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The Year In Tracks

. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

Karen Cline
Nels Cline

Top Ten 2009

The Year in News Our mayor was indicted and convicted of embezzlement this year. We learned just how deeply a violen... | By Edward Ericson Jr., Van Smith, and Erin Sullivan

The Year in Movies No, you're not hallucinating. Revanche, an Austrian crime flick that starts off in somewhat grim qu...

The Year in Television Raise your hand if you still have cable. As in, that overpriced digital teat that pipes into your h...

The Year in Music We do this because, between the 15 or so of us, we listen to a lot of music, we think a lot about m...

The Year in Local Music The thing that unites Baltimore music is Baltimore the city, a geographic place with a good number ...

The Year in Books No idea why there's such a strong turnout of speculative/sci-fi-ish titles in this year's Top 10. P...

The Year on Stage Local stage talent might be the last untapped well of local greatness. Local music is already an an...

The Year in Visual Art The past 12 months really delivered a blow to the arts--you know, the stuff and ideas that comes fr...

The Year in DVDs 1) Deadly Sweet (Cult Epics) Italian writer/director Tinto Brass' loose 1967 adaptation of a Serg... | By Lee Gardner and Bret McCabe

The Year In Tracks . . . just in the case the album really is dead. | By Michael Byrne and Lee Gardner

By Michael Byrne and Lee Gardner | Posted 12/9/2009

All apologies for the misleading title, but now that you're here, I might as well confess that this is hardly a coprehensive primer on music's better singles in 2009. No, nope, there isn't time. What follows is a smattering--and only that--of the tracks that we've been obsessing over, that crowd our own personal 2009 top tens, that we think just plain slay.

Atlas Sound “Quick Canal”
Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox invites Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier into his bedsit solo project Atlas Sound and emerges with an out-and-out diva track. Not that Sadier’s elegant vocal ever rises above her usual need-a-sweater cool, but the way it unfurls over Cox’ café-pop rhythm and gives way to a tunnel of shoegaze scrim at about the 5-minute mark redefines “epic,” in a quiet way. (Lee Gardner)

Karl Blau “Dark Sedan”
Just a nice song to listen to and not really think about: a solid groove, mild disco-y synth, some light sax toots, and Karl Blau's voice, on the weirder side of vanilla and recorded with a hair's shade of echo. Basically the sort of thing G Love would be writing with an extra 75 or so IQ points. (Michael Byrne)

Califone “Evidence”
This Chicago-based Red Red Meat offshoot/continuation continues to unearth more and more gorgeous melody from under the dusty junk in its Tom Waits Magical Trunk. And this tune, from 2009 release All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, adds the bonus of smooth country-rock harmonies and shifting avant-accordion tones. Why Wilco is huge and music like this passes largely unnoticed makes no sense. It can’t be Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics, can it? (LG)

Vic Chesnutt “Been Flirting With It All My Life”
“When my mom was cancer sick/ she fought, and then succumbed to it/ but first you made her beg for it.” Few can convincingly make this music anymore—so personal, so honest—and, among them, Vic Chesnutt is one of the best, a wrenching songwriter with a sandpapered, uncomfortably human voice that nonetheless towers over any band its paired with; in this case, an ensemble drawn from Godspeed You Black Emperor and Fugazi, which is really no joke. (MB)

Nels Cline “Thurston County”
Even before he joined Wilco, guitarist Cline always had as many fans (if not more) who came to him through indie rock rather than jazz, where his recordings usually get filed. There are good reasons for that. The title of this track from his polyglot 2009 breakthrough Coward not only references Sonic Youth’s guitarist and the home county of indie hub Olympia, Wa., its chiming SY-ish dissonance hooks and melodic lift-off reward like a Kill Rock Stars hit. (LG)

Alela Diane “White As Diamonds”
An absolutely immaculate folk number from a singer/songwriter with a voice sweeter than Jolie Holland's, a just-there hardened Western edge, and the sort of vocal control they invented instruments to mimic. Folk music's been twisted every which way this decade—for better and much for worse—but the neo-traditionalism of Alela Diane is refreshingly pure, simple, and unconvoluted. When you're as talented a songwriter as this, you can get away with that. (MB)

DJ/rupture and Andy Moor “The Sheep Look Up”
God bless DJ/rupture for delivering one of the finer WTF moments in music this year. Patches is, as a whole, double-billed between rupture and Ex guitarist Andy Moor, but nowhere on the record does it feel so precisely like a duet between a punk-rock guitarist and a DJ. A gritty guitar line, minutely dubbed so it feels like it's sliding into itself, and a breakbeat, playing off each other and building and building into this sublime moment where the play between the halves lines up so perfectly it feels like the composition is going to fall apart in shards. But it doesn't, and it's breathtaking. (MB)

The Field “The More That I Do”
In 2007, From Here We Go Sublime was every rock critic’s token electronic/dance album—not that it wasn’t great—but follow-up Yesterday and Today has been majorly slept-on, which is especially ironic given the “band” treatment on a few of tracks. Anyway, Axel Willner cuts another sample to teeny bits, this time a snatch of vocals, and shapes it over the same-old 4/4 into an ever-peaking disco thrill. (LG)

Oneida “I Will Haunt You”
Another year, another fairly brilliant omnivorous psych-rock slab from Oneida, which is now sitting on a stack of them. The recent Rated O is best heard in its full two-CD/three-LP/umpteen-download glory, but this track encapsulates its appeal: urgent, churning beat; pungent biker-rock guitar; creepy intoned harmonies; concise sonic fuckery for a coda. Tune in, turn on. (LG)

Fire! “Can I Hold You for a Minute?”
Scandanavian saxophonist Mats Gustafsson gets into all sorts of cross-genre shenanigans (see: his Don Cherry tribute/“garage jazz” trio the Thing) and new project Fire! pushes into ever more mysterious realms. Featuring bassist Johan Berthling doubling up on keyboards and guitar and Andreas Werliin on drums, the trio essays fuzzy, dragged-out drone psych, for lack of a better term, highlighted by Gustafsson’s side-2-of-Funhouse blowing. This 13-minute epic has every bit as much in common with Spaceman 3 as Sun Ra or some such, and that’s a good thing. (LG)

Harmonia and Eno ’76 “Welcome”
Lately almost every time something shuffles up on the ‘Pod that begs the question “Who was that?” it’s something from Tracks and Traces, an obscure collaboration between German avant-pop unit Harmonia and art-music guru Brian Eno that was freshly reissued in ’09. Take your pick of great tracks, really, but for now try “Welcome,” a mother’s there-there of a track lit up from the inside by one of those luminous melodies that have always been Eno’s secret weapon. Makes one well up just thinking about it. (LG)

Nadja “Long Dark Twenties”
LOL: Nadja, the grand high master of bleak monolithic go-nowhere fuzz, covers one of the original tracks from the Kids in the Hall movie—one that deftly mocks bleak white-people problems. A good self-ribbing from a band that needed it. (MB)

Nudge “Two Hands”
Jazz-funk has never, ever been treated so well. Honey Owens sings to you from some sultry other dimension, echoing up and down endless psychic hallways; dubby wahs pan from speaker to speaker; a rubbery bass line skips town on gravity; a brushed snare fades and recedes—this is music in orbit, groove-central in a back room on the Enterprise. And, man, that guitar solo—it sounds like something crafted from an electrical fire. (MB)

Pylon “Yo-Yo”
This old-school Athens, Ga., proto-indie-dance band has been the subject of a recent reissue campaign from DFA Records, and why not? Listen to the jerky bleeping guitar/bass/drums bop of this tune from the band’s 1983 album Chomp and you can hear the perfect alchemical blend of dancefloor muscle and wallflower appeal that half the bands in the country spent much of the last decade chasing. Add a perfect pop-song metaphor for the push and pull of attraction from singer Vanessa Briscoe, and this is better than something that could have been made yesterday. (LG)

Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse “The Man Who Played God”
The record as a whole didn't hold up to its billing: Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse collaborating on a soundtrack to a David Lynch book somethingorother with a shitload of very special indie-rock royalty guesting. Mainly, it just sounds like a really well produced Sparklehorse album—meaty and rustic sad-bastard pop—with some cool ambient effects. This is a gem, however: Suzanne Vega providing the vocal honey for a few minutes of superbly-crafted country-rock. (MB)

Sunn 0))) “Alice”
Sunn 0))) turns down the wall-of-doom, ups the twang, calls out the lowing horns, and emerges with the dusty, growling Morricone-esque soundtrack for the as-yet-unfilmed screen adaptation for Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. A whole new sonic corner turned. (LG)

Tinariwen “Tenalle Chegret”
This band of guitar-bearing Saharan Tuaregs have been recorded/marketed variously as a sort of world-folk curio and as the great desert rock band of Brian Jones’ hash dreams, plus a few iterations in between. On Imidiwan: Companions, it arrives at something that rings truest yet. This electric-guitar-driven track settles into a distance-covering lope with just enough syncopated flex to invoke rock, as moaning lead vocals and lightly treading female back-up harmonies evoke a world-weariness that’s both timeless and strangely immediate. Here, Tinariwen isn’t the new this or the desert that. It’s just this. (LG)

YOB “The Great Cessation”
Doom metal is having quite a moment right now. As in, all of the sudden the kids dig it—Saint Vitus, Pentagram, Eyehategod, Burning Witch, but for all the interest, new output's been comparably thin. Enter the super-saturated metal churn of YOB, blearily mining its own gray hell in the unlikely place of Eugene, Ore. “The Great Cessation” is an epic: bucolic guitar shimmer gives up to foreboding, timid churn to an eventual cresting, floor-splintering Black Sabbath monument. Welcome to the end-times. (MB)

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The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

The Year in Television (12/9/2009)

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