Psychedelic Horseshit
Too Many Hits
Columbus Discount

I am beginning to wonder if my appreciation for the genius of Psychedelic Horsehit stems from delusion. The last time I got to see them live, I nearly puked in perturbed disgust. Such is the territory with the powder-keg psych-pop and piecemeal electronic maelstrom they can create at a moment’s notice—the next moment could possibly be unfiltered bilge. On this double 7-inch, though, they make a near-perfect record. Sometimes gelling as a total unit of pranksters, with guitars, drums and even a bass-man in tow. Other times it is late-night backwater acoustic mumblings rife with samplers and tortured solos. Such is the patois with Matt Horseshit. Start speaking his language and you’ll begin to understand. I think people were just to confused (and/or turned off by his venomous “scene” speech) to give him even a cursory listen. With Too Many Hits, he’s made a record, perhaps hinting at a tropical-rave-dubstep future, which backs up the insults and nihilistic jargon. This is a revelation. Get with it.

The Beets
Spit in the Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool
Captured Tracks

The only reason this album didn’t make my year-end list is because I know in my heart that the Beets are capable of so much more. This batch of loft-pop is characterized by modest beginnings. They are completely aware they aren’t all that “ready” for reverb and distortion, just a room, some voices and a couple guitars. It’s likely fate that kept me inches from seeing this band multiple times over the past year. Maybe I was only allowed to hear them in the comfort of my own basement, imagining a house party in which these effortless jangled ditties were the specialty night in and night out.

Flight ep
Kill Shaman

Granted, this one-man entity from Mississippi is certainly suspect for co-opting the “submerged” sound being played (out) by guys like Blank Dogs, Gary War, and the Wavves chump, but he’s layered on his own distinct glam ’n’ bubblegum specked spackle. And these songs found on the Kill Shaman 10-inch, though sun-warped, humidity-soaked and virtually choking on exhaust, exhibit a knack for sugary choruses and classically raucous riffs unknown to his contemporaries.

Jim Shepard and Nudge Squidfish
“Voices of Men”
Columbus Discount

It reads “private press... never for sale” on the extremely nondescript sleeve of this subscription-only goodie passed out by the Columbus Discount Records crew unexpectedly amidst their stellar single club’s first year. Who knew Jim Shepard would be a knife hit away from a disco track? Eerie and legacy-building all the same. I’ve yet to hear something from the man that didn’t surprise me, and this one track has surprised me the most—I play it incessantly. Hopefully this will open the floodgates and allow the V-3/Vertical Slit re-issue campaign to begin unfettered.

Sharp Ends
“Northern Front”

Out of a slew of quality releases from the venerable Hozac Records, this one-two knockout punch by Calgary’s Sharp Ends has resonated long past my imagined expiration date. On the surface, these Canucks play it safe with Manchurian angled-punk, all gloomy and brooding, while underneath it all are more ecstatic anthems made for sing-a-longs and not venues built solely with concrete. There’s some daylight on this tundra.

Real Estate
“Fake Blues”

Nothing could possibly harsh the mellow these New Jersey suburbanites conjured up on their debut album, flush with melodies so subtle they sound composed of pink and purple dust clouds floating in summer dusk. While Real Estate seems to be growing, for better or for worse, into a “jam” band by proxy, “Fake Blues” is the perfect distillation of their powers, displaying the malleability of luscious and smart soft-pop in a post-Shins universe.

Nite Jewel
Good Evening
Human Ear

Sick of the hypnagogic, chillwave, glo-fi bullshit compartmentalization of what is essentially kids nostalgic for synth exploration culled from 8-bit video games and OMD records never owned? Drag it through busted cassette decks and SWV and you have Ramona Gonzalez. Nite Jewel comes across as the Lisa Lisa to Ariel Pink’s Prince: both can write for dancefloors, but prefer to keep it logistically impossible to move without scratching the head and longing for days when you could noodle on a Casio T-80 for hours on end.

Sic Alps
“L Mansion”

After dropping last year’s best album, U.S. Ez, it seems the Sic Alps went into hibernation, signed to Drag City (who subsequently re-issued a beautiful Long Way Around to a Shortcut package), and gave us one inspirational nugget in “L Mansion.” The song’s a shambling mess, simultaneously frenetic and understated, kinda the way these two operate. Still, it’s distinctive in its delicate pop crust, building something quite vintage sounding out of virtually two or three notes and a junk box of equipment. Not to mention there’s a wonderful Donovan cover on the B-side.

Christmas Island
“Nineteen” b/w “Twenty-Nine”
Captured Tracks

I miss Beat Happening. You miss Beat Happening. We all miss that innocence and doom cobbled together with acoustic instruments, a bit of punk fuzz, and pure do-it-yourself means of expression. What likely fueled that was a post-teenage mid-20s empathy, where you could rule the world and 20 minutes later fall into a pit of opiate indifference. Christmas Island levels the best of goof-punk and gives it a simple twee facade that doesn’t obscure the fact that they’re onto something much more meaningful.

The Mantles
The Mantles

I was mistaken to mention the Chills in my first interpretation of San Francisco’s Mantles, when, in fact, they bear a striking resemblance to the Verlaines. Even some New Zealanders I met recently thought they sounded quite Kiwi. Keeping those influences in check, this self-titled debut hews closest to loose American garage pop—and that’s perfectly encouraged, given the last year’s drought of such lasting jangle. Though San Francisco always tends to revel in revisionism, the Mantles add just enough extra to keep you in this century.

El Jesus de Magico

Full disclosure would reveal this band’s drummer writes for us. Be that as it may, this is the best damn band that many of you have yet to hear. This was their finest year to date, and with three releases for hometown heroes Columbus Discount in 2009 alone, it has also been their most prolific. Be it the gonzo psych blitz of Scalping the Guru, the gnarly pop glazing of the “Unclean Ghost” single, or a deft combination of those two sides on last months amazing “Klip Aught,” they have something esoteric and essential for everyone. But it’s really all about the band’s unhinged live show, the Columbus equivalent to a Choose Your Own Adventure novella penned by Coleridge and Tupac.

Home Blitz
Out of Phase

Daniel DiMaggio’s triumphant return is exhaustive. Out of Phase is frantic, messy, cathartic, urgent and frugal all at once. Home Blitz presents the arena, deconstructs it brick-by-brick, and fits it into a box that will furnish a dorm room. Those skills let DiMaggio balance the tumult with his sensitive side, making “A Different Touch” a brash and swaggering T. Rex anthem spiked with cough-syrup and white-noise histrionics. Be it snotty ’77 punk or a Shoes record cut with Prozac, it stands up to any of the explorations recently taken by Jay Reatard. My only explanation for the long pause and mostly silent field recordings is for the listener to catch one’s breath.

Monster Head Room

Haters gonna hate, but this assembly of hirsute Sacto youth strike a Beach Boys pose because they love those harmonies, whether they hit them all or not. Monster Head Room is an endless summer buzz—slacker novelty and falsely neon abound, with bummer-lover feelers extended like elastic tentacles. When they decide to delve into Kraut-induced psych slogs, the waters might rise above their heads. Still, there’s an enthusiastic glee to what they’re doing where smiles are all that endure.

Blues Control
Local Flavor

Not exactly my favorite moment from Blues Control. Then again it’s their most ambitious undertaking, their loudest record, their metal awakening, their new age shedding (perhaps). And Blues Control masterminding a wholly experimental endeavor, coming out of the fog with actual “rock” songs, is light years more intriguing than any yeasaying noise cretins making cacophony for cacophony’s sake. Future music indeed.

Zola Jesus
The Spoils
Sacred Bones

When I spied that our staff had named The Spoils one of 2009’s best albums, I began to have hope for our world. Nika Danilova is deserving of the accolades she has been piling up as of late. Speaking with her in August, she doesn’t appear to have a planned endgame or a roadmap as to where she’s taking Zola Jesus—just darker, more fucked, more industrial. Here are the most emotionally draining siren songs to channel equal parts Diamanda Galas and Nina Simone. There’s a full-fledged opera in the works, but for now this is her greatest achievement.

Onna ep
Holy Mountain

Though I spent much of early 2009 scouring for all of the essential records logged on Julian Cope’s Japrocksampler, none of it prepared me for Onna’s two-track oddity that arrived via Holy Mountain. This lost treasure was created in 1983 with primitive drum programming and a twisted heap of acid guitar washes. Not sure if I could ingest a full hour of Onna’s motley watercolors and anti-meditative scrawl, but in this compact format, it’s easy for deeply exotic, nightmarish visions to appear in front of your eyes.

Kurt Vile

Like the other “band” listed in this year-end countdown, Philadelphian troubadour Kurt Vile also had a prolific year, not only schilling platters for Mexican Summer (the scattershot God Is Saying This to You LP), Skulltones, and Richie Records (my favorite, Hunchback EP), but also getting heavy with the Violators for his Matador debut, Childish Prodigy. Vile has found truth in classic-rock tropes (getting me back into Springsteen) and cathartic bliss in psychedelic miasmas. Whether you get the one-man acoustic smoke trails of his solo show or the monolithic chug that comes with the full-band experience, the reason Vile is spotted here is not for his impressive collection of work so far, but for what he obviously has in store for the near future.

Night Control
Death Control
Kill Shaman

This CD is perhaps the most mysterious release I laid ears upon this year. There’s nothing here in the smoke to grasp onto, just lots of fragments and idiosyncratic pop moments, all disguised as a drowsy loner-folk record. This could be the work of Sic Alps, the lo-fi Soft Machine, or a 21st century Skip Spence cyborg.

Compressed Gas ep

A somewhat timeless, albeit brief, document of what underground New Zealand was huffing round the early ’90s. Siltbreeze has become impeccable in reissuing precise targets no one thought to hit. The Compressed Gas EP may be caked in the same fidelity you associate with Silt-alum like Dead C and the Shadow Ring, and may have been recorded in the same timeframe of the same dying decade, but what Gas does here resembles something more intrinsic to an earlier dawn, when proto-punks roamed the earth and the idea of releasing independent records was the sperm in the crotch of guys like Fowley, Shepard and Rep. Of course, we’re playing with historical fiction here, as if Gas wrote “Thirst” after their first night out with Pere Ubu, where all intentions were to make it slower, slimier, sexier and somehow more sinister.

Various Artists
The World’s Lousy with Ideas Volume 8
Almost Ready

Hard to include compilations on a list like this, but it was even harder avoiding the magnitude of artistry Mr. Almost Ready gathered on this record. Times New Viking, Vivian Girls, Sic Alps, Tyvek—the names keep spewing out. The best part about it is that each of these bands seemed to be bringing their A-game to the table. In 20 years, I’m sure we’ll look back on this as an encapsulating snapshot of what was happening in 2009, even if now, months later, all of that seems like a dream currently splintering.

—Kevin J. Elliott