John Walker's Electronic House

Songs Of The Year 2009

by on Dec.31, 2009, under The Rest

It’s been a funny year for albums. Well, from my perspective at least. Which is a weird perspective, and I blame Spotify. I’ve not had the sense to pay attention to what’s making waves for years, but I’ve still been vaguely aware of who’s around, a bit of what’s happening. Mostly through friends’ recommending stuff. But that seems to have dried up this year too – maybe the John Walker Music barriers broke and bothered everyone around me too much. In fact, I think all the best music tips I’ve had this year have been from Tifaux writer Dan Miller via his Twitter feed. But I’m mostly blaming Spotify and its links at the top to try other stuff, letting me hop around without remembering where I’ve been. And I’m blaming the always-excellent 3WK Underground Radio, which as ever I treat like a great friend whom I constantly forget to call. But whenever we do hang out it’s so inspirational I scribble notes throughout. Names of bands to check out, which now of course means typing their name into Spotify, then YouTube.

When I look through the lists letting us know what’s best of 2009 rather than react in either agreement or disgust, instead my response is one of: “Who?” I’ve completely lost touch. And I really don’t yet get The Animal Collective. Which leaves me in the the street, looking through the window unsure if I want to be inside. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t loved lots of songs this year. Loads have stood out.

So rather than albums, this year for me it’s been songs. Here are some songs, not in any useful order, but all great. Remind me of anything I’ve forgotten.

Math The Band – Tour de Friends

I’m so delighted I discovered Math The Band this year. They remind me of bands discovered at Moles’ Purr night years ago, impossibly perfect shouted excitement over the top of Casio tunes and madcap drums. In fact, I can’t think of a band I’m more keen to see live. Everything on Don’t Worry is great, but my favourite is Tour De Friends. There’s no video for it, so I was going to put a pictureless video of it. But there’s a live version that while distorted is too fantastic not to use. So here it is.

Owen – Good Friends, Bad Habits

Owen songs may all sound the same, but Mike Kinsella is a man of variety (Joan Of Arc, Cap’n Jazz, American Football). It’s just this particular solo project doesn’t meander far from one theme. A theme of outrageously beautiful guitar and string-filled tunes croaked over with chatty, confessional tales. Good Friends, Bad Habits embodies this perfectly, although is perhaps the most distinctive song on this year’s New Leaves album, and has probably been the video I’ve found myself watching more often than any other this year.

Aesop Rock – Coffee (Instrumental) (sort of)

I’m cheating somewhat here. In 2009 Aesop Rock put out another version of 2007’s None Shall Pass, the Instrumentals And Accapellas album. It’s fantastic, a really interesting collection. It includes the instrumental of the track Coffee, recorded with John Darnielle, which is what I’m putting below. Still, the 2009 album is magnificent.

The Rural Alberta Advantage – In The Summertime

If I’d discovered the Friends In Bellwoods album earlier than last week I think this would be a very different list. It’s packed with amazing songs. I discovered it after listening to The Rural Alberta Advantage, linked from somewhere. Hometowns is a great album, and it closes with this delicate, lovely song.

Matt & Kim – Lessons Learned

Last year’s Daylight was definitely my favourite pop song of 2008. The whole album proved to be fantastic, with Lessons Learned standing out, not least because of it’s brilliant video.

Hello Saferide – X telling me about the loss of something dear, at age 16

The Hello Saferide album, More Modern Short Stories From Hello Saferide, is packed with fantastic Swedish pop, biting lyrics to ludicrously bright and cheery tunes. Nothing captures this better than X telling me about the loss of something dear, at age 16, the story of a girl’s uncomfortable and unpleasant loss of virginity, set to a tune that sounds like it should be celebrating the cuteness of puppies. The accompanying video is equally disingenuous, showing a bunch of men pratting around in a dance studio, attempting to learn from lead singer Annika Norlin’s choreography, then switching midway to an amateur showtunes performance. The whole album is great, all here on Spotify. Also, check out If I Don’t Write This Song Someone I Love Will Die from their 2005 album.

Anni Rossi – Machine

Originally called Arctic Swing, Machine is the fabulous opener of Rossi’s album, Rockwell. A lot of the songs were originally released on 2008’s EP Afton, itself a collection of her previous singles and MySpace tracks. Signed to 4AD and with Steve Albini producing, the album doesn’t let her girl-and-viola sound get over-produced or lost in the mix. However, my favourite version of Machine is one recorded for Handheld Shows, in a very cold street in an Oslo winter.

Ida Maria – Oh My God

Another song that seems impossibly missing from the 2009 lists is this piece of pop. I dunno, maybe I’m failing to be impossibly cool about something or other, but Oh My God is brilliantly fun, and seems to manage to be both novel and incredibly obvious at the same time. It was originally released in 2007 to no non-Scandinavian success, and then again in January 2009, to almost no success. Still, I think it’s great.

The Mountain Goats – Ezekiel 7 and The Permanent Efficacy of Grace

How could I not? This isn’t the best track on the album, but it’s the only one with a video. And it’s a brilliant track. The whole album took a lot longer for me to align with than the last couple. It’s subtler, smarter, less angst-driven. Darnielle can do no wrong, and as ever competes in my head with Nick Cave for all-time favourite status.

Busdriver – Me – Time

I am utterly mystified that Jhelli Beam isn’t appearing on best of the year lists. It’s the smartest album of the year, and Me – Time is an obvious attention-grabbing single with a stunning video. Perhaps there’s no track as brilliant as 2005’s Unemployed Black Astronaut, but Jhelli Beam is far more varied, peculiar and exploratory. Tracks like Unsafe Sextet and Sorry, Fuckers (the latter mocking commercial club anthems) boast Busdriver’s ridiculous intelligence, and constant frustration with everything else in the world. It’s hard work to fathom exactly what he’s angry about a lot of the time, but it’s more than pleasant to just let it wash over you. Anyway, there’s no other song I could pick than Me – Time, where he somehow manages to make Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major sound like it can’t keep up with him, along with one hell of a creepy video.

Rock Plaza Central – Oh I Can

Once again I’ve had to squeegee my eyes in confusion at the complete absence of Rock Plaza Central’s At The Moment Of Our Most Needing from the end-of-year lists. Their previous album, Are We Not Horses, was trumpeted from the rooftops by places like Pitchfork, and featured in Best Of lists all over. In fact, At The Moment received a rave review on Pitchfork, who them forgot it so entirely that it does not receive even an honourable mention. I can only imagine some terrible mass hypnosis occurred across all the music reviewing world, as this is one of the finest albums of the decade, let alone the year. It may not have been a concept album about the rise of steel horses, but come on! I’ve picked the opening track because it so magnificently sets the mood for the rest of the album, a set of tracks that feel like a band of men boldly striding through a post-apocalyptic world, arriving with vigour in Oh I Can. It’s live, because there’s no official videos for any of the tracks, which means it’s not well recorded sadly. It’s all on Spotify, of course.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Luke

    I don’t think there’s any single track worth mentioning but Mos Def’s The Ecstatic is really surprisingly good and it’s on Spotify in full, unlike The Black Key’s Blakroc project which is missing the first track.

  • Andy

    Wow thanks for the Owen recommendation. I used to absolutely love American Football but never really got into his other stuff. Loving Owen now :D

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