December 27, 2009

Tapes on the Floor's Favorite Tracks of 2009

This year we're doing our annual end-of-the-year listing a little bit differently here at Tapes on the Floor. While looking through albums from the past year, I actually had to impose a limit upon myself for the first time ever. Could have something to do with that Music Director position I took towards the beginning of this year, but I listened to and loved far more music in 2009 than ever before. So, in an attempt to rectify this situation, I'm going to be turning in not only a list of my favorite albums of the year, but also a list of my favorite tracks. This is my way of highlighting some records that didn't quite make my favorite albums list, but are still worthy of mention. So, without any further ado, here are my favorite tracks of 2009, presented alphabetically by artist.

Ah Holly Fam'ly - "All Unfolding"
This song is chamber pop in its most fragile and hauntingly beautiful state. Jeremy Faulkner's softly croaked vocals intertwine with the delicately picked guitar, as flourishes of woodwinds swell in the background. However, the most gut-wrenching part of it all is when the voice of Becky Dawson joins in. It's a match made somewhere in Idaho; one of the best vocal pairings of the year.

Air - "Sing Sang Sung (Black Moth Super Rainbow Remix)"
As much as I dig Air's original version, Black Moth Super Rainbow's remix takes this track to new heights. Gone are the mellow acoustic guitars and gentle synths of the original, replaced with a Casio drumset and BMSR signature wailing electronics. One of the unlikeliest yet coolest combos of the year.

Art Brut - "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake"
Leave it to Art Brut to craft one of the best odes to being a man-child ever written. Eddie Argos takes his usual self-depreciating tone, expounding his love of the titular pleasures, in spite his 'old age'. It's another pop-rock gem churned out by a band that certainly knows how to play 'em.

Atlas Sound (w/ Laetitia Sadier) - "Quick Canal"
With Stereolab on an indefinite hiatus, it was a pleasant surprise to hear Laetitia Sadier's voice once again. Hell, this could pass for an honest to god Stereolab track. Props to Brandon Cox for crafting a song that is so perfectly suited to the talents of its guest artist.

Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar - "One Fast Move Or I'm Gone"
With an Uncle Tupelo reunion looking increasingly unlikely, and Son Volt's output growing increasingly stale, Jay Farrar fans have to look elsewhere to remind themselves why they still like this guy. Luckily, this collaboration with Ben Gibbard serves as a reminder that Farrar can still write compelling alt-country music. Gibbard's voice works surprisingly well here, to the point where I hope this isn't a one-off album.

Black Moth Super Rainbow - "Born on a Day the Sun Didn't Rise"
I don't pretend to understand anything this band does, but I do know that it sounds pretty cool. This particular song had me at the opening rhodes riff (I'm a sucker for that keyboard). Once the vocoder and synths kick in, the song turns into this weird kind of apocalyptic pop that this band does so well. It's the best Pennsylvania psychedelia you'll hear this year.

Camera Obscura - "French Navy"
There's something about Tracyanne Campbell's voice and choice of words that harkens back to a simpler time. Nowhere is that more apparent than on this track, a nod to the 60's pop song replete with string and brass sections. It's the kind of throwback that brings a certain sound into an entirely new context.

The Clientele - "I Wonder Who We Are"
Every Clientele record has a track that's a little off the beaten path from the band's usual sound, and oddly enough they're usually my favorites. "I Wonder Who We Are" is one of those songs, the sole upbeat number on an album full of slower songs. It's as if Alasdair MacLean is itching to embrace his pop-side, while still staying within the bounds of the Clientele's signature sound. Whatever they're doing, it's working.

Dan Auerbach - Heartbroken, In Disrepair
Auerbach knows how write a catchy modern blues number, and combined with some immaculate production work the brings to mind Danger Mouse's turn behind the boards of the last Black Key record, this track is yet another winner from the Akron native. Far be it from me to question why this was saved for his solo record, I'm just glad we didn't have to go a year without hearing his soulful voice.

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse (w/ Julian Casablancas) - "Little Girl"
Things have really been looking up for Julian ever since he took a break from that garage band he used to be in. Backed by the killer duo of Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, Casablancas sounds just as laid back and cool-as-hell as ever. Shame this song never got a proper release, but this is a gem I'll be coming back to for years to come.

The Decemberists - "The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid"
Colin Meloy does an interesting thing on this track; he let's himself get totally upstaged by the vocal powerhouse that is Shara Worden. When the track drops into the prog-rock grind and Worden begins to wail, I get shivers up and down my spine. This is the kind of operatic rock that the Decemberists have been hinting at for years; undoubtedly the highlight of an album full of grandiose moments.

DOOM - "That's That"
In just over two minutes, DOOM solidifies himself as one of rap's most unique voices. Although the meaning behind his mis-matched words may be ambiguous, the feeling it creates most certainly isn't. "Can it be I stayed away too long?/Did you miss these rhymes when I was gone?" Yes, we missed you DOOM, don't ever make us wait like that again.

The Flaming Lips - "Silver Trembling Hands"
This track is a far cry from most of the songs on the Lips' previous, overtly-produced records. Gone is the studio-sheen, replaced with echoing vocals and giant swells of distortion. It's a simple song, but one that flirts with some of the embellishments of the past few Lips records. It epitomizes the chances the band is taking, and how great that experimentation can sound.

Grizzly Bear - "While You Wait for the Others"
There's been quite a bit of praise heaped on this track since it's release, so I'll suppose I can add my two cents. This is one of those pop arrangements that simply sounds timeless; mark my words, this song will be all over the oldies stations in a few decades.

Jim O'Rourke - "The Visitor"
I suppose picking this track gives away one of my favorite albums of the year, but given how much I gushed about this record that's really no surprise. This is O'Rourke's magnum opus, encompassing the entire breadth of his musical career in 38 minutes of intricately arranged and executed brilliance. The only bad part is that it's all over far too quickly.

Lake - "Don't Give Up"
This band came out of nowhere, thoroughly blowing me away with this song in particular. It's a bit of a stretch, but whenever I hear this track I can't help but think that this what an American version of the O'Rourke-produced Stereolab would sound like. It's a straight ahead rhodes driven track with vocals that play through my mind long after the song has ended. Hopefully the group has a few more as great as this in them.

The Low Anthem - "To Ohio"
This song got me through a particularly difficult drive home to it's titular state this past summer, so I may be a little biased. "To Ohio" demonstrates how this group excels at nuanced simplicity, from the breathy lyrics to the ever-present clarinet. It tugs at your heartstrings and sounds all the more beautiful because of it.

Neko Case - "People Got A Lotta Nerve"
It's no secret that I'm totally in love with the sounds that come out of Neko Case's mouth. She's got one of the best sets of pipes of any artist making music today. This track may be short, but the chorus gets me every time, wherein Neko admits that she's a man-eater. A woman scorned never sounded so good.

Phoenix - "Lisztomania"
These guys are one of the only bands that get synth-pop right; this song in particular oozes with the kind of laid-back feeling that only makes it sound cooler. It doesn't try too hard, it's not in your face, and anyway you cut it, it's undeniably catchy.

Richard Swift - "Atlantic Ocean"
This was the song that I found running through my head the most this year, a testament to what talented lyricist and arranger Swift truly is. A straight ahead piano and drums tune garnished with some of the choicest old-school synth flourishes and, to top it all off, recorded at Foxtrot Studios.

Tortoise - "Prepare Your Coffin"
I love how hard it is to pin down exactly what Tortoise sounds like. Sure, constants like Jeff Parkers meandering guitar solos and John McEntire's precise rhythms are almost always intact, but songs like this one defy expectations. This is Tortoise backed by harsh synths and crunchy guitars, out of which comes their own unique brand of post-rock.

Vetiver - "More of This"
Andy Cabic's delicate voice and immaculate arrangement firmly solidify this timeless-sounding pop rock number as one of my favorite songs of the year. Couple this with some of the warmest sounding production of any record I listened to this year and I find myself asking for exactly what the title suggests.

Wilco - "One Wing"
It was hard to narrow down my favorite song on Wilco's newest self-titled record, but I ultimately had to settle on this great pop anthem. It's one of the few songs on the record that truly encapsulates the full talent of the band's current line-up, from Nels Cline's soaring guitar solos to Glenn Kotche's minimalist drum beats. It sounds a little bit different than anything Wilco has done before; a forward looking song from a band who makes every song uniquely their own.

Yo La Tengo - "Here To Fall"
After some spacey keyboard noodling, Georgia Hubley's assertive drum cadence kicks this song into gear. The parts coalesce rhythmically as a string arrangement filters in. It's unlike any Yo La Tengo song to date, yet at the same time it sounds uniquely their own. It's great to hear a band that's been around for so long making music that is so adventurous and self-assured.

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