2009: THE (Ultimate) MIX CD
OR: 2008 was a clunker, but 2009 was all cash
Follow the link at the end of the post to download the mix CD as a .zip file.
If you’ve been a regular reader of the Post-Rockist’s best-of lists for the past two years, you know the drill by now: with only loose regard for new releases, I stitch together an aural topography map of the year’s emotional terrain.
Well. This year was goddamn Mount McKinley.
Three years ago, I was just a jaunty, freshly Bachelor of Arts’d kid, living in Milwaukee for no particular reason and writing about music when the mood struck. This year, I quit my job, gave away my heavy old record player, packed up my clanky apartment, had a shot and a beer at the Polish Falcon and loaded a van for a lake crossing out of Milwaukee and back to Michigan.
We tell our friends, and each other, different stories about how it “all started.” He thinks it all started when he sought some crowd-sourced advice about Twitter, but we were already g-chatting regularly by then. I blame the night I took my laptop to the bar and drank Malbec, the night Scott gave me that Leonard Cohen “Marita/Please find me/I’m almost 30″ line. The deal was pretty much sealed by the time he sent me Simon Schama’s Power of Art DVDs (plus a CD of four Jonathan Richman songs about artists; at the bar that night, I drunkenly blathered that it was a SIGN), and clearly, by the time we wrote that song together (BEST OF 09!!), something irrefutable was afoot.
But I really think it “all started” when Todd’s savvy, super-smart wife Kim — a friend of mine from high school — said, three years ago, “Todd! Get some women writing about music for you.” And I’m not just talking about the big story of 2009 that began in January and unfurled toward inevitability.
That’s a longer, more abstract yarn about growing up and finding myself, though, so as not to bore you, I’m just going to get right to the play list, which tells a better tale than I really can in words.
1. You Can’t Force a Dance Party — Dent May and his Magnificent Ukulele — The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele (2009)
A fitting early-in-the-year infatuation for a girl who later fell in love with a guy with a ukulele. This was a nice album to have around in the dead of winter; it makes everyone within earshot feel like they’re in Maui. Also, I wish someone had told me the moral of this song two years ago, when I kept trying to throw inevitably unsuccessful dance parties.
2. The World’s Greatest — The Sweptaways — The Sweptaways Show (2009)
R. Kelly’s 2002 single “The World’s Greatest” is a soaring, gospel-tinged, radio-perfect R&B power ballad in which Kells is at his self-glorifying best (“And the world will notice a king”) — in the video, he plays a boxing champ in flowing crimson robes with the word HERO emblazoned on the back. In the ring with him appear soldiers, preachers, doctors and firefighters (and, toward the end, fireworks), cut with vintage footage of Muhammad Ali.
The song is pretty ridiculous, but unless I’m extra-susceptible to sentimental tripe (and I might be), I think it’s actually a good song, and hard not to like. Which may be why it lends itself nicely to twee renditions — enjoy it because it’s Bonnie Prince Billy! Isn’t it funny, Bonnie Prince Billy, covering that R&B hit? So clever!
I’m pretty taken by this taffeta a cappella cover by the gaggle of pretty Swedish girls known as The Sweptaways. (And by now it should be evident from this list and my other contributions to The Post-Rockist that my musical tastes have been greatly informed by my peers at The Post-Rockist.) I never get sick of it. Sometimes, secretly, I listen to it when I need a little oomph of upward thinking.
3. We; Camera — Shenandoah Davis — We; Camera (2008)
A visiting friend from Seattle introduced me to the out-of-tune spinet sorcery of Shenandoah Davis in the summer of 2008, but I didn’t get around to spending a lot of quality time with this album until 2009. I tried to winnow out most of the non-2009 songs from this mix, as well as many of 2009′s placeholder songs (like “Lisztomania”) due to the insane length of the director’s first cut. This stays, though. It is inextricable from my year.
4. While You Wait for the Others — Grizzly Bear — Veckatimest (2009)
No introduction necessary.
5. Sunken Union Boat — John Vanderslice — Romanian Names (2009)
If we’re giving out gold stars here, this was definitely my favorite album of 2009, in the most ineffable way. It just really moved me, really deeply, in a way that not a lot of albums have managed to do in my life. Maybe that’s the fundamental force of mystery in music. I don’t know.
At Turner Hall in June, after the lights were up and the crowds cleared out, he asked a few lingerers to stay for a few minutes while he ran backstage to grab his guitar and the rest of his band. And when he came back, he sang a song by the merch table, and some of us sang along, and it was beautiful. Plus, he totally hugged me, totally out of nowhere, before I could even introduce myself and tell him I thought he was great.
6. The Privateers — Andrew Bird — Noble Beast (2009)
Most of Bird’s best music is so personal and interior that it makes me flinch to hear it in public spaces or on commercials. Noble Beast was on my mind a lot in the late winter, right before the spring, and my fortunes, turned – when I was still staying up too late, drinking bad whiskey out of the bottle, and putting too many close hopes into the hands of clumsy hucksters.
When the weather finally broke, I walked to a park on the bluff over the lake (the one with the Leif Erickson statue!), lay on my back, and listened to Noble Beast all the way through, watching seagulls.
7. I Hope She Won’t Let Me — Baby Teeth — Hustle Beach (2009)
For more on Baby Teeth, how I feel about Baby Teeth, and this album in particular, please see my review from earlier this year.
8. How to Get My Head Back on My Shoulders — The Daredevil Christopher Wright — The Daredevil Christopher Wright EP (2008)
These bearded boys from Eau Claire, Wisconsin stole my heart at a tiny show in the attic of the YNOT3 in Milwaukee, where they pounded some tom-toms, shook their ample heads of Wisconsin lumberjack hair, and let loose a river of raw talent. We all needed it; it wasn’t long after venerable independent bookstore Harry W. Schwartz shut its doors forever and its sister company, 800ceoread, laid off some people we really loved. It was one of those everyone’s-drunk-and-hugging nights, a night that made me think, “How could I ever leave this place?” A few months later, I did.
The Daredevil Christopher Wright released a pretty excellent debut LP this year, In Deference to a Broken Back, but this song really calls it all home for me, and those are the rules of the year-end mix CD.
9. I Want You Back — The Jackson 5 (1969)
I’m sorry, but I just had to.
10. Sugar Fish — Daniel Johnson — Lazrus (2009)
This album is generally genius, and I usually put it on when I needed to take it easy, clear my head or draw some focus. Daniel’s voice is smooth and sincere but cool and controlled; he piles on layer after gorgeous layer without ever giving you the sense that he’s letting go of you or pushing you into any lawless territory. It’s very comforting in that way, which I guess is a weird thing to say about an electro-pop/dance album, but I’ll give it to him.
11. Pulling on a Line — Great Lakes Swimmers — Lost Channels (2009)
The song I was mostly likely to listen to this year when I was literally pulling my own rug out from under me. I will not seek to explain to you why this might have been a meaningful song for me so as not to condescend to your basic ability to grasp metaphors.
12. The Atlantic Ocean — Richard Swift — Atlantic Ocean (2009)
Boom tap boom tap! Ah-boom tap boom tap!
13. Lalita — The Love Language — The Love Language (2009)
Cue the dance card! Every time he sings “This year has just begun,” I feel a little flush of the possibility and the thrill and the danger of a new, unknowable year. Maybe it’s because the whole year felt like the new year.
14. Good Time — Lightning Love — November Birthday (2009)
America’s most adorable keyboard pop band graced my spring with this feel-amazing anthem. Seeing them live in the fall at DIY Fest was even better. Making friends with them: Best of all.
15. Dreams Come True Girl — Cass McCombs — Catacombs (2009)
Please, before you say “barf,” remember that this is a love song about accepting the truth of love – a truth that is both a relief (“All the troubles in my past/That’s just what they are”) and a reckoning. And it ends with a 70-year-old golden-age movie star squawking “Take me out!” It’s a fuzzy-lens soda-shop sweetheart ballad that’s not too drunk on itself to be a little funny. And if this video doesn’t make you feel like you’re in love with something, you’re a weirdo.
16. Make a Little Time (for Me) — Jason Croff — A Cake for a File (2009)
I can’t really think of any other outfit today working as hard as Jason Croff to emulate the sound of Steely Dan, ’70s smooth jazz/R&B bands and lounge-y easy listening. If anyone is making music like this right now at all, no one is doing it better than the Jason Croff Family Band.
17. Stealin’ — The Trusty Knife — The Trusty Knife (2008)
(photo by C.J. Foeckler for Turner Hall/WMSE)
The Trusty Knife’s late-late-2008 album provided the soundtrack for the year to come. We went to all of their concerts, danced like fools in our hotel room in Vegas, turned it way up in the car, and if we didn’t have the album handy, we just belted whatever choruses we could think of, making up the verses with a few falsetto “ahh-wooohs” thrown in for maximum Pieper effect.
Less than a week before I bid Milwaukee farewell, I went to see Trusty Knife play with my other favorite Milwaukee band, Juniper Tar, as part of bad-ass community radio station WMSE‘s fabulous Radio Summer Camp fête. It was a drenched and drunken celebration of love and friendship: community luminaries tipsy and dancing way up front, friends from the bands smoking and watching the sun go down on the fire escape, brothers Schleicher sneaking me into the dressing room and plying me with whiskey. It was the best send-off a girl could ever want.
18. Beggars Might Ride — Destroyer — Streethawk: A Seduction (2001)
So begins the big-picture coda to the year-end mix CD, with two songs that served as light-posts for the big decisions I made this year. Most people know how much Destroyer means to me; this year, I listened to him constantly, in gusts of snow and on quiet summer afternoons while I watched squirrels in the overgrown garden behind my first-floor studio. And as the year crept forward into fateful August, I repeated these lines like a mantra:
“I imagine it must be hard/To stay away from a life of public relations, but try/Girl, you’ve gotta try,/You’ve got to stay critical or die,/Stay critical or die.”
19. I Don’t Know if She’s Worth 900 Kr. — Jens Lekman — You Deserve Someone Better Than a Bum Like Me (2005)
Out of all of the “it all started when” moments we have discussed, this song might be the it-all-started to start them all. On a humble birthday mix CD shipped priority mail from Detroit to Milwaukee, this sweet little song about the uncertain decision to visit a near-stranger in Barcelona was nestled near the beginning, unassuming but clear as a beacon. It took me a listen or two to really get it, but I can remember exactly where I was when I decoded the message: I was running down the beerline trail, just past the old train bridge underneath Holton Street, approaching the weedy west bank of the Milwaukee River.
In a few days, we’re leaving for Chicago to see Jens Lekman play a New Year’s Eve show at the Empty Bottle, meeting up with Todd and Kim — the only possible conclusion, it seems, for a year that Jens helped set into motion, with friends without whom nothing would have started at all.
2009: The Mix CD – Right-click and save-as to download
Also, Amy’s got her own blog now. You can read it at http://www.nighttraintodetroit.com.