Megan’s Top 25 of 2009: 15-11

Another fine, fine crop of albums fills slots eleven through fifteen on the Top 25 countdown. A couple of very strong ladies join us here in this grouping, as well as some great bands with great records from both the Left and East Coast.

It’s amazing what a name change can do for your band. Snipping the name down to Say Hi from Say Hi to Your Mom was a great move, as was releasing this here record, the #15 Oohs & Aahs. It’s well-played, well-produced, and just plain fabulous. Anchored by a pair of oft-played radio gems that were responsible for piquing my initial interest, the achingly stark and emotion-heavy “November Was White, December Was Grey” and the irresistible poppy gem “One, Two…One,” this record is one of the ones that managed to make me fall in love with it, seemingly out of the blue, catching me completely off guard. Reminding me a little of the bleeps of the dear Mobius Band, but with more substantive guitar playing, Oohs & Aahs somehow gets better with every listen. “Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh” is not only amusingly-titled, but a great, brass-driven tailfeather-shaker. “She’s a ruby/and I liked red/until I disappeared a little too well,” we hear in “Maurine,” a song heavy with regret and a lost chance at love. It’s yet another beautifully melancholy album (I do so love the mopers), and it’s just wonderful.

mp3: Maurine (Say Hi from Oohs & Aahs)

Let’s just face the facts here, friends. “Where The Wild Things Are” is one of the greatest books ever written. It was formative for so many kids of my generation, so much so that pretty much everyone I know was horrified at the news that our beloved childhood book was to be made into a movie. Thankfully, the movie turned out to be pretty great, and the music for the film was also rather special. And we have Karen O & The Kids to thank for that. At #14, it’s the only soundtrack to make the list, and it’s a delight. Listen in wonder as the lady leader of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs gently hums a childlike melody in opening track “Igloo,” or whoops it up with gleeful abandon in “All is Love”. It’s a different side of Karen O, and it’s enchanting. Rarely have I heard music that was so perfect for a movie, but Karen O and this band of, well, kids, really was a dynamite fit for the live action “Where The Wild Things Are”. Not only is this record a lovely homage to Maurice Sendak’s classic, timeless story, it’s also a collection of songs completely lacking in pretense, which makes it a breath of fresh air these days. Let the wild rumpus begin, indeed.

mp3: Capsize (Karen O & The Kids from the Where The Wild Things Are OST)

How Neko Case does it, I don’t know. She’s constantly putting out records that are mystifyingly good, strong in not only musical but lyrical content as well. And that voice of hers is second to none, filled with heartbreak and lust and shades of wistfulness. Lucky #13 on my list is her sensational Middle Cyclone, a record that boasts subject matter you might expect to find on the Discovery Channel, not an album: killer tornadoes, killer whales, and, well, elephants. Opening track “This Tornado Loves You” is one of the best songs of the year, disturbingly yet beautifully illustrating the depth of her love by comparing it to the widespread destruction of a tornado. It’s followed by “The Next Time You Say Forever,” which houses one of my all-time favorite lyrics, sung oh-so-sweetly: “The next time you say forever/I will punch you in your face”. Absolutely brilliant, Madame Case. “People Got A Lotta Nerve” shows Case at her most charmingly aggressive, touting her status as a maneater (“But still you’re surprised-prised-prised/when I eat ya”). Not to be missed is Case’s cover of “Don’t Forget Me,” a song she manages to make sound like one of her own (though you should also check out the cover The Walkmen did a few years back). All in all, it’s another winner from Neko Case. She’s magic, ladies and gents, magic.

mp3: The Next Time You Say Forever (Neko Case from Middle Cyclone)

Ah, Wooden Shjips. I’ve found myself becoming increasingly fond of these gents for a little while now. These San Franciscans are purveyors of a new breed of magical mystery tour, one with less emphasis on the perfection of song structure and more about…well, who really knows? Dos is #12 on my list, and it’s definitely the most outlandishly “out there” of the whole lot. It’s entirely possible that someday, music journalists will be talking about Wooden Shjips as one of the best post-psych bands that ever post-psyched. They only needed five songs to further convince me of said idea. Dos is full of the sort of things you might have come to expect from this foursome; repetitive droning, muddy trance-inducing vocals, and a mighty wall of noise. And my heavens, does this stuff blow your mind live. “Down By the Sea,” for example, is nearly eleven minutes of a hypnotic bassline, endlessly looping along, as guitars swell and crash around it like the changing tides. And that abrupt stop will certainly get your attention, after spacing out for so many minutes. They’re listenably abstract, this band of bizarre brethren, managing not to come across as taking themselves too seriously while creating some of the more interesting music you’re likely to come across.

mp3: Motorbike (Wooden Shjips from Dos)

Sitting at #11, New Yorkers Hopewell are their own breed of post-psych. By now you’ve doubtlessly heard the Hopewell connection to The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and The Silent League, so consider those three to get you in the right frame of mind for Hopewell. Good Good Desperation is perhaps the band’s finest work to-date, a masterful opus of the beauty that can be found in the outer reaches of reality. Very noisy and so full of lush sounds from the very beginning that it’s almost terrifying, Good Good Desperation both exudes maturity and pushes boundaries. It’s the kind of record a band should be oh so proud of. Closing my eyes, listening to this album, I see the sun, the sky, the seas, the stars…it’s glorious and somehow grounded and tied to both the earth and things celestial. There’s something organic, rustic, natural about them, as though they draw inspiration from Mama Nature herself. They’re tuned into something special, that’s for damn sure. Hopewell might not yet have the ability to make the sun rise and set, but they’re getting closer.


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