Give a listen to… 10 in ’10

Though originally tempted to join the club of “best-music-of-2009” blog writers, I decided, given the fact this post is arriving already two weeks into ’10, to instead take the opportunity to give a shout-out to some of my favorite artist discoveries of the year. These are musicians who have graced many-a mix CD of mine and gotten me through a number of stressful deadline-meeting sessions. Here are 10(ish) of my new-ish-found favorites to given a listen to in ’10.

If you like what you hear of these musicians, Google them, go to their show, buy their tunes. And tell them I sent you.

Generosity (mp3)

I had to start this list with an artist who was really more of a re-discovery in 2009 than a newfound treasure. I must admit that when I first heard Mirah’s tunes several years back, I wasn’t overly moved by the folksy-woodsy queer jams. But (a)spera, Mirah’s newly-released album from this past year, is magnificent and has been greatly overlooked by many of the blogosphere’s lists-that-be. The album combines deeply personal lyrics with swelling string orchestrations and deserves to be held in the same – if not higher – company as some of the other, newer ladies-of-weird who shone this past year.

Local Natives
Wide Eyes (mp3)

These California boys are a very recent find, as I was tipped off by the Guardian’s profile last month. This track – off the yet-to-be-released Gorilla Manor – is the first track of theirs I heard. I was immediately struck by the wintry piece of harmonious heaven, and later impressed by their use of unusual, African-esque percussive rhythms to break up their beautiful vocal glissandos. Their sound is slightly reminiscent of Justin Vernon on uppers. On vacation in LA. In fast-forward. Or Fleet Foxes, but actually good.

Golden Silvers
True No. 9 Blues (True Romance) (mp3)

One of the biggest joys of no longer being unemployed – probably my biggest accomplishment of the past year – was the ability to buy music again, and my vinyl collection has since swelled. One of the first albums I picked up with my bits of discretionary income was True Romance from Golden Silvers, a band that belies easy classification. I’d already heard one track – the pleading “Please Venus” – via a blog, but the full record – which is a lovely hue of lavender – took my appreciation for the band to a new level. Their music is flamboyantly poptastic to be certain, but its psychodelic vibe felt surprisingly refreshing on first listen. Despite holding a certain retroness to it, their sound grows more addictive with each listen.

Bombay Bicycle Club
Always Like This (mp3)

Another Brit pop outfit that rocked my headphones this past year is Bombay Bicycle Club. This track, off their endearingly-titled “I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Off,” is particularly pleasing, and has become a staple of my frequent mixes made for friends. It plays well as a transition song between the opening, upbeat first-third of a mix and the more introspective, slower middle-third, indicative of the band’s successful combination of soul-searching lyrics (like “I’m not whole / I’m not whole / Oh, you waste it all”) with undeniably catchy instrumentation. Other tracks on their debut go into unexpected, more experimental directions, proving this is a band whose next move is never predictable. What is it about Brit boys and their mastery of the pop music machine – and my heart?

Ramona Falls
Clover (mp3)

Ramona Falls, the solo project of Menomena’s Portland-based Brent Knopf, at times feels like a psychiatrist’s exercise. But that’s OK. Intuit, the debut album looking inside the songwriter’s head, is not exactly an optimistic creation, but proved both ambitious and delicious to this listener’s ear. This track is particularly epic with its bleak lyrics –  “My heart wants just to know that it exists / My heart wants just to know” – and slow-building, then quietly-dissipating  guitar and percussion. Other songs bring in haunting piano and plenty of unusual structures. Even if he could be in need of a good pharmacist, Knopf is clearly a musical prodigy, and his debut solo effort is remarkable.

Lightning Dust
Dreamer (mp3)

Speaking of the structure of a mix CD – this is the portion of the list dedicated to those aforementioned introspective songs that usually compromise the middle section. And the Canadian band Lightning Dust could not fit better anywhere else on this list. I was first clued into the project of Black Mountain’s Amber Webber and Joshua Wells by Carrie Brownstein via NPR’s All Songs Considered, and the hype she lent their music was clearly well-deserved. Their album, Infinite Light, is one of my favorites of this past year. The songs are laden with nostalgia, desire and a quiet sense of optimism shining just under the surface of their sparse musical creations.

My Gold Mask
Violet Eyes (mp3)

Naturally, this list would not be complete without at least one local contribution, and My Gold Mask are one of the hottest bands to watch in the Windy City. I first came across this duo after having a few too many vodka-sodas at the Decibelle kickoff party at Berlin last October. Playing after French electro-singer-songwriter Emilie Simon, the couple blasted into their set with an energy – and surprising amount of sound – that could not be ignored. The release party for their A Thousand Voices EP last weekend at the Hideout was sold-out and equally impressive. Her presence is particularly transfixing, similar to an early Karen O.

Perfect Fit (mp3)

Given this Montreal band’s previous roots – including former members of the Unicorns and Arcade Fire – it is not surprising that their sound is a feast for the ears, at least if you dig somewhat dark vaudevillian, cabaret pop stylings. Their self-titled debut – out last year – is another that I was surprised did not make more best-of-’09 lists. The album combines bizarre, often grim lyrics with song structures that land all over the map but never, never bore. So get a clue – har – and give this band a listen.

Ellie Goulding (feat. Frankmusik)
Wish I Stayed (mp3)

If you haven’t yet jumped on the Ellie Goulding bandwagon, you are, frankly, running out of time before takeoff. Goulding has found herself near the top of most Brit critics’ ones-to-watch lists in recent weeks, and the accolades are well-deserved. Her voice has that incredible quality that hipster remix-creating DJs and pop audiences alike fall in love with. Her EP was fantastic and her other endeavors – including vocals for Starsmith’s beautiful remix of Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” – have only furthered the case for her impending stardom. Her debut album – Lights – is out in March. (And this track features another adorable Brit, Frankmusik, who narrowly missed this list. He’s like Cher’s bi-curious electro-baby.)

Chew Lips
Salt Air (mp3)

These exciting Kitsune darlings from South London are also remix-friendly and more than ready to boil over with just a bit more time to simmer. Their electronic creations combine somewhat sinister lyrics with sleek production. They represent a lot of styles that are catching on right now, without being too much of any particular musical trend to remain enticingly fresh. This is electro-pop at its finest – keep an eye out for their debut album – Unicorn – out this month.

Cold Cave
The Trees Grew Emotions and Died (mp3)

I realize this Philly-based project – led by the former hardcore head Wesley Eisold – makes eleven, but I couldn’t bring myself to narrow the list down any further. And technically, Cold Cave’s sound is so derivative-at-times (see: “Love Comes Close,” New Order) that it nearly fits into the category of “re-discovery.” But this stuff – based in synth beats, feedback and distortion – is so solid that I really couldn’t care more that the sound may not be the most original.


A Halloween tale, via Missed Connections


It is no secret that I love, love, love reading Craigslist’s treasure trove of awkwardness, the Missed Connections section. So, of course, as we all continue from a weekend filled with makeup, witches’ brew and masked make-out sessions, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to round-up some of my favorite Chicago MC’s to tell a little tale of Halloween lure (in addition to sharing some tunes).

Personally, Halloween has never been a holiday I associate with wild hook-ups, but maybe that’s because my costumes are usually not of the “Sexy (Fill-in-the-Blank)” variety. I’m usually in drag, covered in grotesque makeup with stubble poking through, and this year was no exception as I took on the role of Little Edie Beale from Grey Gardens. The below characters seem to have had some good luck knocking boots, even if they had a lot of explaining to do for their mother upon their return home. Here’s hoping the fates bring these lovers back together.

Missed my chance with Mr. Franzia – m4m (Belmont/Monroe)
Date: 2009-11-01, 11:33PM CST

“I had black paint smeared on my face. I admired the intricacy of your costume: Franzia boxed wine. We made some contact on the train before both getting off at Monroe. There we kissed at a street corner, where a passing driver yelled “FAGS!” at us (just in case you didn’t notice) … Sorry for not following, but, in all honesty, I was staying with my mom (who was visiting) in a hotel. That being said, I’d love to hear from you and maybe engage in some out-of-the-box conversation.”

ms wonderland left wondering? – w4m – 20 (in tinley)
Date: 2009-11-02, 2:40AM CST

“ok so i went 2 a halloween party with a gf and i was the sexy ms. wonderland girl. i was soooooooooooo wasted n u were so much fun and we ended up being naughty but i don’t remember most of it lol. u had on a dark costume not sure what it was though dah? well i have a bf so i guess it had 2 b a one time thing, just wanted 2 say if u ever read this i was the small blond who u helped have a really fun halloween!”

The outlaw Josey Wales – m4m (near loop)
Date: 2009-11-01, 6:47PM CST

“To the outlaw Josey Wales: it was so hot to watch you polishing your gun. A nice long gun, with a big thick barrel and a nice head to it. I can still taste that ammunition dripping into my mouth.”

Of course, since these are Missed Connections, after all, not all of these rendezvous were as successful. Lesson be learned: Be sure to carefully stow your beloved university-provided metro card when going home with handsome men in “dark costumes.”

Halloween Party then Your Apt – w4m (lincoln park area)
Date: 2009-11-02, 10:28AM CST

“Friday I was beligerent, I apologize. I dont remember practically anything when we got to your apt, let alone how we did till my friend filled me in. Uhh yah I lost my Upass at your place did you find it??? That would bloow if I have to find another one. Ps. “my buldge” seeing I was spider man is in your room too, white/pink soccer socks? Yeah, well I’m sorry for being a slob, im sure i was a huge one. But on the bright side I do think your adorable!”

Georgia at Halloween Church Party – m4w
Date: 2009-11-02, 5:15PM CST

“I was the Chaplin with whom you danced. I got swept up into an evening of events that now seem unreal. If you find this, please shoot me an email. I’d love to see you again and take you dancing.
Take Care

A Somewhat Silent Man”

oh, pinnochio – m4w (subterranean)
Date: 2009-11-01, 11:24AM CST

“that little boy look didn’t fool me, you were smoking hot. i never made it to the hideout, but i did spend a more than a few minutes thinking about what it would be like giving it to a puppet that wants to be a real boy, but is actually the hottest little girl in the room.”

But, I think the most important lesson from all of this is to watch out for each other. Halloween is a time for all of us to come together and bask in the ridiculousness of it all. And protect each other from violent religious leaders. Especially if you’re dressed as a pop diva.

Kid that got hit by the pope at Evil Olive – w4m – 21 (Evil Olive)
Date: 2009-11-01, 9:19AM CST

“Lady GaGa wants to make sure you’re ok.”


Download: Ramona Falls ‘I Say Fever’ (mp3) (+++)
Download: Florence and the Machine ‘Drumming’ (mp3)
Download: Crystal Waters ‘Gypsy Woman’ (Sharps Remix) (mp3)
Download: Squirrel Nut Zippers ‘Hell’ (mp3)
Download: Silversun Pickups ‘Booksmart Devil’ (mp3)
Download: Kate Bush ‘Get Out of My House’ (mp3)
Download: My Gold Mask ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ (mp3)
Download: Cold Cave ‘Youth and Lust’ (mp3)

(+++) denotes high levels of recommendation.