Sunday, December 28, 2008

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.

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