Procrastinators Gift Guide
Stocking Stuffers Oregon CDs for gifting (and getting)
Goldmines at the Groceries Unexpected places to find perfect gifts
Home Cookin, New Pacific Northwest cookbooks
The Soundtracks of Our Lives
Forget top 10 lists, those wonderful, agonizing things. For this year’s Procrastinator’s Gift Guide — in which we do like to talk about some of the year’s best music; CDs are such a nice size for stocking stuffers, and iTunes cards even nicer — I asked some of EW’s regular music writers to make mix CDs that would highlight some of their favorite songs from the past year. The rules were simple: 1. The great majority of the tracks had to be from 2009 (a few exceptions were permissible, since sometimes it takes time for records to really sink in) and 2. Each writer should also include a few “liner notes,” which could take whatever form he or she chose.
Delusionally, I thought this might be easier than weighing the merits of entire albums. And I thought it’d be fun. Fun, yes; easy? That might not be the right word. But it was worth it. Here, then, are the songs of our year. For more audible lists, go to blogs.eugeneweekly.com, where we’ll repost these lists with YouTube links for your listening pleasure. — Molly Templeton
As someone who spent the time between 2000 and 2009 decrying America (and, by extension, my own American-ness), 2009 was a time of reckoning. I was just shy of 16 years old when we, ah, “elected” George W. Bush, teaching me that no government is free of corruption. And yet, I’ve always been able to muster up some pride in America for giving birth to folk music. In its broadest definition, “folk music” is music made by and for the people, whether it’s Woody Guthrie’s famously misunderstood folk song “This Land Is Your Land” or N.W.A.’s “Fuck the Police.” Sonically, country and hip hop may have little in common, but it cannot be denied that they are both uniquely, inarguably American genres that have been, perhaps more than any other genre, utilized to spread powerful messages of protest and peace in the face of bigotry and abuse at the hands of the powerful.
I chose these songs not only because they are some of my favorite releases of 2009, but also because they speak to what it means to be an American at the dawn of a new era — one in which we will be forced to finally address the social and cultural issues we’ve been documenting for decades in our songs and our art. So here’s hoping we’ve finally got a government that’s paying attention not just to what titans of industry have to say, but to what the people have to say. Here’s hoping that in 2010 — and in the years that follow — we can start creating a world in which our gender, our race, our religion, our sexual orientations and the country in which we were born do not limit our choices.
1. K’naan, “America” from Troubadour
2. The Curious Mystery, “It’s Tough” from Rotting Slowly
3. Doom, “Rap Ambush” from Born Like This
4. THEE Satisfaction, “Bisexual” from Snow Motion EP
5. Steve Earle, “White Freightliner Blues” from Townes
6. Abstract Rude, “Nuff Fire” from Rejuvenation
7. Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, “Middle of Nowhere” from Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers
8. Califone, “Funeral Singers” from All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
9. Khingz, “Reach In” from From Slaveships to Spaceships
10. Mayer Hawthorne, “One Track Mind” from A Strange Arrangement
11. Brother Ali, “Bad Muthafucka” from Us
12. Charles Bradley & Menahan Street Band, “The World (Is Going Up In Flames)” from Daptone Gold
13. Blakroc, “Dollaz & Sense” feat. Pharoahe Monch & RZA from BlakRoc
14. Del the Funky Homosapien, “Get It Right Now!” from Funk Man (The Stimulus Package)
15. Son Volt, “When the Wheels Don’t Move” from American Central Dust
16. The Tea Cozies, “Behind the Glass Eye” from Hot Probs
17. Iron & Wine, “The Trapeze Swinger” from Around the Well
Top ten songs for a Christmas mix CD, in no particular order:
1. Wilco, “I’ll Fight” from Wilco (The Album)
One of the best Wilco songs ever, with Jeff Tweedy once again trying to break your heart with emotionally raw lyrics delivered in vocals that tremble with vulnerability and rage, all wrapped up in a bow of melodic perfection.
2. Built to Spill, “Nowhere Lullaby” from There Is No Enemy
On what might be Built to Spill’s finest work yet, and amid an album of great songs, this hypnotic ode to barely getting by epitomizes the burnt romanticism of Doug Martsch’s songwriting in a ballad that manages to be simultaneously sad and uplifting, without hitting a single false note.
3. Nirvana, “School” from Live at Reading
The recently released recording of Nirvana’s fabled ’92 Reading Festival performance perfectly captures the ferocity, humor and explosive energy of the band’s live shows, and this squealing bit of pre-Nevermind punk smells even better than teen spirit.
4. The Avett Brothers, “Kick Drum Heart” from I and Love and You
This wildly infectious piece of bubblegum pop, which sounds like an Appalachian version of XTC, is the red-headed stepchild on what might be the year’s best album, but it also shows the range and songwriting smarts of a band that refuses to coast on the coattails of critical acclaim.
5. Meaghan Smith, “Poor” from The Cricket’s Orchestra
Borrowing from Motown, the Big Band swing of Benny Goodman and the lush pop production of Phil Spector, this Canadian-born singer-songwriter has fashioned something that, like any pop classic, is wise in its simplicity, catchy as hell and sweet without being sappy.
6. Bob Dylan, “Must Be Santa” from Christmas in the Heart
Who’s got a voice that’s gruff and tight? Who sings this way — cough, cough, cough? Must be Santa, must be Santa, must be Santa, Santa Bob. Is this for real? When the chorus of “Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen” is interspersed with Clinton, Kennedy, Bush and Nixon, you realize that Dylan, whether fucking around or not, deserves a holiday album as much as anyone.
7. Rusty Willoughby, “Crown of Thorns” from Cobirds Unite
Founder of seminal ‘90s Seattle bands Pure Joy and Flop, Willoughby continues to evolve as a singer and songwriter, and “Crown of Thorns” finds him stripping everything to the bone, creating a song that has the terse poetry and urgency of a Townes Van Zandt ballad.
8. Sonic Youth, “Anti-Orgasm” from The Eternal
Roaring metallic guitar squelch, pounding drums, ‘60s throwback harmonies, call-and-response political rants, ascending feedback, noise, quiet bridge, explosion, fade out — this is quintessential Sonic Youth, who sound better than ever.
9. Cat Power, “Fortunate Son” from Dark End of the Street
Taking the strangest route imaginable, Chan Marshall turns this Credence protest song into something haunting and personal.
10. Bad Mitten Orchestre, “Saints of the Blue Avenue” from Saints of the Blue Avenue
A song in search of a soundtrack to the best black-and-white movie you’ve never seen.
When we first met, I had the highest hopes for you. Now that you’re racing your last lap toward the new year, I can’t wait to say goodbye. Many of my friends lost their jobs, which meant fewer people buying more rounds at the bar. My paychecks felt ever more like Monopoly money. But I still had paychecks to cash, and I haven’t lost my touch for mixing Manhattans at home.
In 2010, I will try to bitch as much as possible without hurting anyone’s feelings. I will walk more. I will smile more. I will listen to more music (which is saying a lot). I want to drink more wine, say nice things to my friends every time I see them and stop being so gosh darn negative and pessimistic (complete failure on this one in 2009). I will try to be more patient with my offspring. I will stop imagining that every song Blind Pilot writes is secretly about me. I like the feeling of being able to start over with good intentions.
I have only one thing to ask … 2010, can you please try to be a better year than 2009? Please? Thank you.
1. Blind Pilot, “One Red Thread” and “Two Towns From Me” from 3 Rounds And A Sound
2. Jenny Lewis, “Acid Tongue” from Acid Tongue
3. Yo La Tengo, “When It’s Dark” from Popular Songs
4. Neko Case, “This Tornado Loves You” from Middle Cyclone
5. Jay Reatard, “My Reality” from Watch Me Fall
6. Holy Grail, “Fight to Kill” from Improper Burial
7. Dethklok, “Bloodlines” from Dethalbum II
8. YOB, “The Great Cessation” from The Great Cessation
9. OM, “Cremation Ghat I” from God Is Good
10. Isis, “Threshold of Transformation” from Wavering Radiant
1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Zero” from It’s Blitz!
2. Fall Out Boy, “The Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes” from Folie à Deux
3. Phoenix, “1901” from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
4. Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” from The Blueprint 3
5. Tegan and Sara, “Hell” from Sainthood
6. Neko Case, “The Next Time You Say Forever” from Middle Cyclone
7. Samantha Crain, “Get the Fever Out” from Songs in the Night
8. Lykke Li, “Possibility” from The Twilight Saga: New Moon
9. Warpaint, “Billie Holiday” from Exquisite Corpse
10. Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance” from The Fame Monster
11. The Thermals, “Now We Can See” from Now We Can See
12. Passion Pit, “Little Secrets” from Manners
13. Metric, “Sick Muse” from Fantasies
14. Avett Brothers, “I and Love and You” from I and Love and You
15. Kingdom County, “Four Chamber Music” from Kingdom County
16. Frightened Rabbit, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” from The Winter of Mixed Drinks
17. Karen O and the Kids, “Sailing Home” from Where the Wild Things Are
A series of footnotes
1. It took me forever to realize how fantastic It’s Blitz! is. 2. An unguilty pleasure, though Infinity On High is a better record. 3. The chorus is irresistible. 4. New York is the other place I call home. I had to love this song. 5. Watch Amanda Palmer’s DIY YouTube video. 6. Still not sure I shouldn’t have included “I’m An Animal” instead. 7. Crain was one of the highlights of this year’s Pickathon. 8. Yes, it’s from New Moon. It’s also amazing. 9. “Billie Holiday” takes up the space of two other songs and still I had to include it. 10. That video! That chorus! 11. One hell of a singalong at Musicfest NW. 12. Still sulking that they haven’t made up their canceled EMU date. 13. Picking one track from Fantasies was ungodly hard. I also want “Help I’m Alive” and “Stadium Love.” 14. Love at first listen. 15. “And one more drink will unfold you” kinda sounds like poetry. 16. I’m counting the days until The Winter of Mixed Drinks comes out. 17. Because endings ought to be beautiful too.
A series of things like postscripts
THAT WHICH NEEDS MORE LISTENING: The Mountain Goats, Mos Def, Lucero, Young Galaxy, an incredible number of other things. THAT FROM WHICH I COULD NOT CHOOSE JUST ONE SONG: A.C. Newman, Get Guilty. THAT WHICH JUST DIDN’T FIT IN MY SEQUENCE: The Swell Season, “The Rain,” and Old Canes, “Little Bird Courage.” MY WEAKNESSES: Anthemic, theatrical, overwrought power pop. Bouncy, electro-pop songs that make me feel like Adam Goldberg in Dazed and Confused (“I wanna dance!”). Long, ruminating, quietly pulsing songs sunk into the middle of the tracklist. Harmonies. Angst. Wryness.