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 Board Member and DJ, Michael Bennett.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Raphael Saadiq at Park West in March.
Franz Ferdinand, at the Rivera in May.
The Wrens, Schubas, July.
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 Director of Fundraising, Erin Van Ness.
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Hands down my favorite album of 2009. Weird. Trippy. Delicious. Not to mention I’m a sucker for great vocal harmonies. I always have to listen to this album with headphones on so that I can capture and dig inside each little blip and bleep of sound.
The Antlers – Hospice (French Kiss) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
It took me a long time to get into this album because I was being impatient and trying to listen to it on the commute to work, and you just can’t listen to this album in that environment. It’s too quiet and soft. Once I finally gave it a fair listen with a cup of coffee in hand in a moment of peace, it became magical to me.
Avett Brothers – I and Love and You (Columbia/American) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Their Rick Rubin produced, major label debut may be a lot smoother and more polished than their previous efforts, but maybe the brothers are just growing up. It’s sing-songy and catchy so I don’t mind.
Balmorhea – All Is Wild, All Is Silent (Western Vinyl) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
A pretty instrumental album that I love putting on when just sitting and watching the sites go by on the train. I imagine it as the soundtrack to a lonely travel scene from a movie.
Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (Fat Possum) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
My brother claims he hates Andrew Bird because he feels like he needs a dictionary on hand in order to listen to his albums, but that’s precisely why I love Andrew Bird! That and I’m super envious of his whistlin’ skills.
Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish I Were An Eagle (Drag City) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I can get completely lost in his dark, rich voice. Swoon.
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (Anti) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Neko Case always seems to put out an album when I’m in the middle of a break-up, so her albums have become like therapy to me. “I want the pharaohs, but there’s only men.” Exactly.
Dutchess & The Duke – Sunset/Sunrise (Hardly Art) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Some of these songs hit me in the gut with their perfect melancholy. It makes me want to get drunk on whiskey and make out with strangers, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner Bros.) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This album reminds me of when I was 16 and listened to a ton of Pink Floyd. It has those moments of weirdness blended with moments of sheer beauty that just make your jaw drop in awe.
Elvis Perkins – Elvis Perkins In Dearland (XL) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I love folk and brass and this is the best of both worlds in one place. I read this described as “New Orleans funeral music” somewhere, and if that’s true, then send me to Louisiana right before I die.
Bowerbirds – Upper Air (Dead Oceans) Melodious folk ballads, some with accordion. Bonus.
Mazes – Mazes (Parasol Records) Pop ditties that make me long for summer days and younger years.
Serge Gainsbourg – L’Histoire de Melody Nelson (Light in the Attic) Because I have to put those years of French lessons to use once in awhile.
Dark Was the Night (4ad Records) So many great artists are represented on this compilation, which benefits the Red Hot Organization.
We’re one week away from Christmas, and if you’re stuck for a gift idea for those you really love, here’s an idea — a 100% blood transfusion, to help clean out the ol’ system, or what those in the transfusion business call The Keith Richards Special. Keith turns 66 today, and doesn’t look a day under 80. This man, who has done more than any one individual to prop up the economies of Colombia, Afghanistan and Jamaica, defies death every day. Perhaps he made a pact with the tortured soul of Robert Johnson to keep the blues alive. Or maybe he’s just lucky. Regardless, Keith keeps rocking on, and so should you. So grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and, in honor of one of the Glimmer Twins, share the first 10 songs that come up with the world.
- Smokey Robinson & The Miracles — I Can’t Stand To See You Cry (Anthology): This is one of those heart melting ballads that Smokey mastered (by that I mean perfected, not actually mastering the recording). This is the song that you are supposed to play when you get into a spat with your significant other. Left unsaid in the song is what Smokey did to cause his lady to cry.
- Robyn Hitchcock — Do Policeman Sing? (Black Snake Diamond Role): The recent Yep Roc Hitchcock reissues gave me a chance to revisit the bastard child of Syd Barrett, Bob Dylan and John Lennon (not sure how that worked, but I’m sure it happened). And I found that I had been taking Robyn for granted, as he has so many great songs. This is a silly track from Robyn’s second solo album, which doesn’t sound too far away with some of XTC’s material from around the same era. But Andy Partridge wouldn’t write this: “And are policeman gay?/Depends on what you mean/They are not lewd or queer/but they all dig the queen.” At least I don’t think so.
- The Dickies — She Loves Me Not (Dawn Of The Dickies): Speaking of silly, they don’t much goofier than this L.A. pop-punk band that has been playing out for over 30 years. This is from their second, and best, album, which combines frothy, somewhat glammy pop tunes with adrenaline bursts of punk aggression (with a smiley face). This is one of those latter songs.
- Times New Viking — My Head (Rip It Off): Times New Viking is at the forefront of a number of contemporary artists who are not just low-fi, but in your face low-fi. The band writes simple retro pop songs (somewhere in between Guided By Voices and Ramones, at least on this one) and not only records them like crap, but does so with the needle not merely pushed into the red, but pushed beyond it. This is a fairly decent song which kind of reminds me of Outrageous Cherry and The Like Young. But as an overall aesthetic approach, it’s seems purposeless — if you can’t write a challenging or irritating song, record your simple song in an irritating fashion. It’s debatable if this enhances the song or even meshes well with the composition, as opposed, for example, to the ultra-feedback approach of the Jesus & Mary Chain, where the excess noise was tailored to the track.
- The Who — The Real Me (Quadrophenia): This is probably my second favorite Who album (The Who Sell Out being the first). As a story, the thing is a mess, but here, Pete Townshend’s proggier aspirations were held in check by the obvious empathy he had for the semi-autobiographical protagonist, Jimmy. The end result is gigantic, important songs that manage to fall one step shy of self-indulgence. It helps that Roger Daltrey is in prime form, Keith Moon finds a way to shoehorn his maniac tendencies in a more controlled environment (creating some real teacher) and John Entwhistle outdoes himself. Indeed, The Ox’s bass playing on this song is amazing.
- Bobby Womack — Lookin’ For A Love (Can You Dig It? The ’70s Soul): A nifty soul gem from the well-respected Bobby Womack. His voice is a bit gritty while the backing is a tad more urbane. This was later covered by The J. Geils Band, and was an FM radio staple in the ’70s.
- King Missile — The Boy Who Ate Lasagna and Could Jump Over a Church (The Way To Salvation): I wonder if John S. Hall, the poet/singer for King Missile, ever hung out with Robyn Hitchcock. Hall would sometimes sing, but usually, as on this song, he would narrate a poem in a matter of fact matter while his mates provided sufficient backing. The title of this song is halfway deceptive.
- Hank Williams — I’d Still Want You (The Complete Hank Williams): This song is in the same vein as a number of Hank’s classics, both structurally and melodically. Williams writes in simple four line verses, getting right into the chorus. There’s a pithy middle eight after the second and third choruses. It’s all so economical and perfect. And he even provides a little bit of that ol’ Hank moan. This is a good song to play after the Smokey tune, as it’s a song of total devotion.
- Squeeze — Pulling Mussels (From a Shell) (Argybargy): Around 1982 or so, there were critics who mentioned Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook in the same breath as Lennon-McCartney. Yeah, that was a bit over the top. But at their peak, Difford and Tilbrook wrote literate songs full of creative melodies and crammed with hooks. This song is a vaguely new wavey pub rock number with a great guitar solo followed by a nifty turn at the piano by the one and only Jools Holland. This is textbook pop songwriting.
- The Dambuilders — Delaware (Encendedor): During the height of the alternative rock frenzy, major labels signed any band who might appear to have credibility. The Dambuilders never equaled the quality of this major label debut. This song, like a lot of the band’s work, mixed indie pop sensibilities with some burst of guitars, with the added bonus of Joan Wasser (a/k/a Joan As Policewoman) on violin. While certain aspects of this record are pure early ’90s, this sounds, for the most part, like it could have come out this year.
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 Director of Tech and DJ, Dustin Drase.
Pisces – A Lovely Sight (Numero Group) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The Numero Group’s musical archaeologists hit pay dirt when they stumbled upon the tracks to an unreleased album recorded in the ‘60s by Rockford, Ill., natives Pisces. Primary songwriters Jim Krein & Paul DiVenti showcase a love of baroque psychedelia and studio trickery, but it’s the addition of tracks featuring the mega-talented and mysterious Linda Bruner (not originally included on the album) that really propel this release into outer headspace. It may be 35-plus years late and completely out of context, but these songs still burn with the best of them
Cave – Psychic Psummer (Important) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
The boys in Cave can make one hell of a propulsive racket. Easily one of my favorite bands in the city of Chicago right now.
Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics – Inspiration Information 3 (Strut) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Here we have the pairing of Ehtio-Jazz legend Mulatu Astatke and Stones Throw house band Heliocentrics teaming up for the 3rd volume of Strut’s Inspiration Information series. Where similar concepts series have failed (I’m looking at you In the Fish Tank), the Inspiration Information series has been able to bring together musicians that don’t just fulfill the “what if we got these guys in a room together” fantasy, but rather they stand on their own as impressive and fun albums to listen to.
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
A lot of people are surprised by this record making my best of list, not because it shouldn’t be here, but because it’s something that is being touted everywhere. I’m usually reticent to jump onto any super hyped band, but this record has returned to my decks more than anything else this year, and it’s just an absolutely perfectly crafted album. Hell, even Jay Z likes em “[Grizzly Bear is] an incredible band. The thing I want to say to everyone— I hope this happens because it will push rap, it will push hip-hop to go even further— what the indie rock movement is doing right now is very inspiring.”
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I’m not sure how they did it, Animal Collective went from being a band that I had a passing interest in and absolutely bored me at their live show to creating this surprisingly incredible album. The fact that Merriweather was released in January, and people are still freaking out about it at the end of the year is pretty impressive indeed. Well crafted, catchy, and outright fun, this record makes me happy.
Death – …For the Whole World To See (Drag City) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Like the Pisces record, is one of those albums that was created but never actually released. Quick and to the point, this sucker is a rager of an album.
Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner Bros.) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
It’s been a while since we’ve had a truly great Flaming Lips record, but this one sorta came out of nowhere, and ranks right up there with the Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi or Zaireeka as one of their most inventive and fun albums. The vibe this time around returns to some experimental drum techniques and overall there’s a slight Krautrock vibe that suits me just fine.
C. Joynes – Revenants, Prodigies and the Restless Dead (Bo’ Weavil) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This record is just absolutely gorgeous.
Thee Oh Sees – Help (In The Red) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
2009 was a great year for garage rock, and it seems as though every time I went into the record store there was a new release by John Dwyer (Thee Oh Sees). “Help” is actually not the best record by Thee Oh Sees, but it is definitely the cream of this year’s crop of garage revivalism (Ty Segal, Smith & Westerns, No Bunny, etc, etc, etc) and as such deserves a spot on the list for being an exceptionally solid example of the genre.
V/A – Light On The South Side (Numero) Amazon / Insound
I was hesitant to put two Numero Group release in my list of top ten records, but Light On The South Side is such a monumental achievement that I would be remiss to not give it its due. From a pure packaging standpoint, this behemoth 2xlp plus hard cover book set is a beauty to behold. First we have the two LP’s comprising Pepper’s Jukebox, housed in a gatefold jacket with two inner sleeves printed with label scans and track info. When I first heard these tracks would be blues, I was a bit skeptical, but the seventeen tracks contained herein were compiled based on the actual sort of funky Chicago blues that was being played in these clubs, and let me tell you, they are FUNKY! Then we have the 132-page, 12×12, hardcover book itself, which comprises photographs of Chicago’s South Side night clubs taken by Michael Abramson between the years of 1975-1977. Each photo offers a rarely seen glimpse into the mid to late 70s club scene in Chicago and reveal something new each time you peruse them. Overall it’s an epic achievement, and further proof the stellar integrity and attention to detail put into the releases by the folks from Numero.
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, Carolyn Kassnoff and compiles her favorite songs from 2009.
Death Cab For Cutie “Little Bribes” – The Open Door EP (Atlantic) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
A very accurate depiction of a visit to a casino.
Neko Case “This Tornado Loves You” – Middle Cyclone (Anti) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Her voice is amazing.
Animal Collective “Summertime Clothes” – Merriweather Post Pavillion (Domino) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Who wouldn’t want to go for a summertime walk after hearing this?
Local Natives “World News” – Gorilla Manor (Infectious) Amazon / Insound
They sound very energized, especially on their cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.”
Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele “You Can’t Force a Dance Party” – The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulelele (Paw Tracks) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This is a catchy song, and Dent May sounds great live.
Phoenix “Lisztomania” – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Indie Dance Anthem of 2009 #1.
Passion Pit “The Reeling” – Manners (French Kiss) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Indie Dance Anthem of 2009 #2. (I love them both equally.)
Fanfarlo “Luna” – Reservoir (Atantic) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
How many instruments did they use on this album?! Strings make it passionate.
The Decemberists “The Rake’s Song” – The Hazards of Love (Capitol) Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Scary! Colin Meloy & Co. do a phenomenal interpretation of the album live.
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down “Know Better Learn Faster” – Know Better Learn Faster (Kill Rock Stars) Amazon / Insound
Ever since We Brave Bee Stings and All, I’ve loved both her songwriting & her acoustic guitar-based music.
Favorite album cover of the years
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (Anti)