Ten Years is a Long Time

Ten years is a long time. I've been sort of thinking about what my favorite albums and songs of the last ten years are and it's a pretty tough list to make. I'm not even sure what the criteria would (or should) be. Anyway, here is a rough go at a few of my favorite albums of the last decade.

Bjork: Vespertine ("Coccoon", YouTube link)

Vespertine was a Christmas gift from my dad -- I listened to it while falling asleep every night for probably a year? When I think of this album I think of going to bed at 7, lying still and curled up and bundled under lots of blankets, heavy snow, dark skies, feeling safe and sad.

Carrie Nations: Be Still (Sample mp3s on MySpace, "Fireman's Bakesale" m4a)

I think a lot about the punk years: the sloppy kids in messy houses drinking and shouting and drinking some more. I think a lot about how I tried to glamorize that whole travesty -- tried to talk it up through the construction of community, intentional living, fucking the man, whatever. I ignored: substance abuse, misogyny, racism, general teenage fuck-uppery. But this: this album was the teenage punk rock utopia I dreamed of. 13 songs in less than 28 minutes. Songs that you can scream along with. Vocals that have that Westerberg edge of longing that make mediocre songs great. Especially on "Fireman's Bakesale." Be Still is $5 via Plan It X -- actually, I guess it's out of print now? If anyone's interested, I can upload it.)

Churchbuilder: Patty Darling

I know I've written about Churchbuilder before, but this album was it for awhile. This album was a whole identity and existence compressed into sweet pop songs: trying on vintage clothing at the Renaissance Parlour while "Vespa" played in the background, lounging in bed with best friends listening to "Hey Flannery," shouting along with "French Kiss Conspiracy" ("It was your kiss! That threw me! It was your kiss! You killed me!") This album was pure teenage longing and desperation and misunderstood intelligence and aptitude and I loved it. I love it.

I Like Japanese Hardcore: Live (Free download on archive.org)

I wasn't going to put this on here. I wasn't going to talk about it -- it was just a weird CD-R with little animals drawn on it and it's sort of like how when you go to an open mic night and you just know it's going to be dudes covering Jack Johnson or whatever? Except this is sort of like an indie girl open mic night where every song sounds a little bit like Go Sailor (that saccharine pop with a hidden razor sharp edge). My favorite line: I'm not a loser baby, losing you's not gonna kill me. This whole album is me trying to get up the nerve to end a relationship, singing along over and over: "You're no Calvin Johnson, don't want your lo-fi love songs!" The earnestness of this album is something that made me feel capable.

Jen Wood: This Uncontainable Light EP (Ride mp3)

I have this tremendously vivid memory of waiting and waiting for this to come in the mail and finally getting it in mid-summer, graduation party season. Driving home from a party thrown by someone I didn't know, being driven by someone I didn't like. It was the summer before my senior year of high school. I loved the song "Ride" intensely, with all the passion my 16 year old heart could muster.

Le Tigre: s/t ("Phanta", YouTube link)

I got Le Tigre's first album as a gift for my 13th birthday along with a Le Tigre t-shirt that my Uncle had won from a call-in contest on college radio. I played this CD non-stop, continuing my love affair with Kathleen Hanna that lasted well into my teens. My favorite song was "Phanta" -- I spent a lot of time feeling like I was falling apart (and sometimes actually falling apart), but something about the way Kathleen wailed, "now here's all right" helped me to feel whole. (later, when Feminist Sweepstakes came out, I felt the same way about the speaking part in "Tres Bien").

Mirah: You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like This ("Telephone Wires" (Live, incomplete), YouTube link)

Everything always ends up being about Mirah. If I'm talking about what I listened to over the last decade, the answer is: Mirah. Mirah is what I listened to in middle school and high school and college and now that I'm out of college I am still listening to Mirah. This Christmas my boyfriend bought me a Mirah record (the vinyl reissue of You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like This) -- he got me a Mirah record last Christmas, too (College Park is Always Ready to Party). And when I think of my best records of the last twenty years and the last thirty years of the twenty first century or whatever, it will probably always be Mirah.

The Sissies: Everything In the World ("87" m4a, "Stand Up" m4a)

When I was in the eighth grade my mom was driving me to school and we were listening to "Stone Cold Bikini" (a local college radio program) and I heard "Stand Up" by the Sissies and it stayed lodged in my brain forever after that. At the time I was really into DIY and punk and writing and music that was pro-girl and pro-queer and my whole identity was essentially rooted in these quirky interests fed almost entirely by zines and music and the Sissies were like the epitome of the tiny posi culture I was building for myself. Everything In the World collects everything the Sissies ever did and puts it out on one CD for $5. You can order it here, from Plan-it-X.

(Other things that could have gone on this list: Fevers and Mirrors by Bright Eyes, Pink Hearts Yellow Moons by Dressy Bessy, Saddle the Bridge by Bonfire Madigan, Day One by Sarah Dougher, lots and lots of others.)


"Don't Give Up" LAKE

I don't know how I did it, but I managed to leave LAKE's "Don't Give Up" off of my top songs of 2009. What was I thinking? This song is so good. So good that I listened to it at least 10 times in a row while stuck in traffic.

I love the horns in this and totally don't care that it sounds a little AM Radio/Easy Listening/whatever. It's bleak and it's cold and it's too warm to snow but too wet to rain, so slush is coming down from the sky and it generally feels like a pretty miserable existence right now, but when I'm listening to this song, I feel GREAT & great is what I need right now.

"Don't Give Up" is off of LAKE's second full-length, Let's Build A Roof. They just wrapped up a tour with Karl Blau (I'm still kicking myself for not seeing them when they were in Cleveland). You can order Let's Build A Roof from K Records.

"Don't Give Up" LAKE

College Songs

"Hipsville (Where the Frisbees Fly Forever)" (Robert Pollard)
"Untitled" (P.S. Eliot)

Oh, college! We had (and continue to have) such a trying and ambiguously defined relationship! I hated almost every moment of you -- at least, all of the social "college-y" moments -- and yet I graduated only to get a job working at a college! And have recent applied to graduate school! What is wrong with me?!

So, college songs -- as in, "songs about college," not, "songs I listened to a lot during college" (which would be a completely different list, dominated by a weird mix of saccharine pop and blisteringly depressing dirges).

Robert Pollard's "Hippsville (Where the Frisbees Fly Forever") is the view outside my dorm window -- shirtless, well-muscled fraternity brothers roaming rolling green hills with bags of frisbees for their "Frisbee Golf" and "Ultimate Frisbee" teams. (I have never used the word 'frisbee' so many times in such quick succession -- it doesn't even seem like a real word.) Not that I have anything against athleticism (or frisbees), but the idea of frisbee season (which was, loosely, March/April through October/November) always got me to gritting my teeth. As Pollard mindlessly repeats: "Don't you just like college/Don't you just like college," I am reminded of myself, headphones on, scowling for four years straight. I never learned how to throw a frisbee quite right.

P.S. Eliot's "Untitled" from their Bike Wreck!!! demo is the quintessential spring break song. Opening with a somewhat ill-performed rendition of "Amazing Grace" on the recorder and segueing into the girls chanting "Skinny bitches! Spring Break! College! Beers! Hotlanta!" over and over -- it is every post spring break conversation I've ever heard distilled into a chorus of cheap beers and mindless exclamations, concentrating all that ever was and ever will be MTV's spring break coverage into its true glory: I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.

"Hipsville (Where the Frisbees Fly Forever)" (Robert Pollard)
"Untitled" (P.S. Eliot)

Pretending to See the Future

"Secret" (Laura Watling)
"If You Leave" (Free Loan Investments)
"Tesla Girls" (F.K.A. Oedipusaurus Rex)

I bought Pretending to See the Future on a whim about 5 years ago when Shelflife Records had a moving sale (almost all CDs just one dollar! who could say no?) & while some tracks were certainly misses, there were others that were total hits.

Laura Watling's "Secret" has a soft, ethereal sound. Her vocals are sweet but unassuming & accented nicely by the little bleeps and bloops in each chorus. Shelflife has sold out of all their Laura stuff, but you can still get a few comps that Laura contributed to from Tonevendor. If you're a fan of Rose Melberg's solo stuff, I would recommend searching out Laura's full-length Early Morning Walk (actually, if anyone's looking for it, I have a second copy.)

The Free Loan Investments' version of "If You Leave" is sublime! The first time I heard it, I thought it was a touch too cutesy (I think because of the vocals), but the more I hear it, the more I love it. It's energetic and definitely brings a different kind of life to the song. Free Loan Investments have a couple of releases still available through Shelflife: The Last Dance 7" and Ever Been to Mexico? CD EP.

Full disclosure: I don't know a whole lot (read: anything) about F.K.A. Oedipusaurus Rex, but I do love their cover of "Tesla Girls." I'm not intimately familiar with OMD's back-catalogue, but in my mind, this is one of the songs on Pretending to See the Future that seems to stick a little closer to the original. F.K.A. Oedipusaurus Rex does have a MySpace where you can hear some more of their songs.

Pretending to See the Future is out of print and no longer available from Shelflife, but there are a few used copies lurking around on Amazon.

"Secret" (Laura Watling)
"If You Leave" (Free Loan Investments)
"Tesla Girls" (F.K.A. Oedipusaurus Rex)

2009 in Sum

1. Henry Rollins Don't Dance - Allo, Darlin' (Download)

Allo, Darlin' caught me completely off-guard with this single, but I've been absolutely enthralled with it since I first heard it. It's silly, but I love songs that namedrop things I like (see "The International Tweexcore Underground Will Save Us All" by Los Campesinos!, "Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend's Too Stupid To Know About" by Tullycraft, "Hot Topic" by Le Tigre & loads of others), so a song that hits on both Black Flag and the movie-musical Grease is too much. On top of that, the horns make it supremely danceable and almost too catchy for its own good.

The Henry Rollins Don't Dance 7" is sold out (& before I managed to snag a copy for myself -- bummer), but Allo, Darlin' has a new 7" out now! Get it here.

Official Website

2. Fun - Sourpatch (Download)

Oh, Sourpatch! Perhaps one of my favorite new bands of 2009 -- and when I say "perhaps," know that I mean "definitely." Sourpatch is like a combo of every 90's indie pop California band that I've ever loved and "Fun" is the perfect sweet-sad friendship anthem. Sourpatch has an upcoming full-length on HHBTM that I can't wait to hear.

SP Post.

3. new lady - Rocket or Chiritori

I pretty much never buy albums on iTunes -- I prefer to have the physical product (whether it's vinyl, CD, cassette, whatever -- I'd take almost anything over a digital release), but I made an exception for the new album by Rocket or Chiritori and I'm so glad that I did. "new lady" is fantastic -- the same stripped down, lo-fi bedroom pop that I loved on Rocket or Chiritori's previous releases, but with a slightly (ever so slightly) more sophisticated sound. Since my copy of "new lady" is DRM protected, I can't upload it for you here, but it looks like you can listen to a live version on Rocket or Chiritori's MySpace.

post on Rocket or Chiritori.

4. Save Me From My Lethargy - Weed Hounds (Download)

Weed Hounds are another one of my favorite new bands of 2009. Their four song cassette demo caught my ear & I've been happily listening to it on and off since I first heard it. You can purchase the cassette from Crooked Direction Records for $6.50 or download it from I Could Die Tomorrow. Weed Hounds have a fuzz pop shoegaze sound that reminds me of a blend of Dinosaur Jr. and Swirlies, which is pretty cool. Weed Hounds also have an upcoming 7" on Rok Lok Records.


5. My Heart - The Smith Westerns (Download)

The Smith Westerns were the first band I blogged about here! I saw them open for Los Campesinos! this year and was pleasantly surprised by their fuzz pop sound. I also really loved that they were a group of high energy young people playing infectious 2-3 minute songs. I'm a sucker for a great, brief pop song & the Smith Westerns have a whole album full, though "My Heart" (the album's closer) is my stand-out favorite. You can get their self-titled album on HoZac.

SP Post.

6. The Tenure Itch - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Download)

The Pains had a load of great releases this year -- a great album, a great EP, a great 7" -- it was hard to pick just one song, so I went with my first favorite, "The Tenure Itch" from their self-titled album. When I first heard the Pains full-length, this song jumped right out at me. I was thrilled to hear them play it the first time I saw them live & even though they've kept releasing fantastic pop songs all year long, this one is still at the top of my list. You can stock up on Pains releases from Slumberland.

Official Website
SP Post.

7. Over It - Dinosaur Jr. (Download)

This year was the year of Dinosaur Jr. I saw them three times in the span of 8 months & they wowed me every time. On top of that, they put out another amazing album with Farm & the first single, "Over It," caught my eye with what is probably my favorite music video of this year. I really don't know what else to say -- Dinosaur Jr. knows exactly what they are doing and they are awesome at it.

Official site

8. Education - Mirah (Download)

Oh, Mirah. Mirah, Mirah, Mirah. I don't even know what to say -- I just get all gushy whenever I think of her, which doesn't exactly make for great prose. I first heard Mirah play "Education" sometime in 2008? 2007? It's hard for me to remember now -- it was at a small, ill-attended show in Columbus and it knocked the wind out of me. I love how insightful Mirah is, how sharp and true her lyrics are, and how although her writing is often sad, it can also be overpoweringly hopeful.

K Recs Press Kit
SP Post

9. Like How You Are - P.S. Eliot (Download)

P.S. Eliot's Bike Wreck demo was one of my most listened to releases during my senior year of college -- I turned out many a half-hearted paper and lesson plan to P.S. Eliot's riot grrrl influenced songs & spent a long time awaiting the release of their debut album Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Minds. "Like How You Are" appeared on both P.S. Eliot's 2008 demo and their 2009 album and it's definitely one of their strongest tracks. You can order P.S. Eliot's full-length from Salinas Records.

SP Post

10. Beautiful Things - Quasi (Download)

Quasi's cover of "Beautiful Things" (originally by the 3D's) was, for me, the standout track on Merge's Score! compilation. Something about this song is extremely uplifting -- every time I hear it, I'm left feeling extremely hopeful. It's just a great, great pop song.

1. (a)spera - Mirah

I'm not going to lie -- I was feeling apprehensive about Mirah's most recent album. While I'll always call Mirah my favorite artist, some of her recent collaborations with the Black Cat Orchestra had been leaving me a bit cold. I missed the total and complete intimacy of a Mirah solo album -- & that's exactly what (a)spera delivered on.

2. s/t - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

It was my boyfriend who really, really pushed me to listen to the Pains and wow, I'm glad that he did. I had always been a Slumberland Records fan, but was ready to write the Pains off as too much for me -- I like bedroom pop, I tend to prefer groups that are less musically proficient -- I don't really know where I'm going with this, but while my boyfriend was pushing me to listen to the Pains, I was busy listening to an old Delta Dart cassette tape & not paying attention. I'm so, so glad that I finally listened. The Pains remind me of all my favorite My Bloody Valentine songs in the best possible way.

3. s/t - The Smith Westerns

The Smith Westerns came out of left field for me. I had never heard of them and they ended up as the opening act for Los Campesinos! when I saw them earlier this year. It was, obviously, a pleasant surprise. I didn't realize how much I liked the album until I realized that I had Smith Westerns songs stuck in my head on a daily basis.

4. Middle Cyclone - Neko Case

Middle Cyclone was actually my most played album of 2009, so I'm not 100% sure why it's not at the top of this list. I love Neko Case -- I love her voice and I love her stylized alt-country solo records. I love that she was in Cub, though I could take or leave the New Pornographers. I love this record. I love "I'm An Animal" and "People Got A Lotta Nerve." I love her lyrics, even in their most awkward moments -- "I love girls in white leather jackets" makes some of my friends cringe, but it makes me wish I had a white (faux) leather jacket. Writing this gives me the feeling that this album will have staying power for me that some of my other favorite albums of the year might not have.

5. Farm - Dinosaur Jr.

Oh, Dinosaur Jr. Ok, so I had never heard of Dinosaur Jr. until Grace of My Heart came out and my parents played the soundtrack incessantly. I could take or leave many of the songs on that soundtrack, but J. Mascis's "Take A Run At The Sun" was one of the most awesome things my 9 year-old self had ever heard. My senior year of college I read Our Band Could Be Your Life and seriously listened to Dinosaur Jr. for the first time. Then I graduated, just a few months before Farm came out, and set about seeing Dinosaur Jr. every time they played in the state of Ohio. Beyond was an amazing comeback & I was worried that Farm might be a let-down. Thankfully, I was very, very wrong.

I also loved: Rose Melberg's Homemade Ship, Bunnygrunt's Matt Harnish and Other Delights, Girls' Album, Pants Yell!'s Received Pronunciation, Now We Can See by the Thermals (who also put on a great show in Cleveland in April) & though it's not technically out yet, I have high hopes for Sourpatch's upcoming album on Happy Happy Birthday To Me.

1. Los Campesinos! (with Girls and The Smith Westerns) in Cleveland, OH

I bought tickets for Los Campesinos! immediate after they went on sale & the closer the show got, the less I felt like going. I even considered dipping out at the last minute, mainly because I can be a bit socially anxious and hate to get beer spilled on me, which can be sort of inevitable at these sorts of events. But oh my god, what a great show. The Smith Westerns and Girls were the two best openers I saw this year & Los Campesinos! BLEW MY FUCKING MIND. I'm not even kidding. I had intended to be "cool" at this show, but could not stop myself from dancing, jumping, screaming, and throwing my fist in the air for all of my favorite lines. The band was remarkable -- consistently high energy throughout the entire set, coming down into the audience, making their way to the back of the venue & staying long after the night had come to an end to chat with everyone who was around. Color me impressed, Los Campesinos!

2. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (with the Afternoon Naps and Zaza) in Cleveland, OH

I saw the Pains twice this summer, once in Cleveland, OH and once in Portland, OR. While the Portland show had better openers (Girls, the Champagne Socialists), the sound and vibe at the Cleveland show was way better. The Pains won me over at their Cleveland show & I'm still bumming about not having the opportunity to see them more that twice before they took off for their overseas dates.

3. Jonathan Richman (with Vic Chestnutt) in Cleveland, OH

I saw Jonathan Richman for the second time this summer and it was an amazing experience. Jonathan played a perfect set blending newer numbers with some of my old favorites (it was particularly nice to hear "Velvet Underground"). Jonathan played with such complete and total enthusiasm, which was really wonderful &, unfortunately, all too rare sometimes.

4. Dinosaur Jr. (with Lou Barlow and the Missingmen) in Columbus, OH

I saw Dinosaur Jr. three times this year, but their show in Columbus was, by far, my favorite. Lou Barlow opened with the Missingmen (Mike Watt's group) & it was awesome to see Lou on his own playing solo material. The group played more or less the same set each time I saw them, but the Columbus show had a nice energy & the venue was great. I was also surprised by how relaxed the crowd was -- there was a lot of fighting when I saw Dinosaur Jr. in Cleveland, but none of that in Columbus, which was much appreciated since I tend to be the poor, oblivious fool who catches and elbow in the face or a foot in the head.

5. Sufjan Stevens (with Cryptacize) in Cleveland, OH

Seeing Sufjan Stevens was an unexpected experience for me, but a very, very good one. You can read my review of the show here.

(See a complete list of attended shows here.)

In order to see what I actually listened to the most this past year, you can creep on my last.fm.

"3 Wise Men and a Baby (Xmas Song)" (The Cavedogs)
"Piece for Christmas" (Big People)

I'm not exactly 100% crazy about Christmas or Christmas music & neither is my family & neither is my partner, & really, the only Christmas music I recall hearing my parents play is the Beach Boys' Christmas Album, my mom's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" 45" & a 1991 comp called Yuletunes: A Collection of Alternative Pop Christmas Songs which is -- surprisingly -- stunning. While I more or less dread hearing Christmas classics & original Christmas type songs recorded by popular artists, there are a few notable exceptions: the aforementioned Beach Boys' Christmas Album, the Pretenders' "2,000 Miles," & the majority of the songs on Yuletunes.

"3 Wise Men and a Baby (Xmas Song)" by the Cavedogs is weird -- it skips around genres, has a few "sound collage" elements and sometimes I forget why I profess to like it so much -- but right around 2 minutes and 45 seconds in, it gets really, really beautiful. the band incorporates some sound clips from Capra's It's A Wonderful Life, which sounds like a cheesy and terrible move until you hear it for yourself & the whole song enters into this really gorgeous, blissed out space that I absolutely love.

"Piece for Christmas" by Big People reminds me a bit of Tullycraft recording a Christmas song (probably because of the lead singer's voice). I love the opening lines: I saw you in a parking lot/Where they used to sell pumpkins and Elvis paintings/You were buying a Christmas tree/I recognized you but you could not place me." (As an aside: this group is not the same Big People that featured the late Benjamin Orr. Sorry Cars fans.) Whenever I hear this, I feel impossibly, explodingly happy, even though it's a little bit goofy.

Yuletunes is not out of print & though used copies crop up from time to time on Amazon, they typically sell for a bit more than I would recommend paying. If anyone's interested in hearing the rest of the album I'm happy to upload it, just ask in the comments.

"3 Wise Men and a Baby (Xmas Song)" (The Cavedogs)
"Piece for Christmas" (Big People)

Indie Pop Plays the Monkees

A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (Coloring Book)
Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) (Bike Ride)
Pleasant Valley Sunday (MaryKate O'Neil)

The other day I was musing that I would really like to do for the Monkees what the girls over at nogoodforme are doing for the Beatles, but honestly? I just don't think I have that kind of dedication.

That said, there's certainly a special place in my heart for the Pre-Fab Four and there has been since my childhood. I have many exceptionally fond memories of listening to my mother's Monkees records and watching old video cassettes with various episodes of their TV show taped off of MTV. (A long-time favorite was that one where the Monkees had to tutor that girl whose dad owned some sort of country club.) I was also a proud owner of the Monkees novel Who's Got the Button? whose plot eerily mimics that of David Benioff's City of Thieves, except it is not set in Leningrad during WWII and it stars the Monkees.

I found the Planting Seeds Records comp Through the Looking Glass: Indie Pop Plays the Monkees in the used bin at an Amoeba Records in Los Angeles. And it was worth every penny.

The standout tracks for me are Coloring Book's cover of "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" (instrumental) and Bikeride's "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)." Fact: Both of these songs were written by Neil Diamond. Fact: Neil Diamond wrote all of the best Monkees songs (take that Boyce and Hart!) Goffin & King come close to dethroning Diamond based solely on "Pleasant Valley Sunday," which is performed by MaryKate O'Neil on this album.

A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (Coloring Book)
Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) (Bike Ride)
Pleasant Valley Sunday (MaryKate O'Neil)


Where Eagles Dare pt. II (Bunnygrunt)
Alone in My Principles (Bunnygrunt)

Last night I saw what will probably be my last concert of the year -- a Bunnygrunt in-store performance at Used Kids records in Columbus. I've never seen Bunnygrunt before, but they're a long-time favorite of my. I thought about not going, but my boyfriend said I should ("When are you going to get the chance to see Bunnygrunt again?") and I'm glad that I did. They put on a wonderful show & were joined by an accordion player for their last two songs, which was unexpected, but really sweet.

I'm assuming that Bunnygrunt took their show on the road to promote their new album, Matt Harnish & Other Delights, but it was a GBV tribute show that brought them to Columbus. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the GBV show (I've seen a few GBV shows in my time, but just don't think I have the stamina to make it through 10+ bands playing their favorite GBV songs -- though I can't help but wonder what a Bunnygrunt version of "Let's Ride" or "My Valuable Hunting Knife" might have sounded like).

I've uploaded two Bunnygrunt songs & my reasons for choosing them have a lot less to do with Bunnygrunt and a lot more to do with my outside interests -- "Where Eagles Dare pt. II" (while a sweet song in and of itself), speaks to the still 15 year-old part of me know for bellowing along with my favorite Misfits' HITS FROM HELL and "Alone in My Principles" strikes a chord because I have seriously seen That Thing You Do upwards of 30 times and picturing Steve Zahn ("There he goes, off to write that hit song Alone in My Principles") never fails to bring a smile to my face.

ANYWAY, I sure am glad that I went to see Bunnygrunt last night. You can see a running list of concerts I attended in 2009 here.

Where Eagles Dare pt. II (Bunnygrunt)
Alone in My Principles (Bunnygrunt)