So yes, 2009, speed of the pittsburgh sound’s first year of existence. It was a learning experience, that’s for damn sure. I went to more shows, absorbed more new music, and wrote more about that music than any time in my life. Trying to break away from the Pitchfork conventions of music review has truly been a struggle. After writing countless posts about videos, tracks, albums, music news and shows, I can now realize, for better or worse, how much that particular website has influenced my writing. Hopefully over the next year, I can become more comfortable in my own skin. Regardless of that little meditation, I am excited to bring you the first 20 of my top 70 songs of 2009.
Why 70? No clue. I edited down my iTunes “songs of the year” playlist t0 70 songs. It’s that simple. There is a mix, although not as much of a mix as I would like, of top forty hits, hip-hop and indie stuff. I tried to be eclectic but the list isn’t very worldly by any means. In the first 60 songs, I will be picking out highlights to review a little more closely, with the last 10 all getting the write ups they rightly deserve. Every song will be available to listen to but not download. And as for all you Pittsburgh upstarts pissed your band didn’t make this list, next week I will unveil my Top 20 Steel City Tracks of 2009, so hold your breath. Anyways, enjoy the list after the jump.
70 “Ramona” – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart radiate with an unexpected passion. They embrace late 90’s shoegaze pop/rock but enjoy the pieces that are catchy, upbeat and passionate. It’s a melancholy sound, sure, but not hopeless. “Ramona,” the b-side from the “Young Adult Friction” single, slows down their usual speed-Smiths style to a heavenly simple stomp that evokes a youthful potential from what seems to be crippling ennui.
The song opens with a quiet, existential state of affairs (“Nothing to do and nothing to be done/So you go and stole your mother’s medicine”) only to be immediately followed by a romantic declaration (“I don’t need time/I just need you”). At their best, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart can transform that adolescent, cryptic yearn for something more into raw, elemental desire.
69 “Heavy Drops” – Lights
68 “Never Had Nobody Like You” – M. Ward
67 “Acapella” – Kelis
The icy beats and cool electro of contemporary house music owe more to the Giorgio Moroder Italo-disco produced Donna Summer tracks from the mid 70’s than anyone could possibly realize. With “Acapella,” Kelis pays a healthy tribute to disco’s heritage by concocting an impressive fusion of modern dance tropes with the spacey, alien beauty of Summer’s gorgeous vocals.
“Before you, my whole life was acapella,” Kelis croons on the towering chorus amid the grimey synth hits, layers of clock work beats and cavernous production touches that make “Acapella” (a tounge-in-cheek title in its own right) a truly immersive experience. A club burner if there ever was one, “Acapella” seems destined to fuel 36 hour, blacked out Ibiza dance parties for decades to come.
66 “Jake Leg” – Baroness
Baroness’ latest, Blue Album, is a hairy, heaving metal monster, roaring with guitar pyrotechnics, dirgey mythology (the track “A Horse Named Golgotha” a shining example) and damn near flawless musicianship; all the things that appeal to me in metal, a genre in which, I’ll admit, I am not very familiar with. “Jake Leg,” arguably the album’s best track, compresses these attributes into a strangely esteemed slice of metal pop.
Muscular and melodic, ominous and complicated, the song is dynamic without being episodic, connecting a string of sophisticated compositions into a fully realized whole. Lead singer John Dyer Baizley vocals have weight to them, but never cross into indecipherable howls. “Lady! Keep those hounds at bay!” he yells in the middle bridge, and proves to be a very insightful personality trait of “Jake Leg” and Baroness as a whole: an impassioned dedication to honor even in the midst of chaos (in this case honor means melting your face off with insanely precise, double guitar blitzkriegs every 45 seconds). Well played, sirs, my god well played.
65 “The End is Near” – The Fiery Furnaces
64 “Prizefighter” – Eels
63 “Hannah, Please” – Drug Rug
62 “Swim (To Reach the End)” – Surfer Blood
Of all the hazy, suntastic, lo-fi surf rock acts of 09′ (Real Estate, Wavves, Girls among many others) Surfer Blood seem to be the only ones embracing a truly rocking, expansive sound. “Swim (To Reach the End)” is arena big, joyously crashing down in the first 30 seconds like a group of boulders rolling down a California cliff side and splashing into the Pacific Ocean.
Deliriously loud and affirmative, the track is a brilliant example of how the elements of a nubile (novelty?) genre can coalesce into impactful arse poetica. “Swim (To Reach the End)” isn’t inviting everyone to get lost in the sun and warmth of a magic hour beach party, its determined to be the end all be all of coastal anthems, pummeling listeners like a 15 foot swell punishing that surfer brah for having too good a time.
61 “Perfect Machine” – Big Spider Black
60 “I And Love And You” – The Avett Brothers
59 “Island, IS” – Volcano Choir
58 “When I’m Gone – The Vivian Girls
57 “Now We Can See” – The Thermals
56 “My Patriotism (Why? Remix)” – Serengeti & Polyphonic
55 “Luciana” – Rural Alberta Advantage
I’ll admit to searching for the next Jeff Mangum the minute I heard his voice in the opening moments of In The Aeroplane Over the Sea. The RAA’s lead singer Nils Edenloff has a knack for emoting in a nasally wail that matches Mangum’s surreal emotionality (i.e., a voice like this doesn’t come around very often). And with “Luciana” being the groups’ best homage to the Elephant Six stalwarts, you can’t help but start making comparisons.
The speedy but distorted acoustic splashes and whirlwind percussion turn the entire track into a thrashing hail storm not 20 seconds in, complete with an apocalyptic kitchen sink of threats (“the fire in my chest will extinguish when you’re dead”) rusty horns, and enough quiet/loud buildups to make your head spin. Listening to all of the RAA’s latest, Hometowns, you can’t help but get excited knowing these guys are carrying the torch for a whole new generation of listeners.
54 “Black Lake – Real Estate
53 “I Don’t Like Your Band” – Annie
52 “You Cried Me” – Jookabox
51 “11th Dimension” – Julian Casablancas