Sunday, December 28, 2008

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.


texplush said...

For me, the ultimate disappontment with MMJ comes not from the prince fetish or their clear desire to move on from their signature sound, but from the deterioration of Jim James' voice. It just sounds terrible these days, and the drenching in reverb, when they still apply it, no longer hides its Kermit-ness.
But at least Fleet Foxes dude sounds exactly like the old JJ I used to love.

Quinapalus said...

I really like the Jukebox the Ghost track!

Via Chicago said...

I'm glad you liked the Byrne/Eno, but I have to say, I was no fan. I used to be a HUGE Talking Heads/Byrne fan (still am really) and absolutely love their earlier stuff. But I think a few years ago Byrne got way too mid-tempo, middle of the road and just plain drab. This album lacks the punch that I expected, and is ultimately forgettable - which is the worst crime.

What is your take on Byrne's solo output and how this holds up to those albums? There once was a time I would passionately argue for Look into the Eyeball as being a masterpiece, but a recent relisten revealed it to be... boring. I don't know, maybe I'm just not in a pro-Byrne mood at the moment for whatever reason.

dr. kittybrains said...

I actually consider Byrne's "Grown Backwards" to be phenomenal.

texplush said...

I also love Grown Backwards.
VC, you are not alone in the backlash to Everything That Happens, especially among those hoping for another Bush Of Ghosts, but I think it holds up on it's on terms: 'electronic gospel music' (eno's description) that was a result of a sort of disjointed collaboration (I'm not sure they were ever in the same room together during it's creation) veers toward cheesy, and the edgy songs can sometimes be grating, but more often than not, the songs really succeed in finding little sparks of optimism in the darkness of these times. I'm not a lyrics man, but Byrne
has some beautiful things to say on this record. I spent a lot of time listening to this in the week leading up to the
election and it went a long way toward soothing my nerves.

drischord said...

I love Grown Backwards and also Feelings! From my perspective, this new collaboration has nothing objectionable on it, but I never feel compelled to listen to it. Maybe it'll hit me later.

Eric said...

I actually have none of Byrne's solo output. Luckily for my album-consumption habits, they're often available for a couple bucks, so it's on my list.

I tend to agree with Tex on this. When I first heard it I was disappointed only in the sense that, as I said, I wanted an album to really get into and love like I do their other stuff. But on its own terms as a simple pop album, it's good and the songs are quite pretty and nice. A little hook from it will get stuck in my head and I'll have to think hard about where it came from and wil be pleasantly surprised when I remember that it came from this album (eg, the vocal refrain in the verses of "One Fine Day").