While Coney Island's distractions are many -- especially the ancient Cyclone rollercoaster, for which one SPIN editor made at least two detours -- there's always plenty of incentive to stay glued to the annual Siren Festival's dueling stages, and the 2009 installment was no exception. These four performances stood out as the best of this year's wild ride.
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1) The RaveonettesWhat They Sounded Like: An impassive, surf-noir bitch-slap that felt like a kiss.
Why They Were Great: For all its beer-belching, rollercoaster-spewing, boardwalk-grimy splendor, Siren Fest 2009 seriously lacked for don't-touch-me-you-peons rock-star charisma, and the Raveonettes' singer-guitarist duo of Sune Rose Wagner (defiantly fey in distressed Madonna t-shirt and fedora) and Sharin Foo (toweringly majestic in a ruffly black dress and heels) filled that void -- seemingly without spilling a bead of sweat. Especially on closers "Aly, Walk with Me" and "Twilight," the duo, along with a drummer and bassist, never adjusted their sunglasses or wavered in their mission to turn the mild ocean breeze into a blast of deathly cool fuzz. -- Charles Aaron, Music Editor
2) JapandroidsWhat They Sounded Like: Anthemic power pop -- with pleasing distortion
Why They Were Great: In the shadeless stretch of Coney Island where Siren was held, the competing charms of shade, beer, and the Cyclone meant bands had to be extra special to earn my attention. But for an hour on the main stage, Japandroids turned America's (former) Playground into their gig -- nothing more, nothing less. Trading vocal duties, Vancouverites Brian King (guitar) and David Prowse (drums) zapped the standard rock themes -- girls, alienation, feeling alienated from girls -- with fresh energy. The lanky, curly-haired King hopped and flailed all over the stage while pumping out thickly chiming chords high up on the neck of the guitar. Prowse's arms churned like he was paid per riff. It all came together in a sound that fit catchy, yelping melodies into arrangements bursting with both Who-esque grandeur and punkish vigor. When the duo was done, I beelined for shade and beer -- but not a moment before. -- David Marchese, Associate Editor
3) Micachu & the ShapesWhat They Sounded Like: The precocious but underprivileged offspring of Beck and Sonic Youth.
Why They Were Great: When this East London trio took the stage, some had to wonder where these near-children came from, and whether their instruments had just been won somewhere in Coney Island's maze of carnival games. But from that clunky, teentsy guitar, which hung from her neck on thin stretch of white rope, Mica Levi coaxed copious amounts of pop perfection, giving shape to Raisa Khan's noisy bursts of glitchy keyboards and Mark Pell's skittish drum fills. My ride with the Shapes was both heady and easy to consume -- and had no height requirement. -- Peter Gaston, Interactive Director
4) A Place to Bury StrangersWhat They Sounded Like: Waves of shoegaze noise born of My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain.
Why They Were Great: A Place to Bury Strangers played music you can really feel -- and by that I'm talking about sheer skull rattling volume. Oliver Ackermann led the aural assault, his guitar squalls fighting an epic battle with a thumping rhythm section trying valiantly to force a beat into the mayhem.This is a man who takes his noise seriously, fine-tuning waves of reverb with various effects as only a guitar-pedal manufacturer (which he also is) could.And when he destroyed his guitar at the end of the set, it wasn't a cocky display of frontman bravado, but just another essential sonic expression. -- Ray Padgett, SPIN.com intern