeal to me. But then Mass Effect came along and did it in a Star Wars/Blade Runner way that had all the hallmarks of those worlds, but was different enough to make me feel like I was steering the story. So of course, I can’t wait to play Mass Effect 2, which comes out later this month. Music-wise, I’ve been playing a few tracks to death off the upcoming Los Campesinos! album Romance Is Boring, particularly ‘These Are Listed Buildings‘, so I can’t wait to get my hands on the full package. After a year where bands like Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors are all the rage, a record full of straightforward rocking fun is just what I need. [ed - Yes, these both come out today, the day we're finally posting this. Go check them out!]

Spencer: The new Beach House CD is great. I’m loving “Summertime” by The Drums and want an album.  I’ve been missing new James Mercer songs, so I’m excited about the Broken Bells album with Dangermouse.  Finally, I hope Fleet Foxes put out that new album this year.

Favorite Blog or Podcast I Discovered This Year

Brian: My commute allows for lots of podcasts per week, so this is a tough field. But one I recently subscribed to that a lot of Under Culture readers would probably enjoy is I Love Movies with Doug Benson. You’ll know Doug from his stoner stand-up comedy, his documentary Super-High Me, or his association with the whole Upright Citizens Brigade alt-comedy scene. The podcast is a recording of an occasional live show where Doug gets a few of his geeky comedian friends on stage to talk and joke about movies. If that sounds dull, the episode with Adam Carolla and Patton Oswalt was particularly hilarious and should sell you on the idea.

Spencer: Now that I’m gainfully employed, it’s seriously cut down on my free Internet time.  I’m just in a holding pattern with the same stuff from last year.

Best Episode of Our Own Podcast

Brian: Is this a lame category to have? Fuck it, we’re doing it anyway! I’d probably go with episode #5, It’s Not a Party If You’re By Yourself, because we had an intelligent discussion about an award-winning novel (Netherland), but also had a lot of fun ragging on random things like Netflix parties and Wayne Coyne’s antics. After going back to a few clips from past episodes, I realized we should really try to be better about recording in 2010. The show is an awful lot of fun to do compared to emailing articles back and forth.

Spencer: Haha, couldn’t agree more.  I could’ve said all the stuff that I wrote in this article within the hour time frame and saved myself a lot of sweat, blood, and tears.  Well, not sweat or tears.

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brian longtin and Spencer are looking forward to another year of cool shit.
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4 Responses »

  1. I couldn’t agree with both of you more re: the most overrated albums of the year. The popularity of those bands leave me seriously confused about the taste level of music fans these days.

    I’m also going to use this space to give some non-critical love to Antony and the Johnsons, Eastbound & Down, The Hurt Locker, and Assassin’s Creed II.

    Hate to Avatar.

  2. Feeling you on all of those, excluding Assassin’s Creed II, which I haven’t picked up yet.

  3. Awesome post, guys! I’ve added a number of movies to my netflix queue based on your recommendations. Also very interested in the zombie war book . . .


  4. For me it’s between the admlitedty excellent SKIN’ and It Bites’ Map of the Past’, which I reckon is every bit as good. It may not have Anne-Marie’s stunning vocals, but there’s inspired songwriting, impeccably performed, with melodies and harmonies that lodge in your mind like you’ve known them forever. And it’s a concept album!

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