Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 30 Albums of the Decade

Well this is it, folks. We've reached the end of the decade. And barring any last minute, earth shattering releases, we can call the decade in music a wrap. Here's my favorite 30 albums of the decade. Maybe they're not the "BEST" but they're the records I'll take with me, and the ones that I'll think about when I think of "The Aughts."

Feel free to take a trip through the decade musically via Groovshark:

30.Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere

What was probably the best single of the decade overshadowed a very strong conceptual album. That said, go ahead and listen to "Crazy" again up there. What a fucking. Incredible. Song.

29.Wilco, A Ghost Was Born

You know what, I like A Ghost Was Born better thank Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I know that makes me a heretic and all. But if the two albums were released in reverse order, I promise you'd be seeing Ghost on all these Top Albums list, not YHF. It also helps that a really neat documentary was made about YHF. But if you strip down the surrounding circumstances, I think Ghost is a much more creative record. The addition of guitarist Nels Cline extended the life of Wilco another 15 years.

28.The Octopus Project, Hello, Avalanche

My favorite instrumental album of all time.

27.The Killers, Hot Fuss

Go ahead and give Hot Fuss a listen. You probably haven't heard it in a few years. Eventually you'll realize what a great collection of songs that was.

26.The Strokes, Is This It
25.Damien Rice, O
24.Postal Service, Give Up
23.Outkast, Stankonia

Before there was "Hey Ya" there was "Bombs Over Baghdad." Holy fuck what an amazing song.

22. The National, Boxer
21. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend

Incedentally, the first album of the 2010's to buy is Vampire Weekend's Contra. Comes out January 11 so stay tuned.

20. Spoon, Gimmie Fiction
19. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale
18. Beirut, The Flying Cup Club
17. Regina Spektor, Soviet Kitsch
16. Rufus Wainwright, Want One
15. Beck, Sea Change

The break up record to end all break up records. Beck reinvented his career with Sea Change. He's sort of the Danny Boyle of music. His first four albums were all incredible disparate and unique.

14. Dan Deacon, Bromst

13. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News

12. St. Vincent, Marry Me

Given the strength of St. Vincent's first two albums, there is no artist I'm more excited about for the 10's decade.

11. Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther

10. Danger Mouse, The Grey Album

What an incredible project. Sampling the Beatles' White Album with Jay-Z's Black Album, this album well represents one of the prevailing trends of the decade: the mash up.

9. Nellie McKay, Get Away From Me

With the taste of Norah Jones' Come Away With Me still in our mouths, Nellie McKay showed the guts of a rapper in terms of one-upsmanship. You want schmaltz? I'll schmaltz the fuck out of you!!! Game, set, and match, McKay. Still very young, she's one to keep an eye on in the next decade. I have no idea where she's headed. She's already spat out a scathing debut, produced her own album after unceremoniously breaking up with her label, and constructed a tribute to Doris Day. It'll be a wild ride, but I'm on board with wherever she goes.

8. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago

After residing in our car's CD player nonstop for an entire winter, it's all scratched up. So we'll burn another copy and shove it back in there for another winter, and probably every winter from now. I'll say this, if you album has a corner on 1/4th of every year, it's a pretty good album.

7. Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism

Yes, this album is phenomenal from start to finish. And before we got all cynical and shit, we listed to the crap out of this album. The title track still has gripping power. And if we're really honest, Ben Gibbard is just an unmatched lyricist. Go back and read the lyrics to "The New Year," "Title and Registration," and "Passenger Seat." Then you'll be reminded of how much you really love this album. Just don't pay attention to all the teeny boppers at the merchandise tent.

6. TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain

For unabashed TVOTR gushing, please go here or here.

5. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head

I know it's not cool to like Coldplay these days. But if you'll remember this specific album, you'll remember what an aggressive set of songs these were. "Politik" was like something out of the Rage Against the Machine catalogue, except it had a tune. Part of the problem is that Coldplay has produced incredibly limp music since then. But if we're talking about albums in isolation, Rush of Blood pretty much ruled my life between 2002 and 2004.

4. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, vs. Children

I've already waxed poetic about this album this year. I can only hope it'll inspire you to get to know the album, grassroots style.

3. Arcade Fire, Funeral

2. Sufjan Stevens, C'mon, Feel the Illinoise!

If Illinoise is the pinnacle of Sufjan Stevens' career, I'll be incredibly sad. Because at the time, I thought it was only the beginning. Sure the 50 States Project seemed ridiculous, bordering on shtick, but if Texas! has been anything like Illinoise or Michigan, I'd have been joyous. Since then, he's said he's bored with the album format. Well you know what, Sufjan? I love albums. And so do most of the people who love you. And we want nothing more than a steady stream of Sufjan Stevens albums to collect for the next decade. Feel free to get all "soundtrack-y" in 2010, but give us a couple more masterpieces like Michigan, Seven Swans, and, Illinoise first. Godammit, even your album of Illinoise rejects was fucking fantastic! Anyway, I'm at the point where I can't even think about Sufjan rationally. Just know that I love this album with my very core, and so do many of you.

1. Radiohead, Kid A

But then, doesn't it have to be? I'm not going to spend a ton of time waxing poetic about Kid A: it's been done. But just for a minute, rewind with me back to the year 2000. Music was headed in a very scary, Spears-NSYNC-Limp-Bizkit kind of direction. Then Kid A came out. Kid A set the precedent for music of the 00's. Although, sometimes I wonder if its importance has overshadowed it's brilliance. It certainly was important for what it stood for, marking the end of traditional rock and the start of the digital decade, but it was a great album as well. Kid A was like nothing we had ever heard at the time. If you'll remember, it's like we were given this incredible gift from God. It was like we knew the mind of God. I'm not even kidding. It's the last album that I could just sit and listen to. Now I have to watch TV, write papers, or blog when I listen to music. But Kid A made everything stop. Still does.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 25 Movies of the Decade

Before we jump into this, let it be known that as I was running through my favorite movies of the decade I discovered that I left out some of my favorite scenes from the decade in yesterday's "Top Scenes" list. Crucial ones, too. They are noted below and deserve as high accord as you give the scenes from the actual list. So it is written, so it shall be done.

I was able to whittle the list down to 25 rather easily. I was also able to order the "bottom" 15 and get a solid Top 10. Numbers one through three were all but predetermined. But movies 4 through 10 was just a huge clusterfuck. I just thought you should know that.

And one last thing. I've been reading a lot of these decade-end lists and one thing is consistent in all of them: there are no comedies allowed. Which I think is total bullshit. When I'm ranking the movies I'm thinking of "what will I be watching in five years?" Take Gladiator. Is it a good movie? Sure. How many times am I going to want to watch it in my life, twice? Well, then it's probably not a movie I'd want to take with me to a desert island. And in that case, it doesn't belong on a Top Movie list. Comedies always get short shrift from critics, when it is about 1000 times harder to make a good, consistently funny comedy than it is some drama about a child getting kidnapped or something. So comedies get a special boost in my rankings.

So, here are my favorite 25 movies of the decade. Commentary only where absolutely necessary.

25. Street Fight

24. Memento

23. In America

22. Bowling for Columbine

This was and is Michael Moore's only non-ideological movie. It's his only movie where he asks questions rather than attempts to give answers. It's his only movie where he seems to make a genuine attempt at documentary filmmaking instead of just asking to see the CEOs of major corporations (ok, so he does that in Bowling for Columbine as well). In trying to figure out why the US has so many gun-related fatalities, he notes that Canada has more guns and looser gun laws, Japan has more violent video games, and Germany has a more violent past: so why are Americans so predisposed to gun violence? He doesn't answer it directly. It's his only thought-provoking movie as opposed to other Michael Moore joints, which are pretty much thought-squelching movies.

21. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

20. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

The first comedy of the list. Think of the way that our generation had Adam Sandler's Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Those movies became a part of our lexicon. I quote from those movies without even realizing it. And the same thing is happening with Anchorman. In five year, I'll still be watching and quoting this movie. As far as comedies go, the decade belonged to Will Ferrell.

19. The Squid and the Whale

Here's the first neglected Scene of the Decade:

18. Control Room

17. Garden State

Sure, now it's fun to make fun of Natalie Portman's cringe-inducing lines ("You're in it right now."), and now that we've seen how Zach Braff's movie career has turned out, Garden State appears retroactively lame. But try to remember the first time you saw it, possibly in the theater. It was an amazing work. When you consider this was Braff's directorial debut, it begs the question: what happened?

16. Lost in Translation

15. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

14. Waiting for Guffman

13. Word Play

Bonus points are definitely worthy when you make a rather ordinary subject matter engaging and riveting. See also, American Splendor (below). Didn't quite work as well for the movie Helvetica. I mean, making the NY Times crossword puzzle is interesting is one thing, but making a font interesting is damn near impossible.

12.There Will Be Blood

11. O Brother, Where Art Thou

I haven't seen Up in the Air yet, but everything I've read suggests that George Clooney's two best roles of his career bookend this decade (I also read somewhere that his best performance of the year was his voice over on Fantastic Mr. Fox, but you get enough Wes Anderson gushing on this blog already).

And now, the top 10.

10. 28 Days Later

I wonder if 30 years from now, we'll be studying Danny Boyle's work the way we do with Stanley Kubrick now. This guy's got some incredible directorial chops. And to think, my least favorite movie of his - which was still excellent, by the way - won him Best Director. I mean, Trainspotting, Millions (below), 28 Days Later, and Slumdog Millionare. That's a career's worth of great movies right there. And what's remarkable is how distinct each movie is. None of them are even in the same genre. That's what makes Danny Boyle's future so interesting. We have no idea what we're getting.

9. Zoolander

The first time me and Mrs. Supercomputer saw this at a friend's house we thought it was so damn hilarious we watched it again right then and there. Of all the movies on this list, I've probably seen this one more times than any other, save one. And it still kills me. It's probably my absolute favorite Will Ferrell role.

8. Children of Men

7. Millions

The second Danny Boyle film of the Top 10. This movie appeared to get little fanfare in the US. I am 100% convinced if everyone didn't have European accents and if George Clooney starred as the dad it would have won 10 Oscars. Thankfully they didnt, he didn't, and it didn't.

6. Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon

The floodgates opened after CT/HD came out. House of Flying Daggers and Hero were both released in the US, and it quickly became parodied in Kung Fu Hustle and the like. It was certainly like nothing we had ever seen before. Another neglected Scene of the Decade was the nighttime fight/chase scene near the beginning of the movie. That's the first time we are introduced to the amazing supernatural abilities of thecharacters.

5. Amelie

4. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert McNamara

The most riveting documentary of the decade consisted simply of an interview with Robert McNamara about events that had happened several decades ago. Errol Morris edits the interview so skillfully and McNamara is just such a fascinating subject that it keeps us on the edge of our seat. It should be required viewing for all of humanity.

3. American Splendor

The most egregious neglected scene of the decade was inspired by the above comic in which Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar asks where all these other Harvey Pekars come from. It was probably one of my favorite 5 scenes of the decade and somehow I just plum forgot it. I wish I could find it on youtube, but instead you'll just have to rent it. The ability to make an entire feature length film - not to mention an entire comic book series - about one "average" individual is nothing short of incredible.

2. Punch Drunk Love

It's clearly the "least PT Anderson-ish" of all the PT Anderson movies. It almost comes off as a lark, like something Anderson dreamed up in his sleep one night and got to shooting the next day. But it's my favorite PT Anderson movie, and easily the most subdued. There aren't any frogs falling from the sky or holy men being beaten to death by a bowling pin in this one. Just a lot of Healthy Choice pudding.

1. The Royal Tenenbaums

My other absolutely egregious omission of Scenes of the Decade:

I've already gone on about this movie before on this here blog so I won't do it again.

Here are the final numbers: Five documentaries. One fake documentary. Three and a half comedies (depending on whether or not you consider Royal Tenenbaums a comedy or not). Four movies made by someone with the last name Anderson, two by the last name of Boyle. Two foreign language films. And three English-but-European language films. And several hours spent debating about what order to put movies 4 through 10 in.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Top 30 Scenes of the Decade

(Enough of this year business. Let's get to the decadal review! First off, best movie scenes of the decade.)

Think of it this way. Movies:Albums :: Scenes:Songs. Before we start, let's get this out of the way: this is by no means an exhaustive list. And I'm not even sure why I'm putting numbers in front of each scene. Each of these scenes are unique and/or brilliantly shot and/or brilliantly acted. What are the criteria for getting on this list? Well, if it's a scene from a movie that warrants fastforwarding to or rewinding back in order to rewatch, then it's on this list. If it still gives me chills as I'm searching for the clips on youtube, it's on the list. BTW, the scenes that are included should all be considered dangerous if you'd like to eventually see the movie in question. I'm sure I'll miss several of your favorite scenes. Let me know what I missed.

30. Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks - Steven Drozd Shoots Heroin on Camera

It's probably the simplest scene on this list. It's unscripted. It's a single, simple camera. Meanwhile drummer/instrumentalist Steven Drozd is talking about his drug use and his agoraphobia while putting a tourniquet on his arm and then shooting up.

29. Cast Away - Goodbye, Wilson

I can easily say that Wilson is the most famous volleyball in history. And when Wilson gets dragged out to sea it was both funny and touching. In fact, it was funny that it was so touching.

28. Almost Famous - "Actually, that you can print."

"I work just as hard or harder than anybody on that stage. You know what I do? I connect. I get people off. I look for the guy who isn't getting off, and I make him get off."

27. Big Fish - Ed Bloom gets carried into the river

This and Batman are the only Tim Burton movies I like. OOH LOOK AT ME! I'M TIM BURTON! I REMAKE CLASSIC TALES INTO CREEPY THINGS WITH JOHNNY DEPP! AREN'T I SO AMAZING? No, Tim. This schtick got old right around Beetlejuice.

Sorry, getting off on a Tim Burton tangent there. Anyway, the climactic scene of Big Fish is wonderfully imaginative.

26. Pan's Labyrinth - The Faceless Monster

You know the scene I'm talking about. Perhaps the most genuinely terrifying scene of the decade. What makes the scene terrifying is what isn't happening, and what you know is going to happen. From the moment the little girl is warned not to take any food off the table you know exactly what's going to happen. And then you see the creature that is going to be the one to enact this curse, and it's not doing anything. In fact, most of Pan's Labrynth is terrifying because of what we're all expecting to happen more than what actually is happening. And that's brilliant moviemaking.

25. Grizzly Man - "I protected the animals! I did it! Fuck you!"

Another documentary scene involving a single camera shot. This time, Grizzly Man is completely losing his mind. Like the Flaming Lips scene, it's brutal to watch, especially knowing how the story ends.

24. Comedian - Jerry shoots the shit with other comedians

Hmmm, I'm loading up on too many documentary scenes here. Oh well.

I loved 2/3rds of the movie Comedian. Every scene with Jerry Seinfeld was funny and/or riveting. Every scene with that other comedian, Orny Adams or something, was awful to watch. I understand what the filmmakers were trying to do, but it didn't work. The story of Seinfeld going back to his roots and getting back into the game was the real story. And the scene where we get an inside look at how comedians act around each other and develop material, at 3 AM at some dive in New York, that's the stuff we want to see.

23. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby - Highlander won the Academy Award for Best Movie Ever Made

I could watch an hour and a half of Will Ferrell and Sascha Baron Cohen outtakes. And the stuff they leave in the movie is pretty good too.

Wow. I feel like I'm Highlander!
What is the Highlander?
It's a movie. It won the Academy Award.
Oh for what?
Best movie ever made.

This clip isn't that scene (couldn't find it), but it gets the basic Ferrell-Cohen dynamic down

22. Scrubs - Brenden Frasier was dead the whole time

OK, so I'm allowed to throw in TV show scenes. Why the hell not? Just making up the rules as I go here.

Dr. Cox hits a home-fucking run in this scene. It's a good thing too, because if he hadn't the whole two-part episode would have come off hackey. Instead, it's possibly the marquis moment on Scrubs.

21. Shaun of the Dead - Acting like zombies

The run up to this scene of them practicing to be zombies, followed by the actual attempt at zombie-dom is the signature moment from a movie full of signature moments.

20. Super Size Me - When he vomits out of his car

Once again, the unscripted, single camera doc shot rears it's ugly head. And I mean ugly. I'm so glad that youtube has the runnup to the throw up. He seems so excited in the beginning.

19. Zoolander - The Pre-Orgy Dirt Room Conversation

Up until the actual orgy, the dirt room conversation is the most subdued scene in the entire movie, and the funniest (without Will Ferrell). There's the gasoline fight scene. There's the walk-off. But the top scene is the dirt room, pre-orgy conversation.

18. Coffee and Cigarettes - Tom Waits and Iggy Pop

In which we learn that Tom Waits performs roadside tracheotomies. Iggy Pop should have been nominated for an Academy Award for this performance. Full scene below:

17. The Legend of Ron Burgundy: Anchorman - "Boy, that escalated quickly."

Here's a case where the best part of the scene is the scene after.

Boy, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast.
It jumped up a notch.
It did, didn't it?
Yeah, I stabbed a man in the heart.
I saw that. Brick killed a guy. Did you throw a trident?
Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident.

16. The Science of Sleep - How dreams are prepared

I'm not really sure why Sleep didn't get the acclaim that Eternal Sunshine got. To be sure, I loved both movies. I find the two about equal in quality, but while ES is all over these decade lists, SOS is nowhere to be found. I certainly thought Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal's character was much more engaging and interesting than either of the leads in Eternal Sunshine.

Starts at about 0:55 to about 2:30.

15. In America - The Air Conditioner

It's too hot in their New York apartment. The kids have to take cold showers to cool off. So the father lugs an air conditioner across Manhattan, even through traffic. And now I relinquish my "World's Greatest Dad" title.

14. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Battle at Helms Deep

OK, so this isn't really a scene because it's an hour long. But if you compare its length to the length of the entire trilogy, then it's probably about the right length to be considered a scene.

13. O Brother, Where Art Thou? - Down in the river to pray

The Coen Brothers were able to imply myth and majesty in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which is kind of amazing. No scene sums up the talent of these guys better than this scene.

12. Garden State - Good luck exploring the infinite abyss

In which Zach Braff climbs up on a crane and shouts at the darkness. Definitely off his meds.

11. Snatch - The Revenge of a Piker

Brad Pitt getting his ass kicked, then knocking out the guy out. It's chaos and incredibly slick. Oh yeah, don't watch these clips if you don't want to see how the movie ends.

Part 1: The Fight

Part 2: The Pikey had money riding on himself

10. Amelie - How many couples are having an orgasm right now?


(Probably NSFW)

9. The Visitor - At immigration

This is the scene that got him the Oscar nomination. And just based on this scene, he probably should have won.

8. The Fantastic Mr. Fox - The Wolf

You'll just have to trust me on this one. Near the end of the movie there's a brief scene with a wolf. I was watching it with Girl Supercomputer and we both kept talking about how it was our favorite scene of the whole move. There's nothing particularly shocking about the scene. It's just the Wes Anderson has proved to be an unparalleled crafter of scenes. And he can apparently do it with puppets as well.

7. Half Nelson - The Delivery

6. Punch Drunk Love - "I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine."

It's a shame that this is all we're apparently getting out of Adam Sandler, dramatically. Because PT Anderson gets him to put his best work forth, especially in the final confrontation scene.

Now get the fuck out of here, pervert!
Didn't I warn you?!!!!
That's that!...

Scene is from 1:50 to 4:30:

5. Children of Men - Final scene/shot

It wasn't until the second time I saw this movie that I realized the last climactic "scene" which sprawls out probably 15 minutes, is done all in a single shot. Much of the movie is done in this style. What makes this scene particularly incredible is the method in which it's shot and the content, when everyone puts down their guns in honor of the newborn child.

4. Fog of War - Lesson 5: Proportionality should be a guideline of war

"In order to win a war shoud you kill 100,000 people in one night?"

3. Six Feet Under - Everyone Dies

After the second season of SFU, I had pretty much given up on the show. It was just too damned heavy. Then I was in a hotel in Los Angeles and happened to catch the last 15 minutes of what turned out to be the last episode. As soon as I got home I demanded we plow through the rest of the series, just to get to that final episode.

Another true story: like all good Americans, we have Netflix and we had orchestrated it so we had the last two discs of the series and we were going to watch them. We got through the first disc and all we had left was the last episode on the last disc. WE HAD SPENT MONTHS WATCHING THIS SHOW AND GETTING TO KNOW THESE CHARACTERS! So we put in the disc and IT'S BROKEN! So Mrs. Supercomputer calls around to every Hollywood video in town to find it. It's 1 AM, mind you. And she agrees to go rent it right then and there. She does and once she returns and pops it in, the tears start coming.

It's an incredible way to wrap up a TV series that had such amazing characters. It was also devastating: I am emotionally scarred from ever getting into a HBO series ever again thanks to Six Feet Under. I'm stepping back into the shallow end with Showtime's Weeds, but I'm simply not emotionally ready for another SFU-like series.

Again: do not watch if you don't want to see it!

2. There Will Be Blood - Daniel Plainview's Baptism

This gives me chills. I have nothing to add.

1. The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou - The Jaguar Shark

I don't get it. Bill Murray gets all sort of accolades for playing himself in Lost in Translation (rightfully so) but there's next to nothing for his much more dynamic and three-dimensional Steve Zissou? In a movie where he actually had to develop and show emotions? Honestly, I think Murray and the entire movie suffered from it becoming not cool to like Wes Anderson anymore. He had made three feature films and critics were turning on him under the guise of "he's not evolving his style" which is a crock of horseshit. He's defined the moviemaking style of the entire decade. Lost in Translation doesn't work without its predecessors, the deadpan Rushmore and Bottle Rocket.

The Life Acquatic
was great to see in the movie theater because it's spectacularly colored and layerd. However, that doesn't mean it can't be affecting on the small screen as well. Sure the snazzy looking fish is great to look at, but Bill Murray's character makes the movie great to return to over and over.

So we have two Wes Anderson clips, two PT Anderson clips and two Richard Jenkins clips in the top 10. Although these are just a scant few of a great scenes one can cobble together. Hope you enjoyed them!

Let me know what I've missed!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

(It's the most joyous time of the year. That time when we stop what we're doing. Take some time off work. And make lists in order to prove how smart we are.

Today's list: Top 10 Albums of the Year)

(Oh and by the way, if you're only reading this blog post via Facebook notes, ho boy! You are missing so much. For instance, did you know that this blog has a nice, blue background? It's true! And there's embedded mp3's, pictures, and a really nice logo up there at the top! Seriously! Check it out!)

Two-thousand and nine is the year that we all became comfortable with artists getting their own. Several of the top albums on this list and others features bands that have "polished" their sound a bit. Metric, St. Vincent, Regina Spektor, and even Grizzly Bear put forth albums that are much more slickly produced ... and everyone was ok with that. Phoenix sold "1901" to a car commercial ... and we're ok with that. I think we've all realized that this decade, in all of it's Internetical glory, has stripped artists of much of their earning power to the point that albums are now a loss leader. So we're ok with artists appearing on Grey's Anatomy. It used to be called "selling out," but now I think we've evolved to the point where we can accept an artist trying to make a buck with slicker songs or schilling for Buick. When Coldplay glitzed up their sound way back in the mid-2000s people killed them. Turns out, they were just ahead of their time (by a whopping four years). But it turns out, you can still make great music, even if it is a bit polished. That isn't to say any of the aforementioned artists must necessarily be entirely neutered. Metric and St. Vincent are great examples of artists that may have scrubbed their sound a bit, but haven't lost any teeth.

Without wanting to do any sort of research that doesn't actually provide me sums of money, I'm going on record right now saying this was the best year of music in my lifetime. Could it be that thanks to's MP3 page, I have more access to more albums than ever? Maybe. Could it be that I cut down on drinking beer because of my MP3 addiction? Perhaps. But that should tell you just how much great music there was this year: I forwent beer for music albums! In years past, I haven't even been able to rank 10 albums either because of lack of access or lack of great albums. But this year, we have lots of both. It was difficult to narrow this list down to 10.

Honorable mention / it almost killed me to leave them out:
Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Bishop Allen, Grr...
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Up From Below
The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You
Foreign Born, Person to Person

And now.... the Top 10 Albums of 2009.

10. Metric, Fantasies.

Exhibit A in the "It's ok to polish your sound now" meme. "Gimmie Sympathy" is extremely juiced up as far as production value goes, but it still managed to make our Top 25 songs list. Most of the album is still true to Metric's aggressive sound and lyrics ("Heard you fuck through the wall" anyone?). The end result of all this ok-ness with polish is not an overproduced techno album, but an incredibly engaging and dynamic one. That's what 2009 gave us in a nutshell.

9. Bowerbirds, Upper Air.

Maybe we suffered a bit of Bon Iver-overload last year, but it's puzzling to see why the Bowerbirds didn't get more critical acclaim for their 2009 album. You won't find better vocal harmonies and great raw acoustic instrumentation. This is probably exhibit A in the case against the "It's ok to polish your sound now" meme.

8. Beirut, March of the Zapotec.

March of the Zapotec marries essentially two EPs together in the form of an album. The first half is inspired by south-of-the-border funeral/celebratory horn arrangements, while the second half is just lead Zach Condon doing his own thing. This might (and apparently has) rubbed some critics the wrong way. But don't let that get in the way of a great, great enjoyable album. Think of it as two for the price of one. Once you accept that tiny little fact, you can unbunch your underwear and revel in the stunning collection of songs.

7. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest.

Boy, be careful. Once you let Grizzly Bear get a hold of you, you might not escape for weeks. At least, that's what happened to me. There's just so much incredible song crafting on Veckatimest, and it's slightly more accessible than previous albums, yet still very distant. In that respect it's kind of easy to hold Grizzly Bear at a distance, if you so desire, but I don't recommend it.

6. M. Ward, Hold Time.

I've always loved how M. Ward straddles the line between the spiritual and the secular. And Hold Time is candy in that respect. The songs are very straightforward and simple in their lyrics and instrumentation. But that doesn't prevent a depth and undercurrent of aggression, desire, and sorrow from welling up from time to time.

5. St. Vincent, Actor.

The fact that this album is "only" fifth tells you what a great year of music it really was. When this album came out, nay, when I heard the first single off the album, "Actor Out of Work," I was absolutely convinced this was the best album of the year. And it still might be. Just know that St. Vincent has earned the coveted Buy No Matter What status from Dear Mr. Supercomputer. As Regina Spektor and Leslie Feist exit stage right, I was extremely encouraged by Actor. Actor doesn't sacrifice one ounce of what made Annie Clark's debut album Marry Me so special. It's got the same level of aggression, cleverness, and an additional level of vintage Clark guitar shredding.

4. The Antlers, Hospice.

An incredible concept album, Hospice was written at a time when lead man Peter Silberman was spending a lot of time in a children's cancer ward. That's about all you need to know about the emotional weight of Hospice. This album may wreck you.

3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It's Blitz!.

Not being a YYY fan per se, I'd be willing to bet that It's Blitz! may have rubbed a few of the hardcores the wrong way. It's pretty polished and focused. That said, the opener "Zero" and "Dull Life" alone make the album great. "Zero" is hip enough for all us newcomers while "Dull Life" is aggressive enough to satisfy the rock contingent. In between, there's solid track after solid track. And that certainly makes a great album.

2. Dan Deacon, Bromst.

As I chronicled before, I loved this album so much on first listen, I nearly died in a fiery car crash on I-25. That's how great this album is: it's crash-worthy. Along with the top album below, this album resonated in a way that few albums do. While it's incredibly hyperactive, Dan Deacon allows us to breathe a bit in between the frenetic noise-hooks. For the best example, check out the track, "Snookered" (above). The evolution of this song from start to finish is mind boggling. You could teach a class on it. Starting from slow, sparse xylophone chimes, Dan Deacon adds layer upon layer (and begins taking layers away), until all of a sudden, you're enraptured in a fast-paced sonic wonderland. At that point, Deacon drops the frenetic sampling and leads us back to the sparse xylophone. At that point, you remember where the song started, how far you came, and just what an incredible piece of music this is. That's what the entire album is like.

1. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, vs. Children.

You can pretty much extrapolate what I said about my #3 song of the year to the entire album. The melodies may be simple, but the soundscape and lyrics are incredibly rich. This and Bromst resonated in a way that only a few albums have. You know, those albums that you mention when you play the "stranded on a desert island" game in your head.Interweaving specific themes of child rearing, crime, and spirituality beautifully with more universal themes of fear, insecurity, and hope, vs. Children is often beautiful and raw. Also, like Bromst, you won't see vs. Children on many Top 10 lists. At least, I haven't yet, and I'm not really sure why. Perhaps it's to be expected: upon first listen, it doesn't necessarily grab your attention the way other, "bigger" albums do. The opening track is simply a major chord while the opening song, my favorite of the year, isn't very "hookish." But after perhaps two or three listens, you really begin to get to know the characters Owen Ashworth presents, often in first person. The people Ashworth play in vs. Children are as deep and complex as any album in other top 10 lists, or shit, any literary character, portend to be. And after those two or three listens, you'll want to give it a few more dozen go-rounds, like any good book or good movie. For those who are willing to spend the time, this is the most rewarding album I've heard in years.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 5 Songs I Already Can't Believe I Left Out of My Top 25 Songs

See, I told you this was hard. After rereading the previous post and listening to some of 2009's best again, I simply can't leave out the following songs. I don't care where you insert them, but just put them in there somewhere (see, this is why we need a playoff system!). I seriously would not have been able to sleep tonight if I didn't throw these five songs out there.

Shall we say, Top 30? And I am making absolutely no promises this won't get stretched into, say, a top 35.

1. "Wavin' Flag," K'Naan

2. "Charlie Darwin," The Low Anthem

3. "You, Sailor," Erin McKeown

4. "The Walls Are Coming Down," Fanfarlo

5. "Blood Oranges," Foreign Born

Top 25 Songs of the Year

(It's the most joyous time of the year. That time when we stop what we're doing. Take some time off work. And make lists in order to prove how smart we are.

Today's list: Top 25 Songs of the Year)

Like the Top 25 college football teams of the BCS system, the Top 25 songs is always a huge clusterfuck. This year, I made it a point not to have any repeat artists in the Top 25, just so we get a more dynamic list, which I suppose in some respects, renders the list moot if there are restrictions on it. But let's try not to get our underpants too bunched up about music and movie lists, ok? If you want to argue that Grizzly Bear should be higher or that "Song X" should be included, well that's the whole fun of these lists, right?

Anyway, commentary is included for most songs, but restricted a bit for some songs that may appear again on our Albums of the Year post.

Should you feel so inspired, take a listen to ALL 25 SONGS via this handy little widget from grooveshark right here, or individually below:

And now, on to the top songs.

25. "Hurt Feelings," Flight of the Conchords

Before we get started let me say that I spent about four hours listening to this and "Carol Brown" to decide which one I put on this list. They're both excellent and indicative of FOTC's second season. Here's the thing: FOTC's second proper album, I Told You I Was Freaky is actually really good music. What it may lack in humor relative to their Season 1 album it makes up for in musical and production chops. That isn't to say it isn't freaking hilarious. "Hurt Feelings" is brilliantly funny and also incredibly catchy.

24. "Northern Lights," Bowerbirds

23. "The Concubine," Beirut

22. "Satellite Heart," Ayna Marina
21. "Possibility," Lykke Li

Two really great songs from ... ahem ... the ... uh ... new moon soundtrack.

Actually, I think we're at the point where we can be adults about this: THE TWILIGHT: NEW MOON SOUNDTRACK IS REALLY, REALLY GOOD! And if it weren't for Dark Was the Night (later), it would be the best compilation album of the year. Of course, DWTN only has one song on this list.

20. "True or False," Bishop Allen

Girl Supercomputer's song of the year. Even if we both mess up the chorus when we try to sing it.

19. "Laughing With," Regina Spektor

Yes, it's pretty much the antithesis of everything we loved about Regina Spektor way back on Soviet Kitcsh. To that extent, "Laughing With" probably isn't as good as "Genius Next Door." Frankly much of Spektor's 2009 album Far ventures a bit too closely to Vanessa Carlton territory. (Seriously, compare that song to the last minute of "Dance Anthem of the 80's," starting at say, the 2:22 mark. Oh boy! Here comes the hate mail!) Still, while Regina Spektor's emotional "Laughing With" is manipulative and undoubtedly Grey's Anatomy-bound, the first time you heard it, you stopped and listened intently. And frankly, I still do.

18. "Epistemology," M. Ward

17. "Wilco the Song," Wilco

I was rather disappointed with Wilco (the Album), but the opening track is inspired. Unfortunately, the momentum doesn't carry over.

16. "Tenuousness," Andrew Bird

I was also a bit disappointed with AB's Noble Beast. It's a good album and all, but a bit of a step backwards from the trajectory offered by The Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha. To that point, "Tenuousness" is probably the most like Apocrypha in terms of lyrics, tempo, and instrumentation.

15. "Young Adult Friction," The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

14. "Sylvia," The Antlers

Let's just say I spent several hours deciding which Antlers song to put on this list. Being a concept album and all, it's hard to single out one song.

13. "Two Weeks," Grizzly Bear

12. "Gimmie Sympathy," Metric

11. "You Are the Blood," Sufjan Stevens

Once again, Sufjan Stevens manages to affect the music scene without producing a proper album. Then again, according to an interview with Paste magazine, he's bored of the album concept and not in the mood to produce them anymore. As a one-time SS syncophant, I will paraphrase George Costanza: "Now you listen to me: I want details (albums) and I want them right now. I don’t have job , I have no place to go… you’re not in the mood: well you get in the mood"

10. "This Tornado Loves You," Neko Case

In case you've ever wondered what it was like to be in love with an actual tornado, you can either A) join the CSU Atmospheric Science department, or B) listen to Neko Case.

9. "I and Love and You," The Avett Brothers

This song is simply classic and could have been written in any decade since 1920: "Brooklyn, Brooklyn, let me in, are you aware the shape I'm in?" The opening line of this song and this album is almost chill-inducing.

8. "Blood Bank," Bon Iver

7. "My Body's a Zombie For You," Dead Man's Bones

In addition to being a great actor, did you know that Ryan Gossling sings and plays music? And that Mrs. Supercomputer would totally run away with him if she could?? Although in her defense, after listening to Dead Man's Bones, I would probably consider it as well. From the moment it was released, it immediately became the base and Ultimate Halloween album. And it's about damn time. How come it took so long to rid ourselves of the wretched, "Monster Mash?"

P.S. Have you noticed that DMS has a weird fascination with zombies?

6. "Lisztomania," Phoenix

Why did this years' Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix receive such acclaim while other, similar past efforts by Phoenix left them relatively under the radar? This song and this song alone. Not that the rest of the album isn't great, but "Lisztomania" sets it apart by a few miles.

5. "Dull Life," Yeah Yeah Yeahs

4. "Woof Woof," Dan Deacon

3. "Tom Justice, the Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended At Ace Hardward in Libertyville, IL," Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Don't let the incredibly long and possibly pretentious name fool you: this is a musically and lyrically sparse and subtle song. However, it is also incredibly lush and sprawling in theme. It may take a few listens, but once you get to that point, it's possible to just put it on repeat and call it a day.

2. "Actor Out of Work," St. Vincent

In the same way this song jumps out at you from the first chord, this song jumped out at us from the moment we saw it. Actually, it's a pretty significant upset by the song at #1 to be able to usurp "Actor Out of Work."

1. "Home," Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Our favorite, and probably most unique song of the year goes to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' "Home." It's got whistling, back-and-forth vocals, dialog and layers upon layers. It's honestly like nothing you've ever heard and that was just enough to break a tie with "Actor." While all the songs in the Top 10 are creative in their own idiosyncratic way, "Home" is uniquely unique (who scored a 6 on the GRE written portion? *this guy!*).

We're going to let the cat out of the bag a bit here and state that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' 2009 album Up From Below is not one of our top 10 albums. This is not to say that "Home" is the only good song on it. Quite the contrary: "40 Day Dream," "Janglin," and "Up From Below" would all make the top 25 songs if it weren't for the one-song-per-artist restriction. No, rather, it's a testament to just how great a year in music it was. Cutting off the list at 10 was difficult. In any other year "Home" alone (get it!) would make Up From Below would launch it into the top 10 albums, but 2009 was just that good.

Take us out, guys.

Stay tuned for Albums of 2009!

(P.S. Song title that made me laugh out loud: Canadian Invasion, “Standing On The Shoulders Of The Carcass Of John Mayer”)