Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eric's Top Ten of 2008

This was an odd year for music to me. Some CD’s that I really looked forward to turned out to be pretty awful (My Morning Jacket) to just ok (Gnarls Barkley). There were, however some pretty phenomenal bands that I discovered to make up for those disappointments. Here are the 10 best of those CD’s

10. The Cool Kids “The Bake Sale”

It seems that for hip hop, change is a bad thing. With very few notable exceptions, as hip hop grows older, it gets exponentially worse. Enter the Cool Kids. They take things back to 1986 and the results are awesome. The clap and bass beat that makes up the opening track is one of the most creative beats you will hear all year. It sets the tone for a great disc that is fun to listen to and gives hope that hip hop has some future

9. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Dig! Lazarus, Dig!”

Nick Cave doesn’t really break any new ground here, but this CD is highly entertaining, with great songs. Cave’s lyrics and delivery are perfect for the loose chaos that backs him. As he rants about a new-age Lazarus lost in modern America, or demands someone to explain how we got to this point in humanity, Cave’s delivery perfectly accentuates the mood of these songs.

8. The Mars Volta “The Bedlam in Goliath”

One of the themes that a couple of bands on my list share this year is that they pared down the scope of what they put on record and really focus on song craft. The most frustrating thing about the Mars Volta is that they would be completely awesome if they just would play instead of giving you 3 amazing minutes of rock bookended by 10 minutes of babies screaming or something like that. Well, this is the disc where they find out how to remain arty and groundbreaking while keeping their songs lean and focused. This is the Mars Volta at their best, showing us the power they can produce when they really set their mind to the songs.

7. Sigur Ros “Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust”

This is another of the bands that refined and honed their formula for the most part this year. While I really had no complaints about the previous Sigur Ros albums, it is nice to hear what they would sound like if they attempted a more straight ahead song format. The results are mostly great. It is still nice to hear them do their old thing on the brooding to ecstatic “Festival”, but the more straightforward songs like “Gobbledigook” and “All Alright” are revelations. On a side note, one of the funniest things I read this year was in the Paste review of this album where the reviewer said he was glad that when Sigur Ros gives us and English language song, it doesn’t turn out that they’ve been singing about coke and strippers this whole time. Funny to think about.

6. Devotchka “A Mad and Faithful Telling”

There really is no one else like Devotchka out there. They were really thrust more into the limelight after “Little Miss Sunshine,” but they didn’t really let that success go to their heads, and instead turned in one of the best albums of their career. All the signature devices are there; the gypsy-esque arrangements and instrumentation, the yearning vocals, and the overall dramatic flair that doesn’t sound hokey at all.

5. Blitzen Trapper “Furr”

This is another band that took a step toward more focused songwriting than previous efforts, while maintaining some of their previous quirks. As much as I liked Wild Mountain Nation, none of these songs wouldn’t really fit on that album. There really is no Devil’s A Go Go, but that’s not really a bad thing the way these songs turned out. The highlights are actually the quieter, more intimate songs like Furr and Not Your Lover. A great disc from a band that has lots of promise to it.

4. Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”

More often than with other bands, when I get a Spiritualized CD, it is an event. I have to listen to it in it’s entirety uninterrupted to fully appreciate the scope of what Jason Pierce is trying to do. Their latest is no disappointment. This is a disc that brings all of the best things about Spiritualized together, the medicated full orchestration of Sweet Talk and Soul on Fire, the more straightforward rock of I Gotta Fire and You Lie, You Cheat, and the devastating sparseness of Death Take Your Fiddle. This album was worth the wait.

3. The Walkmen “You and Me”

My favorite moment on this CD comes in the third chorus of possible best song of the year “The New Year.” Hamilton Leithauser just decides he isn’t going to sing for most of the chorus. The band does it’s thing, but Hamilton just sits out. It’s a perfect example of the Walkmen at their drunk/too cool for school best. Sonically, this album doesn’t break much new ground for them, but it’s a nice return to form after the relative departure of their “Pussy Cats” cover. It’s always nice to have the Walkmen back doing what they do best.

2. Howlin’ Rain “Magnificient Fiend”

Howlin’ Rain is the side project of Comets on Fire’s Ethan Miller. I sometimes wish I was a teenager in the early seventies at a time when psychedelic rock was at it’s apex, and if there’s one thing Miller can do, it’s psychedelic blues rock. If an alien came down to earth and asked me what this whole rock and roll thing is, if I didn’t have any Stones Cd’s, there is a very good chance I would play Howlin’ Rain. From the frenetic amped up blues of “Dancers at the End of Time” to the Allman-esque twin guitar ecstacy of “Goodbye Ruby,” this album gives faith that there is bands out there keeping the old-school rock and roll flame alive without sounding like a rote thorwback.

1. Wolf Parade “At Mount Zoomer”

It was a very close call for me between #1 and #2 and if you ask me why I chose Wolf Parade over Howlin Rain, I don’t know if I can say why exactly. There is no doubt that this is a great album. I guess inside of me lives a prog rock fan, but not too big of one. I like the balance of straight up rock that Wolf Parade mixes with flair proggy keyboard flourishes, dramatic vocals and song arrangements that veer outside of the normal format just enough to add to the excitement. Highlight is the closer “Kissing the Beehive” which combines all of the elements that make Wolf Parade great. The song starts out inauspiciously enough before building to it’s climax that eventually ebbs into the devastating outro.

Biggest Disappoinment:
My Morning Jacket “Evil Urges”
Just when I thought I had heard the worst song of all time in “Highly Suspicious,” MMJ drops “Two Halves” on me. Ugh. Hopefully MMJ got all the stuff that made this album bad out of their system and can come back with a strong album next time out.

Close Calls.

Vampire Weekend “Vampire Weekend”
Flight of the Conchords “Flight of the Conchords”
Flogging Molly “Float”
North Mississippi Allstars “Hernando”
Okkervil River “The Stand Ins”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Annie's Top 10

10. Airbourne - Runnin’ Wild – Airbourne obviously loves AC/DC. I also love AC/DC, and frankly I have no issue with them blatantly ripping off my favorite aussie rockers - think Wolfmother but for AC/DC. It’s certainly not anything new or inventive, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun to listen to (and it’s kind of better than Black Ice). This will be my soundtrack for shotgunning beers for years to come. Key tracks: Stand up for Rock N’ Roll, Too Much Too Young Too Fast, Fat City, Cheap Wine & Cheaper Women

9. The Cool Kids – The Bake Sale – Rap output in recent memory, with few exceptions, has just been a constant parade of the same old crap – apparently Rap is the new pop, with artists focusing more on their entrepreneurial ventures than their music. The Cool Kids take things in a different direction with 80’s nostalgia and songs glamorizing only having $5 to your name. They already jab those who are certain to copycat their style, almost challenging their peers to figure out their own style instead of following the crowd. The Rasheed Wallace shout out didn’t hurt my opinion of them either. Key tracks: What up Man, 88, Bassment Party, A Little Bit Cooler

8. Devotchka – A Mad and Faithful Telling – There really just isn’t a band around quite like Devotchka. This album is rich with beautiful, instantly classic songs that will make you want to dance like a whirling dervish while drinking red wine out of the bottle. Devotchka has been a favorite of mine for some time, but the album is their strongest output to date. Devotchka’s songs really span the spectrum of human emotion – anger, frustration, shame, regret, joy, futility, ecstasy – while transporting you to another place and time. Painfully beautiful, Devotchka’s music makes me feel as though my heart is about to swell and burst. It’s so easy to get lost in the highs and lows while listening to this album.

7. Coldplay – Viva la Vida or Death and All his Friends – I’m going to skip over the obligatory part where I’m supposed to apologize for liking Coldplay here – I have all of their albums and I’m an out-of-the closet Coldplay aficionado. In their previous releases they have established an easily predictable formula that works for them, but Viva la Vida steps outside of their comfort zone. The result is glorious. This is one of those albums you will want to listen to in its entirely – the flow between songs is flawless and as a whole it engulfs you in Chris Martin’s imaginary empire. Martin was quoted earlier this year saying “We owe our career to Radiohead”. Personally I think he underestimates himself, but it’s refreshing to hear a musician of his scale giving credits to those who have influenced his sound instead of acting like he developed his music in some kind of vacuum and invented rock music (I’m looking at you, Brandon Flowers!).

6. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV and The Slip – Both of this year’s NIN releases make my list based purely on innovation. First, NIN released Ghosts online only – but not only did we get all of the Ghosts tracks, we got a multimedia pack and custom artwork associated with each song. Ghosts itself is an interesting concept – each track is designed to evoke the feeling of being in a specific place. One of Trent Reznors’ collaborators on the album was Dresden Dolls’ Brian Viglione, and apparently Trent had him create a drum kit made of trash and random items from Home Depot – Trent preferred its sounds to the traditional kit so that’s what ended up on the album. The whole set of tracks sounds like the soundtrack for a yet unmade David Lynch film. THEN, Trent made Radiohead look like a bunch of cheap bastards by giving away The Slip online completely free (no donations accepted!!!) – AND with custom artwork for each track as well! The Slip was a major rebound for Trent after Year Zero’s chilly reception and its tracks sound simply fantastic live. Not to mention that their Lollapalooza live set was the best NIN show I have seen to date – and I have been to quite a few NIN shows, including dates on the club tour for With Teeth. In today’s world of corporate rock, it is so refreshing to see an established artist like Trent go to such great lengths to surprise and delight their fans. Key tracks: 1,000,000, Lights in the Sky

5. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend – How can you not like Vampire Weekend? It just makes you want to throw on a polo and boat shoes and go party on a yacht. Yet somehow it manages to portray the snooty New England vibe without seeming overly pretentious. This album just could not be more fun to listen to. Since this has been on practically every list in either 07 or 08 I will stop there.

4. Ben Folds – Way to Normal – Between putting this album out and producing Amanda Palmer’s, it was a big year for Ben Folds. An interesting concept, it appears Ben Folds is having a reverse mid-life crisis – instead of being a regular guy who wishes he were a rockstar, he’s a rockstar wishing he were a regular guy living in Effington. The result is not as pathetic as that sounds. A funny and fantastically listenable album, it’s also part celebrity breakup album but avoids the trap of sounding self-pitying (‘I gotta say, it’s pretty gay trading jabs in a pop song – maybe next time we should just have a dance off.’). In typical Ben Folds fashion, he uses sad subject matter but somehow makes the album as a whole come off as completely exuberant – as if he wouldn’t trade a moment despite the ridiculousness of his situation. Key tracks: Hiroshima (B B B B Benny Hit his Head), Dr Yang, The Frown Song, Branwascht, Effington

3. The Raconteurs – Counselors of the Lonely – I don’t hold it as any secret that as a fellow Michigander, I worship all that is Jack White so keep in mind this review is entirely skewed. That said – I thought Broken Boy Soldiers was a solid album, but in Counselors of the Lonely the Raconteurs went completely off the reservation, exploring new sounds with exciting results. Yet while being completely different, the album still manages to keep the same gritty southern rock vibe I liked so much from their debut. The Raconteurs’ wear their country and blues influences on their sleeves, but they consistently churn out crisp new riffs and sounds that make the album as a whole one of the most innovative rock efforts in recent memory. Key tracks: The Switch and the Spur, Five on the Five, Rich Kid Blues, Many Shades of Black

2. Nick Cave & The Bas Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! – I fell hard for this album on the first listen. At points Cave’s wit makes me laugh, at other points his sensitive side makes me feel like weeping, at other times his libido makes me want to grab a glass of whiskey and dance on a table. You definitely can’t pin down this album as one note. To top it off, his live performance was simply stunning. Songs that kind of faded on the album came to life in a whole new way live, with a wall of sound from the Seeds and a voice that somehow growls and soothes simultaneously from Cave. Hard to believe that a band that has been around for nearly 2 ½ decades can put out something that sounds so new and fresh. Key tracks: Hold on to Yourself, We Call Upon the Author to Explain, Today’s Lesson, Midnight Man

1. Amanda Palmer – Who Killed Amanda Palmer? – I love the Dresden Dolls, but was thrilled to see what Palmer would put together without any of the self-imposed restrictions of the Dolls’ punk cabaret duality. She did not disappoint. It’s no secret that Palmer is an excellent songwriter, and she certainly hadn’t used up all her creative juices when it came to putting out her solo disk (my personal favorite line from Ampersand: “The ghetto boys are cat-calling me as I pull my keys from my pocket. I wonder if this method of courtship has ever been effective? Has any girl in history said, ‘Sure, you seem so nice. Let’s get it on’? Still I always shock them when I answer, ‘Hi, my name’s Amanda’”). Ben Folds’ production guidance is evident on this album, in a good way – obviously he knows how to work her piano playing into larger bands with numerous instruments. I think this album will make everyone happy, with moments of big-scale bombast (Leeds United), sing-along rock (Guitar Hero), and the simplicity of beautiful pared-down songwriting she has become known for (Strength through Music). I saw her in London (highly recommend her live show) and she told an interesting story. When she brought in the video for Leeds United (which features her in basically a bra and suit jacket) her record execs told her they’d like to make a few tweaks – basically they though her exposed midriff was too pudgy and they wanted to airbrush her for the final cut. She questioned, had these people actually listened to her album and did they understand what she was all about? I mean, who do they think she is….Britney fucking Spears? She clearly is not, as all of these songs are instantly relatable, probably a result of Amanda keeping both feet on the ground by personally taking the time to meet with any fans who care to stay around after the show (I bought her a beer in London, and got an autograph and picture – highlight of the trip!).

Leeds United video - you decide if Amanda is "too fat":

Extremely close runner-ups…if only I had more spots to give!

Flogging MollyFloat – A kick ass Irish punk rock album with beautifully written songs. The only reason this didn’t make it on is that it’s just not a ton different than their previous releases. It’s certainly their best album since Drunken Lullabies, though. Key tracks: (No More) Paddy’s Lament. Float, Punch Drunk Grinning Soul, Man with No Country
The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing – Extremely fun dance album. Terrific effort from 2 newbies. Key Tracks: Great DJ, That’s Not My Name, Shut Up and Let me Go
Electric Six – Flashy – An awesome comeback after last year’s disappointment. Their schtick is fun and dancy once again. Definitely download “Flashy Man” and play it frequently at house parties.
Del the Funky Homo SapienEleventh Hour – Classic Del. As always, innovative and fun with fresh beats. Del is definitely an industry exception of great rap that doesn’t fit into any stereotypes. Key tracks: Bubble Pop, Naked Fonk, Hold your Hand
The Streets – Everything is Borrowed – Mike Skinner gets environmental on your ass. Change your ways, lest ye go the way of the dodo! I love that he constantly evolves his subject matter. Key tracks: Heaven for the Weather, The Way of the Dodo, On the Edge of a Cliff, Never Give in, Alleged Legends, The Strongest Person I Know
Guns N' Roses – Chinese Democracy – As a hardcore GNR fan, I was pretty stunned with Axl finally stuck to a release date. Is it great enough to justify the amount of time he took to make this? Well, not quite…but he did put together a pretty great rock album, and it definitely lets everyone know that as crazy as Axl may be, he can also be genius sometimes. Hey, even Slash liked it: Key tracks: Chinese Democracy (crank this track up as loud as possible), Better, There Was a Time, Riad N’ the Bedouins

Honorable Mentions: AC/DC – Black Ice, Beck – Modern Guilt, The Dresden Dolls – No, Virginia, The Ravonettes – Lust Lust Lust, Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum End, Pink – Funhouse (don’t judge me, she will save pop music!!)

Biggest 08 Disappointments:

Eagles of Death Metal – Heart On – EODM should stick to what they are great at, and that does NOT include sappy breakup songs. I hope to never hear the word “love” mentioned by Jesse Boots Electric again. This came off as a little over-produced – I like my EODM raw and loud. But I caught a drumstick at their concert, so I forgive them for this misstep. There are still good tracks, like Wannabe in LA and Secret Plans

Monkey – Journey to the West – Thus far I have been pretty trusting of Damon Albarn’s talent and taste. Monkey ended that lifetime streak. I really don’t know what to say about this. I don’t know if it even classifies as music so much as a collection of sounds. I gave up after 2 spins. It’s almost unlistenable.

Best Comedy Album:

Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords – Absolutely gut-bustingly hilarious, whether you are a fan of the show or not. Listening to this album will instantly improve your day. Plus dudes know enough about different genres to appropriately skewer each one of them, form reggae to electro to R&B to rap to pop. Key tracks: Foux du Fafa, Hiphopopoatmus, vs. Rhymenocerous, Robots, A Kiss is Not a Contract, The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room), Business Time, Bowie

“Business Time” Live:

Best Video: Amanda Palmer “Oasis” – Jesus Hates You!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mike's 2008 Top 10

this was a weird year.  a lot less "indie," and a lot more "mainstream" crept into my ipod.  i don't know what to think about this.  am i just getting older and less adventurous?  am i finally in that "you damn kids and your new, crappy music!" phase of life?  or, like "dark knight," did the general public and the bourgeois sort of agree on a few things this year?  well, regardless, i'd better get this thing down while it's still 2008  so, in alphabetical order...

ben folds, way to normal:
i've seen ben in concert a lot of times, and i always found myself loving the live show, but never really going back to any of the albums.  the records just never reached out to me.  they felt a bit stuffy; maybe a bit too "artsy."  it just never gelled with the fun-loving showmanship he pulled out on stage.  so i stopped buying the discs, and just ended up grabbing this on a whim one i-tunes-fueled evening before a long trip.  and, score!  from the reviews i'm reading, this is a "different" disc for ben.  not what long-time fans were expecting or wanting.  but i love it.  and it's eminently listenable.  so maybe i'm not a real fan...  either way, it's a perfect introduction to the man for those who are afraid that all "dude with a piano" cds will wind up boring and melodramatic.  it's simultaneously juvenile, virtuosic, heartfelt and unpredictable.  and the closest thing to his rapturous live shows i've heard yet.

big blue ball (peter gabriel, et. al.), big blue ball:
this cd was a LOOONG time in the making.  conceived as spontaneous sessions from WOMAD's visiting artists during their downtime from the yearly festivals, you have a "peterson's field guide" to world music from some of its top-tier practitioners - as well as a few guests that seem cool once you realize they're on here, but never really search out for on your own (vernon reid, sinead o'connor, etc.).  while it occasionally sounds like some sort of new age, chakra-cupping porno soundtrack, it's worth the price of admission alone for the intro song, "whole thing," which sounds like one of the truly great lost peter gabriel songs (in part, because it basically is).  it's just a good reminder that there's a whole wide world out there, and it's blissfully unaware of american apparel, paste magazine and the term "irony."

coldplay, viva la vida:
i remember being in los angeles earlier this year just getting inundated with crap about this album coming out: billboards, magazine covers, and the whole nine yards.  i hated the damn thing, and i hadn't even heard a note.  i became a begrudging fan after seeing them on their last tour (with rilo kiley supporting), and realizing that... yeah, they may have some histrionic tricks here and there, but they kind of... rock... live...  plus, chris martin had a great line about singers' relationships to their guitarists, saying he loved his, "like i love my own balls."  i'll pay $15 to a dude like that.  and so my faith was rewarded.  i listened to this disc over and over for a month, and found myself unabashedly singing along at traffic lights and in the shower.  and with the re-release of this coming with an 8-song bonus disc, you get to finally answer the question that would have haunted you for months: what would the song "lost" have sounded like if jay-z dropped a rhyme on there? the answer: not as bad as you might think...  the album is grandiose, musical and just witty enough that maybe humping gwyneth paltrow is the sort of muse we could all use a little bit more of in our lives. 

crooked fingers, forfeit/fortune:
in a just world, eric bachmann would be a star.  just bangin' groupies in the presidential suite of a luxury hotel while they mistily tell him how his music has "changed their lives."  but, he's down to holding a day job, occasionally living in van, and putting out cds full of some of the best music of his or anybody's career.  if you like springsteen, you'll love bachmann.  especially if you have a misunderstood affinity for spanish music (it's like robert rodriguez decided to direct this cd).  the path this guy has taken, stretching all the way back to archers of loaf and barry black, is nothing short of amazing.  he's the indiest of the indie, but he never shows it.  he's the tallest musician i've ever met (well over 6'5"), and one of the best guitarists i've ever seen.  and so what if there are stories of him passing out drunk on stage for 20 minutes at a time?  it's all a part of the charm.  and songs like "give and be taken" and "your control?"  pure bliss...

death cab for cutie, narrow stairs:
no one does it better.  they're a reliable brand now.  and i always know that each death cab cd will have a few songs on it that become a part of my "all-time favorites" reel.  in my mind, this is sort of what all great bands should become: cottage industries unto themselves that slowly grow larger and more lush with each passing year.  sort of indifferent to the world around them.  catching them at radio city music hall this fall was a revelation, and it's really still just 4 dudes up there rocking awkwardly and surprising you with one of the tightest rhythm sections in the business. the new songs fit effortlessly with the older classics, and ben gibbard continues to endless find mundane metaphors for spiritual longing.  just perfect.

girl talk, feed the animals:
how some dude from pittsburgh ever cobbled together such an overwhelming musical history is beyond me; i went to college near there.  it's a cultural wasteland.  summer festivals are still headlined by donnie iris ("love is like a rock!"), 25 years later.  and here comes mr. gillis just shocking and awing the masses.  it's amazing what a "collective unconscious" movement this is becoming.  out of NOWHERE, damn near any person i talk to is raving about this dude and this album.  and it's worth the hype!  melding so much dichotomous lyrical and musical content in such a dense-yet-fun way is a herculean feat.  if i were these rappers, i'd be downright jealous i never thought of these things.  busta rhymes over the "every little thing she does is magic?"  jay-z over "paranoid android?"  lil' kim over metallica's "one?"  the jackson five floating over top of a sped up "bohemian rhapsody?"  there could be talk about whether or not this is "art."  or whether or not gregg is a legitimate "musician."  but it's all bullshit.  this is the most fun album i've heard all year.  the perfect driving record. the perfect exercise record.  the perfect party record.  and proof that you can still be utterly surprised by the sounds coming out of your stereo.

jack's mannequin, the glass passenger:
easily the most inspiring piece of music i've heard this year.  with as dire as the world can seem around us, i think many of us are yearning for the "it's gonna be alright" message wrapped up in beautiful melodies.  and this is it.  a much more band-focused effort than the debut, this is the best kind of album: one that gets better with each repeated listen.  it's impossible for me to hear "swim" or "hammers and strings" and not feel rejuvenated and proud to be a part of this world we call music.  so unfairly lumped into the warped tour crowds of the world.  but easily on par with death cab, ben folds, or any of the best of thoughtful, well-crafted, timeless pop crowd. take a chance on these guys.  read up on andrew mcmahon's story.  and definitely catch a show if it's in town.  you'll be converted.  i promise...

kanye west, 808's & heartbreak:
i didn't even know this album was coming out until i caught an unexpected performance on letterman the other month.  at first i couldn't get past the, "god, he looks like lionel ritchie now!" vibe.  and the insufferable autotune.  but there were the cool, 80's new wave beats.  and the melodies were there (and recognizable, thanks - i suppose - to the autotune).  i will hand it to kanye.  this was a ballsy move.  it's absolutely the last thing you'd ever expect him to put out, and while a lot of the tracks blend together, it has such a unique feel and energy that it will be one of those albums people find themselves reaching back to over time.  i will never forgive lil' wayne for some of his lyrical contributions ("you think your ish don't stink / but you're really miss poo poo," or something to that equivalent), but if i need to drive late at night and just chill, i know where i'm heading...

mc lars and ytcracker, the digital gangster lp:
in the interest of full disclosure, i will admit that i have some pretty biased opinions about these guys.  but this cd is undeniable.  in the strange, underground world of "nerdcore," this is a quick "who's who" introduction to all that the genre has to offer.  video game-based beats, english lit similes, and fun songs about everything from bruce campbell to carmen san diego and alta vista.  it's mad fun, and the perfect rap album for people who don't think they like rap.

metallica, death magnetic:  
i'm an old school metalhead.  my 1995 senior pic rocking a guitar and megadeth t-shirt cannot remain hidden forever.  so i was basically required by law to buy this album, even though i've been continuously disappointed in metallica since 1996's "load."  and while i can't help but feel like some of this is a totally calculated cash grab (and i blame this feeling on having seen the "some kind of monster" documentary), it's a good one.  for those of us that always wanted to pester them for another "...and justice for all," we got it.  well, almost it.  there's still that whole "yeah!" redneck thing that never existed prior to "load."  but, i guess you get what you get these days.  it won't make you feel like you're ready to rebel against the establishment, but it will make you feel like reaching for a black t-shirt the next morning...

so, there you have it!... questions? comments? 

Tommy T's Top Ten

10. Tapes 'n Tapes - Walk It Off
I have read a lot of sub par reviews of this album but I think it almost as good as the first one and still a hell of a lot better than what most bands are putting out. Catchy tunes that are neither typical or boring.
9. of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping
This is another album that I have heard a lot of bad things about and I went in to it expecting to hate it but there is a lot to like here. Definitely not as tight as Hissing Fauna but I like to see Kevin Barnes experimenting with different styles and I like how they all run together like the whole album is one long song. Soundtrack to an amazing live show.
8. The Dodos - Visiter
If you don't appreciate this album then go see them live and give it another listen. When you watch them you will appreciate the amazing things these guys do with their instruments. I don't know how they can make it through a set without their arms falling off. Nice mix of longer epic songs and short ones scattered between.
7. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Justin Vernon has such an amazing voice. Seeing him at Pitchfork was one of the few times I saw a band play outside and sound as good as most bands sound playing indoors. You know he must be something special when people spend as much as they do arguing how to say his moniker
6. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
Direct lyrics and a man not afraid to sound vulnerable make for a very interesting album that stands out. Modern Leper is definitely one of the best tracks of the year.
5. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
This album has the same effect as when I whip out some cheesy ska from my teenage skapunk days. It puts a smile on my face and always puts me in a good mood. How can it not with hilarious Lil Jon references!
4. Beck - Modern Guilt
I was never much of a Beck fan but this album pulled me in. Short and to the point this album is just straight up good.
3. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours
This album should be on everyone's list. Every single song is good. A few of the songs and lyrics are cheesy but it had me dancing from day one. Just a good time over all.
2. Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
At first I didn't think much of this album but it grew on me like crazy. In fact I think I might like it better than their first which is saying a lot because their first album is classic. Language City is the standout track for me but the epic closer is awesome as well due to the dual vocals.
1. Deerhunter - Microcastle
This album both calms and excites. It is so natural. It can be background music to reading a book or it can be rocked out to in the car. If you are not a believer check out Nothing Ever Happened right now!

Looking at this list I am happy to say I got to see 7 out of these 10 bands this year and I am already set to see 1 more of them in a few months.

ANDREW IVER NELSON demands you to love these albums.

Andrew Iver Nelson's TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2008

 10. Land of Talk - Some Are Lakes
This little band from Montreal snuck in through the back door with the help of Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver).  Actually at Bon Iver's concert I asked their merch guy who the artist was for Bon Iver's shirts.  He said, "Oh this cool lady named Elizabeth Powell, frontlady for Land of Talk, did most of the art work."  I quickly went to Atomic Records to check out what this wonderful artist was all about.  What I discovered was something fresh and comforting.  Powell sings with the spirit of all the great female singers of the 90s and just happens to be surrounded by a great band.  Just put Dolores O'Riordan from The Cranberries in today's indie music and you have Land of Talk.

 9. We Are Wolves - Total Magique
Who doesn't like Canadians?  This Montreal based band might kill you.  But I know you'll be dancing while they do it.  In a world overcrowded with dance/rock bands this one gives all the others STDs.  We Are Wolves have a more raw/punk rock feel to them then their counterparts.  I saw them this summer at the Subterranean in Chicago.  I've never been more unashamed to dance in my life.  For some reason I kept thinking I was at a Hall & Oats concert in 1986...  I think we all know that's a good thing.     

 8. She & Him - Volume One
The sweetest voice in music today meets the greatest mind in M. Ward.  They put together an album that I think Buddy Holly would like.  Some of these songs would fit nicely on the Stand By Me soundtrack (best soundtrack of all time).  This was the most anticipated album of the year for me (huge M. Ward fan), but the first few times through I was less than satisfied.  A couple months ago I decided to give this another try.  I found an album that never gets old and always puts me in a good mood.  PASTE magazine calls this the best album of the year.  I wouldn't say that but if you've already written this album off I encourage you to give it a second chance like I did.  You won't regret it.  

 7. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
The Flaming Lips meet The Rolling Stones.  The most soul filled dance rock album this year.  I think if I did Crystal Meth I wouldn't hesitate to put this at number one, but I don't so here it sits at number eight.  There are better songs on this album but don't miss out on the fourth track "Electric Feel."  I'm declaring that song the top "Dance Naked In Your Bedroom" of the year.

 6. Termanology - Politics As Usual
The Puerto Rican Sensation's debut is getting comparisons to a young Eminem.  He might be better...  

 5. Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line
Worst band name ever.  It took me a long time to come around to listen to this band.  Then I read an article on them in SPIN magazine and decided to give them a chance.  What followed was nothing short of happiness...

 4. Tim Fite - Fair Ain't Fair
The first time I saw this small interesting band dressed in pink shorts and suspenders walking around The Pabst, I knew I was in for something special.   

 3. Department of Eagles - In Ear Park
I love Grizzly Bear, I love this band even more. 

 2. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
All the hype is true... Best hip hop/rap album I heard all year.  I've listened to this album a hundred times over and his rhymes still amaze me.    

 1. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Any band with "Iver" in their name is cool with me.  My 97 year old grandma loves this album.  Need I say more?  


This up and coming band from Rochester, MN will blow you away... and they haven't even made an album yet!  

With the big band orchestra feel of The Arcade Fire and the heart and familiarity of Jimmy Eat World this band is quick to become one of your new favorites.  Please give this band a listen, it's for your own good! 

(Song of Note: Nova Scotia)

Mark's Top Ten of 2008

10. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
I actually didn't like this album when it came out and wrote it off as over-hyped, but it grows on you after a while, and after all the media attention died down (Rolling Stone and Spin!) I found it quite listenable.

9. Ting-Tings - We Started Nothing
Very creative British pop music, catchy songs, and a really cute singer.  nuff' said.

8. Kanye West - 808's and Heartbreak
Another quality showing from Mr. West.  Sure he's a prima-donna whiny bitch at times, but he's good, and that quality affords you some 'political capital'.  

7. Flight of The Conchords - Flight of The Conchords
Yes, I know that, in theory, this is a comedy album, but it's 90% music and therefore makes the list. Besides, I checked this one with High Lord Behringer and got the nod.  

6. My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
You can usually tell a good band when they have the ability to blur genres and appeal to a broad crowd.  I remember hearing the tail end of a MMJ song on a country radio station as I was scanning the dial one day on the road and thought that these guys have it figured out and this album is no exception.

5. Common - Universal Mind Control
Just released, while short in run time (a paltry 38 minutes), Universal Mind Control packs the jams.  From the incredible Afrika Bambaata-inspired title track to the "Here's my song about hope, can I play at the inauguration Mr. Obama?" track, it's a great hip-hop album all the way through.

4. The Walkmen - You and Me
If a band could write their own retrospective, this would be it.  While admittedly being a bit down-trodden and lethargic at times, You and Me seems a very appropriate body of music for the times and for this band that seems to have lived through it all.  For a band whose whole existence has occurred during a decade that many of us wish we could just get a re-do on, the album sums it all up.

3. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
This band never ceases to amaze me with their creativity.  Where Girl Talk uses samples with Federal Charges-strength, MGMT develops their own sounds and meshes them together into songs that are nothing short of addictive.  This is one of the albums of 2008 that has me very apprehensive as to if MGMT can continue to deliver at this caliber. God I hope they can.

2. Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
While many looked at this album as being a departure from their original material, I welcomed it simply for the fact that I was never a big DCFC fan in their prior days.  This album is a great example of the bands ability to create massive depth in songs and do something that was missing from a lot of indie music, rock. The album carries an amount of power not usually seen in many releases and make the departure for this group a well-placed move.

1. Kings of Leon - Only By The Night
Yeah, go ahead, light me up, I know these guys aren't "Indie" anymore (that must be based on album sales, I know they were when no one bought their records).  I don't really care.  This album is a bit over-produced, a bit predictable in spots and that's what makes it incredible. It's a wonderful traditional rock record.  Only By The Night is a solid album through and through that is best listened to from start to finish with no interruptions.  I figure that these guys spent years playing the UK and Europe because they couldn't get arrested in the U.S.  Any success they incur here is well-deserved.

Jay's Top 10 of 2008

10. Dr. Dog Fate- Oddly this record tended to get slammed by critics. Citing that it was pretty much directly coping from the Beatles and the songs tended to drag. This was one of my favorite and enjoyable summer time albums that I could throw on and sit on my deck and drink a beer. The concept of the album gets masked by the sing along choruses and happy 60’s pop sound. But the dark lyrical content is what makes the album interesting. As the songs progress you see how fate has a way of coming around, and in a sense get’s back at you in some way shape or form, and not always in a positive manner. “The Breeze” is a great opening track and really sets the tone but it’s “The Old Days” & “The Rabbit the Bat and the Reindeer” that are really the best and most intriguing songs on the record.

9. The Walkmen You & Me- Claustrophobic treble filled guitars, frantic and tight percussion, atmospheric organs, and Hamilton Lethheiser’s captivating vocals make this the best Walkman effort since their spectacular sophomore record Bows and Arrows. Sonically, it’s everything you would expect from a Walkmen record, but it’s the minor differences that makes this standout amongst their collection. Mainly, this is probably the most positive record that the Walkmen have made. In the past Walkmen records were kind of hazy, feel sorry for yourself songs about the pangs of getting older, or what I like to call, “post college life.” Instead of being worried about the future, Leitheiser and company seem to embrace it on this record and seem to have more of a positive outlook, and I dare to say, the feeling of being content. Beautiful record filled with classic Walkmen moments, and an explosive standout track “New Year”

8. Beach House Devotion- Patience is a virtue. That’ really the type of attitude when you listen to this record. The dreamy sounds of Beach House and especially the lo-fi recordings don’t really jump out at you and grab you necessarily. But really it’s how Devotion tends to play with and mix the beautiful melodies with Victoria Legrand droning vocals that almost tend to get lost in the background. The songs tend to slowly creep and crawl into your head, and if you able to comprehend what they are doing, you appreciate the sweet melancholy that is displayed in the songs that deal with commitment and love. “Astronaut,” “Wedding Bells,” “Gila” & “D.A.R.L.I.N.G” are great songs to get acquainted with if you are new to this Baltimore duo.

7. The Whispertown 2000 Swim- Every year I tend to develop a crush on some female indie artist that usually fronts a band. This year I have a huge crush on the sassy Morgan Nagler. This is a really interesting record that combines Americana, folk, blues, and a bit of alt-country to create songs that have some great narrative and tug at your heartstrings without getting overly sappy. Nagler’s vocals are very impressive as no matter what she is conveying sadness, aggressiveness, contemplation, there is a strong sense of confidence that just makes her voice sexy and attractive that she sounds like the girl you would love to not take home to your mother. I had a friend tell me that this is the record that Jenny Lewis should have made, and he may be right, but if you were bummed about Jenny’s record pick this one up.

6. The Bound Stems The Family Afloat- This was a record that really took me a long time get into. The Family Afloat is filled with odd and difficult to grasp arrangements and time changes that make your head spin at first listen. But you can see the maturity of this band the more and more you get into the record. Conceptually the record is about family dysfunctions and the trying task of keeping family and friends close. The record could be quite personal as this is still a very young band, that has moved from making eccentric pop tunes, to sophisticated and complicated songs that have weight. Driving guitars, bouncy keyboards, and irregular drum patterns really drive this record and they this Chicago outfit is definitely worth a couple of listens.

5. Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago- One of the most beautiful falsetto’s I have ever heard, and one of the most gut wrenching records that I have listened to in a long time. The songs lo-fi and minimal recoding really add weight to the heavy hearted songs that come gently pushed through the speakers. The album reads like a story or a series of letters of one or a series of failed relationships. The vocal work is really the center piece on Vernon’s album, but for me it’s the writing that really gravitates the listener. Theirs a lot of pain and lamentation in the voice that just grabs you by the throat and forces you to visualize the pain that Vernon displays. “Skinny Love” tends to be the song everyone seems to take hold of, but I think the best track on here is actually “Blindsided,” it’s just a beautifully arranged song about the trappings of rushing love.

4. The Hold Steady Stay Positive- East coast kids go to underground shows and drink coffee, west coast kids have beach parties and spend their parents in money in extravagant ways. Midwest kids get high, drink, and party with townies. America’s favorite bar band is back and depicts life fairly accurately to Midwest living as a teenager or young adult. This is a phenomenal follow up to Boys and Girls in America, were as Craig Finn has really developed as a singer and a songwriter. The narrative is fairly similar, as Fin displays characters that are on drugs, girls longing for attention, and people looking for redemption. But, it’s the set up of the characters that is impressive and intriguing, as well as the stories that surround them. “One for the Cutters” is a great example of a townie that goes missing and turns up murdered and no one really cares about the girl that knows the truth, who is just sick of the whole circus trial that is happening. As mentioned before, Finn has really developed into a better singer. His voice isn’t as sharp and discomforting to listen to as it was at times on the previous albums. “Lord I’m Discouraged” is a great example of how he has learned to let melody guide his voice and not fight and shout over the powerful guitar driven tracks. Great rock record in an era where straight up rock records seem to be hard to find these days.

3. Ra Ra Riot The Rhumb Line- One of my favorite records of the year that comes from a band that has had to endure a lot of adversity and tragedy…and it’s only their first album. Interestingly the group has a strong emphasis on the cello and violin to carry the melodies rather then accompany the guitar, which give the songs a very airy and whimsical feel. Although compared to Vampire Weekend, I think they share more tendencies with bands such as The Cure, with their very romantic and tender approach to songwriting. The songs, though have a rather depressing subject matter, are actually quite bouncy and fun to listen to. “Mouth Off” “Ghost Under Rock” &”Each Year” are great standout tracks.

2. Okkervil River The Stand Ins- This was a tough one for me, because I was almost going to make this my number one. I love records where there is story telling andbvg the Okkervil River do this in an amazing way. Characters are harsh and their tales are harsher. The story follows the follies and trappings of fame within the world of a rock band. Will Sheffs writing is dead on as no one seems to be spared in this harsh world that has been created. Everyone has a dark side and everyone is held accountable. Ex girlfriends, singer songwriters, close friends, maybe even Sheff himself experience, loneliness broken love, and the downfall of idol worship. These tales paint the picture of characters with sever flaws. It’s a great record and fun to listen to The stories are detailed and descriptive and one of the best records out of this bands catalogue.

1. Frightened Rabbit Midnight Organ Fight- Never has insecurities been sung more confidently then by lead singer Scott Hutchinson. The subject matters of death, suicide, and desperation make the record tough to swallow at first, however the intrigue is the build up of the songs. The songs tend to paint a very tortured picture which coincides with the raw and laboring pace of the music. But their always seems to be a sense of hope during the songs, a sense that everything is not lost, like on “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms” or “Head Roll.” I really like the organic and raw approach to that the group displays. Nothing flashy and lack of effects on the instrumentation make this a really powerful record in that the natural ability of the musicianship can build the songs and draw the listener in. Hutchinson’s voice is so powerful and tortured that even on songs where he is portraying himself in not a favorable light, you can’t help but sort of root for him. This is an amazing and the most underrated record that came out this year.

Rich Mars Favorite Releases of 2008

Rich Mars Faves

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rich Mars Faves '08

In no particular order, here are my 10 favorite, best newly released CDs from 2008 --
1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -- Dig, Lazarus Dig!
Actually, I called this the new release of the year right after I heard it the first time. Nick hits on all cylinders. Great material. Instant classics.
2. The Kills -- Midnight Boom.
Not as colossal of a fun trip as their previous release "No Wow," but I still love their spare guitar-drums-with-hipster-chick sound.
3. Dengue Fever -- Venus on Earth
Lao female vocals (and some lyrics in her native tongue) over 60's/ 70's/ 80's-influenced lounge-y band from L.A. My God, it was a mini-classic!
4. The Eagles of Death Metal -- Heart On
OK, so these guys are just this side of Spinal Tap. The good news is they rock as well as - or better than - the Stones at their best. Material doesn't flow quite as well as previous effort, "Death By Sexy," but keeps the ballsy rock rolling big time.
5. Sons & Daughters
Scottish band with male and female vocals that sounds like they just discovered late 70s/ early 80s rock and new wave. The thing is, the songs are strong and the delivery is fresh as can be.
6. Firewater -- The Golden Hour
Our man Tod A freshens up his sound by performing with backing bands from Israel, India, Pakistan and Turkey. This gives his sometimes too-cool vocals a more colorful, soulful setting for a really fine album.
7. Heloise & the Savoir Faire -- Trash, Rats and Microphones
I admit to trashing disco in its heyday (and occasionally dancing to it now at weddings) , but it wasn't this kind of disco. Heloise brings Debbie Harry's camp approach to soulful, fun dance music that, thank God, will never be played at mainstream weddings.
8. The Fleshtones -- Take A Good Look
The Fleshtones, like the Ramones did until their demise, keep doing essentially the same thing over and over. For the past 20 years, their party/ garage rock formula has produced only a couple-three strong tracks per release. On "Take A Good Look," the Fleshtones rock as well as ever with a solid set of songs.
9. High Places -- High Places
This Brooklyn girl-guy duo makes somewhat eery, somewhat etherial, somewhat techno sounds with somewhat-hushed female vocals. Fascinating stuff to play in the fog or a snowstorm.
10. Mugison -- Mugiboogie
From the hipster island nation Iceland a guy named Mugison produces music in a cultural and creative oasis allows an outrageous mix of over-the-top glam rock and sometimes silly and indulgent acoustic pieces. Mugison makes my list because a few of the tracks are outstanding and the whole thing is audacious.
Asterisk pick of 2008:
Matt B's list doesn't allow "Best Of" collections, but I have to say I truly enjoyed "The Supreme Genious of King Kahn and the Shrines" by King Kahn and the Shrines. It's heavy on the J.Geils Band-influenced '70s soul but rocks harder. King Kahn is, the best I can tell, of Indian descent and has lived in England but currently hangs out in Germany. Wild stuff.

Girl Talk Told Me To Live Forver

Howdy -

Unfortunately the Girl Talk album didn't make my top 10 this year, but it was up there. The show was amazing and one of those
 nights you'll never forget (umm...OBAMA?).

Any who, here is my list! Enjoy?

These are in no particular order, but because they are all equally outstanding.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 
Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
By far, probably one of my favorite artists besides PJ Harvey. 
This album is just a solid listen from start to finish. This reminds 
me more of earlier Nick Cave (Henry's Dream, From Her to Eternity, etc), but even dryer. Probably one of his hardest rocking albums,but one of his best. Thanks Grinderman.

Black Mountain
In the Future
I like this album for two reasons. 
One, the fuzzy guitars and muffled vocals take me back to my 
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album and two, 
it came out on my birthday. 

David Byrne and Brian Eno  
Everything That Happens, Will Happen Today
It's David Byrne and Brian Eno.

Wackiness!  How would you describe this band to someone?
Hip-hop, electronic, funky, nasally, indie-punk?
That's my best shot.

Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks
Real Emotional Trash
Trippy. Great album, great guitar work (as always), oddball lyrics
and killer drumming. Honestly, this album wouldn't be what it was 
without Janet Weiss on the drums. She really brought a new edge
to the Jicks,and I had the pleasure of watching it all live.
Phenomenal show.

A Mad & Faithful Telling
This album was definitely a grower, but wow did it grow. 
I just checked my iTunes and it says I've listened to this album 
57 times. Just a really beautifully dark album, rich with horns nylon string acoustics, and haunting vocals.  Really wish I could have seen this guys @ Turner, but I was in Chicago seeing Ministry's last show....
if you wanted to even call it that.

About time, but well worth it.
Lost the DJ, but gained in strings and moodiness. 

Orchesta Baobab
Made in Dakar
Some of the best, doing what they do best. 
This album techincally came out in '07, but was released in America in '08.
Great mix of Jazz, Dub, and Native West African rhythms.

Heard the song "Lights Out" everywhere! From football commercials to internet radio. Just a really great and diverse album of punk, dub and electronica.

Femi Kuti
Day by Day
7 years later, he delivers. Well worth the wait.
A lot slower than his previous work, but well thought out. Great message.
Stand out tracks: "One Two", "Day by Day"

Other Albums (singles) I Really Dug This Year:
Black CrowesWarpaint, The Night MarchersSee You In Magic, Obits7"