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.


texplush said...

Good call on the Malkmus. Easily his strongest solo album, helped in no small part by Janet Weiss. He seems to have his ambition back and I have hope that this is the beginning of a career resurgence. I also love the song 'Gardenia'.

Eric said...

Great list-- and a pretty effective (if unintentional) synthesis of a lot of the previous lists.
Your mention of your top ten from last year inspired me to go find that email chain from last year. Given how much back and forth there was then (98 emails!) I think a wrap-up thread is definitely in order. Also, I think an interesting exercise would be for everyone to repost their top tens from last year and reflect on how much they listen to them still, how they've stood the test of time, etc. I'm kind of curious.

Also, your note about the Malkmus was intriguing-- I never got much into SM's solo career, but the fact that you had previously had that reaction but responded so strongly to this makes me think I should pick it up at some point.

And I wish I liked that Wolf Parade album more. I loved their debut, and the song by the non-Sunset Rubdown guy (Dan?) were way better this time around, but somehow the record never really cohered for me and I don't find myself wanting to listen to it that much.

drischord said...

Malkmus didn't crack my Top 10, but it holds up. I'd still take his solo debut over the rest, but this is #2 for me.

And yeah, Chinese Democracy is a great example of a "max" album that works. In recent years, I personally have had 3 different grades of album at #1. This year was Chinese Democracy, a "max." 2006 was Neil Young "Living With War" (cue Eric shaking his head), a minimal album. And 2007 was Sky Blue Sky, which was middle-of-the-road in that respect: Simple songs, but arrangements running the gamut from spare to intricate. That, needless to say, is a whole category we haven't even delved into.

Via Chicago, I see you as perhaps the the biggest appreciator of max albums in the Kittybrains Collective. Therefore I think it's appropriate that Chinese Democracy topped your list.

Via Chicago said...

I forgot you loved Living with War so much - I never did understand that one...

Eric - I absolutely understand your Wolf Parade hesitation, though I do think it gets better with repeat listens. And you should indeed get the Malkmus. As I said, well worth it far beyond just Pavement nostalgia. And Tex is dead on - Janet Weiss really adds a ton to the album. I hope she sticks with the Jicks for awhile.

I would indeed be interested in revisiting my list (although I was in a weird place musically last year, so I fear some of it might be pretty embarassing), but alas, I no longer have those e-mails. If you happen to have my list handy could you e-mail it my way or post it? Many thanks.

Eric said...

I'd be happy to post everyone's top ten list from last year (though I might not get to it today, and only if others are in favor). I'd eliminate all of the commentary-- just the raw lists.

Also, Dylan, the reason I gently chide you for the Living With War pick is because it was such a tossed off work from Neil-- hastily recorded so that it was maximally politically resonant but at the expense of the music. Though I do kind of like the children's choirs too.

drischord said...

But that's part of the reason I loved it. The tossed-off quality captured his anger in the moment. He didn't even attempt traditional rhyme structure. (ie. "Back in the days of 'Mission Accomplished'") That line is awesome in large part because it doesn't roll off the tongue the way that "It's better to burn out than to fade away" might.

And also it was so much better than Paul McCartney's "Freedom."

Eric said...

Well, when you set the bar that high...

So, by searching my gmail for Via Chicago's real name, which only shows up in these contexts, I discovered that we've been doing this since 200-fucking-4!! We were so young back in the day! The group has fluctuated a bit over the years, but I'm pretty sure all of the Collective were there from the start. I propose posting ALL of these lists, going all the way back. There are such gems-- Drischord's number one pick of John Zorn's 50th Birthday! Tex Plush predicting the death of the album as far back as 2005 (release of Sufjan Stevens' Illinois)! Me complaining about the blogosphere and how I didn't listen to/love any new albums that year (every single year)! Some of the best parts of the emails I was skimming were the random comments and asides (in 2004 Ryan ranked the people on the email chain-- I came in at number 5 of 7) but I think to keep things simple we should stick to just the lists.

Also, in an unrelated thread that came up in the search was this line from Drischord in response to a new GNR song in a truck ad (what song was it, I wonder?):

"Hard to get a sense of the GNR song, but I've heard a
bunch of the new tunes from live recordings, and
they've sounded pretty good. I've felt for a while
now that "Chinese Democracy" will be neither the
magnum opus nor collosal flop that it would seem it
has to be. I think it's going to be good, not great,
and after 15 years of waiting, there sadly won't be
much else to say.

"Which brings us to the big question: Could a Guns N'
Roses musical be far off?? Hopefully starring
Sebastian Bach..."

(Given "Sorry," we're not that far off!)

Via Chicago said...

2004? Wow. I can't even begin to imagine what my top 10 was from then.

That Chinese Democracy quote is great, because that was my ultimate fear with this album (and I obviously wasn't alone). I would have far prefered it to just suck out loud, with weird NIN quitar squalls, Shaq rapping, and a sound that basically took UYI2's "My World" and made an entire album from it then for it to be "OK". And the first leak I heard (which I think was an earlier version of "Better" and one other song) was indeed average, but forgetable (obviously, since I can't remember which song it was). It never really entered my head that it would actually be awesome until a few weeks before it came up, when I finally started getting my hopes up.

drischord said...

I'm pretty sure the song was Better. It was in some sort of car/truck commercial, that's true. The other tracks I'd heard were recorded at concerts. The Blues (aka Street of Dreams) was on there and I think I.R.S.

Either way, I've liked all those songs more with repeated listenings. Having the actual album certainly facilitates that.

drischord said...

Also, I've come to the conclusion that I would have put Marnie Stern's album on my list if I had heard it earlier. Another quick pick-up on eMusic...

texplush said...

Drischord- I'm beginning to wonder if you actually are under contract to emusic.