The Oxygen Ponies’ 2009 album Harmony Handgrenade was a ferocious, lyrical art-rock masterpiece, one of the best releases of recent years: you can find it on our Best Albums of All Time list. Written during the waning days of the Bush regime, it’s a chronicle of love under an occupation. On the band’s new album Exit Wounds, frontman Paul Megna revisits similarly tortured terrain, this time more personal than political. For the most part, this is an album of snarling kiss-off songs, with psychedelic, anguished epic grandeur juxtaposed against stark Leonard Cohen-esque passages. The band this most closely resembles is Australian art-rock legends the Church, both in terms of the stunningly catchy simplicity of Megna’s melodies, the hypnotic sweep of the production and the clever, literate savagery of his lyrics.
“The velvet rope around your neck pulled you away,” he intones in his signature rasp in the opening track, Hollywood, as the band pulses with a trancey post-Velvets sway behind him. “Did you sell your face so you could buy the farm out at Maggie’s place?” he asks. But this isn’t merely an indictment of a starstruck, clueless girl: it indicts an entire generation. As Megna reaffirms later on with the amusing I Don’t Want Yr Love: after a pretty hilarious Lou Reed quote, he makes it clear that he doesn’t “want to be anywhere you are ’cause all the people there are blinded by the stars.” The outgoing mantra of “nobody loves you anymore” is just plain brutal: it makes a great outgoing message for anyone in need of some post-breakup vengeance. And the cello-driven This Disaster offers a more expansive view of the wreckage leading up to the big dramatic rift, Megna musing that “If all we have left is one technicolor kiss, I’d rather be the standin than the star.”
Hope and Pray is pure schadenfreude – it could be the great missing track from the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Darklands, but with better production values. “Hope the further down you go, the higher is the climb,” Megna snarls. He follows that with the bitter lament Good Thing, crescendoing out of spare, plaintive folk-pop with a cynical fury:
This is a call to everyone
Wake your daughters, rouse your sons
Take your aim and shoot to kill
So your friends don’t hurt you
‘Cause others will
Hornet, a dead ringer for a Steve Kilbey song, offers a backhanded compliment to a femme fatale, “Dancing around like a flame in the fire/As hot as it gets you don’t have to perspire.” They revert to Jesus & Mary Chain mode for Wild Animals, a more subtle putdown: “You think you’re smart, that each work of art ended up a failure,” Megna taunts. The indomitable Drink Myself Alive packs a punch, its undeterred narrator only willing to change his wicked ways if the girl who’s bedeviled him will do the same. With a distantly Beatlesque swing, Land That Time Forgot wouldn’t be out of place in the Spottiswoode catalog: it works both as a tribute to an individualist and a nasty slap at trendy conformists: “You’re walking around ahead of the crowd, such happiness is never allowed,” Megna sneers. He reprises that theme on the sparse, more gentle Jellybean with its torrents of lyrics:
Everyone around me is just sharing the same brain…
I guess they find it’s easier to be part of the whole
Searching for a reason why they buy the shit they’re sold.
The album ends on a completely unexpected note with the pretty, backbeat pop hit Christmas Every Morning. The album is out now on insurgent Brooklyn label Hidden Target Records, the same folks who put out Randi Russo’s brilliant new Fragile Animal a couple months ago. This one’s in the same league: it’s hard to imagine a better album than this coming out any time this year. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.
Spottiswoode & His Enemies’ new album Wild Goosechase Expedition is a throwback to those great art-rock concept albums of the 70s: Dark Side of the Moon, ELO’s Eldorado, the Strawbs’ Grave New World, to name a few. And it ranks right up there with them: if there is any posterity, posterity will view this as not only one of the best albums of 2011 but one of the best of the decade. Songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Spottiswoode calls this his Magical Mystery Tour. While the two albums follow a distantly parallel course in places, the music only gets Beatlesque in its trippiest moments. Ostensibly it follows the doomed course of a rock band on tour, a not-so-thinly veiled metaphor for the state of the world today. Most of this is playful, meticulously crafted, Britfolk-tinged psychedelic art-rock and chamber pop – the obvious comparison is Nick Cave, or Marty Willson-Piper. Fearlessly intense, all over the map stylistically, imbued with Spottiswoode’s signature sardonic wit, the spectre of war hangs over much of the album, yet there’s an irrepressible joie de vivre here too. His ambergris baritone inhabits the shadows somewhere between between Nick Cave and Ian Hunter, and the band is extraordinary: lead guitar genius Riley McMahon (also of Katie Elevitch’s band) alternates between rich, resonant textures and writhing anguish, alongside Candace DeBartolo on sax, John Young on bass and Konrad Meissner (of the Silos and, lately, the Oxygen Ponies) on drums.
As much lush exuberance as there is in the briskly strummed title track, Beautiful Monday, there’s a lingering apprehension: “Hoping that one day, we’ll be truly free,” muses Spottiswoode. It sets the tone for much that’s to come, including the next track, Happy Or Not, pensive and gospel-infused. Slowly cresendoing from languid and mysterious to anthemic, the Beatlesque Purple River Yellow Sun follows the metaphorically-charged trail of a wide-eyed crew of fossil hunters. The first real stunner here is All in the Past, a bitter but undeterred rake’s reminiscence shuffling along on the reverb-drenched waves of Spottiswoode’s Rhodes piano:
I was young not so long ago
But that was then and you’ll never know
Who I was, what I did
How we misbehaved
Who we killed
I’ll take that to the grave
The song goes out with a long, echoing scream as adrenalizing as anything Jello Biafra ever put on vinyl.
A bolero of sorts, Just a Word I Use is an invitation to seduction that paints a hypnotic, summery tableau with accordion and some sweet horn charts. A gospel piano tune that sits somewhere between Ray Charles and LJ Murphy, I’d Even Follow You To Philadelphia is deliciously aphoristic – although Philly fans might find it awfully blunt. The gorgeously jangly rocker Sometimes pairs off some searing McMahon slide guitar against a soaring horn chart, contrasting mightily with the plaintive Satie-esque piano intro of Chariot, a requiem that comes a little early for a soldier gone off to war. It’s as potent an antiwar song as has been written in recent years.
All Gone Wrong is a sardonic, two-and-a-half minute rocker that blasts along on a tricky, syncopated beat. The world has gone to completely to hell: “They got religion, we got religion, everything’s religion,” Spottiswoode snarls. Problem Child, with its blend of early 70s Pink Floyd and folk-rock, could be a sarcastic jab at a trust fund kid; Happy Where I Am, the most Beatlesque of all the tracks here vamps and then fades back in, I Am the Walrus style.
This is a long album. The title track (number twelve if you’re counting) might be an Iraq war parable, a creepy southwestern gothic waltz tracing the midnight ride of a crew who seem utterly befuddled but turn absolutely sinister as it progresses: it’s another real stunner, Meissner throwing in some martial drum rolls at the perfect moment. All My Brothers is a bluesy, cruelly sarcastic battlefield scenario: “Only the desert understands, all my brothers lie broken in the sand – freedom, freedom, freedom.” The satire reaches a peak with Wake Me Up When It’s Over: the narrator insists in turning his life over to his manager and his therapist. “Don’t forget to pay the rent…tell me who’s been killed, after all the blood’s been spilled,” its armchair general orders.
McMahon gets to take the intensity as far as it will go with The Rain Won’t Come, a fiery stomping guitar rocker that wouldn’t be out of place on Steve Wynn’s Here Come the Miracles. The album ends on an unexpectedly upbeat note with the one dud here and then the epic, nine-minute You Won’t Forget Your Dream, a platform for a vividly pensive trumpet solo from Kevin Cordt and then a marvelously rain-drenched one from pianist Tony Lauria. All together, these songs make the album a strong contender for best album of the year; you’ll see it on our best albums of 2011 list when we manage to pull it together, this year considerably earlier than December. It’s up now at Spottiswoode’s bandcamp site.
We move from the year’s best doublebill to the best triplebill of 2011 so far: Caithlin De Marrais, the Oxygen Ponies and Randi Russo at the Mercury on Sunday night, where Russo was playing the cd release show for her new one Fragile Animal (our pick for best of the year, maybe not so coincidentally). Each act was different, and yet the same (other than the fact that each one was playing with two drummers, Ray Rizzo and Konrad Meissner, whose interlocking, earthy groove was an unexpected treat). Tuneful, intense rock doesn’t get any better than this.
Caithlin De Marrais’ 2008 album My Magic City had a gorgeous rainy-day atmosphere: this was her fun set, material from an auspicious forthcoming album now being mixed. The former Rainer Maria bass player chose her spots and made her riffs count: few bassists get so much mileage out of such simple ideas. Often the bass carried the melody above Josh Kaufman’s ringing, jangly guitar. A few times, De Marrais would run a riff for a bar or two before launching into the next song: “You’ve got to watch, they catch up with you,” she grinned, “Not that you have watch your back in this town anymore.” As someone who was here before there was a “luxury” condo project on every ghetto block, she knows what she’s talking about. Kaufman made his ideas count for just as much, firing off suspenseful volleys of reverb-infused Sputnik staccato, or throwing shards of jangly chords into the mix. De Marrais is best known for plaintiveness and poignancy, and with characteristic nuance she added a more upbeat tinge to her vocals. Half the bands in Bushwick rip off New Order, but what De Marrais does with simple, catchy 80s hooks takes the idea to the next level. One of the new ones, maybe titled Cocoon, had a moody bounce; another new one, Rose Wallpaper, added carefree ba-ba-ba pop flourishes; still another paired off a bass riff straight out of Joy Division’s Ceremony with Kaufman’s pointillistic punch. The end of the set gave De Marrais the chance to cut loose and belt with impressive power, particularly a stomping, garage rock-tinged number with some ferocious guitar chord-chopping at the end, and a dead ringer for Scout that fell and then rose, apprehensive yet hopeful. “Just a dreamer after all…but let’s try,” De Marrais cajoled.
Where her vocals were all unselfconscious beauty, the Oxygen Ponies’ frontman Paul Megna doesn’t shy away from ugliness, or outright rage. And yet, when his vocals were up high enough in the mix, he was also all about nuance, adding more than the hint of a snarl to drive a particularly corrosive lyric home. This particular version of the OxPos (a revolving cast of characters) featured the drummers along with Don Piper on lead guitar, Devin Greenwood on keys and Chris Buckridge on bass. Their first song kept the New Order vibe going, followed by the cruelly sarcastic psychedelic pop of Fevered Cyclones, from their 2009 Harmony Handgrenade album. A hypnotic dirge from their highly anticipated forthcoming one sounded like the Church, with eerie, echoey guitar from Piper, building to a soaring anthem. The brooding, bitter Get Over Yrself gave Piper the chance to add his own corrosive noiserock edge; a more hopeful new anthem rose to a big swell fueled by Ray Sapirstein’s trumpet. They wrapped up the set with a gleefully ferocious, bouncy version of the Bush-era The War Is Over, followed by a pensive, Velvets-flavored anthem and then another new one that brought the garage-psych intensity all the way up with the two drummers going full steam.
Russo got the two drummers, JD Wood on bass, plus Piper, plus Megna on keyboards, plus Lenny Molotov on lead guitar and lapsteel. Resolute and velvety, she sang over the mini-orchestra behind her with a visceral sense of triumph. The album took longer to finish than anyone anticipated, but it was worth it and Russo drove that point home, opening with an especially amped version of Invisible. Speaking for every alienated individualist in the room, she grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat: “I am, I am invisible/I feel, I feel invincible.” With the three guitars going, The Invitation was exuberantly Beatlesque; the self-explanatory Alienation was another launching pad for some volcanic noiserock from Piper. Molotov’s falcon swoops on lapsteel added a menacing edge to the gorgeous, somewhat wistful Get Me Over, while Megna’s swirling keys gave the blistering kiss-off song Venus on Saturn a hypnotic ambience. Piper switched to harmonium for a fast, unusually short version of the Doorsy Restless Raga, Molotov’s solar flares bursting out of the murky mantra pulse. After a couple more hypnotically pounding numbers, she closed the show with the defiant Head High – Patti Smith as backed by Led Zep, maybe – and a counterintuitive choice, Swallow, a study in survival in the midst of being hit from all sides. It took some nerve to close on a down note with that one, and it worked.
And a shout out to Sergio Paterno, who earlier in the evening was playing gypsy and flamenco-flavored instrumentals on his guitar by tapping on the frets, using a lot of piano voicings, on the L train platform at 14th Street. It would have been fun to have heard more of what he was doing before the Mercury show.
Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #851:
The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade
This album is about love under an occupation. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow the enemy. Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the New York art-rockers’ second cd was one of the great albums of 2009. Frontman Paul Megna offers Leonard Cohen-inflected menace through the eyes of a metaphorical, suicidal messenger on the skeletally crescendoing Love Yr Way; savages suburban smugness with the garage rock of Fevered Cyclones and the backhanded, sarcastic The War Is Over, and evokes the great Australian art-rockers the Church on the desperate, titanic anthem Finger Trigger: “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” A vivid portrayal of a time and place that nobody who lived through it wants to remember. What is it that happens to those who can’t remember the past? So far this one hasn’t made it to the share sites; it’s still available from the band, whose follow-up is due out in a few months and reputedly maintains the power of this one.
The Truck America Festival crosses the channel for the first time, taking place at the Full Moon Resort in the Catskills this coming April 30-May 1. The Oxygen Ponies will be featured among over two dozen acts including Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, Randi Russo, Tim Easton, the Sadies and Dusty and the Dreaming Spires, on three stages over a two-night, three-day span – tickets are $120 including camping, available in New York at Beacon’s Closet locations. If Wednesday’s show at the Bell House is any indication, it should be a lot of fun (the Full Moon recently played host to Beefstock, covered in detail here, and the main stage there rivals the Bell House for quality sound). As he will upstate, frontman Paul Megna brought the whole band along for this show – Don Piper doing a first-class Marty Willson-Piper impression on lead guitar along with a nimble keyboardist, drums and a girl singing high harmonies. Megna’s growling, semi-assaultive vocals matched his guitar playing, swiping at the strings disdainfully without a thought to how much damage he could do to the instrument – or himself – if he hit any harder. The Oxygen Ponies’ most recent album Harmony Handgrenade ranked high on our best albums of 09 list – this set mixed in several choice cuts along with some new material that reminds even more of the band they most closely resemble, Australian art-rockers The Church.
Megna started the show solo, savaging the past via slow, methodical post-Velvets sway: “Looking back to yesterday is worse than giving up,” Ray Sapirstein’s trumpet a eulogy in the distance. The band came up and launched into a pulsing, crescendoing anthem replete with Megna’s trademark cynicism: “Twice is once too much,” he snarled. A brisk version of the even more cynical Fevered Cyclones mocked conspicuous consumptives from the suburbs, followed by a corrosive anti-trendoid anthem. Megna threw down the gauntlet: “Let’s take off those gloves.” They took it out on a soaring, ornately atmospheric note with their most Church-like number of the night, Piper’s washes of guitar against Megna’s voice adding a hypnotic magnetism, a call to kill as much as a challenge to individualists everywhere to stand up for themselves.
File this one under “new noir songwriters” alongside Mark Steiner, the Oxygen Ponies and Mark Sinnis. Fans of those guys as well as the two who started it all, Tom Waits and Nick Cave, will enjoy Mark Growden’s new cd Saint Judas. Like Waits, Growden blends blues with a smoky noir cabaret feel; as with Cave, Growden projects a downtrodden yet randy gutter-poet facade. The Bay Area songwriter/accordionist/banjoist has a fantastic steampunk band behind him – recorded live in the studio, they turn in a passionate, rustically intense performance. Fiery blues guitarist/lapsteel player Myles Boisen, cellist Alex Kelly, horn player Chris Grady, bassist/organist Seth Ford-Young and drummer Jenya Chernoff all deserve mention here.
Most of this stuff, predictably, is in minor keys. The album’s second track, Delilah (no relation to Tom Jones) gets the benefit of a balmy trumpet solo from Grady that lights up the pitch blackness underneath. The title track is the best song here, an uncharacteristically jaunty, cynical, funny number which recasts Judas as a patron saint of the insolvent and dissolute: “Bottoms up to you, buddy, ’cause somebody has to take the blame.” They take it down after that with a slow country ballad as Nick Cave would do it: “If the stars could sing they would surely sing of you,” Growden intones.
They pick it up again after that with a swaying, stomping minor blues, Boisen’s electric slide guitar wailing against one of many tight, inspired horn charts here. Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man gets a slow, Tom Waits-ish blues treatment, followed eventually by a sizzling number that mingles fiery electric slide with Growden’s banjo, a mournful elegy told from the point of view of a coyote who lost his mate to a trap, and an extremely cool, thoughtful, Asian-tinged solo horn taqsim that gives Grady a chance to show off his mastery with overtones – it sounds like he’s playing a shakuhachi. They close with an ersatz gypsy waltz and a lullaby.
This album won’t be to everyone’s taste. As great as so many noir artists are, it’s a stylized genre. For vocals and lyrics, Growden doesn’t go outside the box – some will find his exaggerated drawl affected and his lyrics derivative and contrived. But the quality of the musicianship and the richness of the arrangements – the songs wouldn’t suffer a bit if they were simply instrumentals – offer considerable compensation. LA-area fans have the chance to see Growden play the cd release show for this one on March 16 at 8 PM at the Hotel Cafe, 1623 1/2 North Cahuenga in Hollywood.
Of all our year-end best-of lists (the 100 Best Songs of 2009 and 50 Best Albums of 2009 included), this is our favorite, because it’s the most individual (everybody has a different list) and it’s closest to our raison d’etre, live music in New York. Last year’s was difficult enough to narrow down to twenty; this year’s is criminally short. We could have put up a top 100 concerts list and it would be five times as good.
This was the year of the Beast – Small Beast at the Delancey, New York’s most exciting weekly rock event. We caught onto this slowly – the concert series ran for about a month before we discovered it – but when we did we were there almost every week. Occasionally someone will ask, since you have a music blog, why don’t you start booking shows? With Small Beast, there’s no need: it’s your weekly chance to discover the edgiest, smartest rock-ish talent from Gotham and across the globe. You’ll see a lot of those shows on this list.
Yet 2009 was a weird year for us – running a New York live music blog and not being in town much of the time made it problematic, to say the least. Week after week, we watched from a distance, enviously as half the city got to see stuff we never did. In August, the Brooklyn What did a killer triple bill with Palmyra Delran’s garage band and amazing latin ska-punk-gypsy rockers Escarioka at Trash Bar, but we weren’t there. The second night of the Gypsy Tabor Festival just a few weeks later looked like a great time, but we missed that one too. As the year winds down and we finally (hopefully!) start to reap the rewards of a whole lot of hard work, it appears, pending some absolutely transcendent show exploding onto the radar, that this is it for our Best Shows of 09 list. Needless to say, we can’t wait for 2010.
Since any attempt to rank these shows in any kind of order would be an exercise in futility, we just listed them as they happened:
The Brooklyn What at Fat Baby, 1/15/09 – since we’d just reviewed a couple of their shows in the fall of 08, we didn’t even review this one, fearing overkill. But on what was the coldest night of the winter up to that point, they packed the club and burned through a characteristically fun, ferocious set, maybe fueled by the knowledge that one of their idols, Ron Asheton, had left us.
Kerry Kennedy at Rose Bar, 1/21/09 – the noir chanteuse was at the absolute top of her game as quietly resilient siren and southwestern gothic bandleader.
Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/9/09 – the Botanica frontman (who books Small Beast) turned in a typically fiery set, followed by the avant-chanteuse who battled and finally lashed out at a crowd of clueless yuppie puppies who just didn’t get what the show was all about.
Kotorino at Pete’s Candy Store, 4/13/09 – the quietly multistylistic, gypsyish band filled the place on a Monday night and kept the crowd riveted as they all switched instruments, beats and genres over and over.
The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 4/23/09 – Boston’s best new band blazed through an early 80s inflected set of edgy powerpop.
Paul Wallfisch, the Ulrich-Ziegler Duo and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/23/09 – after Wallfisch had set the tone for the night, Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich and Pink Noise’s Itamar Ziegler played hypnotic, macabre guitar soundscapes followed by the ferociously lyrical retro 60s chamber pop of Joe McGinty and Ward White.
The American String Quartet playing Irving Fine and Robert Sirota’s Triptych at Bargemusic, 4/26/09 – a sinister ride through works by one of the leading lights of the 1950s avant garde followed by a haunting, intense performance of contemporary composer Sirota’s 9/11 suite.
Paul Wallfisch, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, Spottiswoode and Steve Wynn at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/30/09 – after Wallfisch got the night started, Beren roared and scorched her way through a pummeling, macabre set. Then Spottiswoode impressed with a subtle set of nocturnes, setting the stage for Wynn, playing together with his friend and ex-lead guitarist Chris Brokaw for the first time in several years, a feast of swirling, otherworldly guitar overtones.
The Friggs and the Chrome Cranks at Santos Party House, 5/8/09 – a triumphant return for the popular 90s garage girl rockers followed by the equally triumphant, reinvigorated, snarling sonic attack of another one of NYC’s best bands of the 90s.
The French Exit at Local 269, 5/13/09 – NYC’s best new dark rockers playing one of their first shows as a four-piece, rich with reverb, tersely incisive piano, haunting vocals and defiant lyricism.
Chicha Libre on the Rocks Off Concert Cruise Boat, 5/15/09 – definitely the best party of the year that we were party to, a swaying excursion through psychedelic, surfy cumbia music, past and present.
Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/4/09 – Wallfisch kicked it off, Gaines and a stripped-down trio impressed with gutter-poet, Lou Reed/Tom Waits style rock and then Alice Texas turned in a swirling, incandescent, gently assaultive show that reminded how much we miss Tonic, the club where she used to play before it was torn down t0 put up plastic luxury condos.
Paul Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/22/09 – another Wallfisch night, this one featuring the great LES accordionist/chanteuse/cabaret scholar and then Pierre de Gaillande’s clever, haunting art-r0ck crew.
Ian Hunter at Rockefeller Park, 6/24/09 – the former Mott the Hoople frontman, at age 70, has simply never written, played, or sung better. This show was a real revelation.
Daniel Bernstein at Sidewalk, 7/9/09 – the underground songwriter/lyricist/tunesmith casually burned through one haunting, haunted, ridiculously catchy tune after another.
Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, 7/10/09 – another haunting show opened with the absolute master of the outsider anthem, who did double duty playing in Paul Megna’s equally dark, intense, lyrical indie band.
The Main Squeeze Accordion Festival: Musette Explosion, Suspenso del Norte, Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Quintet, the Main Squeeze Orchestra, Roberto Cassan and John Munatore, Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica and Peter Stan at Pier One, 7/11/09 – squeezebox heaven.
Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble and the Dave Brubeck Quartet at Damrosch Park, 8/5/09 – cutting-edge Middle Eastern-inflected jazz followed by one of the great ones, undiminished and still inventive at 89.
Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, 11/19/09 – the panstylistic rock goddess played several good New York shows this past year, but this one with Matt Kanelos on piano and glockenspiel and Billy Doughty on drums and melodica was pure transcendence.
Carol Lipnik, Bonfire Madigan, Rachelle Garniez, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 11/23/09 – what seems at this point to be the single best show of the year (if only because it’s the most recent one on the list) matched Lipnik’s phantasmagoria to Madigan’s equally artful chamber pop, Garniez’ irresistible charisma and ferocity, Beren’s contralto classical punk assault and then Ward White took over where the sirens had been and sang what could have been his best show ever.
You’ll notice that aside from the #1 spot here, these aren’t ranked in any kind of order: the difference, quality-wise between #1 and #50 is so slight as to make the idea of trying to sort out which might be “better” an exercise in futility. If you’re interested, here’s our 100 Best Songs of 2009 list.
1. The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President
Like London Calling, it’s a diverse yet consistently ferocious, sometimes hilarious mix of styles imbued with punk energy and an edgy, quintessentially New York intensity. Time will probably judge this a classic.
2. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll
The former Hangdogs frontman’s finest, funniest, most spot-on moment as a fearless, politically aware Americana rocker.
3. The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade
Dating from the waning days of the Bush regime, this is a murderously angry album about living under an enemy occupation: love in a time of choler?
4. The Beefstock Recipes anthology
5. Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology
Arguably the most insightful – and most brutally funny – album ever written about the music industry. The tunes are great too.
6. Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs
The sprawling Brooklyn band go deep into 60s noir with this brilliantly morbid, phantasmagorical ep.
7. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Tear Back the Night
In the spirit of Dark Side of the Moon and Closer, this is a masterpiece of artsy existentialist rock. You’ll find several tracks on our Best Songs of 2009 list, including our #1 pick, Never Looking Back.
8. Botanica – americanundone
All the fearless fury and rage of a Botanica live show successfully captured at a show in Germany late last year.
9. Kelli Rae Powell – New Words for Old Lullabies
The amazingly lyrical oldtimey chanteuse alternates between sultry, devious romantic stylings and sheer unhinged anger.
10. McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty & White Songbook
Ward White and Joe McGinty’s wickedly lyrical collaboration puts a fresh spin on retro 60s psychedelic pop.
11. The Church – Untitled #23
The Australian art-rock legends’ latest is yet another triumph of swirling atmospherics and intense lyricism.
12. Amy Allison – Sheffield Streets
Her best album – the New York song stylist has never been funnier or more acerbic. Includes a charming duet with Elvis Costello.
13. Steve Wynn and the Dragon Bridge Orchestra – Live in Brussels
A lush, majestic effort recorded with the stellar crew who played on his most recent studio album Crossing Dragon Bridge.
14. Elisa Flynn – Songs About Birds & Ghosts
Haunting and poignant but also cleverly amusing, the New York rocker has never written better or sung more affectingly.
15. The Jazz Funeral – s/t – free download
The best band ever to come out of Staten Island, New York, these janglerockers write excellent lyrics and have some very catchy Americana-inflected tunes.
16. Jay Bennett – Whatever Happened, I Apologize – free download
The last album the great Americana songwriter ever recorded, a harrowing chronicle of dissolution and despair.
17. Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar
The Church’s iconic twelve-string guitarist’s finest work ever, a sweeping, majestic, multistylistic masterpiece.
18. Black Sea Hotel – s/t
New York’s own Bulgarian vocal choir’s debut is otherworldly, gorgeous and strikingly innovative.
19. Rupa & the April Fishes – Este Mundo
Latin meets noir cabaret meets acoustic gypsy punk on the Bay Area band’s sensational second album.
The tenor saxophonist/composer goes straight for wherever the melody is, usually in four minutes or less, with one of the world’s great rhythm sections, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Time may also judge this a classic.
21. The New Collisions – s/t
All the fun and edgy intensity of vintage 80s new wave reinvented for the next decade by platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Guild and her killer backing band.
22. Ten Pound Heads – s/t
The great long lost Blue Oyster Cult album: relentlessly dark, edgy, occasionally noir art-rock songs with layers of great guitar.
A hilariously woozy, fun romp through the songs from Sergeant Pepper, by the allstar NYC reggae crew who brought us Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread.
24. Jeff Zentner – The Dying Days of Summer
Intense, memorable Nashville gothic songwriting from one of its finest practitioners.
25. Chris Eminizer – Twice the Animal
Cleverly lyrical art-rock songwriting with tinges of vintage Peter Gabriel from this first-rate New York rocker.
26. Tinariwen – Imidiwan: Companions
The Tuareg rockers’ most diverse, accessible album, as memorable as it is hypnotic.
27. Monika Jalili – Elan
Classic songs from Iran from the 60s and 70s, fondly and hauntingly delivered by the Iranian-American siren and her amazing backup band.
28. Ivo Papasov – Dance of the Falcon
The iconic Bulgarian clarinetist delivers maybe his most adrenalizing, intense album of gypsy music ever.
29. The Stagger Back Brass Band – s/t
The Spinal Tap of brass bands are as virtuosic and melodic as they are funny – which is a lot.
30. Eric Vloeimans‘ Fugimundi – Live at Yoshi’s
The Dutch trumpeter leads a trio through a particularly poignant, affecting mix of classically-tinged jazz.
31. The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?
Recorded at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York last year, this is a boisterous, furious mix of hilarious skits and songs by the Dead Kennedys of the oldtimey scene.
32. Salaam – s/t
Sister-and-brother Dena and Amir El Saffar’s richly memorable, haunting seventh album of Middle Eastern instrumentals and ballads.
33. Fishtank Ensemble – Samurai over Serbia
Their shtick is that they add an Asian tinge to gypsy music, giving it an especially wild edge. The singing saw work on the album is pretty amazing too.
An eerily glimmering, suspensefully minimalist masterpiece by the baritone sax player and pianist, recorded in a sonically exquisite old church earlier this year.
35. The Silk Road Ensemble – Off the Map
Their first one without Yo-yo Ma is also their most adventurous mix of Asian and Middle Eastern-themed compositions (by Osvaldo Golijov, Angel Lam, Evan Ziporyn and others), played by an allstar cast including Kayhan Kalhor, string quartet Brooklyn Rider, pipa pioneer Wu Man and a cast of dozens.
36. Linda Draper – Bridge and Tunnel
The NYC songwriter’s most straightforward, catchy yet also maybe her most lyrically edgy album yet – and she has several.
37. Darren Gaines and the Key Party – My Blacks Don’t Match
Wry, Tom Waits-inflected noir songs by this excellent NYC crew.
38. Love Camp 7 – Union Garage
A deliciously jangly followup to their classic 2007 album Sometimes Always Never.
39. The Komeda Project – Requiem
The New York jazz crew’s second collection of works by the Roman Polanski collaborator who died tragically in the 1960s is brooding, morbid, cinematic and Mingus-esque.
40. Si Para Usted Vol. 2 – The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba
Like the Roots of Chicha series, Waxing Deep’s second devious, danceable collection of genre-hopping obscure Latin funk from 1970s Cuba onward is packed with obscure gems.
41. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo – Eternal
Ominous, windswept, atmospheric North Asian ambience produced with stately, understated power.
42. The Moonlighters – Enchanted
Another great album: gorgeous harmonies from Bliss Blood and Cindy Ball, charming retro 20s songwriting and incisive steel guitar from NYC’s best oldtimey band.
43. Minamo – Kuroi Kawa/Black River
Pianist Satoko Fujii and violinist Carla Kihlstedt share a telepathic chemistry in duo soundscapes ranging from clever and playful to downright macabre.
44. Robin O’Brien – The Apple in Man
The multistylistic chanteuse, legendary in the cassette underground, gets her haunting, intense, otherworldly vocals set to smart, terse new arrangements from dreampop to 70s style Britfolk to trance.
45. Devi – Get Free
Ferociously smart pychedelic power trio rock with one of the most interesting lead guitarists out there right now.
46. Obits – I Blame You
Dark, catchy, propulsive retro 60s garage rock with echoes of the Stooges and early Pink Floyd by this inspired Brooklyn band.
47. HuDost – Trapeze
Sweeping, sometimes hypnotic, artsy songs that move from Americana to gypsy to goth, with frontwoman Moksha Sommer’s graceful vocals.
48. Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues
Hauntingly visionary, provocative, politically aware songs set to gorgeously rustic, late 1920s blues, swing and hillbilly arrangements by the great Americana guitarist.
49. Chang Jui-Chuan – Exodus: Retrospective and Prospective 1999-2009
Fearless conscious bilingual hip-hop (in Taiwanese and English) from this international star.
50. Les Triaboliques – rivermudtwilight
A trio of old British punks – Justin Adams, Ben Mandelson and Lu Edmonds – combine to create a masterpiece of desert-inspired duskcore.
We do this every Tuesday (usually – remember a couple of weeks ago?). You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.
1. The Oxygen Ponies – Villains
Quiet yet venomous rock anthem dating from the waning days of the Bush regime. From their amazing new cd Harmony Handgrenade.
2. Christabel & the Jons – Florida
Dark, quirky, fun oldtimey swing tune in the Jolie Holland mode. They’re at the Jalopy Theatre on 10/1.
3. Taxi Amarillo – Donde Has Estando
Jangly rock en Espanol anthem. They’re at BB King’s on 9/7
4. Kofre – El Muerto
Ska en Espanol. Also at BB King’s on 9/7.
5. The Scratches – I Take the Shape of My Container
BOAC style pop – funny.
6. Mark Sinnis – That’s Why I Won’t Love You
Quietly snarling, gospel-flavored kissoff anthem recorded live at Pete’s. From his forthcoming 2010 cd.
7. Ninth House – Jealousy
8. Kerry Kennedy – Golden Calves
Beautiful as-yet unreleased atmospherics from the NYC southwestern gothic chanteuse. She’s at Small Beast at the Delancey on 9/14.
9. Telephone – In Paris
A funny anti-tourist rant, in English, by the iconic punk-era French rockers. “In Paris we piss in the street.”
10. Smoothe Moose – War Pigs (remix)
Woozy electronicized cover, you can’t help but smile. Various members of the Tortoise-esque collective play the release show for their latest mixtape at Public Assembly on 9/3 at 9.
We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here except for #1 will take you to each individual song.
1. The Oxygen Ponies – Finger Trigger
Big scorching venomous rock anthem written at the nadir of the Bush regime. From their amazing new Randi Russo-designed cd Harmony Handgrenade
2. Sad Little Stars – I’m Going to Paris
Hilarious deadpan anti-trendoid broadside
3. Zebu – You Can’t Polish Shit
4. Edward Rogers – You Haven’t Been Where I’ve Been
The expat Manchester rock crooner live at the NME awards doing the ELO thing – title track to his latest excellent album.
5. Basia Bulat – Snakes & Ladders
Orchestrated piano/orchestra ballad by this usually lo-fi Canadian songstress. Is this an anomaly? She’s at the Bell House on 10/7 at 8:30.
6. The French Exit – 3 & 12
We’re just going to hit you over the head again and again until everybody realizes what an amazing band these New York noir rockers are. They’re at Local 269 on 9/17 at 8.
7. Escarioka – Algun Dia Llegara
Every single song the Brooklyn What have ever played has probably been included in this list this year at some point, but we haven’t yet done the same with rock/ska en Espanol hellraisers Escarioka, who are also on the bill on 8/29 at Mehanata. This is a surprisingly gentle number but they’ll no doubt rip it to shreds live.
8. Her Vanished Grace – Sirens
They call what they play “power dreampop” which isn’t a bad way to describe it. They’re at Trash on 9/16 at 9:30.
9. The Anabolics – Je Ne Sais Quoi
Wicked garage punk. They’re at Union Pool on 10 on 9/4.
10. Rebecca Turner – Tough Crowd
Ridiculously catchy Americana rock song from the gorgeous-voiced chanteuse. She’s at Banjo Jim’s on 9/2 at 8.