Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Songs I Listened To A Lot In 2009

I guess the title gives me away, huh? I'm trying to minimize the "what abouts" and the "you should haves" and such, because it really doesn't matter, does it? While I continue to have a huge interest in hearing really good songs that I haven't heard before, the need to try convince that songs are better or best is, I hope, just about gone.

I thought I had left Billy with the tougher task. After all, when forced to choose the top CDs of a given year, you are also, by default, required to, more or less, characterize the year itself, its trends and highs and lows. But Billy really didn't do that. He just went with CDs that he really liked.

Perhaps, without colluding, we just decided to leave "the bests" to the national press and the larger blogs (though last time I looked, it seemed like Said The Gramophone had been hacked into and taken over by some viral Bulgarians) and those who thrive on debate and controversy.

I remember as teenage males in about 1973, we were completely obsessed with who was the fastest guitarist in the world. Then, one day, a good day, I figured out somehow that it didn't matter.

So here are some songs I put on this blog or featured on my own mixes and playlists or searched for dangerously while driving down the road with the Ipod in my right hand and the steering wheel in my right. I hope you will play them. I hope that you like them. I hope that you will suggest some of your favorites, too.

In no particular order...

Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey--"Begin Again" (mp3) The Dbs were my favorite band for much of the 80's, and especially these two guys, who released a pretty solid CD together in the 90's. "Begin Again" is a mature song, probably not one that would attract many teenage listeners. It's far too world-weary for that. Think of it as a salve after a failure, a divorce, a loss, any moment when you have to gather yourself and start over. Brilliant chord/key changes to get you to the bridge, and an inspired use of saxophone.

LeeRoy Stagger--"Petrified World" (mp3) Every year needs a good road song, a "Blue Skies" or a "Runnin' Down A Dream." This was my favorite road song in 2009. The apparently-autobiographical story of the singer on the road with his band, the song has a simple, pleasant, two-chord riff, some "na na nas," and some astute observations along the way.

Summer Tonight--"Who Knew" (mp3) In the same spirit as the Sheds for me. Such a simple, but daring first line: "Who knew that life was good?" Like, woah, I never thought of it that way. And not carrying any of the irony of the Joe Walsh exploration. I like it when a man and a woman sing together, especially when the way they do it sounds natural. Like here. One of my top songs of the summer.

The Bottle Rockets--"Kid Next Door" (mp3) No one, and I mean no one, is talking about the war(s) in popular music right now. Except the Bottle Rockets. This chilling reminder drives the point home quite convincingly:

The kid next door, the kid next door,
He ain't comin' back no more.

Think back to that Dixie Chicks' song about the traveling soldier, strip away any of the hope or romance, and you'll have this song. Sung by an older neighbor who hears the confidence of the young soldier, but knows better. And accompanied by lonely, eerie electric guitars.

Girls--"Hellhole Ratrace" (mp3) Perhaps the only song on this list that will be on some other people's lists. An eMusic find. It took me a while to get through the heavy reverb of the production. The sound takes you back to the 60's and back to the Ramones, but the sensibilities are very modern. Like the ending repetitions of a Springsteen song, the repeated "I don't wanna cry..." over and over really makes the song stick. The lyrics are not especially deep, but they effectively capture the angst of everyday living.

Richmond Fontaine--"You Can Move Back Here" (mp3) Probably not on your radar and one of my favorite bands of the last 5 years, I "discovered" Richmond Fontaine thanks to a subscription to the incredible music magazine, Uncut. The Brits, who are quite obsessed with Americana, raved and raved about this band. So, I bought up all their stuff and entered the down-and-out world of the far west, not California or Oregon, but Montana and Wyoming and other places with wide open spaces. To some extent, they're kind of like what a band led by Raymond Carver would be like.

The Fiery Furnaces--"The End Is Near" (mp3) Some songs that you really like, like this one, are purely contextual. Much as I enjoy listening to this version, what I hear in my head is the live version from Millenium Park in Chicago, where as a 3-piece with a singer, the guitar played all of the parts that the the keyboard plays here. But, ultimately, this is a solid pop song no matter how you play it.

Yo La Tengo--"Nothing To Hide" (mp3) Another contextual song. Saw this band at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. I've gotten choosy with Yo La over the years. They have some droning songs and some keyboard-driven songs that are hard for me to take for very long, and entire CDs that I've avoided, but when they just revert to the guitar, bass, and drums set-up, they still rock with the best (of the lo-fi's).

Withered Hand--"Hard On" (mp3) This guy is probably my favorite Scottish band. What's yours?

Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johanson--"Relator" (mp3) I've stated my love for duets on these pages before. This song, though the whole little EP is good, is about the catchiest duet of the year. I read some critical comments when the disc first came out about how this was ripping of M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel's She and Him CD, etc., but guess what? This is better. Yorn's songs are stronger than the other CD's ironic, arch covers, and, if it matters, I got tired of Deschanel's character in 500 Days of Summer and it's kind of turned me off to her.

Rosanne Cash, "Sea of Hearbreak"
David Bazan, "Hard To Be"
St. Vincent and The National, "Sleep All Summer"
Pixie Carnation, "When Did The Lights Go Out"
The Fiery Furnaces, "Charmaine Champagne"
Jeff Beck, "A Day In The Life (live)"
Buddy and Julie Miller, "Take Me Back" (would have listed it if Billy hadn't)
Neko Case, "People Gotta Lotta Nerve"
Lil' Wayne, "Ms. Officer"
Avett Brothers, "I and Love and You" (ditto)


Billy said...

I'm not sure The Bottle Rockets count for "popular music." Then again, I'm not even sure what "popular music" means anymore.

That said, Will Hoge wrote an entire EP about the war(s), and one of my favorite songs of the year is called "Be All That You Can't Be" by Broadway Calls, and that's definitely a pop-punk band eager to carp about the war and shortsighted politics.

BTW, agree completely with the Pete Yorn is better opinion. And as for the GIRLS album -- (I bought it on eMusic, too!) -- I find it on the whole unworthy of the effusive praise, but this particular song holds up well.

jed said...

Bob - nice inclusion of Yorn, Holsapple & Stamey, and of course, The Bottle Rockets.

Billy - that Bottle Rockets comment hurt. if they are not popular music then they should be. Eric Ambel thinks so.