Elevato 2009 was very quiet. Anxiety over the future has been overwhelming. The majority of my internet output has been in 140 characters or less (see upper-left side of this blog).
So, I thought I'd bring it back to old bloggy and make some comments in an area that I am not qualified to speak on with any authority. Music. Then again, who needs authority when I can just say here's my favorite music of 2009! Warning: it's very poppy.
Also, I know people can't be bothered to read these things so I'll start at the top. After that, it's not really in any order. Enjoy!
1. Dirty Projectors: "Stillness is the Move"
I started using Twitter this year and I was advised to follow Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste. During SXSW he started going crazy about the new Dirty Projectors songs he was hearing, in particular this track. Through fuzzy youtube uploads, I was able to gleam what he was going on about. It just made perfect sense, melding minimal repetitive guitar noodling, sounding vaguely like an African mbira thumb piano, and the fact that people around my age grew up listening to folks like Mariah Carey and other R&B jams since we were kids. The simple lyrics play up the latter angle, making it a sweet indie rock r&b slow jam that is not as obnoxious-sounding as this sentence sounds.
Also worth checking out is this excellent cover version by Solange Knowles (Beyonce's sister) check out sources and pitchfork review here.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Heads Will Roll"
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Zero"
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs never do what I think they'll do, but whatever they do, they manage to make it sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Always fun, slightly abrasive and affirming. Karen O mesmerizing.
Lady Gaga: "Bad Romance"
In my circles, Lady Gaga is one of those folks that immediately got a raised eyebrow because she's mixed in with the regular pop trash that get immediate eyebrow raises once they get popular enough that non-teenagers hear about them. However, that eyebrow was eventually beat down by this song. People joke nervously over the weird opening "roma ma"s but then start to realize that this is going to be one particularly strange roller coaster of a song. It runs perfectly with swelling synths which become subdued (in a way that reminds me of Depeche Mode) when reaching the bridge ("you know that I want you"), all to explode in the hook of the chorus. There are some by-now-familiar sensationalist Lady Gaga bait lines in the lyrics (the "vertigo stick" "I'm a freak bitch, baby"), but rather than sounding like someone without a grasp of writing skills, it sounds like a commitment to her embrace of pop trash culture.
The video highlights this with pop cues suggesting everything from Christina Aguilera to anime girls to Britney Spears to Amy Winehouse. In general, she goes out of her way to give the appearance of Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond. It's pretty obvious she loves the stuff and is not unaware of what she's referencing. Of course this has caused your average mainstream fuckface to speculate whether she's a man. So in a sense, mission accomplished for accurately portraying the "fame monster" she's going for. But any idiot who just dismisses her because of these tangents is missing out and missing the point.
Camera Obscura: "French Navy"
I feel like at this point Camera Obscura can just turn on their Motown/Bacharach pop hooks like a switch. "French Navy" sounds effortless with big hooks and swelling strings.
Lily Allen: "Not Fair" (official video)
One of my favorite clips of the year was her performance at V Festival.
Lily Allen: "The Fear"
The Lily Allen single of the year has been universally "The Fear". It's a somber affair about succumbing to the trappings of celebrity and fame told with mock sincerity. The music doesn't really convey the "mock", but is still quite listenable due to its subtle hooks and grandeur. My favorite thing about the song that is not talked about in other reviews that I've seen is her line "I'll look at the sun and I'll look at the mirror / I'm on the right track, yeah I'm on to a winner" which are definitely a reference to two London trash tabloids: The Sun and The Daily Mirror (hard to catch when yr not British). Two tabloids from which you should definitely not be getting life advice from. Kudos, Lily.
My favorite track of hers this year is "Not Fair". I'm actually surprised that it didn't seem to make as much of a dent in the music sphere. It's a pretty biting critique of her bedroom-challenged boyfriend with excellent lyrics peppered throughout. I thought it was a lot of fun, extremely listenable, and full of the Lily wit. What was the problem? For some, the country music was a bit of a novelty. Maybe it was the fact that if she was serious about solving her problem, she should've talked to the dude instead of skewering him in song. That's probably why the dude had a problem in the first place.
The above performance from V Festival 2009 was amazing with an outro added on that sounds like it was enhanced by "What is Love?". And Lily looked amazing. Just saying.
Royksopp ft Robyn: "The Girl and the Robot"
Alphabeat: "The Spell"
I wasn't really sure whether this belongs on this year's list. It's the first single of the pop-tastic Alphabeat's new album due for release next year. Their previous album provided excellent singles for 2008 with an 80s sheen (see my list for last year). Now it would seem that we're getting to early 90s dance: Snap!, C&C Music Factory, Deee-lite. Acts that made me optimistic for a dance-filled future full of idealism. "The Spell" definitely conjures up Deee-lite for me with Stine B taking the role of Lady Miss Kier. As reductive as that sounds, it totally isn't. The song shines, only stumbling when Anders SG sings his part to provide his half of the slight story of the lyrics. He's weaving magic, she's falling for it. An ancient and slight pop convention, but it works for this song.
An aside: One thing that I find hilarious in songs like this are lyrics like "Your magic / Has got me where I want to be". It's fixing a lyrical convention of the past where one person (usually the man) is working the magic that puts the other (usually the woman) under a spell that makes her do what he wants. But now we ensure that the thing that magician wants is helping the other person do something that they already want to do. Very beneficial for both parties.
Crookers: "Il Cattivo PLUS THUNDER"
What was already a great house track is enhanced by AC/DC's "Thunderstruck". "I WAS SHAKIN' SHAKIN' SHAKIN' SHAKIN' SHAKIN'!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Future of the Left: "Arming Eritrea"
I miss McLusky. But I was heartened to hear this screed against Rick. Fuck Rick.
Best Coast: "When I'm With You"
A great garage pop track. Lyrically it stays simple until the haunting end. It's haunting to me because I don't know if it calls the lyrics of the first portion of the song into question. Also: KEXP's review.
Shakira: "She Wolf"
I love this track, I love the "awoo"s. You go, loba.
Dizzee Rascal wanted to party. I was totally with him.
The critical community was not.
Dizzee Rascal: "Bonkers" featuring Armand Van Helden
I thought "Bonkers" was perfect. It's insane and catchy. It just didn't showcase his lyrical skills. Still, so much fun! This V Festival crowd agrees.
Dizzee Rascal: "Holiday" feat. Chrome
Dizzee Rascal: "Dance Wiv Me"
Lonely Island was upliftingly hilarious
Lonely Island: "I'm on a Boat"
I can sing this entire song. Before the song came out, and I heard they were putting out a song called "I'm on a Boat", I had a feeling the song would be like this, but it was so much more.
Lonely Island: "Like a Boss"
Anytime someone wants to skewer a self-congratulating concept like Slim Thug's "Like a Boss", I'm on board.
Pardon for the poor editing. I'm too tired to deal with it.