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Wrapping Up 2009: Jandy’s Favorite Music

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This is probably the first year that I’ve listened to enough current music that I feel comfortable making a top ten list. Some of my favorite bands released new records that I loved, a few released records that I don’t love as much as I wanted to, and I found a bunch of new bands that took me by surprise, overwhelmed me, and wouldn’t let me go. This list reflects both the bigger bands (though still not big by mainstream, stadium-going standards) and the local bands that I’ve grown to love – I’ll admit my bias for mixed-gendered bands with a focus on female vocals right now, because you’ll notice it anyway.

Ten Favorite Albums of 2009

10. Headlights – Wildlife

HeadlightsWildlife.jpgIf you like perfectly-crafted, sparkling pop gems, look no further than Headlights. I first found Headlights at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2007 – they were a breath of fresh air after a bunch of noisier, less-pleasant sounding bands, and I was an instant fan. Their first full-length album Kill Them With Kindness was on repeat for months. I didn’t care as much for follow-up Some Racing, Some Stopping, but they’re back on top with this year’s Wildlife. From the upbeat yet wistful longing of “Telephones” (“I wish I wasn’t so far from home…”) to the blissfully poppy “Get Going” to the mellow sadness of “Love Song for Buddy” (very depressing yet lovely video here), there’s so much to like about this album.

MP3: Headlights – Telephones

9. Obi Best – Capades

ObiBestCapades.jpgWhen I was checking out my Last.fm charts to see what I’d actually listened to the most this year, I was a little surprised to find that Obi Best was at about #4 of all 2009 music. But I shouldn’t be, really – they’re one of the LA bands that I try to seek out every time they play, because I really can’t get enough of leader Alex Lilly’s whimsical tunes. She also sings back-up for The Bird and the Bee, and you can see some of their influence on her unusual melodic progressions, but she’s really created something special of her very own with Obi Best (and the help of ubiquitous LA musicians Bram Inscore, Wendy Wang, and Barbara Gruska, each of whom are in a whole laundry list of bands). It may be a little twee for some, but I find myself liking it more and more every time I listen.

MP3: Obi Best – Swedish Boy

8. Karen O and the Kids – Where the Wild Things Are Soundtrack

WTWTA.jpgI don’t care if it’s cheating to put a soundtrack on here, or that I’m giving Karen O extra love this year. Finding out that she was doing the music for Where the Wild Things Are was the thing that really got me interested in the film in the first place, I loved the soundtrack on hearing it before the film was released, and I’ll grant you that a decent portion of my love for the film is due to this music. It’s simply perfect, both on its own, and for the movie – a seamless melding of joy and sadness, comfort and freedom, all with a wild edge that I doubt anyone but Karen O could pull off with such panache. There are no good videos or clips that I could find to go with this one, so here’s one of the TV spots that features “All is Love,” the main theme. But the track that moves me the most is her cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Worried Shoes.”

MP3: Karen O and the Kids – Worried Shoes

7. Bat for Lashes – Two Suns

BatForLashesTwoSuns.jpgIt took me a while to warm up to Bat for Lashes (aka Natasha Khan), and the aha moment didn’t really occur until seeing her live at Lollapalooza. Even though most people agree that an outdoor festival is not the perfect venue for her, it worked for me, and I look forward to seeing her in a more controlled, indoor venue at some point. Her ethereal voice soars whether she’s alone with a piano or surrounded by intricate instrumentation, melding the influences of her British/Pakistani heritage together into something wholly unique. Her music is enigmatic, and her persona parallels it, appearing innocent and down to earth in some moments and otherworldly and profoundly strange in others. She’s not someone to be easily overlooked or forgotten.

MP3: Bat for Lashes – Moon and Moon

6. Great Northern – Remind Me Where the Light Is

GreatNorthernRemindMeWheretheLightIs.jpgI was practically dragged to see Great Northern by a friend of mine, and now, here they are, on my top ten list. They’ve got the sort of sound that overwhelms you, especially live, coupled with a really unique timbre in Rachel’s voice that sets them apart from most other bands. I can’t seem to find a video that really captures their sound properly, but this stripped down radio station recording is my favorite of the ones that I found. They don’t perform acoustic usually, so take this and imagine it turned up to eleven with electric guitars and drums.

MP3: Great Northern – Mountain

Click through to see my top five, and few of my favorite live shows of the year.

Continue reading Wrapping Up 2009: Jandy’s Favorite Music

Bishop Allen @ The Echo, 11/11/08

Guess who finally remembered to take her camera to a concert and thus can use her own pictures instead of scrounging ones from Flickr? Yay! On the other hand, I’m still working on finding the best camera settings for low light conditions, so… Still. MINE.

007 - Bishop Allen @Echo, Los Angeles, 11/11/08

Before Bishop Allen, though, were three opening bands, all of which I enjoyed. First up was The One AM Radio, who actually started before I got in (whole ticket fiasco which was not as much of an issue as I thought it was going to be, but caused me to be in the wrong line – won’t get into it). I was in line with a bunch of people who knew the keyboardist/backup singer, so that was cool. For a little while I felt almost part of the Silverlake scene. Speaking of the Silverlake/Echo Park music scene, the Echo is a great venue. It’s the perfect size, with a good bar (and food, apparently, though I didn’t eat there) and a really great vibe. The bands were wandering around before, during, and after the show, so it felt really casual and intimate. Okay, back to the show. I’d actually heard of The One AM Radio before; they have a track on the compilation CD “Give. Listen. Help.” (available from Urban Outfitters; almost all of the proceeds go to children’s cancer research), which I really enjoyed. Their newest album (from 2007) is called This Too Will Pass, available from Amazon CD and MP3. I apologize for the blurryness of the photo. First one I took, and I was still testing flash vs. no-flash. (Flash is better, FYI.)

001 - The One AM Radio @Echo, Los Angeles, 11/11/08

The One AM Radio – Old Men

Then came The Electric Owls, which turned out to be one guy – but I think there are sometimes more of them in the band? I wasn’t really clear on that. Anyway, he could pick a mean guitar, and he sorta reminded me a little bit of Glen Hansard, except not Irish. I didn’t have a good angle from where I was at the time, so no pictures of him.

And I REALLY liked the third opening band, An Horse. Not only because they’re from Australia, though I admit that’s part of it. Kate Cooper, the singer/guitarist, was adorable and funny. She bantered more between songs than most. “We’re from Australia, which I’ve just been told is right next to Switzerland. It isn’t really. It’s actually a whole other planet in the solar system.” The other band member, Damon Cox, played the drums and sang backup. Sort of a Mates of State sort of thing, except with guitar instead of keyboards. I wanted to pick up a CD or something of theirs, but didn’t see any on the merch table as I went out. I must’ve missed them. Their album Not Really Scared is available on iTunes, or as an import from Amazon, but that’s way more expensive.

003 - An Horse @Echo, Los Angeles, 11/11/08

An Horse – Scared as F**k (sorry for the title, but it is the best song, and the one containing the album’s title)

Then Bishop Allen! I will say that I finally know how annoying it was for fans of The Shins when Garden State came out and suddenly there were a lot more Shins fans based solely on their inclusion in the film. Not that I object to bands gaining more fans, and in fact, I’ll admit I’m a Garden State Shins fan. But now I feel an irrational, overly defensive need to declare that I was a Bishop Allen fan long before they were featured in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and in fact, went to see the film in no small part because of Bishop Allen’s involvement. There, done being defensive. Sorry about that.

Anyway. They had an issue with Darbie’s mic, so after futzing with it for a while, they finally had to make do with one less mic than usual, which meant that bassist Keith kept having to run over to guitarist Christian’s mic whenever he was needed for backup vocals. :) In his tour blog, he complained about tripping over cables, but assuming he wasn’t actually hurt, it ended up being rather more amusing than not.

005 - Bishop Allen @Echo, Los Angeles, 11/11/08

They did a great mix of songs from The Broken String and the various EPs they’ve put out – last year, they tested the limits of prolificness by putting out an EP every month. And succeeded. I should’ve picked up some of those, but being faced by all 12 EPs on the merch table was a little overwhelming. And did a couple of new songs from the album they’re working on now. Yay new stuff! After the briefest pre-encore break ever, they finished it all up with the Darbie-led “Butterfly Nets” (which was the first song that made me a fan). And it was good. And then I mostly copped out of a review by mostly posting photos.

015 - Bishop Allen @Echo, Los Angeles, 11/11/08

Bishop Allen – The Same Fire (from “June EP”)
Bishop Allen – The Monitor (from “The Broken String”)
Bishop Allen – Butterfly Nets (from “The Broken String”)

Amazon.com CD
Amazon.com MP3
EPs at Bishop Allen.com
Amazon.com MP3
EPs at Bishop Allen.com
Amazon.com MP3

(Amazon.com MP3 has all the tracks from the EP Project available in two sets, but they were originally released as twelve 4-song EP CDs. Check out the Bishop Allen store page to see the original covers, designed by Darbie.)