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? firstname.lastname@example.org