1.Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca  – 

1. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca (‘Useful Chamber’)

Predictability is a dirty word. Bitte Orca is a fantastic album, and the Dirty Projectors make some wonderful sounds (even if they literally mean ‘please, killer whale’). You could play ‘who’s-punk-who’s-not-what’s-the-score’ forever in respect of Rise Above, but every crashing chord in this still reminds me a little bit of London Calling. And you can say it’s overhyped and overrated, or essentially ‘I buy into your critical hegemony but deflate all the scores in order to maintain my authenticity’ - but I really fucking enjoy it, and that’s why this is #1 on my list and Merriweather Post Pavilion is nowhere to be found. That said, I’m going to leave you with the words of someone who can do this far better than me, Bitte Orca according to Martin Douglas -

in nitsuh abebe’s decade in indie column for pitchfork, there’s a passage where the two sides of “indie”– the sloppy, thrashy, unprofessional indie of yore vs. the hyper-musical pop music of today’s indie– are seen as direct points of contention. now, i’m not saying by any means that dirty projectors are sloppy by any means; they’re actually the direct antithesis of the term. it’s just that bitte orca is proof that just because an indie record is well-practiced and hyper-musical, that it doesn’t have to be ponderous and boring. nor does it have to be jarring and slightly annoying just to prove that it isn’t a pop record (sorry, deerhoof). bitte orca IS a pop record, guys. it’s just that the left turns are there to help assert not that bitte orca is of a higher plane than pop records, but that pop records are still capable of surprising people.

(from the decade in winning: douglas martin’s top 49 records of the 2000’s)

and

bitte orca’s most revealing moment comes in about halfway through “useful chamber,” right after the buzz and clutter of guitar noise gives way to a passive hi-hat tap: amber coffman, angel deradoorian, and new co-vocalist haley dekle tangle their voices in enraptured three-part harmony, their lyricless vocals ascending almost straight through the sky above them and into the stratosphere, with nothing underneath except a simple beat from a drum pad. with the nihilism that buoyed rise above, the dirty pros’ song-for-song almost-cover of black flag’s damaged, the next logical step was to record an album that expressed vivacious joy. and dave longstreth and his cabal of accomplished musicians have done it here; mixing up vocal-and-beat-driven R&B with knotty art-damage, creating a feel-good album from about as far left-field as one could possibly come from.”

(from the year in winning: douglas martin’s top 20 records of 2009)

2. Woods – To Clean

2. Woods, Songs of Shame (‘To Clean’)

Somewhere between the Velvet Underground and Dinosaur Jr. in the time-space continuum of rock music, comes a freak-folk band and an album with dulcet pop tunes to rival (even outdo) Fleet Foxes and noise tracks to bring it all down to earthy, dark humanity. Lo-fi ain’t the half of it, because Woods stretches the definition in both directions - the obvious fidelity of ‘To Clean’ and ‘Rain On’, or the powerful cover of ‘Military Madness’, versus the slow psych of ‘September With Pete’. Songs of Shame is an album of sadness and beauty and little bits of guitar fuzz (which turn into large chunks live), and it’s - nearly - the best, the most refreshing and most excitingly novel thing I’ve heard all year.

3. Dinosaur Jr. – I Want You To Know

3. Dinosaur Jr., Farm (‘I Want You To Know’)

Hey… Is it still cold where you are? ‘Cos in this song the distortion and fuzz tastes like ice, and out of the frozen gtr comes a solo which sounds like the light from the wintry sun, hanging low in the sky.

Farm is Dino Jr. upping their game, semi-miraculously, from Beyond. Perhaps the songwriting is better: although the first reunion album was full of great pop songs, and holy-shit-listen-to-that-guitar songs, Farm works better as an album that works like a book, to follow at every chapter. The production seems to have gone up a slight notch as well - the drums sound bigger, the call of the guitar is more clarion than before. Whereas Beyond was somewhere in between a statement of intent and a tour de force (think of the immediacy of ‘Almost Ready’ or ‘Crumble’), Farm is the expansive, reflective-on-reflective second act.

In this album there is music as a wind-tunnel of emotions; not quite the nostalgia-as-novelty of Beyond and the return of Dinosaur Jr. in 2007, but a big, heavy, open-hearted and passionate album which set the musical tone for most of the year. Whether it’s J. Mascis tinkling the ivories (metaphorically speaking) and crooning away, or Lou Barlow piling on the stripped-down folk, Farm is a glorious, assertive roar of rock’n’roll and grungy punk.

4. Dan Deacon – Red F

4. Dan Deacon, Bromst (‘Red F’)

Do not adjust your set.

Dan Deacon is electro-acoustic, Dan Deacon is electro-punk.

Although Bromst as a whole is quite proggy, he kicks out the jams and condenses down a bit here on the second track. Coincidentally, the second track on Spiderman of the Rings is 'Crystal Cat', a speed-punk-pop hit that is the Ramones brought into the digital era and modern zany-ness. In the context of a rather sprawling album, where sounds are stretched out and built up over five-plus minutes, ‘Red F’ is, though not in itself that short, a concentration of noise and manic attitude. Like the cover, Bromst has darkness encroaching in from the outside, but it’s centred on a thin and perhaps flimsy tent of bright light and colour; inside there’s more headspace than before, more extensive production and instrumentation, but the same recognisable basic playfulness.

Part of the playfulness of Dan Deacon is found not on record, but in the live shows. However, they’re not everything either, despite all the on- and off-stage antics, the thrill of forming the human tunnel, etc. Probably the best thing I took away from his ‘09 show in Dublin was in fact something tangible: the Teeth Mountain Live On record. Basically comprising of Dan Deacon’s percussion players, plus bassist, saxophonist and so on, that were by far my favourite of the support acts (my sense of irony doesn’t extend to enjoying Future Islands), the live recording is two tracks, one for each side of the LP, of hypnotic, circling free-jazz drumming. Which makes for an awesome underpinning of the songs on Bromst.

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz! (‘Zero’)

get your leather on

While It’s Blitz! is, with this song as no exception, a big, brilliantly synthy album, ‘Zero’ also reminds me of the Ramones (and Blondie) in its brash, punky attitude. In the music video, Karen O puts on her fashionable yet still defiant studded leather jacket, and emerges from the stage curtain onto a rain-slicked, street-lit alleyway, and thence on into the joyous anonymity of the city. It’s a dance anthem for the outsider, a punk rock statement for the indie generation - “you’re zero/what’s your name/no-one’s going to ask you/better find out where they want you to go”.

The schlocky intro to the video feels very Ramones-y also, but in fact the very playfulness of the modern indie video was something they helped to create. There’s also the film-school elements, the aesthetics of today as well as of the 70s punk milieu - the Kino-Eye (even on Stargate now!) quality of the latest YYYs symbol. On top of that there’s the exhortations to confidence and creativity, as well the somewhat cynical view of hedonism matching the pleasure imbued in the song.

(from this previous post)

'Zero' defines It’s Blitz! in the same way that ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ defines Blondie’s Parallel Lines, or (almost) how ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ defines Ramones.

6. Asobi Seksu – Gliss

6. Asobi Seksu, Hush (‘Gliss’)

"A glissando (plural: glissandi, abbreviated gliss.) is a glide from one pitch to another. It is an Italianized musical term derived from the French glisser, to glide.”

Pitchfork calls this song “paint-by-numbers preciousness”, part of the reason why the album gets a low 5.5 score (or low for a band that did Citrus). Of course, Hush isn’t Citrus, primarily for the lack of shoegazing guitar, a deliberate choice to be replaced by more airy, delicate forms of ambient sound; Hush is the ethereal punch of shoegaze’s atmosphere stripped of its usual weapon, guitar distortion. The underlying structure of retro-pop, 60s girl vocals is still there - Yuki Chikudate’s performance really the main element of continuity with Citrus and before - but in an adapted form, seen in a somewhat different light. In fact the sound is best described by the album art - the ivory white of the cover, and the silver text on white or black (of the LP label) with its curlicued design - which is equally precious, in this sense of exquisiteness, as the music.

I saw Asobi Seksu play live early in the year, performing a suitably incredible shoegaze set with songs from both Hush and Citrus; there was also an ex-hardcore drummer who was as loud as the wall of sound coming from James Hanna’s guitar. Hush as a recording is a different experience, and although you can turn it up to full volume and feel the aural textures envelop you, that’s not necessarily the point. This album is less about beauty in disintegration, than it is about art in the integration of various elements of pop/dream-pop, shoegaze, and indie rock/electro into a sublimely pleasant record.

7. Tim Hecker – 100 Years Ago

7. Tim Hecker, An Imaginary Country (‘100 Years Ago’)

File under: electro/shoegaze/symphonic. The opening track cuts like ice, slicing open the album with its beautifully vicious, distorted punches of notes; a cycle which is returned to with the closing track ‘200 Years Ago’. In between the album is, as the title suggests, an exploration of place through electronic music; as I said previously, “each track is a geographic exploration within the symphonic whole, so underneath the semi-oppressive, semi-crystalline layers of shoegaze you hear soft pulses in ‘Inland Shore’, marshy squiggles in ‘Pond Life’ and an eerie tone to ‘Borderlands’.”

They are short and varied enough to keep the record interesting and accessible, but they all pull together into a sharply distinctive and totally encompassing sound. I’ve been working my way through his back catalogue since picking this up on the strength of 'Paragon Point' (and the recommendation of Geek Down), and while a lot of the other stuff has the same wall-of-sound crunchiness, and is just as interesting in other ways, it’s the exquisitely textured geography (or rather, psychogeography) of this album which sets it apart. Especially suitable for the current weather.

8. Papercuts, You Can Have What You Want (‘Future Primitive’)

From the nod to Loveless of the opening track (not this one), this album is suffused with the sound of shoegaze, but in an indirect way, so that it’s still a singer-songwriter album at heart. ‘Future Primitive’ rides in on its drumbeats and its plaintive refrain (a little bit more unsubtle than most of the other songs), but the under- and over-exposed video shows the surrounding haze and glare, the aural and visual distortion of timeless monochrome. You Can Have What You Want is extraordinarily beautiful to listen to, and while there is a certain retro-pop feel to it, with the occasional organ and the paradoxically laid-back Spectorized sound, it’s not so strong as to overwhelm the record as an experience.

9. So Cow – Moon Guen Young

9. So Cow, s/t LP (‘Moon Guen Young’)

I’ve just been one big stormcloud in a duffel coat…

It doesn’t come to mind much now, but when I first heard So Cow (through the song ‘Commuting’) I thought of the classics of American pop-punk, the first couple of Green Day albums. But a stripped-down, self-recorded, alternately sharply ironic and painfully sincere version of such. Like my other Irish favourites Fight Like Apes, So Cow does indie in a way that is good and qualitatively different from what’s out there already. Okay, you can fit him in the “lo-fi” bracket to an extent, but no more than FLApes are a synth-pop band - as in, they are (and he is) but they have larger ambitions to do with that old punk rock tradition of making music fun, humourous and exciting, and having no sacred cows. So Cow isn’t an iconoclast, though, but rather he is skilled in homage.

This record is a compendium of two previous, self-released CDs, one of which I have (the second), and one which I don’t. I might put So Cow higher up my list if it was a true debut from my perspective, as I’m Siding With My Captors made it into last year’s list and has the lion’s share of my favourite So Cow songs. ‘Moon Guen Young’ is an earlier track, though, and over this year I’ve tended to go straight to the vinyl over the CD (and also to the mp3s via eMusic), becoming more familiar with the mix on this record. So Cow - greater than a greatest hits.

…and you’re dancing with your headphones on again

10. Dananananaykroyd – Infinity Milk

10. Dananananaykroyd, Hey Everyone! (‘Infinity Milk’)

Like the melody-driven approach to screamo of Raein, Dananananaykroyd put the sweet bits of the indie rock into the maelstrom with heavy, choppy post-hardcore. It makes for something more interesting, for me, than the wearying twee-ness of Los Campesinos! or even of Johnny Foreigner. Perhaps some of those bands’ endearing quirkiness is lost in Dananananaykroyd’s approach, maybe by recognising that even post-Mclusky there still ways to be exciting and heavy and loud (especially post-Mclusky; some might point to Future of the Left’s latest album for this). It’s the promise of combining the fun of pop (or quirky indie-rock, at least), the dynamism of post-hardcore, the vocal energy of screamo, and the crunchiness of metallic rock that Hey Everyone! works hard at fulfilling, over a fairly diverse range of songs.

11. Editors ('In This Light And On This Evening')  – 

11. Editors, In This Light And On This Evening (title track)

(recycled via thisistheglamorous)

What I like about Editors is their style. Sure, it may not be totally original, as a Joy Division/Interpol rip-off or as another successful example of the ‘meaningfulcore’ aspect of indie rock; but if they can carry it off, then it’s good. The Back Room was about establishing their sound, and An End Has A Start was about taking it to dramatic heights with slightly shoegaze-y guitars. In This Light And On This Evening strips back the guitars in favour of more electronic sounds. It’s a change in trajectory, certainly, but just as effective, if not more, at creating atmospheres of mood and intensity in their music. That’s their style, and they’ve reappropriated the sounds of post-punk and the 80s in its service. ‘In This Light And On This Evening’ blends a motorik beat with more modern, Mogwai-like guitar at the end, but then the next track opens with the most blatantly retro combination of drum machine and bass. You hear about bands wearing their influences on their sleeves, but here Editors are wearing not the influences but the sounds themselves, and their stylishness comes from flaunting that with a modern walk.

12. BATS – Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date

12. Bats, Red In Tooth and Claw (‘Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date’)

I dislike metal, but I’ve always been intrigued by what exactly it is that I don’t like about the genre, and what defines the genre, especially as I also like a good deal of loud music. There’s an interesting post on Invisible Oranges about a possible consensus on the four best metal albums of the decade, which leads to a dissensus amongst commenters that they aren’t really metal, e.g. this point:

"Converge are a hardcore punk band which regardless of its current metalesque sonic rigor, lyrically and aesthetically has stayed true to that genre’s rulebook as written by Black Flag. I realize metalcore owes a lot to hardcore and that modern metal is informed by it via two degrees of separation, but it’s a bit farcical to say that a leading band in a genre is only one quarter part of it."

Bats' debut full-length, Red In Tooth and Claw (incidentally recorded by Converge’s Kurt Ballou) is plausibly metal and non-metal. It’s somewhere between a chimera and a chameleon of genres, never staying very long in heavy metal head-banging or in post-punk jerkiness, but never straying too far from them either. The first time I saw Bats they were supporting the Locust in Whelan’s, and they reminded me chiefly of Q and not U; the most recent occasion was their own album launch in Andrew’s Lane, when they rose to the challenge of following Adebisi Shank as their frenetic, hyper-metal support act. ‘Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date’ is naturally one of their poppier songs, but at the same time showcases most elements of their sound. And their science, delivered in Rupert Bat’s earnest shriek.

13. Valerie FrancisSlow Dynamo (‘Punches’)

One of the main reasons I bought this album was because the production duties are shared with Jimmy Eadie, who did same on one of my favourite Irish albums of the decade, Si Schroeder’s Coping Mechanisms. While the two artists have their own individual styles, there is for me a remarkable synchronicity between the end recorded products: the sense of space, the layered sounds, the same ethereal quality. Like Si Schroeder, it’s a musical world I find very difficult to describe but very easy to inhabit.

Here, on this song, the voice carries the song right from the start and through various rises and falls of instrumentation; with that sudden pause before the final arrival of the drums seared into my memory like it was never absent from my mind. The exquisite video above by Eoghan Kidney, who also directed a range of visually impressive videos for Fight Like Apes this year, was not only blogged by Kanye West but also won overall Best Video at the inaugural IMTV Video Music Awards.

The songs are short, and the album moves quickly. Yet however gentle and hazy the music may feel, there is a current of emotional ambiguity and the power to shock: what does “my head hurts/like I’ve been beaten” mean as a simile, when it appears so starkly in the middle of a song? Slow Dynamo really means what it says on the tin (or attractively designed soft CD case, rather): it gathers power which is almost unstoppable.

14. Raein – 5 di 6

14. Raein, Ogni Nuovo Inizio (5 di 6)

(Okay, so this is in fact a late 2008 record,  but I, like probably a lot of other people, only heard about it this year. If it really bothers you, go read this excellent review of Kaospilot’s definitely 2009 LP Shadows, which is also good Euro-screamo.)

Raein are an Italian band with member connections to La Quiete, who were active between 2002 and 2005, and who then reunited in 2007, releasing this album - actually just a one-sided LP - on the Sons of Vesta label. I’ve always previously preferred La Quiete, whose La Fine Non E La Fine album and first self-titled 7” are for me two of the most crucial records of 00s screamo and, for that matter, post-hardcore in general. This release by Raein, filling a gap by a lack of La Quiete releases of note recently, continues on the melodic screamo sound. Entitled ‘Every New Beginnings’, as far as I can make it, the songs all merge into each other. Here, the fifth track, it starts off with some very familiar melodic guitar trick that I’m sure is ripped off some pop-punk band or other, but nevertheless sounds so good in context. As with La Quiete, the strength of this screamo is not just in energy and/or technical ability, but also in the combination of simple melody and glorious cacophonous polyphony.

15 Loma Prieta – Exit Here

15. Loma Prieta, Dark Mountain (‘Exit Here’)

Loma Prieta - meaning ‘dark hill’ in Spanish - are a three-piece San Francisco screamo band, but ‘screamo’ not only meaning ‘real’ screamo (and thus many people not wanting to use that word) but also a throwback to the 90s spazzy/San Diego hardcore; the frantic, abrasive, speedy destruction of sound in the name of melody and expressiveness.  This 8-song, 15-minute record continues a similar path to the only slightly longer 2008 LP, Last City, which I only discovered at the start of this year (hence not making it onto last year’s best of). Whereas Last City was abrasive to the point of continuously breaking down into Honeywell-like noise, Dark Mountain does this far less frequently. It still does it - especially the feedback screeches - often enough to be awesome, though.

Without going into why I don’t like much US screamo of this decade (too technical, mostly), the indecipherable vocals of Loma Prieta only add to the feeling that this could be screamo from any time or place in its much-maligned history. The vocals in screamo are generally indecipherable, of course - that’s the point - as it helps aestheticize the vocals as another instrument, one which conveys passion and fury alongside the distortion-heavy guitar or pounding drums. More people should listen to screamo, for this reason. It has that cathartic quality I understand people get from metal, but while the latter has rarely if ever been anything but tedious for me, screamo when done well is one of the purest forms of music I know.

(more on Hardcore for Nerds; Myspace)

1.Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca 
2. Woods – Songs of Shame
3. Dinosaur Jr. – Farm
4. Dan Deacon – Bromst
6. Asobi Seksu – Hush
7. Tim Hecker – An Imaginary Country
9. So Cow – So Cow
10. Dananananaykroyd – Hey Everyone
11. Editors ('In This Light And On This Evening') 
12. BATS – Red In Tooth & Claw
14. Raein – Ogni Nuovo Inizio
15 Loma Prieta – Dark Mountain

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year-end list for Hardcore for Nerds.

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