Sunday, December 27, 2009

Too Bad I Like It...

These year-end lists can be intoxicating. I read them and I just want to argue the merits of the way a list plays out with each of my friends. In my mind, we sit over a freshly French pressed organic brew, gesticulating in a dimly lit cafe with half burnt cigarettes between our ring and middle fingers.

"Zis Springsteen alboom ise shite."

We speak in some sort of accent that is vaguely French, German and Irish.

But seriously, I have been seeing all of the usual year end lists carted out in attempt to sum up the year. This year has been even worse because it is the end of a decade so now writers attempt to sum up the cultural importance of this year of music, film, theatre, TV and current events as a microcosm for the entire decade. Now, don't get me wrong, if I had a weekly column to write and I needed to meet a quota, then I would list it up without a doubt. In fact, I don't have any deadlines to meet, any column quotas to make and I have given you (the GOOD reader) three straight list posts (oops! I just spoiled the ending for this week). However, after seeing these lists placed in each newspaper I read, each website I visit and each egg roll I eat for dinner, the summaries have become a bit repetitive. Because I am a constuctive and optimistic person, I am going to halt my naysaying here and bow to the year-end list, because they are entertaining to read. I will also bow to the decade summary column, because I will be putting my own spin on that very same column, this very same week (I'm actually going to work on this one, cogent ideas, worthwhile theories, etc.).

So, without further ado, I submit to you my "Top Ten Albums of 2009." Now keep in mind that the criteria for this list was not that an album had to necessarily be made or released in 2009, but rather that I listened to it 2009 and thought it made my top ten. The criteria for that top ten being its relevance to me and also how good the music actually is. You may call this subjective (and oh it is) but if we are going to tango, we might as well go all the way and not regret the damn thing in the morning when we are wearing each other's clothes.

As I was saying:

10. Little Feat - "Little Feat"

When I wanted a "go-t0" album for party music this year, I picked up Little Feat's self-titled first album. This sounds like Exile on Main Street-era Stones before the Stones even hit that stride. However close Lowell George and the boys come to sounding like Mick and the Stones, they don't have the same experience and cunning to make it as iconic as the Stones did, yet, there is a looseness here that can't be denied. On "Strawberry Flats" when the band hits those high notes with all of the backing vocals added in, you can see the bar laid out in front of you. The piano is especially terrific on the whole album and you can also hear the a little bit of the roots of Jay Farrar's delivery on some of the vocal tracks. The whole album is a must listen of course, but you can't skip "Druck Store Girl," "Snakes on Everything," "Strawberry Flats" and "Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie."

9. Julian Casablancas - "Phrazes for the Young"

This album was not widely regarded as a success and again Julian picks an odd title for an album (First Impressions of Earth?) that tries to hard to make a generational statement, however, I thought it was one of the best albums to come out this year. Julian overreaches in some parts, but you can't deny that overall, he is very much in control of his sound. The first song "Out of the Blue" is all driving guitars like a brand new Strokes song until we reach the chorus and the synthesizers come in and the song reaches a hook that rivals and perhaps betters any Strokes song and a lot of the top singles of the 80's as well. "Ludlow Street" has gotten the most press because of its wide mixture of genres (country shuffle, rock, electronica) but for me it isn't one of the must listens. "11th Dimension" is obviously the pop hit, but it is the lyrics of "Left and Right in the Dark" and the album closer "Tourist" that really show where Julian has reached a new level of maturity. "Tourist" especially leaves you feeling impressed at where he is standing at his career.

8. Fleetwood Mac - "Rumors"

Obviously a lot has been written about this album. Admittedly, I have been a late arrival to its praise. This year I did give myself the chance to listen to it, not out of any sort of heartbreak, but merely because the time had come. The familiarity of the songs can be jarring at first, however, as you follow the course of the entire album, each song feels right at home and you suddenly lose your identification of songs like "Go Your Own Way" as songs that were overplayed by your classic rock radio station and remember them as "yeah I love that song that comes after 'Don't Stop'. Oh yeah, I love 'Don't Stop'" The album never lets up from the first song "Secondhand News" (my favorite) on. And there aren't many songs that are more fun than "I Don't Want to Know."

7. Paul Simon - "Paul Simon"

At about this time last year, I began looking deeper into Paul Simon's solo catalogue. I had grown up, like most people, listening to Graceland on vinyl at my friend Erik's house when his mom was out and smoking pot on the roof while we tilted the speakers out the window outside towards his lawn. I knew some of the other singles like "Kodachrome" because it was used in every "looking back on growing up montage" in movies. As I was looking into Simon's catalogue, I realized that I had gotten his first solo album a few years ago, but had never really delved into it. Last winter, I took my time in knowing defining songs like "Mother and Child Reunion," which is one of the most lyrically true and moving songs written on Planet Earth, "Peace like a River" and "Run That Body Down." There are also the slighter songs like my favorite "Papa Hobo" (ok it has the line "its a natural reaction I learned in this basketball town" of course I love it) and the album ender "Congratulations," which could be one of Paul Simon's most underrated songs. It is Paul, acoustic guitar and organ, but manages to sound so big when he repeats "love is not a game". If there were an actual church, temple, or mosque that mattered, this would be the music that they played. Holy and simple.

6. Bon Iver - "For Emma, Forever Ago"

This was one of the darling albums of 2008 and I know that. But you saw how it snowed last week, right? This album is the sound of fresh snow. I listened to this extensively last winter (a lot when I was writing) and the breeze of songs like "Flume" were truly inspiring in their simplicity and in how natural they came off without any contrivance of being natural. This may have something to do with Bon Iver's insane voice, which actually sounds like wind. Balance this appeal with the anthemic sound of songs like "For Emma" with its mournful yet celebratory horns (see I like paradox) and the explosive rises in "Creature Fear" and you have an album that will truly hold up years from now. This album blows in, rises, passes and is over before you know it. And once its gone, its like the end of that first snowy night - you just want it back again.

5. Grizzly Bear - "Veckatimest"

I jumped on the Grizzly Bear bandwagon right after Yellow House with everyone else. While I enjoyed that album's ability to explode and change dynamics at a turn, I did feel that the songs went on too long and could be too languid. I hoped that they would reign in that explosiveness into finely crafted songs that didn't exceed the three to four minute mark. When "Two Weeks" first popped upin the summer of 2008 on the Letterman Show, I thought that Grizzly Bear had realized this potential. It turns out they hadn't, but they still made one hell of an album in Veckatimest. It is a much more psychedellic album than Yellow House and features more hooks and songs that stand alone than that album as well. "Southern Point" is one of their finest and most manic songs; we know about "Two Weeks" and the incessant stomp of "While You Wait for the Others"; "Ready, Able" was one of the pleasant surprises, but there are songs on this album that are real "glue songs," and it is obvious what their job is. A song like "About Face" is unremarkable, but in the realm of this album it becomes a welcome respite after "Ready Able" and after the album's pinnacle "While You Wait for the Others", "I Live With You" and "Foreground" help end the album on two very different provocative notes. Had those two songs closed out another album, I don't know that they work as well or are rendered as memorable as they do in their placement here. That is the great merit of this album: it worked much better as an album than Yellow House, which felt at times like "oh, look, there's 'Knife'."

4. Fleetwood Mac - "Tusk"

The discussion of this album deserves its own post entirely and I will get to that someday, but for now I need to keep it concise. The follow-up to Rumors, this album is as schizophrenic as them come. It feels like Buckingham and Everyone Else, which is what makes it work so well. Buckingham's songs come on like distorted Buddy Holly stomps and Brian Wilson Jr. compositions, while Stevie Nick's wicked witchery is kicked up in places ("Sisters of the Moon") and refined in others ("Sara"), and all the while Christine McVie is singing some of the sweetest and melodic songs put to music (besides McCartney). The range of emotions that the album covers from "Ledge" to "That's All For Everone" to "Honey Hi" to "Tusk" to "Never Forget" is almost unparalleled. There is a reason why this is the ultimate Sunday afternoon/evening album.

3. Neil Young - "After the Goldrush"

I have always been a great Neil Young fan. The Ditch Trilogy touches a part of me that not a lot of other music has been able to. When I was in bad places, I held my copy of Zuma over my chest and recited the lyrics to "My Country Tis of Thee." However, I never gave this album enough attention as I did to his other work. This album kicked around my car when I was a little kid and when I first heard the song "After the Goldrush" when I was seven years old, it was the first time I have a memory of a palpable feeling of melancholy - what that melancholy was, I don't know and still don't, which is probably why Neil Young can sing in the voice he sings on in that song: it's just a mystery. You can't escape the walls on this album "Oh, Lonesome Me," "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," "I Believe in You" and the title track. Nor can you escape Neil's taste for levity and groove on "Until the Morning Comes" and "Cripple Creek Ferry". And there is the inevitable ragged glory of "Southern Man" and "When You Dance You Can Really Love." You want one song to steal the show, because it seems like that's the way it should play out, but it never does - they're all phenomenal.

2. Wilco - "Wilco(The Album)

I've already written a full post about this album this year. You all know how I feel about the self-referential aspects of the album title and the opening song. This band is perhaps my favorite band of all time so I am biased and openly biased. Their latest album hit me in just the right way. As I see people assessing the past decade - the ups and downs, the illusions and the promise that the next ten years will hope to build on until it too becomes a commodity - this album showing a working band assessing its career and its ability to always come back with a new approach on each successive album seemed to make sense and seemed timely in a strange way. The album is filled with excercises and poses from Wilco's entire career, but they never feel posed or contrived - Wilco are just telling you that this is what they do and what they can do and we should all appreciate it, because with each chance they have taken on each successive album they have become this band. So let's have them continue on and let's allow our young bands to do the same. I hope they don't become Springsteen.

1. Animal Collective "Merriweather Post Pavilion"

Oh, come on! This one was going to be obvious. The album of the year, the album of the moment, of the movement. You can't deny it. Its all been said: endlessly experimental, accessible, a communal album. However, my friend recently brought up a good point when thinking back on Merriweather Post Pavilion. He said to me, "I hope that Animal Collective don't start making world music." And its true, what is experimental and accessible about this album about "Brothersport" and about "Taste" can on a turn become some sort of bland ambient world music that all races can listen to, which is a strange thing to say about rock music. However, the great thing about Animal Collective is that we never have to worry about that actually happening, because they write lyrics like "I want to walk around with you," and "I want four walls with adobe slabs for my girls." They say these things and actually mean them - which is what is important, because phrases like those and the sentiments behind them, are what the greatest art is made of. Now, if only they can reincorporate some of that alienation and regret from "Cuckoo Cuckoo". Maybe next year...

Next, the decade summary as seen from 2009.

Now, the next installment of "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt"


They put the drape over her body. I could see the last glimpse of the red along her ribcage. Then it was all blue.

“We’ll take it from here, Dr. O’Donnell.”

I nodded and watched as they wheeled her corpse down the hall. I looked over at the nurse’s desk. They looked down at their paperwork.

My shoes clacked against the floor. It was freshly waxed. I was wearing dress shoes. I got to my office and realized I still had my gloves on. The blood was turning dark and dry on them. It already looked old.

I opened the door peeling my left glove off. Connor was sitting in one of the chairs that faced my desk. He was still wearing his scrubs too. He didn’t turn around.

I pulled off my left glove and the band smacked rubber.

“What is it, Connor?”


“What the fuck do you want to say to me?”

He turned around. That one strand stretching across his forehead.

“It’s over, Ben.”

I take another drink of the Cutty and place the bottle down next to my record player. I kneel down and open up the cabinet below. I run my hand along the musty smelling carboard of the vinyl covers. I know just where I want to go. Let it Bleed. I slide it out and pull the sleeve off, holding the record gently on the edges. I place it on the turntable. I pick up the needle and line it up on the track line. The black wax is spinning and now the old crackles come from the speakers – strumming guitars.

Well we all need someone we can lean on
And if you want it, you can lean on me.
Well we all need somone we can lean on
And if you want it, you can lean on me.

Jagger is singing like he always wanted to be a cowboy. When I hear a Stones song like this I remember all of the smokey bars and clubs I’ve been in. The times when people crowded around and the talk itself was pure energy and no matter how bad I felt the next day if I could get some of that feeling in me again I knew I would be alright – the invisible vision of a good time and of tinkling glasses. How much of that is just the elusiveness of youth? Because I can remember how important everything felt just because I was young and could talk to people and people knew me and knew about my legendary nights and bouts with the bottle. Now who knows me? I’m sitting alone in a study that is made up of years, pictures, books and dust like anything else. What is that thing that is always on the tip of your tongue when you’re young? Is it a word? The answer would mean a whole lot.

Yeah, we all need someone we can dream on
And if you want it, well you can dream on me.
Yeah, we all need someone we can cream on
And if you want to, well you can cream on me.

When you think about it, though, life can be very simple. Like our engagement party. Rose’s father – old Gerald with his stately moustache drinking Tokaj in a teacup – had it in the VFW Hall basement. He’d done well as a lawyer but he liked the basic things. He was just an average guy. All of our friends were behind the little concession counter they had giving out cups and cups of beer while above them the the menu was missing letters. Ham urger. F ench Fri. Pe s – Cola. My dad dancing with Rose and her mother. I watched them twisting their legs and feet when Gerald clasped his hand on my shoulder.

“You’re a smart kid, Ben.”

“You saw that article too?”

He had a hearty laugh that sounded as though everything funny surprised him, or as if it were the first joke that had ever been invented.

“No, but I mean it. I’ve never met a quicker young man than you.”

“Thanks, Gerald.”

“I’m very happy for the two of you.”

“That means a lot.”

“You’re going to do right by her? Aren’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

He pulled up the waist of his pants, they were already a little high.

“I mean a smart young man like you – things come easy. I know you’ve got a lot of ambition. I just hope it doesn’t tempt you too far. So far that my daughter might suffer because of it. You know I can always put in a word at the firm for you. I know you haven’t studied for that but you should consider…”

We all need someone we can feed on
And if you want it, well you can feed on me.
Take my arm, take my leg
Oh, baby, dont you take my head.

“No,” I said firmly. Maybe I was too firm. “You don’t need to help me out with your firm. We’re going to be alright. I love Rose. I know that.”

“That’s what I thought and I’m happy. That’s also what I’m afraid of.”

He turned, grabbing my shoulders, and hugged me.

“I have some Tokaj behind the counter.”

And I always hated him for that. I hated him for being afraid of how devoted I was to his daughter and always doubting my dreams and disguising it as some sort of respect or awe for my intelligence. Maybe even that night wasn’t as simple as I thought.

We all need someone we can bleed on
And if you want it, baby, well you can bleed on me
We all need someone we can bleed on
And if you want it, why dont you bleed on me

But as time passes with songs like this one and the other musics of life, I still see everyone linking arms over shoulders - Connor and I there with all of the neighborhood guys. It was simple because it was a night all about me and Rose. That’s all it was ever really about for me. Even when I slept past noon or woke up in the bathtub wet after one of those city nights.

I wasn’t close to being famous. I don’t think anyone knew me just like no one knows me now and I’m alone in my study.

“Come on, Benny, open your eyes.”

“I don’t want to.”

“You’ve finally made it and now you don’t want to look in the lights?”

“Maybe I don’t want to know.”

“Come on, open. You promised me in our vows.”

“Did I?”

“Yeah, in sickness and death.”

I open my eyes. It looks and smells like the VFW hall.

“What is this?”

“Something simple. Dad would’ve liked it.”


“I wish the kids could’ve seen it.”

“Yeah, me too.”


  1. Titanium glasses are generally light weight, corrosion resistant and can take being sat on! They can also give a snug fit on the nose, keeping them from slipping.

  2. You said it man. You got the silver and the gold.