If that's movin' up, then I'm movin' out

I'll cut to the chase; Watch the Tapes has moved to Wordpress! Past posts have all been imported, there's a snazzy new layout, and from this point on all new posts will be there. This Blogger address will not be taken down, so you should keep it bookmarked just in case the shit ever hits the fan with too many DMCAs or what-not, but ALL updates will now take place on Wordpress, so update your bookmarks and/or RSS feeds!

I repeat, all new posts will now be on the Wordpress address.

The new blog can be found here; see you there!

Au revoir, Blogger!



long way, but you'll get there

stay tuned for something
or nothing


Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (Security) (1982)

"Still the warmth flows through me / and I sense you know me well / It's only common sense / there are no accidents 'round here"

Whereas the previous album Melt is his most coherent self-titled, the fourth and final album of the set is largely formless and oblique. For Security, Gabriel eschewed his rock roots almost entirely, fully immersing himself in the burgeoning field of electronic music with extensive use of synthesizers and samples, as well as the decision to record the entire album digitally (which at the time was almost unheard-of). The songs here are nebulous, seamless electronic experiments, and while there are some moments of more traditional prog to be found, for the most part this release is far removed from what listeners expect from Peter Gabriel. Security is not an album for everyone, to be sure; but for the dedicated listener it can be thoroughly rewarding. What could have easily been a clumsy attempt to aimlessly tread new ground instead ended up as a subtle, nuanced venture into territory that Gabriel had been quietly charting out on his previous albums. His years of experimentation with incorporating these sounds into rock music left him well-off to successfully take the next step, right off into the deep end. Security is an abstract, haunting and consistently beautiful piece of work that deserves just as much attention as its more accessible precursors.

1. The Rhythm of the Heat
2. San Jacinto
3. I Have the Touch
4. The Family and the Fishing Net
5. Shock the Monkey
6. Lay Your Hands on Me
7. Wallflower
8. Kiss of Life

Try It

Previous Posts:
Peter Gabriel (Melt)
Peter Gabriel (Scratch)
Peter Gabriel (Car)


Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (Melt) (1980)

"You know I hate to hurt you / I hate to see your pain / but I don't know how to stop"

The third Peter Gabriel album shows him retreating both from his past in Genesis as well as from the commercial, accessible sound that he embraced on his first two solo efforts. Melt is instead a dark, aggressive, unsettling album that tells stories of break-ins, political assassinations and intense mental decay. This release features his old bandmate Phil Collins on drums and backing vocals, and it's the first time Collins experimented with his gated reverb technique of pounding, punchy drums without any use of cymbals, which lends itself very well to an album like Melt. It also has Gabriel delving further into the realm of electronic rock music, which at the time was still in its infancy. Of all Gabriel's self-titled albums, this is easily the most coherent and consistent of the bunch. If you have to choose one to listen to, it should be Melt. If you're not convinced after listening to "No Self Control", well, you're a lost cause.

1. Intruder
2. No Self Control
3. Start
4. I Don't Remember
5. Family Snapshot
6. And Through the Wire
7. Games Without Frontiers
8. Not One of Us
9. Lead a Normal Life
10. Biko

Try It

Previous Posts:
Peter Gabriel (Scratch)
Peter Gabriel (Car)


Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (Scratch) (1978)

"I need perspective, I don't trust my eyes"

On Gabriel's second eponymous album, Robert Fripp moves up to the title of producer, and also plays guitar on half the tracks and uses his Frippertronics looping technique on "Exposure". While this record still likes to toe the line between prog and pop, it falls more often on the side of prog. Scratch is perfectly unfocused, meandering through rock, electronics, and even a little bit of reggae on "A Wonderful Day in a One-Way World", with Gabriel's obtuse lyrics managing to strike a personal chord - even if it's not one that you can quite put a finger on. It's not quite as accessible as its predecessor, but despite its experimentation and free-wheeling, it's still a pop album at heart, never passing up an opportunity to pull you in with a catchy hook or infectious keyboard rhythms, seen prominently in the closing of "White Shadow", which is the centerpiece of the album. All four of his self-titled releases are absolutely worth the time of day, but this one might just be my favorite.

1. On the Air
2. D.I.Y.
3. Mother of Violence
4. A Wonderful Day in a One-Way World
5. White Shadow
6. Indigo
7. Animal Magic
8. Exposure
9. Flotsam and Jetsam
10. Perspective
11. Home Sweet Home

Try It

Previous Posts:
Peter Gabriel (Car)


Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (Car) (1977)

"When illusion spin her net / I'm never where I want to be / and liberty she pirouette / when I think that I am free"

Shortly after leaving Genesis in 1976, Peter Gabriel recorded a string of four self-titled albums between 1977 and 1982, all of which are generally referred to by what image is on each of their respective covers; given the short length of time for that transition to take place, it makes sense that these albums (and this first one in particular) sound strikingly similar to Genesis's work during that period, but there are certainly pronounced differences. With the stigma of being part of a progressive rock band no longer hanging over him, Gabriel was free to make music that, while certainly having some of the trademark bombast of prog, as well as experimentation with electronic music (it was recorded by Robert Fripp, after all) and large orchestration, was remarkably poppy and concise for an artist who not too long before was writing massive rock operas. Depending on how you look at it, Car is either a brilliant example of accessible, digestible, yet still immensely respectable prog rock or a boundary-pushing pop album that still sounds fresh and resilient over 30 years later. Either way, it's not something you should pass up on.

1. Moribund the Burgermeister
2. Solsbury Hill
3. Modern Love
4. Excuse Me
5. Humdrum
6. Slowburn
7. Waiting for the Big One
8. Down the Dolce Vita
9. Here Comes the Flood

Try It


Nada Surf

Nada Surf is a band that has been sadly overlooked for their entire career, save the success of a few scattered singles ("Popular" and "Always Love", mostly). They've been quietly churning out quality alt rock albums for over a decade, carried along by the commitment of their small-but-dedicated fanbase (they have far more listeners in Europe than in their own country, and do occasionally sing in French). This three-piece New York group started out as a powerpop, perhaps pop-punk setup with the release of High/Low, and while this sound always has a place on subsequent albums, they've largely shifted towards a more mellowed out indie rock style, with lush instrumentation and often sobering moods. Their lyrics are what attract many people; sometimes bordering on cheesiness but never sounding anything less than totally heartfelt, they bring a unique sincerity and a sense of maturity to an otherwise-typical sound.

Their masterpiece, as most people (myself included) will agree, is Let Go, which feels like a sister release to the equally-great Proximity Effect, and has tracks like "Killian's Red" and "Paper Boats" which would be classics in a better world. Their albums are all wonderful, however, and deserve a place in the collection of any music fan. I've gathered together what I believe to be an almost-complete collection of their work, including the final link which is just an unofficial thing I put together of some odds-and-ends, so this post should be helpful to newbies or longtime listeners. As always, don't forget to support this great band if you like what you hear.


"I'm only safe when I'm dreaming"
High/Low (1996)

"I still say your name when I don't feel right / just like I used to"
The Proximity Effect (1998)

"I'm just a happy kid / stuck with the heart of a sad punk"
Let Go (2002)

"Oh, fuck it / I'm gonna have a party"
The Weight is a Gift (2005)

"Everyone's right, and no one is sorry / that's the start and the end of the story"
Lucky (2008)


"Let's have a day outside for the lonely / they're gonna cry tonight"
Karmic EP (1995)

"We didn't know Jackie O"
North 6th Street (1999)

Live in Brussels (2004)

The Myspace Transmissions (2008)

Rare Tracks

Where is My Mind? (Pixies cover) (from "Always Love" single)
Born Curious (from "Always Love" single)
Popular (Live) (from "Deeper Well" single)
Everybody Lies (Acoustic) (from "Deeper Well" single)
Pressure Free (from "Popular" single)
Oh No (from "Popular" single)
Black & White (The Proximity Effect bonus track)
Why Are You So Mean to Me? (from original release of The Proximity Effect)
No Quick Fix (from European release of Let Go)
Run (Let Go bonus track)
Blue Monday (Live)
Popular (Acoustic)
L'aventurier (Indochine)

"And if I'm waiting for nothing / what am I doing?"


Margot & the Nuclear So and So's - The Dust of Retreat (2006)

"Cause love is an inkless pen / it's a tavern, it's sin / it's a horrible way to begin"

Margot & the Nuclear So and So's make folksy chamber pop, somewhat in the vein of Arcade Fire, but with a much more quaint approach; while there are moments where the band aims for something higher, something a little more universal, such as the opening track "A Sea Chanty of Sorts", the real reason to love this album is for the acoustic soul-baring that dominates most of their sound; they remain firmly tethered to earth, not letting themselves get carried away with bombast or pretension; it's a personal, authentic, genuine album that the 'indie rock' world needs more of

Try It


The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike (2004)

"We came here to rock the microphone / while Dave breaks the record down to the bone"

Feeling more lo-fi, as well as more self-assured than their second album, the Go! Team's debut is still an instant party album; with samples from westerns, cop shows, and everything from 60s pop and funk to late 70s hip-hop, Thunder, Lightning, Strike is an irresistibly retro piece of dance music canon; this album is covered in a rose-tinted nostalgic fog for an era that draws a sharp contrast from the one we live in today, sounding like the soundtrack to a never-made 1983 action show, with all the car chases, sword fights, fearlessness and optimism intact

Try It

Previous Posts:
Proof of Youth


Under the Influence of Giants - Under the Influence of Giants (2006)

"Meet me in the clouds / let me work it out / don't you take it personal"

You probably haven't found yourself wishing you could find a band who spends too much time listening to their old Bee Gees records, but if you have, you're in luck with Under the Influence of Giants; this self-titled debut isn't exactly a disco album (some tracks are though, especially the semi-hit single "Mama's Room"), but more of an indie pop release with lots of synths and smooth, new wave-ish grooves layered under high-pitched vocals about love affairs and sex; there hasn't been much news about this band's activities since 2006, and it's generally assumed that they're unofficially broken up, and their members have embarked on a number of solo projects (which their myspace is pretty much solely a vehicle to promote, at this point)

Try It


Captain Wilberforce - Everyone Loves a Villain (2008)

"There are worse things than ghosts, you know / haunting these streets"

I'm always cautious to use the term britpop, because it seems to have some conflicting connotations for different people; regardless of any of that, it certainly applies to this release by power pop singer-songwriter Captain Wilberforce, if only insomuch as this is a pop rock album from Britain with alternative leanings; encapsulating tales of dysfunctional and failed relationships (surprise surprise) in tidy three-to-four-minute packages, and always bringing back memories of the nation's pop greats without forgetting to be his own artist, Captain Wilberforce has made an album that reassures us that pop music can recall the past, can even dance around with it, and manage not to drown in nostalgic hero-worship

Try It


Hey Ocean! - Stop Looking Like Music (2006)

With songs like "The Beatboxer who Broke My Heart" and "Eskimo Kisses", Hey Ocean! have made a collection of lovestruck, endearing (indie) pop tunes with jazzy, genial female vocals that are surprisingly powerful coming from a little white Canadian girl; you'd be hard-pressed to find a more charming album than this, but at the same time, there's a forcefulness present here that commands your attention and makes sure you can't write this off as "just another pop album"

Try It


Stationary Odyssey - Sons of Boy (2009)

Here's the newest full-length from Stationary Odyssey, a DIY two-piece from the midwest that makes what most easily falls under the blanket term of post-rock; however, this music feels much more...alive, perhaps, than that term usually implies, because whether they're experimenting with trip-hop, punk, and electronic, or letting their folksy overtones flourish, there's always a lot going on with this group; there is no lazing around with uninspired buildups and unsatisfying crescendos to be found here

Link taken down by request

Preview: "Rib Letters"

Previous Posts:


The Weathered Underground (Film)

And now for something completely different.

I wouldn't normally post something like this, but it was sent to me and I find it to be an interesting little idea. The Weathered Underground is a film coming out sometime in late January. It's an interactive film, meaning you decide what happens next. It features hundreds of choices to be made and over thirty different endings, so it's sure to be a unique viewer experience. It's the story of a nasty, nasty breakup, and the film looks to have an engaging plot as opposed to just being a silly gimmick. Keep an eye out for it!

The interactive trailer (yes, even the trailer lets you pick what to do) can be viewed here.


Mixtape: Happy Valentine's Day

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me to make a 'heartbreak mix'. As I told them at the time, I'd actually had one bouncing around in my head for some time, so I soon set out to getting it out on paper. I finished this a couple weeks ago, and I've been dying to post it. I do think that this can be called a heartbreak mix, but it might not be quite what you expect.

I think there's a feeling of disappointment, rather than one of sadness or defeat, running through this. It feels like the loss of naivete. The realization that things don't always work out how you want them to. The acceptance that sometimes, there's just nothing to be done.

Then again, sometimes there is. Sometimes things do work out. Sometimes there's something to be said for naivete.

I'll let you decide.

Title: Happy Valentine's Day
Length: 1:14:46

Side 1: Your Good Friend

1. Alkaline Trio - "Enjoy Your Day"
2. John Mayer - "Kid A"
3. Letting Up Despite Great Faults - "Sun Drips"
4. Beck - "It's All in Your Mind"
5. Architecture in Helsinki - "Untitled"
6. Bad Religion - "Sorrow"
7. Get Set Go - "Ordinary World"
8. Bird by Bird - "Heavy Eyelids (Acoustic Demo)"
9. Nada Surf - "Always Love"
10. Michael Leviton - "Summer's the Worst"
11. The National - "Ashamed of the Story I Told"

Side 2: We're So Young and Insane

1. The Beatles - "I Want to Tell You"
2. Elliott Smith - "Alameda"
3. Metric - "Help, I'm Alive"
4. Bishop Allen - "The News From Your Bed"
5. Radiohead - "True Love Waits"
6. Bad Religion - "Sorrow (Acoustic)"
7. Say Anything - "I Want to Know Your Plans"
8. Vampire Weekend - "I Think Ur a Contra"
9. Coffee & Cigarettes Band - "That's the Way"
10. You, Me, and Everyone We Know - "I Can Get Back Up Now"


Dressed in Wires - DiWFTW (2009)

Dressed in Wires is an absolutely fabulous experimental project from North England; this album is a dense, complex, sprawling fusion of hip-hop and electronica, sometimes with smooth jazzy beats and obscured rapping, sometimes with violent, in-your-face electronic pounding and walls of distortion tearing into your ears, and always with an odd and inescapable catchiness that leads you to wonder when this is going to start getting some attention (at the moment, it is painfully under the radar)

Try It

Top 100 Albums Recap & Future

Well, that was fun (and a lot of work).

I hope the 2009 list did something for you, whether it exposed you to some music you hadn't heard before, reinforced some positive opinions you already had, or gave you more reason to hate self-absorbed bloggers who have too many opinions for their own good (what a bunch of assholes). Also, just a thought I had; don't see a 2009 album on the blog (before or after the list) that didn't make the list and think "wow, that must fucking suck if it can't even hit the top 100!"; chances are that I just didn't listen to it enough. Promise.

Also; I'd like to point out that I've uploaded a lot of albums in the past couple of weeks. That's a lot of mediafire links, a lot of .rars, and a lot of room for error. I've already been quietly reuploading and replacing dead or corrupted files, and if you find one, please please please please please tell me about it. That goes for anything else on the blog, too. There are simply too many uploads for me to keep track of them all myself, so you guys telling me when something is fucked is the only way for me to know I need to fix it. Thanks for keeping the blog running smoothly, or as smoothly as possible anyway.

Pretty soon, Watch the Tapes will have reached the one-year mark of active posting (the first couple of months don't really count). To me, that's pretty fucking cool. I'm pretty happy that I've been able to maintain this blog and keep it (apparently) fresh and interesting to hundreds of regular readers without having a big long roster of other posters. You guys seem to enjoy the music I post, enjoy what I have to say about it, enjoy the mixtapes, enjoy the variety. That's what this is all about; you. If nobody read this blog, I wouldn't have much reason to keep doing it. But the numbers of followers and viewers keep going steadily up, which makes me feel like I'm doing something right (comments help too though!).

Basically, I don't see a whole lot of reason to make a lot of big changes to the blog right now. Things seem to be going well, people are digging it, I'm having fun with it, readers are going up. Why fix something that isn't broken?

There are a lot of wonderful blogs out there on the net, some of which I link you to over in the blogroll. But there are a lot of shitty blogs out there too - some of them with followings that dwarf this one - and I do all I can to keep this from becoming one of them. If you think it already is, well, tell me! I'm a big boy, I can take it, just make sure you've got some constructive criticism or else there's not much I can do for you. But fuck, if you've got something to say, say it. I really do like to hear what you guys think, good bad or indifferent.

Anyway, I'm gonna step down from my soapbox here and resume regular posting. As always, hope you guys enjoy the tunes, and spread the word if you do! Cheers and thanks for reading.


WTT: Album of the Year 2009

1. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing
Myspace | Try It

"I am but a clean man, stable and alone man / make it so I won't have to try / The faces always stay the same / so I face the fact that I'm just fine / I said that I'm just fine"

There was a lot of great music released in 2009. It was one of the best years of music that I remember, possibly the best. There were literally hundreds of albums that I listened to and enjoyed, and out of the 100 that I chose to include in this list, I initially agonized over what to place at number one. There were so many albums that I absolutely loved, that I could tell from the first moment I heard them would be sticking with me far past the end of 2009. But then it hit me; of all the album placements on this list, number one was actually the easiest of them all. There was no other option. It couldn't be anything else.

It's almost hard to believe that this is only Manchester Orchestra's second album. It sounds like a fearless release from a band who's been at this game for decades, rather than a sophomore album from a bunch of college-aged kids from Georgia. But it just proves that a classic album can come from anywhere and anyone. That's what this is destined to become, by the way - a classic.

Mean Everything to Nothing is the kind of album that really doesn't come around very often. From Andy Hull's opening squeal of "I am the only one that thinks I'm going crazy", it's obvious that you're in for something really, really special. This album is a thundering, triumphant rock record, with raw emotion that ranges from angry hellfire to overpowering, all-consuming love and everything in between. It's an album that leaves the listener not just winded, but completely exhausted from the unconstrained passion that runs thick through every song. This album flows seamlessly from furious screams of rage to soft, subtle, touching moments of beauty and compassion.

It's an album about friends, about enemies, about lovers, about family, about passion and sadness and love and heartbreak and joy. This is an album about life, and it doesn't shy away from the pain or the happiness. It's not an inherently optimistic album, but it's not pessimistic, either; I've rarely heard an album that so totally encapsulates the ups and downs of life, the twists and turns, the triumphs and failures, simply allowing the listener to decide for themselves. At the end of the day, this album is going to reinforce whatever worldview you already hold, and it will do so powerfully and without flinching. It will get in your face, it will scream at you and burst your eardrums, it will cry on your shoulder, it will hold your hand and bring you close. Mean Everything to Nothing won't take over your life; if will become part of it.


WTT: Top 100 Albums of 2009 (10-2)

2. Eminem - Relapse
Myspace | Try It

"I know some shit's so tough to swallow / but I can't just sit back and wallow in my own sorrow / but I know one fact / I'll be one tough act to follow"

After disappearing into drug addiction and personal demons for five years, Eminem came back in 2009 with Relapse to tell us all about it, and also to catch the tail-end of a decade in which he was the most consistent and most important hip-hop artist in music - a statement I say without hyperbole. Gone are the politics and self-righteousness that dragged down his most recent album Encore, replaced with the return of his Slim Shady alter-ago. Eminem is back to writing songs about doing drugs and killing people, and while it's a welcome return, the difference is that this album also offers some clear insight into Mathers' life, especially in the second half, where the accented lunatic largely takes a backseat once again to the 'real' Marshall. Relapse is an album of contrasts that Eminem typically has avoided in the past, because rather than splitting the Slim tracks and the Marshall tracks into two albums like he would have done seven or eight years ago, he lines them up right next to each other and celebrates the comparisons that can be drawn and highlights where the real-life inspiration for his alter-ego tracks comes from. Some artists can't ever return from such a long break and be intact, and while Eminem has certainly had some falters and mistakes, this album proves that he's not even close to being done. Shady's back.

3. k-os - Yes!
[Hip-hop, reggae]
Myspace | Try It

"I'm just a man / who spent a hundred grand / on a bottle of wine / I'm just a man / who knows a plan / to get rid of time"

On his latest album, k-os is equal parts soulful, longing crooner and rapid-fire rhyme-spitter. Yes! is an album that revels in these contrasts, speeding along unexplored paths and maintaining a sense of coherency despite the many directions he takes. People who are bored with the typical hip-hop sound would be wise to indulge themselves this album, with its incorporation of funk, soul, reggae, pop and rock that blend together into a mature, focused, polished work that stands shoulder to shoulder with the strongest hip-hop albums of the past decade.

4. Tommy Sparks - Tommy Sparks
[New wave, pop]
Myspace | Try It

"Well these things happen / when you look at someone / and it gets too precious to you / This must be love again / I feel much better than I have in a long, long time"

It wasn't really that long ago that I was driving around in the middle of the night to and from who knows where, blasting this album with the windows down and my shitty stereo system hissing at me threateningly, wondering why the hell nobody but me seemed to be paying attention to Tommy Sparks. I guess that didn't last long though, because now I can't go two days without hearing "She's Got Me Dancing" on an iTouch commercial. Unfortunately the rest of the album hasn't quite caught up with that song's hype, so here I am doing my small part to help the cause. This Swedish newcomer has released a debut album of insanely dancey, '80s-worshiping new wave pop that will have you bobbing your head and tapping your feet and singing along for days. Turn it up, and get down.

5. Bomb the Music Industry! - Scrambles
[Punk rock]
Myspace | Try It

"I'm twenty-five / and I still act like I am TEN GODDAMN YEARS OLD"

Jeff Rosenstock, will you ever stop being great? I don't believe so. Who'd have thought that this band that basically consists of a bunch of assholes who like to do drunken singalongs instead of actual shows could make one of the best albums of the year? Okay, I probably would have thought that, but that's just me. Scrambles is the best Bomb the Music Industry! album yet, released as always for free on Quote Unquote Records. On this album, they drop all the hints of their ska past, and go for broke (literally) with piano and ballads and pseudo-death growls about shitty bands. The dosage of charming personality that holds together BtMI!'s drunken insanity is stronger than ever here, which is what makes this album such a cut above their previous work (which, for the record, I loved). Sloppy and silly and heartwarmingly honest, Scrambles is what punk rock is all about. Punk is dead? Not fucking quite.

6. fun. - Aim and Ignite
[Indie pop, baroque pop]
Myspace | Try It

"Come on with me, sing along with me / let the wind catch your feet / If you love somebody / you better let them know"

If Freddie Mercury rose from the dead and reformed Queen for a new generation (none of that Paul Rodgers shit), this might be what they'd sound like. Defining the term 'anthemic', Aim and Ignite is, to put it simply, a bombastic masterpiece of orchestral pop. Shamelessly ostentatious and gloriously over the top, this album lives up to its band's name and then some; it's probably the most fun I've had listening to music in the past year. From the roaring opener of "Be Calm" to the heart-stopping eight-minute closer "Take Your Time (Coming Home)", the band urges you to not get caught up in a lot of unnecessary bullshit, but instead of sounding mindlessly optimistic and shallow, there's something about their message that strikes home and you can't help but want to do what they say. This album makes you want to stop and feel the breeze rush over your face, slow down and smell the the scents of the trees, stroll through the halls of the world holding onto the friends who are with you on this crazy journey of life. Life-affirming doesn't even begin to cover it.

7. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
[Psychedelic rock]
Myspace | Try It

"See, the sun's gonna rise / and take your fears away"

Music like this is why it's almost cool to live in Oklahoma. Just when we thought we were starting to figure these guys out, they go and drop an album like Embryonic on us, and force us to throw out all our expectations. So it goes. Gone are the pretty synth-prog sounds of their past few albums; this double-album is an absolutely mammoth release of dirty psych rock. While this is certainly their most inaccessible album to date, and is totally overwhelming even after multiple listens, it's also one of their best. The sheer density of this release is enough to scare away a lot of listeners, who might skim through it once and run back to Yoshimi and The Soft Bulletin, but when you take the time to absorb it, soak it in and embrace it, this album proves itself to be almost endlessly rewarding. Every listen tunes you in to a whole new set of quirks and little sonic experiments that went totally unnoticed the last time around. This is really an album for the ages.

8. P.O.S - Never Better
[Alternative hip-hop]
Myspace | Try It

"Sugar in the gas tank / nothing in the cash box / thought that we were so sick, looking like it's small pox / The bullets are still on the shelves / but when the armory empties, we're melting down the bells"

It's always a fun ride to see an artist go from good to great, which is what happened between P.O.S's debut and sophomore releases. But it's really something special when that same artist then proceeds to get even better, which is exactly what this Minneapolis rapper of the Doomtree collective did on Never Better, his third album - he's never been better than this, and he knows it. Intelligent, politicized, humanistic hip-hop, this album is the type of artistic statement that's getting rarer and rarer; not very often is an artist's music so simultaneously honest, meaningful, and overwhelmingly passionate. With lyrics that will continually floor you and beats that will make sure you don't forget his words anytime soon, Never Better is the kind of album that turns up the heat on that flickering little flame buried deep down in everyone's chest.

9. The Matches - the Matches album 4, unreleased; graphics? title? or not needed?
[Pop-punk, alt rock]
Myspace | Try It

"Either someone shot the duke / or I'm talking scrambled eggs / either I been let down easy / or these shoes done stole my legs"

The high placement of this album might seem biased after the ubiquitous praise I've heaped onto the Matches, especially in the last four or five months, but dammit, it deserves to be here. As a 'final' farewell to their fans, this Oakland pop-punk (this term still feels lacking for them and probably always will) group gathered together the remains of their unfinished fourth album and quickly gave it a digital release through Bandcamp. A grower like all their others, album 4 contains the first material the band recorded new bassist Dylan Rowe, and the kid fits right in, bringing out a jamminess in the group's sound that hasn't been there since the were called the Locals and played ska punk. I'm pretty sure I listened to this album more than any other last year, thanks in no small part to its near-constant rotation during an 18-hour road trip. I've done enough singing of the Matches' praises in the past, so I'll try to not turn this little blurb into a sprawling mess; if this really does turn out to be the final release from the Matches, I think I'll be okay with it, because I can't think of a more satisfying end-piece to their fabulous career.

10. Slow Club - Yeah So
[Twee, folk]
Myspace | Try It

"We wrote these songs / and we lost our minds / and all our most brilliant friends / are doubting themselves"

Well, Slow Club certainly took their sweet time releasing their debut album after a string of EPs and singles, but it was worth the wait. This duo from Sheffield, if you don't know by now, make lovely twee pop that is simply impossible to resist. Taking on the harsh realities of love from the naive, hopeful perspective of youthful optimists, Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor are simply impossible to resist. Yeah So is a magnificently joyous album of brave, raucous, heartfelt tunes that strike a chord with everyone who hears them.


WTT: Top 100 Albums of 2009 (20-11)

11. John Frusciante - The Empyrean
[Psychedelic rock, singer-songwriter]
Myspace | Try It

For those of you who don't understand John Frusciante's recent announcement that he has officially left Red Hot Chili Peppers, I'll put it pretty plainly; he left because with the Chilis, he could never make music like this. The Empyrean is a sprawling psychedelic adventure into the mind of one of music's most unique and unwavering talents. Whether he's covering Tim Buckley or crafting roaring, anthemic epics like "Central", Frusciante never - NEVER - falters on this album. His previous solo work has all been incredible, but there's always been a sense that he's been torn between that work and his commitment to RHCP. Without that restraint upon him, his creativity has been totally unleashed, and he's given us the first glimpse into what he can achieve without anything tying him down. John Frusciante is in the process of turning from a celebrated guitarist into nothing short of a modern artistic legend.

12. Say Anything - Say Anything
[Pop-punk, alt rock]
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Is this album ...is a Real Boy? No, it's not. Do I care? No, not really. Say Anything's self-titled fourth album may be a disappointment to some, but to me it's a sign that one of my favorite bands is coming back down to earth, after swimming around in the mucks of obnoxious bloat that plagued their last album. Full of ripping guitars, catchy hooks and the awesome lines we can always count on from Max Bemis, Say Anything is one of the most addicting albums I've heard in a long time (this would be even higher on the list if I were going by playcount, perhaps at the top). If you've written this band off as mindless pop-punk, listen to them. If you've written this album off as not worth the time, stop being a jackass and listen to it.

13. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul
[Art rock]
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This album has been tragically caught up in a legal standstill brought about by record label bullshit, a situation which will probably keep it from ever being officially released, but which hasn't kept it from being spread wildly across the internet (especially after this was not-so-subtly encouraged by Danger Mouse). A curious and haunting collaboration, Dark Night of the Soul features an all-star cast of guest vocalists, among them Wayne Coyne, Frank Black, Iggy Pop, Vic Chesnutt, Julian Casablancas, James Mercer and David Lynch (yeah, that David Lynch - he also contributed a 100-page book of photos to the album's doomed release). Almost impossible to pin down in a genre, this album is a far-reaching affair of lush, artsy alternative rock, taken again and again in different directions by the myriad of performers and styles that all came together for this unbelievable release.

14. Eyedea & Abilities - By the Throat
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By the Throat shows this hip-hop duo making a pretty large shift stylistically, leading to it being called by some "Eyedea & Abilities' Radiohead album". While I, admittedly, do not really know what the fuck this means, perhaps it means something to you, or at least motivates you to check out the album, which is of course the goal of me writing this at all. I suppose it has something to do with the abstract feel given to a lot of the album, carried along by Abilities' incredible production skills and Eyedea's passionate verses about women and pain and death. But don't worry, because it's not all gloom and doom - "Smile" is an uplifting call-to-arms for happiness and contentment, and it's remained one of my favorite songs of the year since the first time I heard it.

15. Eels - Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire
[Alt rock, singer-songwriter]
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It took four years for Mark Oliver Everett's band Eels to follow up 2005's mammoth double-album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, but it's finally here and it doesn't disappoint. Hombre Lobo, a contrast album about desire, shows the group contrasting their ballsy rock 'n roll with the slow, sad songs of longing and loss that have arguably put Eels where they are. A lot of you probably have very limited exposure to this band, an album or two or perhaps only a song or two, so if you're looking for more, this isn't a bad place to start.

16. My Heart to Joy - Seasons in Verse
[Emo, post-hardcore]
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This jammy, emotional, intense post-hardcore album has been getting a fair amount of attention in certain circles, and seems poised to even have some potential breakthrough success. The debut full-length of Connecticut group My Heart to Joy, Seasons in Verse is a rollercoaster ride of pain and heartbreak that knows how to keep its own spirits up, never ceasing to be, for lack of a more poignant term, fun. There are a lot of bands like this that are essentially faceless and nameless and soundless, but My Heart to Joy is a group that might really be headed somewhere.

17. John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey - A Woman A Man Walked By
[Alt rock, singer-songwriter]
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When two artists as brilliant as PJ Harvey and John Parish collide into one another, it's hard for the resulting record to even contain the artistic strength that results from that collision. The first - and until now, last - time that the two artists did a collaboration together was almost fifteen years ago, with Dance Hall at Louse Point. If you thought that album was great (it was), get ready to have your mind blown by A Woman A Man Walked By. With Harvey writing all lyrics and performing all vocals, and most instrumentation being handled by Parish, this album highlights the contrasts between these two very different artists. There are times when John's strange, out-there instrumental interludes flourish, and in other moments (such as the downright-frightening "Pig Will Not") the trademark freeform insanity and rock experimentation present on PJ's earlier work (an era that echoes strongly throughout the entire release) is allowed to dominate. This album is playful, dangerous, powerful, and totally unlike just about anything else you've ever heard.

18. A Place to Bury Strangers - Exploding Head
[Shoegaze, noise rock]
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This noisy, psychedelic group of Brooklyn shoegazers bring a gritty and dirty sound to a genre that is far too often obsessed with sounding pretty. I'd recommend seeing them live to really get a full appreciation for how great they are, but until your next opportunity to do so rolls around, make do with drowning yourself in their dense, layered wall of sound. While their debut was more abstract and spacey, on Exploding Head A Place to Bury Strangers heap mountains of noise and distortion onto things that if you strip everything away, could probably make it as pop songs. They're one hell of a band, and they're just getting better and better.

19. Brand New - Daisy
[Alt rock, emo]
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Brand New's fanbase seems to be divided in an odd, three-way split. There are people who love their 2006 epic The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, and see its brilliance as an excuse to discount their two earlier albums. There are other people, caught up in the nostalgia of their youth, who like to claim that Deja Entendu is basically the greatest album ever made, while The Devil and God simply tried - and failed - to emulate it. Then in the third group are the tattooed pop-punk kids who worship the band's debut Your Favorite Weapon, bemoaning the (fairly accurate) assumption that Brand New sorta grew out of their own music. Well, fuck all those people. The band's newest album apparently has gotten caught up in the dust of this never-ending conflict, because no one really seems to care about it. So let me join the lone and scattered voices recognizing Daisy for what it is - a massive, complex, thundering addition to an incredible catalog of an incredible band. No matter your opinion on this band, you should experience this album.

20. Tegan and Sara - Sainthood
[Indie pop, new wave]
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Tegan and Sara reached the height of their girly poppiness with 2007's The Con, and on their new album this Canadian twin sister duo remembered how to rock out. Of course, Sainthood is still a pop album, and their new wave guitars and keyboards are still front and center. But this album rattles along at an often breakneck speed, exploring their most common theme of love - and all its emotional twists and turns - frantically searching for answers and usually just finding more questions and complications. C'est la vie.


WTT: Top 100 Albums of 2009 (30-21)

21. Portugal. The Man - The Satanic Satanist
[Psychedelic, alt rock]
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This experimental rock band has wide-ranging influences, from folk to psychedelic rock to prog, and they've been keeping themselves pretty busy, releasing an album every year (something not many bands do anymore). But instead of churning out a stream of uninspired dribble, Portugal. The Man continues to push their sound in new directions. The Satanic Satanist is a mellow alt rock album drenched in psychedelia, and it warrants repeated plays, over and over and over (it's an awesome roadtrip album - tested and proven). Something of an amorphous blob made up of similar tracks, every listen brings a new song out of the muck to pop out as your favorite.

22. Harvey Danger - Dead Sea Scrolls
[Alt rock, powerpop]
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I've made no secret of my love for Harvey Danger, nor of my sadness and disappointment at their recent breakup. But they've left us a wonderful parting gift in the form of Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of demos, live recordings, and various other rare or unreleased tracks (such as their covers of The English Beat's "Save it for Later" and Hall & Oates' "Maneater", both of which they do justice to). This may not be an 'album' per sey, if you're one of those violently-opposed-to-compilations type, but see if I care.

23. Passion Pit - Manners

Passion Pit's 2008 Chunk of Change EP was a fabulous release, and showed a lot of promise. Their show in support of Ra Ra Riot in early 2009 was equally great, and left me with even more hope about what they could accomplish. But this...well, this is just totally above and beyond what I ever anticipated this unassuming little group from Cambridge was capable of. With soaring falsetto vocals that shouldn't even be possible, and carefree, flowing beats that urge you - no, demand you - to get up and move your ass, Manners is an amazingly crafted debut album of delicious electropop tunes that will stay lodged in your head for weeks at a time. If you've avoided the hype train on these guys until now, it's time to drop the act and get the fuck on board, because the party's in full swing.

24. Why? - Eskimo Snow
[Folk rock, alt rock]
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Yoni Wolf's Berkeley group used to be pretty non-debatably hip-hop, albeit an odd, mutant version of it. Well, that's out the door on Eskimo Snow (there was an odd trend in 09 for bands folksing up their sound, eh?). But let's be honest; we're here for the lyrics. Wolf's intricate, unusual wordplay is still in top form here, so no worries there. While some tracks here may lead the listener to view this album as leftovers from 2008's Alopecia, that quickly becomes a clear untruth, because there are others such as "Into the Shadows of My Embrace" (one of the best songs in Why?'s entire catalog) that give this album a sound all its own. Eskimo Snow is a hauntingly personal and intimate record, and shows one of my favorite groups dropping a lot of the off-the-wall weirdness that puts some people off in favor of a more straighforward, heart-to-heart approach.

25. Manic Street Preachers - Journal for Plague Lovers
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Composed entirely with songs written by original lyricist Richey Edwards, who mysteriously vanished off the face of the earth in 1995, Journal for Plague Lovers is a tour de force by a group that's had varying levels of success and failure since that loss. Not to downplay the triumphs of Nicky Wire, as he's a fine lyricist in his own right, but the re-emergence of the past voice of the Manics feels like a huge return to form. With a confidant and assured sound, this album sinks its teeth in early and doesn't ever let go, dragging you along through all the twists and turns of Edwards' tortured mind. This is what a rock band is supposed to sound like.

26. Andrew Jackson Jihad - Can't Maintain
[Folk rock, punk]
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Andrew Jackson Jihad, if you're somehow not aware by now, is undeniably the shit. They're a folk punk group from Phoenix who make frantically cheerful, impossibly charming acoustic rock, usually with no more than an acoustic guitar and a stand-up bass. With personal, heartfelt lyrics, with topics ranging from politics and the evils of smoking to snobbish, no-talent hipsters, and with song titles like "Love Will Fuck Us Apart", how can you not fucking love this band? They're getting bigger and bigger with each release; how long until world take-over?

27. Punch - Punch
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This thrashy hardcore band from San Francisco make tunes that have no problem ripping your face off and then stapling it back to your head, upside down. With blistering female vocals, pummeling guitars, smothering bass and totally aggressive drumming, this group has been turning a lot of heads the past few months. Their self-titled debut doesn't have much of a run time (half the tracks don't even hit the one-minute mark), but it's a pounding assault from start to finish. Punch is fucking pissed, and they're going to let you know about it.

28. mewithoutYou - it's all crazy! it's all false! it's all a dream! it's alright
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Those familiar with mewithoutYou (which in a better world would be everyone) have spent their career making some of the best post-hardcore music of the decade. Over the last couple of albums, however, they've gotten progressively calmer and more mature, adding a finer touch to their music, and on it's all crazy, they ditch the post-hardcore sound entirely and instead make a straight-up acoustic folk album. That's not to say that there aren't some rockers to be had here, but for the most part this is a relaxed, thoughtful affair. Lyrically, it might be their best effort yet, and musically, it's so different from their previous work that it feels odd to even compare it. Some diehard fans of the group have been disappointed by this release; I think those people just can't handle a little change.

29. The Duckworth Lewis Method - The Duckworth Lewis Method
[Baroque pop]
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This newly-formed baroque pop duo can't pick an influence and stick with it. On one song, they might want to be the Beach Boys, on the next, maybe they want to be the B-52's. The most immediate comparison that comes to my mind is that they remind me of an of Montreal that smokes pot and occasionally rolls ex, instead of doing lines of coke in the bathroom and dropping acid backstage (no, that's not fair - Kevin Barnes does strike me as a legitimately weird dude, drugs or no drugs). If that doesn't make any sense (it probably doesn't), what I mean is that for the most part they're pretty chilled out, aside from the occasional dance-rock freakout.

30. Mouse on the Keys - An Anxious Object
[Jazz, math rock]
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Mouse on the Keys are a math-rocky jazz band from Japan who got together three or four years ago. An Anxious Object is their super-energetic debut full-length, and it's a doozy, full of frantic instrumentation by all members (but down-key and relaxed in all the right places). This three-piece got an an uncomfortably small amount of attention for this album in the past year, so listen to it, and they'll almost certainly be one fan stronger.