Tuesday, January 29, 2008
The music combines pop, light rock, light punk/new-wave elements, and more noticeably reggae and African guitar (their Myspace page gives props to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Louis Mhlanga) in a refreshing and exciting way that surprisingly, is not too much to handle. There are not a lot of fancy studio tricks, the lyrics are fairly light straightforward (not shrouded in mystery and darkness), giving appropriate props to Lil' John, proper punctuation and Cape Cod, and the delivery seems genuine and effortless.
I remember all the hype surrounding the Strokes debut, Is This It, and how disappointed I was when I heard the "new saviors of Rock N' Roll" for the first time. (There is a point on "I Stand Corrected" where the drums come in and sound eerily close to the Strokes, actually) So far, these guys have lived up to all the acclaim I have heard, and I foresee a bright future for them. I am not making any outrageous claims regarding these guys as the future of anything, but for the record, this is the most excited I have been about any debut album in a long time. Here's to an exciting and interesting year of music in 2008.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Stripped down banjo heavy harmonies to enjoy, not annoy. The sing-along campfire album of the year. In a song about touring on the road, they give a shoutout to Salina, Kansas (about an hour up the road from me), crooning, "Salina- I'm as nowhere as I can be." I vote that the city adopt this motto as their new pro-tourism billboard.
#24- Timbaland "Shock Value"
Despite a couple misses (see "One and Only" with Fall Out Boy), this ambitious collaboration album has enough hit singles to almost live up to the hype. "Apologize" is one of my guiltiest pleasure tracks of the year, and Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado add enough bounce to make this album turn anyone's basement into an instant dance party.
#23- Band of Horses "Cease to Begin"
Thankfully continues to deliver where their outstanding debut album left them- crafting a well structured 10 track album with elements of hard-edged post grunge rock blended with their refreshing version of a slowed down twangy folk ballad. Along with The National's "Fake Empire", "Is There a Ghost?" is the opening track of the year.
#22- Feist "The Reminder"
From http://www.amazon.com/ (#1 Album of 2007):
"Feist is the solo project of Canada's Leslie Feist, a prolific artist who has also played in one capacity or another with Broken Social Scene, Kings of Convenience and half a dozen other bands. The Reminder, her third release, comes from the same well of quiet, appealing songwriting, and delicate vocalizations that made 2004's Let It Die such a sweet treat. This one is a bit more hushed and ballad heavy, closer to Cat Power than Peaches (with whom Feist has also worked with in the past) but maintains an indie-minded blend of confessional pop, jazzy folk, and lo-fi torch songs. The comparatively upbeat single "My Moon My Man" splits her voice off into unexpected harmonies, just dissonant enough to stick in your head. It's hard to predict where her melodies are going to end up; "Brandy Alexander" starts with a simple snap-pulse, and gradually unfolds into a cathartic chorus of sweeping vocal overlays. Throughout, the record profits from a simple, unfussy aesthetic that keeps the production minimal and the emphasis squarely on Feist's cracking, wistful vibrato. Everything sounds deliberate, but not obsessed over, like an e-mailed wedding invitation. It's a low-pressure vibe, welcoming and content to linger. And linger you will."
#21- Radiohead "In Rainbows"
Does anyone real still need convincing that every Radiohead album ever made is worth owning? Add to that the fact that this is the first album I know of that any band has ever offered to the public at whatever price they are willing to pay and, well, what have you got to lose? (Unfortunately it's too late to download the album from their website if you haven't already, so just trust me on this one and shell out the $8 already)
#20- Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings "100 Days, 100 Nights"/Joss Stone "Introducing Joss Stone"
The soul sisters of the year. Both of these would probably sound better on scratchy vinyl, because I find it hard to believe that anyone's voice can be this perfect. I fear the day that any track from either album becomes available on the Karaoke circuit.
#19- Bishop Allen "The Broken String"
"The Broken String plays like a greatest hits album, stacked deep with memorable highlights, corralling the gems from a year's worth of monthly EPs into one 12-song disc. Like a good greatest hits album, it never feels like those doing the picking had to lower the standards or tack things on to fill out a weak selection, and like a greatest hits album from any band worth its salt, the biggest criticism to be found here is the failure to include certain songs...The strength of Bishop Allen's songwriting lies in the band's ability to imbue their songs with universal appeal. Any number of things can make a pop song good- a catchy melody, sweet production, memorable lyrics, vocals, mood, arrangement. But the greatest pop songs all capture to some degree a bittersweet tone, be it the sting of nostalgia or the breaking of a desperate hope or the quiet acceptance of losing at love. The sun may be coming, but the winter was long, cold, and lonely, and true love will find you only if you look for it- it's a little funny, this feeling inside...It's this universality that leads me to recommend this album as strongly as I do. Whether you dance to the quick beat of "Rain" or you feel the prick of that little shake in the vocals of "Shrinking Violet", you (meaning probably 90 percent of humanity) will like, if not love, this album if you hear it. I can think of no better recommendation for pop songs this good."
#18- Patty Griffin "Children Running Through"
I've got to give shout outs to Natalie and Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz) for turning me on to Patty. She reminds me of a female Van Morrison in that her music spans country, jazz, blues, folk, and the like, but she manages to pull it off with grace. This is the CD that my mother and I can finally agree on.
#17- Modest Mouse "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank"
This album will not disappoint fans of the group's early work, even with the new guitarist in tow (ex-smith Johnny Marr). It is sure to continue to draw in legions of new fans as well, though perhaps not as many as "Float On" did. Unlike Patty Griffin, my mother will remain appalled, and refuse to recognize this crap as music. P.S. This album comes in handy on a late night drive on a two lane highway where you want to avoid drifting off into oblivion.
#16 Burial "Untrue"
First off, good luck getting "Archangel" out of your subconscious. You will find yourself daydreaming more often after hearing this album. The scene will most likely involve you walking down a back alley on a rainy night in downtown London, you will be wearing a long black coat and gloves, and you will be on some sort of mission to rescue humanity from evil forces, or you will be going to an undergound dance club where you will be kidnapping the drugged out DJ and putting this on rotation. Too dark for trendy car commercials or clothing stores, this haunting album combines ethereal female R&B vocals, electronic dubstep and reverb to create an atmosphere reminiscent of Orbital's best work.
#15- LCD Soundystem "Sound of Silver"
This is the only album that you must leave on rotation if the DJ you kidnap in the aforementioned review is spinning. You wouldn't want the underground dance crowd in London to riot. I hear they are worse than soccer hooligans. This is the dance album of the year. It boggles my mind that nightclubs in our country will continue to play the same tired, old familar records when there are fantastic albums like Sound of Silver waiting for the masses to enjoy.
#14- Sondre Lerche "Phantom Punch"
"With Phantom Punch Sondre Lerche finally makes good on the promise of his talent; he's mastered and polished his intuitive gift for melody and arrangement and rightly applied it to his most natural musical inclinations. Where last year's Duper Sessions found Lerche and the Faces Down indulging his appetite for Cole Porter trad-pop, senior citizen dance night swing, and supper club jazz, Phantom Punch is stitched throughout with the essence of XTC, Argybargy-era Squeeze, and, of course, Costello himself. But where Costello's Imperial Bedroom and Punch the Clock suffered from their flawed approach to arrangement and production (not to mention the songs being not really all that great) Lerche has found a way successfully to bestride the line between technically proficient deliberateness and his latent propulsive "punk" rock tendencies. This should be kind of a big deal."
#13- Kings of Leon "Because of the Times"
From Alternative Press:"
They've honed their sound perfectly, hitting every mark they set and making Because Of The Times kick so much ass that it demands you respect them as new rock royalty. "
Let me just add to this that track #8, "Ragoo", has an infectious reggae groove that warrants blasting from a car stereo, not unlike My Morning Jacket's "Off the Record."
#12- Kanye West "Graduation"
My favorite of Kanye's trilogy by far, a complete hip-hop album that is strong all the way through, which seems harder to find these days. The spoken word bits of the past two albums got on my nerves, and this time through, Kanye got rid of the skits and bits and opted for more rhymes and clever samples (includind Daft Punk and Michael Jackson). My favorite tracks are the somewhat humble (at least for Kanye) and heartfelt autobiographical character sketch, "Everything I Am" and the nostalgic "Homecoming" with Chris Martin of Coldplay (brings back pleasant memories of Chicago and Lake Michigan). This one works well on the Ipod for workouts too.
#11- Josh Ritter "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter"/Iron and Wine "The Shepherd's Dog"
Both artists amp-up their production techniques for more polished, less lo-fi affairs, not that anyone could ever find fault with their lo-finess. Make no mistake, neither artist is trying to rewrite the Folk genre, perhaps only to add their unique 21st century twist to the equation, which has never sounded better. I was wondering if their best work was behind them, but if these albums are any indication, there still may be plenty more to come. And is Jose Gonzalez (who released his solid, still stripped down follow-up In Our Nature this year) next in line?
#10- Arcade Fire "Neon Bible"
The verdict on the Arcade Fire has been out for awhile, they are as amazing live as they are in studio. And they have Bono's seal of approval. Enough said. "No Cars Go" is one of the best of 2007.
#9- Bruce Springsteen "Magic"
Cliched record review blurb of the day: Like fine wine, there are some things that get better with age, and Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band seem to have done just that.
OK, so you can't get much better than Spirit in the Night, Born to Run, Glory Days or Human Touch, but you also can't overlook this album, which will surely result in the reissuing of a new Essential Bruce boxed set, as you cannot leave "Radio Nowhere" or "Girls in their Summer Clothes" off any forthcoming greatest hits album. I propose that the folks at the record company wait at least another decade before issuing a new one.
#8- Menomena "Friend and Foe"
I can't help but feel a little guilty about putting these guys ahead of Bruce, so I'll let this review explain:
"On their third album, Portland, Oregon's Menomena (remember Sesame Street and the Piero Umaliani song, "Mah Na Mah Na"?) sound like Spoon on the brink of outer space with Mercury Rev riding in their rocketship. They write collectively, using software they scripted to assemble songs from their own click-tracks and melody snippets--and then re-learn as new, full-bodied entities. The cumulative effect is often collage-like, with piano and scratchy guitar and drums (and an occasional saxophone) dropping in and out as songs clamber forward, fueled by manic creative immediacy. They know how to throw down, too, thick guitars powering "The Pelican" but never overpowering the unlikely melodicism and irresistible lyricism of a fragile beauty like "Rotten Hell."
#7- Andrew Bird "Armchair Apocrypha"
Andrew Bird is one of the most underrated and overlooked artists/musicians of our day. His lyrics could stand alone as prose poetry pieces, and he is the only violinist I know of to make a delightful rock album. I will continue to sing his praises to anyone who has not discovered him. This album is voted "Most Likely to hear at a Barnes and Noble in 2007."
#6- Blonde Redhead "23"/Deerhoof "Friend Opportunity"
Blonde Redhead- one of my favorite band names of all time. My favorite album art of 2007, a four-legged tennis vixen from the Prohibition era with wooden racket in hand. Featuring the unintelligible voice of a female Japanese singer (think Deerhoof on Valium) featured in a Home decor magazine. This all just seems to trendy, too art-rock, to be any good.
Deerhoof features a more spastic, "little girl" sounding Japanese female vocalist. Track titles include "+81", "Matchbook Seeks Maniac", "Believe E.S.P" and "Kidz are So Small." The album art features spray painted graffiti and pastel colors and looks like it could be pasted onto a t-shirt at the Buckle. This all just seems to trendy, too-art-rock, to be any good.
Each in their very own way, both albums worked for me, and were pleasant surprises from bands who have been around for awhile now (Blonde Redhead's 7th full length, Deerhoof about 13 years) but had yet to have an impact on my limited musical sphere of influence. Again, I'm not always sure what we're singing about, but I know my ears love it.
#5- Maritime "Heresy and the Hotel Choir"
5 Things I Wished and Prayed For in 2007
5. World Peace
4. A Smokin' Hot Girlfriend
3. Find a copy of Edgar Allen Poe's "Tamerlane" at a garage sale
2. My Dog Learns to Clean Up After Herself
1. The Promise Ring Reunite and Release an Album
Alright, 2 out of 5 ain't bad for a year. Apparently, Davey (the lead singer of one of my favorite bands of all time, The Promise Ring) decided to front a new band some time ago (2004), I'm just 3 years late to the game on it. I checked out their first two albums, Glass Floor (so-so) and We, the Vehicles (pretty damn good) and caught up to their latest release, Heresy and the Hotel Choir, and I feel as if a little part of me that was lost a long time ago, like high school, is back again, hopefully to stay. There are plenty of pop-very light on the punk-rocker gems on this little album. Kind of like pop-punk for thirty somethings. It's also got an understated and refreshing spiritual theme on a few tracks, which is nice to hear these days.
#4- Jens Lekman "Night Falls Over Kortedala"
The only more exciting discovery than that of Maritime, who had been hiding from me since 2004, was the discovery of this delightful Swedish dude named Jens, who appears to be suffering from a broken heart. I'm a sucker for melancholy, and I had somehow missed the release of 2005's Oh You're So Silent Jens. If you're a sucker for sappy love songs, broken hearts and melancholia like me, you must trust me on this one. I'll be honest, Morrissey is a little too much for me, but Jens has a way of incorporating humor, specificity, and lightness into his lyrics in a way that is extremely endearing. After listening to one of his albums, you can't help but feel as if you've made a new friend for life.
#3- Devin the Dude "Waitin' to Inhale"
Hip-Hop Album of the Year.
WARNING: If the Chappelle show is offensive to you, you will probably think Devin the Dude should be locked up. Do not listen to this album in the presence of your grandmother, boss, or pastor.
This is by far one of the catchiest, most hilarious, most offensive, best rap albums I have ever heard. Part stand-up routine, part-MC, part urban poet, Devin the Dude is in my humble opinion, a creative genius. And if you can just get past the crudeness of it all, there really is something to learn here. Like just about every other rapper in the game, this guy can't get enough of his women, his weed, and his insert vice here, but unlike every other rapper, he has a real refreshing perspective, if you can call it that. He just doesn't take himself too seriously, and he sees himself in his right size, just another Dude. Unlike T.I., who proclaimed himself King (and then released a supbar follow-up album confessing his split personality), Devin is cool being himself, kind of like the African-American version of The Dude from Big Lebowski.
"What a Job", the collaboration with Snoop and Andre from Outkast is a standout track, but there are many on this album. "Broccoli & Cheese" should have you rollin' on the floor, along with "Just Because" (which has a real smooth 80's vibe) and "Nothin to Roll With." I won't spoil all the surprises, you'll just have to listen for yourself, just make sure no one else is around.
#2- Yeasayer "All Hour Cymbals"/Panda Bear "Person Pitch"
Discover the beauty and the mystery for yourself. You may want to have these handy if you are going to be:
- Suntanning on the beach in Portugal
- Browsing Through The New Age Section of a Bookstore
- Wondering What Brian Wilson is Up To These Days
- Digging Up Dirt in Your Backyard and Finding Worms
- On an African Safari or Exploring Ancient Tombs in Egypt
- Waiting for the Train to Come
- Looking for Something to Replace Your Copy Of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
- Visiting a Graveyard to Pay Your Respects or Ask for Forgiveness
- Taking the Long and Scenic Way Home on a Sunday Afternoon
- Drinking Wine Straight from the Bottle
- Waiting In Line for the Freakshow at a Circus
#1- The National "Boxer"
Well written, by Bryan Sanchez, from Delusions of Adequacy:
"A grower is generally something that requires biddable time and patience for it to expose its genuine beauty. This isn't an official definition but rather, the connotation I feel when I hear/think of that word. It could be that puppy you got a few years back that wasn't as cute as you expected but grew up to be your only true best friend and now could never think of parting with. Maybe it was that girl/guy you were considering; they weren't so great looking, needed to work on a few things, you each were too different, etc. Yet, you took the chance, went with them and are now happily married and also, could never think about parting with.
So what does this have to do with The National and their new masterpiece, Boxer? Well, in reality, everything. A 'grower' is the expression you would use to describe both the band and their albums. As with their erstwhile three albums (although everyone didn't find out about them until their tremendous 2005 effort, Alligator) this album reveals glimpses of genius, brilliance and magnificence after each and every listen.
Whether it is Sufjan Stevens' shimmering piano on the songs, "Ada" and "Racing Like a Pro," that powerful, lush chord that hits at the 2:10 mark of "Squalor Victoria," the brass on "Fake Empire," or maybe that stunning coda on "Slow Show" which incorporates lyrics from "29 Years"-a song off the band's eponymous debut-everything on here is startling and marvelous. The album is seamless, tying everything in to its central theme. This is a band that is ready to take off, overflowing at the brims with everything you desire in your music.
"Apartment Story" chugs right along with smart lyrics and a hook to die for. "Mistaken for Strangers" has that captivating drum pattern and married to Matt Berninger's lyrics of estrangement and loneliness are a perfect match. I could go on and state each of the highlights to every single song but that wouldn't do the album justice. The glorious aspect of it all is that a little part of you comes to life every single time you find a new jewel. Once it happens and passes it's gone forever, but for that short while, it was all yours - and that was something exceptional and unique to you.
If you had indolently given this album two spins and proclaimed, "This is boring" then you weren't fair and are actually quite foolish. Sure, there are the obvious things as well: they have one of the best drummers in music, Matt Berninger has an unmatched voice that exudes a tender solitude and the entire band encompasses impressive musicians. And that's just the thing; you need to give an album like this a real shot in order for its splendor and intensity to thrive. The best albums are usually the ones that don't instantly gratify but rather grow and grow into remarkable works.
To be succinct and frank, Boxer is superb. During different times of hearing this album you can be left with swelling tears in your eyes. Not only did The National create a startling, astonishing work of genius but they also crafted an album that is one beautiful piece of art - one that I certainly wouldn't want to think about parting with it."
Albums That Just Missed the Cut
Wilco Sky Blue Sky, Ryan Adams Easy Tiger, Bloc Party A Weekend in the City, Spoon Ga Ga Ga, Papercuts Can't Go Back, Chromeo Fancy Footwork, Pinback Autumn of the Seraphs, Rogue Wave Asleep at Heaven's Gate, Magic Numbers Those the Brokes
Albums That Disappointed
Joseph Arthur Let's Just Be, Ben Lee Ripe, T.I. vs. T.I.P., M.I.A. Kala (I just don't think I get it), Nick Cave Grinderman, Architecture in Helsinki Places Like This (loved Heart it Races, not the album though)