The CHIRP Blog
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 volunteer, Pete Zimmerman.
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (Anti) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I was on the 22 Clark street bus when another rider asked me to stop singing so loudly. I was listening to “People Gotta Lotta Nerve“ from this album. I wasn’t embarrassed, but looking back on it, I do wish I wasn’t singing, “I’m a man man man man man maneater.”
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Seeing them play at Millenium Park was one of the highlights of the summer of my unemployment. A great experience despite having to look at the building I used to go to every day for 13 years.
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
They were everywhere this year and it was well deserved. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them peform “1901” on an upcoming episode of CSI. I’d watch that.
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
A band that I’ve always wanted to like, but never did until this came out. Both weird and accesible, I look forward to what they do next.
Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career (4ad) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
During my youth I was a Sarah Records completist and this record reminds me of spending hours and hours in record stores searching for the next great 7”. A cherished memory.
Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light (Secretly Canadian) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Antony Hegarty has one of the most distinctive voices in music today. It’s fun trying to sing like him. Do it.
Girls – Album (True Panther Sounds) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
In a year with a lot of great debut records, this one stands out.
St. Vincent – Actor (4ad) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Another artist that I saw play at Millenium Park this summer. It was fun watching parents dancing with their children to “Actor out of Work”. My parents took me to see The Osmonds so you can blame them if you don’t like this list.
Avett Brothers – I and Love and You (Columbia/American) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I and Love and You and Too
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Self-Titled (Slumberland) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
See #5 and replace “Sarah” with “Slumberland”.
And 5 others that I also enjoyed, just not quite as much
Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner Bros.) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The record I hoped they would make after Yoshimi. Better late than never.
Japandroids – Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This is the record that I played the loudest this year.
M. Ward – Hold Time (Merge) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I’ll buy anything that he’s associated with… including Budwesier.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz (Interscope) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
uy the deluxe edition for great acoustic versions of some of the best songs on the record.
Matt and Kim – Grand (Fader Label) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Their energy at Pitchfork this summer was infectious. At one point everybody in the audience was smiling.
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 DJ and programmer extraordinaire, Kumar McMillan, a.k.a. DJ Bylamplight.
Pisces – A Lovely Sight (Numero Group) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This is not a reissue, it’s a discovery of unheard 1969 material that was lost and buried in a fascinating story about a perfectionist rock group from Rockford, Illinois, who couldn’t catch a break. Besides earning Pisces a page in Steve Krakow’s Secret History of Chicago Music series, this album (compiled by the Numero crew) is an enjoyable listen start to finish and is essential for any fan of Rockadrome-esque swirly psychedelic fuzz. This album was built like a cathedral; it almost seems appropriate that it took over thirty years to finally see a proper release. Not only is this undisputedly my pick for best album of 2009, I think it will shine for years to come as a truly remarkable achievement both sonically and historically.
Exile – Radio (Plug Research) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The Akai MPC 3000 sampler has revolutionized hip hop and has proven to be one of the most expressive electronic instruments ever invented. Exile has mastered the MPC. He plays samples like instruments — stripping them down to the core and tapping out new melodies and rhythms. But there’s a twist: this album was sampled entirely from FM radio in Los Angeles. Commercials, jingles, call-ins, cheesy smooth jazz, late night battle raps, pop songs, they have all been artfully munged into catchy instrumental hip hop jams and interludes sometimes with a political or spiritual message. FM radio today is a strange corporate beast and this album exploits that beast, leaving no stone unturned. Besides a great work of art, every song keeps my head nodding and it’s been in very heavy rotation ever since I picked it up.
Little Dragon – Machine Dreams (Peace Frog) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
My introduction to this album was a little 7” of Blinking Pigs and the first thing that grabbed me was the majestic vocals and harmonies floating up and down like a Cocteau Twins song. The second thing that grabbed me was the great treatment of the drum sound — the beats bounced around in a really groovy way, hollow yet still “live” and powerful. The rest of the album was even better! From start to finish it has a really fresh, live electronic sound; the songs range from catchy to mellow to dance worthy and each synth sound is deliberate and cleverly placed. It was an instant classic for me but upon each listen it kept growing until Machine Dreams was in my heavy rotation.
Hollows – Self-Titled (Addenda) Insound / Addenda
Even though I’m involved with operating Addenda Records, I have no shame in admitting that this stunning debut from Chicago’s Hollows is one of the greatest neo-garage albums I’ve ever heard. The first five seconds drop you straight into the action and it doesn’t let up until the epic second-to-last song, Love Will Find You. Often described as a haunting retro 60s or 50s album, the song writing breaks free from the past and takes you on a fast ride with a killer all-girl-except-for-one-guy getup of bass, farfisa-like organ, guitar, and drums. The songwriting is superb and the two minute arrangements are ingeniously concise.
Javelin – Self-Titled (Thrill Jockey) Amazon / Insound / Thrill Jockey
Supposedly this Brooklyn instrumental hip hop group have been turning quite a few heads at live shows but I never knew about them until the Thrill Jockey 12” subscription sent me a mysterious thrift store record called The World of Boots Randolph with some weird painted shapes over the woman’s face. I later found out that those were actually letters spelling the word Javelin. The 12” labels both had what looked like a B written in sharpie as if to suggest there were two B-sides, how clever. That was all the information I could fetch from it but the tunes were so catchy that the record soon claimed a permanent spot in my stack of heavy rotation. I naturally dug deep into the Net to find out what I was listening to but I didn’t stop there. My obsession with Javelin has since grown to epic proportions — I’ve nabbed their CDR releases, their incredible Lukabop podcasts, basically anything I can get my hands on at this point. Their limited 12” is now sold out (try Ebay) but an MP3 release is available for purchase from Thrill Jockey.
Various Artists – Black Rio Vol. 2 Brazil Soul Power 1968-1981 (Strut) Amazon / iTunes
DJ Cliffy already put out volume one of similar cuts but I never knew about it. After catching up with that, this compilation is definitely not the out-takes, it’s a brilliant collection of softer hitting, obscure Brazilian soul. As with most Brazilian music, each track enchants you immediately and fills you with that feel good fuzzy happy feeling. And as a compilation it is very well planned out from start to finish by a DJ who obviously knows how to set a deliberate mood. It has just the right amount of energy for any moment of the day, any day of the week, and I can’t seem to get enough of it.
Pax Nicholas and the Nettey Family – Na Teef Know De Road of Teef (Daptone) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Frank from the famous Voodoo Funk record digger blog has organized his first reissue! I’m hoping there will be many more to come. He had discovered a rare Nigerian piece recorded in the 70s then supposedly banished by decree of Fela Kuti himself after its soft rhythms failed to “move” people on the dance floor. Well, it’s arguably a fine dance record but for me it’s one of the most relaxing and charming Afrobeat records I’ve ever heard. I play this time and time again in my living room, usually to help unwind after a day at work.
Black Wyrm Seed – Self-Titled (PlusTapes) PlusTapes
This is the cassette—yes, cassette—debut of a new Chicago band, Black Wyrm Seed. Despite its heavy doom metal opener, this album grows prettier, softer, and more psychedelic with each song. On myspace they accurately describe their line-up as batterie, bong-rattling bass, electric / acoustic guitars, and vox. I listen to it over and over in my car tape deck and the nuance in every note is inexplicably wonderful. Although a stoner metal blog showcased this release a while back, it still seems to exist as an undiscovered gem.
Dam-Funk – Toeachizown (Stones Throw) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
If “gangster” was a genre of music it would include 70s RnB songs like Does Your Mama Know by Rudy Love & The Love Family and William Devaughn’s Be Thankful For What You Got. Then chronologically it would move on to include Parliament / P-Funk, G-Funk, and finally Dam-Funk. This LA producer has put together a massive release of electronic instrumentals (some with background vocals) in five—count ‘em—five volumes. This is gangster theme music. In fact, it’s done so well that any tongue and cheekiness is overshadowed by the brilliance of nuance in the programmed drums or well placed synth chimes. It feels so smooth and so right and makes me want to drive around LA with my seat real low and pimp like.
Shepherd – Riddle of the Unflocked (Acroplane) Liquid Dilemma
This is a bass heavy new electronic project by Belgian producer Shepherd (a.k.a. Julien Itterbeek). The style is akin to the sinister breakbeat sound of Scorn or Push Button Objects but hidden beneath its murky swamp of squelchy synth lines are intriguing, alien-like emcee vocals. When listening, sometimes I imagine a b-boy battle on a space station between Martians and Mercurians, each crew doing weird twists and flips. It was released as a free MP3 download on the obscure Acroplane label, so be sure to grab it while you can. This is one evil, mind bending album and it accompanies me very often these days from start to finish.
Some Random Closing Thoughts
Neon Indian made his debut appearance with what I’d call the best song of 2009: Deadbeat Summer. It’s a really catchy tune but more than that the production is beautifully warped and twisted. In fact, it has stirred up enough for some bloggers to coin the genre “chillwave” to describe it. I guess that’s sort of a more blunted and electronic version of shoegaze? I was a bit disappointed by Neon Indian’s full length album, Psychic Chasms, but I think that’s really because every other song on it pales in comparison to Deadbeat Summer.
The Xx put out a really amazing album this year (self titled). It didn’t make my list only because it’s been in light rotation for me, not necessarily heavy rotation. I think they are one to watch and I was especially captivated by this live performance they did on KEXP.
Drag City issued an album by Death called For The Whole World To See. It was originally made in the 70s but was done in the Detroit R&B community so no one paid any attention to it and it never got a proper release. If you listen to it now it sort of sounds like a lot of other metal that came out around the same time but because of where the players were all raised on deep Detroit R&B there’s something very subtle that makes it stand out.
Some other albums that grazed my list this year were Joyce’s Visions Of Dawn (The Paris 1976 Project), ¡¡¡Wau Y Los Arrrghs!!!‘s ¡¡¡Viven!!!, Hudson Mohawke’s Polyfolk Dance, The Fiery Furnaces’ I’m Going Away, Jim O’Rourke’s Visitor, John Zorn’s O’o, and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. Wow, 2009 was an amazing year for music!
Joyce: Far Out Recordings
¡¡¡Wau Y Los Arrrghs!!!: Slovenly
Hudson Mohawke: Warp
Fiery Furnaces: Thrill Jockey
Jim O’Rourke: Drag City
John Zorn: Amazon
Grizzly Bear: Warp
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 Volunteer, Patrick Seymour.
Mi Ami – Watersports (Quarterstick) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
After a couple excellent EPs these ex-Black Eyes members put out their full length debut. It is a strange mix of forward thinking punk, Afro beat, free jazz and dub. While that makes it seem like they are throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, it actually works well blending everything together creating a very unique sounding album, strong debut.
Paper Mice – Paint It Pink (Cassette Deck) Amazon / iTunes
Another strong debut from this Chicago trio. Combine the manic energy of Deerhoof with the bark and conciseness of Minutemen, throw in some news of the weird inspired lyrics and you have the recipe for success. These boys got some musical chops to boot. The packaging is worth noting, beautifully screened LP jackets.
Abner Jay – True Story of Abner Jay (Mississippi) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Mississippi Records out of Portland have had a hell of a year, well couple actually. They put out a record what seems like every other week and they are all worth hearing. This one is a favorite. Abner Jay plays some great blues songs on electric banjo, accompanied by drums and harmonica. The songs can be heart breaking and funny, often in the same song.
Dog Faced Hermans – Hum of Life (Mississippi) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
OK so it is a reissue, but they are probably my favorite band and this album is a killer. These Scottish punks mix folk, jazz, and Eastern European influences all fronted by an amazing female vocalist who played the trumpet too. They don’t make them like this anymore. The guitarist went on to play with the Ex.
Dead Weather – Horehound (Third Man) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Jack White may be the musician of the decade. He’s had a great run with the White Stripes, the Racontoures, his own recording label and studio; the man doesn’t slow down. His latest project is a fierce dark blues band fronted by certified bad ass Allison Mosshart of the Kills. Check out their video for Treat me like your Mother.
Pterodactyl – Worldwild (Jagjaguwar) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
They toned down a bit of the spazz from their first album, but the energy is not lost. With Worldwide they soak up a bit of influence from contemporaries like Liars and Animal Collective, making their music a bit more blissed out, but it is not completely out of step with their previous work. Their fuzzed screeching guitars and falsetto vocal harmonies are still the selling point of this band.
Zs – Music of Modern White (Social Registry) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Another winner from modernist, chamber, punk, cerebral whatever band that continues to push the boundaries. The album is made up of two songs divided into three suites featuring saxophone skronk, hand clapping, some ambient passages, and some mad guitar playing. If you like experimental music, they are really worth checking out. Even if you weren’t sold on this description, they are one of the more interesting and challenging bands making music today.
Broadcast and the Focus Group – Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (Warp) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
An odd release from Broadcast, it’s made up of short songs and sound collages that blend into one another taking up each side of the album. There hasn’t been an album in a while that was able to conjure up such a strange atmosphere as this one, part nostalgia of some fantasy world, part Witch Cult (as the title suggests) the perfect fall album.
Thee Oh Sees – Help (In The Red) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Thee Oh Sees have been a busy band. A couple of albums this year, a half dozen singles, and they have all been consistently good. This is a fine album all the way around. They are a garage band writing pop songs with a hint of psych thrown in and some great male and female vocals. They rip through a dozen songs and by the time you are done you are ready to start the album over again.
A Hawk and a Hacksaw – Deliveranse (Leaf) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Gotta give some love to Jeremy Barnes, this band started as a solo post Neutral Milk Hotel project and has, with the addition of the other mainstay violinist Heather Trost, turned into his full time gig. After a couple of albums the two immersed themselves in Eastern European folk music by moving to Romania and have recorded several times there. With each time their western influence has slowly eroded focusing more on traditional Balkan folk music.
5 older albums/artists that crossed my path in ’09
War – The World Is A Ghetto Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I had written them off based on Spill the Wine, but the first time I heard this album I fell in love with it. Fantastic 70’s funk, heavy in percussion, lots of people singing at the same time and the Cisco Kid!
Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Sings Newman Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Harry Nilsson singing Randy Newman songs, that’s about all you need to know.
The Kinks Amazon / Insound / iTunes
2009 was the year I finally really got into the Kinks. It took me a while but I finally realized that Ray Davies wrote brilliant music and the albums they were making in the late 60’s were certainly on par with their contemporaries.
Art Blakey – A Night in Tunisia Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I don’t really listen to a lot of jazz, though I try every now and again. This one really caught my ear, fast paced hard bop. There is a pretty cool video of the title song.
The Walkmen Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Another band I was late to the party on. You and Me is a good listen front to back as is A Hundred Miles Off. I don’t listen to a whole lot of straight up rock, but this is one band that is doing it very well.
Let’s give it up for the supermodel who’s become a super talk show mogul. The one and only Tyra Banks. In honor of the woman who will pull almost any stunt to get people to watch her show (as the accompanying picture shows), you go girls (and boys) and get your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up.
- Guided By Voices — The Official Ironmen Rally Song (Under The Bushes, Under The Stars): Sure, Robert Pollard has released way too much material, but boy, he certainly had a ton of great songs. This majestic mid-tempo song, which was also released as a single, is nearly up there with GBV classics like “Motor Away” in the hierarchy of Mid-Fi Arena Rock Classics.
- Queen — Killer Queen (Sheer Heart Attack): This was the song that broke Queen big as a pop act. They had devoted a lot of their first two albums to being a poofier, sleeker alternative to Led Zeppelin, with some success. But this led them to being one of the biggest bands in the world. On this playful pop number, Queen shows off the influence of Roxy Music and Sparks, but the campy flash and high energy is just dialed down a little bit.
- The Hives — Main Offender (Veni Vidi Vicious): The Hives aren’t the best garage band around, but they are really good and very few bands have as much flair or personality. This song sounds like the New York Dolls meet The Move, and that’s fine with me.
- The Young Nashvillians — Follow That Girl (The Sad Smiles Of The Young Nashvillians): A second appearance from this rag tag group of college students from, you guessed it, Nashville, who recorded in the mid-‘80s. This is one of their later recordings, as evidenced by the polished. This is goofy retro pop, with a prominent Farfisa organ and alternatively scratchy and twangy guitars in the vein of early XTC and The B-52s.
- Sagittarius — Artificial Light (Of All The Living Lies) (Present Tense): This ’60s studio band was the brainchild of Gary Usher, who co-wrote songs with Brian Wilson and produced The Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel. He collaborated on this awesome psychedelic soft pop effort with Curt Boettcher. The result is something akin to The Free Design, The Association and The Beach Boys, but with unique dense arrangements, and a general trippier vibe. Listening to the myriad instruments on headphones, perfectly placed in the mix, is a real treat.
- The Hollies — You Need Love (Evolution): This is a proto-power pop number from one of the underrated bands of the ’60s. They may have been the best harmony vocalists of all of the British Invasion, with Graham Nash always stacked on top with an angelic voice. If you are in a power pop band, and have some good singers, cover this number. You’ll be glad you did.
- The Rolling Stones — Lies (Some Girls): I’d rather listen to Some Girls than Exile On Main Street. On Some Girls, the band established a new type of groove that carried them for about five or six years until it was impossible to stop the rot. This is not one of the stellar tracks from this album, but it still sounds good. Charlie Watts effortlessly taps out a beat that is metronomic, and yet it still swings, while Ron Wood and Keith Richards just fill the track with cool blues guitar tomfoolery.
- The dB’s — Working For Somebody Else (The Sound Of Music): Peter Holsapple has such a great hangdog voice and it is perfect for this bitch session about having to have a job. After all, as someone smarter than me once asked, if work is so great, why do they have to pay you to do it? This song has a wobbly R & B foundation, while Holsapple’s melody pushes him near the top of his range. There’s lots of great guitar business going on here, but this song would work if it were just Peter on an acoustic.
- The Merry-Go-Round — On Your Way Out (The Merry-Go-Round): This ’60s band was led by Emmit Rhodes, who went on to become a cult figure in pop/power pop circles for McCartney-esque solo albums. On this band’s sole LP, Rhodes showed proficiency for melodic folk-rock in the vein of The Byrds and The Youngbloods. I think there is a best of for these guys, and Rhodes was a really good songwriter, so if you like this sort of stuff, look for the compilation.
- Myracle Brah — Hearts On Fire (Plate Spinner): What started as a side project for Baltimore’s Andy Bopp (of Love Nut) became a favorite of the power pop underground in the late ’90s/early ’00s. Bopp mastered the canon of The Beatles, Badfinger and Cheap Trick, and then created bittersweet gems by the fistful. He’s vacillated from more classically retro material and attempts to take power pop into more contemporary directions without losing its roots. He did that latter thing quite well on Plate Spinner, which had creative production and compositions and arrangements that connected dots. This sounds like Paul McCartney fronting Radiohead in an “Eleanor Rigby”-“Karma Police” mash up. Great tune.
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 Volunteer and writer of at This is Babble On, Laurie Viets.
Silversun Pickups – Swoon (Dangerbird) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This is a rarity for me-an album that I can listen to the whole way through!
Bob Mould – Life and Times (Anti) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I was disappointed in the album and first and actually took it off my IPod. Then I gave it a second chance and really enjoyed it.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz (Interscope) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I love it when you hear a song on the radio and you just fall in love-that’s how I felt when I first heard “Skeletons”.
Ida Maria – Fortress Round My Heart (Mercury) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I find her songs catchy and entertaining.
The Airborne Toxic Event – Self-Titled (Island) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
OK. I think this was originally released in 2007 but no one heard it until they sent it out again in 2009. I heard “Sometime Around Midnight” and had to get the whole album. Even watched their tv special in a hotel somewhere. Love em. Right now they are filling the hole left by The Killers crappy last album.
Clem Snide – Hungry Bird (429 Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Picked this up off a review and did not regret it. Another good complete album.
M Ward – Hold Time (Merge) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
He pleases me.
Various Artists – War Child Presents Heroes (Astralwerks) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
TV on the Radio doing “Heroes” Nice.
Various Artists – Dark Was The Night (4ad Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
So many of my favorite bands in one place-The Decemberists, Beirut, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird-it’s a great album.
Mike Doughty – Sad Man Happy Man (ATO Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I have never fully recovered from the loss of Soul Coughing. Thank you Mike Doughty for keeping the dream alive.
The album I couldn’t live without that was from 2008
Cloud Cult – Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) (Rebel Group) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
It got me through being laid off, the birth of my son, sleepless nights with baby-it means the world to me and will always be in my Top 10.