Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Lost Albums Of 2008 (Part II)...

The Decemberists - Always The Bridesmaid: Volumes I, II & III (Capitol Records; released Oct. 4th, Nov. 4th and Dec. 2nd)
Probably my favorite band over the last decade- since this wasn't a proper album (or even an EP) it deserves some kind of special handling. Upon the first listen I think I said something like "ugh, thank god these songs aren't going to be on the next album..." but upon repeated listens, it's actually quite nice. These are intended to be stand-alone tracks, each one a nice little story about Colin Meloy's assorted fictional characters (and real people with fictional storylines: see Valerie Plame). An homage to New England, Portland's propensity for precipitation (Record Year For Rainfall was one of the year's better songs), a song about some chick named Elaine, etc. These were recorded during sessions for the upcoming Hazards Of Love album, (to be released March 24th) the record I'm the most psyched for next year.

Ladytron - Velocifero (Nettwerk Records; released June 2nd)

I used to really love Ladytron. Part of me still does; Light & Magic and The Witching Hour are rad electro-pop records with that patented minor-key darkness and that dead-panned, glazed-over eyes Euro-trash delivery. I love that about these ladies (and dudes, but they assume a minor role). So out of respect I still love Ladytron but they're not reinventing the wheel with their newest, Velocifero. If I can assert myself (again) through my biggest knock on most albums this year it's that they're sticking to their "formula", and that's a part of their appeal- they make dance music, it's for dancing, it's Euro-trashy; and it's completely derivative of their prior body of work. Which isn't a bad thing, it's just an electronic thing. The up-side (and my favorite thing about this bad) is Mira Aroyo's two songs in Bulgarian; that shit is just plain sexy...

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
(Cash Money Records, June 10th)

I was resistant of this album until I saw the all-star contributions on tracks featuring Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes and Juelz Santana with production credited to the likes of Kanye West, Swizz Beatz and David Banner; I had to check out Tha Carter III- or should I say Grammy-nominated approaching triple platinum Tha Carter III? The best album cover of the year, hands down. Lollipop and Got Money are sick cuts, A Milli is infectious, and Jay-Z's verse on Mr. Carter is another highlight, but there's also some weak songs that detract from the overall awesomeness of this record- sixteen tracks is about four too many. I'm not a fan of R&B crooner Robin Thicke either, leave that shit for the expanded/exclusive bonus track album sold at BestBuy or Target.

MGMT - Oracular Spectacular (Columbia Records; released January 22nd)
I was wrestling with this record from the outset- I didn't want to like it but god-damn, it's really catchy. The hooks are all over this album; it's one of those "nod to the past but futuristic in feel" jams somewhere between David Bowie's glam phase and Michael Jackson's pre-Thriller phase. No wonder the Brits were all over this; this was NME's #1 record of 2008. Also, since it was released digital-only in 2007, I figured it didn't qualify for an '08 release, just like I did with Bon Iver's record. Anyway, Electric Feel was one of the best songs of the year, along with The Youth, Time To Pretend & Kids. A fine "pure pop" record.

...and under no circumstances should you listen to the following:

DragonForce - Ultra Beatdown (Roadrunner Records; released August 26th)
Take any Bruce Dickinson-era Iron Maiden record, speed it up to 45 rpm and throw Yngwie Malmsteen's how-many-notes-can-I-stick-into-this-solo lightning fast technical delivery and you have DragonForce, that annoying band featured on GuitarHero. I read a review saying this was "the metal album of the year" and downloaded it promptly. There are no words to describe how utterly disappointed I was; this isn't metal- this is shit. Pure, unadulterated shit. I thought these guys were a tongue-in-cheek send up of metal music, kind of like a spoof of bands like W.A.S.P. (a la The Darkness or SpinalTap), but sadly, these ass-clowns are dead serious. I'm sticking to Dethklok for laughs, this record was both tragic AND ludicrous, an all-time low rating for The Musicologist. A monkey pissing in its own mouth would be too good a review for this crap...

More on the way...

New Morrissey!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Lost Albums Of 2008 (Part I)...

I'm starting out a bit on the defensive today, but a good defense trumps a good offense any day of the week. So, let me reiterate something- I'm just one person; there's no way I can get to every record released over the past 12 months. In order to do so, I'd have to quit my job and do this eight-plus hours a day. But then bills wouldn't get paid and XBOX 360s wouldn't get bought, and the economy would suffer that much more without my hard-earned paycheck getting thrown back into the mix and we can't have that now...

...but I can still listen to music from the past year and let you know about some stuff that I either glossed over, didn't listen to enough/didn't give it a fair shake or just plain dismissed. So here's the "other" best/worst stuff from '08, just in case you were wondering where it was on this half-assed blog of a web-page called The Musicologists.

Just outside of the "Honorable Mention" section, here's a few I liked...

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (SubPop Records; released June 3rd)

This is a pretty good record; I've seen several websites have this as their #1 album of the year, but I couldn't get it into my Top 20 for several reasons- the main one being that the lead singer Robin Pecknold sounds too much like Jim James of My Morning Jacket. That's not so much a dis as a complement- it's just that I was expecting something completely new and groundbreaking from a band receiving so much critical praise. It's an homage of sorts to the sixties (read: The Byrds meet AM pop radio) and I was hoping for something a bit future-leaning. However the gorgeous harmonies and folkloric feel are spot-on. It makes for nice background ambience, but with my short attention span it's just too laid-back to grab and hold me. I will most assuredly concede that White Winter Hymnal is an excellent song and deserves high praise, but the rest of the album serves as a supporting act for the single.

Women - Women (Jagjaguwar Records; released October 7th)

I wish I had more time with this one because it's been gaining steady plays on my hi-fi device in the last few weeks. It's Canadian (always a plus for you hosers, eh?), lo-fi without sounding like crap, and at times dissonant and
freaky with some noise experimentation feedback-type passages, seamless segues between tracks, tape loops, basically a lot of the things I love about music is made up of non-musical elements (in a Brian Eno way) and Women reminded me of that. In direct opposition to Fleet Foxes' above review, this album reinterprets the past without being labeled a "rip-off"; it's a nod to the olden days with a firm handshake for the upcoming. Check out the songs Black Rice and Shaking Hands- they're gloriously post-post-punk. So very post.

Calexico - Carried To Dust (Quarterstick Records; released September 9th)

I've always wanted to review an album as George Costanza's angry dad, Frank: "You want Latin rhythms, you want Americana? You got 'em!!!" Then the Maestro and Kramer would come over and we'd take our pants off and play billiards. Anyway, Calexico's been using the same formula for almost every album now, and half the time it works, and sadly; the other half of the time it's boring. Don't get me wrong; I love appearances from Sam Beam (Iron & Wine for you non-music nerds) pedal-steel guitars and horn sections, whispered lyrics and blues-based southwestern folk with sparkling, expensive sounding production, but it's no different than previous albums Garden Ruin or the excellent Feast Of Wire. I guess when you've pigeon-holed yourself into a genre, you ain't getting out any time soon. Albums like this make it easy to have a rating system: 5 out of 10, or 50% for you math majors.

El Perro Del Mar - From The Valley To The Stars
(Licking Fingers Records; released April 22nd)
Sarah Assbring
bills herself as El Perro Del Mar, she's a sort of lo-fi, twee indie-pop version of Karen Carpenter, with a little more soul and a slight Swedish accent. What she brings in this offering is the same melancholia heard on her debut, a nicely under-produced product wrapped in rolling basslines with sparse horn blasts and barely-there drums, a lounge-y piano feel throughout. I'm also thinking since the Swedes start learning English at a young age, they're taught to use our language in a more economical way- Assbring squeezes more out of her limited verbiage than most native-speakers, getting right to the point and sticking it in your head with her catchy melodies and angelic voice.

...and one I didn't...

Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs (Atlantic Records; released May 13th)

The further I go back into this bands' catalog, the better they get. Unfortunately for me, I didn't discover Death Cab until 2003's Transatlanticism; but by this time their best work was behind them. Granted, that was a pretty good album, I think every mix tape I made for a girl back then had a different track from that record. When Plans came out in '05 I'll admit that it was on my top ten- but looking back now I think it's (on the plus side) full of catchy melodies but (on the minus) filled with way too much overwrought prose and forced emotion. Go back to Something About Airplanes and We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes- those albums are phenomenal pop gems in their own right and don't sound the least bit phony. That's one of the joys of being on a small independent label, you can say whatever you want and don't have to pander to the masses. My biggest knock on this album is for all the hype it received- it hit #1 on the Billboard chart (in Canada too) and it's not even their sixth best album. Okay, I know the whole point of being a musician is to have your music heard by as many people as possible, but at what cost? Alienating your original fanbase by pumping out mainstream crap spells dollars in the bank, so bravo for you Mr. Ben Gibbard.

As for the album: Cath... is a great song- I believe it's a leftover from The Photo Album (did I read that somewhere?) and I really like Your New Twin Sized Bed- again, sounds like something from Transatlanticism. Long Division sounds like We Laugh Indoors, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

And that's Narrow Stairs in a nutshell- everything on here (that's any good) is totally ripped off from, uh... themselves. Which is a good way to introduce all your new fans and friends at MTV to your back catalog- by playing it on your newest record, with all new lyrics!

I can also guarantee that (since this record was so successful) there will never be another Postal Service album.


Stay tuned- I'm off all week so you just may get a blog every day...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fresh From The National's Blog...

The National's Dessner brothers, (Aaron & Bryce) have produced a charity record called Dark Was The Night for the Red Hot Organization available worldwide February 17th on 4AD Records. All profits from the sale of this record will go to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The album features 32 exclusive tracks and will be released as a double CD and on triple vinyl (Ooooh, deluxe package with gate-fold? We can only hope...)

Additionally, they wrote and recorded a new song for the record called So Far Around The Bend. Aaron and Bryce also collaborate on the record with Bon Iver (The Musicologist's #18 album of 2007) and Antony Hegarty (of Antony & The Johnsons / Hercules & Love Affair) respectively.

Please help support this very important cause by spreading the word and picking up the album in February 2009.

The full artist list:
Andrew Bird
Antony & Bryce Dessner
Arcade Fire
Beach House
Blonde Redhead & Devastations
Bon Iver
Bon Iver & Aaron Dessner
The Books featuring Jose Gonzalez
Buck 65 Remix (featuring Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti)
Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues
The Decemberists
Dirty Projectors & David Byrne
Kevin Drew
Feist & Ben Gibbard
Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear & Feist
Iron & Wine
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Kronos Quartet
Stuart Murdoch
My Brightest Diamond
My Morning Jacket
The National
The New Pornographers
Conor Oberst & Gillian Welch
Riceboy Sleeps
Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio)
Sufjan Stevens
Yo La Tengo

That's the all-star jammy-jam of the century (nine years in so far, but it'll be hard to beat what with the impending apocalypse and all...)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New Album News...

Crystal Antlers just announced that their full-length LP was just finished and will be available April 7th, 2009.

Get hype, fellas- get hype!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Come Visit Us...

...over at our new MySpace profile.

Stay Tuned for an all-new blog tomorrow!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Top 20 Albums Of 2008 (Part II)

These all seemed like such no-brainers to me that this list basically wrote itself. My album of the year was pretty much decided by May, everything else was bound to be consolation after the fact. It was that simple for me these last twelve months- when you hear your album, it's over; the list starts from the top and fills itself in on down.

So without further ado, the final ten albums of The Musicologist's Top 20 of 2008:

10. Boris - Smile (March 7th; Southern Lord Records)

Remember that fuzz pedal you were looking for a few years ago that the maker discontinued? Boris has it, in fact- they have all of them. Boris is a rock band, that's indisputable, so all the genres they seem to be grouped into can be thrown out; they just fucking rock. They sound here like an updated version of the Smashing Pumpkins' magnum opus Siamese Dream but with much sharper fangs. There's maximum riffage and searing solos over pounding drums without being in danger of making themselves cliche. Southern Lord Records co-founder Stephen O'Malley, who is also half of the drone-metal duo Sunn 0))) makes an appearance over the song's untitled finale, helping to drone-out towards a bombastic finale. If it's any consolation, this is the Japanese language album of the year. Key Tracks: My Neighbor Satan, Statement, Buzz-In, Laser Beam

9. Beach House - Devotion (February 26th; Carpark Records)

Musical gems are sometimes like diamonds in the rough, so don't be put off by Baltimore duo Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand's shoegazer-esque textures; this is as fine an album as any other "pop" record this year. It's been filtered down to a swampy ambience, giving it an overall dream-like feel, but one I don't want to be waken from any time soon. This album made it easy to wind down the day putting me in the frame of mind to just relax. Key Tracks: Gila, Wedding Bell, D.A.R.L.I.N.G., Heart Of Chambers

8. Why? - Alopecia (March 11th; anticon. Records)

Oakland's Yoni Wolf made a bonafide hip-pop masterpiece this year with the genre-bending Alopecia (a rare disease that causes the afflicted to lose all their hair- eyebrows, and, uh yeah- down there too...) It's basically a therapist's nightmare set to music- some lyrics are downright cringe-worthy: "sucking dick for drink tickets at the free bar at my cousin's bat mitzvah / cutting the punch line and it ain't no joke / devoid of all hope circus mirrors and pot smoke / picking fights on dyke night with shirlies and lokes and snatching purses..." (from Good Friday); existential crises a-plenty: "my dad wore this face in old photographs..." (from A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under) and just plain creepy: "stalker's my whole style and if i get caught i'll deny deny deny..." (from Simeon's Dilemma). As Wolf exorcises his demons for the whole world to witness, the resulting bedlam makes for sensational art. Key Tracks: A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under, Fatalist Palmistry, These Few Presidents, Good Friday

7. Abe Vigoda - Skeleton (July 8th; Post Present Medium Records)

Pleasant surprise of the year- I've never heard of this band but I know they're a huge part of the LA-based collective The Smell, that's probably how they got my attention. But they've managed to hold on to it, however; with a fascinating record that delves into the psyche of what it's like to grow up a disaffected teen in the cultural wasteland that is Southern California. I had to check out a lyric sheet to figure out what it is that's being sung; the vocals are so low in the mix they're basically another instrument. Common images throughout the album show up as themes that I'd certainly associate with SoCal: dead cities, burning, familial obligations, hope, blood/bleeding, the record has a basic feeling of general decay. The churning and seamless anthems sound like a rollicking rock carnival with some of the finest drumming laid to 2-inch tape (or ProTools) of the whole year; explosive and expressive with a mild hint of sloppiness. Key Tracks: Dead City/Waste Wilderness, Skeleton, Cranes, Hyacinth Grrls

6. Deerhunter - Microcastle / Weird Era Cont. (October 28th; Kranky Records)

Microcastle would be the obvious direction that Deerhunter's sound was headed after the Fluorescent Grey EP; I can hear how those four songs act as a natural bridge over the gap from Cryptograms to here. And Weird Era Cont. sort of works as a stop-gap between the afforementioned EP and Microscastle, even though it's been packaged as a complimentary piece (I like how it works as a pre-cursor to the album instead of an after-thought or "extra" release). Either way, two albums put out simultaneously was a risky move- but it ends up paying huge dividends as the Atlanta quintet's conceptual continuity remains undisturbed. All the hub-bub surrounding the release of these records (accidentally leaked by lead singer Bradford Cox, through his blogspot, much like this one!) completely makes up for any "bad vibes" Cox said he felt he was putting out by telling people not to steal his music, lambasting his fans but later retracting his outburst, offering an apology and putting out thirteen extra tracks and calling it Weird Era Cont. for no additional cost. What a rad guy. Anyway, back to the actual music- Deerhunter's sonic architecture is par excellence, earning them much-deserved comparisons to such a vast array of their influences like Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, The Beach Boys, Electrelane- hell, throws those bands in a blender and set to puree and pour out today's pre-eminent autuers in the self-created genre of ambient garage, Deerhunter. Key Tracks: (from Microcastle) Nothing Ever Happened, Saved By Old Times, Agoraphobia, Never Stops, Little Kids. (from Weird Era Cont.) Vox Humana, Operation, Vox Celeste, Focus Group, Backspace Century

5. Crystal Antlers - EP (September 2nd; Touch & Go Records)

The first time I heard this album I gave it a resounding "fuck yeah" after it was over, then I lamented the fact that it's only 24 minutes long. Of what you might be asking? Pure soulful-punk energy. This is the album you want to have on your iPod when you're dropping in at the skatepark, into raw and gnarly, shitty concrete. But Crystal Antlers' EP is like the momentum that carries you over that rough terrain and blasts you out of the quarter past all the rad-dads with their gay grommet kids pushing mongo and kick-turning on the banks. This is the finest EP I've heard all year, too bad it's so short. Or too good it's so short; I'm patiently waiting for the full-length record in early '09. Key Tracks: A Thousand Eyes, Owl, Vexation, fuck- it's a six song EP, everything's fucking good.

4. Girl Talk - Feed The Animals (June 19th; Illegal Art Records)

As if anything can be said about Gregg Gillis' mash-ups that he can't say himself with his sequencers and laptops? Really now, every album this guy puts out is a fucking masterpiece- an ADHD symphony running me back to my youth and into the present, then back, then forward, then... you get the picture. If you've ever wanted to hear Queen over the Beastie Boys with a Phil Collins' drum break into a Busta Rhymes verse over The Police into a... yeah. Artists that don't fit into any "true" genre create their own, and if "mash-up" is too restrictive (which I believe it is), I'd offer this: cut-and-paste experimental glitch-core. Key Tracks: I'd suggest getting it in both formats, the one cut into tracks and the one that's just a 53-minute un-interupted single track, either way, just put it on and hit "play", fool.

3. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Lie Down In The Light (May 20th; Drag City Records)

Will Oldham. Seriously, I was just going to print those two words for the review because it's that simple: Will Oldham, man. There's really nothing left for him to do, he's pretty much the greatest and if he retired tomorrow his legacy would be beyond untouchable. He's god. He could piss into my ears and I'd say it was the best concert ever. This was the best "Americana" record this year, whatever that means. He likens his approach to "Appalachian post-punk solipsism". Key Tracks: it's a Bonnie "Prince" Billy album- you start at track one and you play it all the way through. Or put it on shuffle. But "You Want That Picture" is quite beautiful though, isn't it?

2. TV On The Radio - Dear Science (September 23rd; Interscope Records)

Dear Science is the only album making the list that's been released on a major label- on Jimmy Iovine's Interscope. I gotta hand it to the man, even though I don't like him because he's part of the corporate music structure, he knows talent when he hears it. As if this band can get any better- I named Return To Cookie Mountain #3 back in my '06 year-end list, (they did) but regretfully I can't give them the top spot this year (and you'll see why in a minute). This is as strong an outing for any band that keeps getting more and more attention from mainstream America, and with all its anger, imagery, sexiness, sparkling production values and critical acclaim, I hope TV On The Radio becomes huge because it's time people started listening to good music. I was watching VH1's Best Videos of 2008 countdown this morning and I swear to god, everything sounds the same- it's a cluster-fuck of watered-down, Starbucks adult contemporary bullshit- everyone wants to sound like those wankers Coldplay. I hope people hear Dear Science and it makes them want to start a band, an original one that doesn't sound like anyone else. Like this band has managed to do over the course of their career. Thank you, TV On The Radio! Key Tracks: Crying, DLZ, Dancing Choose, Halfway Home, Golden Age

The Musicologist's 2008 Album Of The Year...

No Age - Nouns (May 6th, SubPop Records)

How do you explain to someone that you just felt the ground beneath you move- I'm not talking about an earthquake here, I'm talking about an honest, soul-shaking experience; musically speaking of course. No Age's Nouns begs to be listened to through headphones- it asks the listener "Ready?" and hurls you into a wall at the speed of light, at which point you've completely de-materialized into nothing and pass through said wall as sub-atomic particles, free to move about the universe as you please. A sonic exploration is an under-statement; this album is so densely layered and meant to be played at near "just blew out my sub-woofer" levels that you may just blow them speakers, or the record just may cause you to kick them in. In terms of number of listens, it wasn't even close- I probably listened to this about three times as much as all other albums combined this year, and own it in every format AND got the 7" for Teen Creeps (The Musicologist's 2008 Song Of The Year). My favorite band of the last seven months- I am so fucking jazzed on these guys right now it's not even funny. The Little Band That Could Do No Wrong In '08. Key Tracks: the entire album. Period.

Later for now...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top 20 Albums Of 2008 (Part I)

Let's talk about album reviews for a minute- what exactly is a review? I've come to find that it's less about the actual music than it is a confessional of sorts about the writer themselves. It's an inkblot, a human Rorschach test- I think what you're getting when you read an album review is a look into the psyche of the author; what you like about an album are the things you'll likely relate to and the things you hate are more or less the things you find icky about yourself.

So, the things that make me slightly uncomfortable are the sort of thing I've been attracted to lately- gravitating towards the "weird" side of music in hopes of uncovering some truths about myself as a person. Ever meet me? Yeah, I'm a fucking weirdo. If there's a general "theme" of this year in my world of music, it's that I got into some strange.

There's a whole slew of bands I've really been getting into lately, Dirty Projectors are one, Liars are another, and there's about ten bands of the twenty on the following list(s). The bands that kind of make you squirm a bit, bands that test your conventional wisdom around things like rhythm, texture, atmosphere, lyrical symbolism, etc. Maybe music has the ability to make you question yourself and doubt the world around you, challenging you to wonder: "Huh, can they do that? Can I do that?"

Music should operate outside of "normal" anyway. I'm pretty sure that's the whole point of rock and roll.

The Musicologist's Top 20 Albums of 2008 (Part I; albums #20 - #11)

20. Blacklisted - Heavier Than Heaven Lonelier Than God (April 1st; Deathwish Inc. Records)

Music as violence? The heaviest album I've heard all year, actually- the heaviest I've heard since Pantera's Vulgar Display Of Power. This band makes Mastodon look like little pussies, and makes Metallica look like complete homos. This record makes me want to go out and break shit, start fires, pillage, plunder and cause general disorder. Then I remember that I'm a pre-school teacher (and a complete pussy) and I'd never even so much as hit another human being. But I can throw this album on and let it punch me in the jugular; 11 songs clocking in at nineteen-and-a-half minutes. The lyrical content is both honest and emotional, wearing your heart on your sleeve doesn't always mean acoustic balladry- hardcore music is definitely alive and well. Plus, these guys are from Philly (which I've been reading has overtaken NYC as America's HC capital these days...) Key Tracks: Memory Layne, Stations, Always

19. Man Man - Rabbit Habits (April 8th; Anti Records)

Yes, I am unfairly biased towards bands from Philly. Having written for a local music mag some years ago whilst that was still my hometown I was given the opportunity to discover a lot of really good bands. Man Man is one of these bands- a gypsy-cabaret-indie rock act unlike no other band in music today. At times this album is obtuse and creepy; at others heartfelt and sincere. Hilarious poetic couplets like: "You think you’re so slick
/ I seen her lipstick across your dillznick" (from The Ballad Of Butter Beans) and scathing send-ups on religion: "There ain’t no god here as far as I can see / your god of hope and light never did nothing straight by me" (from Poor Jackie). There's some real fine instrumentation over the wild, jazzy drumming and eastern European-inflected waltzes. Think Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart meet Tom Waits in a psychedelic brothel in a post-war Bulgaria. Key Tracks: Top Drawer, Mister Jung Stuffed, Doo Right

18. Atlas Sound - Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (February 19th; Kranky Records)

Atlas Sound has the whole psych-shoegaze-dream-chamber pop thing down- a seamless collection of stark songs heavy on the bass with arpeggiated guitar lines, all over top of subtle and distorted washes of multi-tracked guitars with organs floating about somewhere in the mix. Lead singer Bradford Cox's vocals get a delay treatment, as they appear within the register at different intervals; it's as if Lee Perry's Black Ark dub sessions were being called upon in a seance. Notes on the stellar production vaules: heavy on the reverb, transparent, layered, atmospheric- making it both creepy and solemn but so beautiful.
Here's the full review from last February. Key Tracks: Cold As Ice, Quarantined, River Card, Recent Bedroom

17. Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron and Fred Squire - Lost Wisdom (October 7th; P.W. Elverum & Sun Records)

Phil Elverum
has evolved from a lo-fi genius (as The Microphones) into his current musical vision, Mount Eerie (a slightly better-fi version of his ideas). Nothing's really changed- gone is the fuzzy quality of his former "band", here he's bought better microphones (no pun intended) to record this album, but it still has that bedroom-folky feel to it. I can imagine all three musicians literally sitting around the mic
pouring their respective souls into this recording, you can hear his knee knock into the back of his acoustic guitar; anyone who's ever passed a guitar around a room will know that sound- you can also hear them taking their seats before numbers; it's really that homey. Key Tracks: Voice In Headphones, With My Hands Out, Who?

16. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (January 29th; XL Recordings)

This album went gold- mainstream America sat up and took notice thanks to the unstoppable MTV-hype machine. I was calling it the first great album of the year but I think my love and support waned over the course of '08; that, and a ton of greater stuff's come out since. Here's what I said back in February: There are an infinite number of bands that sound like other bands yet still have enough originality to distance themselves from their heroes; that's the mark of a good band. Reinterpreting the past without straight-up ripping it off, Vampire Weekend's self-titled full-length debut sounds as if it's been culled from a myriad of influences. Extracting their musical direction from
Peter Gabriel's early solo catalog, King Sunny Ade's Nigerian juju polyrhythms, Paul Simon's Graceland, not to mention English post-punk (I hear some of The Police and The Cure in here as well as the decidedly un-English post-punk Talking Heads), this foursome from New York City couldn't have made a finer album, it's actually the first great record of 2008. Click here for the full review. Key Tracks: Oxford Comma, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, I Stand Corrected, The Kids Don't Stand A Chance

15. Hot Chip - Made In The Dark (February 5th; Astralwerks Records)

Expanding their style further in both directions that they've been known for (dance-punk and lover's rock balladeering); interchanging the two as they please. Stylistically, Hot Chip are masters of getting the most layers of sound out of the least amount of instrumentation by recording live, rather than multi-tracking and over-dubbing the shit out of their music; they go on the fly and work it out later on the mix board. I'd love to see more bands producing their own records, who better knows your sound than you? Hot Chip's core of Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard have been able to mature their sound without cheesing it up, as many artists tend to do as they rise. But critical acclaim doesn't always mean "cool", as part of the Chip's allure is their geeky love for ancient Moog synths, laptop-based looping software and old-school video game sounds. Playing Taylor's tender croon against Goddard's droll delivery marks Hot Chip's mastery of soulful electronica, and they can pretty much stand alone at the top of that genre. Full review can be found
here. Key Tracks: Wrestlers, Shake A Fist, Ready For The Floor, One Pure Thought

14. Xiu Xiu - Women As Lovers (January 29th; Kill Rock Stars Records)

Oakland (via San Jose) gets some love here with the experimental/art-rock band Xiu Xiu's strange and
lovely album Women As Lovers- it's one of those albums I was referring to in the intro paragraph; an album that made me embrace my un-comfortable side and let go of some baggage I've been carrying around with me for just about ever. I listened to this album a lot right after its release, it got me through some fucked-up shit I was going through. Then I realized- guess what? We all go through some fucked-up shit, and there's people out there making music with that same fucked-up baggage dragging them down. And we all can have a listen and decide what good it's doing for us, carrying that junk around. Or we can choose to let it go. This album represents a catharsis; it's a bit more accessible (lyrically it's less obtuse, more human) than their prior releases. Key Tracks: F.T.W., Under Pressure (ft. Michael Gira), I Do What I Want When I Want, You Are Pregnant You Are Dead

13. High Places - 03/07 - 09/07 (July 22nd; Thrill Jockey Records)

Mary Pearson
's soothing voice and Rob Barber's pared-down production techniques garner High Places' earlier stuff (this is basically a compilation album of songs recorded between March of 2007 and Sept. '07, as the title suggests) pretty high marks from this avid listener; I favored this album in the first few hours of the day, usually biking to/taking the train to work. It's an awakening of sorts, the record has a definite sunrise-y feel to it as it gently prods me into the day, coming on gradually like a cup of tea rather than a jolt received from coffee. It's that nice; if you don't enjoy it upon your first listen try it again- the album gets better as it goes on, it's more-or-less "bottom loaded", or if you're a vinyl collector, side 2 is where it's really at. Key Tracks: Jump In (For Gilkey Elementary School), Shared Islands, Freaked Flight, Canary

12. Fucked Up - The Chemistry Of Common Life (October 7th; Matador Records)

Is Matador the biggest independent label in the world? They should be, but I think it's SubPop. Maybe it's Merge? Does it matter, Matador signed Fucked Up to a deal and put out this album- it's an experimental hardcore album. What does that mean, exactly? Well, it's hard, fast, loud and heavy. And it has synths, flutes, bongos and pianos on it. Confused? I was- until I heard their debut full-length Hidden World. So not only are they the best experimental hardcore band in the world, they're the only one. The Chemistry Of Common Life is a lesson in restrained violence- just when you think it's going for the coup de grace, they pull back and hit you with a Skynyd-esque classic rock solo or a synth breakdown. They're called Fucked Up for a reason, they fuck you right up. I hope this band gets insanely huge so radio stations and TV outlets take notice and have to say their name on air, that'd be awesome. Sebastien Grainger of now-defunct Death From Above 1979 and Vivian Girls provide guest vocal work on a few songs. Key Tracks: Son The Father, No Epiphany, Twice Born, Looking For God

11. The Dodos - Visiter (March 18th; Frenchkiss Records)

I got to this album late- when I found out they were from the Bay Area (San Francisco), I became more intrigued and gave it a listen. It's become the other "early-morning" album in my repetoire over the last two months, and I was kicking myself because it had been out about six months by then. Stubborn me. It's got everything a guitar playing geek like me loves about the instrument: alternate tunings, challenging picking patterns, it's like an acoustic nerd's wet dream. The accompanying instrumentation gives it a sparse, barely-there feel and the percussion seems sometimes as if it's being made with whatever's lying around the studio. Singer Meric Long's voice sounds vaguely like Zach Condon of Beirut, while Logan Kroeber's amazing polyrhythmic drumming gives this album such a dynamic feel- I swear after this many listens it still sounds different every time. Key Tracks: Park Song, Red And Purple, Walking, Eyelids

There's tonight's installment- hopefully I can get the Top 10 out to you this same time tomorrow, but I need a break from writing. You can probably guess what they are already. It'd be interesting to see if you could, but I won't hold my breath...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The 2008 Honorable Mentions...

To the following bands: oooh, so close, you guys just missed it!

As I've been narrowing down my final Top 20 list of '08, any of these records really could've been the 20th, and I'll give some insight as to why they just barely missed the mark. I mean, last year I did a Top 50, and looking back, that's both pretentious as hell and just plain retarded. Is there really any difference between #29 and #30? Probably not. What about #51? And as I mentioned in a previous blog, where would those un-reviewed and un-listened to albums fall in the list? I can say that Les Savy Fav's Let's Stay Friends would've been in my Top 10, that album fucking rules. But I probably didn't listen to it until the end of January, so boo hoo to any 2007 list.

What I'm saying is, any list done by one person is going to be flawed to the point where I'd be outraging other music geeks in the process. Where was ______? What about ______? Look, I can't listen to everything, although I'm going to try.

And for the record, I'm not counting Bon Iver as an '08 release. I got that album in '07, he self-released it without a label, so it's an '07 release. Don't bitch at me because it's not here, go back through the archives and find it on the 2007 list. Remember, I will probably find out about most music before you do...

So anyway, here's the list (un-numbered, of course) of 2008's Honorable Mentions:

Immortal Technique - The 3rd World (June 24th; Viper Records)

Mainstream hip-hop is dead to me. I tried to like the Lil' Wayne album, but there were just too many filler songs on there wedged between three real stand-outs. But Immortal Technique threw down a killer album, all full of vitriol and steam (would you expect anything less from an avowed Socialist?). It's everything I used to love about hip-hop; angry and political rhymes spit with furious vengeance over original beats. It's just now you have to go deep underground, beneath the radar to find the "real" shit.
Key Tracks: Mistakes and Reverse Pimpology

She & Him - Volume 1 (March 18th; Merge Records)
Zooey Deschanel, the crazy girlfriend from Weeds (and I guess now she's a millionaire thanks to Jim Carrey) and M Ward (no introduction necessary, and no period after the M) put together one of the best pure pop albums of '08- covering the likes of Smokey Robinson (You Really Got A Hold On Me), The Beatles (I Should Have Known Better) and the traditional "Swing Low Sweet Chariot". This is the one album on my list that your mom probably would like... Key Tracks: Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? and Sentimental Heart

Vivian Girls - Vivian Girls (October; In The Red Records)

Murky reverberations, under-produced, echoed vocals; it's a shoegazey brand of punk-rock from an all-female power trio. The bass lines are sublime as they are simplistic, sometimes all you need is a driving bottom end and you've made a good album.
Key Tracks:
I Believe In Nothing, Tell The World, Where Do You Run To

Bloc Party - Intimacy (October 25th; Vice Records)

I've gone so back and forth on this band- Silent Alarm was an immediate success, the first time I listened to that album I had to listen to it again and again, I can swear I didn't listen to anything else for about a month. Their second album, A Weekend In The City, was a total "creeper" album- I dismissed it at first then later retracted my statement upon further listens. Intimacy, their third offering, is somewhere in between- it almost seems as if they went backwards and recaptured some magic from Silent Alarm, mixed it with equal parts A Weekend In The City and this was the resulting bastard child record. It begs repeated listens, it's so dense and layered I swear I keep hearing new stuff jumping out at me even now. Key Tracks: Flux, Mercury, Talons, Biko, and One Month Off

High Places - High Places (September 23rd; Thrill Jockey Records)

I can tell you now without reservation (spoiler alert!) that the "other" High Places album (3/07-9/07) is definitely on the Top 20 list. This self-titled album was really good also, but lacked the immediacy and urgency the prior release had; this was well-planned, well-constructed, and thought out- a "proper" album. And sometimes we don't want that, we want rushed, hurried, half-assed bedroom stuff. Key Tracks: The Tree With The Lights In It and From Stardust To Sentience

Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster... (April 1st; Arts & Crafts Records)

Billing themselves as "Britain's Second-most Punk Rock Band" (behind who I can't begin to imagine, so yes; I get the "joke"...) the leaders of the international twee-core movement came through with a stellar debut after releasing a six song EP in '07 (which was even better). Probably the funnest thing to come out of Wales since Tom Jones, with all their damn exclamation points and over-long song titles. I mean really long, like Sufjan Stevens long. Key Tracks: You! Me! Dancing! and Death To Los Campesinos! (those are actually pretty short...)

The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust (February 19th; Vice Records)

I offered a half-assed review of this record back in March, click here to read it. I could've just cut and pasted it in, but self-referential hot-linking is kind of rad.

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (July 15th; Vagrant Records)

I am a fervent supporter of America's only "classic" rock band thirty years after they would've been undoubtedly the world's biggest arena act. Coming to 2008 with a more grown-up approach, bringing back all the characters from previous albums as they too have grown up. The skate-rats, the girl who OD'd at that concert, all the mythical faceless teens and twenty-somethings who were all over 2006's Boys And Girls In America. Key Tracks: Sequestered In Memphis, Constructive Summer and Lord, I'm Discouraged.

Ratatat - LP3 (July 8th; XL Recordings)

Another "creeper" album; I kind of panned it when I first heard it but it's come on strong as of late, probably because I read to instrumental music so it was the background noise to many lunch breaks spent turning pages over Denis Johnson, Kurt Vonnegut and Haruki Murakami's works. Video game soundtrack-influenced electro-trip-pop is the new trip-hop, a genre I've been lamenting the demise of since Portishead decided they didn't want to do that anymore. Key Tracks: Brulee and Mirando

The Sword - Gods Of The Earth (April 1st; Kemado Records)

Progressive Metal thunder from Austin, Texas' The Sword was the soundtrack to many a skate sesh this past year, an album that would've made the Top 20 if not for a late-comer that replaced it (stay tuned for tomorrow's blog where you'll find that out...). Again, here is the link to the review of Gods Of The Earth. Hot-links a' plenty, yo!

So that'll about do it for the "good" records of 2008, as if the twenty next albums can be considered "better" or dare I say "great"? It's all relative (to what I don't know, I really should do best-of lists in like March of the following year because I know I'm going to find some shit in the next three months that'll blow me away and I'll be kicking myself for now knowing about it three months ago...)

So check back tomorrow around this same time and I'll have albums 11 through 20 for you, as if you really care...