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City Paper Offers 40 Ideas From 2005 for Your iPod

Amerie, "1 Thing"

Top Ten 2005

The Year in News Even the most ardent Baltimoron knows better than to take as anything other than a sick joke our claim to being “The Greatest City in America.” | By Gadi Dechter, Edward Ericson Jr., and Van Smith

The Year in Movies Fuck March of the Penguins.

The Year in Television It signals that the major networks are following a cable and foreign TV lead: the season-long serial narrative

The Year in Music 2005 was definitely a year of no consensus.

The Year in Local Music From club music to indie rock to the fact that by year’s end it seemed like damn near every rapper in the city was signed, this was a banner year for Baltimore music...

The Year in Books The you-know-what over in you-know-where continues to dominate American publishing…

The Year in Art Only time can tell if 2005 is the year that Baltimore’s local art climate started to turn for the better.

The Year on Stage Lack of talent is never going to sink Baltimore theater, but lack of space is a problem.

Our Top 40 City Paper Offers 40 Ideas From 2005 for Your iPod

Posted 12/14/2005

Songs are always going to be the main currency of popular music. Say what you will about the time constraints of early shellac 78s, the explosion of long-playing post-Beatles pop records in the ’70s, or the fact that you can fit four days of music on a DVD. Troubadours in the olden times didn’t stroll around singing symphonies. People at work don’t hum long-form improvisations. Teenagers don’t fall in love to sound-art installations. And no one holds up Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Tarkus as a great album. (Except Greg Lake’s mom.)

Songs, or at least singles, took a hit there for a while, what with the majors phasing out vinyl 45s at the dawn of the ’90s, the cassingle by the mid-’90s, and then CD singles at the dawn of the ’00s. “Singles” became the stuff that got played on the radio or video TV or that was released on club-friendly vinyl. With TV and radio in corporate hock and fewer people than ever owning a turntable, you could have been forgiven for thinking the single was on its last legs as a discrete art form at the dawn of the 21st century.

Then a funny thing happened that neither Thomas Edison nor Tommy Mottola could have predicted. There’s no need for us to go through the MP3 story, the Napster story, or the iPod story, as we all know them and are still living through them. As early as 2000, Spin made “your hard drive” its No. 1 album of the year. That hasn’t stopped seeming pretentious in the following five years, but the pretension also hasn’t stopped it from becoming truer with time. MP3s, or at least the listening experience they pair up with, are here to stay.

2005 was the first year that a song topped the Billboard singles chart based, at least in part, on how many people (legally) downloaded it. Whatever you may think of its relative merits, Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” has earned its place in history for that fact alone. The music industry, of course, is in a panic. They can’t deny legal downloads are helping sales anymore than they can avoid the fact that illegal downloads are hurting them. Which is neither here nor there for you, the listener, whose ethics about downloading are your own business. MP3s mean that you can enjoy a Chingy single without being out dinner money for two days, and that’s a wholly good thing.

So it’s with this mind that we present City Paper’s (hopefully inaugural) list of the year’s Top 40. A completely capricious list, of course, but that’s the joy of singles in 2005, when they cost 99 cents, take up only 1s and 0s, and if you don’t like something, it can be disposed of with only a flick of the finger and the slightest pang of guilt. It may not encourage deep listening or hard-core fandom, but the flip side is that you can find more, and different, music easier than ever these days. Enjoy. (Jess Harvell)

 

Amerie “1 Thing” (Sony) Fueled by a butt-wiggling, go-go-licious bite from the Meters’ “Oh! Calcutta,” this Jam of the Year starts out where most R&B/pop songs usually peak—total abandon. Though it doesn’t go up from there (where would it go?), it sustains that incredible surge of club-crush rush for almost four minutes, creating the most addictive musical fix of 2005. The Rich Harrison-crafted track blasts the song off the launch pad, but it’s the urgent, never-missing-a-step vocal performance from the diva whose name is on the label that lifts it into orbit and keeps it zooming ’round. (Lee Gardner)

50 Cent feat. G-Unit “Hate It or Love It (Remix)” (Shady/Aftermath) 50 Cent is the most overrated rapper of the new millennium. G-Unit is spam masquerading as filet mignon. And that’s what makes “Hate It or Love It” such a surprise, such a treat. Over a sprightly, stealthy, spring-heeled Dr. Dre rare groove, G-Unit tells us yet again that they’re on top, and we shouldn’t hate but celebrate. It’s pure ebullience, with no malice, no drawn guns, no lame drug puns, and no vicious sex, just reveling in your sun-soaked moment. And unlike 50’s usual triumphant aesthetic, it’s tinged with the classic G-funk feeling that it could all end tomorrow, so you better live today. The perfect summer single. (JH)

Jesu “Man/Woman” (Hydra Head) Let Pelican, Isis, and even Sunn 0))) explore the ever-denser kiddie pool of symphonic ambient metal. Jesu—the new outfit led by Napalm Death guitarist Justin Broadrick—will mine the wonderful chasm separating industrial oomph from Skullflower psychedelia. The group’s self-titled debut dove headfirst into this great unknown and finds its Platonic ideal in “Man/Woman,” a song forged in Skinny Puppy electro-bass belches, Severed Heads tribal drum pounding, and some seriously wiggy guitar feedback. And, yes, we do think the band’s name is the singular form of “Jesus.” (Bret McCabe)

Boris and Merzbow “Sun Baked Snow Cave” (Hydra Head) A bit of a cheat, considering it’s a “single” that lasts for more than an hour. Boris have a bit more range than most of its doom-rock contemporaries, trafficking in rangy punk and perverted folk as well as the typical slug-bait drone. But on “SBSC” the Japanese trio takes the agonizingly sloooooow thing and freezes it, an all but immobile wall of icy guitar overtones, while its countryman Merzbow adds a layer of wriggling, insectoid static and noise. The soundtrack to two yetis fucking. (JH)

Brad Paisley “Alcohol” (Arista Nashville) Another hat act in search of a hit, Brad Paisley this year found his crossover dreams delivered, as construction workers on lunch break and secretaries at TGIFriday’s happy hour, suburban cowboys in Hummers and sorority girls at putt-putt golf all sang his cheekily up-front ditty about the stuff a good majority of us piss away our best years on. Sung from alcohol’s perspective, kinda like that episode of M*A*S*H shown entirely from a patient’s bed, the song is a string of promises, lies, and harsh truths—from Dutch courage to beer goggles—that’s already a karaoke standard. A fitting tribute to, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, the cause of, and solution to, all life’s problems. (JH)

Isolee “My Hi-Matic” (Playhouse) It remains one of the best tricks in modern music: making machines pump warm blood. Reclusive electronic boffin Isolee’s parabolic productivity delivered a second album, Wearemonster, full of the kind of sonic detail, couch-dancing beats, and tackle-box hooks that keep music nerds home nights with their headphones on. But the cosseting synth sounds and breezy, syncopated melodies of disc highlight “My Hi-Matic” make you wanna leave the house long enough to shuffle through the leaves in the park on a sunny day or at least find someone to nuzzle back on the couch. (LG)

Kanye West feat. Cam’ron and Consequence “Gone” (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam) “Gold Digger” gets all the pop props, “Heard ’Em Say” hip-hopifies Maroon 5’s winsome Adam Levine, and “Touch the Sky” moves more gal asses than a Loehmann’s sale, but Late Registration’s moment of unadulterated genius is “Gone.” Kanye West intertwines the striking opening piano motif of Otis Redding’s “It’s Too Late” with a string section rocking romantic swells, and then strings this miraculous combination over a simple back-and-forth beat spine. West knocks out one of his most ego-inflating verses—which is saying something—but the star turn comes from an acrobatic Cam’ron, who peels off a leapfrogging rhyme scheme of long o’s before he starts letting Redding’s looping vocal in the sample finish his lines. (BM)

The Killers “Mr. Brightside” (Island) You’re allowed to hate this song. It has a ridiculous video. The Killers’ other singles have all been awful. And pretty-boy front-bro Brandon Flowers remains eminently punchable. And yet, for all that, “Mr. Brightside” rocks. Not in a hairy, shaggy, funky way. There’s nothing unmediated/unhinged about the Killers; I doubt they encore with “TV Eye.” But if you’ve ever enjoyed the Cars, thought what the Strokes needed was more keyboard, or coveted a pair of really expensive jeans, you’ll probably understand. The Killers may represent the metrosexual terminus point for the new wave of new wave, but even premeditated corporate hacks hack up a classic single every now and again. (JH)

Konono No. 1 “Lufualu Ndonga” (Crammed Discs) The year’s most problematic world-music success story, Konono No. 1’s amplified Congolese thumb pianos offered 2005’s most odd and entrancing sound. Essentially African street music relocated to alien terrain through cheap amplification (homemade mics, walls of half-busted speakers, junkyard percussion), the band’s ringing waves sounded like a traditional high-life record heard through ears filled with water. Whatever your feelings about poor black folks being championed by international noise dudes, Konono’s Sunny Ade-meets-Stockhausen sound is undeniable. (JH)

Dan Deacon “Mr. Big Stuff” (Standard Oil) Exactly what you expect from Baltimore’s resident electronic court jester—and then some. Dan Deacon never met a beat he couldn’t transform into a potty joke. Here he takes Jean Knight’s already ridiculous funky strut “Mr. Big Stuff” and manages to 1) tease out the robotic Kraftwerk permafrost inside one of the warmest of 1970s funk bounces, and 2) make his Vocoderized speak-singing of the song sound like the most unthreatening monster ever. By the time the song moves into its brassy horn break—which Deacon doesn’t touch one bit—it’s been so transmogrified that normal sounds like the strangest thing on the planet. (BM)

Gwen Stefani “Hollaback Girl (Reverso 68 mash edit by Luminfire)” (no label) The Pharrell-produced single/album track got much love from urban radio (including 92Q), but this remix is our shit. Luminfire makes Gwen drop her pompoms and the cheerleader-chant cadence and sneaks her past the velvet rope for a little grown-up after-hours action. Proof positive that a “Relax”-style bass line improves almost anything it touches. (LG)

D4L “Laffy Taffy” (Atlantic) The new Atlanta minimalism, which makes Lil Jon sound like Brian Wilson. We got our first taste of it up North after the surprise success of Dem Franchize Boyz’s “White Tee” and Crime Mob’s “Knuck if You Buck,” which paired down-home chants with the poings and claps of a dying drum machine. Maceo’s “Nextel Chirp” and “Ho Sit Down” were hipster favorites this year, rugged trap tales over a simple kick drum and a lazy one-finger keyboard melody. Then here comes D4L, taking the ATL reduction thing out of the hands of the Fader and onto the charts. “Laffy Taffy” barely qualifies as music, just a drum and a few notes from a MIDI demonstration pattern, plus the stupidest pun for ass-shaking in forever. Laffy Taffy doesn’t shake, guys. It’s hard and stretchy. Hmm. (JH)

Lightning Bolt “Riff Wraiths” (Load) By now the Lightning Bolt formula is set in stone, and like the Fall or AC/DC or Deep Dish, your appreciation will depend on 1) how much you like that formula to begin with, and 2) how much time you have in your life for people working minute variations on a very singular noise. It helps that LB’s sound is so ecstatic, so triumphant—Gladiator entrance music for Sleestaks. “Riff Wraiths” is yet another war trumpet-and-skull drum blast from the two Brians, a mess of unresolved bass riffs all racing for the horizon and drumming that collapses the space between grindcore, free jazz, and drum ’n’ bass. Beats coffee in the morning, though your neighbors might not necessarily agree. (JH)

Blaq Starr “Get My Gun (K-Swift Remix)” (Unruly) Rod Lee’s “Dance My Pain Away” ruled summer 2005 club mixes, but K-Swift’s gruff handling of Blaq Starr’s feral “Get My Gun” is the one that set the stage for the pain you need to dance away. A hypnotic collage of shotgun-shell breeching, car-window smashing, small-caliber firearm blasts, and bludgeoning beats crowding the repeated chant of “I’m going to get my gun,” this cut is the one that unmistakably signaled the arrival of the club-music mix shows from 92Q’s playlist norm. Lee miraculously found ecstasy in club’s booming system. Blaq Starr reminded us that this music comes from a place where far too often shit just ain’t right. (BM)

The Shining “Goretex Weather Report” (Rune Grammofon) Must be something in the water—maybe global-warming glacier melt—but the Scandinavian countries have been turning out a host of uncategorizable musical units in the new century, from the improvised Nordic death jazz of Supersilent to the big-band electroprog of Jaga Jazzist. The Shining’s debut album, In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster, brands it as a lesser sprout of the current crop, but out of the smorgasbord of horn-led jazz, soundtrack cues, and avant-rock moves juts this titanic plynth of aggressive, fjord-ornate neo-fusion, complete with Valhalla-I-am-coming metal crunch and a Zamfir-esque pipe solo. (LG)

Ciara “Oh” (LaFace) Every summer needs a single that sounds like the summer: slow, heavy, suffused with that hazy, late-August feeling that makes the tarmac sizzle and the horizon quaver. Ciara’s “Oh” was this year’s entry, rolling down the block at dusk in a big Jeep with cement wheels, subliminal organ stabs wheezing in the background, bass spreading like melted butter, and Ludacris’ only decent guest spot of the year. And it was all topped off with Ciara’s oddly piquant ode to chastity (of a sort). Like orange soda down the back of your throat on a dusty road. (JH)

Vex’d “Angels” (Planet Mu) “Dubstep” sounds like one of those nongenres the British music press coughs up eight or 10 times a year, but at this point there are enough records, DJs, and club nights to intimate that it does, in fact, exist. The music slows drum ’n’ bass down a good 50 beats per minute, adds heavy reggae-derived bass pressure, and sounds designed less for dancing than flopping in a beanbag chair in front of the speaker stack with a big spliff. Truly harder than the rest, Vex’d resurrect a classic drum ’n’ bass sample (“the angel’s fell” from Dillinja’s track of the same name) and throws it over a brontosaurus dancehall beat and a bass that sounds like ED209 falling down the stairs in Robocop. (JH)

Huli Shallone “Smooth Criminal” (Hit ’Em Hard) The hook is effing sick—a clumsy 1980s techno bass line slowed down to refrigerated-honey pace and recycled through huge-ass woofers that caused it to crack and spit like an old Wax Traxx! cassette. A slinky handclap and kick-drum beat is blown over it like a puff a smoke. And Huli Shallone—would it trouble the dude to put production credits on his It’s My Turn debut so we could know who’s responsible for this beast?—strolls over everything in chilled-out badass mode, the sort of guy who doesn’t have to stand in your face to sell his rep. All he has to do is let his cold eyes pass over you, and your sphincter puckers: “You cowards scared of us/ We’re more than murderous,” Shallone coos as cool as a glass of chilled Armandale. “I’ll hunt your ass down cut your tongue out your mouth, ho/ I lay back getting head puffing on hydro/ Mr. Tough Guy running soon as the Tech blow.” And were “Smooth Criminal” not barely two minutes long, it probably woulda been yet another Shallone local radio mainstay. (BM)

The Mars Volta “L’Via L’Vasquez” (Universal) We don’t know what the hell he’s hollering about, either, but this progtastic epic from Frances the Mute gets the nod over pummeling opener “Cygnus . . . Vismund Cygnus” by virtue of its secret weapon: slow-drag Latin breaks. Try that, Rick Wakeman. P.S. That bit about “every Claymore that I mine” makes us think he doesn’t know what the hell he’s hollering about, either. (LG)

Cowboy Troy “I Play Chicken With the Train” (Warner Bros.) A friend told us that Cowboy Troy’s album was named the year’s worst by a local record store. We don’t know about that—logic dictates a full-length album by a novelty rapping black cowboy probably isn’t a hidden masterpiece—but this song is all business. Basically, it’s a Big and Rich song with extra rapping, and the two lend their platinum pipes to the chorus. And the music, a heavy mental disco stomp with fiddles and rock guitar, is a Horse of a Different Color outtake in all but name. The best we can say for Troy is that he doesn’t embarrass himself, though Nas probably isn’t quaking in his boots at lines like “Boy you done fell and bumped your head/ Uh-huh that’s what she said.” But when it’s barreling along under its freight-train momentum, you can forget this guy is bound for a future episode of I Love the ’00s. (JH)

Robyn “Be Mine” (Konichiwa) A grown woman who sings like a My Little Pony (at least when she’s not rapping like the lost member of JJ Fad), Robyn Carlsson is a Swede who had a Top 10 hit with “Do You Know (What It Takes)” in that golden, late-Clinton-era moment when the radio suddenly sloughed off all the remaining alt-rock sludge in favor of sunshine pop and sassy R&B. Unsurprisingly, she’s been MIA in this country ever since, but in Europe, where they eat this shit up with a side of lingonberries, “Be Mine” is the year’s most heartbreaking single, a classic tale of love had but lost and still pined for, as lumps reach throats over clickety drums and cellos instead of bass. “You looked happy,” she tries to convince herself on the spoken bridge, “and that’s great. I just miss you. That’s all.” Sniffle. (JH)

Angels of Light “Lena’s Song” (Young God) At some point before the kitchen-sink pseudofolk ensemble Angels of Light recorded 2005’s Sing Other People, leader Michael Gira had the near-genius idea to combine the spookily reedy timbre of Johnny Cash with the haunted pasture baroque of Gram Parsons. “Lena’s Song,” Sing’s lead track, nails this creepy/pretty right out of the gate, an interwoven latticework of minor-key guitars underscoring Gira’s throaty reading of “Lena has sung, but she’ll sing again/ Beneath a desert sun with withered skin.” This lovingly unnerving mood threads together 1970s outlaw country with 2005 NYC freak-folk, complete with background singers chiming “ba ba” on the chorus, handclaps on the breaks, and an acoustic bass marking a 1950s Nashville doo-wop pulse. (BM)

Rod Lee “Dance My Pain Away” (Club Kingz/Morphius) “Songs” aren’t club music’s raison d’être, so it’s no surprise that they’re not the genre’s usual strong suit. But DJ/producer Rod Lee took a classic pop-song topic—transcendence of the daily same ol’ shit by putting your hands in the air when the DJ says so—and broke off the kind of straight-ahead killer beat that sells the forget-your-troubles argument with no trouble at all. Secret weapon: his raspy, everyman singsong, which seals the deal. (LG)

Teairra Mari “No Daddy” (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam) “All my girls from a broken home/ When you’re feeling all alone/ And you feel you can’t go on/ Call me”—Teairra Mari’s “No Daddy” shoots and scores just for rallying all the pissed-off girls around her with a pocketful of shells. What makes it cling to the ears is its surging booty quake and Mari’s snarling delivery. The youngster nailed the hottie young black singer with her debut single “Make Her Feel Good,” but she uncorks a roiling reservoir of sass here with this banging R&B room-mover. (BM)

QQ “Poverty” (Greensleeves) The cutest record by a grade-schooler of Jamaican descent since Musical Youth—which is not a bad point of comparison actually. Just the right side of twee, QQ laments the state of the Third World, the struggle for self-respect, and the post-Greenspan economy. The synthetic nyhabingi drumming clomps along like hopscotch. In a year when much of the hotly tipped roots-reggae revival sound amounted to a lot of weepy dreads trying to get laid, it took a 10-year-old boy to record the only major political anthem aside from “Welcome to Jamrock.” (JH)

Meatjack “Shevil” (Fractured Transmitter) Why the 17 other acts on We Reach: The Music of the Melvins opted to re-create the sludge kings in their own image is a mystery. Melvins ruckus works because it’s slower than a running corpse. Baltimore’s very own Meatjack keeps the shit very real by slowing down an already stagnant riff to near flat-line and cranking up the tumult, burying “Shevil” in a reverberating pool of sustained distortion, cymbal splashes, and volume menace. (BM)

Boredoms “Seadrum” (Vice) Spazzes turned sun worshippers, punks turned hippies, the Boredoms. Released as a stupid-expensive import EP in 2004, “Seadrum” received a welcome U.S. issue from those secret neo-cons at Vice this year so that unsuspecting kids in Peoria can have their skulls scraped back. Starting with the sounds of the ocean (where it was apparently recorded, anemones flopping around inside the drums as the waves crashed against them), a Debussy-meets-Steve Reich piano figure opens up into a cascade of drums that continues for more than 20 minutes. Yoshimi P-We’s wordless vocals blend with piano glissando that sounds like harp strings, and the whole thing roils on, heedlessly, toward the sun. (JH)

Sa-Ra Creative Partners “Glorious” (ABB) Eight years after the release of Belly, someone is finally making a sleek future-soul soundtrack fit for Hype Williams’ imagery. Elusive songwriting/production team Sa-Ra is set to drop its debut album in 2006, but it will have to work hard to top the icy heat it conjures on this floating-around-the-music-nerd-ether track. There’s hardly anything to it, really—just the trio’s trademark bed of attack-free bass buzz topped with what sounds like the best gospel quartet on Venus, singing about some pleasure so beyond regular ’round-the-way reckoning that it may be another eight years before we figure it out. (LG)

Sonore “Death Can Only Kill Me Once” (OkkaDisk) Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark, and Mats Gustafsson trade warbling, muscular, room-clearing bellows at the bowel-growling start of this nearly 15-minute workout, but by the time Brötzmann turns to his clarinet halfway through, the cut belongs entirely to him. Before that rocket-launch, however, these three titans weave together a lovely tapestry of valve-popping reed work for some seven minutes. Vandermark’s gift for lower-register harmonies gamely plays off Gustafsson’s microtonal-leaning lyricism, the group quieting into a chill of fluttery aspirations. And then the fattest sound imaginable comes in—an elephant choking on a hippo—and Brötzmann’s bellicose clarinet blowing clears the way for a final eruption. (BM)

The Futureheads “Hounds of Love” (679) Filtering Kate Bush through the Buzzcocks—and that’s even before you get to this Bush cover—the Futureheads are, with the possible exceptions of Franz Ferdinand and Art Brut, the only band in the new British invasion that lives up to its hype. A flailing mess of riffs and yelps, “Hounds of Love” relocates Bush’s eroto-mystic tale of first orgasm (at least that’s what we were told it was about by our cool older friend in eighth grade) as the stuff of Boy’s Own Adventure. They’re just so eager, so puppy-dog cute, that’s it hard not to be charmed into thinking, Wow, best single of the year! The readers of the British NME thought so, and while we might not necessarily agree, the kids’ hearts are in the right place. (JH)

Crazy Titch “Sing Along” (In the Hood Recordings) U.K. grime failed, yet again, to really catch fire this year, and you can forgive U.S. audiences for losing interest, considering we have plenty of wack rapping over shitty synth beats on our own charts at the moment. “Sing Along,” on the “GYPE” riddim, is a notable exception, as producers Imp Batch set dueling snatches of classical music pinched from a yard sale against each other. Crazy Titch only has one mode of delivery—SHOUTING LIKE THIS—and the contrast between the prissy, hysterical string curlicues and his whack-a-mole flow is hilarious, possibly headache inducing, and awesome. (JH)

Devendra Banhart “I Feel Just Like a Child” (XL) Everyone’s favorite freak-folk poster boy enters a real studio and emerges with, among other things, a surefire throwback to choogling ’60s-style rock. The lyrics’ declaration of dependence (“And I need you to please explain the war/ And I need you to heal me when I’m sore”) strikes a genuine universal chord, Banhart’s talking-bluesy warble exhibits his creepy charm to its full advantage, and the whole provides the recent wave of acousti-naifs with their unwitting anthem. (LG)

Young Leek “Jiggle It” (Next Level) Club queen K-Swift’s Next Level shot and scored with this mammoth Blaq Starr club&B rocker, over which local tween MC Young Leek tosses off one of the most instantly memorable hip-hop dance-floor starters since another young MC first bust a move. “I’m a Northside boy, girls like how I talk/ Even some girls just like how I walk,” Leek pops off, and he’s just getting started. “C’mon shorty shake that thing/ Show me how you work that frame.” With little more than a chanted background “hey” and a percolating percussive rumble, “Jiggle It” even gets the wallflowers moving. No wonder Def Jam signed this kid. (BM)

Lady Sovereign “Random” (Chocolate Industries) It’s no accident that tout le music-nerd monde is dangling from this teeny-weeny British teen’s jock. “Random” is as indelible a hip-hop intro as any track since “My Name Is”; like Eminem, Lady Sov is white, something of an outsider in the scene she’s identified with (grime), and bursting with the kind of skills, wit, charisma, and cheek that would make her stand out in almost any context involving a microphone. Here she spits wicked over a slamming transatlantic grime-hop beat, making fun of American rap, J. Lo, and, most key, herself. She’s only released a small clutch of tunes so far, and not all are winners, but “Random” proves that she is. (LG)

Kelly Clarkson “Since U Been Gone” (RCA) When a lot of people first heard “Since U Been Gone,” the thrill, aside from the fact that an American Idol contestant had released a song that didn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out, was figuring out its formula, which seemed to be something like Pink + Interpol + a healthy dose of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps,” right down to the spiking guitar noise on the bridge. The difference is that “Maps” was a very minor hit and “Since U Been Gone” was an all-conquering hit. The reason, aside from the supersonic Swede-pop production, is that the tough-grrl indie queen was singing about how she couldn’t live without her man and Ms. American Idol was singing about how, now that he’s walked on out that door, she will survive. Kinda ironic is all we’re saying. (JH)

The New Flesh “Friend of Mine” (Maelstrom) Sprawling bursts like this nine-minute behemoth remind you why punk was necessary in the first place. The New Flesh’s knack for a serrated riff and adrenaline-pushing tempo coagulates into a swamp of angry feedback hovering over a Flipper-caliber brain-dead drum heaviness, with pierced shrieks and vein-popping screams providing the intoxicating gibberish. The trio stirs up a glorious, seething mess, a double-barreled middle-finger salute to finding something beautiful in the ugliest parts of the noise available. Young-adult alienation has had plenty of underground-rock juggernauts over the years, where a group found the perfect musical vehicle for its searing vibe in stretched-out instrument abuse—see also: Drunks With Guns’ “Wonderful Subdivision,” the Butthole Surfers’ “Cherub,” Black Flag’s “Damaged I”—and “Friend of Mine” is just that sort of wild animal. (BM)

Rihanna “Pon de Replay” (Def Jam) We don’t know anything about Rihanna, and frankly we don’t care. This mad-catchy dancehall-tinged dance-floor romp ensures that she will live forever on the slopes of our personal pop Olympus as the Anonymous One-Hit R&B Demigoddess of Summer ’05. (LG)

Whoever did the “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” club-music mix that we’ve yet to figure out. This one may not even exist. Heard as a late night radio phantom and once at a K-Swift party, it could easily just be Kanye West’s famous declaration played as a live sample over a stomping club beat. But it’s a testament to the omnivorous nature of club, and its licensing-be-damned approach to snatching whatever sounds good. And in the midst of “pop that pussy” and “get my gun” and Lil Jon “yeahs,” this simple, direct, almost childish political statement cuts like glass. (JH)

Growing “In the Shadow of the Mountain” (Troubleman) The heaviest of the now-sound batch of free-drone soothsayers, Growing alights to something akin to Angus MacLise leading This Heat with this lead track off its third album. A nine-minute eyebrow-singe of swirling organs, spaceship zooming ragas, and Sun Ra-ian keyboard tangents, “In the Shadow of the Mountain” feels like a track Don Cherry left off his soundtrack to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain. You know, a gorgeous piece of shaky music that sounds perfect when paired with images of total fucked-upness. (BM)

Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley “Welcome to Jamrock” (Universal) His pedigree proceeding him, you almost had to snoot at the notion that a Marley was supposedly responsible for the dancehall anthem of the year. But the first time you actually heard “Welcome to Jamrock”—the hypnotic righteousness of the voice, the oddly slow, apocalyptic digi-skank groove, the accumulated hip-hop feeling—knowledge was immediate, physical. Marley’s nagging, head-nod flow rattled off a state of alert for Third and First worlds alike. In a year where outright political comment was thin on the ground in popular music (for better or worse), “Jamrock” offered some very broad shoulders for armchair enemies of Babylon. (JH)

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The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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