We take one long, last look at the most notable shows, singles, surprises, and washouts of 2009
Gossip (At the Commodore Ballroom on October 22)
Beth Ditto promised to take Vancouver to “lesbian church”. But even for those to whom watching The Rachel Maddow Show is as close as they’ll ever get to the lesbian experience, there was something undeniably soul-shaking about seeing the Gossip singer make her way from one side of the Commodore’s dance floor to the other, mingling with the sweaty faithful, all the while belting out “Standing in the Way of Control”.
Hard Drugs (At the Biltmore Cabaret on July 25)
It’s hard to say if the record-release party for Vancouver/Brooklyn-based Hard Drugs was actually as amazing as those in attendance believed it to be. With the air still heavily charged from the spectacular lightning storm that ravaged the city earlier that evening, it’s entirely possible that the awestruck crowd was feeling a little wonky from all that electricity bouncing around. Who’s to say the packed room wouldn’t have been just as enthralled watching a Norwegian mime tiptoe across the stage in an Adidas tracksuit?
Kiss (At GM Place on November 14)
It could have been seeing Gene Simmons spit out a bucket of blood before belting out “Love It Loud” from the scaffolding high above the stage. It could’ve been hearing the New York numskulls dust off the Destroyer closer “Do You Love Me”. It was almost certainly watching flamboyant frontman Paul Stanley singing about his love gun while ziplining across the stadium like a transsexual Errol Flynn. Whatever the highlight was, Vancouver wanted the best and they got the best.
Neil Young (At Ambleside Park on September 12)
Neil Young has been many things: folkie, proto-punk, country rambler, new-wave granddad, and leading toy-train industrialist. In September, he showed up in West Van in his newest guise, as Sarah McLachlan’s opening act at her Summer Sessions at Ambleside extravaganza, sitting down with a Moosehead beer and running through classics like “Pocahontas”. Ms. McLachlan was in fine form, too, for an outdoor bonanza that brought summer to a splendidly warm close.
Gallows (At Thunderbird Stadium on August 15)
At the end of a long and sadly forgettable Warped Tour day, Gallows left a trail of total carnage. The full-bore assault started with singer Frank Carter and guitarists Stephen Carter and Laurent “Lags” Barnard jumping off the stage, setting up on the grassy field, and then conducting a symphony of insanity that included circle pits and an actual wall of death. When the smoke on the battlefield cleared, it looked—for a good 20 minutes or so—that punk rock might actually have a future.
Top Pleasant Surprises
Dan Auerbach Keep It Hid
Until Air Canada has a seat sale, listening to the solo debut from the Black Keys guitarist-vocalist is the cheapest way to transport yourself to the Deep South—the Deep South sans snaggletoothed Anna Paquin and the rest of the freaky cast from True Blood, that is. Don’t expect to find anything in Auerbach’s rustic blues-based solo catalogue that’s reminiscent of that Hollywood slop.
Monsters of Folk Monsters of Folk
Normally, supergroups turn out to be bloated atrocities like the Firm, Audioslave, and Velvet Revolver, all of which blew like Sasha Grey in Face Invaders 4. What a shock, then, to have Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, M. Ward, and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James deliver not only one of the best records of the year, but also one that makes a great case for them walking away from their dead-end day jobs.
The xx XX
It’s hard to get into a band after being inundated with blog hype all year long, but the xx is definitely worth the on-line chitchat. The English group’s understated exercises in postpunk barely whisper through stereo speakers, but these shushed, late-night love letters still speak volumes.
Dead Man’s Bones Dead Man’s Bones
What at first blush appeared to be little more than a vanity project for a movie star and one of his Hollywood pals turned out to be much more than that. Fuelled by their obsessions with ’50s pop and old monster movies, and accompanied by a spirited children’s choir, Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields crafted a lo-fi wonder that is creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky. In fact, you might even say that Dead Man’s Bones is altogether ooky—but in a good way.
Bruce Springsteen Working on a Dream
As the O-Man morphs into another Bush, Springsteen’s nostalgic Americana in tracks like “Queen of the Supermarket”—bittersweet though it is—sounds hollow and desperate. Sticking his balls in our face at the Super Bowl didn’t help. But the musical risks on Working on a Dream start to get under your skin, with the E Street Band pushing into rewarding new territory like the Byrds-do-Morricone of “Life Itself”. This is the Boss not sounding so much like the Boss. In other words, change we can believe in!
Priestess Prior to the Fire
Priestess’s 2005 debut Hello Master brimmed with so many hooks that it suggested an alternate dimension where power metal was the primary focus of Teen Beat magazine. Expectations were high, and sophomore effort Prior to the Fire is commanding, loud, and epic in ways that both resin-stained suburbanite and uptown Georgia Straight turkey can love (check out blitzkrieg “The Gem”). But a strained birth during protracted record-company bullshittery also leaves us with an album that sounds forced, busy, and too eager to impress. Maybe it’s a grower, but Priestess needs to unlearn, and not take another four years to do it.
Jarvis Cocker Further Complications
By no means is the sophomore album from Pulp’s former ringleader a complete clunker, but it’s certainly not worth $9.99 on iTunes. Littered with lacklustre melodies, the disc feels ramshackle for a bloke who penned the early-’90s hit “Common People”. We should probably cut ol’ Cocker some slack, though; after coming up with lyrics like “Zippy zee, zappy zah, yappy yo doodle dum” for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, the creative well was probably drier than the Sahara Desert.
Doom Born Like This
After releasing some 10 albums’ worth of instrumental beats, you can hardly blame Doom (formerly known as MF Doom) for stacking his latest LP with a bunch of backlogged loops. However, reworking the Ghostface Killah collaboration “Angelz”, originally released on a Nature Sounds compilation back in 2006 with a slightly different snare sound, is just plain lazy.
Muse The Resistance
Muse’s tendency toward ludicrous grandiloquence was always forgivable in the past because, simply put, the band rocked like a motherfucker. But The Resistance doesn’t rock and is therefore unforgivable, except by those who think listening to 54 minutes of “Bohemian Rhapsody” sounds like a gay old time.
One day you’re stomping around in bondage pants and a Mohawk, screaming “Fuck you” at the world while cranking out some of the deadliest anthems in the history of uncompromised punk rock. The next, you’re raising a kid and trying to reinvent yourself as a less-accomplished version of your stoner-rock husband. As Mrs. Joshua Homme (aka former Distiller Brody Dalle) discovered, some things are harder to pull off than a shitty 3 a.m. diaper change in the dark.
Bat for Lashes “Daniel”
Why Ralph Macchio would be Natasha Khan’s idea of a dream date is anyone’s guess, but his character from The Karate Kid apparently inspired this ethereal yet driving ode to teenage love. Sure, Khan jacked the beat and much of the lost-in-the-trees atmosphere from the Cure’s “A Forest”, but if you’re going to steal, you might as well steal from the best, right?
NOFX “Creeping Out Sara”
Fat Mike has made a surprisingly lucrative career out of being crude, rude, and disgusting, but seldom has he pulled off the trifecta as brilliantly as on this snot-punk ode to Canuck lesbian DIY darlings Tegan and Sara. It’s a saw-off as to what’s funnier: the singer’s admission that he doesn’t know any of Tegan and Sara’s songs but likes k.d. lang, or his sincere desire to know whether the sisters “Had ever had a threesome/Where they both ganged up on one girl.”
Between its thudding four-on-the-floor beat, ultra-syrupy synths, and peppy pop hooks, the first heart-pumping track to drop off Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix sounds like the perfect jogging song. Hell, you could probably lift weights to it too. Don’t go overboard with it, though, guys. The rail-thin French hipster look still trumps looking like a North American meathead any day.
Odawas “Harmless Lover’s Discourse”
Cast your mind back to January, when the global meltdown was still fresh. In the midst of that came Odawas with this lambent, washy, shoulda-been-number-one mashup of soft rock and downy psychedelia. Utterly beautiful, and just in the nick of time if your apocalypse blues were lying a little heavy. Think Enya for the Veckatimest age, but, you know, a fuck of a lot better than Enya.
The Smith Westerns “Imagine, Pt. 3”
There are probably more deserving songs to land on this list, but given the fact that some of the guys in this Chicago quartet still need hall passes to take a crap, this poppy ’60’s-flavoured jewel wins out.
Top Homegrown Songs
Makeout Videotape “Heatwave”
The wobbly production on the near-perfect slice of dreamy fuzz-pop that is “Heatwave” will have you savouring each listen like it’s the last, fearing that the tape could snap at any second. And then you’ll remember you’re listening to your iPod, and that the Walkman was discontinued before these pups even started preschool.
Dan Mangan “Robots”
There were those who argued that Dan Mangan got more press than he deserved in 2009. We didn’t hear them; we were too busy singing along to what might be the best indie-folk anthem ever, not just from these rain-soaked parts, but, well, from anywhere.
Rich Hope “Let’s Jump Around Some”
With a title that’s as clear a statement of intent as you’ll ever find, this raucous blast of overdriven juke-joint boogie wastes little time getting the party started.
The Good News “Going Away Party”
Not even a burly, cat-calling construction worker could resist the sentimental pull of this dreamy pop number. The sugary-sweet track off of You People Have Carpet on Your Hearts is guaranteed to turn just about anyone into a bumbling romantic, so for God’s sake, please use with caution.
No Gold “Miami”
A lucid clash of pitchy, pink-skinned Scottish funk à la Orange Juice and modish Africanism, but shot through with enough flip and brainy snark that it could only come from Vancouver ’09. “Miami” is magically ramshackle, tight, and exotically groovy all at once, and weird enough to get you scratching your head while you’re shaking your ass.
Top Guilty Pleasures
3OH!3 "Don’t Trust Me"
If you dance to this song, it won’t respect you in the morning, but don’t say the chorus didn’t warn you: "Never trust a ho."
Jay-Z (featuring Alicia Keys) "Empire State of Mind"
As if this high-gloss hip-hop anthem doesn’t make every Alicia Keys wannabe out there feel the need to wiggle into a pair of Nelly’s curve-hugging Apple Bottom jeans and shake her bootylicious backside.
Band of Skulls "I Know What I Am"
Yes, it sounds like Jack and Meg eight years after the fact, and somehow you know Band of Skulls will, in hindsight, be considered every bit as uncool as bandwagon jumpers like Everclear and Cute Is What We Aim For. But for now there’s no point trying to deny the punch packed by the white-people blues-boogie blowout "I Know What I Am". You will dance, even though you secretly know you look ridiculous doing so.
Shakira "She Wolf"
Although she once warbled about how humble her breasts were, the far-out Colombian singer lets her lupine libido take full control on this nouveau-disco number. Thanks to her horny howls and awesomely obscene sex noises, chances are guys have started checking their closets at night, praying that the She Wolf is there, waiting to pounce.
Pearl Jam "The Fixer"
Maybe it’s because Pearl Jam finally sounds fun instead of weighty, with those adorable handclaps and the moronic shout-along chorus. Or maybe it’s just nostalgia for an era when Eddie Vedder and his band of mooks were in your face enough that you could spend some quality time hating them. Either way, "Yeah, yeah, yeah!"
"He was just pissed off because we had bigger crowds than him, and they were having more fun than his crowd. And also, I guess he’s just sad generally, and a miserable cunt. So it’s not a feud. He kind of got the shits because we were playing and it was going really well, and he wanted to play an acoustic number. And it happened to be at the peak of our set. He’s the one who started throwing shit on us, telling his crowd to go and bash our crowd and stuff, and then went and complained to the promoter of the festival and got his set time moved and shit. I couldn’t give a fuck about him. I used to like the Smashing Pumpkins, you know? I mean, I don’t know him personally or anything like that, and I certainly have never spoken to him, but he just sounds like a sour Sally to me."
> The Presets’ Kim Moyes on his band’s brush with Billy Corgan at an Australian music festival
"As far as the hillbilly thing goes, if people think I’m acting like I’m country, I did grow up in the country. I don’t really think I’m a hillbilly, though. I’ve got a little bit of hick in me, but I’m not this crazy, country-fried cartoon. I went to college and shit."
"He had his manager come up and ask me five minutes before his set if I would come and sing the song ["Gamma Ray"] with him. I said I wasn’t really into it and she acted really blown away like, ”˜Oh man, who wouldn’t want to do that,’ and I was just like, ”˜I don’t know the words.’ And she said, ”˜Well, you covered the song for the B-side of his record,’ and I was like, ”˜I don’t remember every computer print out that I read off of. I don’t know the lyrics. I recorded the song after I’d heard it on the radio like twice.’ Then she said, ”˜Well, if you’re going to say "No", you have to tell him,’ so I was like, ”˜I don’t know the lyrics to your song, sorry,’ and he was like, ”˜We’ll just have them print it out, just read them off the piece of paper.’ I’m like, ”˜Ah man, I don’t want to do that,’ and he’s like, ”˜Just do, just do it.’ He kind of just forced me into doing it."
> Jay Reatard on getting roped into performing "Gamma Ray" with Beck
"That wasn’t me! I’m at home right now. I was just walking by and you happened to catch a whiff, I guess."
> Pissed Jeans singer Matt Korvette on the suspiciously loud toilet flush in the background
"We’re a symbiosis of the Partridge and Manson families."
> Strange Magic guitarist-vocalist David Milke