Better Late Than Never – Best of 2009

Yeah, I know…it’s March. Presidents Day has passed and McDonalds is already selling Shamrock Shakes…a little late for the Best of 2009, but here we are. I never claimed to be one for timeliness, especially of late. For simplicity sake, the numbers associated with this list are just arbitrary…it’s pretty hard to rank things objectively, but the following is what I liked best about the shitty year that was 2009:

1. Dananananakroyd – Hey Everyone!

Cheeky band name aside, Hey Everyone! is an incredibly solid debut. The album is a fantastic shot of energy, bundling riffs that Le Savvy Fav wish they’d written with some of the weirdo sheen I loved so much about the sadly defunct Blood Brothers. One thing that kills me about the best songs on the album is that Dananananakroyd is one of the few bands kicking around that has the concept of a solid build and breakdown. “Black Wax”, the song I turned to most often when I needed to clear the bullshit from my brain, culminates in a fantastic riff & drum fill combination that would make anyone in the 80’s take pause during a line of coke.

Lyrically, you’ve got a weird split…there’s a song called “Totally Bone” which seems to be about emasculation and fucking, while the track “Hey James” has a lyrical riff on the Jungian concept of ego in the opening verse. This past year I came to the realization that sad bastard music does indeed contribute to your state as a sad bastard, so an album full of high tempos, tasteful screaming and good Glaswegan proto-punk riffs is ok by me.

And, considering I just rewatched Ghostbusters and it’s still a classic…I’m good with a Dan Aykroyd inspired band name.


DANANANANAYKROYD – BLACK WAX

2. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

I think there’s been more than enough chatter over the last year about Dirty Projector’s most recent release, so I won’t linger here too long. If Beyonce’s little sister is covering your songs, you’ve hit a certain plateau and there’s not much more to say about what they’re producing.

That said, it’s hitting wide for a reason. The electronics of the previous albums has been replaced with a live band that can reproduce the weirdness in Dave Longstreth’s brain. It’s odd how simply putting their electro classical eccentricities in a band context made the whole affair more palatable. To pinch a reaction my dad had after checking the album out, “Bitte Orca is like listening to dyslexia” and that’s a mighty benefit in my mind. A perfect album to sing along to when nobody is around.

3. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Again, another album that’s had enough press and sales to merit knocking it from the list, but it’s hard to deny that Veckatimest is an incredibly sold release that will have many imitators. “Two Weeks” is a brilliant piece of work and was my unofficial jam of last summer.

The freaky video helped too.

4. Dan Deacon – Bromst

Another album, like Bitte Orca that successfully takes a usually electronic core and does its best to transcribe it into the organic. I was already a fan of Dan Deacon and his green skull fueled live show, but with Bromst, I found myself appreciating the complexity more. Pitchfork had a fantastic, but but now pulled documentary on the making of Bromst that gave some wonderful insight into the production process that went into the album. No great album should need an accompanying text explaining it to add to the enjoyment, but it was definitely a great thrill to watch them tinker with a midi player piano for the parts too fast for human hands. Equally impressive was the accompanying tour which forced him away from his usual performance spot in the center of the crowd and onstage to accommodate the 14 piece ensemble needed to perform the new songs. It seemed like a very frustrating venture for Deacon who normal thrives being at the center of the hurricane that is his live show, but I think be it a personal success or failure for him, it was amazing to see him pushing his own boundaries. The show I caught at The Wonder Ballroom in Portland was probably the best show I saw all year.

5. Why? – Eskimo Snow

I’ve written about this band probably more than any other band in TTM’s spotty and short life. I did a focus on the album a few months ago, which you can read here. It’s a quality album from a growing artist…I’m not sure if it’s his strongest overall, but it definitely stands as one of the best of the year.

6. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

A comedown of an album, especially in the context of 2007’s doomy & layered Armchair Aprocrapha, the calming overall flow of Noble Beast is still a choice record overall. Like with Why?, I find it tough to pick an album I like best because the peaks and valleys of each of their discographies are something that never lines up with a complete album. Andrew Bird is another must see live…I caught him for the 9th time this past year and the evolution of his live show is an awesome counterpart to the music he makes. Finally backed by a full band, the work you get on the album comes closer than ever to what he’s performing live. Check out my writeup from back in February and give a listen to the most interestingly twisty song on the album Anonanimal:

ANDREW BIRD – ANONANIMAL

7. Miike Snow – Miike Snow

I think on first glance, I had to give this album a few chances before I accepted it in. Given a few tries, you’ll find there’s a lot of polished hooks and lovely electronics layered into every song. In my continuing effort to listen to more upbeat music, this did a solid job of fitting the bill. Even the slower numbers, especially the broody Silvia, keep a great underlying beat and the accompanying video could be a electro outtake from the recent film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Also, check out this clip of them performing the song live on KCRW is worth a look too, gives me some hope that they have a solid live show to back up a studio heavy album.

8. The XX – The XX

I know the pendulum has swung back and the time is now to shit on this once buzz-enswarmed band. This will often happen when your wikipedia page includes the following paragraph:

“Their song “Intro” is also being used in a promotional commercial for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the series Cold Case and Law & Order on the Dutch television network Net 5, and “VCR” was featured in a Lie to Me episode. In episode 7 of the online BBC EastEnders spin-off E20 their cover of “Teardrops” was used. Their song “Heart Skipped a beat” was featured in a 2009 episode of 90210 (TV series). The song “Islands” was used in an episode of the Golden Globe-winning medical drama Grey’s Anatomy.

Success is a bitch, and the blog hive mind really only loves you when your sales demographic isn’t the same as Grey’s Anatomy. That said, I still want to give this album credit where credit is due; minimalism is tough to do right and The XX have a pretty exceptional grasp on the simple, steely mood they do so well.

LA’s Nosaj Thing did a pretty fantastic remix of the album standout “Islands” that turns the mood murky with a lovely layer of analog wash.

THE XX – ISLANDS (NOSAJ THING REMIX)

9. Talkdemonic – Eyes At Half Mast

While I’m one to hold a candle for the quintessentially dead genre that is post rock, there’s still a handful of bands out there mucking about with the formula and creating something worth listening to. As a duo, Talkdemonic takes a slimmer approach than the usual GSYBE sized mob, giving you just a drummer and violinist. Their music is a swirling mass, Lisa Molinaro’s somber violin creeping around Kevin O’Connor’s clamorous drumming. With Eyes At Half Mast, the band mixes the tempo up combining slinky, atmospheric songs with driving, percussion fueled numbers that match the fire of their live show. Although the album was released in late 2008, I want to give some praise to the Portland duo’s fine release.

TALKDEMONIC – MARCH MOVEMENT

10. The Dodos – Time To Die

The simplicity of their music is a strength, relying on the warm vocal melodies of Meric Long to serve as the subdued hook. Drummer Logan Kroeber’s accompanying polyrythms keep their music at a more complex and interesting pace than most comparable indie folk, which often lulls me into a bored slumber. I could probably find some fault in the simplicity of Long’s lyrics, but most every other element on Time To Die does such a fantastic job at being memorable that the album earned a spot on the list.

Album closer “Time To Die” is a great summation of the overall tone of the album, beginning with soft vibes and acoustic guitar that jumps in with a drum propelled tone shift midway through.

THE DODOS – TIME TO DIE

Given my current pace, keep a lookout for my wrap up of 2010 sometime after the next presidential election.

…In With The New – Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast (MP3s & Tour Dates)

As the pastoral album cover hints, Noble Beast is a different kind of Andrew Bird. It’s grounded in a kind of naturalistic realism, a smaller album overall. While not a bad thing, but as it’s a comedown from the dark grandeur of Armchair Apocrapha, there’s definitely a period of listener adjustment that has to happen. Most every moment of Noble Beast is fraught with restraint, lacking the soaring bombast that permeated both its predecessor and …And The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Many of the tracks on Noble Beast are gentle to the core, crafted with touches of straight piano, acoustic guitar and cautious percussion.

It’s definitely a throwback to an older Bird, as there’s many moments where Noble Beast recall the simpler songwriting style of 2003’s Weather Systems which felt like an album of songs to be performed alone. Noble Beast has the essence of being written for someone, a touching living room performance in a house with creaky floorboards and a snow dusted roof.

‘Souverian’ is a good example of the new dynamic. At over seven minutes, it’s the lengthiest track on the album, and it retains touches of the more complex Bird songwriting. It begins a delicate stitch of violin, acoustic guitar and brushed drums that hang against the. The song snakes along, taking it’s time, pausing often to catch its breath; there are moments where you can feel the hints of a build coming, but it’s only a tease. An older Bird would use those moments as springboard into a looped cloud, but instead you get just a taste…a single bowed note arcs higher, reaching out of the mix, then things are quickly grounded. The song shifts in the last few minutes, the drums grow heavy and the melody somber, before taking off slowly into a glacial cloud of guitar noise. The entire song, as well most of the rest of the album is a work of patience…still quintessential Bird, but different in its approach.

Andrew Bird – Souverian


‘Anonanimal’ is an incredibly subdued and interesting track that quickly grew to be my favorite on the album. It snakes around the first half with a deft tangle of prickly guitar, violin and gorgeous wordplay. After a moments pause, it leads the listener along to a pop of Dosh’s skittering drumming and a bolder guitar riff.

Andrew Bird – Anonanimal


Overall, we’re faced with a slow moving, intricate work that takes time to crack open and examine the majesty within. Initially, I wasn’t totally sold on the album as a whole and was prepared to just write it off as a low point in his catalog, but I needed to sit with it for longer in order for it to grow on me. I’m a very staunch Bird fan, but on the same page, I love the complexity and the dexterous layering that made a beautiful fog out of his last two albums. The absence of those elements was off putting at first, but with repeated exposure, became a benefit. The strongest element of Noble Beast stands with Bird’s vocal melodies. While the older albums sucked listeners in with the craft of the music, I think that this album marks a change in his confidence as a songwriter. He’s less afraid to hide behind technical elements and lets the small touches speak just as loud. If you’re not in love with this album instantly, do take the time to get familiar with the melodies, to peek into the corners and find the subtle details that makes this album worthy of many repeat listens.

Tourdates:

Feb 14 2009/ The Rialto Theatre – Tucson, Arizona
Feb 15 2009/ SOMA – San Diego, California
Feb 18 2009/ The Orpheum Theatre – Los Angeles, California
Feb 19 2009/ The Fillmore – San Francisco, California
Feb 20 2009/ The Fillmore – San Francisco, California
Feb 21 2009/ Roseland Theater – Portland, Oregon
Feb 23 2009/ The Moore Theatre – Seattle, Washington
Feb 24 2009/ Knitting Factory – Boise, Idaho
Feb 25 2009/ The Murray Theater – Murray, Utah
Feb 26 2009/ The Ogden Theater – Denver, Colorado
Feb 27 2009/ Slowdown – Omaha, Nebraska
Feb 28 2009/ Hoyt Sherman Place Des Moines, Iowa
Mar 15 2009/ The Pageant – St. Louis, Missouri
Mar 16 2009/ Liberty Hall Lawrence, Kansas
Mar 17 2009/ Cain’s Ballroom – Tulsa, Oklahoma
Mar 21 2009/ House of Blues – Houston, Texas
Mar 22 2009/ Granada Theater – Dallas, Texas
Mar 23 2009/ The Lyric Oxford – Oxford, Mississippi
Apr 2 2009/ Allen Theatre – Cleveland, Ohio
Apr 3 2009/ Queen Elizabeth Theatre – Toronto, Ontario
Apr 4 2009/ Le National – Montreal, Quebec
Apr 5 2009/ Higher Ground – South Burlington, Vermont
Apr 7 2009/ Carnegie Music Hall – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Apr 8 2009/ Michigan Theater – Ann Arbor, Michigan
Apr 9 2009/ Civic Opera House Chicago, Illinois
Apr 10 2009/ Civic Opera House – Chicago, Illinois
Apr 11 2009/ The State Theater – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Apr 27 2009/ La Cigale – Paris

Noble Beast was released January 20th in North America on Fat Possum Records and February 2nd in Europe via Bella Union/Cooperative.