Archive for December, 2009
11. Papa Was A Rodeo – Bright Eyes
I’ve recently had a change of heart about Conor Oberst. He seems to have gradually backed away from the pretentiousness of his first few albums and settled into a role as a more humble singer-songwriter1. In 2009 he took a step backwards in my book by joining the super-group Monsters of Folk, but he also released this track for a compellation album honoring Score Records. He chose to cover a Magnetic Fields song from the second disc of the now legendary 69 Love Songs, which was a brave move. 69 Love Songs is damn near flawless three hours of music, and covering this classic was no small task. Conor wisely went with an electric twang vibe that gives the song a more authentic, lived-in feeling. He would do well by sticking with this approach for his next album.
12. Ever Fallen In Love – Nouvelle Vague
Nouvelle Vague is a French band with a dull concept; they cover American and British songs in a French style. Most of time these covers don’t really pan out, like on their ridiculous cover of Blister In The Sun. But on this dreamy little track they manage to turn the jittery punk sound of the Buzzcocks into a breezy, romantic meditation on love. This theme of slowing down upbeat songs to transform them into mellow and moody covers versions will reoccur frequently throughout the last half of this disc. The only thing better than slow versions of fast songs is…
13. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa – Hot Chip & Peter Gabriel
Slower versions of already slow songs! Hot Chip took this laidback little track from Modern Rock 2008 and managed to dial it down even further. For the obvious meta-reference they recruited Peter Gabriel to sing a song where he name-checks himself. While the humor is a little obvious, it’s still enjoyable to hear Peter sing his own name. It’s for that reason that I went with this track over the other wonderful Peter Gabriel cover from this decade. His take on The Book of Love from the aforementioned 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields is another slower than slow song that seemed worthy of a spot on this disc. But in the end the novelty of a Vampire Weekend cover was just too great to ignore.
14. Landed – The University Of Colorado Buffoons
While there were several trends in cover songs this decade, none seemed more widespread than the a cappella chorus cover. It was so popular that Ben Folds released a whole album of college groups covering his songs. St. Louis’ own Washington University had two different a cappella groups on Ben’s album; The Mosaic Whispers covered Still Fighting It and The Amateurs covered The Luckiest. Of the sixteen a cappella tracks this cover of his song from Modern Rock 2005 was my favorite. The trend was so popular last year that a group recorded an a cappella cover of Ben’s cover of Dr. Dre from this disc. That much covering makes my head hurt!
15. Baby I’m Yours – Arctic Monkeys
This gorgeous track was a real surprise back in 2006. After the Arctic Monkey’s blazing first album earlier that year, I was not expecting this straightforward sentimental cover of the Barbra Lewis classic. The first time I heard this cover I was in the midst of planning my upcoming wedding and it seemed like the perfect complement to our special day. It eventually scored a prominent place on the ultra-rare Niks Piks October 13, 2007 disc we gave away in our wedding gift bags. As far as I’m concerned, this track and it’s corresponding album, the Leave Before The Lights Come On EP, should’ve been the end of Arctic Monkeys. Everything they’ve released since then has been a colossal disappointment. But damn if they weren’t the best back in 2006.
16. Ms. Jackson – The Vines
Way back in 2002, releasing a slower version of a rap song was a novel idea. The first time I heard it I laughed my ass off. This moody cover of Outkast’s biggest hit to date was a strange addition to The Vines’ breakthrough album, Highly Evolved. Most of the album featured the same nervous energy that made them an instant hit, except for this odd little cover. I dismissed it for years as a joke, but eventually I came to embrace it as a legitimate song. By ignoring the verses from the original2 and sticking with the refrain the Vines managed to add a layer of emotion through subtraction. The Vines never really tried to explore their slower side again, choosing to stick with their messy style for the rest of this decade.
17. Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want – She & Him
This cover of an often overlooked Smiths song appeared on 2009’s best soundtrack, (500) Days Of Summer3. The movie placed its love of The Smiths front and center. So it came as no surprise that the female lead, Zooey Deschanel, covered a Smith’s song with her bandmate for the soundtrack. What is surprising was that the finished product turned out great. As I stated in my Modern Rock 2008 review, She & Him are a good idea with bad results. I guess all it took was bit of the Smith’s magic to pop out a good song.
18. California – Mates of State
Mates of State are a band that I forget I like. They’ve had a couple of great singles this decade that I always seem to overlook when I’m compiling my yearly Modern Rock discs. Fraud In The 80’s should have been a shoe-in for Modern Rock 2006, but I completely spaced it out that year. So I’m glad I’m finally including a song of theirs on one of my discs, even if it is this supremely ludicrous cover. With tongue firmly planted in cheek they recorded this sappy version of the theme song to The OC back in 2006. It took me a minute to recognize the source material at first. But when the chorus kicks in I couldn’t help but laugh. What’s even funnier was that the OC’s producers embraced their version and released it on a compilation album for the show!
19. Real Love – Regina Spektor
After so many purposely goofy slow covers, I decided to end the disc with a few heartfelt versions. The first is a cover of a John Lennon song from the Instant Karma benefit album for Darfur. This track is the perfect pairing of John’s idealistic songwriting with Regina’s beautiful phrasing. She gives this version a universality that is usually lacking in Lennon’s love songs. Regina singing about love makes me think about the splendor and magnificence of love; Lennon singing about love makes me think about Yoko Ono. No wonder I prefer this version to John’s original.
20. Creep – Scala
I had never heard of the group Scala before they were mentioned in my favorite blog, Shortcake. She championed this compelling all-female choral arrangement of Radiohead’s first single4 as “hauntingly beautiful and makes me want to kill myself all in one. Coldplay wishes it could make me feel this way.” I couldn’t have said it better myself! I checked out some of Scala’s other cover songs, but none of them really struck a chord quite like this track. I had intended for quite a while on using this track as the closing song for the album until I stumbled upon…
21. Why Try To Change Me Now – Fiona Apple
I heard this track for the first time recently and I immediately knew it would close out this disc. Damn if this isn’t the prettiest song ever. This track is remarkable for several reasons. Actually, it’s remarkable that it was even created. Fiona Apple only managed to release one album THIS DECADE, back in 2005. Extraordinary Machine was a great album, and had one of the best videos of the decade starring a little known at the time Zack Galifianakis:
Fiona didn’t release anything else up until this little beauty in early 2009. She recorded a cover of a rather obscure song that appears on an album paying tribute to songwriter Cy Coleman. The song was originally sung by Frank Sinatra but it sounds custom made for Fiona. It’s a nice little nod to everyone that has called her crazy for so many years. Even though it sucks that Fiona doesn’t record much anymore, I can respect the fact that she only writes songs when she has something to write about.
This track was also recommended to me by my man D, which means he as the distinct honor of beginning and ending this disc. Good job dude! And speaking of ending, that’s it for Modern Rock in 2009. Hope you enjoyed it, and I hope everyone has an enjoyable new year!
1 Which is pretty much the exact opposite of how I feel about Ryan Adams. He seemed pretty cool in his Whiskeytown days, but since then has slowly become so narcissistic that it’s hard to stomach. And worse, he just married Mandy Moore.
2 It’s impossible to take the original version of Ms. Jackson serious when Big Boi includes lyrics such as “You and this girl ain’t speakin’ no more ‘cuz my dick all in her mouth.”
3 I found out after recently that a distant cousin of mine actually wrote the score for the film and hand-picked the songs for the soundtrack. I have extremely conflicting feelings about this that I will cover in a separate blog sometime in the near future.
4 For those keeping track, Radiohead was the only band covered twice on this disc. Strangely enough, both songs were done by covers-only bands.
This year marks the fifth year that I’ve included a second disc with my yearly Modern Rock disc. After I split Modern Rock into two discs in 2005 I discovered that I loved the idea of additional disc. It gives me the option to be a bit more creative by highlighting other recent songs1 and the cost was negligible.
2009 seemed like a natural year to make a best of the 00 decade disc. The most obvious idea would be include my favorite songs from this decade. However, almost all of my favorite songs are already on my 2002-2009 discs and I’m not a big fan of repeating myself.
I had several other ideas for this disc but I ultimately decided to focus on the best cover songs from this decade. I’m a big fan of cover songs when done right, and this decade has had some magnificent ones. Of course, several of my favorites have already appeared on past editions of Modern Rock. I thought about including a few of the best, like Hurt by Johnny Cash and I’m Not There by Sonic Youth. I ultimately decided not to repeat myself, so these are technically my almost favorite cover songs of the decade. Enjoy!
1. Mahna, Mahna – Cake
Let’s start off the covers with my favorite song on the disc. My man D is the biggest Cake fan I know; he introduced me to this super fun cover of the Muppets classic. After listening to it numerous times, I’ve determined that it’s the perfect combination of a goofy band with a goofy song. I love it so much that I made it my official intro song when hosting Tenacious Trivia. If you’re not familiar with the original, shame on you! Now is the perfect time to get acquainted:
2. Cobrastyle – Robyn
While often tragic, covers of recent songs are occasionally brilliant. Whenever possible I tried to include covers of songs from previous editions of my Modern Rock discs. The first is cover of the Teddybears toe-tapper from my 2007 disc. It takes about a minute into the song before it becomes recognizable, mostly because you can actually understand the lyrics when Robyn sings them. Robyn and Teddybears wrote the song together and enlisted a Jamaican named Mad Cobra for the original release. A year later Robyn decided to record her own version of Cobrastyle with help from the Teddybears. Apparently Swedish musicians stick together; here they are playing the song together on Letterman.
3. Human Nature – Toro Y Moi
Did you know that Michael Jackson died earlier this year? I had no idea; why was there no news coverage? After Michael’s death and the flood of bad tribute material afterwards I was determined to find a good cover of one of his songs. After months of digging I finally came across this kooky little techno cover of Michael’s often overlooked mellow jam, Human Nature. While this decade had lots of funny electro-dance covers2, most were way too long or too far out there for this disc. This cover finds is the perfect balance of creating innovative sound while staying true to the original. I have no idea who/what Toro Y Moi is but I’m glad that he/they got his/their hands on this track. Someone managed to do Jackson right this year. I guess 1 good one out of 10,000 shitty ones will have to be good enough…
4. My Boyfriend’s Back – The Raveonettes
As I mentioned yesterday, I think the Raveonettes have been one of the most consistently great bands of this decade. They’ve managed to expand their sound without straying too far from what defines them as a band. I didn’t really realize what it was that defined them until I heard this song, a cover of the 1963 hit by The Angels. Like this song, everything they’ve recorded sounds like they added layers of feedback and drum machines to doo-wop songs from the early 60s. It manages to produce a darkly modern yet timeless sound that I absolutely love. Simply put, the Raveonettes sound original yet feel familiar. Truly one of a kind.
5. Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat – Beck
This track is off of the War Child Heroes benefit album that was released this year. The idea behind the album was to have older artists pick recent artists to cover a classic song of theirs. There were lots of great pairings, including a Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover of a Ramones song and a Peaches cover of an Iggy Pop tune. But my favorite is this cover from Dylan’s classic album Blonde On Blonde. As I’ve learned from listening to Theme Time Radio Hour, old Bob Zimmerman actually has good taste in new artists. I’d imagine Beck was thrilled to get the request from Bob himself; he did it justice!
6. Seven Nation Army – The Oak Ridge Boys
Part of what make cover songs so much fun is their ability to cross genres. Such is the case with this quirky cover of my favorite song from Modern Rock 2003. Much has been written about the country leanings of The White Stripes. In fact the Stripes cover a county classic later on this disc. Apparently The Oak Ridge Boys heard the rumor of Jack White’s love of country and ran with it. They’re piano and vocal heavy cover is a hilarious attempt to strip the garage out of Seven Nation Army and replace it with some country-fried twang. The result is exactly what I would expect, something so ridiculous that you can’t help but love it. For an added laugh, check out these 60+ year old “Boys” performing this track:
7. Lithium – The Polyphonic Spree
Keeping with the odd theme is this off the wall cover of a Nirvana classic. What better way to pay tribute to the bleak-pop of Kurt Cobain than with a harp and a full choir! Truth be told, Polyphonic Spree is not really my kind of band; their happy vibe and ultra positive message is just a bit too much for an occasional cynic like myself. However, I’m a sucker for pop songs with depressing lyrics which makes this the perfect cover song for me. The genius of Cobain was that his depression and angst never managed to overtake his pop-sensibilities. That closeted love for pop really shines in this uplifting version of this super-depressing track. Brilliant!
8. Bitches Ain’t Shit – Ben Folds
The cross genre quirk parade just keeps on coming with my favorite pianoman’s cover of this Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg classic. Ben Folds was quite the cover king this decade; choosing only one for this disc was actually pretty challenging. I loved his take on The Postal Service’s Such Great Heights, and The Cure’s In Between Days. But in the end the background chorus of “Bitches can’t hang with the street” demanded a place on this disc. Even funnier was the live performance of the song he did in Nashville. Apparently he recruited a hundred local guitar players for a guitarchestra to jam along with him, with incredible results. The last 2 minutes is an amazing sight to behold.
9. Jolene – The White Stripes
As previously mentioned, Jack White has long discussed his love of early country music. He’s been a long time supporter of Loretta Lynn and even managed to record a great little garage rock cover of her classic Rated X. So I guess it should be no surprise that he also covered this Dolly Parton track. And yet, surprise is all I could think of the first time I heard this song. Jack White begging another woman not to take his man is a bit startling at first, but eventually it becomes transcendent. I think Jack is twice the woman this Jolene gal is reported to be…
10. Paranoid Android – Easy Star All-Stars
Easy Star All-Stars are a band with a novel concept; they record reggae covers of entire albums. It started in 2003 with Dub Side Of The Moon, a cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. In 2006 Easy Star released a cover of Radiohead’s OK Computer titled Radiodread. My college roommate Eric had been telling me for a while to listen to it, but I never got around to picking up a copy. I finally heard this when this track was included in a DavelyBob’s Song Of The Day email3. It’s awesome! The whole Radiodread album is worth a listen, but this song is the definite standout. There’s just something about Radiohead’s music that lends itself out to eccentric covers.
End of Side One. Please flip over and come back tomorrow for Side Two.
1 With the exception of Nifty Fifties from 2006. A disc full of my favorite songs from the 1950s was probably my most eccentric and yet most popular choice. Who knew?
2 The Scissor Sister’s version of Comfortably Numb is definitely worth checking out. Turning Pink Floyd into a gay dance club anthem is a work of art.
3 Just last week DavelyBob finally wrapped up his Song Of The Day experiment for good. While sporadic in execution, it was still a great three-year ride. I’ve been playing around with the notion of doing a similar type Song Of The Week email for a while now; maybe in 2011…
11. Treat Me Like Your Mother – The Dead Weather
It just wouldn’t be Modern Rock without a song by Jack White. He’s managed to appear on all seven of my previous discs, and he goes eight for eight with this track from his newest band. While it’s obvious I love Jack, I’m a little puzzled by this album. For some reason Jack decided to steal Alison from The Kills to front this band and he gave up his guitar for a set of drums. While it’s true that Jack started out as a drummer, and he does an above average job of keeping the beat on Whorehound, it still feels like a waste1. I would much rather have a Kills album and a White Stripes album than a Dead Weather album. Still, Jack at less than his best is still better than 95% of other bands, and this bluesy-rock track is still a keeper.
12. Whores – Jane’s Addiction
As previously mentioned numerous times here at the Quarters before, my all-time favorite band reunited in 2009 for the first time in eighteen years. The main focus of the reunion was the corresponding tour with Nine Inch Nails that I was lucky enough to catch earlier this year, as chronicled here. But besides touring as NIN|JA, Jane’s Addiction also spent some time in Trent Reznor’s studio and recorded a couple of songs. While I was thrilled to hear the first Jane’s material in almost two decades, I felt a bit conflicted as whether to include this track in Modern Rock. This song was originally released as part of the live set of songs Jane’s Addiction’s self-titled first album, so it’s not exactly modern. Ultimately, I decided to include the track because the band never sat down in a studio to record a proper version. Well, that and I absolutely fucking love this song. It’s my favorite band finally recording one of their best songs, like I wasn’t going to find a way to include it.
13. Over It – Dinosaur Jr.
Speaking of surprising reunions, Dinosaur Jr. is two albums into their reunion and I’m still pretty surprised at all the wonderful new songs. Prior to 2007, the words Dinosaur and Jr. together in a sentence usually made me think of the cow shirt that everyone seemed to have back in the mid-nineties. Now I think of the long, silver hair of J. Mascis thrashing around to heavy sound I really used to dig. It’s nice to see that the ten year hiatus didn’t slow them down in 2007 with Beyond, and it’s nice to see that they’re not planning on stopping in 2009 with Farm. As a side note, the video for this song is brilliant; it’s the perfect bookend to their big Spike Jonze video from 1994. At the time I remember thinking how strange it was for young guys to make a video about golf. Fifteen year later they make a video about old guys doing bmx and skateboard tricks. Well played, gentlemen.
14. Headdress – Amazing Baby
In a year of awful band names, this one was by far the worst. Luckily this track more than makes up for the band’s stupid name. Another gem I picked up off of Subterranean, this song and the accompanying video were the best unabashedly dark things in 2009. While this band is borrowing liberally from several great bands of the last few decades, they do so in a way that doesn’t offend me2. They seem to say “If nothing’s new under the sun, then let’s go straight for the dark,” which is cool with me. Fortunately they knew where to draw the line; any darker and they would be borderline parody.
15. Stillness Is The Move – Dirty Projectors
All things being equal, this was probably my favorite song off of my favorite album this year. Without a doubt Bitte Orca was the best album of the year start to finish. And according to my iTunes, this track is definitely the song I listened to the most times in 2009. That’s pretty amazing considering this is the first I’ve ever heard of the band and it’s their seventh album. Then again, Bitte Orca has everything that usually attracts me to a band: funky time signatures, lush orchestrations, female singers harmonizing. I guess I never really stood a chance. Thus far this looks to be a darling of the critics that no one I know has ever heard, so let me take this moment to encourage you to listen to this album. For me it didn’t get any better than this in 2009.
16. Never Forget You – Noisettes
“Whatcha drinkin’ rum or whiskey? Well won’t ya have a double with me!” is probably my favorite lyric in 2009. A great start to a great little song off of the sophomore effort by the Noisettes. This trio went after a much bigger sound for their second album and the results paid off in kind. They replaced their tightly-structured guitar base with a fuller, lush orchestral sound that I love. The title track from Wild Young Hearts was a favorite of mine early in 2009, but I eventually decided on this song for an intangible reason: Listening to this song always managed to put me in a good mood this year. That’s music at its finest.
17. Taller Children – Elizabeth & The Catapult
If this song wasn’t so catchy I could have easily ignored it. The band’s name is stupid, the lyrics are cheesy and the accompanying music video was corny. But damn if this song isn’t a toe-tapper. I dismissed it the first time I saw it on Subterranean, but weeks later I still had the chorus stuck in my head. I was hooked immediately after downloading it. The mellow-loud-mellow progression always makes for a great song, and the crescendo towards the end is easily the best of 2009. The mediocrity of the rest of their debut album makes me think that Elizabeth and her catapult are destined to fade away. Still, they managed to make one good song, which is one more than most.
18. Last Dance – The Raveonettes
The Raveonettes are the rarest type of modern band. Much like Radiohead, they have consistently improved from album to album by expanding their sound. This is extremely difficult to pull off; most bands tend to stay in the same familiar place or regress backwards. The Raveonettes have managed to get better with each album; their fourth, In And Out Of Control, is my favorite yet. While all of their albums sound uniquely different from one another, they all have the same distinctive feel. But more about that tomorrow. For now let’s discuss this twisted little love song. The Raveonettes specialize in dark love songs, and it doesn’t get much better than lyrics like “Every time you overdose, I rush to intensive care.” Even the video manages to capture that dark love feeling I can’t get enough of; this band needs to stay together forever.
19. Lose You – Peaches
I’ve been a casual fan of Peaches since I first stumbled upon The Teaches Of Peaches. Her debut album was an electro-filth masterpiece, but not exactly Modern Rock material. Her next two albums toned down the sleaze a bit, but never enough to really be taken seriously. So I was quite surprised that her latest raunchily-titled album3, I Feel Cream, was actually a serious attempt at songwriting. While the results are definitely mixed, she managed to create this moody little song seemingly out of left-field. Hearing the perpetual potty mouth sing earnestly about a relationship was a little surreal at first. After repeated listening it became my go to slow-jam this summer. I get the feeling that this was just a little detour for Peaches, but then again even dirty birds gotta grow up sometime.
20. Daniel – Bat For Lashes
While Peaches may be faking her moodiness, I get the feeling that Natasha Khan is the real deal. Her debut album, Two Suns, instantly crowned her the new Queen of Mope in my book. Her vintage Kate Bush sound made it a real treat for the recovering 80s goth fan inside of me. Natasha often walks the fine line between sincere and pretentious, but she seems fairly self-aware and manages to tone it down when necessary. And she apparently has a decent amount of mass appeal; I heard this song in the background at a Lowes last month! Natasha seems grounded enough to outlast the burnout that has seemed to plague many female singer-songwriters over the past few years. Here’s hoping she does, the world needs more music like this to balance out the Katy Perry’s of the world!
21. Sometimes – Rhett Miller
I usually ended my discs on a soft note, as is the case this year. However, I never would’ve guessed it would be this unexpected acoustic track from a most unlikely source. Rhett Miller is well known for his day job, as the front man for The Old 97s. As a pioneer in the alternative country movement, his band generally steered clear of sentimental acoustic tracks. I guess recording a solo album gave him confidence to go softer and closer to the heart. Hearing a jaded rocker sing a sweet little love song gets me every time. A surprising song to end a surprising year in Modern Rock.
Check back tomorrow for the first of two dedicated to my favorite cover songs of decade!
1 I feel the same way when Dave Grohl plays the guitar instead of the drums. Why would you want to be the Michael Jordan of baseball when you’re already the Michael Jordan of basketball?
2 Much like Interpol, they manage to become more than the sum of their influences instead of less, like The Killers.
3 Her last two albums were titled Fatherfucker and Impeach My Bush. I’m a sucker for a good dirty pun.
4 Conor Oberst made a similar move with First Day Of My Life back in 2005, and damn did I love that song.
Just like last year, I’m devoting the next four days to discussing my two yearly Modern Rock discs. Started back in 2002, this year marks the eighth year for Niks Piks.
The eighth installment of Modern Rock ended up in a much different place than where it started. Music in the first half of 2009 was largely dominated by female singers. By June it was starting to look like I’d have to rename my disc Lilith Fair ’09…
But then the gentlemen came out of the woodwork in the latter half of this year and managed to make a very strong showing. Many of the slower tracks I had selected were replaced with more straight ahead rock songs. As a result Modern Rock 2009 is heavier than discs from years past. As it turns out, this was a good counter-balance to the mellower tone in my other disc this year, Modern Rock Covers. But more about that Wednesday.
Once again, I’m breaking Modern Rock 2009 into two parts and including the cover art of the album of origin for each track. So without further ado, here are the first ten tracks.
1. There’s No Secrets This Year – Silversun Pickups
The first track of 2009 disc is also the first track of the album I was most anticipating this year. Back in 2007 I was obsessed with the Silversun Pickups. Their debut album, Carnavas, was by far my favorite that year and their concert in Tampa was by far the best I saw in 2007. This left me both excited and nervous for their sophomore effort, Swoon. So many great bands this decade, from Arctic Monkey to Cold War Kids, followed up their amazing first album with a mediocre second album. I was worried that the Pickups would fall prey to this curse. Amazingly, their follow-up was every bit as strong as the original. While I really enjoyed their first single, Panic Switch, it was this song that really stood out to me. So for the second time in three years the swirling guitars of the Silversun Pickups start us out. And I just love the message of the chorus; There are no secrets in 2009.
2. Heads Will Roll – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Yeah Yeah Yeahs were definitely the biggest surprise of the year. Their third studio album, It’s Blitz, should by all accounts be terrible. In the midst of ego clashes within the band, lead singer Karen O declared that the band would be retreating to a desert studio to record a dance album. Forcing guitar prodigy Nick Zinner to learn the synthesizer doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for success. And yet the resulting album is arguably their best and definitely my favorite. Just like in 2006, I had a really hard time choosing between their two singles. That time I chose the first and lived to regret it, so this time I’m going with the second single. While this track had one of the best music videos of the year, it was the darker synth beat that eventually won me over. Not sure where the YYYs will head from here, but I hope they keep pushing the envelope with such style.
3. Heavy Cross – Gossip
Gossip is a band that I was determined not to like. They seemed way too calculated to be so sloppy, and I read way too many articles about plus-sized lead singer Beth Ditto that wouldn’t shut up about her brave stage performances. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that she’s not shy about her size and performs her heart out on stage. But a great stage show rarely translates well to a studio album.1 After years of ignoring this band, I decided to give them one more shot at the recommendation of a college friend’s twitter feed. I was super surprised to hear an almost Strokes-ish guitar heavy song with such a great beat. I guess they finally figured the whole studio thing out. Well done!
4. Out Of The Blue – Julian Casablancas
And speaking of Strokes-ish, Julian finally releases his album! Three years into the Strokes hiatus finally saw the band’s leader release his solo project and it’s about time. While his album, Phrazes For The Young, is only eight tracks, it’s better than 75% of the Strokes last album. While I thought the album’s single, 11th Dimension, was a solid choice I ultimately went with this track instead. Something about those jangling guitars proved irresistible. It gives me optimism that the Strokes album scheduled to be released next year might actually be worth a damn. Here’s hoping…
5. Hold The Line – Major Lazer
This track was a real jolt to the system the first time I heard it. The video for the song was a staple this summer on one of my favorite sources for new music, MTV2’s Subterranean. Definitely my favorite music video of the year. It’s a spot-on recreation of every Saturday morning cartoon I watched in the 80s. It even has an action figure commercial! According to Wikipedia, the group is actually a DJ duo that met while working on M.I.A.’s last album. This makes sense considering that the track features Santigold, the go-to girl for collaborations the past few years. The duo’s album, Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazer Do, is all over the map musically and features several great music videos. Highly recommended.
6. Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked – Cage The Elephant
Cage The Elephant were everywhere this year; they were the rare group that was embraced by alternative rock and mainstream rock radio. Hailed as the second coming of G-Love, this group managed to incorporate hip-hop, southern rock and blues in a way that please everybody. And what’s not to like? This slick little song has a catchy guitar hook, an infectious beat and universal lyrics. From what I’ve seen in the media this band seems destined to burn out quickly, especially since the principal song-writers are temperamental, drug-loving brothers. Hopefully they manage to keep it together, because mainstream rock could use more acts with broad appeal like Cage.
7. Percussion Gun – White Rabbits
This track was the winner of my third annual Modern Rock contest, as suggested by my college roommate Eric. I’m amazed that I somehow managed to miss this song! First, a bit about the band. White Rabbits formed while attending Mizzou and did what all respectable college bands do post-graduation: they moved to New York City. While in New York, the band’s frontmen Greg and Stephen, met the band’s sixth member when they discovered he grew up on the same street in Webster Groves as Greg. These Missouri all-stars then proceeded to write the best under-the-radar album of 2009, It’s Frightening. As this track’s title suggests, the band manages to combine expansive percussion with lush piano arrangements and off beat time-signatures. I’m currently infatuated with this group since it’s the only new music I’m listening to at the moment. Good job Eric!
8. 1901 – Phoenix
Every year has one inescapable song and in 2009 it was 1901. This song was everywhere this year: numerous radio stations, car commercials, movie trailers, you name it. This song was a powerhouse of guitar hooks that seemed to captivate everyone. The album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, was probably the biggest critical and commercial success on Modern Rock this year. A huge surprise from the fifth album by the virtually unknown French band2, Phoenix. I loved the song the first time I heard it, but repeat overkill has cooled me off on it a bit. Still, this was undeniably the biggest song of the year and definitely earned its place here.
9. I Know What I Am – Band Of Skulls
This band is a great example of the two major trends on Modern Rock this year: terrible band names and women rocking out. Band Of Skulls3 is a British trio with a back to basics approach to rock that really resonated in 2009. What made this band so interesting were the heel-stomping beat and the perfect interplay between the male and female vocalists. Hearing a powerhouse like Emma rock out just as hard as Russell was a welcome change after years where women were mostly absent from the rock scene. As a huge PJ Harvey fan, I long for the days when women had a serious presence in rock. Band of Skulls and a few others really seems like a big step in the right direction.
10. No One Loves Me And Neither Do I – Them Crooked Vultures
Rarely am I a fan of the super-group. The idea of combining several talented musicians for a record always sounds like a great idea but never seems to work out as planned4. Except when the musicians are as talented as the three collaborators in Them Crooked Vultures. Dave Grohl and Josh Homme are super-group veterans known for working on a broad range of musical projects. Uniting these two metalheads with John Paul Jones on bass must’ve seemed like a can’t lose idea. It was! This super-groups’ self-titled album instantly became all that was missing from rock this decade. The rhythmic chugging of Grohl and Jones’ drums and bass merged perfectly with Homme’s power guitar and nasally whine. By keeping the songs straightforward and simplistic, the songs have a fun quality that always seems lacking in most super-groups. This group seems too talented to stay together for long, but hopefully they manage to crank out another album before calling it quits.
And speaking of quitting, that’s all for the first half. Check back tomorrow for the second half of 2009!
1 Like the first Yeah Yeah Yeahs album or anything by Lady Gaga.
2 I can’t remember the last time I willingly listened to a French band. I guess it would have to be Air, or Daft Punk? Even then, it’s not like those groups were known as rock bands, per se.
3 What a lazy name! Putting the word “Band” in your band name is the worst. I think a power trio with a male and female singer should’ve gone with something clever, like XY-ZZ Top…
4 In 2009, that mediocre super-group was Monsters of Folk. What should have been an indie rock powerhouse was just a waste of Conor Oberst and M. Wards talents.
I don’t wanna work today, Christmastime is near. And I don’t care what management says, Christmastime is full of cheer. I wish it was Christmas today!
Christmas is so near, in fact, that I’m finally done with all of the labor associated with the holidays!
I was able to finish my Modern Rock cds way ahead of schedule this year.
I had a great response to my yearly Modern Rock contest this year, the best ever!
While there were a lot of great suggestions, ultimately there was only one winner. Congrats to my college roommate Eric and his winning song, Percussion Gun by White Rabbits. I immediately loved this song, so much so that I managed to squeeze it on as the 21st track on Modern Rock 2009.
For winning the contest Eric will receive an exclusive copy of Modern Rock 2009 B-sides. Basically he won a disc of all the songs I liked this year that didn’t make the final cut, which was a surprising amount. Thanks again to everyone who participated this year!
I’ll be doing a full write up of my Modern Rock 2009 disc all next week as well as a write up of my Modern Rock Cover disc. And speaking of covers, did everyone see Julian Casablancas’ cover of I Wish It Was Christmas on Jimmy Fallon? If not you should definitely watch it.
Besides finishing my yearly discs, I have been kept busy with this furry little man in a sweater.
He’s been doing great with his potty training thus far, which is the reason he now has a sweater. If it’s too cold outside he won’t empty, so we bought him a potty sweater. He actually likes it!?! Well, more like he tolerates it. The only thing he really likes is chewing and biting, but he can do that with the sweater on so he’s cool with it.
Amidst all my busywork at home I actually found time for some Christmas socializing. I managed to make it to the 5th annual Lang X-mas party!
That’s Matt, the host for the evening, wearing my sister’s white elephant gift, a handmade Who Farted? t-shirt. Matt borrows my step-dad Santa suit for the party every year and lets everyone sit on his lap for pictures. Here’s me and my sister doing the obligatory “Wasted on Santa” pic.
Besides pictures with Santa, the Lang Christmas Party has become known for the ridiculous gifts given in the white elephant exchange. This year there were some great items, including a didgeridoo and a cookie cutter shaped like a fetus.1
My gift submission for the exchange was what I like to call the “North County Date For One”: A can of Bud Dry and pintos and cheese from Taco Bell. The gift received was this sweet little Fisher Price tape recorder.
Awesome! The best gift of the nite by far was the handmade dick-towel, modeled here by my sister:
The basement of Jack Patrick’s was the perfect place for the party this year; they have a full size BotchiBall court! The place was packed and everyone seemed to have a great time. Here we are giving what I like to call “The Big Zark Smile.”
Now that all of our preparations are complete, Megan and I are looking forward to a nice relaxing Christmas with family and friends. So to all my faithful readers, Merry Christmas from everyone here at the Captain’s Quarters.
1 The box read “Fetal Bites: America’s #1 Fetus Shaped Cookie Cutter,” thus applying that there is some competition in the fetal cookie market.