Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Via Chicago's Top 10 (+1) of 2008

I know the general critical opinion is that this was a weaker year for music, and while I don’t disagree, it was a year I really enjoyed. Between this blog and my eMusic, I ended up listening to a lot of new music, and for the first time in a few years actually felt clued in to what the hip kids were listening to. Of course, that said, my top 3 from last year all would have faired mighty well this year, so maybe it wasn’t the strongest, but there was a lot to love in 2008. Namely…

10. (tie) Dr. Dog - Fate
Lame to have a tie, but I just couldn’t bear to leave either of these off my list. I was actually all set to have this fall off and be #11, but Tex posting that clip reminded me that a) this album is awesome, and b) I think these guys are making a really unique sound in today’s music scene and I love it. These guys play their hearts out with emotion – I’m totally with Tex that they have the potential to be seriously great.

10. (tie) – Marnie Stern – This Is It...I already summed up some of my thoughts on her, but she makes a truly jaw dropping wall of sound that is just insanely powerful – almost too powerful as the album is hard to listen to as a whole. But in a year that I explored a lot of feedback, fuzz, and crazy guitar, this was the highlight.

9. Mike Patton – A Perfect Place
Patton is hit and miss, and that sloppiness is a huge part of his charm to me. Here, he hits in a big way with a very concise, tight collection of moody pieces. Some are songs, some are just movie ambience, but it all comes together tightly. I also love the way he creates a nice, simple musical theme, and then toys with it throughout the album with different instrumentation, moods, etc.

8. Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
I have little else to say, except that I think time will be kind to this album, and that is what sets it apart from your T-Pains of the world.

7. Dosh – Wolves and Wishes
As I mentioned before, I wasn’t so into this album when it first came out, despite Tex’s recommendation. But seeing him live really made the sounds pop for me and made it all come clear. Like all noise rock, this is not brilliant from top to bottom, but the great moments that come through (“Wolves” in particular) really shine.

6. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
Full of great, BIG sounds, and ending with a 10 minute song where the yell “Fire in the hole!” repeatedly. Yeah, that sounds like something I would indeed like…

5. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
I went through an odd trajectory with this album. First time I heard one of their songs, I hated it. Then I discovered it was lodged in my head and I wanted to hear it again, so I bought the album and listened to it non-stop in early summer. Then I stopped and had no interest in listening again. But I picked it up again to re-evaluate for this list and screw it, this thing is great. What really strikes me is the great sense of urgency on this album. For an allegedly laid back album, the pace is remarkably fast and almost punkish, made all the better by the unbelievably tight playing. Will they have longevity? Maybe not, but I bet they’ll have more than Fleet Foxes.

4. Bonnie Prince Billy – Lie Down in the Light
So, so good, and better every single time I listen. At first listen this got an OK for me, but then I kind of ignored it. Picked it back up and thought “Oh this will probably make my top 10” and with every listen it moves farther up. Who knows – if I revisit this list in a year I might say “Why on earth didn’t I make that my #1?”

3. Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
I’m just counting these as one album because (aside from being sold as one) they make such a complete package. With Microcastle they really invest more in exploring actual songs with actual rocking out, with the album (and their career so far) reaching an epic peak on “Nothing Ever Happens”. Then Weird Era is this sort of long form extended coda where they just embrace the shoegazing noise rock and let the mood wash over them. Beautiful stuff.

2. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Real Emotional Trash
For the majority of the year this was my #1 and it’s getting totally overlooked and screwed in year end lists. Did it just come out too early? Prior to this one, all the Malkmus solo stuff made me say “Man Pavement was awesome”, but this one stands on its own. I love the way they push into these crazy almost, dare I say, prog rock song structures. Both “Hopsctoch Willie” and “Baltimore” and standouts, but the real highlight is “Real Emotional Trash” – when the big guitar vamp finally bursts through it’s just a sublime moment of genius.

1. Guns ‘n Roses – Chinese Democracy
I was a little hesitant about making this my #1 for some reason, but it’s the album I most looked forward to this year, it completely delivered, and it is, to me, the definitive album of 2008. What more do you need? How about ridiculously awesome hooks, massive guitar solos, huge ballads, Axl Rose lunacy… this sucker has it all. As we’ve been discussing the Max v. Min theories, this is pretty clearly one of the most maximum albums of all time. Like Use Your Illusion, it reaches for the stars in a way no single other album did this year, and while it occasionally falls short, that ambition combined with the number of times it hits its goals make this my clear cut #1.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A.C. Newman - Get Guilty

Having heard the new A.C. Newman album, this is already a strong contender for next year's list...

Dr. K's Odds 'n' Ends of 2008

All right, here's some of my favorite songs of 2008 (from albums that didn't fully do it for me) for your listening pleasure:

N.E.R.D. - "Sooner Or Later"

Raphael Saadiq - "Oh Girl" (I can only find a 30 second clip of this one, but trust me, it's worth your 99 cents.)

Nas - "Queens Get The Money"

Michael Franti & Spearhead - "Say Hey (I Love You)"

Bon Iver - "Skinny Love"

Weezer - "The Angel and the One"

Santogold - "Lights Out"

Nada Surf - "I Wanna Take You Home" (This one was only on the bonus CD! Idiots.)

Ne-Yo - "Miss Independent"

"Wings" - "Love Take Me Down (To The Streets)" (from the movie "Role Models")

Brian Wilson - "Live Let Live"

I also loved "Single Ladies" as much as anyone, but I'm assuming y'all don't need a stream of that, since it probably plays in your head on a 24-hour loop.

Dr. Kittybrains' Favorite Albums of 2008

I hafta admit I've been taking a backseat lately. I didn't have much to add to the 'Chinese Democracy' debate - I've never cared about G'N'R very much, and although I kind of enjoyed the album, it didn't really convert me to the ranks of the faithful.

My indifference to Axl notwithstanding, I enjoyed a lot of records in 2008, many of which seemed to get overlooked in the year-end wrap-ups I've been seeing. I'm including my favorite albums here, with a separate post to follow covering my favorite singles and album tracks from CDs not listed below.

Flight of the Conchords - s/t
I haven't seen this on a single top 10 list, but this is actually a tuneful, funny, well-produced collection of songs, and it had a tremendous amount of replay value for me.

Adele - 19
Forget Duffy... the REAL young British sensation this year is Adele, who blew me away when I saw her performance of the brilliant "Chasing Pavements" on SNL this fall. The entire album rises to the level of that song - and she was only 19 when she recorded this... she really writes and plays. Plus, I like that she's a little zaftig - I like singers who look like real people, y'know?

Al Green - Lay It Down
Stephen King had this one right... the fact that ?uestlove's production captures the warm 70s vibe of Green's classic records wouldn't matter if the songs weren't fantastic, but they are. Every last one of them.

Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple
Maybe it's "Crazy" backlash? I thought that The Odd Couple was stronger start-to-finish than St. Elsewhere and that's saying something. Take a listen to this brilliant song and production that you probably haven't heard:

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
"What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me." Here's a track that doesn't get any airplay, but it's the sort of lush Kanye production that made Common's Finding Forever my top pick last year:

Passing Strange - Original Broadway Cast Recording
Quinapalus' inclusion of In The Heights reminded me of how much I loved this show, which I saw both off- and on Broadway, with its incredible score by singer/songwriter Stew. Enjoy the track below - if you love it as much as I do, you owe it to yourself to listen to the whole thing end-to-end.

Beck - Modern Guilt
Danger Mouse does it again... brilliant production, brilliant songs from Beck... a brisk listen that gets better with repeated plays.

Patton Oswalt - Werewolves and Lollipops
Funniest comedy CD in years. Get it. Seriously. Everyone.

Randy Newman - Harps and Angels
One of my all-time favorites does it again. Here's the masterpiece/centerpiece, which Tex was quoting:

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
I don't know what to say about this except I thought this was an example of fantastic songwriting and production throughout, and this is the first (and still only) album of theirs that I've really enjoyed. Go figure, but I love this. My current favorite:

The Hereafter - It Doesn't Matter Why It Is, It Doesn't Matter If It's Wrong
He may be a friend of ours, but almost nothing else released last year touched me as deeply or made me laugh as much as this "audio book of four novellas". Catchy, weird and beautiful.
Stream the entire album HERE.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tex Plush's Top 13 of 2008

13. The Broken West - Now or Heaven
The hooks are plentiful, the songs are well-written, and the beats ride that nice line between electronic and acoustic underneath up-tempo jangly guitar-pop. Though my frustration with the quality of writing in the AV Club continues, this was one recommendation they made in 2008 that I am grateful for.

12. The Sea and Cake - Car Alarm

Listening to TSAC to me is in some ways like The Band - I can focus on any one player in the mix and have a revelatory listening experience, yet they all come together into a totally unique blend. You already know if you like this band. If you do, don't miss this record.

11. Dr. Dog - Fate
Their vocal harmonies in concert are fucking outstanding. I see big things for these guys if they keep on their current trajectory.

10. Sun Kil Moon - April
If you've tried to be a fan of Mark Kozelek in the past and it never worked out, don't listen to this album. If you've ever loved a Red House Painters album or a Sun Kil Moon record, April is up there with the best of them. It definitely feels more to me like old school RHP with all its sprawl, rather than the more efficient sensibilities of Ghosts Of The Great Highway. But as long as you're not in a hurry, the hypnotic tension Kozelek builds during his verses always pays off when he unexpectedly hits the chorus. And when those electrics finally chime in - never has a three guitar attack been so soothing and mind-bending at the same time.

9. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Vol. 1 (World War 4)

8. Blitzen Trapper - Furr

7. Randy Newman - Harps and Angels

No artist makes me laugh out loud the way Randy Newman does. He is STILL at the top of his game. This record was sorely overlooked this year by the establishment.
Favorite line: "You know, it pisses me off that the Supreme Courts gonna out live me. Couple young Italian fellows and a brother on the court now too. But I defy you, anywhere in the world to find me two Italians as tight assed as the the two Italians we got. And as for the brother, well, Pluto's not a planet any more neither."

6. Mates of State - Rearrange Us
Their most mature, best sounding, most diversely orchestrated album to date. Though it drops off a little in the 2nd half, it's the catchiest, sweetest and most optimistic pop record of the year. I've never been a huge fan of these guys, but this time they hit it out of the park.

5. Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter III

I've never listened to a hip hop album as much as I listened to Tha Carter III. His voice and flow is one of a kind and I never get tired of hearing it, specially sandwiched btw the hottest R and B hooks this side of R. Kelly. Funny thing, I have a feeling that Q and I have completely different favorite tracks on this disc....

4. Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy

3. Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs

2. Bon Iver - To Emma, Forever Ago

In hindsight, I guess I'm not surprised that no one really responded when I posted a track from this album a while back. It definitely requires a certain mood to be appreciated, maybe even a certain kind of weather or a particular time of night or early morning. I'm a little bit fascinated by the way some albums have stories connected to them that become part of their mystique and can help communicate that particular atmosphere they need in order to be appreciated. Yes, such stories also serve as marketing, and I guess that is the other part of me that likes them- the part of me that appreciates shrewd business sense. For Emma is a perfect example of how one of those stories dovetails with an albums mood: Justin Vernon's band broke up. His relationship ended too. So he retreated to an isolated cabin in the Wisconsin woods for a long, lonely winter, and he produced this album. He ended the winter with what he thought was a decent demo. What he actually came out of the woods with was the most beautiful sounding record of the year. The emotion just drips from the speakers.

1. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Lie Down In The Light
After a string of records that sounded like the work of a warmed-over corpse, Will Oldham got his groove back in the year 2008. No matter when I put this album on this year, it never failed to make me feel more connected to myself, to nature, to my family, to my girlfriend, to life and to death. That's a motherfucking tall order, if you ask me. This album is so meaningful and earnest, yet never heavy and it retains a loose, communal back porch jam feel throughout. I'm tempted to give all the credit to Mark Nevers, whose production is a revelation for Oldham's music. The instruments breath in space, and on almost every track there are new, surprising, yet perfect instrumental additions, whether it be a honky tonk piano, a clarinet, a chorus of horns or a hammond organ. No Bonnie "Prince" Billy album has felt this alive in years, and none have EVER felt this joyful. Oldham is actually singing his heart out and it is just gorgeous. In a year of transition and stress, Lie Down In The Light was just what I needed.

Tex Plush's 2008 Odds and Ends

I will post my Top 13 (sorry, i couldn't help it) in just a little bit.

But first......

The Guiltiest of Pleasures:
Fall Out Boy - Folie A Deux
The fact of the matter is, if you can get past the heavy-handed production values, the too-clever lyrics and the taunting from your girlfriend, these songs are undeniably catchy and poptastic. Fall Out Boy is only here to entertain you, and that is exactly what they do if you're a fan of sugary sweet power pop. Pluses: There is literally a hook every 15 seconds; hilariously incongruous guest stars keep popping up, like Elvis Costello, Lil Wayne and Debbie Harry; they engage in genre-hopping that can be genuinely surprising and fun. Recommended for listening to at the gym or whenever you need to impress (or mortify) your 14 year old cousin.

Best Reissue:
Pavement - Brighten The Corners
The most underrated Pavement album gets the deluxe reissue treatment, like all the others before it. Almost didn't go in for it this time, but boy am I glad I did. Fuck the haters. So many great outtakes and rarities here, enough that BTC becomes a triple album with all the weirdness and variety of Wowee Zowee. The biggest revelation for me after not hearing this in years was Type Slowly- a total fucking masterpiece of a song. wow. Though Transport Is Arranged is brilliant too. This reminds me why Pavement is still in my top 5 bands of all time.

Best Songs:

Single Ladies - Beyonce
Hang On - Dr. Dog
Strange Overtones - David Byrne and Brian Eno
Chasing Pavements - Adele
What Never Comes - Crooked Fingers
The Tears and Music of Love - Deerhoof
Whatever You Like - TI
Live Your Life - TI (feat. Rhianna)
Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight - The Fireman (Paul McCartney and Youth)
Better - GN'R
Mexico City - Jolie Holland
Ruler - Marnie Stern
Scare Easy - Mudcrutch
Living The Dream - Sloan
In The New Year - The Walkmen

Honorable Mention:
The Week That Was
Menahan Street Band
David Byrne and Brian Eno
Fleet Foxes
Frightened Rabbit
Gaslight Anthem
Jamie Lidell
Tallest Man On Earth
Wye Oak

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Eric's Odds n Ends

Odds and Ends:
As I indicated in my halfhearted top ten list, I was much more into older music this year. That’s always the case, but was especially so when my collection grew so much. Eg, I went from having four Prince albums to having every single one from his debut up through Emancipation, rarely for more than $3 a disc.

Best Reissues:

Great year for reissues and there a bunch I still haven’t even gotten.

1) Replacements Reissues: Because I already had their midperiod peak albums, the real revelation was their early stuff. I had always figured it was just tuneless hardcore, but their debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, is fantastic. Young and snotty, sure, but it’s full of great shambling rock songs with insane energy, crazy solos (Bob Stinson really shines) and great melodies. The Uncle Tupelo connection is strong on this one.

2) Nick Lowe – Jesus of Cool.
I heard this record when I was a freshman in college but stupidly didn’t burn it then and spent the next few years searching in vain for a used copy (it was out of print in the US). They finally gave it the lavish reissue treatment this year. Nick Lowe was the in-house producer at Stiff, the British DIY punk label, and he produced the first several Elvis Costello albums. His debut album bears some resemblance to EC’s stuff (Nick Lowe also wrote “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding”), but it’s really a kaleidoscopic exploration of all the pop styles from that time, from Bowie to McCartney to the Jackson 5 and the Bay City Rollers (sometimes switching within the same song). That means it comes off as a little bit derivative, but that’s the whole point, and his lyrics are biting and clever (“Marie Provost” is the story of an actress who died alone in her apartment and contains the line, “She was a winner, but became a doggie’s dinner”). Highly recommended.

3) Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue.
A “lost Beach Boys classic,” this reissue could not have been done better. This album, easily superior to anything the rest of the band was releasing at the time (not saying much), it is also up there with anything the band released in the 70s (which is definitely saying something). It vacillates between orchestral grandeur and stomping boogie-funk (but it’s better than that sounds). You want uncompressed dynamics? This thing goes from heartbreaking, barely audible whisper to an orchestra fueled roar in a heartbeat. His voice is totally wrecked but that very much adds to the sort of world-weary, wasted feel of the thing. This had been out of print completely for decades (it was on CD for about five minutes in the 80s). The remastering is spectacular and really captures the aforementioned dynamics. And it’s loaded with bonus tracks, including a second disc with the work-in-progress follow up, Bambu, which just as strong as the Pacific Ocean Blue stuff.

This one is "River Song":

Artist I Couldn’t Stop Listening to This Year:

The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince

This merits a separate post or few, but basically starting when I downloaded the Dream Factory stuff that I posted about at the beginning of the year I went through several periods lasting weeks, if not months, at a time, when I listened to nothing but Prince. The most pleasant surprises were the really strong stuff right after his peak (which was Sign O the Times), especially Lovesexy, but also the Batman Soundtrack and the Prince songs on Graffiti Bridge (which has tracks by other artists too), and his first two albums which are usually written off by critics but are really just as good as Dirty Mind, his breakthrough.

Biggest Revelation:

Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
I don’t write much on hip hop publicly because though I respect plenty of hip hop, I have absolutely no authority on the subject, and I don’t tend to listen to it much—I don’t really listen to music for lyrics and I tend to value harmony and melody over rhythm. But the beauty of stoop sales is that I can pick up stuff that I ought to check out but might not spend money on. I got this for like thirty cents and it blew me away—really one of the first hip hop albums I truly got into. The production was the key—the sampling is so creative. The best example is the chorus to “Welcome to the Terrordome,” which has about eight near-unrecognizable samples that somehow combine to make a series of hooks. It also helped that I was listening to this at the peak of primary season during the Jeremiah Wright controversy, so the lyrics were actually particularly resonant.

Best Group I Discovered Through This Blog:


Dr. K randomly posted that track from Out of the Blue way back and that motivated me to get their four peak-era albums, all of which are wonderful.

Paul Simon Album You Should Listen to Instead of Vampire Weekend:

No, not GracelandHearts & Bones, the album right before. Falling chronologically in between his sort of lame soft-jazz in the late 70s and his Graceland resurgence, it has an almost new wave sound (but in a good way), with a lot of the clean guitar lines that he took to the next level with the African musicians on Graceland. And the songs are beautiful-- check "Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War" and the title track.

Album That Was Much Better Than I Would Have Expected, or, at the least, Much Better Than My Brother Said It Was, Even if I Don’t Listen to It Much Because At the End of The Day, I’m Just Not Into 90s-Sounding Hard Rock, Well-Produced or Not:

Buckcherry – Black Butterfly

See, the thing is, Stephen King might like it, but—

Nah, just kidding, it’s GUNS N’ FUCKING ROSES!

Eric's "Top" "Ten" List

That's in quotes because due to a variety of factors, I really honestly didn't hear ten albums that I loved so much that I'd feel able to put together a real top ten list of albums that I'm excited about or want to argue about to defend. One factor is that I think this year was fairly weak in terms of new releases (not on reissues though—- more on that later), but the other was that due to a lack of time and a stubborn insistence on only really listening to music that I owned on CD, but simultaneously refusing to pay more than 8 bucks per CD (except on special occasions), I just didn't hear that much new stuff this year. It's possibly that I'll get around to listening to some of the stronger picks on these lists and amend it accordingly but I stand by my original contention that it was just a kind of weak year. On the other hand, thanks to the devaluation of the CD itself (and Brooklyn's stoop sale economy) my collection grew the most it has in any year. So most of my year was spent filling in gaps in my collection and discovering some great older music, which I'll discuss in my odds and ends post that I'll put up later.

New Releases:

I think the most remarkable thing about Pitchfork's Fleet Foxes pick is that it's so thoroughly middlebrow, whereas Pitchfork usually reserves it's top slots for obscurantist highbrow or "daringly" lowbrow (Q's got the latter issue well-covered in terms of hip hop). that actually tracks my taste in new music fairly well, so, here are eight thoroughly middlebrow albums (seven of which are perfectly well known / well covered on other top album lists) that I enjoyed quite a bit. Again, this wasn't the music I was most excited about this year, but I did like these to varying degrees. In no particular order:

of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping:
My top band from last year, this one was compelling but just too all over the map to listen to too often without getting a headache. I kind of wish they had mellowed slightly and explored some of the many, many good ideas in here rather than skipping to a new, often worse idea within a minute and a half. The lyrics were over the top and silly but I'm not really a lyrics man anyway, so that doesn't bother me as much as the overly ADD nature of the album as a whole.

My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

I contend that this one is HEAVILY underrated. Yes, a couple of the songs are Highly Ridiculous, but I like the stylistic variety and the Prince fetish. I love MMJ's classic sound but I don't actually listen to the entirety of their earlier albums in one sitting because it just gets too samey. I think the strong songs on this are great and I'm not sure why it was so derided.

David Byrne / Brian Eno – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Since I hold these guys' previous collaborations in such high esteem I wanted this to be my drop dead favorite, but it's just too mellow and straightforward. I really like it—the songs and production are quite beautiful, so in the end, it still very much belongs on my list, but it's no Remain in Light.

REM – Accelerate
I'm less enthusiastic on this one than Drischord, and I'm Gonna DJ is obviously quite silly, but this was a nice return to form—especially compared to the actual career-low that was Around the Sun (the one REM album I couldn't even bring myself to purchase).

MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
The hipsters loved this one (the photos of the crowd at their McCarren Park pool show would have turned me off to them completely had I not already heard and enjoyed this record: ). It's a somewhat inconsequential album, but the songs are generally poppy and clever and Dave Fridmann's production is typically great. Especially "Kids."

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

It's now obviously the worst, most overrated album ever because Pitchfork loves it (way more than I would have ever guessed as the beer I owe Tex will attest to!), but I really, really like listening to this and it might be my favorite new release from 2008 just by coincidence. It's so straight up my alley that it was hard to avoid – lush harmonies, soaring melodies, chiming guitars etc – and while it's incredibly derivative, it is a really nice spin on its influences—and they like Judee Sill, because they apparently sometimes cover her.

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Little to add that hasn't already been said (by me earlier this year, and others more recently). I'm not sure where we are on the backlash pendulum with these guys, but I will at the least defend the fact that they did make a very enjoyable pop album. The problem is, once I fully absorbed it, I didn't find myself reaching for it through the rest of the year. I think it is very up in the air whether they will be able to build on it on album number 2. But this is strong enough that I'm happy to include it.

Jukebox the Ghost – Live and Let Ghost
The one album I feel at all evangelical about (not coincidentally the one album that wasn't widely heard/hyped on release). These guys played with my brother's band and they're definitely one of my favorite bands that have ever done so. DC/Philly-based band, three guys, piano, guitar and drums—it's tempting to compare them to Ben Folds (Five) because they write quirky pop songs for piano, but the pianist's (hehe) playing is very different from Ben Folds' more barrelhouse style. He plays in a much more classically-influenced style with a lot of staccato and counterpoint. Their record is full of hooky, interestingly structured pop songs. This is probably my favorite one:

Under My Skin

I'll put up my post about odds & ends and reissues later tonight.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A quick dispatch from the front lines of coke-rap cheerleading

Sorry to take attention away from Drischord's great Top 10, but I discovered something that I needed to share from Pitchfork's review of the new Clipse mixtape, Road to Till the Casket Drops. Here is a quote from none other than the Village Voice's former coke-rap promoter extraordinaire, Tom "Status Ain't Hood" Breihan:

"And maybe by the time they release their next album (next year, lord willin'), Clipse should look beyond the corner and make a few tracks that don't revolve around white powder."

Consider this the canary in the coal mine! The whirlygig of minstrel shows turns onward! The age of Pitchfork's worship of the crack kings is drawing to a close. I can't wait to see what trends they'll be dictating next...

Drischord's Top 10 Albums of 2008

A Merry Christmas, Hanukkah and Festivus to the entire Kittybrains Collective, our loyal readers and of course, the Web Sheriff. I give you my Top 10 albums of 2008-- a year that wasn't as jam-packed with awesomeness as 2007, but certainly had enough to make a Top 10 difficult.

10. The Tallest Man on Earth- Shallow Grave
Thanks to Quinapalus for weeding through Pitchfork's annual paean to pasty white guys playing rave music to dig out their review of this. I love this record. I love the guitar playing, the lyrics, his off-kilter voice and the fact that he's from Sweden.

9. The Week That Was- The Week That Was
Thanks to Tex Plush for alerting the collective to this record. Thanks to Field Music for a) being pretty darn good in and of itself and b) spawning side projects that are even better than the main band.

8. Vampire Weekend- Vampire Weekend
God I want to hate this band. In terms of background and hype, they basically are the Strokes. But in terms of talent, they're so much better. Yes, I do hear the Paul Simon-isms. But I think they're limited to only a few songs, and frankly there's a lot of Afro-pop that they touch on that Paul Simon missed. They also are one of the few indie acts to use string instruments in a way that doesn't reek of total dilletante-ism. I'll give points to anyone who gets more out of major scale than their cellist. This debut isn't perfect, but damn if it isn't promising.

7. Wye Oak- If Children
I can't understand why this record was ignored by critics this year. Goes to show that good PR can take you a lot farther than good music. If you want an album that better combines delicate beauty and dissonant guitar/drum fuzz-outs, you'll have to settle for Yo La Tengo. (Only Yo La Tengo doesn't really sound like these guys. So you'll just have to get this record.)

6. Sun Kil Moon- April
Mark Kozelek has gotten so good at what he does, sometimes we don't give him enough credit for solidly connecting every time. This isn't going to make a non-fan a fan or vice versa, but if you dig Red House Painters, solo Kozelek or earlier Sun Kil Moon, this record offers up exactly what you'd be asking for.

5. Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago
As I noted in my earlier rant about the cheapening of "minimalism," this record is a great example of how stripping back can be the best thing an artist does. (Just not always.) Anyway, by "minimalist" standards, this isn't particulary drastic. There's a good deal of multi-tracking, particularly on the vocals, which gives them this amazingly eerie quality. I'm totally with the critics on this one. Awesome.

4. REM- Accelerate
Hope everyone can hear me over the sound of Tex Plush barfing. I believe Eric linked to an blog entry documenting how critics claim that every REM album is "the best since ___", thereby invalidating the previous album they had bestowed with equal praise 2-3 years ago. Well this time it's true. This is their best album since either Up or New Adventures in Hi-Fi. (Both are classics, but not everyone realizes Up's greatness. Ironically Tex does, yet he does not care for Accelerate. Go figure.)

3. Bob Dylan- Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
I was late in the game to this because I wasn't in a place to be buying double CDs. Also, the fact that everything on here was recorded 2 to 20 years ago makes it somewhat unconventional to make a 2008 Top 10 list. But there are so many great unreleased songs on here, that there was really no way I could deny it. Quinapalus posted some great tracks-- Someday Baby and Dreamin' of You-- and there are many more where that came from. God Knows, Series of Dreams and Marchin' to the City are standouts for me.

2. School of Language- Sea From Shore
Quirky, guitar-heavy, great drums, reminiscent of Shudder to Think, Jeff Buckley and noisy Flaming Lips all at once. What more could a boy really want?

1. Fleet Foxes- Fleet Foxes
Originally this wasn't even going to make my list, but then I read Pitchfork's brilliantly rendered Top 50, which reminded me how much I loved the Knife in 2006 and suddenly I reali--

Aw, fuck that! I don't need the skinny-pants music intelligentsia to tell me what the best album of the year was. It was GUNS N' FUCKING ROSES motherfuckers!

Chinese Democracy, though flawed (yes, even I admit that) was the best record of the year. Out of 14 songs, it had zero duds, 2 tracks that didn't hold up (Scraped and Sorry), 2 tracks that were interesting but overwrought (Madagascar and This I Love) and 10 fucking amazing songs that are going to join Axl Rose's canon. Yes, he is a ridiculous individual who screwed himself over by refusing to publicly promote the album, but he's a very gifted musician. Time will be kind to this record.

Honorable Mentions
Deerhunter, Deerhoof, American Music Club, the Hold Steady, Shearwater, Drive-By Truckers, Andrew Bird (Soldier On EP), Gutter Twins, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks

Might Have Made It But Never Heard It
Sea and Cake, Pavement (Brighten the Corners reissue), Calexico, Ryan Adams

Likely Would Have Made My 2007 List Had I Heard It That Year
Travis Morrison Hellfighters, Field Music

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Quinapalus' Top 10 Albums of 2008

Merry Christmas everybody! It's been a cold, snowy, slow paced Christmas day for me, so I ended up finishing the list a little early. I hope you enjoy, and I look forward to the rest of your lists:

10. Erykah Badu- New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
As some of you may know, I was initially turned off by the messy, nonsensical politics of this album, and for someone like me for whom lyrics are an important part of the experience of listening to music, this was a problem that almost made me dismiss New Amerykah altogether. (I'll spare the lecture right now about why it makes no sense for someone like Badu, who ostensibly subscribes to a radical left-wing revolutionary worldview, to shout out to Louis Farrakhan in a song). But over the course of the year songs from this album kept popping up on my iPod shuffle, and it started to make an impression on me. Sonically, there's just nothing else like it: it's full of lush, rhythmically interesting, complicated arrangements, with a sound somewhere between 70s soul, laid back Tribe Called Quest style hip hop, and whatever spaced-out weirdness it's Badu's whim to explore on any given song. I still have some mixed feelings about it, but it's innovative, interesting, and weird enough that in the end I couldn't leave it off the Top 10.

9. Kanye West- 808s & Heartbreak
We've blogged this one to death already, but I think this album was a brave departure for Mr. West, who explored new sonic territory and a new emotional vulnerability with mixed but ultimately unforgettable results.

8. Nikolay and Kay- Time:Line
I loved this hip hop collaboration, which was beautiful and sadly overlooked. More of my thoughts here.

7. The Tallest Man on Earth- Shallow Grave
I talked a little bit about this guy a week ago. As I've sat with the music for a bit, I'll sum it up by saying that lyrically these songs are full of strange, unexpected, awesome metaphors and turns of phrase, and they're all sung in nice melodies by a great, expressive voice. You can't ask for much more than that.

6. In The Heights- Original Broadway Soundtrack
I found this musical irresistible. Admittedly, it was a little too sentimental for me in some ways, but that was counterbalanced by great songs played with an exciting fusion of musical styles. And if you're the kind of person who'd get a kick out of a rap battle between a graffiti artist and a somewhat conservative shopowner which ends with the shopowner rapping: "Shut up, go home, and pull your damn pants up!"...well, you're just shit out of luck if you're going to go looking for that anywhere else.

5. Wale- The Mixtape About Nothing
This is a young MC to watch. Start paying attention now, while he's still releasing stuff this good for free!

4. Bonnie "Prince" Billy- Lie Down in the Light
Will Oldham hits another high point with what is essentially a collection of love songs: he sings of his love of women, God, and blowjobs with sincerity, understated melodies, and lyrical curveballs that make repeat listenings extremely rewarding. Hands down this is his best work since I See a Darkness, and in the end I may actually prefer Lie Down in the Light.

3. Lil' Wayne- Tha Carter 3/The Leak EP
Lil' Wayne remains a bit of an enigma to me. This year he made a weird, obscene, often brilliant pop album, and a weird, hilarious, often brilliant EP, along with continuing his endless string of free internet releases, not to mention his ubiquitous guest spots on other people's albums. Sometimes he shouts misogynist nonsense, sometimes he writes beautiful love songs; sometimes he glorifies senseless violence, sometimes he writes heartfelt odes to the troubles of his native New Orleans; sometimes he writes shameless, stupid, pop crossover sex songs, sometimes he spits dense, hard-to-follow wordplay over bizarre unorthodox beats. I can't get a handle on what to think about the guy, except that without question he's a very talented artist doing the best work of his life, and I can't stop listening.

2. Bob Dylan- Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
When most people of his generation still play this kind of blues/country/old-time rock n' roll, more often than not it sounds worn out and tired; when younger people play it it sounds like they're aping an old style and paying homage to the past; when Dylan plays it, it still sounds alive, and vital, even elemental. It occurs to me when listening to this that Dylan is perhaps the last person living who will ever make this style of music sound so damn good. Listening to this collection feels like poring through a whole fading chapter of fantastic American music, and I hope Dylan sticks around and keeps making music like this until he finally keels over at the age of 120.

1. The Roots- Rising Down
It's an absolute mystery to me why this is getting no love from the critics on the year end lists. Maybe it's just old news that the Roots are one of the greatest hip hop acts of all time, but DAMN this is a great album. And aside from being impeccably produced, moving, exciting, terrifying, and a sonically unique tour-de-force of hip hop beats played on live drums and guitars, it's also incredibly well constructed as an album. Transitions between songs are well considered and purposefully arranged, and there are even a couple of almost Kid A (it keeps coming back to Kid A!) style mini-songs that serve as a sort of connective thread between the full length songs. And for those willing to brave the depths and darkness of this album in one sitting (as I was personally reluctant to do at first), after a harrowing journey you're rewarded with a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel, as the song "Rising Up" swoops in to lift you up just as you're unable to take another dark, scary banger. I'm still unable to process the fact that a band capable of such disturbing, emotionally charged art is going to become Jimmy Fallon's house band...but if it offers them some financial security while they keep making incredible albums, I hope it works out well for them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Going Minimal"

Before we fully launch into list season, I just want to opine on a topic raised during the discussion of 808s and Heartbreak. It's the concept of "going minimal", which most critics agree to be Kanye's trajectory on that particular album.

Well here's my argument in a nutshell. "Going minimal" isn't nearly as impressive as it used to be. Many people have done it to great success and it often-- although not always-- is a euphemism for doing less work.

I've liked a lot of "minimal" albums. Bon Iver is definitely making my list this year, and that CD is pretty minimal. I like people like Nina Nastasia (on my list last year) and the simplest of Bonnie "Prince" Billy. I like that Tallest Man on Earth guy that Quinapalus shared with us.

But it's so much more impressive when people try to go all-out and actually succeed. That's part of the reason I like Chinese Democracy. No, it doesn't always work. But when it does, it's awesome and highly unique. I find it unconvincing when critics rip Axl Rose for creating multi-tracked Queen-style vocal lines, throwing in keyboards, "orchestra", crazy shredding, etc. and then they jizz all over a Spoon recording that's basically a Casio keyboard and a trap kit.

And look, I like Spoon. But there's more acts like them floating around than there are acts like Guns N' Roses. Critics love solo people with a piano or acoustic guitar, but there are so damn many of them who do it well. How many people, since the days of Queen, Love, Steely Dan, etc. go for the big sound and get it right?

Rufus Wainwright often succeeds, and I like a lot of his work. Joni Mitchell's album Travelogue (with orchestra) was brilliant, and I intend to post on that in the new year, even though it came out back in 2002. Kanye's earlier stuff was in that vein, especially Late Registration. And then there's the aforementioned Chinese Democracy.

Radiohead is a category unto themselves, because while Kid A had that icy, minimal sheen to it, closer inspection reveals a very complex album. There are a million things going on within the title track. Morning Bell grooves in 5/4. Even something spare like How To Disappear Completely is meticulously layered and EQ'd. Radiohead is one of those great bands that deceive you into thinking their music is simple, when in fact there's a lot going on. (The inverse is bands like Mars Volta, who'd like you to believe there's a lot more to their music than actually is there. And sorry kids, I'd put Sigur Ros in that category too. At least up until the current album, which I haven't heard, but I hear marks a departure.)

Well that's my rant on minimal vs. whatever you want to call the opposite trajectory. Feel free to angrily disagree, but remember: I like many "minimalist" albums. But for every 20 of them, there's just a single "over the top" album that truly connects. Much more impressive in my opinion... and, to bring it full circle, it's what drew me to Kanye in the first place.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quinapalus' Honorable Mentions

Rock!! I'm going to start off the year-end list-making season with my honorable mentions. My Top 10 will follow in a couple of days. Happy Holidays everyone, I look forward to your lists. Let the nerdfest begin! (Or given the fact that we now blog all year, let the nerdfest continue!)

The reissue that blew my mind:

The Replacements- Let It Be
It was a real oversight on my part to have never really heard these guys before. Let It Be is a raunchy, angsty, hilarious ride that I wish I'd had the privilege of listening to when I was 10 years younger and felt exactly the way these songs sound.

The album that would've been on my Top 10 if it hadn't been my #1 last year:
Lupe Fiasco- The Cool
Last year this was my top album, and in retrospect it hasn't had the replay value I would have hoped. If I'd waited a year like all the big music publications to rank it (since it came out very late in the year in 2007) it might have dropped a few rungs. Still, I count myself a big Lupe fan, and hope this young MC doesn't carry through on his promise to only release 1 more album before retiring.

Better than I would've guessed, but not in my Top 10:

Guns n' Roses- Chinese Democracy
A mess of an album, though an occasionally glorious mess of an album. I genuinely liked large chunks of it, but it just didn't make it to the Top 10.

The album most likely to be seen by music historians as the touchstone album of our moment, which nonetheless didn't make my personal Top 10:

Girl Talk- Feed the Animals
I don't understand how this even exists given all the sampling involved, but a very talented artist has finally decided to say to hell with all the legal issues that have hamstrung the art of DJing for decades, and showcases a fascinating collage of sound the like of which hasn't been legal since the days of EPMD. In Stephen King's Top 10 list in Entertainment Weekly, he says that the album is "as dense and allusive as James Joyce's Ulysses, only you can dance to it." That's a difficult statement to begin trying to parse, (and I don't much want to try right now), but I will say that in a music-listening age when everybody wants to make their own mixtapes on their iPods, Girl Talk is an artist who takes mixing up disparate pop songs to its logical, dense, allusive, danceable conclusion. For me personally, I just didn't listen to Feed the Animals enough to warrant it cracking my Top 10, but Girl Talk is a fantastic DJ who is making music like nobody else right now, and he's worth checking out.


3 great songs from albums not on my Top Ten:

A fantastic song from a very uneven album:
Gnarls Barkley- Run

I liked GZA's album this year, but in the end it wasn't good enough for the Top 10. But this song kicks ass:
GZA- Life is a Movie

And the song of the year:
Beyonce- Single Ladies

Sunday, December 21, 2008

For Your Consideration: Young At Heart

Okay, not really for your consideration, but I highly recommend this documentary from this year. It's about a choir of old people in Northampton, Massachusetts who sing rock and punk songs. It's really funny and poignant and was especially resonant for me as I lost my last two grandparents in the past year. Some of the performances are more cute than genuinely good (like their version of James Brown's "I Feel Good"), but it contains one of the best covers I've ever heard/seen. A good cover takes an existing song and adds something to the original version. A great cover takes an existing song and makes it even better and more powerful than the original version, taking it to heights you didn't think it could reach. In the latter category, I submit this cover of, of all things, Coldplay's "Fix You." Think "Desperado" from that weird high school choir album that was all the rage a few years back. Cloying when whined in falsetto by the husband of Gwyneth Paltrow, it's actually incredibly moving when sung an octave lower by a guy suffering from congenital heart failure while sitting down in a chair. I would almost say not to watch it if you think there is any likelihood that you will see the film, because it is made infinitely more powerful by the full context of the film. But I think even outside any context, it's great. Oddly his oxygen machine (audible in the mic) is in rhythm with the song, which just adds to it.

In the alternative, here's the trailer of the movie:

EDIT: I meant to write "coldplay" in the label below, but messed up. Fortunately it resulted in an hilarious pun! Go me/blogger!

Friday, December 19, 2008

For Your Consideration: Kanye West

OK, so I've been kind of skeptical of 808s & Heartbreak: I didn't like the singles very much, I'm not a huge fan of the voice-run-through-the-computer thing, and I was ready to believe that Kanye had made a big mistake singing and not rapping for an entire album. But this morning (mostly because Via Chicago kept pestering me to buy it) I finally got a copy, and as I've walked around the city being sprayed in the face by hail and freezing rain all day it's been playing in a loop on my iPod. Since the weather is still awful and I don't plan to be going outside again all night, I thought I'd settle in and give my initial impressions of the album.

I actually like it a lot so far, much more than I was expecting to. It's funny that it's the album we kept bringing up in those discussions about The End of the Album, because in my judgement it's the very definition of "Album" in the sense that the songs were clearly written to go together, and are stronger when heard in relation to each other than when heard alone. Even the single "Heartless"--which has really left me cold when I've heard it by itself--sounds much better when you hear it after the first two songs have brought you under the weird, icy spell Kanye is trying to create.

As I was listening to this today I reflected a couple of times that I hadn't heard a new album that made me feel this creeped out and isolated from the other people on the street since maybe Kid A. (That's largely meant as a compliment) One of the criticisms of this album has been that it sounds more like a collection of sketches than of fully realized songs, but I don't think that gives Kanye enough credit. He made a very deliberate choice to use stripped down, cold, computerized arrangements, and this album wouldn't have the same effect at all if it was filled with his trademark lush, warm, richly harmonic beats. He brilliantly casts a mood over the listener of isolation, sadness, and regret, and even the computerized vocals add to that sensation: he rarely grants you even the human connection of listening to another person's voice without some kind of mechanized effect twisting the sound.

The album definitely isn't flawless start to finish (I don't know how to feel about the bizarre "Robocop" for example), and I certainly hope that 808s & Heartbreak will turn out to be an interesting interlude before he goes back to rapping and making hip hop beats again. But after only a few listens, I also think there's a lot to admire here, and there is reason to hope that the experience of testing his limits and making this very different sort of music will inform his future work and help him grow as an artist.

Kanye West is one of the defining artists of his generation, and I probably should have given him more benefit of the doubt from the get go.

For Your Consideration: Marnie Stern

A random discovery thanks to the power of Pitchfork + eMusic, Marnie Stern is one of my new obsessions of the year. She brings a bizarre mix of indie riot grrl with just ludicrous guitar shredding. You want finger tapping? Oh there's finger tapping. You want guitars overdubbed so many times that it's an insane wall of noise? You've got that too. She's not flawless - her work is best when there's a great song and chorus behind it, and sometimes that's a bit lacking. But more often than not, she blows me away. The first time I heard her I literally realized I was listening with my jaw hanging open in a sort of stunned state. Her album is great, but sonically punishing - it takes a lot to listen to the whole thing in one sitting. But at the end of the day, she makes crazy unique music that makes me smile, nod, and rock out. And I like all of thsoe things.

Here's one of the highlights of the new album - Ruler:

And I can't embed it, but I strongly suggest you head over to her MySpace page and listen to "Journey Cover Home Demo", which is so worth your time.


My goodness, all of a sudden I feel very thirsty!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Neil Young & Wilco

Did any of you New Yorkers go? This review made it sound phenomenal.

For Your Consideration: The Tallest Man on Earth

I will confess to you, the first time I ever heard of this guy, or his album Shallow Grave, was this morning when I was skimming through Pitchfork's Albums of the Year list. He's not doing anything terribly innovative: his songs are thoroughly in the style of early Will Oldham, Iron and Wine, and a thousand other shy, quirky guys with weird voices accompanying themselves on an acoustic guitar. And yet I, for one, enjoy at least an album or two a year of that kind of thing, and after just a couple of listens this guy seems to have some really stellar songs, so I'm throwing him out there as a late contender to be in my top ten somewhere. Hope you enjoy.

For Your Consideration: Wolf Parade

This is such an odd album to me. It’s one that I don’t often listen to, and rarely think to pop in, but every single time I do I think “Man, this is awesome. I must listen to this more.” Then I don’t. Why? I have no idea, because really, this is a fantastic album. It doesn’t have the immediate impact of either their first one (and nothing here hits the high of “I Believe in Anything”) or their Arcade Fire pals, but instead is more nuanced. Well, as nuanced as these big, bombastic bands get. But yeah, I love it.

Here’s the epic album close Kissing the Beehive. It’s 11 minutes long (sorry), but I thought was the best track to post as it really exemplifies what I love about this band. The final build is just spectacular.

For a shorter experience here’s the 3 minute “Call it a Ritual”, inexplicably set to NASA footage. Ah, YouTube. This one sort of stuns me that it’s only 3 minutes, given the sort of epic scope they cram into that time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

For Your Consideration: In The Heights

Maybe I'm just a sucker for the fusion of hip hop and Latin rhythms with traditional Broadway (It's getting too darn hot!/Like my man Cole Porter said) but this has been playing relentlessly on my iPod for months. It's a hip, timely, Tony Award winning musical that (unlike Rent) will probably still sound great 10 years from now. "I'm going from po' to mo' dough/Forget the bling, I want the brass ring like Frodo!"

The Andrew Bird Report

So – last night, Andrew Bird at The Hideout. Here’s the scoop:

First off, it was glorious to be back at the Hideout. Such an obscenely good venue, and it’s been far too long since I’ve been there. Last night was particularly nice as they told us they did not sell to capacity to make sure everyone had room and it was a positive, chill experience for all. I’d say there were about 100 people there – many of them VIP types.

Dosh opened and played a 30 minute set of his own stuff backed by the bassist and (for one song) guitarist from Andrew’s band. This was totally great. Lots of looping and crazy drumming, and the occasional Sonic Youth/My Bloody Valentine style shoegaze/feedback jam – which is just fine by me. I liked the Dosh album, but didn’t love it, but it really came alive on stage. Very interested to listen to it again now. If you have a chance, I highly recommend seeing him.

Small break, then Andrew came out with his regular current band. He explained that they were there for 2 reasons – 1. To shoot a music video for (I think) Fitz and the Dizzy Spells, and 2. to play Noble Beast live. The whole thing. The video portion was pretty fantastic. They played the song twice and had Chicago’s anarchist marching band Mucca Pazza marching and playing through the audience, with everyone just going nuts. It was a real joy, and the song is great.

As for Noble Beat – it was awesome to hear. A lot of the songs sounded really amazing – particularl Nomenclature and Anonanimal. Also awesome – Not a Robot, But a Ghost, which is a Dosh song that Andrew added violin and vocals to. Depending how it sounds on record, I imagine this will be the biggest departure he’s ever done, but it’s a terrific song. He’s really embracing the new band (Dosh in particular) and using them well. They’re slowly becoming, dare I say, Wilco-esque in the way they use their own strengths to beef up the songs live. They’re not to a full on Nels/Glenn mode yet, but Dosh is adding a lot and their guitarist has moments that he goes a bit nuts to great effect. For the most part they kept the songs pretty straightforward (I think), which makes sense since it was a wram up. Only played 3 old songs – Nervous Tic, Imitosis, and one other from Eggs. All 3 had an extra element of jamminess that gave them extra life.

Overall it was a great time. Awesome to take part in the video, and amazing to get to hear Noble Beast. It was definitely a “For fan’s only” kind of show though, as they were learning the songs still, so had a lot of false starts, pauses to discuss how the song goes, etc. But in that small a venue, surrounded by people who are just happy to be there, it came across not as sloppy, but just as a guy playing his music for his friends. Great to be a part of – wish you all could have been there.

For Your Consideration: Bob Dylan

I don't care whether this is supposed to count as a proper album, it's absolutely astounding. The man is as good today as he was in 1965. Or at least 1967.

For Your Consideration: The Week That Was

I was planning on giving ya'll a break from me, but I have to post this in light of Drischord's latest.
The Week That Was is another Field Music side project that came out this year. Pretty hard to describe, but I hear alot of early Genesis here. I love the way the drums sound. Highly recommended.
The Good Life
Scratch The Surface

Monday, December 15, 2008

For Your Consideration: School of Language

School of Language is my greatest new music discovery of 2008. I randomly stumbled across their album Sea From Shore on eMusic. (Those guys should totally pay me royalties.) It fits my taste so well, which is interesting because it's basically the solo project of the drummer from Field Music, who are generally too "British" for my tastes.

I think a number of you will like this, but Eric in particular should drag the river to get a copy of this. Not the least of which is the fact that the album's bookends are a 4 part song called "Rockist," which is the subject of an earlier Eric rant on this blog (or possibly an e-mail before the blog started.)

Anyway, this track isn't one of the Rockist series, but it's equally good. It's a little ditty they like to call Extended Holiday, which means "extended vacation" in British.

TV on the Radio: Discuss

So it seems that Dear Science is the sort of mass popular #1 choice for album of the year. I only recently discovered the existence of these guys, and have listened to this album a few times (including right now). Overall it's... good? I love the first song, some of the others are pretty good, but I don't know. Something about it doesn't catch my attention fully. I don't know what I don't get behind as I like the complexity, I like the mish-mash of styles, and yet...

I think in some ways the whole thing ends up being kind of dour and oppressive and, despite their hype, not a lot of fun. Now that's not to say every album has to be a non-stop party - far from it. But I think albums that keep this kind of mid-tempo mood end up being a little too drab to listen to multiple times. I discovered this same feeling while relistening to Yoshimi recently. (Quick aside - once this end of year time is over, I'm listening to, and talking about, nothing but old Flaming Lips. Be prepared)

Interestingly, Eric posted a pretty similar question back when the album first came out. But now that's it's getting SO hyped, and there's been some time for it to sink in, I wonder if I'm being a cranky old man who doesn't get it.

For Your Consideration: The Roots

I've already talked a bit on this blog about Rising Down, The Roots' new album this year, but I just want to bring it up one more time. Yes, I still question the good taste of this video, and this newest album is one of the darkest, bleakest pieces of popular music I've ever heard...but it's also an unflinching, relentlessly interesting, capital "A" work of Art, impeccably produced, with an extremely high replay value, and I can't get enough of it. The Roots is one of the best bands in America, and the live version of the song "Rising Up" really shows off what they can do. Between the 3 extra percussionists brought in for this song, and the dancing tuba player, David Letterman is right on the mark when he exclaims "Yeah! A lot going on there!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

For Your Consideration: The Raconteurs

Too hip for the cool kids. Too cool for the hip kids. Too classic rock for the indie rockers, and too much Jack White for Drischord. Despite all this, The Raconteurs put out one of the best rock albums of the year. Brendan Benson and Jack White are perfect collaborators. Benson adds a power pop melodic sense and a smooth as butter voice to White's crunch and jagged edges.
Here are some of my favorite songs on the record:

For Your Consideration: Mike Patton

I listened to an abundance of really weird stuff this year largely thanks to both an eMusic subscription and my ongoing Sonic Youth fascination. Of all those oddities, there's really only one up for considderation on my list - Mike Patton's "A Perfect Place". Theoretically it's a soundtrack, but apparently the movie is like 20 minutes and the soundtrack is 40, so I think it's more of a long form music video.

Patton is a fascinating guy. I was a buig Faith No More fan back in the day, and sicne then have followed him off and on through his countless side projects and twists and turns. Sometimes they're pretty amazing (Fantomas' horror theme album come to mind) sometime they're lame (Tomahawk). This one is all over the place with a variety of sounds and a wide range in quality. But, it's that inconsistency that I love in Patton - picking up his new release is always a complete crap shoot, and in this case, I'm happy with what came up.

Anyway, here's the highlight of the disc:

For Your Consideration: American Music Club

This one is especially for fans of Sun Kil Moon, whom I expect to make at least two Top 10 lists among this collective.

Like Sun Kil Moon, American Music Club is:
- From San Francisco.
- Led by a moody guy named Mark.
- Beloved by critics and largely unknown by the general public.
- Melancholy, somewhat folky, but not afraid to use distortion either.
AMC has been out of commission for several years, while their singer, Mark Eitzel, released various solo projects. (I particularly recommend West, which was a collaboration with Peter Buck.) They were big in sad, folky indie circles throughout the '90s, much like Mark Kozelek's old band, Red House Painters. (Who, sound-wise, are 96% the same band as Sun Kil Moon.)

The Golden Age is AMC's comeback of sorts, and it's excellent. I saw the A.V. Club selected it for their "best of" list, and I'm considering doing the same.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

For Your Consideration: Wye Oak

The best boy/girl duo album of 2008 and no, it doesn't feature Zooey Deschannel.

Wye Oak might be the best band to emerge from my home state of Maryland during my lifetime. (Unless you count Dismemberment Plan, who were a "DC band", but lived in Silver Spring for a lot of their time together.)

This is an album that I discovered randomly on eMusic, and I'm damn glad that I did. Technically this came out in 2007 on a label I've never heard of, but it was re-released by Merge this spring.

Compares favorably with the Beatles, Elliott Smith, Kingsbury Manx, Yo La Tengo, and even that Deerhunter CD everyone's so crazy about.

This will definitely be making my Top 10, so get ready...

Also, here's a link to Pitchfork's review of it. A 7.1, which is just as well, because if they'd rated it much higher, I couldn't be on board.

Andrew Bird

I just bought tickets to see Andrew Bird in an as yet unannounced show this Monday at the Hideout. It's "Andrew Bird and Friends with special guest Dosh". This is my first time seeing him at the Hideout since going with some of you fine folk back in 2001. I cannot wait to see him in this setting, see what he pulls out, who these "friends" are, etc. Pumped? Oh yes.

It has begun...

AV Club Year End List

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

For Your Consideration: GZA/Genius

Tex has often said that while he wouldn't argue that Wilco is the "best" band out there, they're still his personal favorite. I would similarly say that while I can't necessarily argue that GZA is the "best" member of the Wu Tang Clan, I'd personally rather listen to GZA's solo output than pretty much any other Wu-related project. He's rapping about chess, religion, cinema, and throwing bizarre, loop-de-loop metaphors at you far too quickly for you to pick them all up in just a few listens. What's not to love? For a mesmerizing display of pure MC science, check out "0% Finance" from this year's Pro Tools, and listen to the way he weaves car-themed puns into literally every line. Awesome.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Shredders' Moment in the Sun!

I heard this reported on the radio in the airport this weekend, and apparently it has been making the rounds.

I'll table the discussion of these kinds of lawsuits, though I'll say that the doctrine leads to interesting issues because part of it is based on proving access to the infringed work, so it means that Satriani would have to prove that Coldplay likely heard his music. Yes, he is big in the guitar magazine world, but I can't see Coldplay being fans.

More importantly, this grasp at the brass ring, combined Bumblefoot's and Buckethead's star turn on Chinese Democracy, means that it is truly a great day to be a shredder!

Friday, December 05, 2008

For Your Consideration: Black Mountain

So now that Queens of the Stone Age has forskaen me, I need someone to step up and fill the Black Sabbath droning heavy rocker genre. Black Mountain qualifies quite nicely. They're mighty bombastic, but in that huge, bass drum kind of way - not the shreading, lightning quick riffs kind of way. They also nicely mix in female vocals, which is a rarity in this style and works surprisingly well.

The downside of thetheir 2008 "In the Future" is that it tapers off after the first half, but still, that first half is mighty strong. Here are two examples (both with non-existent YouTube "videos").

STORMY HIGH - The opening song, and just a solid 4 minute rocker:

And TYRANTS - More epic and long. I must insist you at least listen to when the song kicks it up just after the 5:00 mark. That sound tells you all you need to know about Black Mountain - if you hear that and don't like it, this is probably not the album for you:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

For Your Consideration: Lil' Wayne's OTHER release...

This is a good idea Tex...I never know half of the albums you guys are talking about at the end of the year, and don't really have time to look into them.

Tha Carter 3 is a crass, messy, pop masterpiece, but C3 fans would be remiss to overlook Wayne's other release this year (or technically, his release from the last week of 2007). The Leak EP is a collection of songs that wouldn't have quite fit on Tha Carter 3's pop celebration. The beats are much more stripped down, and it's more focused on putting Wayne's MC skills front and center--which is not at all a bad thing. A couple of the songs on here stand up against the best of Tha Carter 3, and personally, the crazy pun-filled ride of this EP has had higher replay value for me than the proper album. When trying to asses where to put Lil' Wayne in my top 10, I'll probably take this EP together with Tha Carter 3 and give them some sort of combined rating, because I think they actually improve when taken as companion pieces.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

For Your Consideration: Blitzen Trapper

I thought I'd try introducing a 'column' of sorts, that we can all contribute to, in these weeks leading up to our year end lists.
The purpose of "For Your Consideration" would be to give a quick shout out to albums that you are considering including in your top ten list.
My hope is that this will mean that I hear more records that are on all your lists before the overwhelming behemoth descends at the end of the month.
And that we can get a little more discussion in too....
So, first up for me - the new Blitzen Trapper album. Pretty solid, especially if you dig a souped-up classic rock sound with nice Grateful Dead guitars.
Check it:
Sleepytime In The Western World
Saturday Nite

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Annual 'Let's Skew Pitchfork's Results' Survey

Alright team, it's time to get in there and do what's right: vote for Chinese Democracy for best album of the year.

Take the Pitchfork Reader's Survey

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chinese Democracy: One Week Later

Time for a follow-up post on the now week-old Chinese Democracy. Interesting to hear everyone's comments and I hope there will be more.

#1 song that has grown on me: Catcher in the Rye. It's definitely the most upbeat, fun song on the album (relative statement of course) and it's slowly infectious. There's no clear-cut chorus (which is the case on a number of tracks) and that makes the gratification come with time, which I like.

Other songs that have grown on me: Chinese Democracy (the song), Prostitute, and the two songs I was most dismissive of, If the World and This I Love.

Regarding If the World specifically. This melody is great. The lyrics aren't half bad either. I think the style is a little campy with the Spanish guitar and the cliché piano runs. That still holds it back somewhat for me. But this song has really grown on me. I love the way it builds over the course of the track.

Another song that I fundamentally like but have trouble with stylistically: Shackler's Revenge. I love the chorus to this song and I love that Axl uses a number of his old "voices" here-- particularly the "It's So Easy" voice. I don't love the industrial sheen and the solo is too heavy on shredder gimmicks. This one is all Bumblefoot, which concerns me because he's the only lead guitarist who's still in the band. (BTW, Alex, if you're still reading, I feel like so many of your criticisms are specifically about the production values of this one track. You should listen to the whole album several more times and get back to us.)

One element that's not holding up with repeated listens: Lyrics on Sorry and This I Love. I normally don't care about lyrics (I often don't even bother to discern them in the first place.) However, the lyrics to Sorry are almost impossible to like. Axl is always going to be self-righteous, but normally he's so much more clever about it. This one is just petty and spiteful. And This I Love has some lame rhyming couplets that remind me of Meat Loaf. Way too cliché for the guy who wrote Don't Damn Me, Bad Apples, Rocket Queen, and Paradise City.

Other criticisms that remain: Orchestral arrangements. First they're so heavily compressed that they sound like keyboard patches. This is a shame because most of the guitars and vocals aren't compressed and build really nicely. I love songs like Street of Dreams or Prostitute that don't even reach their dynamic peak until about 3 minutes in. But the "orchestra" sounds like it's coming from a different album. Also, the arrangements are boring. None of the songs truly benefit from all that extra weight. Riad N' the Bedouins comes close but that track is so damn awesome, it wouldn't matter either way.

Regarding the guitarists: I'm really impressed with Buckethead on this album. He's the most versatile of all the players. Overall, Robin Finck disappoints me. His solo on This I Love is pretty good, especially when the drums kick in, but on almost every track, the guy falls back on what I'd call "blues-isms." He shows no ability for legato phrasing, which was Slash's calling card. His (Slash's) solos weren't lightning fast like Buckethead or Bumblefoot or Butterballs or whatever, but they were so damn fluid. Robin Finck, by contrast, does the same thing every time: Bluesy bend on one note and then slide into a new one, with a little bit of palm muting for effect. He sounds more like B.B. King than Slash and I don't think it always fits.

Buckethead's stuff is better. His solos are the most "singable" of the three (though not approaching Slash) and he has the best sense of when to hold a note and when to shred. Alex, you know I hate 4-fingered tapping as much as anyone (certainly more than you do), but it totally works on Better. In fact, you couldn't have the chorus to that song without those tapping runs.

My jury is out on Bumblefoot. I like him when he slows down and plays within the guitar's normal range, but he does seem to love the squealing effects more than the other two combined. That said, he appears to be the guy going forward, so we'll just have to hope for the best.

I don't think I like Chris Pitman. He seems to be the one who's providing all the industrial elements and I'm not sure what he contributes beyond that. He's all over Madagascar, which might now be my least favorite track on the album. He's now been in the band longer than anyone except for Dizzy, so I'm guessing he's here to stay. I'm guessing that he's the guy Slash and Duff most object to when they listen to this.

I think this record is remarkably strong. I stand by my previous declaration that Riad, Street of Dreams, Better and There Was A Time are all stellar. And I'm getting ready to add Catcher in the Rye and the title track to that list. Really the only tracks that I'm not fully on board with are Sorry (for the lyrics) and Madagascar (for a variety of reasons.)

I've been listening to this record every day-- at a pace I haven't matched since Sky Blue Sky-- and I find it to be very rewarding. And no, I can't really think about the 17 years part when I listen to this, because even the worst tracks are better than anything Slash, Duff, Izzy, Steven Adler, whoever else... has done in that time.