writing : 2009 boston band crush year-end summary

originally published on Boston Band Crush


Best of ’09 Crush: “Local Bands That Pleased Me” by neogonzo

2009 was quite the year. A lot of great bands did some great things in this city, some new bands comprised of old bands really scratched me where I itched, and a few bands did incredibly terrible and stupid things like break up. In the following post, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite shows, songs, and records from the past year from local bands. Also, some haikus. (Or is it just haiku, no “s”? I’m not sure. It’s probably not important.)

1. June 4 09 – Serious Geniuses (last club show) / Lemuria (Buffalo) / Movers & Shakers / Bread & Roses @ Great Scott
The penultimate Serious Geniuses show was sad for obvious reasons, but it was notable for the fact that it was the only show I saw this year that featured an attempted kidnapping of a band member during the set. Once the dust settled from that incident, it was a good old-fashioned love-fest of screaming, taunting, boozing and broken equipment, right up until the final realization that it was all over. In addition to being excessively emotional, this was also the best overall lineup of any show I saw in 2009. Rest In Peace.
2. September 29 09 – Ho-Ag / Battle House / Jordan (France) / Mind Yeti @ O’Brien’s
Even if it was just a no-name Tuesday at O’Brien’s, the bands on this show made sure every fortunate soul in the room was exposed to their uniquely weird radiation. Ho-Ag and Battle House were on a rampage of overstimulated noisy post-punk. The Frenchmen of Jordan had us eating out of their hands with charming broken English and even more-charming synth lines, and the great Mind Yeti drone-psych experiment proved successful, despite a lineup of members that seemed to be in question right up until the minute show started.
3. April 18 09 – Harris (last show) / Scamper @ Middle East Downstairs
Saying goodbye to Harris was tough because they’re a band that always struck me as a) amazing songwriters and b) incredibly modest and generous fellows. Their last hurrah at the Middle East Downstairs was a fitting way to say farewell, with a nostalgic trip through the whole catalog. Harris’ devoted family and friends made sure that the last renditions of songs like ‘New Color’ and ‘Carousel’ were especially rousing, but the mania just plain boiled over when the first 5 rows of the audience joined the band on stage for the last refrains of ‘Captain,’ one of my favorite songs by any Boston band, ever.
4. July 21 09 – Battle House / Young Mammals (TX) / Thief Thief / Whitetail @ PAs Lounge
I’m not the kind of person who always loves a room that’s packed to the gills with sweating people, so I think it’s appropriate that one of my favorite shows of this year was one that most people missed – the number of band members was probably about even with the number of non-playing attendees. Each band played as if their proverbial hair was on fire. Each band loved liked they’d never been hurt. EACH BAND DANCED LIKED NO ONE WAS WATCHING. And it was good.
5. February 25 09 – Thief Thief / Double Dragons (NH) / Hangman’s Alphabet / Thousands @ O’Brien’s

This bill was an impeccable assortment of some of the best minimalist math-rock bands that are active in New England. Just a perfectly-planned and triumphantly-executed show. Without question, the best 4-person lineup of guitarists that I saw all year.

1. Animal Hospital : ‘…And Ever’ [listen]
Keep in mind when you listen, that this is just one man performing all this music, all at one time. Nearly impossible. Anyhow, I believe the first time I ever heard this song was at an Allston basement show in 2008. Kevin Micka, the one man behind Animal Hospital, saw me walking down Cambridge Street and pulled over, picked me up and drove me the rest of the way to the show in his tricked-out minivan full of custom compartments that store the various pedals, knobs, guitars and drums that he uses to perform Animal Hospital’s songs in person. That’s when I first thought, “hey, this Kevin guy is really pretty all-right.” Once the show started and this song came out of his pile of gear, my “all-right” assessment was upgraded to “holy fuck.” The album version of the song, on the full length Memory, brings back that pleasant memory of mine, and much, much more, over the course of its swirling 12 minutes of riffs and raff. This song is a god-damn beast.
2. Quoins : ‘Is This Suspicious’ [listen]
Looking back at my records, I believe this was the 3rd Quoins song ever performed in public (their first show was at the Middle East in May of this year.) From what I can recall, at 0:39 seconds into the song is the exact moment when I knew that everything was going to be OK with these guys. This song just sort of takes off and reaches a cruising altitude that most songs don’t ever get to.
3. Battle House: ‘So Long Stink Town’ [listen]
Battle House may not technically be a local-band supergroup, but when they first formed, I thought they would be pretty close to one (members of the dead bands Clickers, Bakula and Motionless), and I thought they’d be pretty good right off the bat. It turns out they were better than pretty good; by the time of their first show in January, they’d already written and self-recorded a 5-song EP, and were capable of delivering a dominating performance that was full of new energy and a definite authority. ‘So Long Stink Town’ is the song that probably best merges Bakula’s (post-hardcore) and Motionless’ (post-rock) styles, and features a two-headed vocal that guides the music in a way that both previous bands never quite had.
4. Christians & Lions : ‘Waltz in D’ [listen]
I’m not even sure this song made it on to a recording before Christians & Lions project disbanded earlier this year. I saw it performed in Pittsburgh of all places, on a Sunday night, in a room with about 10 other people while my own band was on tour. It’s not the kind of music I typically like; it’s folksy and deliberate, but it’s got a certain razor-sharp edge to the lyrics. It’s a displaced 60s protest tune that fell through a time-travel portal, and unfortunately finds our country and our neighbors in an all-too-familiar pattern of violence.
5. Dr. & Mrs. Van der Trampp : ‘Push Forward’ [listen]

Again, this isn’t a song or a band that I’d ever previously expect to like, but it’s had a really deeply-seeded grip on me all year long. It’s just vocals, guitar, tambourine and glockenspiel. It is not loud, nor fast, yet this song (and really, everything from the good Doctor and Missus) rock my face incredibly hard somehow. Even though this particular tune has a sort of inherent conflict unfolding between the two lead vocals, the delivery and the melody give me a feeling of perpetual optimism that makes me think that anything in life, or in music, can be accomplished with the right approach and positive attitude. Sometimes we all need a little of that.

1. Tristan da Cunha : Irrevolution [acquire]
I don’t believe that any Boston band practices harder than Tristan da Cunha. I could be wrong, but when compared to everything else out there, the original songs that these guys come up with and exactingly deliver on every album and at every show, seem light years ahead of everything else that anyone is doing. Irrevolution is their 8th release and 3rd full-length album – some of these tracks are re-recorded versions of tunes that you can find elsewhere in their catalog. Like all of their previous work, It’s got a pretty severe density – there’s a ton going on in every weirdly-shaped portion of each song, but on Irrevolution, it’s all spread out in appropriate portions. Each groove is repeated just often enough for you to grab on to for a short and dizzying ride. The album starts with a couple songs that have been staples of their sets over the past few years (‘Bless the Beasts [Not The Children]’ and ‘Many of them Children’) and then winds back and forth, passing lead vocal duties off between each of the band’s 3 members. The rolling monster ‘Siege Engine’ lurks in the middle of the record, before things wrap up with ‘Reactionaries’ – a massive pyramid of spidering guitar formations that seems to form the successor/sequel to the epic ‘Strong Candidate :: New Regime’ from TdC’s previous album.
2. Animal Hospital : Memory [acquire]
Memory is certainly an accomplishment: it’s a massive sprawl of mostly-barren but sometimes suprisingly-opaque soundscapes. The islands and oceans here link together to form an album that truly has a life cycle all it’s own. It’s a deliberate journey from start to finish, and at places that fall in between where the songs come together, the listener can’t help but find their own mind wandering and exploring what exactly Memory means, and what exactly is inside the filing cabinets of our own experience. Tiny hints of melody start to reel us in with familiarity. They seem like distant echoes of events replaying in the distance of our brains. Definitely something to be experienced.
3. Horsehands : Amble [acquire]
This short (and free) EP has a special way of being all over the place and exceptionally focused at the same time. The guitar proves to be an unpredictable leader as each song explores territory that’s both familiar and uncharted. The diverse pace of the songs leaves me feeling a little unbalanced structurally, but it does keep that “what just happened?” direction consistent across the board. There’s a lot to like about this band and all the places that it’s going, and Amble is definitely worthy of attention and appreciation.
4. Winter is Cold (compilation, Various Artists) [acquire]
20 bands are documented here in this 2009 sampling of the Boston art-rock “scene.” While a lot of tracks may not be the freshest material from these artists, it’s certainly a noteworthy assembly of some of the bands that are critical to the musical credibility of this community. Ho-Ag, Helms, and Neptune are some of the ones who are getting the credit they deserve for their proficiency (and they sound as tight as ever), while tracks from lesser-exposed bands like Reports, Thunderhole and The Magic People leave us all optimistic about the musical health of our little corner of the globe.
5. Nassy : Nassy [acquire]

This album has a vitality to it that really makes the band stand out to me. While Nassy are generally heavy, loud and even a bit grungy, they demonstrate a definite skill in how they execute the loud-quiet-loud dynamics in each song. There’s an attention to detail here that’s a little unexpected; the vocal harmonies are carefully plotted, and the tempo and timing changes that are really well executed. And most of all, the lyrics have a contagious quality that work to create a well-defined identity for this album – we seem to be following the narrators on a series of tumultuous experiences that are deeply personal, honest and intense. The band’s ability to maintain that tension (and avoid beating it into the ground by being too heavy) makes it something I want to experience with them.

1. Harris (2000-2009)
Fare thee well, sailors
The River Styx calls to thee
Don’t forget to tip!
2. Serious Geniuses (2006-2009)
Hurry back, won’t you?
Please don’t keep us waiting long
LA blows anyhow
3. Sweetthieves (2003-2009)
Alas, gone too soon
Another nail in the coffin
I’ll miss thy rockin’
4. A Hero Next Door (2002-2009)
Remember that one
Nickelback song ’bout “Heroes?”
Quitting = just as lame!
5. Christians & Lions (2004-2009)
The band in heaven.
they play my favorite songs
except Slayer. Sucks.