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2009 Year End Best Of

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Once, when i was just starting off in the field of Music Criticism, Jeff Clark advised me to "Sell back any promo that you don't love on first listen. It's the only way you will ever make any money at this."

In 2009, the music promotions industry went digital. This is the true sign of the death of the CD, and according to Mr. Clark, it signals the end of any way to make money doing what we do. I wonder how he is coping now that, instead of being mailed a physical product that ostensibly has some value to someone, he is sent a download link to a valueless collection of digital media? I am glad that i have a day job and never planned to make any money off of this.

I know that i, for one, am overwhelmed. In the average week in the era before digital promotions, EvilSponge would receive 1 or 2 CDs for potential review. That seemed manageable to me -- listening to 1 or 2 CDs to at least see if they merited further investigation was something that i could work into my busy schedule. So just think -- approximately 100 or CDs a year were listened to in order to filter out the ones that EvilSponge actually posted reviews on! See what i go through for you people?

But now i receive 1 or 2 download links to records each day! (Well, weekdays that is -- promo people apparently work 9 -5, M - F. Who knew?) Think about that-- it is about a 300 fold increase in the amount of music that i have to sort through before i even get to the stage of in-depth listening for actually writing the review. Sometimes, heck, most of the time, i feel like all i do is listen to mediocre promos that i have downloaded onto my Zune and that survive a day or two on it, until i reconnect to the Zune software on my PC and delete them…

It is, officially, overwhelming. I have to come up with a better process, but i just haven't been able to think of one yet.

I say all of this as a way of saying that i have no real clear grasp of what 2009 was like from a musical perspective. To me, it is a blur of earnest singer-songwriters and bands that want to be Coldplay but lack that much talent…

Here are the things that i did, honestly, enjoy this year.

  1. Fever Ray by Fever Ray. This has turned out to be a one-off project, as Ms. Anderson has already reunited with the other half of The Knife to work on a synth-pop opera about Charles Darwin. Still, this was a fascinating record, and one whose depths i am still exploring after several months.

  2. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. This is like candy -- it is intensely sweet and enjoyable, yet over so soon. But you can just start the record over again, and happily bounce along to it yet again.

  3. O + S by O + S. This was an early record, in that i listened to it a lot in the spring, but it is a solid record. Orinda Fink and Scalpelist have crafted some interesting pop, and i hope to see more collaboration from them.

  4. Deaths and Entrances by My Latest Novel. My Latest Novel make intricate pop music of the highest order. Any release by them is worth listening to, and this album filled my summer with its complex harmonies. Beautiful stuff.

  5. Mirrorball by John Foxx and Robin Guthrie. Each artist is worthwhile in their own right, but together they crafted an album of remarkable beauty.

  6. The Eternal by Sonic Youth. Another solid album from the band, this one continues to be on frequent rotation.

  7. Rewolf, aka, Acoustic At Olympic Studios by Asobi Seksu. (This album sold on their spring tour has been repackaged by Polyvinyl and is more widely available as Rewolf now.) Noisy shoegazers prove that they really do know what they are doing by stripping out all the noise to reveal the skeletal arrangements of their work, which allows the beauty to show through for all to see. This is the Asobi record to play for your pop friends, and is a great record all around.

  8. Arrivals by Worriedaboutsatan. Oddly enough, this is the only promo album to make this list, as all the others were records that i purchased… Huh. Anyway, this is a really enjoyable album of ambient drones and beats.

  9. Dying in Time by Port-Royal. This band continues to do amazing things that both delight and amaze me. I cannot recommend them enough.

  10. Logos by Atlas Sound. Bradford Cox, much like the Italian lads of Port-Royal, continues to do amazing stuff.
  1. Opiate Sun by Jesu. Is this metal or industrial or shoegaze? Who cares -- it is dense and lovely.

  2. The Natural Order of Things by Trespassers William. Five songs of light pop brilliance.

  3. In All the Empty Houses by Epic45. Epic45 continue to do what they do best, which is make quirky pop songs that blend electro and acoustic elements under a haze of Englishness. Nice stuff.

  4. Angel Falls by Robin Guthrie. Mr. Guthrie continues to make interesting music that treads the border between ambient and pop. Of his three solo releases from this year, this one was my favorite, just barely.

  5. Remix EP by Dark Captain Light Captain. Indoor Miner had been going on about this band for a while, yet i had never really heard them. (This is the problem with these trans-Atlantic relationships -- it's not like he could just let me borrow the CD for a few days…) Then, unexpectedly, a promo company sent me a link to download this. Wow, this is a fascinating collection of songs. I must hear more from this band.

  6. Without You I'm Napping by Japanese Gum. This was their debut download, and i still find it to be three perfect songs. Their full-length was good as well, but there is no weakness at all here, so this stands out to me. Yummy electro-pop.

  7. Kingdom by Naam. Blues metal done right. That's all you need to know.

  8. A Lot Of Love, A Lot Of Blood by Florence and the Machine. The latest English female vocalists singing with a powerful blues/soul influence. Florence has a great voice, and The Machine make really fun tunes.

  9. Options by Portal. After a three year hiatus, this release caught me by surprise. Rumor has it that this is the final Portal release, and that Scott Sinfield will be releasing new material under a different name. Still, this was a lovely EP and a nice way to wrap things up.

  10. Murmur by The Sight Below. And to wrap up the list, a great little ambient release.


  1. Moth b/w Wolf Cub by Burial and Four Tet. This collaboration is simply amazing. I would love to hear more of these two acts working together.

  2. Moses 12" by Elizabeth Fraser. Oh my god -- did you hear that Cocteau Twins vocalist Liz Fraser finally released some solo material? It's damned good too!

  3. Transparence 10" by Asobi Seksu. This was not, in my opinion, one of the best tunes off of Hush, so i was confused as to why it got its own release. Well, the remix version is really nice, and the additional B-side track is good as well, meaning that this is a release i came back to a lot more than i expected.

  4. Marble Gods b/w Big Waves by Sad Day For Puppets. Really nice pair of noisy pop tunes.

  5. Balding Generation (Losing Hair As We Lose Hope) by Port-Royal. One great tune and three interesting remixes. Not bad at all.

This year i officially got over my interest in standing around a dark smoky club until all hours of the night just to see someone perform. I am a morning person -- as soon as the sun goes down i start getting tired. So i saw a lot fewer bands this year than i have in a long time…

  1. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I saw this act three times, and all three times they put on great sets. I think that their most recent set, in September, was the best set from them, but really they are a great live band and i urge you to see them.

  2. Jupiter Watts play Dunch during the snow. This was a simply amazing day: pancakes, mellow complex rock, and snow in Georgia.

  3. The Purkinje Shift at Eyedrum. Atlanta math rock legends reunite to play for half an hour at the benefit for a deceased friend. Damn, that was awesome.

  4. Sonic Youth at The Variety Playhouse in July. I have really been enjoying their records lately, and this was a fine performance. They are a great live band.

  5. My Latest Novel at SxSW. When i went to Austin this year, i had no idea that this band would be there. And we walked forever and a day to get to the venue, but it was worth it. They are simply glorious live. I wish they would tour…

  6. Headlights at The Drunken Unicorn. This was the second time i saw this band this year, and although they played to a mostly empty club on a Thursday, i enjoyed the heck out of their set. These little people make some damned fine music!

  7. The Besties at SxSW. I have really enjoyed The Besties on record, and i was excited to finally get to see them live. So what happens -- a SxSW sound guy screws up their set (that never happens), but they still manage to sound fun. And then this night got even better by transforming into a glorious post-rock event when we went to see Venice Is Sinking followed by My Education. Although they played at two different venues, the fact that we saw them in order makes it seem like one expertly arranged bill. Venice Is Sinking have become a simply amazing band, and their light pop followed by My Education's post-rock added up to two hours of sheer musical brilliance.

  8. X in July. I have seen this band play many times, but this show at the Variety Playhouse (billed as their Total Request Live show, as you could vote on their website for what songs they would perform), was simply amazing.

  9. Windy and Carl. I know that this kind of thing isn't for most people, but i really like the droning, ambient music these two create. Seeing them do it live is an added treat.

  10. The Pogues. In March, shortly before i went to SxSW, The Pogues played Atlanta. Yes, Shane McGowan was hammered, incoherent, and staggering, but the band was excellent. This was a fun time.

Not everything was sunshine and lollipops in 2009. Here are some bummers:

  1. Polvo have reunited after a long hiatus, played an excellent tour (reviewed last year) and then somehow manage to release a new record that is BORING. Huh?
  2. The Besties broke up. Dammit! What would Tim Armstrong do in this situation?
  3. Beat the Devil release a posthumous downloadable compilation called An Idiot's Guide in which they overproduced the hell out of all their tunes, thus stripping any life from those songs. A damned shame, really.
  4. There was no Jupiter Watts record this year.
  5. Jerry Fuchs of Maserati, RIP. This was the most awful thing to happen in music all year.

I am not a film buff by any stretch, but i actually saw several films in theaters this year. Here they all are, ranked in the order that i liked them.

  1. The Watchmen
    I am a huge fan of the graphic novel this is based on, and can recite large chunks of dialog from memory. (Would you like to hear a dramatic reading of Rorschach's origin speech from issue 6? No, it's okay -- no one ever wants to hear that.) To make this movie, they basically filmed the comic book. You can even take stills from the film and line them up with panels from the comic, which is a really cool effect. And even though they changed Rorschach and made him less sympathetic and more psychotic (as opposed to just being a right-wing freak as he was in the comic book), and changed Ozymandius and Doc Manhattan, i am very pleased with this film. Finally, an Alan Moore movie that was worthwhile. If you haven't seen it, i urge you to do so.

  2. District 9
    This was a really cool sci-fi film. I liked the different take on the "aliens come to Earth" trope.

  3. Sherlock Holmes
    This is a good action film. When did Robert Downey Jr. become a good actor?

  4. 9
    I really wanted to see this because i know one of the animators. It was a decent film, but was really beautifully made. Fine work Mr. Montgomery.

  5. Up
    This was a fun movie. Kind of simplistic and there are some holes in the plot, but i guess it is a kid's movie so i shouldn't complain too much.

  6. Wolverine
    I was a big X-Men fan back when i read comics, and i enjoyed this take on Wolverine's origin story.
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