So that was 2009, huh? Besides all the day-job stuff, we'd be happy for another year just like it, musically and personally. We loathe when people say "this year wasn't very good for music" or crap like that, because, frankly, if you're saying that you weren't trying hard enough. There's always more music, and there is always great music. But enough of that rant. We're pleased with the array of artists we spotlight below; we hope you'll find some things here that had escaped your attention heretofore, and that you derive as much enjoyment from listening to them as we do. For those who are curious, here are links to some of our prior annual lists [2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2002]. Thanks for reading Clicky Clicky in 2009, and special thanks to Michael Piantigini, Jay Kumar, D.P. Dean, The Good Doctor and anyone else whose writing made these electronic pages better during the last 12 months. We're grateful for their help, and we're grateful to our readers. See you in 2010.
1. Johnny Foreigner -- Grace And The Bigger Picture -- Best Before
Unsurprisingly, Johnny Foreigner's wonderful, epic sophomore effort Grace And The Bigger Picture tops our list of best records of the last 12 months. We already named the Birmingham, England-based noise pop trio's 2009 release one of the best records of the decade in October, and the band's prior releases topped our list last year and was runner-up in 2006. Grace And The Bigger Picture was exactly the record we were hoping the band would deliver as a follow-up to it stellar debut: loud, brash, aggressive, tuneful and articulate. There are some surprising turns on the set, such as the beautiful, piano-led ballad "More Heart, Less Tongue," and an abundance of awesome anthems. The ambitious three continues to impress, and we're eager to hear what comes next.
[review] [listen] [buy] [MP3: "Feels Like Summer"]
2. Projekt A-ko -- Yoyodyne -- Milk Pie
As far as surprises went in 2009, this was the biggest and the best. The apparently still-warm embers of Urusei Yatsura here are reignited under the moniker Projekt A-ko, a trio led by Fergus Lawrie. The trio not only put out the second-best record of the year, but frankly they arguably put out the best Dinosaur Jr. record of 2009, as well (we're huge Dinosaur fans, so this is saying a lot). Yoyodyne is graceful and cacaphonous, literate and blunt. The band cobbled the set together in free time with no budget, and released it on their own label with almost nil publicity, which means too few know that this gem is out there. Which we suppose is one argument for being affiliated with a reputable record label. But that is a discussion for another day. Yoyodyne is filled with incredible songs, a treat from end to end.
[review] [listen] [buy] [MP3: "Ichiro On Third (Demo)"]
3. Nosferatu D2 -- We're Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On To Block Out The Noise -- Audio Antihero
We had no idea this record was at long last getting its official release in 2009, although we were quite familiar with the stunning music it contains. While his earlier trio Tempertwig is quite respectable, it is with Nosferatu D2 that fronter Ben Parker established his legacy. Let's quote ourselves, shall we? "Here is England's greatest contemporary lyricist, Ben Parker, coupling his words and fairly singular guitar playing with the punishing drumming of his brother Adam to create perhaps the greatest unheard record of the decade. The contents of defunct duo Nosferatu D2's We're Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On To Block Out The Noise -- recorded years ago but only now available in stores -- seethe and brood with startling intensity, as Mr. Parker's narrators botch relationships, asphyxiate under the weighty, numbing press of an increasingly homogenized consumer culture, and second-guess their way into oblivion." It's a brilliant effort, it's important music, and the record's release hopefully in some way affirms to a broader audience that Mr. Parker is one of the best songwriters in England today.
[review] [listen] [buy] [MP3: "Springsteen"]
4. The Beatings -- Late Season Kids -- Midriff
A tour de force of American indie rock. To quote ourselves: "The title to Boston-slash-New York rockers The Beatings' sixth full-length evokes the surging success of a pro sports franchise making all the right moves perhaps when least expected. Nearly a decade into the band's career (and well into certain members' thirties, marriages and parenthood) is an unlikely time to have created its best, most confident record -- and yet here it is. Late Season Kids is a triumph crafted by a quintet whose tenure is longer than many -- if not most -- big-leaguers and rock acts alike." Local fans should note the quintet returns to the stage Jan. 23 at Great Scott in Boston.
[review] [listen] [buy] [MP3:
5. Dananananaykroyd -- Hey Everyone! -- Best Before
The most overtly awesome band in the UK, there is just no denying Dananananaykroyd, no debating the potency of its masterful songwriting, brilliant chops, spectacularly boundless energy. We've got a soft spot for bands whose first word on their record is their own band name, and Dananananaykroyd earns points for that here, too. Hey Everyone! is a blitzkrieg of positive-vibes and surprisingly jangly post-hardcore/screamo. It's somewhat surprising that this is a formula that few if any other combos have hit on. As a sidenote -- we're sure this is among the worst times to invest money in breaking your UK-based band in America (presuming you stand to gain financially from doing so), but Best Before Records, home to both Dananananaykroyd and Johnny Foreigner, needs to figure out how to get these bands into America. Because America has been deprived for too long.
6. Calories -- Adventuring -- SmallTown America
Ten sing-alongable punk anthems from another stellar Birmingham-based trio, all killer and no filler. In the time it takes you to read this Top 10 list you could have listened to most of Adventuring, with time left over to make a delicious cake ("Jesus was waaay coool"). Calories' melodic, agressive approach gives the appearance of being simplistic, but in fact between changes in tempo and dynamics there is a lot going on here. There is cleverness in not appearing over-clever, and Calories will hopefully begin to garner a much deserved reputation as one of the smartest indie punk bands working. Look for the band's sophomore full-length Habitations to street in England in March, as we reported here last month.
[review] [listen] [buy]
7. Cold Cave -- Love Comes Close -- Matador
This is the most recently released record that made its way onto our list, and only last week did we throw a record off the list to make room for Love Comes Close, which so persistently had us reaching for the IPod lately that we had to include it. Although not as graceful and understated as The xx, Philadelphia-based synthpop concern Cold Cave's music has a similar way of sinking deep into your conciousness, getting comfortable and residing there. The tracks on Love Comes Close at turns recall darkwave-era Depeche Mode or early New Order, with a little more grit and a little less sophistication. So it is kind of surprising that Cold Cave's primary songwriter, Wesley Eisold, once fronted hardcore acts and has songwriting credits on a Fallout Boy record. We don't recommend people try listening to the quartet, we challenge them to STOP listening. And we have a feeling that if we had spent more time with their record before making our year-end list it would have ranked even higher.
8. The Answering Machine -- Another City, Another Sorry -- Heist Or Hit
The long-awaited full-length from this scrappy Mancunian quartet did not disappoint. In fact, during the wait that started with the release of the band's third single "Silent Hotels" way back in 2007 the band added significant dimension to their guitar-pop foundation with the addition of a flesh-and-blood drummer and sharp focus on songcraft. Sure, we were disappointed that the Tony Hoffer-produced demo "Romantic And Square" did not make its way onto Another City, Another Sorry, but that just means the band has one more amazing track in its back pocket to use for a single or the next album. And speaking of next albums, an email from a publicist earlier this month indicated that a 2010 release from The Answering Machine was TBD, which we'll take as a positive sign that the young band is fired up and ready for album no. 2.
[review] [listen] [buy]
9. Morrissey -- Years Of Refusal -- Universal
We're not the sort of Morrissey fan that glad-hands every successive release of the former Smiths fronter. In fact, we're of the opinion that the fans and critics that annointed 2004's You Are The Quarry as Morrissey's great come-back were premature, even wrong. Instead, it is Ringleader Of The Tormenters that truely displayed Morrissey once more at the peak of his powers, which powers, in our opinion, markedly waned not long after the dawn of the '90s. 2009 brought us Years Of Refusal, and it is a barn-burner. It certainly would have been improved by Visconti's production, but nonetheless the record is aggressive ("Something Is Squeezing My Skull"), smart-alecky ("It's Not Your Birthday Anymore"), dour ("I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris") and brilliant all at once.
10. Fleeting Joys -- Occult Radiance -- Only Forever
A masterpiece of sculpted guitar and angelic vocals. Sure, you've heard this sort of thing before, but we don't think you've heard it done as well or as recently as Fleeting Joys' 2009 stunner Occult Radiance. Tidal waves of guitar, nods to contemporary gothy psyche/space rock, but mostly it is incredible song writing that makes this one of the best of the year. The Northern California-based duo make only rare live appearances, making this record all the more important as a document of the greatness of Fleeting Joys.
[review] [listen] [buy]