The Indie Handbook: best of 2009

The best according to Kristin:

10. Our Temperance Movement, Cats on Fire (Matinee)
9. A Balloon Called Moaning, The Joy Formidable (self-released)
8. The Yearling, Piney Gir (Hotel)
7. The Life of the World to Come, The Mountain Goats (4AD)
6. Where the Wild Things Are [soundtrack], Karen O. and the Kids (Interscope)
5. Tarpits and Canyonlands, Bombadil (Ramseur Records)
4. God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Rough Trade / Matador)
3. Aim and Ignite, fun. (Nettwerk)
2. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura (4AD)
1. Know Better Learn Faster, Thao w/ the Get Down Stay Down (Kill Rock Stars)

Honorable mentions: A Very Cherry Christmas 5, various artists (Cherryade); Reverence for Fallen Trees, The Black Atlantic (In a Cabin With / Beep! Beep! Back up the Truck)

The best according to Eric:

10. Rockwell, Anni Rossi (4AD) – If you caught Camera Obscura on their US tour this summer, you now have a better idea just what one girl and her viola are capable of, but I saw Anni twice this year, and I still can’t believe it.

9. Actor, St. Vincent (4AD) – Though my review of this album for a certain e-zine was “improved” by some hack of an editor who considered my avoidance of clichés downright unpalatable, Annie Clark remains one of the great musical geniuses at work these days.

8. The Big Machine, Emilie Simon (Barclay/Universal) – It’s a departure from her last (and my favorite) album, Végétal, but this, the first of what you might call Emilie’s “American” recordings, proves that a creative powerhouse starting anew is still better than any number of pop idols doing what they do best. [interview]

7. Uam, Julie Fowlis (Machair/Shoeshine/Cadiz) – I hesitated to include this since none of the songs on this album were even written in this century, but few (if any) have done more to make one of the world’s great musical traditions relevant again than Ms. Fowlis. That combined with impeccable musicianship and a killer set of tunes spanning several centuries are enough to obliterate my reticence.

6. Pays Sauvage, Emily Loizeau (Polydor) – On her sophomore release, Emily Loizeau copes with, among other things, the loss of her father. In the process, she will tear your heart to shreds – and you will never again be more happy to be heartbroken. If you had told me a year ago that a French woman would prove this year to have a better grasp of American roots music and slave songs than almost anyone I’ve heard in recent memory, I’d have written you off as a complete nutjob (no offense).

5. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura (4AD) – Apparently, it’s been a good year for 4AD. “French Navy” is probably the catchiest song by a band I like that your average Starbucks customer may have actually heard this year. Still, I think “Honey in the Sun” is my favorite from the second Scottish act on this list.

4. Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors (Domino) – The only album on this list that I do not actually own and I am ashamed. Even worse, I missed their Columbus show this year because I suck. I streamed this about 3,487 times when it was streaming on the NPR website. Holy crap, it’s brilliant.

3. Lungs, Florence + the Machine (Universal Republic/Island) – You Brits have been hearing about Florence Welch for ages now, but I guess Paste hasn’t given the American indie subculture permission to trade in their Grizzly Bear CDs for one of the most monumental voices of the decade yet, not to mention the super sexy percussion. But her time will come, kids. Now is your chance to get in on the ground floor. I suspect that, if I’d had more than two months with this album before writing this, Florence + the Machine would be finishing even higher on this list.

2. A Balloon Called Moaning/First You Have to Get Mad, The Joy Formidable (self-released) – If you have not heard of The Joy Formidable by now, you a) live outside of the UK and/or b) do not read this blog enough. Technically, these are two albums, one studio and one live and there is a lot of overlap between them. But together, they prove two things conclusively: The Joy Formidable are the best unsigned band in the world (yes, I said it); and they are the band to watch in 2010. If you don’t already own these albums, ask yourself why and the go out and buy them. Then, when they play their three shows in NYC with Passion Pit in January and all those cool Brooklyn kids think they’ve discovered something groundbreaking, you can (gently) remind them that you and some unenlightened hick from the Midwest got there a year before them.

1. The Love Language, The Love Language (Bladen County) – This album took 150% more turns in my car stereo than any other album released in 2009. That fact alone made my album of the year decision an easy one. (Not a bad accomplishment for one guy sitting alone in his bedroom.) Then there is the fact that the live incarnation of The Love Language, which is considerably larger, put on what is, at the very least, the second best show I saw this year (Los Campesinos are pretty phenomenal in their own right). I am speechless just thinking about it, so go back and read what I wrote after that show, if you’re interested. And, Stuart McLamb, if you’re reading this, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for this record. I hope I won’t have to wait too long for a second one.

Honorable Mentions: Welcome to the Walk Alone, The Rumble Strips (Island); God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Rough Trade/Matador)


Thao + the Get Down Stay Down

So, Thao + the Get Down Stay Down has a new album out, it came out … yesterday?  But it was available a week early on iTunes or some nonsense like that, and anyway, it is called Know Better Learn Faster and I have been listening to it all evening in hopes of telling you something awesome about it.  And, not surprisingly, I feel that like We Brave Bee Stings this is going to be an album that I have to live with for awhile and listen to for awhile, and like a good wine, it will get better as it ages.  I find this to be one of the marks of a great album, up there with finding a new favorite song every week.

The thing that impresses me the most about Thao with the GDSD is their craftsmanship.  After all, I’d say that making music is about perfecting both your art and your craft–these guys are perfecting both.  I guess it’s one of those general truths that to break the rules, you have to know them first.  I’m in love with the introduction to the album–the 30 second opening, “The Clap” (not the STD)–where it sounds like when a group of people who have no concept of key sing “Happy Birthday” and you want to laugh and cry at the same time because it sounds so ridiculous (or I guess you could call it “modal”).  Of course, after about 10 seconds of that, the band breaks into brilliance.  “If this is what you wanted, okay, okay”–well, yeah, thanks, I did want that.  They’ve developed into something very refined, each song being wonderfully orchestrated with enough edge in the sound to be rock’n’roll, and with Thao’s raw, boyish, sexy voice as the perfect complement.  “Burn You Up,” for instance, has enough of an interesting countermelody going on behind the vocals with keys and guitars and drums and other percussive instruments and such that it would work as an instrumental track.  However, what would they be without those vox?  Pretty damn cool music that I would probably still listen to…but not at all the same.  This stuff is just good.  I don’t know what else to say about it.  You should listen to it because it is legit GOOD, and how often do you hear/see/think/know things that are for real legit 10 out of 10 GOOD?  Probably never if you’re me and your ipod thing for the car broke and you have to flip between top-40 radio and oldies.

Highlights of the album:
“The Clap”–gosh it’s such a freaking fantastic intro!  I have nothing more to say about it.
“Cool Yourself”–I like the bridge, it’s pretty badass.
“When We Swam”–I don’t know, the “bring your hips to me” is funky and I like it.
“The Give”–the guitar parallels the voice…Thao w/the GDSD has a cool way of giving the guitar melodid lines.  It’s nice to hear something other than strumming chords.
“Oh. No.”–this is about as tender as I’ve ever heard Thao sound.  I like it alright.
“Fixed It”–what the crap is that intro?  It’s kind of cool.
Another general highlight–sassiness everywhere.

So that’s about it, you should buy the album, and probably you should also watch this funny video.

And this one:

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down in the studio from Kill Rock Stars on Vimeo.

We’ve gotta pedal to an hour south

We’re putting off our celebration of Malta music for another week because we have too many fun things we feel like talking about this week.  And we’ll talk about whatever we feel like we wanna talk about, Napoleon!

Because Eric’s St. Vincent post is both very relevant and very good, I hesitate to post tonight…however, instead of the Okkervil River review I had originally planned, I am going to review these lovely folks, who seem to fit a bit better with St. Vincent.  This way, if you have been listening to St. Vincent obsessively (and I know some people who have, although I am unfortunately not one of them), you can switch over to do a little Thao listening and it will flow beautifully, or at least pretty decently.

I loved Thao with The Get Down Stay Down at first listen (–“Bag of Hammers”–thanks for the mix, Liz!), and when I learned that Thao grew up in Falls Church, Willis attended William & Mary, and they both met Adam in Richmond, I pretty much peed my pants.  Thank you, Virginia, for doing something right in the music world.  I love you.

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down put out their third album We Brave Bee Stings and All about a year ago (I never aim to be on time with these reviews, fyi) and it is quite possibly the most simultaneously creative and accessible album I have heard in a very long time.  I’m not sure what contributes the most to this–Thao’s breathy, boyish vocals, the quirky lyrics, the not-so-random percussion shakes and punches, or the folky guitar twangs (is that a word?)–but it all works together to create a sound that will lure you in from first listen and first head sway.

My favorite song on this album is “Geography,” which has a fantastic groove (and that is not a word I use lightly, thank you very much) and hints at swing with its piano line.  You’ll find a similar swing on “Swimming Pools,” which is sort of the title song of the album, and on “We Go.”  If you’re a fan of Vampire Weekend or The Ruby Suns, you might dig the world-ish feel of “Beat (Health, Life and Fire),” “Fear and Convenience,” and “Travel.”  On “Feet Asleep,” you’ll be ringing up the Rockettes so you don’t have to kick your feet by yourself.  What’s great, though, is that while to call these songs swing, world music, or what the hell do the Rockettes do anyway? would be ridiculous and let’s be honest, not seductive at all,  Thao and the blah blah long band name flavors their own style with these genres, giving you comfort in the familiar and ecstasy in the freshness.

Plus, lyrically, these guys are genius.  They come up with new ways to say old things, which is something we value greatly in our art but can rarely produce ourselves.

Basically, We Brave Bee Stings and All shows us another one of those marks of a great album…you know you’ve got an especially good album in your hands, your ears, your heart, and your soul when you don’t have to fiddle around with your iPod in the car trying to skip a song.  It’s just all so good!

We brave bee stings and all
We don’t dive, we cannonball
And we splash our eyes full of chemicals just so there’s none left for little girls!