My 2009 Mix Tape
My 2009 Mix tape
The songs that made the year
By Jeff Strowe
“Out of the Blue” by Julian Casablancas
My friend Grant and I have talked a lot about this album and about how the first four tracks just jump out of the speakers with pulsating energy. It’s that same energy that the Strokes brought in the early part of this decade and a lot of it is recaptured here, albeit in a much more synth and keys-oriented structure. I chose this track over the three that follow, mainly due to the sense of urgency it brings every time I hit play on the album. It’s the same Stokes sound of youthful, manic, wired-up nerve with one catch: the lyrics. An older Casablancas sings of rectifying his newfound sobriety and family life with the destruction he previously created as a younger celeb. His regretful tone here “And the ones that I made pay, were never the ones that deserved it”, is slyly matched later, “Yes I know I’m going to Hell in a leather jacket. At least I’ll be in another world, while you’re pissing on my casket”. He’s a new man, but always a rock star.
“Gonowhere” by Brendan Benson
Benson has long been an underappreciated pop tunesmith, and judging from recent interviews, his stint in The Raconteurs has done little to build his profile. Too bad, because his albums have always been in heavy rotation on my playlist. He is at his best when he marries his clever songwriting hooks with funky, soul inflected ‘70’s grooves. A great example is here, where he starts the track with a deep drums and keys sound. Very McCartneyish…”We’re so sorry Uncle Albert”, until the tune takes an upward spin that matches the positive vibe of the first verse that finds Benson offering trite yet catchy advice about following your own path and not wasting time on deadbeats. Could be Curtis Mayfield singing along in the ‘70’s.
“Circles and X’s” by Lucinda Williams
Lucinda’s frustrating and inconsistent career of late hit a high point with this year’s release, Little Honey. Everything on this record, save for the clunky AC/DC cover at the end sounds right. Her booze and cigarette filled raspy vocals aren’t glossed up, the ringing roadhouse rock isn’t muted, and the lyrics are raw and genuine; achingly sad when they need to be, happy and joyous at other times, but always poetic in the right way. This song has the best combination of the three.
“How’s About You” by The Dave Rawlings Machine
Straight out of the 1930’s in a way Dave and Gillian always make sound so awesome. A modern version of the American Depression is back but sounds the same: “The criminal man/he ain’t behind bars/he’s driving one of them Cadillac cars”. This time backed by friends from Old Crow Medicine Show, they lament “a lot of good people getting bad news”.
“Marie” by Steve Earle
I’ve always thought this Townes Van Zandt tune is one of the saddest and most depressing songs ever written. However, Steve Earle takes it even further to the depths of human despair. Singing in Townes’ matter-of-fact cadence, Steve spends close to five minutes listing the utter collapse of a man and his dreams. It’s a dark, apocalyptic elegy that leaves me chilled and haunted every time I hear it.
“Good Ol’ Boredom” by Built to Spill
A six and a half minute ride of epic guitar squall, soulful bass, and rhythmic drumming that would sound great performed live in a hot, dusty festival field this summer. I have no clue as to what Doug Martsch is singing about, but his lyrics frame the instrumental jams perfectly. Turn this one up loud and enjoy the ride.
“Johnny Guitar” by Pearl Jam
Best song on a solid release by Pearl Jam this year. A mysterious man named Johnny Guitar Watson and his muse in red serve as the characters in this enigmatic three-minute account. Eddie delivers the story in perfect pitch, as Mike, Stone, Jeff, and Matt rock out like it’s 1994.
“Bull Black Nova” by Wilco
A distant cousin to “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, Jeff Tweedy adopts the persona of a man who has just done something terrible, presumably committing a murder. For the next five minutes, the band takes us on a nerve-wracking and confrontational voyage of cover-ups, regrets, and sorrow as the protagonist attempts to come to terms with his actions. I have an alternate thought that this song can also be about a horrible indiscretion a man has made in his marriage. Perhaps he’s been caught in an affair? Perhaps he’s relapsed from sobriety? Whatever he’s done he has committed irrevocable harm to his significant other and there is no going back. He drives away from the house in his Nova, wracked with the thoughts of how he has damaged things. Or maybe it is just a murder ballad and I’ve just been reading too much about Tiger Woods.
“Roll On” by Son Volt
Bookended by “Down to the Wire” and “Cocaine and Ashes”, two of the most talked about songs on their new record American Central Dust, lies this short, simple gem about driving across America in search of whatever may fit one’s fancy. It’s a solid couple minutes of vintage Farrar. It could be a lost track off of Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne or a nice waltz hidden in some biker bar jukebox out on one of the lost American back roads sung about on this track. Also sounds similar to the Kerouac tunes Farrar did with Benjamin Gibbard this year.
“A Train Still Makes a Lonely Sound” by The Black Crowes
What a nice comeback record this was. The brother Robinson and company camped out in Woodstock at Levon Helm’s studio and recorded both a great rock record and an accompanying acoustic bonus disc. On this rollicking tune, the band brings the good times back with earthy grooves and a classic rock chorus of “Oh Tennessee you got me running/But I’m not coming back this time/Way out west is where I’m going/To forget the one I left behind.” As natural Southern rock heirs, this song encapsulates forty years of the best the genre has to offer.
“I Need to Know Where I Stand” by Rhett Miller
In Judd Apatow’s uneven movie, Funny People, Adam Sandler plays George, a famous movie star diagnosed with a terminal disease. Upon learning of his fate, he begins playing a series of low-key gigs at small LA comedy clubs, looking to return to his roots. He also begins an awkward and strained courtship of an old girlfriend who regrettably got away and married someone else. In one scene, George admonishes the crowd for their laughter and asks what they will do when he is no longer there to entertain them. Miller’s second verse plays like a perfect complement to several scenes in the film. With lines like, “Killing in a comedy club in Hollywood after years of psychotherapy/You were gone forever now you say you’re back for good/I swear to God you’re gonna bury me/And the people all laugh but I’m dead on the inside/I’ll do anything you demand.” The sentiment can refer to either the comedy crowd or the girl, both of whom have returned after a lengthy hiatus to adore George. Although Miller’s album was released prior to the film, the parallels are there. It would have made perfect background music for scenes in the film.
“Got Nuffin” by Spoon
A modern-day Joy Division-esque stomp by the Austin rockers and a preview of what they may have to offer on their upcoming new release. “And I’ve got nothing to lose but darkness and shadows” shouts Britt Daniel as he and the band echo the pulse and sentiment of “She’s Lost Control” in all the best ways. This song has already been remixed a few times as it would also sound killer blasting from club speakers or timeouts at the RBC Center during our local NHL team’s games.
“I Wonder Who We Are” by The Clientele
Very English and very mystical, I have always loved the sound of this band and can’t wait to catch them live this spring. This opening track on their latest record, Bonfires on the Heath, is the perfect primer for newbies and an instant classic for fans. Spacey lyrics about seasonal endeavors and names being found in the leaves broken up by the best chorus of the year: a simple “Da dadada duh duh daddada duh…I wonder who we are tonight?”
“Hey Hey Hurray” by Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses
A topical song of great resonance that will make you want to crack a beer and sing along in a honky tonk bar. “On no! Don’t make a stand/You might piss off the government man!” Judging from the reaction this song got at his show this fall, I’m not alone in loving this song.
“Cheerleader” by Grizzly Bear
The first thirty seconds alone of this song make it a year’s best. The bass, guitar and drums align perfectly as the sounds reverb off the walls of the Brooklyn church in which the band recorded. Lyrically, the words kind of drift by in a hazy blur, but the beat stays constant throughout, giving the song a chant-like consistency that meshes perfectly to the environment in which it was created. It reminds me of being in Mass, albeit a service with a heavenly choir of indie kids and their sound systems. Listen to it on the way to Sunday services or put it on with your Sunday morning coffee and paper.
“Streetlights” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
For a man just barely 30, Jason Isbell sure can write with a road-weary perspective of a man double his age. He’s being doing it since his days in the Drive-By Truckers and has kept it up over the course of two solo records. Here, he tells the story of a down-and-out drifter who heads to the bar reminiscing about a former flame. On his barstool he decides that night to call some old acquaintances. After quickly recounting the pedestrian details of the conversations, the man leaves the bar at closing time and is forced back out into reality. He begins stumbling in the direction of home filled with regret and longing: “And the streetlights help a little, but they’re barely half alive/I don’t feel much like walking, and I sure as hell can’t drive.” As the man’s journey home continues, Isbell leaves us with one final knockout: “Pretty soon you’ll remember when you could remember when you loved someone”. Isbell’s songwriting and descriptive details keep this song from heading down a familiar country song path. No one in mainstream country music writes with this keen eye for detail and the way it is delivered and phrased, you believe Isbell because it is as if he has lived this tale himself.
“Inspiration Information” by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
It’s 1972 all over again as the band strikes up this gem. Good times and free spirits light up the somewhat heavy-handedness of the charity album, Dark Was The Night, from which Jones’s track hails. One of the most dynamic performers out there today, Jones, the former Riker’s Island security guard, sings of feeling happier and snappier because she is with her man. As the song starts she says, “Here’s a pencil pad, ‘cause she’s gonna spread some information.” Do as she says and download this track and listen to it on the regular.
“Suzanne” by The Duke and the King”
The band’s MySpace page hails this band as “a glam-soul-folk quartet”. That sounds about right to me as this funky track sneakily slinks its way into your consciousness. Complete with a faux-cocktail party going on in the background, Simon Felice croons in a falsetto to “Suzanne”, pleading with her to come home with him and keep him company throughout the night because he “doesn’t want to be alone for the night”. You can see the man, probably confident after a few drinks, in the corner cooing these come-ons to the pretty girl who sits in a cubicle across the office during the day, in the wee hours of their company’s holiday party. A timely end of the year song.
“I Want For Nothing” by Wye Oak
A very cool song, held together by Jen Wasser’s swaying and delicate vocals. The guitar, bass, strings, and drums hit too heavy for the song to be shoegaze, the sound is too jagged and indie to be grungy, instead the tune rides a mellow and wistful groove over the course of four minutes. A perfect song to listen through the headphones as you sit back and reflect on your day.
“This Dream of You” by Bob Dylan
A perfect amalgam of recent Dylan. While a bluesy Cajun band rolls along in the background, Dylan rails on about the modern world passing by while he holds to “this dream of you that keeps me moving on”. An aging, world-weary man is struggling to adapt and function in a society that is vastly different from what he knows. The shadows on the wall taunt him, everything he touches he disappears, but everywhere he turns she is always near. He’ll keep running and fighting until his “dying breath”, but her spirit will be with him as he goes. Similarly, the years pass by and the seasons change, but Dylan keeps us amazed time and time again.