NO GIMMICKS Drug Rug’s “Hannah, Please” struts ahead of the psych-pop pack.
When I think back on 2009, I feel the same pleasant discomfort you get at the end of a John Hughes movie, when suddenly all the jocks and dorks and punks are good friends. This year, hardcore denizens of time-worn niches came out of hiding and acted all presentable — I mean, the Pixies played the Wang — and all sorts of scenes and sounds went behind the bleachers for some unlikely scores. The following tracks from local newbs and well-aged vets alike almost all stepped out of the shadows in 2009 with that knowing, Judd-Nelson-on-a-football-field look. You know the one.
• Passion Pit, "The Reeling"
No one else in town nailed it quite the way Passion Pit did with their debut, Manners (Frenchkiss). Michael Angelakos and company represent some of the best parts of Boston's web of dance nights, laptop DJs, and bedroom studios, a web that's led to recent crossover projects like Bodega Girls and the Coralcola/Big Digits team-up. Thus far, however, "The Reeling" has no match for pure bravado. It's not just anyone who can take a helium-voiced call-and-response and graft it to a glitchy synth bass line with positive results. And Passion Pit shoot the moon by adding Miami Vice drum fills and a Bee Gees disco groove that defies everything you thought you knew about stoic Boston-rock archetypes.
• Hallelujah the Hills, "Paper Pilots"
I've got a hoard of old Ryan Walsh four-track demos that I'll never give up. Like, "Limited Edition 2 of 3" stuff, full of amazing hiss and edits that drop with heavy tapehead clunks. This year finally brought us a start-to-finish studio record. "Paper Pilots" closes out the epic Colonial Drones (Misra) with the most victorious death knell ever recorded. It all comes down to the final minute, where Walsh and the band trade in their signature kitchen-sink approach for a blunt two-chord fuzz: "You're gonna live/I'm gonna die" takes the nightmare insecurity and the vague conspiracies and mops them up into one satisfyingly sure thing.
• General Interest "Capricious Youth"
Who could complain about Conversions being gone when an outfit like this rises out of the ashes? Boston's own Ride the Snake label — home to Life Partners, Reports, and Dead at 24 — released this nugget on General Interest's Rightby the Beach 12-inch. Erase Errata bass punch and old Ex-Models guitar stabs are the weapons of choice as the band step all over some otherwise perfectly grimy punk territory. "Capricious youth/Oh, I don't know/Capricious youth/Life is confusing" are among the lyrical bon mots thrown out here by Steve Shea — with the moral fortitude of a young Rodney Anonymous.
• Converge, "Dark Horse"
It's been a while since you could spazz out to a Converge song on the first try — theirs is expert-level stuff. But this year, they dropped "Dark Horse" to lead off their ferocious Axe to Fall (Epitaph), and now that there seems to be a common thread between this band and other human beings, you have to start thinking about them a little differently. Yes, they remain brutal, but they now feature all sorts of guilty pleasures, like Super NES quest-metal guitar lines and garage-punk pick slides. The new attitude seems to be working: they started the year off in the sweaty nook of the ICC in Allston and closed it out opening for the Cartoon Network's Dethklok at the House of Blues.