2009 Song Assassins

Last year, I started a tradition of listing my annual “Song Assassins.” I through these out on last year’s blog, but I shut that one down, and so I present this year’s selections.

Here’s what this list is not:

  • This list is not the “Best Music of 2009”; there are some 2009 releases here, but there’s some older songs as well
  • This list is not objective; selfishly, these are my highly subjective opinions

Here’s what this list is:

  • These are songs that grabbed my attention, that made me stop what I was doing, and listen, or tap my foot, or marvel at a lyric or a guitar line
  • These are songs that stayed in heavy rotation on my iPod or in my CD player for a few days in a row

With those clarifications, here they are; do yourself a favor and give them a listen.

  • January: “A Break in the Clouds” (The Jayhawks). If you know me at all, you know I’m a huge Jayhawks fan. I think they represent the best in midwestern Americana — great, hymn-inspired harmonies, unpretentious arrangements and musicianship. This is from their release, Smile, which NPR’s Fresh Air once referred to by asking, “What if you made the best record of the year (2000), and no one heard?”
  • February: “Fix It” (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals). Ryan Adams can write a 3 minute song of longing and desire like no one else. When he sings, “I’d fix it if I could”, I believe it. I feel like I’ve spent the last three years of my life trying to write this song; I still haven’t written it.
  • March: “I’m a Man” (Black Strobe). I’m a pretty huge Guy Ritchie fan, and couldn’t wait to see Rocknrolla when it came out on DVD. This song has great imagery behind it in the movie and with the audio here, I just love the attitude–everybody “chunkin” away on that shuffle groove. This is 21st century blues. I think Muddy Waters would be proud.
  • April: “Wake Up” (Arcade Fire). It’s simple: as spring arrives, and it’s possible to drive around with the windows down, who doesn’t want to crank this up and scream “Ohhhhhh Ohhhhhh….” along with this.
  • May: “Palestine, Texas” (T-Bone Burnett). I love almost everything about T-Bone: his producing ethos, his guitar playing, his quirky song-writing. This song is from 2006’s True False Identity, which is an amazing journey of depravity and salvation. What an amazing groove: stand up bass, awesome, “greasy and gritty” guitar sounds… If you like stuff like Buddy and Julie Miller, I think you should give this a listen as well.
  • July: “That’s Not My Name” (The Ting Tings). I was driving through Knoxville, TN late one night, and heard thirty seconds of this song, and I was instantly hooked. The next morning (thanks to Google), I had identified the tune and went in search of it. This song actually swings…hard! — it’s not just mindless pop.
  • October: “Names That Fell” (Zach Williams). I went to a conference for pastors and church leaders in October. Most of the music there was pretty boring and typical — high-powered Coldplay and U2-esque tunes and bands that looked much “too hip” for me — when all of a sudden this guy walks on stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar. Mind you, this wasn’t the typical evangelical acoustic guitar (which is usually either a Taylor cutaway or an $5,000 Breedlove or Nashville-approved custom box); no this was a gritty, songwriter’s guitar: something like this. He also looked like he could’ve walked right off the cover of Big Pink or The Band. Now he had my attention. He sang this song, unaccompanied, and just blew me right away. Such conviction, such simplicity.
  • December: “Staráflur” (Sigur Rós). Years ago, probably in winter 2004, I’d heard enough about “this freaky band who didn’t sing in any known language” that I decided I needed to seek some of their stuff out. I went to the library and found a CD that had song titles I couldn’t read or understand, took it back to the house, and put it in the computer. Sounded nice. Got some tunes onto the iPod — a first gen, mind you!! — and filed it away for “future listening”. One grey day, I’d hopped on the El to go downtown dialed it up. With the grey, snow-blanketed landscape of Chicago forming a backdrop, I had an amazing musical (I daresay, spiritual) experience. This was music at its best: transcendent, emotional, communicative. It took me to the unexplained places in my soul… A few years (and many iPods) later, I’d lost the copies I had, and since their flipping songs aren’t titled in English I couldn’t remember what I’d been listening to that magical winter’s day. This December, I finally found it again. Though “Svefn-G-Englar” was the actual first song I’d heard, this year, this was the song that grabbed me.

So there it is! I hope you enjoy the tunes, and my commentary on them. Sorry there’s no blazing guitar solos, but if you know me at all, you know that those just don’t matter that much. It’s the music that gets ya!

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One thought on “2009 Song Assassins

  1. So beautifully written – you are on a linguistic roll here, brother.

    If I don’t get this in some other form (hint hint) as a Christmas gift, I’ll go download ’em all….except “Wake Up”. Because I’ve been there/done that.

    Can’t wait to see you.

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