…of making lists and catching up

or:  …a year of Fridays and Falling in Love,
or:  Not another fucking ’09 list?

I remember a time where I used to be ahead of the curve. Or at the very least, I felt like I was. It might have only been for a week some time around 1993 or 1994, but I was there. I know I was. I could feel it.

I should clarify at this point, that when I say “ahead of the curve” I’m referring to the knowledge of bands that weren’t quite famous yet. And when I say “curve”, you need to understand that, where I was from the curve wasn’t exactly what you’d call, “pronounced”. Or even a curve really. As discussed previously, living two hours drive south of the most isolated capital city in the world made keeping close to the cutting edge of anything pretty hard [1]. And I should state for the record that this isn’t about trying to stay cool or keep up with the kids. I like the music I like because of how it makes me feel, and I’ve never been one to blindly follow what everyone else is listening to for the sake of fitting in. Nor is it about dropping band names in an effort to make an impression on people. Once upon a time, maybe. In fact this used to sum me up pretty well:

But not now. Now, it’s more about finding the soundtrack for my ever-shifting mood. One of the things I find most frustrating in life is not being able to find the right song to listen to at any given time. I’ve wasted mornings sitting in front of iTunes, trying to find the perfect soundtrack to start my day. My Apple-branded phone is filled with as much music as it can handle, and if something isn’t on there, I carry my Apple-branded music device with me everywhere as a back-up. And if – for whatever reason – I don’t have that song I need ready when I really really need it, well it may as well be the end of the world as we know it. And I don’t feel fine.

At the start of 2009 I was feeling incredibly out of touch. I needed new music, and I didn’t know where to start. My tour of duty in Cape Town had separated me from reliable internet and up-to-date music stores, so I decided to take the OCD approach to getting caught up: I made an Excel spreadsheet of the top albums of the year as listed by a handful of blog sites I visited regularly, as well as a number of respected music magazines [2]. I then sorted the lists by artists to see who appeared most frequently, and how high they appeared on average. After determining the highest performers, I started the listening process – youtube, myspace, iTunes – pretty much anywhere that would stream me grabs of the top ranking albums. And after a good long while, I learned three things:

  1. One of the albums ranked consistently in the top 5 – if not at number 1 – I already owned and loved – Dear Science, by TV on the Radio
  2. One of the albums I’d consider my favourite from the year – Elephant Shell by Tokyo Police Club – wasn’t anywhere to be found, and,
  3. I really didn’t understand the appeal of Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver.

And that was it. Both the Foals and No Age albums from 2008 eventually managed to find their way into my libary – FoalsAntidote being a highlight of my ’09, albeit a year late. And after forgoing half of Elbow‘s set at V to check out M83 based on their inclusion everywhere, I picked up Saturdays = Youth as soon as I was able, and was not disappointed.

This is all my very non-roundabout way of saying, as I feel I spent most of the year catching up on last year, I don’t really feel all that qualified to be commenting on what happened in music over 2009. Scanning through the already large pile of ‘Best of ’09’ lists that are finding their way out to the blog-o-sphere, I get the impression that my list of bands or artists I didn’t listen to over the past 12 months would probably overshadow those I did – this is due in part to the three months of the year I lost listening to Handsome Furs on repeat.

So rather than rehashing everyone else’s lists  (Bat for Lashes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs both put out awesome albums this year, Grizzly Bear and Fever Ray fall into “I’m not sure yet”, and I’m filing Animal Collective under “I don’t get it” for now), I thought I’d write about a handful of albums that found their way into my space that aren’t getting much of a look in now the year is over.  In no particular order, here are some of my musical highlights from this year that you may or may not have read about elsewhere:

Soulsavers - BrokenSoulsavers – Broken
The follow-up to It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land would have to have been my most anticipated album of this year, purely based on the promise of a Mark Lanegan/Mike Patton collaboration. And even though Snr. Patton’s performance was a blink-and-you’ll-miss it-affair, Broken follows on nicely from the tone set by …The Way you Land. Dark, moody and dripping with atmosphere.
Highlight: Unbalanced Pieces

My Jerusalem Feathers EP
Singer/songwriter and part time Dulli collaborator Jeff Klein got together with Dave Rosser (The Twilight Singers), Ashley Dzerigian (Great Northern), Rick Nelson (Pollyphonic Spree) and Cully Symington (Bishop Allen) and put out an EP containing 5 finely crafted tracks that hint of great things to come. Which I don’t mind, as long as it doesn’t delay the new Twilight Singers [3] album at all.
Highlights: Sweet Chariot, Turtledove

Julian Plenti is Skyscraper
In lieu of a new Interpol record (word is we’ll get that next year), Paul Banks went out on his own and under the name Julian Plenti. And while it took me a while to shake the feeling I was listening to Interpol-lite, there are a handful of great tracks on this album that make me curious enough to here more of his solo effots.
Highlights: Games for Days, Only if you Run

Silvesun Pickups - SwoonSilversun PickupsSwoon
While I don’t want to be yet another making unnecessary Smashing Pumpkins comparisons, I’ll just go on and say it – Silversun Pickups do Billy Corgan better than Billy Corgan. And I don’t even think they sound all that similar. Silversun Pickups capture the same feeling I used to get driving around our home town aimlessly, listening to Melon Collie and the Infinate Sadness and Siamese Dream on repeat. Unlike their first album Carnavas, Swoon took some time to sink in for me, but when it did, it hit pretty hard.
: Growning old is Getting Old and It’s Nice to Know you Work Alone.

Sunset RubdownDragonslayer
Even though this album as a whole didn’t leave as strong an impression as I’d hoped, Idiot Heart comes pretty darn close to being my song of the year. And I can’t help but think the reason the rest of the album didn’t click for me was because I couldn’t get past this track.  Just over 6 minutes of perfection. Builds, hooks, pauses – all in the right places. If there had been some sort of guarantee that I’d hear this at least once on a Saturday night while out somewhere, I would’ve left the house far more than I did during 2009.
Highlights: Idiot Heart, Silver Moons

And in the interest of being a completest, the list of bands I’ve seen live in ’09 looks something like this: Alice in Chains, Nine Inch Nails, Dillinger Escape Plan, Anberlin (twice), Alkaline Trio, The Killers, Human League (one song, but it was Electric Dreams, so I’m counting it), Kaiser Chiefs, Elbow, M83, Louis XIV, Madness, TV on the Radio, Fantomas, The Grates, Arctic Monkeys (yawn), Maximo Park, Handsome Furs, Tori Amos, and thanks to a wonderful birthday present from a lovely lady, I saw The Gutter Twins in Melbourne, and shook hands once again with Mr. Greg Dulli.


Looking back, I’m almost positive I’m forgetting something. If I had to be pushed to name my favourite album of 2009, it’s probably going to be The Twilight Sad’s Forget the Night Ahead, which I’ve already rambled about previously, hence it not featuring here. Having said that, if you ask me again tomorrow I might just change my mind. 2010 is already looking to be a big year in music for me. March in particular will be an amazing 90-a-pallooza-like timewarp – seeing Faith No More and Jane’s Addiction at Soundwave, followed by Dinosaur Jnr, Pavement and The Pixies, all in the space of a month. And then there are new releases – albums from Interpol, LCD Soundsystem, and (maybe) Arcade Fire and Band of Horses, and of course The Twilight Singers.

And with that, if you feel I’ve missed anything or anyone, or have any suggestions for my catching up list in 2010, please feel free to comment below. Thanks for stopping by, Internet.

[1] At this stage you’re probably thinking, “That’s great Mark, but are you ever going to write about anything that isn’t about you in high school?” To be honest, I’m not sure. I still feel like I’ve got a few stories to tell, and while people are still interested, I’ll probably keep telling them. Whenever this stops getting interesting, please do let me know.

[2] Which, now that it’s written down looks like an oxymoron.

[3] My anticipation for which is reaching rather uncomfortable proportions.


Author: Mark Ampersand

Budding writer, connoisseur of fine popular culture and Batman fan.

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