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Maddie Hannes writesJust In Time For Christmas: Julian Koster’s Singins Saws

Photo by: Optical Atlas

Some people foster holiday spirit with migraine-inducing shopping sprees, others will foster that spirit by candlelight with about 20 of their friends cramped together in an apartment to hear a trio of indie minstrels play carols with saws. On December 8 the Rogers Park home of a friend served as one of the Chicago stops for Julian Koster’s cross-country caroling trip. Formerly of Neutral Milk Hotel and currently of the Music Tapes, Koster and friends used some non-traditional instruments to play some traditional holiday carols, including selections from his album The Singing Saw at Christmastime, released last year on Merge Records. In the dim space, kitschy holiday props and Koster’s colorful bits of invented folklore accompanied the ghostly crooning of the singing saws. Everyone left feeling a little warmer, and I don’t think it was just the spiked hot cocoa that did it.

Please forgive the shoddy video quality — candles and Christmas lights make for a wonderful mood but rather unfortunate recording.

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Categorized: Events Journal

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Lemmy Edition

A special Christmas Eve edition of the shuffle

You can learn a lot of valuable lessons from the movie Airheads. First, Moby Dick is a book. Second, if a mediocre heavy metal band takes over a radio station in an effort to secure a recording deal, the band will have to deal with Judd Nelson (begging the question, is it really worth it?). And, most importantly, you learn that if someone asks you who would win in a wrestling match between Lemmy and God, it’s a trick question, because Lemmy IS God. But who needs a movie to tell you that, when you can plow through the Motorhead catalog, from “Ace of Spades” to “We Are the Road Crew”, and realize that Lemmy is a deity. In Mr. Kilmeister’s honor, please throw up a horned hand, and, with your free hand, hit shuffle and share the first ten tunes that pop up.

  1. Gang Of Four — He’d Send in the Army (Solid Gold): There are some folks who insist that Solid Gold is even better than Go4’s classic debut Entertainment. I’m not one of those folks, but Solid Gold more than stands up on its own. The songs are not quite as consistently awesome, but they are good and the band’s sound thickened up a just a little bit. Here, the band builds tension with quiet interludes consisting of Hugo Burnham brushing his high hat, with small bursts of guitar, before the song hits its lurching groove (the type of groove that clearly inspired The Minutemen).
  2. Cassandra Wilson — Strange Fruit (New Moon Daughter): Wilson is one of the top contemporary jazz singers, with her smoky, insinuating voice. Her music is informed by shades of other styles, and she loves to deconstruct and rearrange songs. This is a funky take on the standard that Billie Holliday owned. Cassandra doesn’t take it away from Billie, but she certainly puts a distinctive (and quite cool) spin on it.
  3. The Streets — Let’s Push Things Forward (Original Pirate Material): No matter how often Mike Skinner disappoints, the first two Streets albums will always provide him some cover. His yobbish ruminations on the geezer life and his melding of hip—hop and garage/2—step/grime still sound so cool. The combination of Skinner’s narration and reggae hook on this cut works very well.
  4. Louis Armstrong — Blueberry Hill (The Essential Louis Armstrong): I intend to spend some more time investigating Satchmo’s early years, with the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, where his trumpet playing rules. But he was a pretty terrific singer. This is a great interpretation of the Fats Domino classic, despite the backing choral vocals that sound like they were taken from a 1940s musical.
  5. The Boys — Turning Grey (The Boys): The Boys were the least sophisticated of the first wave of poppy punk bands (in comparison to The Undertones and Buzzcocks). But they delivered the goods, and by that, I mean the hooks, one right after another. Most of their songs are power pop songs with an extra burst of adrenalin. If you dig The Exploding Hearts, here are their ancestors.
  6. Montage — Men Are Building Sand (Montage): After Michael Brown left The Left Banke (best known for the ‘60s smash “Walk Away Renee”), he formed this similar baroque pop outfit. Sundazed tracked down the masters and although this doesn’t quite hit the heights of The Left Banke, it’s not too far off. This is a pretty number, though I have no idea what the title means.
  7. The Morells — Eager Boy (Shake And Push): I have a lot Morells on my iPod. This Springfield, Missouri band played a mix of traditional rock and roll with a bit of R & B and country mixed in, while penning some originals and covering contemporaries like Marshall Crenshaw and Ben Vaughn. This is a semi—rockabilly tune with a spirited vocal from D. Clinton Thompson, who also shows off his six—string mastery.
  8. Bad Religion — Million Days (Into The Unknown): Bad Religion is so proud of its second album, that it has never been released on CD and has been out of print for over two decades. Why? Because the band abandoned its hardcore punk for hard rock with definite prog rock overtones. This certainly sticks out like a sore thumb in the band’s catalog. But they have nothing to be embarrassed about, as this is still an entertaining album, as the songs are very well constructed. This is a mid—tempo number and it’s kind of hippy dippy, and the only Bad Religion song, I think, with a section of “la la la la” vocals.
  9. Tom Waits — Midtown (Rain Dogs): This is a brief instrumental on one of Waits’ many essential albums. It’s brassy and jazzy and sounds like it could have been waxed in 1950. Yep, my iPod is feeling very jazzy today.
  10. The Vapors — Bunkers (New Clear Days): Yes, these are the guys who hit big with “Turning Japanese”, fodder for many VH1 One Hit Wonder specials. It’s a shame. Not to knock “Japanese”, which is a fun song, but it wasn’t representative of The Vapors’ sound. Singer David Fenton constructed songs that mixed the percolating rhythms of The Jam (and the Kinks inspired observational lyrics) with some post—punk edge. This song fits in that mold, with a big emphasis on rhythm, as almost every instrument has a percussive edge and the bass playing is rubbery and flowing. Underrated band.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod

Billy Kalb writesBilly Kalb’s Best of 2009

Throughout the month of December we’ll be posting lists of the best music of the year as determined by the volunteers that make CHIRP what it is. Today’s is from CHIRP’s Music Director, Billy Kalb.

Woe be to the radio DJ who has to take a sabbatical from radio; my exposure to new music was strictly regulated by my wallet this year. So, if not the best, here’s a list of my favorites.

  1. Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner Bros.) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    If not the best record of the year, it was easily the most welcome. After the Technicolor dazzle of The Soft Bulletin and the serene trippiness of Yoshimi, the Lips lost me with 2005’s At War with the Mystics; it was fun, but I worried that the band had given themselves over entirely to cartoonish spectacle and Santa costumes at the cost of the songs. But here we have some spectacular new blood: not quite a return to form, or even a retreat to the olden days. Just a generous burst of the gloriously unpredictable weirdness that we’ve come to expect from Wayne Coyne & co., and it’s their best in 10 years.
  2. Fever Ray – Fever Ray (Rabid) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    The first eight words will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end: “This won’t ever end ‘cause I want more.” Fever Ray’s Karin Dreijer-Andersson is a vampire, a demon, a soulless thing out to drain your life. This much is clear from opener “If I Had a Heart”, where she pitch-shifts and twists her voice until it barely registers as human. As an album, however, Fever Ray ultimately proves the contrary — Dreijer-Andersson is a human with a heart, and her songs here demonstrate an aching vulnerability rarely seen in her work as one-half of The Knife.
  3. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Damn but I’m glad for Person Pitch. Panda Bear returned to his main gig after his wildly successful 2007 solo adventure with a new sense of purpose. Animal Collective always struck me as a brilliant band tripped up by its own experimental overindulgences, but the focused, well-rounded MPP changed the game: an AC record that your mom could enjoy, yet compromising nothing in the way of derring-do. It felt right on time for 2009.
  4. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer (Jagjaguwar) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    How epic is that? Spencer Krug dials back the strangeness from the indie-prog Renaissance Faire bramblebush that was 2007’s Random Spirit Lover and delivers a record called Dragonslayer? Krug – by far the weirder of the two main dudes in Wolf Parade – has never played it safe, but this is as inviting as his Sunset Rubdown project has ever been. Part of that seems to be due to his having figured out how to make use of the whole band — in particular self-described “Jane-of-all-trades” Camilla Wynne Ingr, who has more vocal duties than ever before — but mostly it’s because the album just kicks effing ass. And wasn’t it always the D&D kids who most wanted to be rock stars?
  5. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (Fat Possum) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Andrew Bird had the poor luck of releasing his latest on the same day as Animal Collective released theirs, quickly getting lost in the shadow of Merriweather Post Pavilion hype. That’s often the case with Bird, who builds sturdy, well-liked but unflashy albums of elegant indie rock time and again only to be buried in end-of-year lists. For his sake, Noble Beast makes my top 5. Bird continues to find new ways to surprise and engage with little more than a guitar, a violin and some masterfully arranged whistles. Well done, sir. Well done.
  6. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    I’ll readily admit that I don’t think it’s their best work, but no one – not even Animal Collective – was less likely to make a major splash this year, and yet this summer found David Longstreth and his band playing Millennium Park. WTF? This is the closest the Projectors have ever come to an equal balance of challenge and familiarity, a sort of outsized avant-pop for the decade to come. Don’t believe me? Just listen to Solange Knowles’ cover of “Stillness is the Move” – that’s Beyonce’s sister, you know.
  7. El Michels Affair – Enter the 37th Chamber (Fatbeats) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Hypothetically, this shouldn’t have worked. I mean, the RZA’s Wu-Tang productions are already bulletproof. How could you change them without ruining everything? But somehow, taking them back in time by 35 years and reimagining them as a run of killer jazz/funk/soul jams still hit all the right notes. The El Michaels Affair – a loose collective of session players – turns what could have been a lukewarm covers record into a genuinely faithful yet original tribute to the 36 Chambers.
  8. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Arcade Fire, where have you gone? By 2009, the official playbook of indie rock had evolved into a sound so sleek and tuneful that Michael McDonald was taking note: “The punk movement swung towards being as primitive as possible, but now it’s back to where these guys are good musicians,” he told Paste. That’s not to say it’s dad rock, though. (I’m pretty sure my own dad has zero interest, and I even played him the b-side where McDonald does vocals.) It’s just a renewed appreciation for the kind of pop that flourishes within the chamber setting, and the realization that sometimes your song just needs a children’s choir. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
  9. Dan Deacon – Bromst (Carpark) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Before Bromst, I was sure that Dan Deacon’s music was a fleeting pleasure. He’s wacky and fun and all that, but where’s the staying power? It’s neat, but is it good enough to be high art? Will it stand the test of time? After Bromst… who cares? Deacon’s an oddball savant making his own brilliant Saturday morning cartoon pop with reckless abandon and enviable aplomb. Months on, Bromst still impresses, and listening to a track like “Snookered,” well – wait, what was that? A passing trace of Brian Eno? Ah, I see. High art, indeed.
  10. The Xx – Self-Titled (Young Turks) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    It’s not a complicated formula: spare, spacey boy/girl post-punk duets. Songs about love. Songs about heartbreak. Songs about VCRs. It’s an album that’s considerably more than the sum of its assembled parts, just a dazzling little surprise from a new band no one had heard of before this year. And these kids are how old? 19? Hell yes, consider me ready for that next album.
 

Best album from 2008 that took me until 2009 to fully appreciate:
The Walkmen – You & Me (Gigantic)
What can I say? It’s a grower.

Best song from 2009 that was so good it totally overshadowed the also-good album it came from:
Bill Callahan – “All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast”
Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle was great, but this track somehow made the rest of it look less great.

Album I ended up liking a lot even though logically I shouldn’t have:
God Help The Girl – God Help the Girl (Matador)
My brain: “You know, this is basically indie rock showtunes.”
My heart: “Oh, I’m aware. Your point being?
My stomach: “Shut up, you guys. I want a sandwich.”

2009 reissue on my Christmas list that I’m most looking forward to:
Kraftwerk – The Catalog (Astralwerks/Mute) / Various Artists – Can You Dig It? The Music and Politics of Black Action Films 1968-1975 (Soul Jazz)
It’s a tie. I know, they couldn’t be further apart, but I can’t honestly say which one I’m more excited for.

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2009

DJ Sherbert - Uneasy Listening writesDavid Schermer’s Best of 2009

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve been traveling all day for the holiday. Sorry this is going up so late. –M.G.

Throughout the month of December we’ll be posting lists of the best music of the year as determined by the volunteers that make CHIRP what it is. Today’s list is a bit of a different appraoch to the “top ten” courtesy of CHIRP volunteer David Schermer.

Best Album by a Supergroup Despite Conor Oberst’s Contribution

Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk (Shangri-La) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
What goes better with Jim James’ voice than Jim James’ voice? Fried Chicken? Maybe. The voices of M. Ward and Conor Oberst? Certainly. They put on a 3 hour + show at the Auditorium Theater. What could beat that? Well, on the following night (Halloween), they performed their encore as KISS in full costume and makeup.

Best Non-Comedy Album by a Comedian

Steve Martin – The Crow: New Songs for the Five String Banjo (Rounder) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The album of all original bluegrass songs isn’t funny. It’s not funny how good it is either. So what if he hasn’t made a decent movie in like forever. He’s made a great album here. Sure he’s backed by some of bluegrass’s best, but he doesn’t need them. Warning: he doesn’t sing on most of the songs.

Best Song About God

Regina Spektor – “Laughing With” Far (Warner Bros.) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This would probably win this category even if it didn’t compare God to Jiminy Cricket. However, it’s nice that it did.

Best Song Off M. Ward’s Hold Time (Merge Records)

“Stars of Leo” Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Congratulations “Stars of Leo.” After drawing your name from the hat, you’re the lucky winner. Congratulations hat for containing so many great songs.

Best Song in an Off-Broadway Musical of a B-Movie

“Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore” – The Toxic Avenger Musical Original Cast Recording (Time Life Entertainment) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Pulp was known for their full, sumptuous productions (typified by the work the legendary Scott Walker did on We Love Life), so Steve Albini does not come to mind as the obvious choice to record Mr. Cocker. But the team works to perfection. Cocker’s songs are still a mix of Roxy Music-style glam and classic ‘50s and ‘60s rock, though he adds some more rocking sounds to the repertoire this time around. His band tears into it, and Albini makes it sound, in spots, pretty ferocious. Trading in raw for lush makes the music more sensual and sleazy, especially on the songs where Cocker portrays the many different ways a middle aged man can try to get in the pants of a 20-something year old woman.

Best Musical Appearance on Late Show with David Letterman

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – “Home” Up From Below (Vagrant) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I’d never posted a video to Facebook before this one. Figured I had no choice since these guys are really something you have to see for yourself. Nobody commented on it but I’m sure that’s just because its greatness rendered everyone speechless. Sadly their record doesn’t quite accurately capture their contagious energy and optimism. Even more sadly, their show at Lincoln Hall sold out before I got a ticket.

Video:

Best Bob Dylan Christmas Video

Bob Dylan – “Must Be Santa” – Bob Dylan – Christmas in the Heart (Sony) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Watch it. It’s even funnier and more fun than most of the bad reviews this album has received. I love it. Then again, I’m Jewish. But about as Jewish as Bob Dylan.

Video:

Best Musical Discovery I Should Have Made Over 25 Years Ago

Love – “The Red Telephone” Forever Changes (Elektra/Wea) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I know. I know. But I didn’t know. I didn’t know. Thanks to East Village Radio on the internet I now know about the great Arthur Lee and his psychedelic masterpiece. If anyone out there wants to see rainbows without having to attend a gay pride parade or drop acid, listen to this album.

Best Album By an Artist Whom I Can’t Believe Died This Year

Michael Jackson – Thriller (Sony) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Maybe his best musical days were already behind him. Still it’s really sad he’s gone. Mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-coo-sa.

Best Album Discovery From Reading a Best of 2009 List

St. Vincent – Actor (4ad) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I always thought that was Miranda July on the album cover. And I like Miranda July, so I don’t know why I never bothered to pick up this album but thanks to everyone for naming it to their ten best and forcing me to pay attention. I myself am laughing with a mouth full of blood after punching myself for not having given it a listen sooner. Laughing of course because of the way I punch.

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2009

Mike Bennett writesMike Bennett’s Best of 2009

Throughout the month of December we’ll be posting lists of the best music of the year as determined by the volunteers that make CHIRP what it is. Today’s is from CHIRP Board Member and DJ, Michael Bennett.

  1. Madness – The Liberty of Norton Fulgate (Yep Roc) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    After bursting onto the scene as a frenetic ska band, Madness put its own stamp on British observational pop, providing a more urban and urbane (but less poetic) variation on the pastoral English paeans of Ray Davies and The Kinks. Years after their heyday, it’s amazing that these elder statesmen have as much to say as they do. The album loosely revolves around the concept of snapshots of London, which suitably inspired the band to whip up a number of songs that rank with their beloved singles from the ‘80s. It is all topped off by the 10 minute title cut, a genre hopping historical journey through a diverse London neighborhood that celebrates immigration as making a great city all the stronger. This great band finally pulls off the great album that was always in them.
  2. A.C. Newman – Get Guilty (Matador) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    I like this more than the last two New Pornographers records. This may be due in part to the fact that I find Dan Bejar’s New Porno contributions to be inconsistent, but I think it’s more because this just happens to be a particularly strong batch of songs from our pal Carl. This album isn’t as intimate as Newman’s debut solo LP, The Slow Wonder. It’s much more in line with the NP’s, with a lot of top flight talent helping out, from Nicole Atkins on backing vocals to MVP Jon Wurster bashing the skins. Newman’s oddball constructions are especially seamless as the arrangements are skillfully put together, and the hooks unfold more and more with each spin.
  3. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (Anti) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    It’s hard to believe that when she debuted with The Virginian, Neko was a promising alt-country honky tonk singer. Ever since that first album, she has refined a unique sound that touches on country, folk, gospel and rock, with floating and pastoral atmospherics that her powerful voice soars through. On her latest, she simply refines her approach even more, mixing direct songs (“People Got a Lotta Nerve”) with ruminations on the elements (“This Tornado Loves You” and her splendid cover of Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth”). She’s never less than compelling, and, at times, breathtaking.
  4. The Noisettes – Wild Young Hearts (Mercury) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Some fans of the much rawer debut by this British trio have cried foul at this foray into pure pop music. I think the trade off is worth it, as Shingai Shoniwa takes a back seat to no one, not even Amy Winehouse, when it comes to modern British R & B vocalists. Moreover, she and bandmates Daniel Smith and Jamie Morrison, along with some collaborators, whip up a varied batch of material, from widescreen ballads, to dumb fun dance songs, to retro new wave gems. And Shoniwa sings the hell out of all of them. This sounds like a greatest hits album.
  5. Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications (Rough Trade) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Pulp was known for their full, sumptuous productions (typified by the work the legendary Scott Walker did on We Love Life), so Steve Albini does not come to mind as the obvious choice to record Mr. Cocker. But the team works to perfection. Cocker’s songs are still a mix of Roxy Music-style glam and classic ‘50s and ‘60s rock, though he adds some more rocking sounds to the repertoire this time around. His band tears into it, and Albini makes it sound, in spots, pretty ferocious. Trading in raw for lush makes the music more sensual and sleazy, especially on the songs where Cocker portrays the many different ways a middle aged man can try to get in the pants of a 20-something year old woman.
  6. The Features – Some Kind of Salvation (429) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Early on, this Murfreesboro, TN band sounded like a collision between Pixies and Roxy Music and Sparks circa 1974, with every song a rollercoaster ride relying heavily on dynamics. Now, at the end of the decade, the band still is capable of exploding, but frontman Matt Pelham has a much bigger bag of tricks, dabbling in Russian folk and dixie fried R & B, along with other styles. No matter how you slice it, it all comes up Features, as Pelham’s commanding warble and the band’s tight playing propels everything to the highest heights.
  7. The Duckworth Lewis Method – The Duckworth Lewis Method (Divine Comedy) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Neil (The Divine Comedy) Hannon and Thomas (Pugwash) Walsh both love British pop music. And they both love cricket. Somehow, they manage to take a sport where a match can last up to five days (NOTE: the band’s name comes from a method for scoring such long matches) sound vital and interesting. The lyrics are witty and the music flits about from the pastoral Kinks to music hall whimsy to Gary Glitter-style stomp. This is silly fun.
  8. Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter (Mute) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    The debonair Bard of Sheffield continues to explore emotionally hued pop songs, often set in his hometown. The sound is again grounded in the dramatic swells of predecessors like Scott Walker and Roy Orbison, but at a bit cooler temperature, due in large part to Hawley’s mellow baritone crooning. On this album, many of the songs feature sparse instrumentation, emphasizing the great command of tone in Hawley’s guitar playing. He also pushes forward with a couple of epic length songs that only serve to make the melancholy and nostalgia resonate all the more.
  9. Micachu and the Shapes “Golden Phone” – Jewellery (Rough Trade) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Just when you thought that the latest crop of post-punk revivalists had squeezed the last drop out of the sounds of the Ghosts of ‘78-‘82 Indie Past, along comes 21 year old Mica Levi to show that there are always new ways to cobble together dissonance and melody. Bits of the early Cure, The Fall, Orange Juice, Wire and others all collide and ping-pong about, while Mica is at turns wistful, cheeky and wise. Adding to the excitement is Mica’s distinctive oddball guitar playing.
  10. Reigning Sound – Love and Curses (In The Red) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    The band’s studio follow up to the incendiary Too Much Guitar is a toned down affair. That doesn’t mean mellow, but instead of probing the band’s inner Springsteen (see Time Bomb High School), or conjuring up The Saints (as on Guitar), Greg Cartwright and company commence to lay down top notch R & B infused rock. Mixing in obscure covers with Cartwright’s sturdy originals, this is a timeless rock ‘n’ roll record. Cartwright writes about the usual stories of loves won and lost, singing them with total commitment, making them sound fresh and relevant.
 

————————————-

The next 10: Wilco – Wilco (The Album); The King Khan & BBQ Show – Invisible Girl; Flaming Lips – Embryonic; The Shazam – Meteor; Michael Carpenter – Redemption #39; V.V. Brown – Travelling Like The Light; Chris Hickey — Razzmatazz; Florence & The Machine — Lungs; The Resonars – That Evil Drone; Cheer-Accident — Fear Draws Misfortune.

Best reissue: Hank Williams Revealed (Time-Life)

Disappointing reissue: Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (Capitol): A lot of CDs released in 1989 could use improvement in the mastering department, and this hip-hop essential is no exception. But after playing the original and the reissue back-to-back, I could barely discern any difference. It’s not even much louder. And why this album didn’t get the deluxe treatment, when there are b-sides and remixes that could have been appended, is beyond me. The only plus? The component parts of “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” have been separated into individual tracks. Whoopee.

Best Show: Sparks, Royce Hall UCLA, Los Angeles (performing entire Exotic Creatures Of The Deep and Kimono My House albums)

Best shows in Chicago: Three shows stood out for me:

  1. Raphael Saadiq at Park West in March.
  2. Franz Ferdinand, at the Rivera in May.
  3. The Wrens, Schubas, July.

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2009

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