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The CHIRP Blog

Shawn Campbell writesCHIRP Radio has arrived!

After two-and-a-half years of work, CHIRP has launched its new radio station online at! is up and running!

The station streams live from our North Center studios every day of the year. CHIRP hosts play a mix of independent, local, lesser-known, and underappreciated music from an array of genres and eras. We’re also in the process of developing some locally-focused news and talk programming.

You can interact with DJs via phone and IM, and you can offer feedback on individual songs, or on the station in general, on the front page of

We’re so grateful to all of the people who have worked so hard to make CHIRP Radio a reality! Thanks to the bands who have sent us their music, the supporters who have made donations, lent us their venues, or purchased CHIRP gear, and the volunteers who have built the station from the ground up. It’s been an amazing ride, and it’s only beginning!

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Categorized: CHIRP Radio News and Info.

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday David Bowie Edition

Can one birthday wish be enough for the man originally known as David Robert Jones, who changed his name to David Bowie so as not to be confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees? Or does one have to wish a Happy Birthday to The Thin White Duke, The Earthling, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and so on and so on? Perhaps the best way to celebrate the birthday of a man whose career was premised on versatility and change is to show him your musical diversity. So give David a special birthday wish in his golden years by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. Cockeyed Ghost — I’m OK You’re Not OK (Neverest): Cockeyed Ghost was a cool power pop band that sprang from a rich late-‘90s L.A. scene that also spawned Wondermints and The Negro Problem. They didn’t get quite the same notoriety of those two acts, but the band added punkish energy and finely honed sense of classic pop (a la Elton John and The Beach Boys) to create a distinctive sound. Moreover, frontman Adam Marsland is a creative lyricist who manages to be prolix without getting in the way of the music. This song moves from driving sunny pop-rock to quiet melodicism and ends with a spunky guitar breakdown.
  2. James Brown — Let Yourself Go (The 50th Anniversary Collection): This is one of the Godfather of Soul’s early funk tunes. Or rather, this song is one of the bridges from Brown’s primal R & B to something a bit more fluid and grooving. Even in the early stages of developing funk, the depth of the arrangement is pretty amazing. And it would only get better from here.
  3. The Hives — You Got It All…Wrong (The Black And White Album): I love how these guys have evolved without losing their garage-y essence. This song has great bursts of guitar but contrasts it with some relatively pretty guitar passages. This makes the driving parts of the song sound all the more rocking.
  4. Ray, Goodman & Brown — Stay (The Best of Ray, Goodman & Brown): When the ’70s R & B vocal group The Moments ran into some contractual problems with their record label, they changed their name, signed with a major label and finally moved from the R & B charts to the pop charts. Their classic vocalizing had its roots in street corner doo-wop singing, best exemplified on their Top 5 smash “Special Lady”. This wasn’t a smash, but the smooth vocals and beautiful harmonies meld well with a mid-tempo song with a few disco production touches.
  5. The Greenberry Woods — You Know The Real (Yellow Pills, Volume 3): The Woods had two major label albums in the ’90s, playing sweet power pop, falling somewhere between Jellyfish and Fountains Of Wayne. This outtake is featured on one of the classic Yellow Pills compilations, which are essential for power pop fans. This is a psychedelic pop number with an obvious Beatles influence. It features strong vocals from the Huseman brothers, who later went on to form Splitsville.
  6. Muddy Waters — (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man (The Anthology): Waters was an innovator, who was one of thousands of African-Americans who migrated from the Deep South to Chicago and brought the Delta Blues with them. Muddy was at the forefront of bringing the electric guitar to Mississippi blues and that has resonated throughout music, from contemporaries like Bo Diddley to Led Zeppelin to The White Stripes. This song is such a standard bearer. Even if you haven’t heard it before, you have heard before.
  7. The Left Banke —I’ve Got Something On My Mind (There’s Gonna Be A Storm): The band that hit big in the ’60s with “Walk Away Renee” had plenty of other baroque pop delights. This song has massed harmony vocals and amazing keyboards (one of them kind of sounds like a harpsichord) and strings. The Left Banke has inspired a lot of modern orch-pop bands, such as The Ladybug Transistor.
  8. The Lightning Seeds — Like You Do (Dizzy Heights): This British band, led by Ian Broudie, had a minor hit during the alt-rock era with a song called “Pure”. They were a Brit-pop band with a strong ’60s Swingin’ London vibe, but Broudie, who was also a successful producer, added lots of cool contemporary production tricks. This song is a dazzling showcase for Broudie’s songwriting, with its melodic twists and turns and inventive dense production, with strings, backing vocals, loads of percussion, and a whole lot more.
  9. Billy Bragg — Moving the Goalposts (Don’t Try This At Home): A pretty number from Mr. Bragg, which belies the hangdog lyrics about love and romance. But, to be honest, the lyrics don’t fully hang together on this song, which isn’t typical for Billy. But the music makes it worthwhile.
  10. They Might Be Giants — Hope That I Get Old Before I Die (They Might Be Giants): If you have any affinity for They Might Be Giants and haven’t seen the documentary Gigantic, by all means do so. It’s not earth shattering cinema, but it’s an affectionate look at John Linnell and John Flansburgh. The main premise of the film is how incredibly unlikely it is that the two Johns ever found a relatively large audience, and, you know, it is hard to believe. This silly nugget from the band’s debut has Linnell’s accordion up front and awkward drum machines playing a modified polka tempo. And it’s a lot of fun.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod

Nicole Oppenheim: Ear Candy writesMidwestern Housewife - They Won’t Strike Out with Mom

“Try Jell-O Pudding Pops, Frozen Pudding on a Stick!”

What’s up with quoting this seemingly random and delightfully kitsch-y commercial from the 1980s? Because I’m about to get all Bill Cosby on your asses. No, not Bill Cosby like THAT. I was thinking more along the line of his “Kids Say the Darndest Things” schtick. Bear with me. It’ll be good. I promise.

Because everyone and their sister is putting out a year-end Top Ten list, I decided I’d do the same. Except instead of ranking best albums of the year, best television events of the year, (Come on! They’re television events, for Chrissake! They deserve a Top Ten list!), or best crazy rants overheard on the Western bus, I’m going to rank my Top Five Shining Moments in Parenting for 2009. (This is a short column, so I’m only listing five). Many of them have to do with funny things my kids have said over the past year—this is where the Bill Cosby part comes in—and unlike the boring stories your boss and/or coworkers tell you about their annoying kids, you will actually get a chuckle out of these.

So, without further ado, I present for your consideration my year-end list:

5) The kids started preschool! Okay, this isn’t a humorous story about Winchie and Squeaky, but it was easily the best thing that happened to me on the parenting front this year. And to the kids. Preschool is for the kids. I keep forgetting that. It’s only a two-mornings-a-week kind of thing, but those are two mornings I get to live an adult life again. I can drink coffee and surf the internet! I can take a shower without someone screaming “Mommy!” and opening the shower curtain every five seconds! I can write a really excellent column for CHIRP! * grin * And the best part? Someone ELSE gets to take care of the kids! In fact, THREE other people get to take care of the kids. And, unlike me, those three people have degrees in child development and early education. I help my kids learn the alphabet; the magical Other Three help my kids learn to read. The Other Three help my kids learn to paint, to share their toys, to sing nursery rhymes that I’ve either forgotten or repressed. In other words, these Other Three, like all preschool teachers, are angels sent from heaven who create child-friendly environments designed to help make toddlers civilized members of society. (Not to mention the well-earned breaks they give to harried moms and other caregivers.). In short: Yay, Preschool!

4) Child One: “Eff-you! Eff-you! Eff-you!” Child Two: “A-hole! A-hole! A-hole!” Kids hear EVERYTHING you say. Then they REPEAT everything you say. While driving up to grandma’s house (really!) this summer, another car cut me off on the highway. Like any good mom with kids in tow, I screamed out, “Holy S#^&! F*&% you, you crazy a**hole!” and laid on the horn for a good 30 seconds. My kids were in the middle of a songfest at the time, and they decided to put some of Mommy’s creative language to music. For the duration of the trip, about 20 minutes, I was serenaded by Winchie singing “Eff you!” and Squeaky countering with “A-hole!” in the sweetest toddler-style sing-song voices this side of the Mississippi. Needless to say, I have watched my tongue since then. While I found the song hilarious, I really don’t want them to be the kids who teach all the other kids in school to swear blue streaks. I don’t want to get the angry phone calls from other parents and be rendered ineligible for the PTA before the kids even get to elementary school.

3) Sweet Squeaky. The family dog was feeling under the weather earlier this year. We took her to the vet, got her some meds to which she responded quickly, and all was well within a week. But there were a couple of days there where the dog did nothing but lay around on the couch. (This is not to be confused with her usual routine of laying around on the couch. When she’s feeling well, she will occasionally bark at other dogs walking by the house. When she’s sick, she will simply growl at them or fart in their general direction.) My daughter, Squeaky, loves our dog and was upset that she wasn’t feeling well. To make her feel better, Squeaky sought out the dog’s favorite toy and placed it next to her. Then she covered the dog with her favorite blanket and started singing “Rock-A-Bye Baby” in the hopes that it would make our dog happy. When the dog recovered, Squeaky was convinced it was due to her singing and the well-placed chew toy. Now Squeaky has decided to be an animal doctor when she gets older. That is, if the princess thing doesn’t work out.

2) Peace, love, empathy. While shopping at Target with both kids, we encountered another mom with a toddler. Ever the outgoing twins, Winchie and Squeaky both tried to say hello to the other kid, who, as it happened, was in the middle of a stage four meltdown. There was crying. There was screaming. There was stomping of little feet and shaking of little fists. Not for the first time, I thanked my lucky stars that it wasn’t me attempting to control that crazy toddler cyclone. I smiled what I hoped was an understanding smile at the other mom and tried to walk by without incident. But Winchie had other plans. When we pulled up next to the screaming boy, about to pass him in the aisle, my little boy shouts from the cart, “Hey, kid! Stop fussing! It makes your mommy crazy!!” Then he turns to me and says, “Right, Mommy?” To which I responded, “That’s usually the case, honey, but his mommy seems to be taking it in stride.” I shoot the other mom a kids-say-the-darndest-things/please-don’t-judge-me-by-my-son’s-behavior look and exit the aisle quickly.

1) The Only Band That Ever Mattered. I’ll admit it: I’m one of those moms who subjects her captive children to her favorite music when we’re all in the car together. I play it loud-ish (there are little ears in the car, after all). I sing along. The kids tell me to shut it, although not in so many words. I know it’s only a matter of time before they become mortified at the thought of riding in the car with me because someone might discover that Mommy is, in fact, a crazy person with horrible taste in music. Thankfully, that day has not yet arrived and the kids, for now, are digging my selections. Exhibit A: While pulling out of the driveway this summer en route to kiddie camp, Winchie asked me a question that brought tears to my eyes. Literally. Like the Grinch on Christmas, my little black heart grew three sizes that day. He asked me, “Mommy, can we hear The Clash?” What? Did I really hear that right? “What did you say sweetie?” I replied. “The Clash! London Calling!!” My God! There is nothing left to teach this little man! At 2.5 years old, he gets it! Go forth and conquer! As we listened to the album, I stole glances in the rearview mirror and saw him rocking out in his car seat with his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine toy in one hand and a juice box in the other. I’m not a huge fan of reality TV, but I sincerely wish someone had been filming this particular moment of my parenting experience. Exhibit B: While my daughter doesn’t complain when we listen to bands like The Clash, she definitely prefers music by female-fronted bands. One day this fall she asked who we were listening to because she liked the “girl singer.” I told her it was Le Tigre and the singer she liked was named Kathleen Hanna. Now whenever we get in the car, she asks to hear “Kathleen with the pretty voice.” I know every parent thinks their kids are the most amazing people on the planet, but I think this is definitive proof that mine actually are. (Sorry, other parents).

So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed the official Midwestern Housewife’s Top Five Shining Moments in Parenting from 2009. Thank you for reading my column this year. I appreciate all the feedback I’ve received from readers whether in the form of comments here, on my Facebook page, or in person. Have a great 2010, everyone! Now I’m off to troll the internet in the hopes of finding a recipe for pudding pops. For some reason, I have a craving for frozen, over-processed, dairy-like dessert.

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Categorized: Midwestern Housewife

Topics: lists

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Grandmaster Flash

Happy New Year everybody! Not only is it the 10th Anniversary of the Y2K scare, it’s also the birthday of a master of the wheels of steel, one of the first prominent turntablists, Grandmaster Flash. Because Flash is bad, Flash is cool, go grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. Descendents — Cool To Be You (Cool To Be You): While I don’t think that the Descendents reunion stuff was as consistently good as their punk-pop heyday in the ’80s, they certainly didn’t disgrace themselves. Anyway, it was all about Milo Aukerman, who is a fine frontman and a sharp lyricist. The melodies are sweet and Bill Stevenson pounds the skins like he’s the Neal Peart of punk-pop.
  2. Ramones — Time Has Come Today (Subterranean Jungle): A pretty straightforward cover of The Chamber Brothers’ psychedelic rock classic. It would have been real cool if the Ramones did the full album length version (which was well over 10 minutes). Or maybe not. A solid but unexceptional cover on a second tier Ramones album (fun, but not essential).
  3. Pet Shop Boys — It Must Be Obvious (Alternative): Alternative is a 2 CD collection of B-sides and other odds and ends from the Boys’ career. The amount of strong material Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe leave on the cutting room floor is pretty astonishing. Each of the discs actually holds up better than a few of their albums. This song was certainly album worthy, with the usually urbane lyrics and dance pop backing.
  4. Michael Nesmith — Listen To The Band (Older Stuff: Best of Michael Nesmith (1970-73)): The wool hatted Monkee was an innovator in country rock and his early solo records are a mix of great singer-songwriter material with some twang and larger band work, where he created veritable country orchestras. This remake of a great tune from The Monkees’ Present album distills the rock flourishes in favor of a more rollicking feel. Nesmith was also such a terrific vocalist — a lot of personality.
  5. Marshall Crenshaw — Brand New Lover (Marshall Crenshaw): Crenshaw’s 1982 debut is a power pop classic. His music was not as indebted to The Beatles, The Who, etc., sounding more like he drew from the same inspirations as those acts, without being overly retro. He then worked the basic themes of longing and rejection that make up 94% of all power pop songs. A lesser track, but it still sounds swell.
  6. The Beach Boys — Don’t Hurt My Little Sister (Today!/Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)): With Today!, Wilson started taking his Phil Spector influence and really putting his own stamp on it. The album is really a precursor to the brilliance of Pet Sounds. This track starts out in a “Be My Baby”-ish mode, but Wilson adds a couple amazing melodic wrinkles, while still maintaining a basic Beach Boys rock ‘n’ roll feel. Great.
  7. Madness — Night Boat to Cairo (One Step Beyond): One of the classic singles from Madness’ debut album, this ska track was originally intended to be an instrumental, until Suggs insisted on writing some lyrics. This was a good call by the band’s lead singer, as this song doesn’t quite have enough thrust to go the same route as “One Step Beyond”. The mix of the ska beat to cod-Egyptian music is inspired, and the result is a classic.
  8. Liquor Giants — Fifth Wheel Time (Up With People): Ward Dotson left The Pontiac Brothers and fronted this way cool pop band that adapted ’60s and ’70s influences into vehicles for Dotson’s odd lyrical sensibility. The result sounds like something that would burst out of an alternative universe transistor radio. All the elements are familiar, yet something is a bit off. But it’s all undeniably catchy and fun.
  9. Fools Face — Ballet On A Wire (Fools Face): This Springfield, Missouri band was a well-kept Midwestern secret in the early ’80s, releasing three often terrific indie albums of skinny tie new wave/power pop. They moved to L.A., released an EP and then broke up. In 2002, almost 20 years after the band’s last album, they reunited. And other than a bit more muscular sound, it sounded like they picked up right where they left off. If you like candy coated power pop with just a bit of heft, this album is worth a listen.
  10. Tony Christie — (Is This The Way To) Amarillo (Bubblegum Classics V): I love bubblegum music. I really know nothing about Mr. Christie, but this is a bit less teenybopperish than most ’60s bubblgegum. It actually sounds like a cross between Neil Diamond and Tony Orlando, with heavy production. Tony is pining for his Maria and travels to Texas. On the way, he rhymes “Amarillo” with “pillow,” which is pure bubblegum poetry.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod

CHIRP DJ writesCHIRP Radio’s Best of 2009

Throughout the month of December we’ve been posting Best of lists from CHIRP’s volunteers, board members and DJs. Now that the month is over, as is the year, we’ve compiled all of those lists into one, did some maths and ended up with the Top 30 releases of 2009 as determined by CHIRP as a whole. Here’s to more great music in 2010, and to bringing it to you via CHIRPradio, launching Jan. 17th, 2010.

If you missed any of the lists, or just want to see them all again, you can get a full list here.

#1 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.” —Dustin Drase

#2 Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (Anti)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“Great vocals, great lyrics, great songs. She just hits the ball out of the park with this album. The singing is so emotive, and the melodies so evocative.” —Tony Breed

#3 Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“Phoenix has been putting out bedrock-solid pop for years now, and if you always thought they’d be there for a few good spins, you’d be right. But few expected the Parisian duo to come out with an effort like Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – if they’d been your shy sidekick before, on this album – and 1901 in particular – they took off their glasses, did their hair, and asked you to prom. While the trajectory of the band has probably gotten more experimental than poppier (the inverse of say, Animal Collective’s recent acceptance into the indie-rock elite), it’s only been a small dapple. But it was enough to push a perennial pleaser into a true head-turner.” —Dan Morgridge

#4 Pisces – A Lovely Sight (Numero Group)

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“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.” — DJ Bylamplight

#5 The 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.” —Billy Kalb

#6 Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz (Interscope)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
 “I loved this album, but I never thought that the Grammy folks would agree with anything I think – to my surprise, It’s Blitz was just nominated for Best Alternative Music Album this month.” —Jenny Lizak

#7 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (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.” —Shawn Campbell

#8 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.” —Pete Zimmerman

#9 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.” —Erin Van Ness

#10 Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
''‘Cannibal Resource’ was my summer jam, especially that part in the opening guitar riff where the Moogerfooger effect takes over. “BITTE ORCA / ORCA BITTE” was my scream-along lyric of 2009. it was a weird year. pop at its most disjointed and unhinged. lovely.” —Austin Harvey

#11 Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“A popular artist that I didn’t spend to much time with before, I thought they were too sleepy for me. Strive for perfection is apparent in this album, multiple layers, multiple voices – brilliant. “Two Weeks” is my song of the year – it puts a smile on my face every time I hear it. I especially love the “ooh-wee-ooh” doo-wop throw back vocals at the end.” —Caitlin Lavin

#12 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.” —Erin Van Ness

#13 Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career (4AD)

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“This album breaks my heart every time I hear it. Tracyanne Campbell’s voice is simply arresting. Of the eleven songs on the album, I called nine of them my favorite of the bunch at one time or another during the period that I spent steeping and soaking and immersing myself in this outstanding release.” —David Staples

#14 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.” —Mike Bennett

#15 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.” —Patrick Seymour

#16 The Noisettes – Wild Young Hearts (Mercury)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“I am a sucker for an album that moves through a variety of styles, and here the Noisettes are, pushing all of my buttons. Well‚ it’s more like an overview of Motown, with all the requisit hooks, but a dash of rock thrown in. Downsides: the album is a bit overproduced, particularly for a band known as one of the rowdiest live acts in London. And their disco-inflected hit, Don’t Upset the Rhythm (Go Baby Go), is a bit too slick, repetitive, and under-written for my taste (but I still groove to it every time it’s on, and never get the urge to skip to the next track).” —Tony Breed

#17 Fanfaro – Reservoir (Atantic)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“How many instruments did they use on this album?! Strings make it passionate.” —Carolyn Kassnoff

#18 The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love (Capitol)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“You know what I love about the Decemberists? As they’ve gotten more popular, and switched to a major label (minor-major, perhaps), they’ve just gotten weirder. the Hazards of Love is not just a concept album, it’s an actual story told in song, like any one of the story-songs from Picaresque elongated into a full album. And it’s brilliant. It’s suffused with prog-rock goodness, and features guest vocals by Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond and Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond. The one flaw? With Colin Meloy singing two roles and narrating, it’s a little hard to follow. Two more guest vocalists would have been welcome. (Ooh! Ooh! The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt as The Rake; would that not have been great?)” —Tony Breed

#19 M. Ward – Hold Time (Merge)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“He pleases me.” —Laurie Viets

#20 Silversun Pickups – Swoon (Dangerbird)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“Yep, I thought it was a new Smashing Pumpkins song the first time I heard the Silversun Pickups. But my reluctance to investigate them further was worn down when I remembered, hey, I really liked the Pumpkins. The second chance I gave them was worth it, and I’ve been nothing but pleased.” —Jenny Lizak

#21 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.” —Shawn Campbell

#22  The 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.” —Erin Van Ness … “I and Love and You and Too” —Pete Zimmerman

#23 Elvis Perkins – Elvis Perkins In Dearland (XL)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“How creepy would it be being the son of Anthony Perkins? At what age was he allowed to see Psycho? Talk about scaring! It scared me and Norman Bates was not my dad! Well it did not effect him in his musical development. His voice does have a hauntingly beautiful quality.” —Andy Weber

#24 Japandroids – Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“I was shocked when I saw a five-minute running time for this song, which I’d previously brain-labeled as a sparse punk burner. And while the song could have potentially ended about two minutes in (the lyrics are basically just played twice in a row), the song gives itself a big bridge to ramp itself up with again, and takes off. This could have all been repetitive and grating, but the feedback fuzz, earnest yelps, and heart-on-sleeve lyrics (“Well you can keep tomorrow after tonight we’re not gonna need it…/Background, we’re too drunk to feel it”) catches your ear, plants itself, and waits for your next moment of triumph to blast back to memory as your victory soundtrack.” —Dan Morgridge (Re: “Young Hearts Spark Fire”)

#25 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.” —Patrick Seymour

#26 Micachu and the Shapes – 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.” —Mike Bennett

#27 Woods – Songs of Shame (Woodsist)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“If I was making some sort of pseudo-indie flick of nihilism and despair, sitting on my couch w/ the phone of the hook in a lobotomized state – “Military Madness” would be the background music.” —Caitlin Lavin

#28 The Cave Singers – Welcome Joy (Matador)

Amazon / Insound / iTunes
“This is the second album from this Seattle band. They have a driving folk sound with some outstanding blues harp interludes throughout a number of their tracks. I am a lover of songs that build the whole way. Which is very evident to me when I look at this list. This is a song that I would listen to and back it up and listen to it again. In this day and age of music access that is something I rarely do so for that reason alone it sits a top my list.” —Andy Weber

#29 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.” —Mike Gibson

#30 National Skyline – Bliss & Death (Self-Released)

Amazon / iTunes
“National Skyline grew from the broken pieces of Hum. Only available through download, Bliss & Death is an epic and emotional roller coaster, and by far my personal favorite release from Nat. Skyline. It’s a shoegaze wall of sound flavored with layered guitar harmony. I can’t say enough. Ok… I’ll go ahead and say it: This is the best album I’ve heard in years.” —David Staples

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2009

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