Saturday, December 19, 2009

Self-Discography #13: Moments of 2009

Various Artists
"Dark Was the Night"

In 1990, when I was only 16, "Red Hot + Blue" floored me, properly introduced me to Cole Porter, and gave me some hope that people really did care about stopping HIV/AIDS. Nearly 20 years later, "Dark Was the Night" floored me and made me realize that people still care. The covers and originals that are contained here make up an indie-rock Who's Who, but for good reason.

50 Foot Wave
"Power + Light"

The fiercest 26 minutes of music to come out in 2009...and to be completely overlooked. Stitched together in seven movements, it plays out like a rock opera of the highest order. And it might be the best late-night freeway driving soundtrack I've heard in a decade.

Meshell Ndegeocello
"Devil's Halo"

She stops being funked and blissed out and pares down to 35 minutes of expertly crafted jazz-influenced R&B and rock. The best album she's done since "Bitter," and the best old-school R&B cover of the year ("Love You Down").

The Big Pink
"A Brief History of Love"

Britpop "died" a long time ago, right? Well someone forgot to tell these guys. A first album full of bombastic guitar hooks and keyboards that make the whole thing sound grimy and beautiful at the same time.

"Don't Stop"

Move over, Kylie. You've got some serious competition from Norway. Annie is never going to be as shiny and pretty as you, but she makes fantastic dance-pop that, if given half a chance, would pack dance floors just as well.

The Drums
"Summertime!" EP

Perhaps the cutest band to appear this year that was actually talented, the Drums make totally infectious lo-fi pop about surfing, sad summers, and love, love, love. Who wouldn't want to go drink on the beach with them?

Neko Case
"This Tornado Loves You"
and "Red Tide"
Only Case would write a song that is *literally* about a tornado that loves a human and sing it from the tornado's perspective. The lead track from her great album is then expertly bookended with a song that's all about escaping from a place you might have loved once upon a time. Gorgeous.

St. Vincent

Disney melodies and harsh guitar riffs that burst into beauty at the last minute, coupled with vignettes of various women whose lives may or may not be falling apart. No one else this year pulled off that kind of emotional balancing act.


Looped percussion, bass, and ukulele coupled with a voice of exquisite power. Seemingly rudimentary but complex and beguiling. It's a love song that starts out timid and builds to a volcanic kiss off.

Cass McCombs
"You Saved My Life"

McCombs finally gets a little personal and in the process made the best song of his career. Heartbreaking and beautiful. To be played at sunsets all summer long as you think about someone who isn't next to you anymore.

Lady Gaga
"The Fame Monster"

If "The Fame" didn't make you a believer, this eight-song EP is proof that Lady Gaga is evolving into an expert pop songwriter who can capture the zeitgeist like a certain Madonna did in the '80s and '90s. Listen to "Teeth" and then declare otherwise.

Camera Obscura
"My Maudlin Career"

"Maudlin" is hardly the word for this gorgeous, sumptuous album that utilizes '60s European and American pop as a base influence, but Tracyanne Campbell takes her bittersweet love songs to a new level.

Tegan and Sara

A bit overlooked in a glut of year-end releases, the sister act from Canada is growing up and become even more self-assured, if that's possible. The skewered pop of songs like "Arrow," "Red Belt," and "Alligator" was immediately gratifying and the rest was equally arresting (and sometimes danceable, to boot).