Favorite Songs of 2009: complete list

2009 was just an awesome year for finding good music to love. Here are my favorites, grouped in roughly ascending order from jj to Basement Jaxx. Keep scrolling for some excellent remix recommendations below that.

"From Africa to Málaga," by jj (Sweden)
(from "no. 2," label=sincerely yours)
Click the image above to download!

"True Stories" by Datarock (Norway)
(from "Red"; label=Young Aspiring Professionals)
Listen to "True Stories" on their Myspace page.

"The Great Defector," by Bell X1 (Ireland)
(from "Blue Lights on the Runway"; label: Bellyup)
Listen to "The Great Defector" on their myspace page.

"Happy Up Here" by Röyksopp (Norway)
(from "Junior," label=Astralwerks)
You can hear the song on their Web site, here.

"All the King's Men" by Wild Beasts (Leeds, UK)
(from "Two Dancers," label=Domino)
Listen to the song on the Wild Beasts Myspace page.

"Prefiero el Asfalto," by Niña Dioz (Mexico)
(from "Rudo y Cursi soundtrack," label=Nacional)
Take a listen at Niña Dioz's MySpace page.

"An Anniversary Away" by Reverie Sound Revue (Canada)
(from "Reverie Sound Revue," label=Boompa)
Please take a listen at Reverie Sound Revue's MySpace Page.

"Brother Sport" by Animal Collective (New York City)
(from "Merriweather Post Pavilion," label=Domino)
Take a listen at their MySpace page.

"S'vive," by Bibio (England)
(from "Ambivalence Avenue," label=Warp)
Take a listen on Hype Machine.

"Tonight's Today" by Jack Peñate (London, England)
(from "Everything's New," label=XL Recordings)
Please take a listen at Jack Peñate's MySpace page.

"Lisztomania," by Phoenix (France)
(from "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix," label=Loyauté/Glassnote)
Listen at their MySpace page.

"No Reasons," by VEGA (Austin, TX)
(from "Well Known Pleasures" EP, label=Vogue College Records)
Take a listen at VEGA's MySpace page.

"Raindrops" by Basement Jaxx (UK)
(from "Scars," label=Ultra Records)
Listen here on Stereogum.

But wait, there's more!
In 2009, I was particularly excited about these four remixes. They are genius.

Day 'n' Nite (Crookers remix): Kid Cudi
This is the soundtrack to my imaginary club life. Go here to listen (click "Stream").

Nadine (Memory Tapes version): Fool's Gold
Go here to listen (click "Stream").

Can You Tell (The Kids are Radioactive remix): Ra Ra Riot

Listen at The Kids Are Radioactive's MySpace page (click on Ra Ra Riot RMX).

Rock Off Shake Off remix: Rye Rye

I don't know who did the remixing--the N.E.E.T. label web site won't say. But go there and take a listen! (Click on Rock Off Shake Off remixes, there's only one.)

Songs of 09: VEGA and Basement Jaxx

"No Reasons," by VEGA
(from "Well Known Pleasures" EP, label=Vogue College Records, Austin, TX)
This song by young Alan Palomo's project VEGA has an exuberant synth-pop sound. It is especially good for topping out the mood of your party after everyone has had a few drinks and is thinking of hitting the bars next--play this and dance on some furniture before you leave the house. It is happy, fast, upbeat, and extremely infectious electro! Take a listen at VEGA's MySpace page.

"Raindrops" by Basement Jaxx
(from "Scars," Ultra Records, UK)
As mentioned in my first "Songs of 09" post, I came up with a rating system from 0-10 to help me assess my 2009 picks. "Raindrops" got the highest score of all, a 9. I guess that makes it my favorite song of 2009--I didn't even know! It is definitely so good that it makes me lead a double life. (This used to happen with "Born Slippy" from the Trainspotting soundtrack, which fueled my squalid bedsit Doc Marten-wearing existence in Leith--that was also purely imaginary.) "Raindrops" makes me want to be a young professional in a huge world-class city, doing highly intellectual work by day and then wining and dining and dancing all night. Basically, it makes me feel like a hottie. Almost needless to say, this was a huge summer song in my world--I think the the songs of the summer usually become the songs of the year.

Listen here on Stereogum, or visit the Basement Jaxx Web site.

I had a great 2009 by the way. The best year yet in some ways; I got into excellent shape physically and mentally, and grew into an adult confidence I'd never felt before. I already know 2010 is going to be different. I hope it's not worse--for any of us. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Best of '09: The remixes

I think these 4 remixes are among the best songs of 2009.

Day 'n' Nite (Crookers remix): Kid Cudi

This is the soundtrack to my imaginary club life. It is just a genius, genius piece of work. Who are these Crookers guys anyway? They are an Italian DJ duo (they've also done great stuff to Fever Ray's "Seven"). As with almost any remix, I don't know the original song because this IS the song to me. Day 'n' Nite is an excellent soundtrack for when you need to feel amped and wrap-around-shades cool, whether it's under the disco ball, behind the wheel, or running fast down a deserted country road with nothing but beats and birds alive around you.

Go here to listen (click "Stream").

Nadine (Memory Tapes version): Fool's Gold

What I know of Fool's Gold is that they are an afro-pop type outfit from LA. So it sounds like Memory Tapes did a lot of de-afro-popping with this song. It has an adorable little plinky piano (ding! ding! ding! ding-ding-ding-ding!) and a sweet-sounding chorus that is actually, amusingly, kind of a kiss-off ("Don't baaaaaare your soul.... to me-e-e-e-e-ee.") Also, sax solo and wind chimes above wonderful synth effects. Very very satisfying.

Go here to listen (click "Stream").

Can You Tell (The Kids are Radioactive remix): Ra Ra Riot

This song almost brought me to tears last month. I was having a "driveway moment," which is what NPR calls it when you get home and park, but leave the radio (in my case, iPod) on to finish listening. Basically I was wallowing in self-pity about my small-town treadmill life (which is actually lovely and nothing to complain about!) and thinking, "This song is so cool and so weird, and maybe all my cool and weird days are behind me and I will just become a housewife listening to Michael Bublé and not knowing that there is GOLD LIKE THIS out in the world." Please please please spare me from this fate.

Listen at The Kids Are Radioactive's MySpace page (click on Ra Ra Riot RMX).

Rock Off Shake Off remix: Rye Rye

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. BADADA. BADADA. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. BADADA. BADADA. If you don't mind a few swears and you need a great workout song, this is for you. Rock Off Shake Off is big sound and loaded with adrenaline and attitude. I find the remix/mashup with Daft Punk to be perfect and hilarious and seamless. I don't know who did the remixing--the N.E.E.T. label web site won't say. But go there and take a listen! (Click on Rock Off Shake Off remixes, there's only one.)

Best of 09: Jack Peñate and Phoenix

"Tonight's Today" by Jack Peñate
(from "Everything's New," label=XL Recordings, London, UK)
Remember that scene in "Romancing the Stone" where Kathleen Turner's buttoned-up and whiny character, Joan Wilder, literally lets her hair down, puts on some swirly, sexy clothes, and dances without a care at a village festival in a tiny Colombian town? This song makes me want to break out like that. It definitely has some sort of Latin shimmy going on, and the joyous "I'm ringin' church bells! church bells!" always gets stuck in my head. Plus you can hear a smidge of Jack Peñate's cute London accent. This song can appeal to generations I think--helping everyone from little kids to grandmothers let down their hair for 3 minutes.

Please take a listen at Jack Penate's MySpace page, or check out his Web site here.

"Lisztomania," by Phoenix
(from "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix," label=Loyauté/Glassnote, France)
When I first heard this song back in April I thought my head would explode. It was exactly what I'd been waiting for after worrying that 2009 wasn't going to stand up, musically, to 2008. What a silly fear. Lisztomania is a perfect pop song for me--80s vibe, good for running or dancing, plus any reference to Franz Liszt, the hardest working man in piano virtuoso show business, is automatically awesome. I will never tire of Lisztomania.

Listen at their MySpace page, or visit Phoenix's Web site here.

Best of 09: Animal Collective and Bibio

"Brother Sport" by Animal Collective
(from "Merriweather Post Pavilion," label=Domino, New York City)
Animal Collective has been compared to the Grateful Dead recently because I guess their shows involve a fair amount of improvisatory noodling (sometimes draping their electronic equipment in glowing sheets). Also, light shows. My very scientific system gave this song 6 points--including one Reason X point for having a memory attached. It was a gorgeous day in the late spring and we went to visit a baby new to the world. Celebratory sparkling wine was consumed, and important tennis personalities explained to me. The itunes was playing on the housewide stereo, and in the middle of our visit, "Brother Sport" came on. With the sun and the springtime and the baby and the novelty of lunch-time champagne, that moment got burned into my brain as a bright portrait... with a great soundtrack.

Take a listen at their MySpace page, or visit their Web site here.

"S'vive," by Bibio
(from "Ambivalence Avenue," label=Warp, England)
If you like the dense electronic sounds of Animal Collective, you might also like this song. There is a ton of stuff going on, and much of it is distorted and strange, but it works. Piercing chimes, mega-distorted slap bass, vocals edited so they stutter. It reminds me of Tomita, one guy being crazy creative with his machines.

Take a listen on Hype Machine, or visit Bibio's MySpace page.

Peace out

Hail to the return of the light.

And the rising of the sun.
And the running of the deer.
And the playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

Best of 09: Nina Dioz and Reverie Sound Revue

"Prefiero el Asfalto," by Niña Dioz
(from "Rudo y Cursi soundtrack," label=Nacional, Mexico)

Niña Dioz is a boss rapper from Mexico. She is, like, 24. I love the way she sounds in this song--confident, collected, cocky. (Also the fact that everything's in Spanish adds mystique.) The effects in this song are very cool, what I've admired elsewhere as a "wierd subterranean distorted robot voice," and also some accordion gives a nice little folky norteño sound. But only for a second--this song is definitely kickass hip-hop. (I want to see the movie that it's in!)

Take a listen at Niña Dioz's MySpace page.

"An Anniversary Away" by Reverie Sound Revue
(from "Reverie Sound Revue," label=Boompa, Canada)

This would be a soft ballad and totally not my type if it weren't for something going on with the drums. It gets propelled forward by a distinctly Canadian-sounding beat (it sounds Canadian to me anyway). I think it has to do with a theory that American audiences will clap on beat and Canadians clap off the beat. This percussion is all syncopated and incessant, but it drives the gorgeous atmospheric song rather than overpowering it. Please take a listen at Reverie Sound Revue's MySpace Page, or check out the band's Web site.

Or just check out the video:

Songs of 09: Röyksopp and Wild Beasts

"Happy Up Here" by Röyksopp
(from "Junior," label=Astralwerks, Norway)
This song works. It makes me happy. It makes me perk up. It also has some fine electronic things going on, including a sound that goes like "neeeee-oooooowwwww, neeeeee-oooooowwwwww, neeeee-oooooowwwww." Please take a listen! You can hear the song on their Web site, here. Also, once you fall totally in love with the original, check out the marching band version. My rating system gave this song a 4. Here is the space invaders video:

"All the King's Men" by Wild Beasts
(from "Two Dancers," label=Domino, Leeds, UK)

This song got a 3 rating. It has a lot of cool vocal stuff going on. First there is a friendly chanting sound--like if the 7 dwarves were crossed with the cast of the 1958 school-ship Cinemiracle film "Windjammer." There's also some crazy falsetto, which is always good. (Hello Morrissey.) And this is a song about girls, following in a fine, long tradition of songs about girls, including "Girls, Girls, Girls" (Mötley Crüe) and also "Girls" (Beastie Boys) as well as "The Girls" (Calvin Harris), which lists types of girls, and "To All the Girls" (Beastie Boys again), which lists where the girls are from. "All the King's Men" may be closest to the latter, with delightful lines about "girls from Roedean/girls from Shipley/girls from Hounslow/girls from Whitby." (I became particularly interested in girls from Hounslow, and as a result discovered that there is a Hounslow curry map should you be in Hounslow and need curry. But this is a separate issue.)

Listen to the song on the Wild Beasts Myspace page. Also visit their Web site; right now there are two completely different videos up for "All the King's Men," one by the band and one not (by the dance gang Little Stolen Moments). I kind of like the not one!

Songs of 09: Datarock and Bell X1

"True Stories" by Datarock
(from "Red"; label=Young Aspiring Professionals; Norway)

This song got a 3 according to my rating system. It gets a point for cool vocals, they make you want to sing-chant along. It gets a point for beeps/electronica, though it also has a very nice jangly guitar (a tiny touch of Afro-pop!). But the best thing, the thing that makes this a wonderful amazing song, is that all the lyrics are the names of Talking Heads songs. I'm serious! And it really works! Here's the chorus, for example:
Don’t Worry 'Bout The Government
The Democratic Circus
Cause Mommy Daddy You and I
Are Burning Down The House
Check out Datarock's Web site, or you can listen to "True Stories" on their Myspace page.

"The Great Defector," by Bell X1
(from "Blue Lights on the Runway"; label: Bellyup; Ireland)

This song gets a 4--partly because of another Talking Heads connection. Basically, the guy singing sounds exactly like David Byrne, and the rest of the song could pass for Byrne or Talking Heads too, which is to say it is very good. I like the lyrics (for example: "You are the chocolate at the end of my cornetto," and also a Steinbeck reference that any 10th-grader would be proud to spot)--one point there. There are a lot of interesting tracks going on, so I gave it a point for "layering." I think I even heard some cowbell. Also a point for being "pretty," mainly because there is more nice jangly guitar (Afro-pop!) and a pulsing bass-handclap thing that makes me want to jump up and down.

Visit Bell X1's Web site, or listen to "The Great Defector" on their myspace page.

2009 music rating system and jj

I've been working on my "Favorite Songs of 2009" list for way too long. Like since October. First, I was just making a list of songs I loved and wanted to hear over and over again. But that was a BIG LIST. Next I came up with a 3-category rating system where each song could get up to 5 points in the areas of music, lyrics/vocals, and artistry/gestalt. However most songs were getting 10-15 points. I needed a better evaluation tool.

Next I came up with a 10-point system based on questions. If I can answer "yes" to a question, the song gets a point. This worked out much better, giving me more believable scores ranging from 3 to 9. (I like this better than 10-15 because "5" can be the dividing line between the really good and the truly great.) Here are the questions:

1. Can you run to it/Does it make you want to dance?
2. Is it pretty and harmonious?
3. Does it perk me up and improve my mood a notch?
4. Reason X: Do I have a specific happy memory about it or extra reason to love it?
5. Does it have satisfying beeps and electronic noises?
6. Does it have a lot of good layering/tracks going on?
7. Does it have an interesting/different bridge or other big change somewhere?
8. Does it have a dramatic build or suspenseful bit that is very satisfying?
9. Does it have cool vocals?
10. Does it have awesome lyrics?

Here is one of my choices for Best Songs of 2009. It got a 3.

"From Africa to Málaga," by jj
(label=sincerely yours, sweden)

This song kept almost falling off my list completely, and then I'd get it stuck in my head again. It is very swoony and melodic, so gets a point for being "pretty." It also gets a "Reason X" point for being Swedish, because I am fascinated by Swedish pop and think it should all get an extra star. But what really put this one in the "Best Of" category are the lyrics. Imagine these sung like a gorgeous ballad, like a pretty little love song:

"The thought that you found takes you to town,
Smashes your face, burns out your heart,
Then you go home and turn it into art."
"No matter how dumb you are, you eventually rise.
If not today, then maybe tomorrow..."

You can listen to--and also buy--this song here.

Easy egg rolls at home

Did you know you can make your own egg rolls at home? I just found this out. If you have some egg roll wrappers and a quantity of boiling oil, you are good to go. I found my recipe on the cardboard insert in a package of Nasoya egg roll wraps. It basically involves browning ground pork (except I used turkey this time) and adding shredded cabbage, shredded carrot, scallions and ginger. It also calls for oyster sauce but I didn't have any--hoisin sauce did quite nicely. After cooking and cooling the filling, I followed the diagram for assembling the egg rolls.

Lay out the wrapper with a point facing away from you.

Place about 2 T filling in a line across the widest point of the wrapper.

Fold the point nearest you over the filling.

Fold in both sides. Wet the remaining far corner with water so it will seal.

Roll the whole thing up (away from you) so it creates a sealed egg roll.
Repeat with more wrappers until filling is gone.

Heat oil to 350˚. I used cheapo vegetable oil in a very small pan.

When heated, add your egg rolls. I did 3 at a time.

Fry, turning with tongs, until browned. This took 3-4 minutes.
Remove and drain on a paper towel.


The recipe says to serve with ketchup and mustard or with sweet & sour sauce. Those all sounded odd to me so I made my own sauce: 2 parts tamari, 1 part hoisin sauce, 1 part water. Nice and salty and tangy. Being deep-fried seem to keep the egg rolls hot for a long time (so I didn't have to hold them in the oven while finishing frying, for example). They are excellent and were wolfed down by the whole family!

Late Fall Music Roundup

Here's another bunch of playlists from my weekly radio show, Beef Jerky Time. A few comments:

The Tutankamon and Fruit Bats songs in the 11/11 show are both so Allman Brothers Band!

I'm happy Thao with the Get Down Stay Down have a new album out ("Know Better Learn Faster"). Thao et al. were a memorable part of my 2008.

Fanfarlo and also Ra Ra Riot are on deck for becoming my next obsessions. What I've heard so far is great great stuff and I want more. Please leave a comment if you know more about these 2! (If you're reading this before Christmas '09, go check out Fanfarlo's Advent Calendar on their homepage!)

OMG, new stuff from Yeasayer?! I am still so in love with their song "2080" from 2+ years ago.

I am sorry Alela Diane, but a song called "Pieces of String" will only ever remind me of Monty Python.

The 11/18 show was largely picked by my iTunes. It kept coming up with good stuff and I kept writing it down. I mean, Beck! It's been so long!

I'm glad I managed to get one album from each year of the '00s in the "Albums of the Naughties" show (12/2). I didn't plan it that way. It just worked out. (Here's my "official list" of 00s albums.)

  • Perro Loco: Forro in the Dark
  • El Tigeraso (Sticky K remix): Maluca
  • Total Babe: Barebones
  • Don't Dance: Hot Chip
  • When We Swam: Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
  • Are You Sure: Tutankamon
  • The Ruminant Band: Fruit Bats
  • Miles from Minnesota: Lower 48
  • Hands: The Dutchess & the Duke
  • Little Pieces: The Parlour Steps
  • Ambling Alp: Yeasayer
  • I'm a Pilot: Fanfarlo
  • A House is Not a Home: Miike Snow
  • Pieces of String: Alela Diane

  • New Mate: Figurine
  • The Argument: The Sea & Cake
  • World Price of Love: New Order
  • Wet & Rusting: Menomena
  • Tropicalia: Beck
  • Pac Man Fever: Sprites
  • Visions/Nobody Lost, Nobody Found: Cut Copy
  • Can You Tell (The Kids Are Radioactive remix): Ra Ra Riot
  • Nadine (Memory Tapes version): Fool's Gold
  • First Train Home: Imogen Heap

  • Alouette!: Tallest Trees
  • Blood: The Middle East
  • Careful with that Hat: Citay
  • Crumbling Land: Pink Floyd
  • This Corrosion: Sisters of Mercy
  • Basic Space: The XX
  • You Cried Me: Jookabox
  • Hope Is a Drug: Gavin Castleton
  • Sound of Silver: LCD Soundsystem
  • War on War: Wilco
  • The Smallest Weird Number: Boards of Canada

12*2*09, in this show I explored "Albums of the Naughties"
  • Crawlspace: Beastie Boys (To the 5 Boroughs, 2004)
  • Float On: Modest Mouse (Good News for People Who Like Bad News, 2004)
  • Over & Over: Hot Chip (The Warning, 2006)
  • Milkshake: Kelis (Tasty, 2003)
  • Stillness is the Move: Dirty Projectors (Bitte Orca, 2009)
  • The Underdog: Spoon (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, 2007)
  • Lost Cause: Beck (Sea Change, 2002)
  • Counting Stars on the Ceiling: Stars (Nightsongs, 2000)
  • Old School Joint: Missy Elliott (Miss E... So Addictive, 2001)
  • Campus: Vampire Weekend (Vampire Weekend, 2008)
  • Last Living Souls: Gorillaz (Demon Days, 2005)
  • Hotel Song: Regina Spektor (Begin to Hope, 2005)

Almost Winter Brownie Experiment

I saw someone make brownies from scratch recently and it looked unnecessarily complicated. How can it be that hard? I'M gonna make brownies, I thought. We'll see how easy this really is.

I made this rash decision while standing in the store without a recipe. I figured I had everything I needed at home except the chocolate. My choices were bittersweet (or is it unsweetened?) baking chocolate or chips, semi-sweet chocolate or chips, or Dutch process cocoa powder. I decided to go for the latter because it sounded exotic. I mean, it's DUTCH, right?! A small bag (about 1.5 cups) cost around $3.50.

I got home and checked ValleyWriter's brownie recipes, but it turns out she uses semi-sweet chips. Gah! Next I googled. That is how I found Best Cocoa Brownies at epicurious. This is it, I thought.

Then the madness began. First, you're supposed to put a heatproof bowl in a skillet of barely simmering water. I have a gas stove, so how is this different than putting a heatproof bowl directly on the gas? (It just sits on the bottom of the skillet, right over the flame. Then the barely simmering water starts evaporating fast because it's in such a wide container. I almost wished I owned a microwave, even though microwaving is not in the recipe.)

Next, melt and stir the mixture until it is smooth and almost too hot to touch. I liked this step because I kept having to put my finger in the chocolate to test it. Then I'd lick it off. Except this got tiresome after the stuff REFUSED to heat up. I had preheated my oven by this time, so I decided to cheat and stick the bowl in the oven for 5 minutes. The mixture never did get smooth (that is, the sugar I used never melted, but was still crunchy even after the oven). Whatever.

Next step. That would be to... wait. I was bad at this part too. I was supposed to wait until the mixture was cool enough that it wouldn't scramble the 2 cold eggs I was adding. Instead, I decided that if I stirred really really quickly, the eggs wouldn't even have time to scramble. This worked to some extent. What little scrambling I did see was quickly stirred out of existence. Finally I added the flour and beat it 40 more times, per the recipe.

Then into the foil-lined pan (for easy dislodging of the super-dense brownies). Notice that other than eggs, there is no leavening in this recipe. The result is like one of those flourless death-by-chocolate cakes. I was supposed to bake it until a toothpick in the middle was still a bit sticky. I baked it an extra five minutes because it just seemed TOO sticky.

The result--super-dark brownie-shaped chocolate bombs. The ones toward the middle of the pan had the pudding-like vibe mentioned in the recipe notes. The ones toward the outside were a tiny bit cakier (i.e., cooked through more). I kind of wish this recipe had used a double boiler and, um, a blender. But the brownies were not bad. Not bad at all. Please just make sure you have about 90 minutes to bake in, plus 2+ hours of cooling time!

Fried Polenta with Marinara sauce

I discovered the local food coop has bulk polenta. It's cheap and easy, 2 of my favorite themes in cooking. The directions are to boil it with water and salt for 20 minutes, then add butter/oil and parmesan and either eat or cool. I like to cool it in a greased pie pan, then fry it up in wedges as a side dish. For example if you have some very fancy mushrooms, you could cook them up in a cream sauce (maybe add sherry?) and serve it over the crispy polenta wedges.

However, I started getting complaints. I guess the wedge thing looks a little overwhelming to some family members. (I like to stack them up so they look all pointy and modern.) I even got a joking threat that polenta may have to be banned. Obviously this calls for what I will call the "Raising Arizona" technique: deployment of funny shapes.

I used dinosaur, hippo, pig, heart and star
cookie cutters to make pleasing polenta pieces.

The assembly is simple--heat a jar of your favorite marinara sauce. Fry polenta in a non-stick pan until both sides are browned and crisp. Serve polenta sprinkled with parmesan with the sauce on the side. Add a salad that has some nuts or cheese in it for protein, and dinner is ready.

Ginger-sesame baked tofu

I've been making this protein for years, it is very easy. The only problem is that after the tofu is baked, it takes on candy-like qualities and it's hard to stop eating. Be prepared to pace yourself.

  • 3 blocks firm or extra-firm tofu (I get it in bulk--maybe a pound?)
  • 4+ cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce

  1. Cut the tofu into bite-sized chunks.
  2. Put it in a container with all the other ingredients. Make sure there is some head-room so you can shake things around.
  3. Marinate for at least 12 hours. Whenever you remember, give it a gentle shake or turn to distribute the flavors.
  4. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425˚. Oil a large baking dish with a little more toasted sesame oil, and pour in the marinated tofu. Arrange in a single layer.
  5. Bake about half an hour, turning after 15 minutes. I like it to be browned and sizzly.

Do cool before serving because these little chunks get very hot. We had this with some fried red cabbage (I added a dash of hoisin sauce and some sesame seeds) and a box of sesame-ginger rice mix. (Whoa! I hardly ever buy those boxes, but bulk rice costs $1 a scoop these days and I didn't have time to make our usual batch of brown rice. Excuses, excuses.)

More evidence I am not a food photographer.
(I know, I need lighting. It's "realistic" though, right?)

Top 10 albums of the naughties

So it's started--critics and pundits and tastemakers and hipsters are starting to list their top 10 or 20 or 50 or 200 albums of the 00s. Whatever you call this decade that is drawing to a close. I prefer the "naughties," and because I write about music here sometimes, I made a list myself.

To be very clear, these are my personal Top 10 and not an objective selection. I am limited by several key factors, one being that I don't own very many albums from this decade. If I don't own it, I don't feel that I can safely include it. So albums that I suspect might be very fine (such as Speakerboxxx/Lovesounds, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Kala or †) are not here because I've never heard them from start to finish or lived with them for weeks and weeks.

Another criteria is that I have to like most of the album for it to make this list. So while I considered MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, I only like 3 songs on it so I can't really hold it up as a great album. And I can't just like the idea of the album ("OMG, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix!"). I have to actually like the real album, every day. I have to be willing to listen to it from start to finish without rolling my eyes, without getting up to forward a track, without even really noticing it's on, because it's so good it just becomes part of my day.

Here's the list in no particular order.

Cut Copy: In Ghost Colours
If it were still the 80s, Australia's Cut Copy would be right up there with Duran Duran and The Cure and New Order in my personal pantheon of pop. If these names mean anything to you, maybe you love Cut Copy too. Because it is 20 years later, they seem all the more amazing. How do they get that pure electronic pop sound when the pure electronic pop era is so far away? This album rocked my world for most of 2008, then had a second life in 2009 when I discovered that many of the tracks are great for running. Favorite songs: So Haunted, Far Away, Lights and Music, Hearts on Fire, Out There on the Ice. The sound just makes me want to go to a high school dance and then ignore everyone because I am, like, too goth.

Gorillaz: Demon Days
Oh how long I resisted the Gorillaz concept. Damon Albarn, sure, cool. Imaginary animated band by the Tank Girl guy, also cool. But I didn't get swept away until 2005, when the local Adult Album Alternative station started playing Kids with Guns all the time. Almost every song on Demon Days is excellent and a standout, and some are also insane. I love that Shaun Ryder (to me, the voice of Black Grape) takes over "DARE." The only thing that makes me crazy is the one with Dennis Hopper talking ("Fire Coming Out of a Monkey's Head") which I have UNCHECKED in my iTunes so I never have to hear it again. Otherwise, top notch, never boring. Favorites: Tracks 1-12

Stars: Nightsongs
This 2001 album changed my life. I first heard Stars on a couple compilations, probably from Darla. One was a cover of "This Charming Man" (whaa-at!? but amazing!). The other was called "The Very Thing" and a rather depressing story of a dad taking his kid out to the park and thinking about his failed relationships. Listening to "The Very Thing" is like eavesdropping on some guy's pathetic interior monologue, his thoughts are banal and crude but also noble and beautiful. I snapped up the whole album next and it does not disappoint. Stars makes me feel like it's OK to feel smart and depressed and romantic and superior... sometimes. I guess Stars are some kinda Canadian super-duper-stars now, but I'll always remember them playing to an audience of 20 or so at T.T.'s in Cambridge. They gave us a great show, then I bugged Chris Seligman at the bar afterwards and said totally idiotic things to Torquil Campbell. Hooray! Other great tracks: My Radio (AM Mix), My Radio (FM Mix), Toxic Holiday, Going, Going, Gone, Counting Stars on the Ceiling

Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
I like what everybody else likes about 2008's Vampire Weekend I suppose--the slight tinge of afro-pop, the relentlessly bright sound, and the saucy lyrics about Mansard roofs and Oxford commas and Benneton. Listening to this album makes me feel like I am living in Whit Stillman's Metropolitan: home from college, sweater sets, dances, rich parents and weekend escapes to Long Island even when the weather is not that great, just cuz all your friends are out there too and you'll probably play some more charades while drinking peach wine coolers just because they're left over in the fridge. Favorites: The Kids Don't Stand a Chance, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, Bryn, Campus, A-Punk, M79

The Strokes: Is This It?
I heard about this album through pure hype. Every magazine I picked up in that part of 2001 managed to mention it. Every celebrity interviewed said they were listening to it. It could not be avoided. And for excellent reason: Is This It? is 35 minutes of rock & roll, all rejuvenated and loud and New York-y and playing actual instruments and Not-Anything-Like-Britney-Thank-Heavens. It's so short there's hardly a point in having favorite songs. Just play the whole thing.

Gwen Stefani: Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
I guess this is a guilty pleasure. It is, like the name of Gwen Stefani's second solo album, just a sweet escape. It's not, for me, some musical revelation or pop masterpiece. But this 2004 disc is damn catchy and there is no denying that "Hollaback Girl" is hilariously awesome. I also love "The Real Thing" because it sounds exactly like New Order... then I learned Gwen hired New Order to make it sound that way. Nice! I guess what I like about L.A.M.B. is its clear debt to New Wave and also early Madonna. It got me through a lot of weeding the summer of 2005, when I lived on a farm and went out into the fields with my discman (!) to help out. Other favorites: Harajuku Girls, What You Waiting For?, Bubble Pop Electric, Danger Zone, Crash

Beastie Boys: To the 5 Boroughs
For me, one difference between this decade and the previous one is that in this decade I did not listen to the Beastie Boys every single day. I did not see them live, not once. I did not memorize all the lyrics to each and every release. I guess, like they did, I kind of grew up a little. They had kids and got more private and more political. I started a family too, and stopped arm-wrestling people in bars (mostly). That said, I still really really like To the 5 Boroughs, released in 2004. It has all the great rhymes and rhythms you'd expect from the 3 MCs. And killer liberal lyrics like "Maybe it's time that we impeach Tex" from "Time to Build" or "We got the power to make a difference" from "We Got The." They haven't really changed, but I guess I have. Or is it the other way around? I LIKE this album, but I am not RABID about it like I would have been in the 90s. Still, it's Them and I'm putting it on the list. Other fave songs: All Lifestyles, Crawlspace, An Open Letter to NYC

Kleenex Girl Wonder: After Mathematics
So Kleenex Girl Wonder is just genius. I guess it's partly the myth that everything from KGW is actually the brain child of one person, Graham Smith, even though KGW was a real touring band before they broke up in 2003 (so Wikipedia tells me). It makes Graham Smith seem like Prince--he plays every instrument, creates so many different-sounding songs, writes great lyrics, and is only, like, 20!! The main thing I like about 2002's After Mathematics is just that I can listen to it start to finish and it's all good. They're just simple songs, but each deliciously twisted somehow, whether it's musical distortions or swear words, it's hard to know what to expect. Especially good: Why I Write Such Good Songs, Ain't a Damned Thing Changed, No Melody, I Was a Serving Wench at a Themed Restaurant, Amelia

Missy Elliott: Miss E... So Addictive
It really is addictive. Missy Elliott's 2001 disc has tremendous attitude and is unabashed about liking things like sex and drugs. It's got anthems ("Lick Shots"), ballads, funk jams ("Old School Joint"), club bangers ("4 My People"), insta-classics ("Get Ur Freak On") and just raw funny stuff ("Slap! Slap! Slap!" and "One Minute Man"). I think this is a "best of" contender because whenever one of these songs pops up on my random mix, I always enjoy it and never turn it off. So Addictive is a keeper.

Regina Spektor: Begin to Hope
This one surprises me, but I think the numbers will show that I listen to this album a lot more than I would admit. What's my problem, you ask? Well I usually don't like acoustic-type stuff by "chick singers," or "singer-songwriters" or whatever. Especially red-heads with pianos. Things can get so estrogen-y and earnest. I like the bizarre and the synthetic better. But Regina Spektor's 2006 release is pretty bizarre when you listen carefully. She is a great pianist and has a beautiful soprano voice. Some of the songs are heartbreakingly pretty. But she is not afraid to sing something about "a little bag of cocaine" (Hotel Song) or about "Hey remember that time when I would only smoke Camels" (That Time) or to make the word "heart" 13 syllables long (that's "ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-heart," from "Fidelity). She also sings in Russian, mentions "November Rain," quotes Louis XV, and steals piano vamps from Chopin. I like very much. Other favorites: Better, Samson, On the Radio, Après Moi, 20 Years of Snow