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 President, Shawn Campbell.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Self-Titled (Slumberland) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I love a pop song. Make it a nice, fuzzy, lyrically-nasty-but-sweet-sounding pop song with male-female vocals, and that’s even better. The best C86 record since, if not 1986, at least the last Velocity Girl album.
Phoenix – Wolfgang AMadeus Phoenix (Glass Note) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Proof that, at least occasionally, what’s good and what’s popular can collide. When I first heard them years ago, I never would’ve tagged this French band as a future Next Big Thing, but with bigger production and a strong set of songs, WAP is impossible to deny, whether you’re a giddy Twilight fan or a jaded indie rocker.
C. Joynes – Revenants, Prodigies and the Restless Dead (Bo’ Weavil) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
A step outside my usual realm for this gorgeous, pastoral instrumental album from a young guitar player often compared to John Fahey. Perfect rainy day, time-to-think music.
Kurt Vile – Childish Prodigy EP (Matador) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
From the moment I heard his name (and later, when I learned it was his REAL name), there was no way I was not going to like Kurt Vile. The fact that he’s got a bit of a lo-fi Springsteen thing going on doesn’t hurt either, what with my previous Springsteen guy, Craig Finn, letting me down by using the exact same “this means so much to me” stage patter for the last several years – but that’s a whole different story. Undeniable songs about going places and standing still.
Rose Melberg – Homemade Ship (K Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The onetime Tiger Trap and Softies frontwoman delivers another album full of quiet, lovely, wistful songs. No worse for it being exactly what we’ve come to expect from her. A good book, a warm afghan, a cup of hot chocolate.
Hidden Cameras – Orphan (Arts & Crafts) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Another band whose sweet vocals and general twee sensibility run head on into some very, shall we say “mature,” lyrics, their self-identification as “gay church folk” is surprisingly on the money. With great big production that finally lives up to the band’s legendary live shows, this feels like the album Hidden Cameras have always wanted to make.
St. Vincent – Actor (Matador) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Annie Clark is a mysterious creature, with her lovely voice, disturbing lyrics, mean guitar playing…sometimes seemingly detached, other times, on the verge of a complete breakdown. Some say “quirky,” but there’s too much darkness here for that label to fit. You find something new every time you listen to this record.
Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You (Capitol) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Yeah, it’s glossy and got played on the Mix, but the songs are clever and hilarious, and the whole thing is a tremendous amount of fun.
Passion Pit – Manners (Frenchkiss) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Another album that got a lot of exposure this year, and I liked it from the first time I heard it. Hey, I like to dance. I like to sing in a falsetto. What’s not to love?
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains (Sister’s Den) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Yes, along with twee indie pop, I also like grand, sweeping guitar rock, and this debut from four young Staten Islanders offered up several, alongside plenty of shorter, more exuberant pop songs. Couldn’t really pull it off live in the middle of the afternoon at Pitchfork, but the record is solid and enjoyable, if not groundbreaking.
Favorite boxed set
Big Star – Keep an Eye on the Sky (Rhino) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The easy pick this year is the Beatles’ Mono Box, but this long-awaited Big Star set has gotten less press, and holds plenty of treasures. Early glimpses of Chris Bell, songs that have been floating around the Big Star collector world for ages, an entire previously-unreleased live set…far more rewarding to discover “new” Big Star tracks this way, than to live under the threat that the current incarnation of the band will decide to record another album.
Various Artists – This LP Crashes Hard Drives (Numero Group)
The Numero Group can do no wrong, and the Record Store Day comp that they curated (actually consisting of one track from each of ten great specialist labels) was no exception. Not only is every track a standout (raising the question, can every track BE a standout?), but the packaging is top-notch as well, with a gatefold sleeve that holds posters, stickers, zines, and more goodies.
Very Truly Yours – Reminders (Self-Released) MySpace
Local indie popsters opened for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at Schuba’s this past spring, and garnered some positive attention following that show. This EP is full of charming, catchy songs featuring sweet boy-girl vocals. As you can see by now, it’s the kind of thing I am completely powerless against.
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. First up is Mike Gibson, CHIRP’s Director of Online Media.
Windmill – Epcot Starfields (Friendly Fire Recordings) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Windmill’s sophomore album bridges the narrow gap between an optimistic future and a disappointing past. Science and technology create a majestic backdrop for tales we can all relate to; Tales of loss and disappointing everyone that is important to you. This delicate balance plays out perfectly in each song’s fragile composition. Simply put, I haven’t heard an album with this much depth in quite some time, and it quickly became the soundtrack of my summer commutes.
Lemuria – Get Better (Asian Man Records) Amazon / iTunes
It’s no secret that I’m both a huge fan of well executed pop-punk and band’s that can help redefine a genre in 30 minutes or less. Lemuria does that, and more, creating one of the most intimate and heartfelt listens of the year.
Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another (4ad Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
If I were asked to sum up Future of the Left’s second album in just a word, it’d be explosive. One of the best live acts around (and one we were lucky enough to get not once, but twice this year here in Chicago) has done the volume and fury of their live show justice on Travels With Myself and Another.
Ume – Sunshower EP (Sonablast Records) Amazon / iTunes
This Austin-based trio has been putting out some of the loudest, most well thought out and perfectly executed rock this side of the Y2K scare. Lauren, Eric and Jeff may cringe when I say this, but if you’re looking for a snap judgment description for that sound Ume just clubbed your ears with, start with Kim-fronted Sonic Youth, turn the volume up a few notches, beef up the sound spectrum and you’re in the right zone. Here’s to hoping they get things together for their next full-length in 2010.
Good Luck – Into Lake Griffy (No Idea Records) Amazon / iTunes
Great songwriters don’t write in verse. They tell stories that weave their way through the rhythm and chords that surround them. Ginger Alford and Matty Pop Chart solidify their spots amongst the greatest with the debut album from their new band, Good Luck. Wordplay that’d make John K. Samson jealous with some of the catchiest, smile inducing melodies I heard all year.
Converge – Axe To Fall (Epitaph Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Just before they went out on the road leaving the country speechless in an opening spot on the Dethklok tour, Converge put out what is arguably their most progressive and intense album album of the band’s career. There’s just no one out there in the metal/hardcore communities doing anything remotely resembling what these guys are doing. This, along with the band’s seminal Jane Doe will still be at the forefront of the genre a decade from now.
Busdriver – Jhelli Beam (Anti Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
With it’s opening indictment of “conscious rap”, Busdriver puts it all on the table, and when the dust clears we’re left with the most groundbreaking hip-hop album of the year. With his speedy delivery, pounding bass, freeform jazz drums and one of the best samples of the year (think third grade piano lessons), no influence was left unscathed, leaving me simply speechless by the end.
Amazon / iTunes
Remember when you were a kid, spending your summers in the basement playing Nintendo all day with your friends? If you were anything like me, you used to make up your own words to the soundtracks that filled the day: Contra, Super Mario Bros., Gradius. Well, :( took it one step further by making a band out of it 20 years later. 8-bit pop-punk at it’s best.
Strike Anywhere – Iron Front (Bridge 9 Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
People that say punk rock as a genre has become irrelevant haven’t listened to Strike Anywhere. More blast beat, sing-along, fists-in-the-air anthems that the band has been churning out now for the better part of a decade, but this time with a passion that hasn’t been seen since those first few albums. This one reminded me why i fell in love with the band all those years back.
Tegan and Sara – Sainthood (Sire Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This was a late edition to the list, but I’m an absolute sucker for crunchy synths, heartfelt lyrics and a great voice.
Favorite album of the year that ACTUALLY came out in 2008
Fight Like Apes – And The Mystery of the Golden Medallion (Self-Released) Amazon / iTunes
Had this album come out in 2009, it’d have been the top of my list, for sure. Few albums combine melody, spazziness, restraint, poppiness, and crunch into something so fun and accessible. Now I just have to keep wishing they make their way to the US sometime next year.
Best result of a band reuniting in 2009
Coalesce – Ox (Relapse Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I was stunned when I heard that the marble-mouthed marauders would be reuniting in 2009. I was even more floored when I actually heard the result of the band’s time in the studio. Not to mentioned the follow-up Ox EP that just hit the streets a couple weeks ago.
Best “Anniversary” re-issue of 2009
Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary (Sub Pop Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The 10th anniversary of “emo’s finest moment” saw the remaster/reissue of this classic with a fuller sound/bonus tracks and a nationwide tour proving that the band hasn’t missed a beat. (We’ll of course ignore those final couple of albums, sigh…)
Most pleasant surprise of 2009
Weezer – Raditude (Geffen Records) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Listen, I’m just as shocked as you are. From the piss-poor post-Pinkerton track record to the half-assed cover art and absolutely ridiculous song titles (If You’re Wondering If I Want You To I Want You To? Really? That’s what you’ve got for us Rivers?) this album had failure written all over it. But you know what? I can’t stop listening to it. While the album will never match the Matt Sharp era output, it gets back to what Weezer does best, which is taking all the formulas and clichés of modern pop music and turning them on their head. Give it a chance. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Best album from a fake band that is better than most real bands
Dethklok – The Dethalbum II (WIlliams Street) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Who’d have thought that a cliché metal band created as the subject of a late-night cartoon would not only release one of the most crushing albums of the year, but also that they’d be the headliners for hands down the best show of 2009. If you got a chance to catch Dethklok as they toured the US this summer with Mastadon, High on Fire and Converge then you too would know that Brendan Small and Gene Holgan have more than enough chops to stand out in front of the novelty and crush your skulls in the process.