Yeah, so i'm late to the party on this one because i only first decided last night that i was probably gonna go to this thing, but here i am! Do note that i'm pretty sure i bought/acquired a whopping 10 new albums this year, period, because i'm old and crotchety and a lot of what The Kids These Days listen to makes my teeth itch. So i'm sure i missed out on a lot this year. That being said, here's what kicked my ass in 2009:
10. Mount Vicious: Don't Be a Baby, Come and Get it
For one hot minute in 2009, Mount Vicious were kicking people's asses up and down the West Coast and becoming Hot Shit in their Oakland/San Francisco home base. They flamed out and dissolved right after unleashing Don't Be a Baby, Come and Get It, a rip-roaring combination of 90s indie-rock and 70s arena-rock, fronted by Conan Neutron's Glenn Danzig-style howl. Search out "Steroid Unicorn;" it's the clear hit on this one. (Full disclosure: these guys are good friends, because i know interesting and awesome people.)
9. The Flaming Lips: Embryonic
I haven't spent as much time with this album as i'd like, but upon the couple initial listens it's gotten, my conclusion is as follows: The Flaming Lips are carrying on with the same crazy-ass head games we love them for, and this album is a HUGE improvement over 2006's At War With the Mystics, which was stupid.
8. Sonic Youth: The Eternal
It's ok; i had to remind myself that Sonic Youth put an album out this year too. But when it came out last spring, i listened to it more than i've probably listened to any SY release since Washing Machine. The Eternal is a throwback to the Geffen heyday of Dirty and Goo, and in my book, stands up to those two albums just fine. Their show at Turner Hall this year was tremendous.
7. HEALTH: GET COLOR
HEALTH are one of my favorite newish live bands going right now--seeing them at the Borg Ward in, what, 2007? was a revelation. Here's a band doing what i've aimed for for years, and doing it better--taking harsh, unlistenable noise and sculpting it into a structured compositional shape with rhythm and even occasional melody! GET COLOR features maybe my favorite single of the year: "Die Slow." Fall in love with this, fools.
6. The Night Marchers: See You in Magic
I wasn't as taken with the new project from John Reis (Rocket From the Crypt, Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu) until i saw them live at Club Garibaldi's in April. That's when it clicked. It's no-frills, no-bullshit punk rock with a 50s greaser vibe--essentially, if you loved Rocket From the Crypt (and if you're unfamiliar with who that is, you'd best fix that RIGHT NOW), you're gonna dig this. (NOTE: I have been informed that this album came out in MID 2008. Whoops! Whatever, this is the year i really got into it, so i guess i'm breaking the rules on this one.)
5. Ponytail: Ice Cream Spiritual
Ponytail is the most adorable art-rock band ever; i'm pretty sure their lead "singer" (really, she blurts out nonsensical syllables Malt-Banana style more often than she actually sings proper lyrics) is no more than 19 years old. That a band this young is throwing down serious noise-art damage somewhere between Deerhoof and the aforementioned Melt-Banana is no less than astonishing. Seeing them live in Madison was one of those nights where, as a musician, i pondered giving it up because at 35, i'm still not doing anything close to what these jerks are pulling off while 15 years younger than me. Seriously, what pricks.
4. the pAper chAse: Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1
People who listen to the pAper chAse and just hear overwrought wailing about death and misery are completely missing the point. John Congleton, mad genius that he is, is darkly laughing at how doomed we all are, and is actually having a blast while doing it. The music is creepy, stomping, and is on record as scaring the hell out of at least one friend of mine with its haunting piano, horror film samples, and guitar that de-cliches the word "angular" by taking bluegrass riffs and bending them into noise-rock. That Pitchfork continues to pretty much ignore one of the best live bands going today is exhibit #1 in favor of the complete irrelevance of their website.
3. Obits: I Blame You
Hot Snakes meets Creedence Clearwater Revival--and it works! #2 of the post-Hot Snakes albums to make this list is the better of the two. Rick Froberg (also of Drive Like Jehu/Hot Snakes fame) has put together a new band that somehow sounds completely original despite its pedigree, and the album completely smokes.
2. Police Teeth: Real Size Monster Series
Welcome to the best band you didn't hear this year--Police Teeth of Seattle, WA. Taking their sound from (in their words) "if you're over 25, the Wipers meets Superchunk. If you're under 25, Hot Snakes meet the Thermals," Police Teeth are writing music essentially for themselves and other musicians, and holy hot christ is it good. Real Size Monster Series is more or less a concept album about the black comedy that is life as an underground indie-rock band in 2009--each song expresses a different angle on the same attitude: "wasting my life and my money on a band that's never going to go anywhere is completely absurd, but it's fun as hell, so fuck it." Take the bridge to "Bob Stinson Will Have His Revenge on Ferndale:" "Yeah the clubs won't touch us without label support/The labels won't touch us 'til we're back from tour/And i can't save for tour if i don't have a job/But i can't hold one down if i'm gone all night long." If you're in a band and don't react to that with a hearty "FUCK YEAH," then you've been doing it wrong (or much more right than we have, depending on your perspective). Full Disclosure, The Sequel: this band is another that are friends of mine, but don't hold that against them. If anything, their friendship kept them out of the #1 slot because i thought that might be a little nepotistic. Besides, the fact that they're my pals doesn't make "Northern California" any less the Party Anthem of 2009.
1. Future of the Left: Travels With Myself and Another
Man, this was REALLY close between Police Teeth and these guys, but if i'm being completely honest, this album is the one i listened to most this year (except for that two-week stretch after tour in August where it was nothing but the Police Teeth album on a loop), and will likely continue to spin at least once a week throughout 2010. Are Future of the Left better than their predecessors Mclusky? Eh, that's still up for debate. Mclusky's lyrics were more biting and hilarious, but FotL's sonic palate is more refined, adding the occasional synth and dynamic shifts to their decidedly minimalist, punk rock sound. "Arming Eritrea" and "Lapsed Catholics" were the best bookend tracks of the year for sure, opening and closing the album with an uncompromising post-punk punch, and if you need the merits of a song titled "You Need Satan More Than He Needs You" explained, i'm not sure i can do anything else for you.