Without further explanation or fanfare, behold the Top 25:
#25 ‘Strange Overtones’, David Byrne and Brian Eno
I saw David Byrne at a Pixies show in Manhattan a few years ago. He was in a red sweatsuit and came off like a very likeable guy for the 20 seconds I was around him, and since I tend to make snap judgments about people, I decided he was a good person. ‘This groove is out of fashion, these beats are 20 years old’, I can’t help but be impressed when a guy like this comes out and says ‘This is all I have, I hope it’s enough’. It definitely is.
#24 ‘Art Isn’t Real (City of Sin)’, Deer Tick
So now that the names Deer Tick and Deerhoof have been taken, I am hopeful we have seen the last of them. These guys take the award for Album Cover of the Year (booze, babes, firearms) and it is solid throughout. His monotone singing style combined with the ceaseless rocking makes this one easy.
#23 ‘Angels of Destruction’, Marah
These guys should be 73.4% more popular than they are. Fact. They bring it regularly and are great live. They’ve written some of my favorite songs, and if it weren’t poor form, I’d nominate ‘Faraway You’ for my Top 25 every year. True.
#22 ‘Long Coastlines’, Okkervil River
These guys are hilariously consistently good. You feel like they put a lot of work into it, and that has to count for something. Also, they once threw a bit of ‘Sloop John B’ into a song, and that is never against the Rules of Awesome.
#21 ‘Drive On, Driver’, The Magnetic Fields
So depressingly good, this song about some poor schmuck getting stood up with a ring in his pocket. Anyone who has ever popped the question will attest to the fact that there is a little voice in the back of your head acknowledging the possibility that she could say no.
#20 ‘Manhattan’, Kings of Leon
The guitar on this song is my favorite thing about it. I imagine this would be very crazy played live, although given their current level of popularity, I may never get another ticket to see them again.
The Kings they are a-changin’, I notice that the hair is styled, the clothes look like they were at least not free, and people are filming them in slow-mo back and white. This is semi-depressing, as was my 13 year-old cousin telling me how much she loved them. The cognitive dissonance here is astounding and may cause my head to explode.
#19 ‘Fine Young Cannibals’, Wolf Parade
This album lacked the insane rocking of ‘I’ll Believe In Anything’ or ‘Grounds for Divorce’, both of which I air-guitar to regularly and with the skill that only the truly musically clueless can bring to the performance.
Still, these guys get it right throughout the entire album, and I really get into a band that follows the cardinal rule of ‘Thou Shalt Not Pack Thine Album With Filler’.
Ridiculous aside: When their last album came out, we were all out one night talking about it. Someone mentioned we really needed to see these guys. Someone else mentioned that we already HAD, only they had opened up for Modest Mouse at a show we went to featuring free Sierra Nevada for about seven hours. Five of the six people who were there had no memory of this. Sad.
#18 ‘Victor Jara’s Hands’, Calexico
These guys are serious about the whole Southwest rock thing, that’s for damn sure. This song makes me want to crack into a few Dos Equis, but so many things do and the song features many of the things I feel help to add up to something great: a horn section, a tribute to Chilean political activism, and repeated shouts of ‘Ole!'
#17 ‘So He Won’t Break’, The Black Keys
The Black Keys bringeth the rock. This song moves all over, and has this excellent, funky bass and drum line running through it. These guys are getting better with every album, at some point they will be voted the Ayatollahs of Rocknrollah.
#16 ‘Tessellate’, Tokyo Police Club
‘Cause dire times call for dire faaaaaces’. These guys delivered the goods on this records, every song is at least listenable and many are really, really good. Hard to choose which one I liked best, but I did it based on that line.
#15 ‘Sec Walkin’, My Morning Jacket
Love this song. I immediately put it on my Very Awesome Quieter Shit playlist, which is what I rock when I’m reading the paper on weekends. I’m telling you this because it sort of lets you know the threshold of awesomeness that this song cleared very quickly.
#14 ‘I Won’t Be Found’, Tallest Man On Earth
This man is supposedly some sort of Swede or something. Swedes, right? Who knew. I highly recommend this record, the guy is a great songwriter, the lyrics are very well done, and more than likely, some asshole will compare him to Bob Dylan because he writes songs and plays a guitar.
I did have this thought for no particular reason: whenever Big Head Todd and the Monsters were on David Letterman, Dave would always introduce them by saying ‘Have you seen the size of this guy’s head?’ I can only imagine the fun we would all have if this guy ever ended up on Dave’s show.
#13 ‘Oxford Comma’, Vampire Weekend
What a stupid name for a band. I dig this song, mainly because the meaning I took away from it was that it was a middle finger to snooty types who care about things like punctuation. And since you asked, Mr. Weekend, I do not give a fuck about an Oxford comma.
#12 ‘Aretha, Sing One For Me’, Cat Power
Her EP late in the year was shockingly bad, and I’m very much over the whole ‘I’m too nervous and too beautiful and too drugged to put on a full show that people fucking paid to see’, but you can’t deny the talent here.
#11 ‘Love That Girl’, Raphael Saadiq
This record will get you laid. It also sounds like classic Motown, you’ll swear you’ve heard these songs before. Also, IT WILL GET YOU LAID.
#10 ‘Tokyo Moon’, Windmill
This was a real find off of the Indiefeed podcast for me. Kind of a weird song, but it works, and there’s a Youtube clip with some guy dressed up as a mad scientist singing the backing vocals here, which you’d think more bands would have the sense to do. The rest of the album is great and I was tempted to put in ‘Plastic Pre-Flight Seats’ here instead, but She Hate Me had it on his list, so we’re done here.
#9 ‘White Winter Hymnal’, Fleet Foxes
It seems like a memo went out sometime around December 1st that everyone had to make this their number one song of the year. It wasn’t THAT great, but it is pretty great. These guys sound like Crosby Stills & Nash with more hair and less balls.
One outstanding question: Can this be included in my Christmas playlist due to the repeated references to snow? Santa says yes.
#8 ‘I Thought I Saw Your Face Today’, She & Him
The first time I heard this album, I thought it was a record full of covers. I assumed this because so many of the songs sounded like classics I’d heard before, maybe something my Mom was playing when I was a kid. I’d fumble for the lyrics in my head and come up with nothing.
Probably if you’re ever dating a girl this is a good present, for the next 25 years or so. Dudes can still like it. It has this old sound and it’s one of the few times where an actor thought they could transition into music and they were absolutely 100% right. Kudos to M. Ward for being a part of it, I’m increasingly of the mind that he is possessed of an odd genius, and a bag of shit and a lighter to the front doorstep of Keanu Reeves. Dogstar? Please.
#7 ‘You! Me! Dancing!’, Los Campesinos
Some of this band’s songs are really annoying and they need some friends to say ‘Stop. Stop with the shouting.’ But the opening guitar is incredibly rocking and the lyrics are there for anyone who jumped around their room with a tennis racket. I did so, and I was usually Pete Townshend, until I saw the cover of The Who’s ‘It’s Hard’ and that sort of ruined things for me. Great single, worth more than 99 cents, so look at it as an investment.
#6 ‘Self Destructive Zones’, Drive By Truckers
With all of the incredibly annoying shit that Congress is always investigating, may I humbly submit that there be some sort of Commerce Committee investigation into how these guys were left completely off of so many top 50 lists after this album? Not to mention that Patterson Hood sounds like a) a very cool name for a Civil War general or b) an action hero known to slap dogs around? No? No one with me here?
In 4:12 Patterson takes us through the recent history of music in his own special all-balls, no-bullshit sort of way. It should be played at a phenomenal decibel level, and that is my advice for 2009.
#5 ‘Fake Empire (Live)’, The National
Every song means something different to everyone, and to me the Fake Empire was always NYC, but maybe it’s not. It probably is. Anyway.
Saw these guys open up for Arcade Fire awhile back with Matt Berninger limping around and this annoying girl spilling beer everywhere behind us. They made it work and were worthy of the main act, which is a huge compliment when you’re preceding the happy Montrealers.
What a take on an already terrific song for twilight. The end of this song, the end of this goddamn song, it moves to this crescendo and it should be in a movie or something. I listen to this whenever I’m getting ready to go out somewhere, half awake, no way I’m picking apples or making pie, but you can bet we’re putting a little something in our lemonade, and take it with us.
#4 ‘El Paso’, Jason Anderson
A few reviews I saw of this album called the Wolf Colonel naïve and easy to make fun of, but they can go screw, because this was one of the best albums of the year. We had this music teacher in the 3rd grade who was single-handedly responsible for my inability to sing a note for the rest of my life because she insisted we ‘sing it from our souls’, which made me want to hit someone with a guitar because it was so corny.
Anderson was the guy in class who listened to her, and he carries through on every song. This guy means what he says. The comparisons to Spingsteen are inevitable and believable and you should buy all his records. He sounds like the kind of guy you’d have over to play in your house and he wouldn’t be at all embarrassed to rock out a room full of you and your friends.
#3 ‘The Rabbit, the Bat and the Reindeer’, Dr. Dog
It is with deep embarrassment that I did not acknowledge my love for Dog, MD until this year. The harmonies, the weird little asides during songs, the way voices fade in and out, the start and stop of the songs, they’re perfect.
I also submit this as ‘Wrap-up of the Year’ for the part from ‘I’m getting it back with that terrible feeling …’ onwards. Fuck yeah, Senor Dog.
#2 ‘Frankie’s Gun’, The Felice Brothers
Bang bang bang went Frankie’s gun, and so the guy singing the song is probably not doing so hot. Or so I would imagine. We can safely assume this is being sung in a rehab facility of some sort or another, and that a colostomy bag does not affect one’s vocal chords.
The Brothers Felice garner a lot of comparisons to The Band, and that’s fair, but whatever, they’re awesome. The song lets you know immediately that this is a band you absolutely want to see live while incredibly drunk.
#1 ‘Constructive Summer’, The Hold Steady
How could anyone listen to the opening chords of this song and not pump their fist, high five the neighbor, slam a beer and punch their nemesis in the face? Fucking right we’re gonna build something this summer, Craig Finn.
Before I listened to this, it had never occurred to me to drink on top of water towers, and it still seems really, really dangerous, but I’m kind of up for it now, and if the Hold Steady brings the ladder, I’m totally down for climbing.
Thirty years ago, Scott Muni would have been wheezing down a microphone at WNEW and proclaiming that this band was saving rock n roll all over again, and it does need saving every so often.
I love this song, I love this band and so what if I’m a recently married thirtysomething guy who’s friends are all having kids and leaving the city and maybe we don’t hang out and drink so much anymore, and that happens to be EXACTLY what this band sings about? This song was my number one from the first time I heard the opening chords. Well done, Hold Steady.