32ft In Review :: The Top Ten Posts of 2009

2009 was 32ft/sec's first full year in the music blogging business and we are greatly indebted to everyone who made it possible. Thanks to all the readers, there were more 30,000 of you who spent time with us this year. More importantly, to the people who make this a regular stop in their daily reading, thank you especially. Thank you to the publicity people who make concerts and music happen. And thank you to all the great bands and artists who made music in 2009. We are just a small, small shoutbox for the wonderful music you put together. Here are your Top 10 Posts of 2009 as rated by your web traffic.

1. Julian Casablancas - "11th Dimension"

2. The Killers - "Four Winds"

3. Top 50 of 2008 [5-2]

4. Top 50 of 2008 [40-31]

5. The Antlers - "Two"

6. Small Black - "Despicable Dogs"

7. Wolf Gang - "The King And All Of His Men"

8. These United States - Echoplex [7.9.09]

9. The Official Secrets Act - "So Tomorrow"

10. The Big Pink - "Dominos"

Year End Stats:

Unique Visitors: 30,122

Total Pageviews: 56,359


Top 50 of 2009 :: Number One : Julian Casablancas - "Glass"

Julian Casablancas allegedly saved rock and roll in 2001. The Strokes hit New York, stummbled around on Ludlow, destroyed at the Mercury Lounge and rebuilt the downtown scene, or at least found an image of it that we liked to believe existed. By 2009, Casablancas wasn't interested in saving anyone, although, he was positioned uniquely to reflect on a decade he helped build. In this spirit, he released a solo record and this time, told us things we didn't want to hear.

If Is This It was the thesis statement for a whole generation of kids who didn't have one, Phrazes For The Young was the unfortunate afterglow of a generation that mindlessly accepted those truths. Casablancas no longer tried to define an epoch, he was almost beyond it and us. This go-round, the savior wouldn't have a message of hope and salvation; more likely a message of apocalypse and emotional superficiality. You aren't a generation of kids in skinny jeans. You are simply overprotected. You are behind bulletproof glass.

On Phrazes, Casablancas waited until track eight to unleash "Glass," the crashing and seminal statement of purpose. Sonically, it reflects the classic and futuristic influences that run rife through the record, its art, and its artist. It is a wheeling, synthesized meditation until it explodes into an arena-chorus. Casablancas' vocals soar behind us, as the biggest chord progression of 2009 pounds underneath. The bridge proves to be a massive, post-metal, baroque breakdown. Eventually, using a guitar in harpsichord fashion, we find the third verse. The final two trips through the chorus are the most moving, with Casablancas finally settling into mournful, "ohs." The track slips away from us and we wait for something else. There is no resolution, just this.

The message is simple: You can't be tough and delicate. You can't be protected and experienced. As a generation, if you've been cushioned from everything, you can't claim a wealth of pain and depth. If you've been kept behind bulletproof glass, you are little more than a display item. Casablancas encourages us, "pretty baby," to get behind our protective covering, "where it's safe." Later, he soars, "Bulletproof glass, you won't have any troubles now/But who knows?" The impact is clear. In our effort to protect ourselves, we have successfully cut ourselves off. We travel from place to place in our protective bubbles, occasionally bumping into one another, with little consequence or responsibility. I can't be hurt. You can't be hurt. We can't feel anything. We are all alone in our personal snow globes.

He closes with the following reflection: "Dominance and loyalty/Romance and security/Just stay behind bulletproof glass." We can't be dominant and completely loyal. We cannot have romance and complete security. These are the facts and Casablancas proposes no solution. After all, we've been stuck behind these walls for too long. Not only have we kept others out, we might have locked ourselves in. This time, we're not looking for a band to define us. We're being encouraged to define ourselves. Our greatest risk, to encounter risk for the first time. But who knows.


Top 50 of 2009 :: 5-2 [Give me a lake I can dive into]

5. Wild Light - "California On My Mind"

In the way The Who used to talk about, music and place and circumstance can intersect in a powerful way. When charging out of San Francisco last March, listening to Wild Light's debut record that Columbia had so nicely sent over, I was caught at the intersection of place-specific lyrics, my disposable income, wanderlust, some record industry contacts and one great song, "California On My Mind." With its seminal lyric and instruction, "Give me a lake that I can dive into" and its vulgar interjection, "Fuck California," Wild Light issued a site-specific instruction. We lost a friend to California this year and I spent a lot of time there. In another year, these would be confounding variables but, in 2009, it was the right confluence of place and time.

4. Phoenix - "1901"

The opening minute and 19-seconds of "1901," are good but not obviously epic. But at 1:19 something changes. The arrangement, running like an escaped inmate, shifts into another gear. The synths notch up a key and the guitars churn, while the lyrics insist, "Falling, falling, falling." Phoenix had officially taken synthesized rock as far as it could go. It is borderline nonsense but it recalled something I read in 2003 about Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out." What made the song so seminal was not that it was empirically good; it was that it could have been just good and it they pushed it to be great. You probably remember where you were the first time you heard the second movement of "Take Me Out." You will remember the second movement, the last step of the chorus, of Phoenix and "1901."

3. Metric - "Gimme Sympathy"

Emily Haines went to South America to write Metric's latest record, Fantasies. We knew this because the band and their publicity staff released a video of Haines, perched soulfully at a keyboard, playing supposed lead-single, "Help, I'm Alive." Of course, sitting at track six on the record was a different song, "Gimme Sympathy." Haines encourages us in the song's first lyrics to, "Get hot, get too close to the flame/wild, open space." It is a meditation on youth, risk and chance. "We're so close to something better left unknown," Haines reflects, before asking if we'd rather be The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. We are encouraged to choose the former, as she asks us to play, "Here Comes The Sun." It might take a trip to Argentina to pull that off.

2. The Big Pink - "Dominos"

It was a text from a friend who saw The Big Pink at Bowery Ballroom. It was a colleague singing the lyrics to me from a mixtape I'd made her. It was a tweet from a photographer friend who saw the band at Lit. They all reflected the dumbstruck inarticulateness that comes when you've seen something so massive, so comprehensive, that you can't quite describe it to others. You hang clauses and you don't finish sentences and you use words like, "Whoa," with no ironic implications. For me it was in July when "Dominos" kicked its way out of my headphones. Since, the industrial-pop hasn't left my side, finding its way into my life at odd junctures and with consistent ferocity. Of course, if words don't totally do "Dominos" justice, you won't have heard it here first.


Top 50 of 2009 :: 10-6 [Am I free or am I tied up?]

10. Miike Snow - "Animal"

One of my favorite things about music is how much more "sense" a band makes after seeing them in a live environment. Sometimes that "sense" is bad, forever coloring their music with the stink of a terrible live show. But other times, that "sense" comes to the stage wearing white plastic masks and rocks so hard you can't see straight. Miike Snow are in the later category, walking to the stage at the Mercury Lounge in September wearing featureless, Vanilla Sky-inspired masks. "Animal" proved to be the most approachable song from their self-titled record. Upstroke guitars and a bubbling chorus gave us something that, though profoundly electronic, felt warmer than sunshine. Even if you couldn't read its features exactly, the sense was more than undeniable.

9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Heads Will Roll"

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs went for broke this year, releasing an appropriately-titled record, It's Blitz, with cover art featuring a human hand obliterating a raw egg and electro-rock jams meant to cut. Track two was the shimmering, frustrated and committed, "Heads Will Roll." More plea for pleasant slaughter than a call for direct revolution, "Heads Will Roll" encouraged us to, indirectly, lose our minds ("Off with head") so we could dance until we were dead. It rhymed and we were helpless.

8. The Killers - "Four Winds"

Full disclosure: "Four Winds" isn't an original Killers' cut. It's a Bright Eyes track but I'm no special fan of Bright Eyes. With no sentimentality for the original, The Killers' take on the track approaches the furthest reaches of epic synth-pop. Churning with a massive down-beat and the faux-richness of big keyboard chords, "Four Winds" delivers every bit of the apocalypse Oberst's original lyrics promise. It is the third verse where Flowers finds himself as the shaking ringmaster at the front of a rising arrangement, singing, "And I was off to old Dakota where a genocide sleeps/in the Black Hills, the Bad Lands, the calloused east." He then describes four winds, the four horsemen, leveling the pines. Big, synthetic bells chime all around him and you can't help but think of all the things we've helped destroy.

7. Small Black - "Despicable Dogs" (Washed Out Remix)

It is odd to put your favorite song of the year as at number seven on a list of your favorite songs of the year. Small Black proved to be one of the better things to come out of the New York music scene this year and "Despicable Dogs" proved to be their best song. Then, a few months later, came Washed Out's take on the track, a looping, wistful, cold-medicine take on the original. Pulling out the song's natural lyrical nostalgia, "do it without me/do it when I'm gone," Washed Out filled our ears with lazy synth chords and dancing loops. The original soundtracked my flight out of LA. The remix soundtracked the rest of my year.

6. Wolf Gang - "The King And All Of His Men"

Wolf Gang wasn't a tough band to call but, boy, did we ever call them. Back in March when only one other publication on whole Internet was writing about them, we told you that Wolf Gang would blow up. It was only based on a rough, poorly recorded demo but you can't listen to what it sounds like - you have to hear what it could sound like. "The King And All Of His Men" was exactly what Wolf Gang could and sound like. Opening with big, tribal drums, followed quickly by sweeping keys, vocals and a chorus as crystalline and catchy as anything out this year, Wolf Gang proved to be exactly what we said they were. We wrote about this band more than any other in 2009 and we're calling an even bigger 2010.


Top 50 of 2009 :: 20-11 [You've been acting awful tough lately]

20. Neko Case - "People Got A Lotta Nerve"

Neko Case is to animal metaphors what Siegfried and Roy are to dangerous jungle cats. She manages to compare love to a taming of a wild, completely undomesticated animal. "You know, they call them killer whales," Case elaborates, "but you seem surprised when it pinned you down to the bottom of the tank where you can't turn around?" The supposition is that if you jump in tank with a deadly animal, you might want to table your shock when it is ripping your face off. Case declares herself a "man-eater" in the chorus and we are hardly prepared to judge. After all, we put her songs in our music library, we let her in, and maybe we should just be happy to still be alive.

19. Marina and the Diamonds - "I Am Not A Robot"

In one of my favorite running jokes of 2009, a friend of mine would send me texts every month, simply reading: "Guess what?" Of course, it was a paraphrase of Marina's signature lyric from "I Am Not A Robot." She was baiting me and to lose this game, I needed to send back a genuine, "What?" But for me to win, I would need to reply, "I'm not a robot," correctly completing the phrase. Over time, the question never changed but the answers evolved. Guess what? "I AM a robot." Guess what? "We are all robots." Guess what? This song is a crushing examination of our humanity and how quickly we can become romantic technocrats. Guess what? We aren't robots, no matter how hard we try.

18. Everything Everything - "MY KZ, UR BF"

In an email I sent to one of my A&R friends at Sony, I described Everything Everything as Passion Pit, but from the other side of the pond. Their first single, "Photoshop Handsome" indicated promise, but follow-up "MY KZ, UR BF" (or "My Keys, Your Boyfriend") proved that this band is going to make its money by packing enough hooks that you can't reasonably breathe. With vocals that bounce like an attention-deficit rubber ball and a chorus with elements of a head-nodding epic, "MY KZ, UR BF" is nearly radio-ready. 2010 is going to be a big year for these kids and it starts right now.

17. My Jerusalem - "Sweet Chariot"

My Jerusalem offered up "Sweet Chariot" in 2009, a rich mixture of Wilco, The National, and Beulah. Organ, rich strings, shabby guitars, and 3am-Marlboro-Red vocals collide in a tweaking, shaking chorus. The best moment, however, is the eponymous bridge. "We will not suffer the mistakes of our fathers/Sweet chariot take us away" becomes the repeated edict to go with a tide of building sound. The strings churn from the below and finally, a double-tapped rhythm section as we reach a thrashing catharsis. Just like that, the song fades into nothingness and is gone.

16. Emanuel and the Fear - "The Rain Becomes The Clouds"

There is this moment in "The Rain Becomes The Clouds" somewhere in the final third, right before the final chorus where the singer intones: "As winter ends and spring begins/with summer winds off in the distance/pushing in, they move us." Focus on "move us." The singer's voice tumbles down three or four notes in an eye-blink. The strings are soaring behind him as he continues to insist in the chorus, a metaphor rooted in the water cycle, that "the rain becomes the clouds." Emanuel and the Fear sound like a Rufus Wainwright take on Sufjan Stevens but with something more hopeful, more desperate and more propulsive; something designed specifically to move us.

15. Egyptian Hip Hop - "Rad Pitt"

Egyptian Hip Hop were neither hip-hop nor were they obviously Egyptian in 2009. In the world of indie rock names, this should not surprise us. What was surprising was the explosion of vocals and melody that stumbled out of the headphone jack. The first lyrics, after a shimmering, post-punk intro, give a mighty debt to New Order's "Temptation" chorus of "Up, down, turn around/please don't let me hit the ground." In the world of Egyptian Hip Hop, the melody is almost identical but the lyrics begin "What are we today?" It is a useful question for a band with a non-sequitur for a name.

14. The Joy Formidable - "Cradle"

The Joy Formidable released one of the best records of 2009, A Balloon Called Moaning, gave it away for free through NME and still didn't get enough press. The signature song is "Cradle" a charging, industrial rock joint. A sing-song melody in the verses gives way to a driving, nearly tribal chorus. The lyrics, hard to make out, are a repeating "My vicious tongue/cradles just one." It is violent and sexual and ambiguous. But when "Cradle" finishes, you only have one moment stuck your mind; the first lyrics, "I can see he says what he means," in perfect, alternating hi-fi.

13. Fanfarlo - "Luna"

"Luna" is a story in two-parts. From the jump, Fanfarlo charges out of the gate like an in medias res Arcade Fire. Instead of waiting for the charging second-movement, "Luna" opens at a sprint. This doesn't leave the band much room to grow, making the whole song into a brilliant comedown. By the end, we've slowed to a near waltz, miles from the initial burst. None of this is to say, "Luna" is poorly conceived. Rather, it is a different construction built heavy on the front and light on the back. But each movement, the slamming first two-minutes and the slow-drive final two-and-a-half, has its own narrative and ultimately leaves us feeling complete.

12. Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - "Young Adult Friction"

From the opening snare hits, through the soaring chord progression, "Young Adult Friction" does more than describe what its lurid and, presumably, metaphorical title intimates. Pains Of Being Pure At Heart seem to describe something less intimate and more public. You feel surrounded by people, by movement, by the thing you came here to see. The plea for earnesty gets deeper in the song's final movement, as they repeat, "Don't check me out/don't check me out." By the final, slamming conclusion and its echoing finale, you've experienced a case for intimacy and a case for public interaction - sitting right next to each other, kissing, we presume, in the privacy of a million strangers.

11. Two Door Cinema Club - "I Can Talk"

A vocal loop is the assaulting opener for Two Door Cinema Club's slamming single "I Can Talk." This is the first unveiling. The track then takes off in a speedy direction, calling to mind the high-fret-board moments of Editors, before settling into the twitchy, angular guitar sound that TDCC is deservedly known for. This is something different, returning to find a massive chorus with the title, "I Can Talk" squarely as its centerpiece. The arrangement rises, the vocal loop returns and these little, almost frail, falsetto vocals scream out from the maw. The down-beat might break your neck because it is, quite simply, one of the biggest moments of year.


Top 50 of 2009 :: 30-21 [We are young and still alive]

30. The Traditionist - "I Know My Ocean"

Joey Barro, the brain-child behind The Traditionist, turned out one of our favorite records of the year, the crushing Season to Season. "I Know My Ocean" remained one of the most approachable and re-listenable tracks on the record. Without over reading, it's a road-show, rambling bit of acoustic indie-rock. A harmonica shows up at one point, and a lazy acoustic guitar progression keeps your head nodding. But it is, perhaps, the soft, honest aesthetic that makes Barro's work so compelling. He confides in the second verse: "I know how to take my time/and I know how to recreate a moment/without faking that I'm fine/just for you." We don't have to fake a moment of being fine - this is very really good.

29. Voxtrot - "Trepanation Party"

"Trepanation Party" didn't make a ton of sense to me the first few times I heard it, but this only showcases my lack of foresight. Clocking in a five-and-a-half minutes, it is a builder by design. Opening with ominous drums and an unsettling piano-progression, Ramesh and company eventually unleash a wash of synths and crashing rhythm. The bass line charges ahead and the piano moves from concerning to outright upset. Ramesh's vocals flit around the top of the mix, only to become the centerpiece of the best lyric of the year: "Everyone I know is losing their mind/Yeah, but everyone I know has a really good time/Drilling holes in my head/You will never go blind/I will always be the outlaw for your love." It's about doing drugs and freaking out. It's about a drastic procedure to fix mental illness. It is a monster.

28. The Ghost Is Dancing - "Battles On"

The Ghost Is Dancing didn't reveal themselves to me until this November, making them a late entry into the Song of the Year run-off. But "Battles On" proved to be a such a masterwork of massive proportions that it quickly cracked the top 30. Big synths, big guitars, fist-pumping lyrics - it proved to be the same concept as Los Campesinos but with more hooks and more lift. This is a battle cry for a generation of messed-up kids who want to raise their hands in unison against the neo-hippies who screwed the pooch in 1980s. "Here comes the battle/A brand new era/So we're old children/Let's fight those bastards down." Hit 'em where it hurts.

27. Surfer Blood - "Swim (To Reach The End)"

Put Weezer in the bottom of an aquarium on the eastern coast of Florida. Give them wet-suits, face-masks, airtanks - the whole deal. Then turn them loose, the sharks I mean. Surfer Blood and their seminal single, "Swim (To Reach The End)" call out from the bottom of the pool, fuzzy and echoing. There is an element of danger, of attack or repel, that colors even the most chanting moments of "Swim." The eponymous chorus encourages us to, yes, "Swim to reach the end." For Surfer Blood, the scent of the frenzy is on the water. Now, they must keep moving or die.

26. Shout Out Out Out Out - "Guilt Trips Sink Ships"

Of the weird things I was doing when "Guilt Trips Sink Ships" clicked, reading Jonathan Franzen on the coast of the Dominican Republic was only one of them. It took investment, this song, and its value didn't reveal itself until two or four or six minutes in. Multiple listens later, my head nodding, uncontrollable, I was clocked down on the meaningless lyrics, the buzzing keyboards, and the splashy drums. You will find yourself waking in the middle of the night, mouthing the lyrics, "Guilt trips sink ships" and you won't know why. This will work a tunnel into the middle of your most forgettable corner of your brain and there it will wait. Until the moment your iTunes puts this on random and your legs take control. Warn the people around you or make sure they hear it too."

25. Action Painters - "456"

Action Painters are on somewhat permanent hiatus and will probably fracture into a million little pieces. But, if "456" proves to be their final movement, it will have been a good one. The stumbling, slow build has elements of the epic from the outset. By the time singer, Tom Haslow is screaming, "I do not need anyone to tell me what to do/But how do you start up again when everything is new," we've been moved. For a band on the rocks, on the outs, probably finished, the words ring strikingly true. How do you start up again if everything has already been done and what you had is gone? First, some down-stroke guitars, a leading riff and then throw in some drums: Four, five, six. Make us move, Tom. The rest is easy.

24. Free Energy - "Free Energy"

Over the summer, I listened to Free Energy for the first time on a couch in Beverly Hills. It was the middle of the night and I was in no place to hear anything like this. And yet, despite the barriers to our bond, this happened. All the classic rock signifiers should have frustrated me. I should have written this off. Instead, I wrote down all the lyrics and sent them to my friends. "Free Energy" is an anthem of youth, a hymn for the young and the young at heart. "This is all we got tonight/We are young and still alive/Now the time is on our side." The band storms out of the bridge with a wide-open, free-range guitar progression. As they build to the last chorus, they insist, "The fever is coming/It's shaking the ground," and they couldn't be more correct. They say youth is wasted on the young. In your case, we'll make an exception.

23. US Royalty - "Every Summer"

US Royalty are the Kings of Leon you haven't heard of yet. With an explosive lead-singer and a band that is so tour tough that one of the members leaned over to me, after playing to 15 people at the Mercury Lounge and said, "We don't always remember to promote the shows, to be quite honest." Sitting in their pockets is a set list that has "Every Summer" written in the middle of it. The track showcases some of the bands signature vocals and an eruptive chorus that will lock in your head for days. Think back to that show with 15 kids dancing around, Noah and I walk in the back of the room, watch about 45-seconds of "Every Summer" and look at each other with the same thought: "These guys are going to be big. Really big." If they just remember to tell anyone.

22. Ellie Goulding - "Under The Sheets" (click through to Neon Gold for download)

Ellie Goulding made our list last year, storming all the way to number 40 with "Wish I Stayed." We suggested she was going to rip people to bits in 2009 but, of course, these things take longer than expected. Now, with "Under The Sheets" on the prowl and ready to crush people, Goulding is set to take over the universe with "Under The Sheets," and its double-entendre chorus. The hook is huge and we are miles away from the cute, Frou Frou-moments of "Wish I Stayed." The video makes you feel like you have glitter, not blood, pumping through your veins. In the final chorus, you're taken to this alternate reality where everything is full of phosphorescent harps and is moving to the beat.

21. The Antlers - "Two"

On January 9th of 2009, I said that The Antlers were poised to be one of the "it" bands of 2009. Well, it turned out to be true with everyone (not just Frenchkiss) jumping on the band's debut LP, Hospice. Fifty days after my prediction and, less than three months into 2009, NPR absurdly declared it the album of the year. Both our predictions were based largely on the strength of "Two," a six-minute mediation on the emotions of departure and loss. "Two" moved us to feel, though what we were supposed to feel we couldn't be sure. The lyrics stuck with us, ("There's no open doors/there's no way to get through/there's no other witnesses, just us two") and the music, an inflating, six-minute build, ended up leveling the listener with density and a haunting melodic character. Almost a year later, there's still just two: The Antlers and you. And that either makes you feel really alone, or completely together.

Top 50 of 2009 :: 40-31 [We lived like Communists, darling]

40. The XX - "Crystalized"

People went nuts for The XX this year. We didn't exactly, calling them, "the most tense bunch of 2009." That was back in March before NPR got wind of the record and turned them into every bourgeoisie fantasy of what indie rock could sound like in 2009. They became Interpol for the cocktail party where no one is really listening to the music. Of course, all of this is negative and "Crystalized" is, empirically, very good. A spare arrangement and a series of increasingly sexual exchanges between two, intensely androgynous voices, make the cut the kind of thing that builds without releasing anything. But that tension moves just enough potential energy to the kinetic side of the equation. It will move you, even if you're standing, stock still.

39. Pomegranates - "Corriander"

Pomegranates were probably loved hardest by our buddy Chuck this year. His taste is usually better or, at the very least, different and richer than our own. We cop to this easily. However, Chuck and I totally overlapped on Pomegranates with their holistic take on shoegaze. "Corriander" proved to be the richest, shimmering track of a number of quality cuts off their latest record, Everybody, Come Outside. The tumbling climax, with crashing guitars and a peel-off pretty enough to make your eyes water, is worth the wait; proof positive that shoegaze can be spacey and directed in the same moment.

38. Throw Me The Statue - "Ancestors"

Creaturesque, the second full-length from Throw Me The Statue, will go down as one of the best records of the year. It never got a ton of attention, perhaps, because it isn't the type of record to ask for it. Quiet, at times propulsive, indie-pop isn't the genre to blow the doors off the hipster Illuminati. But what they missed in the quiet moments was a louder, fuller version of the band. From the opening chords of "Ancestors," we can be sure we are dealing with a maturing, advanced permutation of the kid who showed so much promise bursting on the scene in early '07. "Ancestors" also provided one of our favorite lyrics of the year: "You packed some punch/we were having such flagrant fun." So were we.

37. These United States - "I Want You To Keep Everything"

We saw These United States at the Echoplex in Los Angeles over the summer and were floored by the animation and workman-like approach of lead-singer Jesse Elliot. This comes through no more clearly than on "I Want You To Keep Everything," a song, ostensibly about a divorce or some seismic ending of a relationship where, bluntly, you give it all away. Elliot intones, "Over, baby, we're over/Don't you send me my red shirt." He means it: Keep everything. He's moving on. Ryan Adams, your torch has officially been passed to someone else still willing to traffic in heartbreak.

36. Golden Silvers - "True Romance (True No. 9 Blues)"

Golden Silvers are one of the most hotly tipped bands out of the UK in 2009 and set for a big break in 2010. "True Romance" features stabbing keyboards, a walking bass-line and more funk than you're going to encounter at most intersections on the rock highway. Golden Silvers proved to be as fun as advertised when we caught them at CMJ. Working with triangle, wood-block and, yes, cowbell, the band is ready for a take-over and, "True Romance" is exactly the kind of growth-potential we've got in mind. So, let all this rhythm wash over you. "Rule Britannia ain't coming back?" Sure, it is.

35. Vivian Darkbloom - "Cold War"

Few bands have pictured a break-up in the kind of sharp, geo-political relief of Vivian Darkbloom's "Cold War." The band, discussing what looks like an interpersonal stand-off, reveals, "I loved our Cold War/We never had to speak/We lived like Communists, darling." Not only does this 1989-rhetoric speak clearly, but "Cold War" also features one of the most singable choruses of the year. Like something out of a more stern Bishop Allen, Vivian Darkbloom gave us something Soviet and American at the same time: An ironic hearkening back to a simpler duality. We might not have liked a sustained face-off with another power, but it sure looks better than not knowing who to hate.

34. Logan Lynn - "Feed Me To The Wolves"

We heard a lot of glossy, synth pop/rock this year. Logan Lynn, a label-mate of The Dandy Warhols, managed to separate himself from the pack. "Feed Me To The Wolves" isn't just a shimmering, urgent bit of post-Postal Service electro-pop. It builds into an architectural elevation with bright keyboards clashing with double-tap drums. The stakes are high as Lynn freely admits, "You can feed me to the wolves if I make one mistake." He doesn't specify who these predators are, but we can assume that anyone who spent time in the music industry knows, the wolves are always at the door.

33. Evan Voytas - "Getting Higher"

Building a music career all by yourself isn't easy. Ask Evan Voytas, a kid from the west coast who embraced every ounce of the new digital landscape. His music is glossy, throwback pop and "Getting Higher," with its sweeping synth-strings and upstroke guitars proved to be every bit of what its title describes. As Voytas' falsetto soars above everything in the chorus, chimes explode around him like a series of sonic fireworks. We described him as waking up "confused and disoriented" in a completely digital universe and we meant it as a compliment. "Getting Higher" is directed and if this kid lives in a world of keys and loops, it looks awfully compelling.

32. Harlem Shakes - "Strictly Game"

The Harlem Shakes named their most recent LP, Technicolor Health after a Michael Chabon description in the novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Chabon means to describe what he feels is the seemingly real fitness of a series of increasingly drunken encounters. In the novel, the main character struggles with his father and the impending disaster of his adulthood. He drinks himself into "technicolor health" as an avoidance and a false bullet-proofing. The Shakes might not be overly concerned with their impending adulthood but rather, they view the process as a grind, "Make a little money, take a lot of shit/feel real bad and get over it." In the early pages of the novel, Chabon describes his summer as a period of "dilated time." Add this to The Shakes assessment. We might be in trouble but, at the very least, the world is opening, not closing before our eyes. As with the last bunch, this will also be a better year.

31. Princeton - "Sadie and Andy"

When it comes to sweeping, baroque-pop, no one did it better than Princeton on "Sadie and Andy." The arrangement marches along with horns, harpsichord and some of the most charming female vocals we heard in 2009. If Wes Anderson was paying attention, this would be the centerpiece of his next partnership with Mark Mothersbaugh. The song grabs you on the first listen, only to unfold on repeated listens in expected and pleasant ways. Like the romantic summer months that it seems destined to be tied to, "Sadie and Andy" will always smell like July in Santa Monica with watermelon drink in the cup-holder and "la-di-das" on the the stereo.


Top 50 Songs of 2009 :: 50-41 [Have some courtesy and keep it in your sleeve]

50. The Sweet Serenades - "On My Way"

There is something vaguely aerobic about The Sweet Serenades' "On My Way." It pounds out of the gate and the back-beat panting manages to hold out just long enough to tumble into a quivering, crystalline chorus. It is fragile, shabby, and entirely propulsive. Turn yourself, and this, up.

49. War Tapes - "Dreaming of You"

An American Editors mixed with a Cure cover-band, up the drama a little and you're in the zip code of War Tapes' "Dreaming of You." That is, of course, until the 3-minute mark when the whole arrangement grinds to a halt, only to explode in one of those, "Is My Heart Going To Pop?" chord progressions. At that point, there is an edge to this band, an aggression that isn't common to a first sentence rife with comparisons to other bands. War Tapes are going for broke, and for that, no one can fault them. And for that, they gave us one of the biggest moments of the year.

48. New Roman Times - "Smoke In Your Disguise"

New Roman Times have a publicist who likes to compare them to Airborne Toxic Event. I like to compare them to Sweden's Moonbabies. The power is in the imagery, an imagination that places us as conspirators needing to get away together. The boy-girl vocals of the chorus, repeating, "But you are breaking my heart," aren't the killer. But the image of being the smoke in someone elses' disguise, the image of being the the getaway car for someone elses' robbery, is powerful. They wax philosophical, "I'll be there when you fall apart/I'll be the smoke in your disguise." Fair enough, as the guitars crash and the arrangement spills over the top of the glass.

47. My First Earthquake - "Cool In The Cool Way"

My First Earthquake, for the record, are cool in the cool way. But in that more terrifying conception of "coolness" where having a creative disdain for what is "cool," in effect makes you cool. Their single, "Cool In The Cool Way" is all about embracing your nerdiness in a world that forces American Apparel and Urban Outfitters down the the throats of unsuspecting and confused American youth. Are you afraid of slap bracelets because someone told you they could cut your wrist off? But then later you embraced them in an attempt to keep up and despite your fears, only to find that "cool" had moved on? Well, this is the opposite of that. You've got a robot name, Becca, and that's awesome.

46. Red Wire Black Wire - "Locked Out"

"Locked Out" is a tumbling piece of synth-rock by a band with a name that implies exactly the kind of explosiveness that reveals itself in the down, down, downbeat of the second verse. Of course, the narrative is about a suffocating moment when you lose the girl you're with to some older, strong, behind-closed doors guy. If you listen closely, it's depressing. But, there's an element of "we don't have to take this" in the midst of all the self-conscious anger and micro-management. But you'll find yourself singing along to "I know that I'm a bother/and it's hard to refuse an offer/and you've already got a father/and I always play the martyr/But I'm locked out." Now, it's time to blow the place to bits.

45. Alex Metric - "Head Straight"

There are times when, especially in the indie rock circle, you feel like you're going to lose it. Everything is so carefully done and even the dance music isn't always Dance Music. So, with relief, Alex Metric storms out with a straight club banger. "Head Straight" charges out of the gates with no other purpose than to explode in a chorus with tumbling drums, synth-stabs and not an ounce of self-reflection. Metric intones, "I keep up/I reach out/Crying, 'Get my head straight.'" He's all about getting yourself together, about not losing your mind. With a humming, buzzing, breakdown the doors cut, "Head Straight" does it.

44. Deleted Scenes - "Fake IDs"

"Fake IDs" takes on the challenge of identity in a world becoming rapidly more and more dishonest. Instead of bemoaning this loss of connection to Truth, Deleted Scenes head the other direction, insisting, "I don't mind you lying to me/if you think you're right, you must be." Later, they reflect that, "We all have fake IDs." They aren't talking about breaking the law but they are talking about the lies we tell each other and ourselves. Who we are is far more contextual than it is independently real. With ethereal, powerful vocals Deleted Scenes are like a more credible Fleet Foxes with a bubbling keyboard riff to drive your mind through a series of, frankly, tough conversations about the veracity of the universe.

43. Stricken City - "Small Things"

An angular, pissed-off, echoing post-punk record, Stricken City gave us Songs About People I Know. The centerpiece was the turn it up and turn it out, "Small Things." The track doesn't fully take off until after the bridge but, from 2.20 on, it turns into a stumbling, chanting, sweaty sing-a-long. Lead-singer, Rebekah Raa leads us down alleyways and we find something that, at volume and the right time of night, might just break you in half.

42. Deer Tick - "Easy"

Deer Tick are from my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. When they perform, they raise the state's flag with them and it is emblazoned with only one word, "Hope." Of course, lead-singer, John McCauley, doesn't sound particularly hopeful; more like he's been up half the night drinking Beam and smoking Reds. And this is the charm: Hope amidst the backdrop of disappointment, hurt and anger. On "Easy," McCauley is himself, gravely and propulsive. The guitars clatter around him and the harmonies sound like they were written on the back of a cocktail napkin at Captain Seaweeds. That's a Providence-reference and I hope you know it.

41. The Thermals - "Now We Can See"

I spent most of the summer in Los Angeles, California driving around in a rented Kia with a sattilite radio hook-up. Between driving down to the ocean and out east to Silverlake, we spent a lot of time in the car and got awfully comfortable with the college radio feed that came through XM. The Thermals cut "Now We Can See" was in heavy rotation and, without exaggeration, Noah and I probably heard it 40-50 times in the month of July. I didn't love it - until I did. By the time I was hitting the airport back east, the song's hook-infested chorus, and its "oh-way-oh" group-vocal, were firmly planted in my mind. This is power-pop at its finest. And if you get through without wanting to growl, "Now we can see/the warnings and signs/read in between the lines/like writing on the wall," well, you might need to listen to it again. Say, 40 or 50 times.


Julian Casablancas :: "I Wish It Was Christmas Today"

Julian Casablancas is having a hell of a year. He's closing out with one of the year's best pieces of album art and a Christmas song that doesn't sound like a Christmas song, more like something The Killers were working on in 2006, but with the critical addition of sleigh bells (can we call them Slay-bells?). The holiday season is fully underway and we're heading home to families, fires and Christmas parties. You wish it was Christmas today, Julian? That might ruin all the fun. See you next week with our Top 50 songs of the year feature.

Listen :: Julian Casablancas - "I Wish It Was Christmas Today"


On The List :: Rural Alberta Advantage @ Bottom of the Hill [12.16.09]

The show at Bottom of the Hill plays like a celebration for The Rural Alberta Advantage. Every band has an "I think we made it" moment, and the Canadian trio seems positive its came here in July. Touring in support of Hometowns -- re-released by Saddle Creek -- RAA found itself far from home, a couple days into its first major U.S. tour, and enjoying the presence of genuine fans.

Five months later, the followers have multiplied. While staring into a packed house, Nils Edenloff acknowledges this much before he and the band launch into their first song, "The Ballad of The RAA." It is, appropriately, a song about leaving home.

After blowing through tight versions of "Rush Apart," "Don't Haunt This Place," and a new song, memories of the July show return. Edenloff asks the audience how many people were present. Maybe a tenth of the room's population slowly raises their dominant hand. To an outside observer, this seems like an honest response, one that's very much in line with the ethos of the band.

Calling The Rural Alberta Advantage "honest" or "genuine" or other adjectives commonly associated with Canada is stereotypical and unoriginal.

It's also true.

There is no pretense on stage. Even to an audience of one, Edenloff would risk throwing out his voice (which he does near the end of the set during a new tune), Paul Banwatt would kill his drum set -- fast forward to 1:06 of "Drain the Blood" -- and Amy Cole would brilliantly fill the gaps with her voice, her xylophone, her enthusiasm, and her tambourine. On this indie rock occasion, appearances don't matter (Peronis as two out of three beverages of choice?); the music does.

These songs were written in the vacuum of Alberta, Canada with no guarantee they'd ever leave home. Then they did. "None of us thought, when we were coming up with this song that we'd have 300 people singing along in San Francisco," Edenloff says after watching a sold-out venue do exactly that.

We all, invariably, leave the prairies.

Listen :: The Rural Alberta Advantage - "Don't Haunt This Place"
Listen :: The Rural Alberta Advantage - "Frank, AB"


300th Post :: Free Energy :: "Something In Common"

This is our 300th post. Honestly, we never thought we would make it this far. Thanks to everyone who went to shows with us, wrote something, put us on the list for something, sent us a record, sent us a note, sent us songs, left a comment or even just spent time on the site. It is greatly appreciated and makes this whole weird experiment worthwhile. Thank you, thank you. We have, hopefully, something in common.

Free Energy is descending on the music world like the promise of "cold fusion" in Val Kilmer's seminal and apparently unironic movie, The Saint. That is to say, in a few months time, everyone is going to want this record and (by analogy) there are a variety of forces seeking to control its power. With the latest mp3 leak, "Something In Common," Free Energy have formalized what we've known since the summer: This classic rock sound doesn't sound a bit dishonest and it's going to move you. People are going to want this album. If you've seen the band, the song they're closing their sets with is even better. So, in an effort to protect yourself and others, download this and wait for the next move. The band's debut album, Stuck on Nothing drops January 26, 2010 and was produced by James Murphy.

Listen :: Free Energy - "Something In Common"


Wolf Gang :: "The King And All Of His Men" (Kid Adrift remix)

Wolf Gang's shimmering single, "The King And All Of His Men" is one best songs of the year. Kid Adrift is one of the newest and most talented DJs and remixers on the UK scene. I don't have to do the math for you. Kid Adrift turned his ear and hand to Wolf Gang's source and the product, while not exceeding the original, is a new and crushing take on the same chord-progression. The remix is bent on creating a buzzing, slow-ride, club-ready version of the track, in the same way that MTV's Jersey Shore is making the Real World-franchise slightly less-credible, but infinitely more fun. This might not be for the mixtape you're making for the girl who returns your calls periodically, but it might be perfect for the second-half of your holiday party when the ceiling fan, the floor below, falls straight out of the plaster.

Listen :: Wolf Gang - "The King And All Of His Men" (Kid Adrift remix)


Kittens Ablaze :: "Doom Gloom Buttercups"

A note: You'll need to find some headphones and your volume knob. You will need to put one of those on and turn the other one up - I assume you'll be able to figure which is which.

Brooklyn's Kittens Ablaze sound absolutely nothing like burning felines but sound like an entire urban-center, set to burn with accelerants introduced at the critical moment for maximum heat and disorder. Sonically speaking, you're dealing with a roughed-around Ra Ra Riot. The guitars sound like early demo Airborne Toxic Event; wide-open and propulsive with a self-conscious shabbiness. The strings offer a melodic component, for if they were replaced by more guitars this would sound like a Built to Spill cover band. With obvious influences on their sleeves, the band remains unconcerned with comparison, setting their view-finders on the sing-along portion of the evening, with fists firmly raised and emotions appropriately moving in one direction or another. A band can only move you if you let yourself be moved. This is why you'll need the headphones and the volume. So at the 2:59 mark, let yourself feel something. It's there to be felt.

Listen :: Kittens Ablaze - "Doom Gloom Buttercups"


Yukon Blonde :: "Wind Blows"

Vancouver's Yukon Blonde sound like a less-complicated and more approachable Local Natives. Big spacious group-harmonies, wide-open tumbling guitars and crashing drums make for something that feels organic, earthy and clean. The conclusion is a guitar peel-off and the muffled, urgent drums that recall first album Rogue Wave. It's the kind of song that you can put on ice, push a little, and watch glide forever.

Listen :: Yukon Blonde - "Wind Blows"


The Go Find :: "Everyone Knows It's Gonna Happen, Only Not Tonight"

In a sleepy corner of east Germany, we spent a period of weeks in 2006. The sun was out 18-hours a day and there was a creepy, almost languid, sense that time had somehow stopped. Dusk would set in around 10pm and there it remained as we sat by the lake, stayed up all night, and walked home in the dawn. For The Go Find's newest release, song and album of the same name, "Everyone Know It's Gonna Happen, Only Not Tonight," it is a specific reminder of sunrises over those fields and village. Without attaching too much significance (The Go Find is based in Berlin), the German experience informed and put in perspective so much of what we've done over the last four years. So, as the picking guitar, horns and electronics wash out in a way that makes you think the sun is going to rise for the next hundred years, think about provincial eastern Germany and a quieter speed of life. You may need to turn it down to turn it up.

Listen :: The Go Find - "Everyone Knows It's Gonna Happen, Only Not Tonight"


On The List :: Friendly Fires @ Webster Hall [12.5.09]

This review also runs on Bowery Presents' House List Blog.

I will cop to the following assumptions about Friendly Fires' Saturday night show at Webster Hall: 1) It would not sell out. 2) Friendly Fires would be great but people wouldn't "get it." 3) I would struggle with a show that, truthfully, wasn't great. Sitting in an establishment slightly south of Webster on 3rd Avenue, I thought these things. More than thought, I was sure of them. These assumptions were just before 8pm. By 10:30, they had been destroyed, exploded and rebuilt in a new image like a forgotten sports arena and its new, improved replacement.

Webster Hall was packed in the way it gets packed when everyone who bought tickets actually shows up and wants to be close to the stage. Not every band does this to a venue; the buzz, the sense that something incredible might happen. Not two hours ago I discussed my theory of big venues and how nothing unexpected can happen because of their size and sterility. But the potential energy in the room was almost suffocating. I edit. Nothing exciting happens in big venues ... until it does and then, bluntly: It is on.

Friendly Fires crushed the crowd from the outset. Opening with "Lovesick" and playing "Skeleton Boy" third, it was clear they would hold nothing back. Lead singer Ed McFarlane, an explosion of energy, shaking and shivering around the stage like a man possessed never let up, even excoriating us to, "Dance, people." The second-half of the set threw the pedal to the floor, rolling through "Photobooth," and "On Board," (maybe the most frenetic moment of the night) and closing with the anthemic, "Paris." The band received a well-earned, slow-clap encore and returned to play "Ex-Lover." The chorus, "you're all I need," echoed through the hall and I had been more than proved wrong. This band proved themselves completely and amazingly right: A monolith of proportion in public sound and proof that when the walls and floor shake, it means you're being broken down only to be rebuilt.

Listen :: Friendly Fires - "Jump In The Pool"

Woodhands :: "Pockets"

Imagine for a minute you've been quietly converted from a carbon-based life-form to something different. Imagine you've been turned into something written in silicon, all your cells and bodily functions quietly replaced by zeros and ones and fiber optic cable. Now imagine it happened overnight. How long would it take you to recognize a difference? Couldn't we assume that the programmers of this "new you" would have taken special care to not allow you to notice that you were nothing approaching organic and almost entirely digitized? It certainly raises some questions. Woodhands aren't going to help you.

Now, assume that this transformation became more and more apparent to you over a matter of weeks until it was almost unavoidably obvious. You felt less and less like yourself and more and more like a silicon copy. And then there was this horrible moment where you realized everything that happened. You feel a unique kinship with the ATM and your personal computer. You hear messages in synthesizers and can translate that screaming sound a dial-up modem makes before it connects. Imagine your panic. You take off running. You need to flee the city and run wild like the Frankenstein's monster you are. You burst through your front door and take-off down your street, running at 30-40 miles per hour (you can do that now). This is the song that's playing. Your frantic digital feelings count for nothing. You are a robot.

Listen :: Woodhands - "Pockets"


On the List :: The Airborne Toxic Event @ Walt Disney Concert Hall [12.04.09]

"Welcome to this big room," Mikel Jollett offers, marking the beginning and the end of the evening's understatement.

The Airborne Toxic Event lead singer is speaking to the seated crowd at the luminous, $240 million, Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. His band just finished "Wishing Well," a song Jollett sung from somewhere offstage in, one assumes, a well-intentioned effort to let the music, augmented by the Calder Quartet, shine.

The ploy worked, but now, it's Jollett's show. He runs on stage, briefly takes in the scene, makes his one brief introductory comment, and leads his band into another perfectly overwrought song.

For ATE -- accompanied at various points by a troupe of Mexican dancers, the Guerrero children's choir, and the Belmont High School marching band -- the show marks the end of two years on the road. Back within a gallon of gas of their Los Feliz neighborhood, they are here to celebrate in ornate fashion.

To the band's credit, they don't seem overwhelmed by playing in a setting better suited for Vivaldi "Four seasons" than verse-chorus-verse. Crowd favorites "Something New" and "Gasoline" take on a new significance when fused with the chamber's perfect acoustics. After dedicating a cover of a Magnetic Fields song to his recently deceased grandmother ("Play me a song, but not one of those Airborne ones with all the yelling," she requested as she lay dying.), Jollett does a reasonable impersonation of Stephen Merritt's unique bass voice. During "Sometime Around Midnight," the strings of Anna Bulbrook and the quartet bounce hauntingly around the hall. Indie rock can hold its own.

The night ends, as most of these concerts do, with "Missy." Jollett comes onstage without his bandmates, and perches himself on riser with an acoustic guitar and the children's choir as his only accompaniment. Eventually, the song will build to a celebratory climax with members of the Calder Quartet on piano, the dancers on twirling, and the marching band on, well, marching, but for now, it's just the lead singer and eight students. He sings "Just as long as I'm never alone," and the sweet young voices chime in as backup. Jollett leans back, looks at the kids behind him, smiles, and launches into the third verse.

The Airborne Toxic Event fills this big room quite nicely.


Shearwater :: "Castaways"

There are those rare moments where something heartbreaking seems to uplift. It's the kind of moment that Hollywood has practically built itself around; where something depressing appears in a different light, as beautiful in its struggle. The orphan makes it to college. The dog finds his way home. The beloved prep school writing teacher dies. Spoiler alert. Dies. The unlikely teens in detention find common ground. The Gloucestermen don't make it back to Gloucester. You stare into the void and find something you never expected. Essentially, the beauty is either in the breakdown or it isn't. For Shearwater, it absolutely is.

Recalling the most spacious of soundscapes and the conceptual isolationism of "castaways," Shearwater have crafted something with increasingly urgent drums, sparse guitars and the most soaring vocals not attached directly to a Band of Horses record. By the end, the arrangement has risen around you in unexpected and familiar ways. You feel alone but you're encouraged that your loneliness might count for something. Hollywood tells us it does; fictional heartbreak is just the training wheels and Neosporin for the real thing.

Listen :: Shearwater - "Castaways"

Shout Out Louds :: "Walls"

Two years ago, I heard the Shout Out Louds were breaking up. At the time, I was preaching the gospel of their second-record, Our Ill Wills, with such ferocity that a narrative movement like a break-up seemed not just inconceivable - it was flat wrong. Of course, in the grand spirit of the hype machine, no such break up was afoot. It was something else. Shout Out Louds frontman, Adam Olenius, a Jason Schwartzman upgrade, went to Australia and parked himself in a one-room apartment to write a follow-up while the rest of the band recouped in Sweden. It wasn't like the band divorced, they just separated for awhile.

The third record, Work, is set for release in February of next year. But Olenius' work is all ready for consumption. The first song leaked, "Walls" is certainly not the first single but it is a first look. Of course, the whispering, confiding vocals remind us that, yes, it is a Shout Out Louds record. The urgent drums remind us of the more bombastic end of the Cure comparisons that colored the band's first two releases. Ultimately, this is not the final movement for the band. Just a first look at the next thing. And for the fears of 24-months ago, that is just enough.

Listen :: Shout Out Louds - "Walls"