Cuckoo's Eleven - The Best of 2009

 

Top Eleven Songs of 2009:
Download Best of 2009 iMix

  1. A.C. Newman - Prophets

  2. Phoenix - 1901

  3. Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks

  4. Pearl Jam - Just Breathe

  5. K'naan - Take a Minute

  6. Fanfarlo - The Walls Are Coming Down

  7. The Big Pink - Dominos

  8. Wilco - Wilco (The Song)

  9. Dinosaur Jr. - Pieces

  10. Atlas Sound - Walkabout

  11. Dirty Projectors - Cannibal Resource

Honorable Mentions:
The XX - VCR
Animal Collective - Guys Eyes
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero
Neko Case - People Got a Lotta Nerve
Girls - Laura
BLK JKS - Lakeside
Japandroids - Crazy/Forever

Guilty Pleasure:
Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling

 

1

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

"Forever is a long, long time / when you've lost your way."

Put down your freedom fries, Red State bretheren. The Album of the Year belongs to the French. These guys are for real and, believe it or not, incredibly polite. Their fourth album overall but first to place on the U.S. charts, you'll recognize them as the one good decision General Motors has made recently (music for a recent Cadillac commercial).

 
2

A.C. Newman – Get Guilty

"There are maybe ten or twelve things I can teach you / After that, you're on your own / And that wasn't the opening line / That was the tenth or twelfth verse / Make of that what you will."

For years, Carl Newman has rejected the idea of recording an album similar to Mass Romantic. Yet on the opening verses, he's admitting there's only so much he can reveal to us. With arrangements that have made Neko Case admit publicly she wishes she could have appeared on the album, it's no surprise Carl Newman landed on Cuckoo's Eleven more times than any other musician during the Aughts.

3

Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

"Look around at everyone / Everyone looks alive and waiting / The wind is up, the stars out / The sun is calm, the light is fading."

Fifth release from this Brooklyn-based band which seems to have found a good balance between experimentation and pop sensibility. Throw in a lyric about Gatorade ("And what hits the spot, yeah, like Gatorade?"), and I'm hooked. Domino Records scores another major hit.

4

Fanfarlo – Reservoir

"Even though the lights have changed I’m caught up in an endless loop / Driving for ten hours and then ending up in the same place! / Can you hear a rumble under ground? can you hear the beat?"

Debut of this London-based indie pop band. With uses extensively violin, trumpet, and mandolin, it is easy to mistake this for a stateside band. No surprise they selected Peter Katis, better known for his work with Interpol and The National.

5

Wilco – Wilco

"Are you under the impression / this isn't your life / Do you dabble in depression? / Is someone twisting a knife in your back? / Are you being attacked? / Oh, this is a fact that you need to know / Wilco will love you, baby."

Wilco (The Band) releases Wilco (The Album) with hit song Wilco (The Song). After a decade of experimentation, Jeff Tweedy and Co. post their third album in Cuckoo's Eleven. And while they lure you in with another album full of addictive hooks, they want to be sure you know that Wilco loves ya, baby.

6

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

"Save up all the days / A routine malaise / Just like yesterday."

Lots of exposure for this New York-based experimental folk-rock band in 2009, including an appearance on Letterman and becoming the soundtrack to Volkswagen commercials. As compared to their prior to albums, the band opted to write the songs collaboratively. In my opinion, doing so highlights the vocal abilities of all four band members.

7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It's Blitz!

“"Shake it like a ladder to the sun / Makes me feel like a madman on the run."

With Karen O busy writing the score to Where the Wild Things Are, It's Blitz! almost didn't happen. Despite the side project, this New York trio sounds as strong as ever.

8

The XX – XX

"Maybe I had said something that was wrong / Can I make it better with the lights turned on."

The debut album by this three-piece band from London has drawn comparisons to Portishead and Mazzy Star. Fantastic male/female combined vocals. A record that was meant for 3am.

9

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

"There isn't much that I feel I need / A solid soul and the blood I bleed."

If Pet Sounds were recorded today, it would sound like this. One only needs to stare for a moment at the album cover to recognize that this isn't the kind of album you'll hear on mainstream radio. A beautifully weird album with so many layers that it takes four or five listens needed to fully appreciate it.

10

Girls – Album

"And I don't want to cry my whole life through / I want to do some laughing too."

Debut album from this San Francisco-based quartet which fuses shoegaze, surf, and jangle rock. Even more interesting is that lead singer Christopher Owens is a former member of the Children of God cult. Having been forbidden to listen to music outside the cult during his childhood, it is no surprise Owens attempts to meld the likes of Elvis Costello, Buddy Holly, and The Beach Boys into a fresh new sound.

11

The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love

"As soon as I love her it's been too long / Talks of future with you caves me in / Swallow my sugar kiss and eat it alone / Hearts collide and smash any dreams of love."

If Richard Ashcroft of The Verve fronted The Jesus and Mary Chain, they would sound like this electro-rock duo from London.

Honorable Mention


 

 

HM

Dinosaur Jr. – Farm

"I can't wait / It's too late / I'm not sure / I'll take your word."

Best known for their 1994 hit, "Feel the Pain", Dinosaur Jr. is back with their second album this decade. A 90s band that flew under the radar and played second chair to bands like The Cure and My Bloody Valentine, who would have thought that we'd ever hear from them again, let alone an album with a solid one-two punch?

 
HM

K'naan – Troubadour

"Do you see why it's amazing / When someone comes out of such dire situation / and learns the English language just to share his observation? / Probably get a Grammy without a grammar education."

Just your typical rap background: born in Mogadishu during the Somali Civil War, transplanted to Toronto, educated in the English language by the likes of Nas and Rakim. If you haven't heard of him yet, you will most certainly recognize him this summer, when his song Wavin' Flag will be the official song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

HM

BLK JKS – After Robots

Let's face it: we are about a year away from a backlash against trust-fund-babies turned afrobeat singer-songwriters. But for now, it's cool to boast of African music influences as if Paul Simon hadn't already done this for the past 50 years. That's what makes this band so brilliant: a South African band with Western influences. Described by many as Africa's version of TV on the Radio, this quartet combines African roots with prog and ambiance influences to create a truly remarkable sound. Sung in English, Afrikaans, Zulu, and Xhosa, this is the most unique album I have listened to all decade.

HM

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

"“My love has never lived indoors / I've had to drag it home by force / Hired hounds at both my wrists / Damp and bruised by strangers’ kisses on my lips / But you're the one that I still miss.”"

The second solo effort released by a member of The New Pornographers to make this year's list. Not nearly as strong as A.C. Newman's Get Guilty, but still a good album.

HM

Japandroids – Post-Nothing

"It's raining in Vancouver / But I don't give a f***."

When a band comprised of two University of Victoria students opts to forego adding a lead singer, you shouldn't expect groundbreaking lyrics. But the band's go-for-broke attitude on riffs and harmonies does more than enough to overcome the group's ambivalence to advancing beyond the theme of getting laid.



Guilty Pleasure of the Year


 

 

GP

Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta Feeling (Single)

"Tonight's the night, let's live it up / I got my money, let's spend it up / Go out and smash it like oh my God / Jump off that sofa, let's get, get off."

I almost didn't include a Guilty Pleasure this year. My rationale was that I didn't have a Guilty Pleasure album. However, my better half reminded me that I did however have a Guilty Pleasure single.

Let's get a few things straight: I cannot stand Black Eyed Peas, Fergie, Josh Duhamel and Las Vegas by association. But what drives me insane is that, eight years later, I still have no clue what Taboo does, other than serve as BEP's equivalent of Boss Tone, sans plaid.

So one night this past fall, when Kathy was watching Oprah's season opener, Black Eyed Peas performed and led to the following exchange:

ME: "I like this song."
KATHY: "You know this is Black Eyed Peas, right?"
ME: "Oh."

Now, this is precisely the purpose of a Cuckoo's Eleven Guilty Pleasure: acknowledging favor for a song that, for all intents and purposes, I should have no good reason to like. Now even bad songs can do good. After all, Jewish Wedding DJs now have a new go-to standard. Yet every time I bob my head when I hear the song, it's a little difficult to look myself in the mirror. Do I like this album? Absolutely not. But do I like this song. Sue me.

 


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