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.

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