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Middle Cyclone Tag

Here at Popdose we’re deep in the bowels (and I mean that literally) of Mellowmas. Thankfully, it only takes one gem to wipe away the nightmares induced by everything Jason and Jeff have forced on us (and, to be fair, themselves) this season. That’s where I come in.

For my final column of the year, I figured I should write about my favorite song of 2009. “Waving Flag” by K’Naan made a few serious challenges at the title, when I first heard it when NPR released his show at South By Southwest as a podcast and again last month when it came up on Shuffle Play. I defy anybody to listen to it and not feel uplifted by its message of hope and positivity amid destruction.

It fell just short, but it was recently named as the official anthem of the 2010 World Cup, so I don’t think K’Naan is too disappointed by finishing second on my list. It’s a far better choice than when UEFA had “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes blaring out of every stadium during Euro 2008, even if it doesn’t work as well as a terrace anthem.

David Medsker:
As a rule, music lovers begin their journey square in the middle of the mainstream, and once they’ve gotten a taste for more adventurous fare, they take off for the fringes, often never to return. Over time, I’ve slowly found myself coming back to the middle. I have to say, I never thought this would happen. But then again, I never thought I’d move back to Ohio after over a decade in Boston and Chicago, but that’s life for ya: it changes you in ways you can’t anticipate.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that my list, much like last year’s list, isn’t exactly hip, or edgy, but that’s mainly because I’m not hip or edgy. I like what I like, whether it’s Massive Attack or Mandy Moore. And here are five albums from this year that I really, really like.

38ea810ae7a05023171b0210.L._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]Metric: Fantasies
I am admittedly late to the Emily Haines Show – a friend of mine persuaded me to download Live It Out a few years ago, but it never hooked me – but their latest is a monster blast of New Wave-tinged DOR that Garbage would kill for. Metric – “Stadium Love”

The Hours: See the Light

Epic, sky-high pop that recalls the best of the Verve, Keane and even the Wonder Stuff in singer Antony Genn’s delivery. The title track is a “Common People”-style slow burner and one of the finest pieces of British pop I’ve heard in years. The Hours – “Big Black Hole

neko case is badassOn her latest release, fiery-haired singer-songwriter Neko Case lightens the tone, musically, while trekking into deeper territory, emotionally. With Middle Cyclone, Case, who’s developed something of a reputation for avoiding love songs, has created an album stockpiled with them – but there are those caustic break-up odes, too.

She claims the perky opener, “This Tornado Loves You” is based on a dream she had about a tornado who falls in love with a boy, but a tornado is an all too fitting metaphor for someone as tenacious as Case, challenging the object of its affection to “Come out to meet me / run out to meet me / come into the light.” Despite the tornado’s destructive ways, it insists, “This tornado loves you / this tornado loves you,” before demanding to know, “What will make you believe me?”

Neko Case, “This Tornado Loves You” (download)

Then there’s the bold, heavy-hitting, “I’m An Animal,” which celebrates a tendency towards instinct. “There are things I’m still so afraid of / but my courage is roaring like the sound of the sun,” she boasts, encouraging her equally wild lover, “I’m an animal / you’re an animal, too.”

But Case’s tenacity doesn’t stop with positive feelings – she confronts the disappointing just as easily. In the almost painfully short under two-minute track, “The Next Time You Say Forever,” she slips and slides from the music box effects of the “tiniest sparks and the tenderest sounds” to bass and string-laden threats, “The next time you say forever / I will punch you in your face.” Later, she addresses the let down of a young romance in “The Pharaohs,” with the repeated line, “I want the pharaohs / but there’s only men.”

Case isn’t always be direct, though she connects the dots for us, stringing themes of animalia, weather and the play between strength and fear throughout. But there are a few curveballs, like the strange and obtuse “Polar Nettles” and “Red Tide.”