I’m sure most of you are listed out by the last week of the year, but I’ve had a few “best of 2009” posts I’ve wanted to put up over the last month without ever managing to pull them together. So bear with me.
Like most people who listen to and write about what’s still somehow called “indie” music, I was simultaneously pleased by and wary of the big Brooklyn breakthrough, the culmination of five or six years of scene-building across the river. The three albums I played in 2009 more than any others — Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, and Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca — have topped any number of lists, and they top mine too. If, like a close friend of mine, you don’t care for what he calls the “choir” bands, this music may not suit you. But I could IV these albums to my brain 24/7 and never quite tire of them; and as a cultural historian interested in “scenes,” I’m quite taken by the fact that these folks all know each other, and to greater or lesser degrees collaborate and cross-pollinate. (DP’s Angel Deradoorian, for instance, also plays in Department of Eagles, the side-project of Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen, and over time there’s been a little inter-band romance among the Brooklyn triumvirate as well.)
I’ve followed all three bands since 2004 or so, which lets me off the hook from feeling like a media tool. I’m still a little disoriented that my tops coincided with Pitchfork‘s so perfectly, though. Typically I see Pitchfork’s top choice as a little time-bound, something that won’t be around four or five years down the line. (Their top album of 2003 was by The Rapture, for instance. How long has it been since you’ve dusted off that CD, if you ever even owned it?) But folks are already covering the newest Animal Collective songs, which suggests there may be a future for this tribal soundtrack after the pot clouds have dispersed. I would have put both DP and GB ahead of AC in terms of songs and albums, but maybe that’s just me.
My fourth favorite NYC album of the year was the recovered treasure chest that is Connie Converse’s How Sad, How Lovely, which doesn’t appear on most critics’ end-of-year lists but really should.
Three of my favorite songs this year not only emerge from New York scenes, past and present, but also speak to conditions of apartment living in ways that complement one another nicely. I’d wanted to bring this trio together in a post about my favorite songs of the summer earlier this year, but never got around to it.
The first is a reworking of the song that topped Pitchfork’s songs list: Animal Collective’s “My Girls.” Amanda Petrusich’s spot-on write-up for the Pitchfork list pegs it as an anthem for new adults,
a life preserver for people tottering on the precipice of adulthood. Panda Bear might be apologetic about his craving (“I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things,” he hedges), but “My Girls” is ultimately a celebration of the simplification–of desire, of priorities– that comes with growing up.
Maybe so, but the pressures to provide are still fresh even for this old man. Maybe the song’s about the perpetual drive to grow up, something my generation’s done a good job resisting. While “My Girls” was very likely my most-played track this year — and comes with a video well worth watching in its own right — I actually came to prefer a mashup with the song “Your Love” by old-school NYC/Chicago underground dance DJ Frankie Knuckles. It makes me want to party like it’s 1989:
When I first heard the chorus to the Animal Collective original, I couldn’t quite make out the words and misheard the lines in the chorus — “I just want / Four walls and adobe slats / For my girls” — as “I just want / Four walls and an East Side flat / for my girls.” And I kind of like it better that way. Adobe? In Brooklyn? Or is the desire for a “proper house” eventually going to drive Panda Bear to New Mexico?
More songs about buildings and love: Here’s Connie Converse’s “Empty Pocket Waltz,” about the freedom to dance once you’ve scraped all your change together to make rent (sign-in to lala may be required to hear the full song, but it will be worth it):
And finally, a song from 2008, but one I listened to over and over again in the summer of 2009 — David Byrne and Brian Eno’s “Strange Overtones,” a song about hearing your neighbor singing through thin apartment walls:
With its throwback to 80s beats I thought of it as a nice companion piece to the Animal Collective/Frankie Knuckles mashup.
Byrne was involved in another of my favorite songs (and live performances) of 2009: his collaboration with Dirty Projectors on “Knotty Pine,” my favorite track from the almost uniformly enjoyable Dark Was the Night compilation:
Aside from the recent DP show at Bowery, one of my favorite sets from an NYC band came early in the year, when Grizzly Bear rolled out most of the songs from Veckatimest at BAM with the Brooklyn Phil backing. As much as I enjoyed the new stuff, I really dug what the orchestra did with some of their earlier songs. Back to the theme of apartment living, here’s Yellow House‘s “Easier,” orchestrated by the wunderkind composer Nico Muhly, who’s playing piano on the far left side of the stage:
And as far as the Grizzlies themselves go, “Two Weeks” was deservedly the universally praised video, though the one for “While You Wait for the Others” is also pretty amazing. As is this one, for “Ready, Able.” In fact, maybe this is my favorite video of the year:
For the sheer thrill of it, though, I loved where Sonic Youth went for their video to “Sacred Trickster”:
And you? What were your favorite NYC-based songs/albums of the year?