01 Jan

Top Ten Musical Discoveries of 2009

Well, I wasn’t quite as exploratory with new music this year. I went app-crazy, but we’ve been over that. I mention the apps, though, because one of the big keepers of the year was PandoraJam, which doesn’t do much besides allow you to listen to your Pandora radio stations. Oh, except it also records the songs. So that was a pretty cool discovery.

The result, however, was to take me through a period where I acquired a lot of singles but didn’t get to know artists very well. In some cases, I tried investigating the artist — like Architecture in Helsinki — but wasn’t impressed with most of their music, so I stuck with the one or two songs I had. In other cases, Pandora steered me in the right direction and I got introduced to some great new stuff. Last.fm did the same. And then there was my little brother, who is perpetually a good source of new music.

Not all of the below are new in 2009; they were just new (or renewed) for me.

On last year’s list was Yann Tiersen, who remained a standby this year, too. I got most of the sheet music for his stuff, and I make Eileen play it all the time. It’s some of the only music I can handle when I grade essays. But in lieu of putting Yann on this year’s list for the exact same music, I’ll substitute two others. First, Detektivbyran. I’ll pause a moment for you to sound it out. Detektivbyran. Get it? They’re a lot like Yann, but just a little more electronic and much goofier. Still, good stuff. The other new discovery is much less goofy and almost certainly a big influence on Yann since he’s French and quite minimalist on the piano: Eric Satie. I don’t know why it took me so long to discover Satie, but I really like his stuff.

In keeping with my not-branching-out, I have to include Andrew Bird on the list this year, too. His album Noble Beast came out last January, and it’s one of my favorites. Plus, I saw him in concert this fall and then discovered his live albums, entitled Fingerlings (multiple volumes), which allowed me to relive his stupendous live performance. Andrew Bird has a lot to do with why I now own a violin.

So, too, does Horse Feathers. These guys were a brother recommendation. In fact, he invited me to a free concert of theirs on campus this past fall. With a cello, guitar, violin, saw, and drums, they’re kinda the exact band I’d like to be in. Mainly cuz I’d like to be able to play all of those instruments.

I suppose if I got good at all that stuff, I could be my own band. Just give me a little audio tech savvy and a singer as good as Nataly Dawn from Pomplamoose, and I’d be set. Of course, then my name would be Jack Conte, the other member of Pomplamoose. The thing about these guys is they’re totally on their own — no record label or anything. They put together these wonderful YouTube videos. I could watch them for hours.

I could also watch DJ Earworm videos for hours. He and Girl Talk are the best mashup artists out there. For the past three years, Earworm has put together a “United State of Pop” song, which mashes together the top 25 US Billboard hits of the year. I don’t keep up with a lot of mainstream pop, so I’m not always familiar with the all the songs, but it doesn’t matter. What he creates usually stands alone as a great piece of music. (He’s got a website where he offers all his stuff for free).

Where to go from here is a bit of a toss-up. Going the hipster route, there’s Seabear, Barcelona, and the Dodos. I went through minor stages with all three. Barcelona is pretty similar to Coldplay, though perhaps more chill, less pop. I discovered them via this kick-ass film of an aquarium. Seabear has some pretty catchy stuff, but to be honest, I’m not quite sure if they’ll stand the test of time. Same with the Dodos: a few great ones, but not sure whether I’ll keep coming back to them. Jury’s out.

Another kick-ass internet video (Keith Loutit’s Bathtub IV) lead me to Washington, an Aussie woman with a nice EP (no, that’s not a euphemism). Then, through some sort of roundabout route, I discovered Josh Pyke, another Aussie, whose song Middle of the Hill is addictive.

And to round out this list of over-ten top ten artists, I’ll throw in my final two brother recs.: J. Tillman and the Avett Brothers. The Avetts are sometimes a little too hippy for me, but their latest album was pretty great and didn’t evoke dirty, mooching posers like their earlier stuff did. J. Tillman is the drummer for Fleet Foxes, who I kinda like. But Tillman’s stuff tends to be a little more contemplative, so I like it even more. The song Evans and Falls might top my list for singles in the past year (though it’s actually two years old).

I guess if I’m keeping this list to ten, I might put Washington, Seabear, and the Dodos on the back burner for now as I solidify my opinion of them. That leaves my top ten list as follows:
1. Satie
2. Detektivbyran
3. Andrew Bird
4. Horse Feathers
5. Pomplamoose
6. DJ Earworm
7. Barcelona
8. Josh Pyke
9. J. Tillman
10. The Avett Brothers

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