Megan’s Top 25 of 2009: 10-6

And here we are already, at the bottom half of the top ten. Here was where I found myself struggling the most to put a number next to a record, they’re all so very wonderful. Here we have both some saucy and some sorrowful Scots, some lively Louisianans, some nifty New Zealanders, and some wandering nomads of wonder. A seriously special group, I must say.

Do a little research and you might be a little surprised to discover that historically, New Zealand has a pretty darn good track record when it comes to putting out really great bands (The Clean, Look Blue Go Purple, The Chills, and The Bats to name a scant few). In keeping with the tiny nation’s tendency to churn out bands with a skillful blend of punk-pop seasoned with a decidedly English flavor, we now present Cut Off Your Hands at #10. They stick with the New Zealand tradition of musical Anglophilia, making You and I one heck of a delightful record. The record starts off big, with single “Happy As Can Be,” as good an opening impression as you could hope for. Big and bold, it sets the tone immediately and you know right away that you’re in for a treat. These charming boys are indebted to Brit stalwarts like Marr & Morrissey, and you’ll probably hear shades of The Smiths hither and thither, with a youthful edge. You’ll also hear some of the catchiest songs you’ve heard in quite some time, namely the “Expectations”-“Oh Girl”-“Turn Cold” triumvirate, joined a few songs later by the pairing of “Let’s Get Out of Here” and “Still Fond”. All of them are unavoidably addictive. They can even do a damn fine ballad, with the sentimental “Nostalgia” being one of my favorite songs on the record. So grab that special boy or girl and hold ‘em close, and fall in love with Cut Off Your Hands while you’re at it.

mp3: It Doesn’t Matter (Cut Off Your Hands from You and I)

I’ve recently heard My Maudlin Career called one of the best heartbreak albums of pretty much ever. While I’ll refrain from casting my vote one way or the other on that particular heart-wrenching subject, I will say that Camera Obscura made one of the best records of 2009 (#9, to be exact). The strength of Camera Obscura to me lies in their eternally sweet sound, bolstered by the perfectly weary yet still lovely vocals of Miss Tracyanne Campbell. It’s not easy to make sad sound so sugary, but Camera Obscura manages just fine. “French Navy,” the first track on the record, is one of my favorite songs of the year, and easily one of the most danceable, what with the jangle of the tambourine and jaunty attitude. And the wistful irony of “The Sweetest Thing,” with the lyric, “You challenged me to write a love song/Here it is/I think I got it wrong”. Hope you’ve got a box of Kleenex handy. “You Told a Lie” features vocals so fragile it sounds like our heroine is on the verge of tears as she delivers the lines. And so it goes, on and on, song after song of woeful, painful, beautiful misery. If it’s not the best heartbreak album ever, it’s certainly near the top of the heap. Hey Lloyd, they were ready to be heartbroken, and they certainly got what they asked for. They got heartbreak, and we got a great record.

mp3: Swans (Camera Obscura from My Maudlin Career)

Moving away from broken hearts but staying in Scotland, may I present #8 on the Top 25, otherwise known as The Phantom Band’s Checkmate Savage. I’ve likened them to British Sea Power with a brogue, and I think given their propensity for sonic experimentation and oft-bizarre lyrics it’s not such a bad comparison. Right away this isn’t your usual rock album, as the Phantoms go in for expansive sounds and wacky noises, and actual howling in “The Howling”. “Folk Song Oblivion” is just that, a slight hint of an acoustic guitar layered upon with structured guitars and oftentimes monotonous vocals, making for yet another interesting effect. Like British Sea Power, The Phantom Band doesn’t shy away from long, rambling songs, with four songs clocking in over six minutes each. My favorite song on the record, “Halfhound,” is a fierce, forceful track interspersed with gentler moments of light, before plunging back into darkness. Checkmate Savage is wild and wooly and dark and completely, wonderfully insane. And I love it to pieces. This is definitely a band I’m dying to see live, because I need to visualize how this crazy bastard of a record was made. So dearest darling Phantom Band, please make it happen.

mp3: Throwing Bones (The Phantom Band from Checkmate Savage)

Switching gears once again, it’s time to visit my absolute favorite group of Louisianans, the good people of Generationals. My #7 record is their ever-so-excellent Con Law, otherwise known as the aural equivalent of a little ray of sunshine. Formed by Grant Widmer & Ted Joyner (and some amigos) of the now-defunct and greatly missed indiepop outfit The Eames Era, Generationals will light up the darkest of days, guaranteed. They’ve made a record that made me grin uncontrollably the first time I heard it, a grin that reappears during every subsequent listen. Something about listening to Con Law makes me want to jump in the car, go somewhere sunny and warm, and drive around blasting the album with my sunroof open and the windows down, drinking in the sunshine. “Angry Charlie” is my favorite I’d have to say, but each and every song on this record is divine, so well-produced and beautifully, gleamingly clean (but not overly so, mind you). It’s the perfect album to listen to and long for Summer (as I look out my window to a view of an endless blanket of cold, cold snow). Even the substance abuse-themed “Bobby Beale” sounds light and freshly summery, though the subject matter is anything but. So take heed, while enjoying the lovable musical stylings of Generationals, because as they so lyrically and wisely put it, “Everyone’s a dime a dozen/Everyone’s a wolf in waiting”.

mp3: Exterior Street Date (Generationals from Con Law)

They missed the top 5 by a hair, and the top spot by just a few hairs. But at #6, These United States is still one of the loves of my musical life. Having proved their musical chops over the course of two previous records, Jesse Elliott and company reappeared for yet another go at musical superiority. The fruits of their labors this time around is the most excellent Everything Touches Everything, both a thought to ponder and an album to really fall in love with. Opening track “I Want You to Keep Everything” is another of my overall favorites from 2009, a bit unexpectedly poppy coming from the These United States camp, but a very welcome song indeed. Continuing on, Everything Touches Everything ends up being a record you might have expected from These United States. It’s full of their utterly disarming, rustic simplicity, be it in the form of acoustic or slide guitars, and Elliott’s rambling and ambling and occasionally obtuse (though always fantastic) lyrics. “We’re going out/With our hearts strapped across our chests,” Elliott boldly proclaims in the titular track, and somehow you can picture Jesse venturing forth, red heart pinned to his chest to boldly face the unknown. Somehow, though it jumps all over the place, the album never loses its cohesion, or ceases to follow the tried and true TUS blueprint. Perhaps that IS the TUS blueprint, come to think of it. And what a good plan it is.


  1. The Phantom Band's album was one of the best of 2009. so much creativity in one band. It's disgusting.

  2. I couldn't agree more. Those are some talented bastards.


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