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Earlier this year, Tom Ewing summarized the power of popular music quite nicely:

Often, the pleasure of pop is surrender: when a record overrides your reflexes or emotions for a few minutes, when you let it possess you. That feeling isn’t easy to write about, let alone argue over.

Pop music, for me, has come to mean two things: current and fun. Somewhat contrary to the modifier “popular,” the music described here is not overplayed and overconsumed.

So, when I spend a few hours every week catching up with my mp3 blog aggregator (much cooler than it sounds) and reading band news and album reviews, I’m actually chasing new sources, hoping to find those diamonds in the rough that will possess me. It sounds like an addiction because it is an addiction.

The capacity of any song to induce surrender is temporary. After the first few listens my memory starts to capture the most prominent qualities of the song (a bass line, a vocal harmony in the chorus). Soon the song realizes its full potential in my brain, and the song possesses me.

Possession continues for multiple future listens; the staying power of a song varies from five to about twenty replays. Then, as the newness of the melody, dynamics, and rhythm wanes, it loses its grip on my brain.

If the song is merely good, it sits quietly somewhere on my hard drive until I stumble upon it on some future date. If it’s a really good song, it has several different long-term locations in several different playlists, and I will listen to it occasionally in the future. If it’s a great song, it will have a celebrated retirement home where I will visit it (similar to beach-side assisted living in Boca).

Every song must retire. Here are my 2009 inductees for the Dog Food Money Hall of Fame — the most surrender-inducing songs of the year.

Best songs

Note: An asterisk in the list below denotes one of my daughter’s favorite dance tracks for Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Tier One

Two Weeks* — Grizzly Bear
Idiot HeartSunset Rubdown
French NavyCamera Obscura
My GirlsAnimal Collective
All the King’s MenWild Beasts
HomeEdward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Take it Easy* — Surfer Blood
Rain onWoods
Islands* — The xx
Oslo CampfirePort O’Brien

Tier Two

Chi Don’t DanceBBU
While You Wait for the Others
— Grizzly Bear
Tonight’s Today*
— Jack Peñate
Skeleton Boy
* — Friendly Fires
Lisztomania — Phoenix
Lust for Life
Pyrex Vision — Raekwon the Chef

Ghost Life — Bowerbirds
No Reasons
* — VEGA

Tier Three

Hazel * — Junior Boys
Velvet — The Big Pink
Lost Words — Ganglians
Vacationing People — Foreign Born
Suburban Beverage — Real Estate
The Now — Muzzle of Bees
Shine Blockas * — Big Boi featuring Gucci Mane
Norway — Beach House
You Don’t Know What You Do to Me — Blakroc
Ambling Alp — Yeasayer

Best album

— Grizzly Bear

Best album runners-up

Girls — Album
Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II — Raekwon
xx — The xx
Dragonslayer — Sunset Rubdown
The Bright Mississippi — Allen Toussaint

Note: This is jazz, not pop, but it’s super.

Best mashup

Two Weeks of Hip Hop (Dead Prez vs. Grizzly Bear)
— The Hood Internet

Best remix

Friendly Fires featuring Au Revoir Simone (Aeroplane remix)

Note: I know, it was released in ’08, but it wasn’t put on blast in our house until January ’09, and I didn’t hear anything better that came out this year.

Best video + song created from recorded clips of a legendary astronomer and physicist

Glorious Dawn
— Carl Sagan (featuring Stephen Hawking)

Best chillwave (new sub-genre of the year)

Feel It All Around
— Washed Out
Green Knight — Memory Tapes
Fire Ant — Bibio
Weak 4 Me — Nite Jewel
Last One Awake — Memory Cassette
Terminally Chill — Neon Indian

Most Annoying

At least in indie and mp3 blog circles, 2009 was the year of AnCo. They started the year with a much-anticipated, inevitably-leaked full length album, and ended it with a heralded EP. They narrowly escaped the list below because they produced interesting music throughout 2009, but when will the AnCo hype machine take a breather?

Here are the bands that I think were overhyped and overrated in 2009.

The Antlers — I know that music critics loved “Hospice”, but it was a bit too whiny and monotonous for my tastes.

YACHT — Psychic City was amusing the first few times I heard it, but the other tracks from this album annoyed me.

The Dirty Projectors — If I’m just not sophisticated enough to appreciate the dissonance and tempo changes, then so be it.

Wilco — Just because I’m a dad, that doesn’t mean I have to like dad-rock.

Modest Mouse — I know they didn’t realease a full-length album in 2009, but I’ve heard plenty of the EP they put out. After This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About and The Lonesome Crowded West, I would have never guessed their music could be boring after Johnny Marr joined the band (not that it’s his fault). Oh, and Isaac never screams like he used to (that’s a bad thing).

The Very Best — Someone explain to me why they are so widely adored by critics.

Kings of Leon — They’ve regressed in a similar way, yet in a much more dramatic way, as Modest Mouse. They have a clothing line now, and I hear their music on sports radio. I am now proposing a new law (the Followill rule) for evaluating music: The second a song is used as a segue snippet on sports radio, it is instantaneously lame.

MGMT — See the Followill rule, and I’m talking specifically about Kids of course.

Now, on to 2010. In with the new!


My mother’s side of the family, the Watsons, came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. We were thrilled to host the Watsons. My parents attended, as did the Watsons  (Danny and Janice, from Burlington), the Hudsons (Nancy, Gary, Chris, Angie, Lindsay, and Darren Austin, all of whom drove here from Charlotte), the Prices (Carolyn, Will, Ashley, Ryan, from Burlington), and Katie’s cousin Lee (from Chapel Hill). Lee was the outsider who everyone enjoyed having, especially me (he washed a lot of dishes).

The meal was headlined by Katie’s 25-pound turkey, which was the most robust, delicious bird I’ve ever eaten. I could kick myself for not taking a picture of that beast.

All the sides and desserts were equally delectable. Jackie, Baxter, and Robah also enjoyed our company. My father had everyone singing along to his new party game. The working title is What’s Next, and he tailored the clues to the personal interests of the family members in attendance.

We appreciate y’all for spending the holiday in Five Points, and it was darn good to catch up with everyone. Also, thanks to my parents for looking after the baby while we prepped.

The latest, greatest parlor game: What's Next

Goofin' off before company arrives

Baby time with Aunt Carolyn, Cousin Will, and two of her top-notch grandparents

Strolling with Gramps and Great Uncle Danny

Good boys get turkey cracklin'

Strolling some out for the many sidewalk cracks JBJ

JBJ poses atop her old man

Last Sunday was momentous. A person I love was introduced to a thing I love, and I was lucky enough to watch the interaction.

Thanks to great tickets and a parking pass from a kind neighbor, Katie and I took Jackie to her first live sporting event — UNC vs. Nevada at the Smith Center.

I grew up with Carolina basketball, and I can’t help but think that Jackie will also find comfort and inspiration from the same source. Maybe it’s a player who scored pointing to a teammate to credit him for the assist after a fast break conversion. Maybe it’s blood, shed in sacrifice to victory, splattered on the floor of H.I.S. (Hansbrough Indoor Stadium, in Durham).  Or, maybe it’s the way Woody pronounces pistachio (pi-stash-see-oh).

On Sunday, we got to our seats about 15 minutes before tip-off. Jackie’s jaw dropped as soon as we started descending the steps in our section. The lights, the other fans, the band, and the sheer size of the building kept her mouth agape until about the 15:00 mark of the first half. After the initial shock waned, she seemed to be paying attention to the action on the floor. Katie put her in her very own seat early in the second half. Cracker in hand, Jackie’s behavior could have passed for any adult spectator in the arena, snacking and watching Larry Drew II dish out assists to Ed Davis. She was taking in the game (which was a little closer than I expected) like any other fan.

It was truly one of the best experiences during my short time as a father. On that night, happiness was sitting with my wife and daughter as Ol’ Roy got his 600th win.

Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

I took this post-apocalyptic picture outside Jones Barber Shop in Raleigh last year.