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...

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