My Top Ten CDs of 2009

PopMatters has unveiled its list of the Top 60 Albums of 2009. And as testament to the diversity of taste here at PM, I found exactly ZERO of my choices on that list. No overlap whatsoever. With apologies to Animal Collective, from where I'm standing, that is one butt-naked emperor. So, be it ever so humble, here is my personal Top Ten for the year.

10 Julian Casablancas, Phrazes for the Young

Those who know me have heard the story a dozen times apiece. When the Strokes still played clubs right after Is This It? came out, I stood in the front row at the Casbah and got biffed in the bean by Julian Casablancas' microphone stand, producing an impressive golf-ball sized knot. He was deep in his training-wheels-alcoholic phase where he fancied himself quite the Johnny Thunders Jr. Between the head injury and the revelation of hearing "Barely Legal" for the first time, I fell in love on the spot with what became one of my five favorite bands of the decade. Phrazes for the Young is the first time since Room on Fire that I felt a tingle in that phantom spot on my forehead.

9) Them Crooked Vultures, Them Crooked Vultures

Have you been waiting patiently for Queens of the Stone Age to make a worthy successor to the life-changing perfection of Songs for the Deaf? Do you hum along respectfully to late-model Foo Fighters releases, but secretly wish they would kick ass again as hard as they did with The Colour and the Shape? Well, your prayers have been answered, in one tidy little package that has done you the solid of adding one of the Planet's Greatest Bass Players to the mix for no extra charge! When Josh Homme sticks his chocolate in Dave Grohl's peanut butter, we all win.

8) Arctic Monkeys, Humbug

Still my pick for Best English Band of the Oughties. Alex Turner continues to boggle the mind with lyrics that are smarter, wittier and more intriguing than they have any right to be, because what is he, 12?! I spent the bulk of my decade with people from the north of England, and anyone looking for a primer on what it's like there (working class only, no posh folk allowed) need look no further than the words that fall out of this guy's head like rain out of the Sheffield sky. As for the music, Monkeys keep it fresh and have managed to sound sufficiently different on all three of their outings to date, without alienating the fan base. Not many bands with a debut as iconic as Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not could manage such a feat.

7) Kasabian, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Number seven on this list, number one on the list of Longest, Most Inscrutably Arty Album Titles of '09. Tom Meighan and Company have yet to surpass or even equal their self-titled debut in 2004, but they continue to put out quality product. "Fire" is so catchy even my four-year-old knows all the words, and "Fast Fuse" is easily my favorite song of the year -- I wish someone at Columbia had had the brains to make it a single.

6) Taking Back Sunday, New Again

Mall-rock FTW! Since My Chemical Romance didn't release an album this year, TBS get the crown for best emo/screamo skatepark rock of '09. Put down your Animal Collective CD for a minute, steal your sullen nephew's copy of New Again out of his L.E.I skinny jeans, listen to the title track, "Sink Into Me" and "Lonely Lonely". You're welcome!

5) M. Ward, Hold Time

While no one was looking, my favorite Monster of Folk put out the most sadly overlooked piece of beautiful since Ed Harcourt's Strangers. Maybe he sings too much about God for the fashionably agnostic to abide. However, for those of us who have a power greater than ourselves to thank for our lives, but don't want to listen to anything with the word "Winans" attached to it, Ward is nothing short of a revelation. Music I would love anyway, that also happens to talk about themes that inform my everyday existence? This is not something I stumble upon often. Hopefully his collaborations with more famous consorts (like his fellow Monsters and Zooey Deschanel, the "She" to Ward's "Him") will eventually bring people around to the quiet brilliance of Hold Time.

4) The Von Bondies, Love, Hate, and Then There's You

Don Blum must be the most patient, tolerant guy in rock n' roll. How else can he be the last man standing next to Jason Stollsteimer after a decade of the band going through bassists and guitarists like Tiger Woods goes through cocktail waitresses? Stollsteimer makes Jeff Tweedy look fun to work with. So I can't thank Don Blum enough, because apparently as long as he's around, the Von Bondies live on. A worthy successor to both Pawn Shoppe Heart and Lack of Communication, this album is chock-full of effortless garagey goodness that owes as much to the Shangri-Las as the Stooges.

3) Gallows, Grey Britain

I was going to say something about how my old ass needs to have at least one throwback to my punk rock youth on the list each year. But funnily enough, I didn't really appreciate punk until I got older. At 14, watching GBH at the Jackie Robinson YMCA, I was too busy dodging beer bottles and drooling over the leather-jacketed boys I had followed there to care about the music, which was frankly too loud and shouty for me. I'd sooner have been home listening to Gene Loves Jezebel. Today, I love nothing more than "being grabbed by the throat, pinned to the wall and shouted at for an hour" (as one of my favorite Gallows reviews goes) -- after my kids get out of the car and I can turn off the Backyardigans. Grey Britain is supposed to be a response to our dire social and economic times, and it really works! Need your spleen removed, but don't have any health insurance? Turn on "Leeches" as loud as you can take it. Dermabrasion too pricey at the spa after you lost your job? Try "Graves" and sit with your face real close to the speaker. See? Polemics with a purpose!

2) Apes of Wrath, Apes of Wrath

At a very fundamental level, if I'm honest with myself, I judge music solely on the basis of one thing: how violently it makes me shake my ass in my chair, bar stool or the seat of my car. Apes of Wrath make me Frug, Pony, and Mashed Potato in my chair. I practically injure myself at their live shows. They concoct the most enjoyable mix of the Modern Lovers, early Talking Heads, Dick Dale and the Jam, with bizarre lyrics about "The yen, the euro and the loon / Hocking loogies in spittoons". Unfortunately, they seem none too concerned with marketing themselves, so who knows how you can get your hot little hands on this CD aside from buying it at a show like I did. Make do with the songs on their MySpace page for now.

1) Transfer, Future Selves

I already gushed buckets over this one. You cannot pry it out of my stereo with a crowbar.

There were a few contenders that didn't quite meet my rigorous and complex ass-shaking criteria enough to crack the top ten: Pariah Piranha, People People; The Horrors, Primary Colours; Doves, Kingdom of Rust; Brendan Benson, My Old, Familiar Friend. But they left me with no shortage of great music with which to close out this otherwise dubious decade. Bring on the '10s!


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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'Curb Your Enthusiasm' S9 Couldn't Find Its Rhythm

Larry David and J.B. Smoove in Curb Your Enthusiasm S9 (HBO)

Curb Your Enthusiasm's well-established characters are reacting to their former selves, rather than inhabiting or reinventing themselves. Thus, it loses the rhythms and inflections that once made the show so consistently, diabolically funny.

In an era of reboots and revivals, we've invented a new form of entertainment: speculation. It sometimes seems as if we enjoy begging for television shows to return more than watching them when they're on the air. And why wouldn't we? We can't be disappointed by our own imaginations. Only the realities of art and commerce get in the way.

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Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

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