I’m not sure what it was about 2009, but I actually found it pretty difficult to think of very many new records that really stuck with me this year. Whereas I felt overwhelmed by options when I was constructing a Top Ten list at the end of 2008, I realized in the past few weeks that my favorite musical acquisitions and discoveries of the last year were a bit dated. I guess 2009 was more of a year of discovering great oldies (where have Udu Wudu and Apollo Atmospheres and Soundtracks been all my life?) than relishing new artists. Nonetheless, I’ve posted my favorite 10 albums that came out this year after the jump.
Hawks — Barnburner
“Pigfuck” is surely the worst genre tag ever invented; yet I understand the demand for some sort of shorthand for that ugly and angular style of punk that Touch & Go and Amphetamine Reptile peddled through the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. So “pigfuck” it is, but now a few bloggers have adopted “nu-pigfuck” to describe the recent slew of bands—Pissed Jeans, Young Widows, and Clockcleaner to name a few—that have brought Jesus Lizard and Big Black back in vogue, and that’s an even worse handle. Well, you can add Atlanta’s Hawks to the list. Barnburner is an appropriately rowdy and dirty record, with the signature prominent distorted bass, scratchy guitars, and drunken shirtless singer. But man, these guys do it so damn well that I’m glad to see this micro-scene go through a renaissance. I just wish the shit they’re doing had a better name.
Gun Outfit — Dim Light
Speaking of Touch & Go, an employee dumped a stack of promo CDs on me shortly after the massive indie company announced it was ceasing operation of their distribution branch. “Take ‘em, they’ll be tossed into a dumpster in a couple of weeks.” Among all the popular titles, my soon-to-be-unemployed friend specifically referenced one album. “Be sure to check out that Gun Outfit CD.” And so I did. I was instantly charmed by the David Berman-esque baritone vocals, and further impressed that the ramshackle performances on the album birthed some truly catchy and endearing melodies. “The Valley” may be my pick for song of the year.
jj — jj N˚ 2
I’m convinced that jj is really just a hoax created by a couple of old crusty and cynical Swedes. Imagine Enya with reggaeton beats, cheesy synth strings, steel drums, and whatever other absurdly ironic instrument they can throw into the mix. It’s like someone purposely made something embarrassingly awful to prove how vacuous contemporary “hipster” culture is, and inadvertently created the catchiest guilty pleasure of 2009.
Dd/mm/yyyy — Black Square
Dd/mm/yyyy (pronounced “Day Month Year”) cite Melt Banana and Frank Zappa as their primary inspirations. Truth be told, I hear little of either in their work. Granted, the playful energy of this Toronto quintet must have some sort of reference point, but these lads make a gloriously nuanced racket all their own. I’m honestly at a loss for words for an appropriate comparison.
Khanate — Clean Hands Go Foul
I’ve already discussed this album at length here on Line Out, but Clean Hands Go Foul remains one of my favorites of 2009. It’s a grim, barren record. It’s messy, morbid, and lacking in almost any sort of coherent structure. Yet it’s a fascinating and engaging work of art, a bold and brave attempt at syncing the disharmonious and chaotic emotional content with the musical form. Not a record for the faint of heart or those demanding anything resembling a verse or chorus.
My Disco — Paradise
Okay, exception #1: this was originally released in 2008. Considering that the Australian band’s sophomore album was only released in their native country, it was pretty hard to track down stateside until 300 copies of the LP were released on a small label out of Louisville earlier this year. I first heard about the band back in 2008 while hanging out with the Aussie punks of Scul Hazzards in a squat in Leipzig, Germany. To this day, their assessment of Paradise is probably the most spot-on summation of their sound: “they’re so minimal they’re in danger of disappearing up their own asses.” If you’re a fan of Shellac, envision Terraform’s sparse 12-minute two-note opus “Didn’t We Deserve a Look at You the Way You Really Are.” My Disco built an entire album on that principle: one or two bass note riffs, awesome drumming, and tension-release in the form of brief bouts of abrasive guitar noise. I promise it’s more engaging than my description implies.
The Thermals — Now We Can See
The latest from the Portland trio maintains their solid track record. Every song is a short, wry nugget of pop brilliance. What else is there to say?
Fang Island — Daisy
Another exception to the 2009 rule: this record isn’t out yet, though a few tracks are up on the band’s MySpace page, several of the songs have wound up on tour-only CDs, and Pitchfork promoted their video for the album’s title track. But I’m including it because an unmastered version of the album started floating around back in the spring, and I couldn’t stop listening to it. Totally triumphant guitars, giant choruses, and an overload of positive charm made this a perfect summertime album. I stand by my prediction: when this thing finally gets a proper release, it’s going to be huge.
Daughters - ???
Yet another exception to the 2009 rule—this one isn’t officially out yet either. But then again, I spent the last few months assuming it wasn’t coming out at all. On the day after Christmas, however, they announced that it would see the light of day in March. Daughters have always been a dysfunctional mess; their lewd imagery and scandalous live shows being accurate portrayals of the individual members’ anti-social tendencies. Apparently the band is currently broken up and divided among the ranks; their finished album shelved for nearly a year as a consequence. It’s a shame. The seasick Birthday Party-on-meth sound they created on Hell Songs is beefed up and drawn out to comparatively epic proportions on their currently untitled third album. The shrill guitar hooks and Southern Baptist preacher vocals are still in full effect, but there is a bigger and more menacing foundation to their songs. This record is mean and disturbing in the best possible way.
(Sorry, no YouTube footage available for this one…)
Mastodon — Crack the Skye
Mastodon’s previous effort, Blood Mountain, certainly had its share of naysayers. And to be fair, it was a bit over-indulgent at times. But Mastodon has always been a band for fret-board aficionados. And while the meat-and-potatoes approach of their early albums will always have their place in the heavy metal canon, it’s exciting and inspiring to see a band display their technical prowess and expand their musical repertoire without losing their edge. Crack the Skye is every bit as heavy and crushing as Remission, but the band has learned to take the listener on a journey rather than merely beating them to a pulp at the trailhead.