Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Twenty SONGS of 2009

Another list...
Tracks for rocking out on New Year's Eve as I look back at my musical soundtrack of 2009, which includes 99 songs from five separate playlists. These are the top 20 songs (well actually 26 songs with a few ties competing for a slot from the same band and honorable mentions) that rocked my world in no particular order -- tunes with the ability of wrenching open my ears and making me bop along, even if it's in the car. Here's my list for the year while looking ahead to new releases in 2010 by Hot Chip, Vampire Weekend, The Cribs, Beach House, Spoon and more. Link to listen here, enjoy!

1. My Girls/Animal Collective
2. Nothing to Worry About/Peter Bjorn and John
3. Paris/Friendly Fires
4. Happy Up Here/Royksopp
5. Around the Bend/The Asteroids Galaxy Tour
6. Walking on a Dream/Empire of the Sun
7. Lucid Dreams/Franz Ferdinand
8. Beautiful Future/Primal Scream
9. Alcoholics Unanimous/Art Brut
10. 1901/Phoenix
11. Two Weeks or Cheerleader/Grizzly Bear
12. Carries On/Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
13. Hysteric/Yeah Yeah Yeahs
14. Wilco/Wilco (The Album) ** though I really liked the Colbert version played live on the show!
15. The Reeling/Passion Pit
16. Always Like This/Bombay Bicycle Club
17. Song for No One/Miike Snow
18. Got Nuffin/Spoon
19. (If You're Wondering if I Want You To) I Want You To/Weezer
20. Mistake/Moby

Honorable Mentions:
Introducing Palace Players/Mew
I'm a Pilot/Fanfarlo
Houses/Great Northern
Say Please or His Master's Voice/Monsters of Folk
Yacht/Psychic City

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Ten CDs of 2009

I've been trying to avoid all the Top Ten lists for music in 2009 until I had made my own. It was written down over a week ago, but today I set about searching the house and my car to find the actual CDs to make a lovely display in my kitchen like I did last year.* There's also the necessary background checks to be sure these releases actually appeared during the last twelve months. This year however, I had two candidates that only made it into my online cache of itunes and I have to admit to feeling somewhat lacking in my collection. So I'm still thinking of purchasing the actual hard copy, as I've said before there's just something about having those liner notes and background info. All said, in no particular order here's my list of CDs I thoroughly enjoyed with many plays, from the first track to the last, during 2009.

1. No More Stories.../Mew
The title is actually an entire poem which tells you mountains about the band. This Danish group stopped me in my tracks when I first heard the epic "Comforting Sounds" in 2006. Their no holds barred instrumentals and soaring vocals paint a lush world of musical escape. Crank up the volume for a fav moment in the beginning of "Introducing Palace Players" where the 7/8 rhythm crashes in a swirl of synthesizers, amazing!

2. Veckatimist/Grizzly Bear
The third release from this Brooklyn-based band is by far the most widely received -- its title is the name of a tiny island off Cape Cod near where they stayed while recording the songs. Appropriately the collection offers a dreamy seascape feel with a weighty intellectualism in the lyrics (for example, "All your useless pretentions are weighing on my time.")

3. It's Blitz!/Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Another third release from a New York City trio but different in approach as vintage synths replaced guitar parts, allowing Karen O's voice to soar without competition. She has that Chrissy Hynde strength, piercing my heart with the warmth of a woman who can rock.

4. Wait for Me/Moby
Moby's Ninth album (his Late Night is listed below as a pick for 2008) was recorded alone in his home studio and it sure sounds like it. Described as moody and melancholy, this is a deeply personal offering by an overly forthright celebrity from my home town of Darien, CT. I swear the choral beginning of "A Seated Night" sounds just like the NYC commuter train plowing through our suburban landscape while "Pale Horses" begins with the lyrics "Put me on the train, send me back to my home". Plus I love the animated videos for "Pale Horses" and "Mistake" featuring Moby's own alter ego alien creation (he used to doodle on the shopping bags while working at our local record store) known as "Little Idiot" which is also the name of his record label.

5. Tonight/Franz Ferdinand
Anyone who says there hasn't been anything worth listening to in the past decade obviously doesn't know about this band from Glasgow. They have rocked my world with three CDs filled with tightly knit danceable tunes and singalong hooks led by uber frontman Alex Kapranos. This latest release is similar to Moby's Last Night with its homage to all things nightlife, gamely inviting the listener along for the ride.

6. Art Brut vs. Satan/Art Brut
When I first heard this U.K. group Art Brut about five years ago, I found them cute and fun with frontman Eddie Argos shouting lyrics such as "Formed a band, we formed a band!" But I never thought they'd last the wave into three strong CDs -- this one kicking each other with "Alcoholics Unanimous" and then my own contemporaries with "The Replacements" (lamenting how could they have just discovered that 80s band since "some of them are as old as my parents!")

7. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix/Phoenix
Only a band who grew up together in Versailles could name their CD with the name of a classical icon and get away from it. This is the group's fourth release with more than a few keepers, from the beginning intro beats of "Napoleon Says" and "1901" to the killer hook of "Lisztomani" -- Thomas Mars vocals are confidently splayed across the tightly knit group.

8. Kingdom of Rust/Doves
This is another band with deep roots though traced back to teen years outside of London. While this fourth offering by the trio isn't my favorite, their distinct sound of lush instrumentation and romanticized vocals always makes for interesting listening. Plus their lyrics pull me along positively transfixed to their world across the pond (n.b. the lyrics "an english skyline falls down to the future but no one noticed in this empire.")

9. Reservoir/Fanfarlo
The first release from this London-based band was recorded at Tarquin Studios in nearby Bridgeport, CT. (Interpol,The National and Mates of State have also recorded there.) This six member group is part Arcade Fire, part Ra Ra Riot or Beruit with its use of mandolin, violins and trumpets along with the usual band line up of drums/guitars -- worth more than a few listens.

10. I Had the Blues But Shook Them Loose/Bombay Bicycle Club
This debut album by a young U.K. band instantly had me after hearing the single "Always Like This" with its bouncy backbone and overflow of harmonies at the chorus. Loads of potential here, looking forward to a long shelf life with this band!

*A quick list of CD lists past: 2008 Top Ten (again in no particular order)
1. Earth to the Dandy Warhols/Dandy Warhols
2. The Rhumb Line/Ra Ra Riot
3. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends/Cold Play
4. Raise the Dead/Phantom Planet
5. Narrow Stairs/Death Cab for Cutie
6. We Started Nothing/Ting Tings
7. Vampire Weekend/Vampire Weekend
8. Made in the Dark/Hot Chip
9. Last Night/Moby
10. Modern Guilt/Beck

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hip Holiday Playlist

I haven't wrapped one gift and the house guests are arriving soon but here I am fiddling with another playlist. I'm calling it 'HIP HOLIDAY' but it's really what I thought was hip through the decades put together into a cohesive listening session. I enjoy driving around during the holiday season to the classic collection of holiday tunes on a few presets in my car -- especially the boozy renditions by Dean Martin and anything secular by Frank Sinatra. But there's a lack of that second tier of more interesting, dare I say contemporary (well since the invention of Rock 'N Roll) on these radio stations beyond racking my brain to remember who's singing what in "Do They Know It's Christmas." So I made my own from my vast collection of holiday tunes and offer it up as a gift to others, merry merry!

1. Christmas is a Time to Say I Love You - Billy Squier
In the age of auto tune and perfect percussion, this raucous party tune just makes me happy. Yes it's cheesy as can be, the song rambles along until we're all in the room singing along. Another holiday indulgence.

2. Ding Dong Ding Dong - George Harrison
Raspy and emotional vocals from the Dark Horse days, George manages to bring a rockin tune that invites us all to sing along. I've put together a fab four holiday tour here as listening to the Beatles Christmas album is a family tradition (a memento of my husband's he received when joining the fan club!)

3. Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney
This song reminds me of how Paul is such a family man -- I can just imagine him sitting with other parents enjoying the children's choir with a few of his own in the crowd.

4. White Christmas - Ringo Starr
Like "Octopus's Garden," this holiday classic is at once totally accessible and unusual with its use of reggae rhythm. As always, Ringo's confident vocals brings a bright lightness to it all.

5. Happy Christmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon
The beginning of this song actually has Yoko & John wishing their children a Happy Christmas though I always thought they were wishing it to each other. And I also thought that the lyrics the beginning of the song spoke of being 'another year older' which seemed so poignant since of course John did not live past 1980.

6. Father Christmas - The Kinks
A rocking tune telling the sad story of a department store Santa beaten up by kids who call toys 'silly' and reminds us that Rock 'N Roll even loves the thugs.

7. Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy - David Bowie & Bing Crosby
Released during my David Bowie immersion -- don't remember ever seeing the video back then but viewing it today has David looking indeed a man who fell to earth, an angelic alien singing sweetly without hardly acknowledging the dumbfounded Bing next to him.

8. Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town - Bruce Springsteen
Went through a Boss phase in the mid 70s with 'Born to Run' with every one else and just can't resist another call to party -- just love when he asks if the band has been good!

9. Christmas Wrapping - Waitresses
This song instantly takes me back to wearing leggings and floppy bows in my hair -- the smart single gal lyrics keep the happy hook cranking.

10. Last Christmas - Wham!
Yes, forgive me but the synths rev up and I'm back in the 80s again with no regrets.

11. Chrismas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
Bono plays Elvis then dials up the tenor to 11 with almost religious abandonment.

12. 2000 Miles - Pretenders
A reference to Christmastime lands this song happily on many holiday compilations -- Chrissy Hynde's velvety vocals always brings hope into my world.

13. Merry Christmas Baby - Hanson
Apologies again, but these bros rocked it when this came out. Actually enjoyed having their posters all over my daughter's walls, adorable that they were. My husband fanagled entrance to see them do this song warming up for their SNL gig -- I was just excited to be sitting with Caroline Kennedy with her kids!

14. The Christmas Song - Weezer
This is on a TRL Christmas compilation back when that show owned MTV. Classic Weezer in its approach with harmonies floating over a rockin groove -- another relationship down the drain, only Rivers can make something like that ROCK.

15. We Wish You a Merry little Christmas - Weezer
Couldn't resist putting a second Weezer one the list. This is part of a short list released on itunes last year but the rest are oddly religious choices. Love how they shout "I won't go" just like how I'd sing it as a kid.

16. Winter Wonderland - Phantom Planet
A fav band takes a lilting approach to a classic -- lovely little tune that gives us a chance to rock out before indulging in windy sound effects.

17. Have Yourself a merry little Christmas - Local H
Hadn't even heard of this band except this song found on A Rock 'N Roll Christmas II, love the Nirvana soft to loud rock out mode.

18. I Wish It Was Christmas Today -Julian Casablancas
I had to buy the entire CD on itunes to get this song (otherwise I'd be content with a few selections). It gives a Strokes-ish kick to the holiday season even though this is off the frontman's new solo release.

18. The New Year - Death Cab For Cutie
All optimissm and sing songy, a fitting ending to a holiday list, as we all ahead to a clean slate a new year brings.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Searching for Tunes in A Big Box Store

I like to read fluff at the gym to pass the time on the Lifecycle so last weekend I went there armed with a cooking magazine to find inspiration for the holidays or at least a dinner during the week. But walking in I spied the November SPIN magazine sitting on the reading rack. On the front was a big photo of Wayne Coyne, frontman for The Flaming Lips which is a fav band of mine. My cover to cover reading ran beyond my time on the machine so I 'borrowed' the mag until my next visit.

Inside the issue was a promotion for a special edition mini-magazine which came with a compilation CD of suggested offerings, available at Best Buy stores. I'm always tempted by any exposure of new bands so when I found myself walking by a Best Buy during my next NYC jaunt, I went in to look around for it.

First, let me say how much I absolutely abhor big box stores. Be it for groceries, housewares or any kind of bargains, these retail outlets overwhelm me the moment I walk through the door. The blaring TVs greeted me as I circled around to find a sad CD section right by the clattering of live instruments for sale. I found a blue-shirted salesman to ask where I might find a SPIN magazine or any magazine for that matter. He seemed stumped by the question, so it was repeated into his headphones for back up. A manager walked by and the request was shouted out loud, only to hear another question in reply. "What's SPIN?" Ouch.

I retreated into the cold, defeated in my mission. The worst part is that this store sits where there was a huge temple to music known as the Virgin Megastore just a few months ago, a scene of many happy splurges of CDs and band paraphernalia. As I hit the sidewalk I reached for my gloves, only to find I had lost one during my misadventure. So back into the dreaded store I went, retracing my steps to no avail. I had to continue my evening in the big city with one hand shoved in my pocket to keep warm and no new tunes for my ears.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Word About My Playlists

In this era of pick and choose selections off myspace, itunes and such it's almost odd that the concept of a playlist has even survived. But there really is something about a self-contained listening session as created for new itunes offerings, records or CDs, though I seem to be one of the few interested in buying CDs besides fans of Sarah Boyle. I've created playlists for myself for five years now -- sharing them with my friend from high school who just suggested I start writing about music!

My playlists are created somewhat seasonally as I fill up the space alloted on a CD. I like to start off strong with a "don't you love how music can move you" song, maybe even enough to get up and boogie. This might not even be the newest tune in the group, but one that has crossed my path for whatever reason and made itself known. From there I like to meander along different moods until some kind of reflective closure wraps up the playlist. If there's two or three more songs from one CD release, you can bet I've purchased it and listened to the entire thing from start to finish a few times if not lots.

I'm looking back over my 09 playlists back into time as a review course before creating my top ten list for the year. It'll be a nice time travel experiment to reflect on the year of music, a reminder of how a song instantly transports us to the who/what/where/how/when of our experience. I can state upfront that there won't be any head banging metal, what's been called 'brorock' (think Dave Matthews) or what I consider folky crap, but hopefully there is something new to intrigue the reader enough for a listen. Enjoy!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Late Fall 2009 New Music Playlist

Link to listen here.

1. The Reeling - Passion Pit
Found this one on Alt Nation driving my husband's car w/Sirius radio. I couldn't believe the unabashed 80s sound, reveling in it really! This American band from Cambridge, MA call themselves 'electronic' with their love of synths, why not.

2. Dominos - The Big Pink
With cringe-worth lyrics this song stays i my head and won't let go. One of the members produced The Klaxons at his own record label so there's the catchy tune reference.

3. Mistake - Moby
4. Shot In the Back of the Head - Moby
5. Pale Horses - Moby
6. Division - Moby
This new CD from my homie Moby (he grew up in the Big D of Darien before calling himself a New Yorker) was hailed for it's introspective nature but it still has some funky grooves to please the dance crowd. Had a hard time wittlling down the songs listed!

7. I'm a Pilot - Fanfarlo
8. Ghosts - Fanfarlo
9. Harold T. Wilkins - Fanfarlo
10. The Walls Are Coming Coming Down - Fanfarlo
My fave new band (meaning I bought their entire release and enjoy it often) though sometimes they plod along with way too much going on -- it's always interesting at least. Had to throw a few tunes on the list...

11. (If You're Wondering If I want You To) I Want You To - Weezer
The first single off the new Weezer release, blasting another romp that is still irresistable. Holding out for the rest of the CD that'll be under the tree with the Weezer snugglie and with the band going off a cliff in their tour bus traveling icy roads recently, I'm ever the more thankful for the new release.

12. Out of the Blue - Julian Casablancas
13. 11th Dimension - Julian Casablancas
Lead singer of The Strokes strikes out on his own to sound like The Strokes which isn't exactly a bad thing. I'm thinking I need that Christmas song he recorded too, but I have to buy the entire album which doesn't offer much of a variety in its offerings.

14. The Right - Lou Barlow
I actually remember his Sebadoh band in the 90s -- BUYING A CD to be able to hear a fav song of the time. He's also a member of Dinasaur Jr. Like the easy feel of this track, sticks with you.

15. Say Please - Monsters of Folk
Proclaimed as and American 'Supergroup' with Jim James of My Morning Jacket bleating out the vocals, this song rocks along nicely.

16. His Master's Voice/Monsters of Folk
Another track to indulge in and contemplate the lyrics as well.

17. Wicked Blood - Sea Wolf
Not exactly brand new, but hadn't gotten this dreamy tune on a playlist yet. It's led by NYU Film School grad Alex Brown Church who's now making L.A. his home. Also a founding member of late 90s band Irving.

18. The Getaway (U.S. Radio Mix) - Athlete
Looked hard for a track I liked on their new release since this band is usually too accessible in taste. But you gotta like how the band has been friends since 14 as I can imagine the band that practiced in my basement might travel the same course!

Sunday, December 6, 2009


It was suggested I start writing about music after recently posting my new tunes playlists on Facebook. I offer this blog to those who, like me, are always looking for something new to rock their world or on the other hand, for those who think that the best music has already happened in the past. For the past five years I have created playlists for myself and shared them this friend who suggested I start this blog -- we have a long history together since high school when we'd create cassettes of new music to share, but I'm dating myself!

Music, like any art, elicits a visceral reaction. Whether or not you like something cannot be easily explained, as it cuts straight to our core for a response. As with religion, politics, or money, our opinions of music cannot be dissected by an objective intellectual discussion. The soundtrack for our lives we select can speak volumes about the time and place as well as the person. It's a cultural history in the making.

I remember the first record I bought as a child of the sixties -- The Beatles, of course. I actually think my alto vocal range was cemented by hours of singing along to the fab four and of course their music lives on today even in the video gaming world. The Earth Wind & Fire type disco of the 70s made it hard to be a sulky adolescent in high school as Bruce Springsteen's anthems called for a deeper reflection. In college I collected old school Frank Sinatra albums before catching on to the New Wave and Punk groups spinned at parties. My 80s music was defined by WLIR in Long Island and the 'Screamer of the Week' which broke many U2 and other big bands of the day. New Tunes in the 90s were found on WHFS in Annapolis of all places, as I'd visit my parents who lived in Maryland -- I could count on hearing about new bands (Weezer and Blur to name a few). And as radio found a new life online, I latched on to out in Santa Monica which I knew from a few visits to L.A. It was Nick Hardcourt's tenure at 'Morning Becomes Eclectic' weekday mornings that I'd listen to 'on demand' as it was convenient that really got me going on creating playlists, especially when he pubished the book, Music Lust. It was my sentiments exactly.

A few years ago I was at a party when the discussion of music came up among fellow baby boomers. This guy actually said how there was nothing worth listening to these days. I'm thinking he just wasn't trying. So I'll post my playlists and other tidbits here, things worth a listen and other musings about music. Enjoy.