So I've had a music blog for a few months now, and it's been fun to write thousands of word about bands no one has ever heard of, and I like to imagine that you guys are going out and listening to these songs on your own, but really, I know that everyone has a lot going on, and I never meant for this blog to feel like a homework assignment. I just wanted you guys to be able to listen to great obscure music.
Well ... today ... it's possible. Take a look over to your right at the blog sidebar. Yup ... that's the "Contenders" playlist. Every 2009 song I've written about is right there for you to listen to. All you have to do is click that little "Play " arrow. I'm basically shaking with excitement just typing these words.
All of this is thanks to an amazing website called LaLa.com. I'm not sure exactly how it's legal, but Pitchfork uses it, so it couldn't be that shady. Anyway, it allows me to upload all my music and make playlists based on that library. So, for all future Top Ten lists, Summer Jam playlists, Kasstastrophe retrospectives ... you'll be able to listen to all those songs from anywhere. I am absolutely giddy about this. In the days to come, I hope to put up playlists for all previous posts. It should make the site much more useful.
So, for those of you who read this when it was a music blog without any actual music ... thank you. Hopefully, now that you can hear all the songs I like, it doesn't turn out that you hate all of them.
On to the contenders ...
Harlem Shakes - Strictly Game
Harlem Shakes - Sunlight
Alright, it's April already, and it's time for me to openly gush about an album for the first time this year. The Harlem Shakes' Technicolor Health. I LOVE this record. Every song on it. Some more than others, but still ...
Anyway, the Harlem Shakes belong to a long line of New York bands that bloggers got sick of before anyone else had ever heard of them. Vampire Weekend, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ... so many others. So by the time I get around to reading the yawning, so-over-this Pitchfork review of single "Sunlight," I knew I was in for something good.
See, there must be a reason East Coast bloggers are sick of these guys. And that reason is this: they are so awesome. I'm sure I'll be sick of them too, in a few months, after I've played this album 500 more times.
Anyway, it sounds like a less grating, happier CYHSY. Please listen.
Phoenix - Lisztomaina
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Young Adult Friction
Let's talk about some more albums. I've done enough fawning over Technicolor Health, and we've debated Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion (or, at least, the value of "difficult music"), but these two albums (Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's self-titled debut) are two more records that might find their way into my Top 10 of 2009. I've mentioned both bands in past Contenders posts, but let's add a few words for each.
"Lizstomania," while great, is not nearly as good as "1901," the album's lead single. This is not a slight. "1901" might be my song of the year as of right now. The part where the synths rev up right before the chorus and dissolve into that "Fallin' / Fallin' / Fallin'" section is definitely my favorite individual music moment of the year. Anyway, this record is exactly what I think French pop should sound like, and I like music that fits my preconceived notions of it.
On the other hand, "Young Adult Friction" might be better than TPOBPAH's previously mentioned "Everything with You." If nothing else, it proves that this band is not simply a Smiths rip-off. If anything, the album owes more to the Stone Roses, and basically sounds like the most British music ever recorded. This makes sense, as the band hails from New York. Apparently I also like music that totally violates my preconceived notions of it. It could be that I just like everything.
Camera Obscura - French Navy
Pitchfork is really into female vocalists that sound like 1960's AM radio divas (Pipettes, Vivian Girls), but I think Camera Obscura separates themselves from that pack by adding so many modern touches to the instrumentation and arrangement. I can't really explain what those touches actually are, mind you, but I know that when I listen to this song, I DON'T think "Awesome, this sounds like something that wasn't quite good enough to get play on oldies radio." I just think "This is a good song."
Conor Oberst - Slowly (Oh So Slowly)
Are people talking about how, over the last ten years, Conor Oberst and Ryan Adams have effectively switched places? I remember discovering both around 2000 - Oberst mopey and emo as Bright Eyes, Adams recording joyous country-rock stompers with Whiskeytown. And now Adams writes the saddest songs imaginable (though if anything can cheer a man up, marrying Mandy Moore oughta to do it), while Oberst keeps churning out great early-Wilco sounding tunes like this one. I don't know if this one is better than the high points of his 2008 self-titled album, but it's definitely not worse.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero
Though it's obviously kinda played out, I will always believe that "Maps" is a Top 20 all-time love song. Past that, though, I never really got into the YYY's. This album is supposedly dance-ier than previous albums, and I have no real frame of reference for evaluating that statement. Anyway, this came on the radio one time in Nate's car, and he said "This sounds like the kind of thing you'd be into." Either because of or in spite of that statement, I DO like this song.
Voxtrot - Trepanation Party
Another band going the dance-influenced route (Ilana thinks this sounds kinda like Depeche Mode, and I agree), Voxtrot is a band that, honestly, I never thought I'd hear from again. They came out with three awesome EPs in 2004-2006, then released a full-length in 2007 that sounded like overproduced Grey's Anatomy soundtrack rejects, then disappeared. This song is not without its flaws: It's too long, and some of the lyrics (especially "I will always be an outlaw for your love") are a little cliched, but I'm just so excited to have these guys making music again. Their songs got me through a tough time in my life (those wonderful Caltrain commutes from San Jose to the city), and seeing them live at Great American Music Hall was one of my first great "I can survive in San Francisco" moments (plus, Krunal was there - always a bonus). Here's hoping for a full return to greatness from the boys.
Super Furry Animals - Inaugural Trams
While a lot of indie bands have ridiculous names, the silliness of calling your band Super Furry Animals has personal significance to me, as I made the mistake of leaving their Rings Around the World album sitting around a house I was living at in college. Everyone had a good laugh at my expense, and whenever I tried to recommend some new music, someone (usually Branny) would interrupt me with "Is this some new Furry Super Animals?" So thank you, Super Furry Animals ... your name makes it harder for people to appreciate your music.
And really, it feels like SFA is actively trying to make it hard for people to appreciate their music. It's obvious they understand more about how to craft a pop hook than basically anyone making music. And yet this song is probably 90 seconds too long, is made up mostly of nonsense lyrics, and has a guy speaking in German for at least a minute in what is ostensibly the bridge. It's still good, but man ... it could be so much better.
Amos the Transparent - Lemons (aka Big Fish Little Pond)
I have no idea who Amos the Transparent is. I've never heard anything else he's done. This song sounds like a lost Elliott Smith single, and it's just a study in songwriting. The genius of it is this: the first transition doesn't really work for me. It's too sparse, it feels like an attempt at a key change that doesn't happen, the song barely hangs on. But when they do it the second time, with more instruments and a backing vocal and more powerful drums ... it's perfect. I think the high point of this song (the line "Maybe in a month or two you'll count this as a blessing / Or maybe you'll spend years second-guessing") is like the last piece locking into a puzzle.
The Invisible - London Girl
An Horse - Postcards
Keane - Better than This
The Electrones - Right Foot From Left
I don't have all that much to say about these songs, except that I think they're good. "London Girl" would be better if it were an answer record to Estelle's "American Boy," but it's still excellent, sparse and danceable. "Postcards" sounds like Tegan and Sara, which makes sense since apparently those bands are friends. "Better than This" has an excellent Bowie-esque synth part, which is surprising since I've always perceived Keane as a boring Coldplay ripoff band. "Right Foot From Left" sounds like Electric President, which means it sounds like that scene in The OC when Seth smokes weed for the first time.