A few Sundays back I once again had the honor of DJing the annual Bazaar Bizarre Boston, a massively multi-vendor crafy-fair that I'd attended many times before I was invited to actually show up and share a personal playlist. For me, it only starts feeling like the holiday season after I've spent an early-December afternoon there, and the fact that I get to provide the shopping soundtrack for a little while gives me more than a transient thrill. As long as they keep on inviting me, I'll keep on doing it.
Since the BazBizBos always arrives near the end of the year, I use it as an opportunity to spin some of my favorite songs of the previous 12 months during my too-short-shift. It was far more difficult to whittle it down this year - I had to cut a number of tracks I really wanted to include. The songs I did play give a pretty clear idea of what you'll find on my favorite albums of '09 list, assuming I ever get that finished.
One of the best parts of spinning songs for the browsing masses is when people come up to ask what's playing, or to see if there's a way they can see the whole playlist, and it happened a few times during my slot. I always say "I'll have the them listed on the Almanac very soon", and this time "soon" ended up being "later" than I'd hoped. So here it is, a bit overdue, but with bonus commentary on each song: The songs that comprised my 1-hour set for 2009 Bazaar Bizarre Boston, with links to the MP3s if they're made freely available by the band or their label. At the bottom you'll find a link to a .zip file containing all the shared tracks...
Bradley's Almanac Bazarre Bizarre Boston 2009 Playlist (aka "The BazBizBosNac09 Mix")
I tend to be buried in emails from bands, regardless of geography, and after falling in love with City Breathing this year, I was frustrated to find they'd emailed me a year and a half ago but were lost in the inbox shuffle. Oh, the wasted time I could have spent listening to them. Well, I'm making up for it now. Download all three of this Brooklyn trio's releases (a 2008 full-length, the 2009 EP that includes this song, and a brand new one that is a bit of a Christmas present) at their website.
Naturally, those introductory emails come from a lot of Boston-area bands, and rarely does the music involved strike me as instantly and deeply as The Novel Ideas did a couple months ago. They ended up becoming a major part of my autumn soundtrack. Dynamic, multi-layered production, memorable melodies, male/female vocal interplay used perfectly. The word 'tasteful' comes to mind, but not the boring, stifled side... there's a restraint involved that's remarkable. For example - slide guitar tends to turn me off, as it can be over-used and over-mixed. But this band knows exactly how much (or, rather, how little) to sprinkle into the occasional song. Same with the harmonies, the gorgeous strings, with every other instrument. The song shared here is the opening track from their new full-length, "The Sky is a Field", which you can download or stream for free at their website (along with their 2007 debut). As I type this, I'm listening to the second half of the track "Julian Carax", and swooning.
It was a hectic year for this Minnepolis duo (who play live as a five-piece), with multiple tours and a proper re-release of their excellent debut, "Cars", on Afternoon Records in July. I was lucky to have them as part of my only 2009 "Almanac presents" show at TT's in May, and this is my favorite song from the album (shared exclusively here on the 'Nac with permission from Afternoon).
Another 2009 discovery, Seattle's Michael Lerner, thanks once again to Merge Records. If you go by the official Merge Companion, Telekinesis' self-titled debut is the final Merge release of their wonderful first 20 years. Hard to imagine a label with a better batting average. Can't wait to hear what Lerner has up his sleeve for a follow-up.
How this band, after a decade together, retains the spark of songwriting creativity that resulted in what may be the best Boston-made album of the year is a magical mystery. I'm just damn glad they've still got it. They've always been spoken well of among friends (hell, I was in a band that had a temporarily-titled song called 'The Beatings'), but for unknown reasons they'd mostly avoided my radar. This album finally, thankfully, fixed that. I promised myself I'd dive into their back catalog when I got sick of "Late Season Kids", but it feels like that will be a long time coming.
A reason I had to put the "what may be one of" qualifier in front of "the best Boston-made albums of the year" is HtH's second full-lengther, "Colonial Drones". I don't like to throw the word epic around, but this one deserves it with a capital E. I adored their debut, but now it feels a little like a warm-up for what was to come - avoiding a sophomore slump with a sophomore soar.
Oh, and my favorite memory from DJing the Bazaar Bizarre this year, aside from Brendan putting on those headphones? Jon 'Jonnie Spaceman' Bernhardt momentarily recreating his dance moves from the "Blank Passports" video in front of me at the DJ table. Kills me just thinking about it.
Now I generally don't agree with much of the nominees list for the Boston Phoenix's Best Music Poll (nothing against those listed, there's just too much missing), but this one they got right. Taxpayer's "Don't Steal My Night Vision" not only deserved to be on that list, but of those nominated, they probably should have taken home the prize. A total triumph of no-frills, hook-filled, guitar-based rawk. Just when you think that's been done to death in this town, Taxpayer comes along and breathes a little new life into it. This song is my fave from the disc, but isn't available as a freebie. Instead, here's the album's opening track, "We Have Arrived" [MP3]
This Slumberland combo releases a debut album filled with songs that could have been singles, and then follows it up with an EP that contains possibly their best track yet. Despite the fact that the guitars are dialed down to let the synth shine. Bodes well for their next full-lengther, it does, but don't go gettin' totally keyboardy on me, kids... keep those distorted layers alive.
It's been a notable year for bands fronted by strong, confident female voices (Ume, You Could Be A Wesley, Heartless Bastards, Screaming Females, the next band on this list, a bunch more), and San Fran's LoveLikeFire sits high among them. Their latest is "Tear Ourselves Away", which has only seen a UK release so far, but will hit US shores early in the new year. So, yes, that will likely put them on both my '09 and '10 faves lists.
And by 'next band on this list', I meant UK trio Sky Larkin. It's pretty hard to find a weak track on their debut, "The Golden Spike", and I was gutted that they weren't able to schedule a Boston-area date during their East coast visit in October. So close, and yet so far away. Next year, promise?
The best way to hear a sample Sky Larkin song is to download the post-album track "Smarts", which was offered up for free (along with an acoustic version of excellent album track "Matador") right here - you'll just have to add your name to their mailing list. And after you hear 'em, you'll probably have no regrets about doing that.
Since the 2006 debut EP was released, waiting for a full-length from Boston's Dylan In The Movies has required no small amount of patience. In fact, it's taken so long that the official domain name has expired. But when I first heard this new song earlier this year, Brian Sullivan earned whatever patience is necessary. It's a stunner, and is also the upcoming album's title track. Keep an eye out for it to be released, at last, in spring 2010 on American Laundromat, and an ear out for guest appearances from Tanya Donelly (who co-wrote a track) and the Watson Twins.
Ok, so I'm going to step out on a little limb here and declare this my favorite song released by any Boston-based band this year. Maybe any band anywhere, period. Exclamation point. There, I said it. "Not Wrong" gets me every single time, like it was a puzzle piece made to perfectly fit a space in my head I didn't even know I had. This one isn't available for free online, but you can download the album's also-charming third track "Cold Hands" [MP3].
That voice, that album cover, this song. Another album ending up on a lot of other "best of" lists that I have absolutely no argument with. My favorite track ain't free, but this one is: "People Got A Lotta Nerve" [MP3]
How great is it that in the year 2009 I can add another solid Superchunk seven-inch to my stacks of wax? And that it measures right up to those that came before it? So, so great. As much as I hope this foretells an eventual album in the works, I might be satisfied with a concentrated dose like this (and the recent "Learned To Surf" EP) every once in awhile. Just never stop. No MP3 for this one (go buy it), but stream that EP over here.
Yes, "There Is No Enemy" is their strongest album in years. Yes, it still sounds like Built To Spill, but it's more focused, more confident, catchier than the last couple records. Plus, hey, there's a Bill Hicks mention in "Planting Seeds". And yes, they're still on a major label, so no free MP3 for you.
Another discovery I can attribute to an unsolicited email, and the linked song was this one, "Coriander". Hooked me right away, and I was glad to discover upon its release that the rest of this Cincinnati band's second album measured up. I was crushed to miss their opening set before Wye Oak at TTs in May, but hopefully they'll return to Boston in the new year so I can make up for that mistake.
Yes, the band name is intentionally unwieldy, but their beautiful songs more than make up for it. Mostly instrumental so far, they promise some vocals on their first full-length, which should be out in the new year. For now, they'll send you an MP3 of the wonderful song above (from their debut "Put Your Slippers On" EP) in exchange for your email address right here, and also offer up a holiday present in the form of a home demo over here.
Wouldn't be a proper Bazaar Bizarre set without a holiday song, now would it? Thankfully, Boston's The Hush Now helped fill that requirement by offering up this new track as a free download just before the BazBizBos. Keep an ear out for their second full-length, "Constellations", early in the new year.