Saturday, December 17, 2011

Biggest Disappointment(s)

Radiohead – The King of Limbs

It was natural to be let down after the near-perfect In Rainbows, but this album, even after several intent listens just made me want to fall asleep.

Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

I’m a big supporter of this band, but they seemed to really drop the ball this year. Only a few marginally interesting songs.

Albums I need to Listen to more:

EMA – Past Life as a Martyred Saint
Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Beirut – The Rip Tide
The Antlers – Burst Apart
Tom Waits – Bad Like Me

Top Ten

10) Thurday – No Devolución

Back when “screamo” was getting a lot of radio play, Thursday enjoyed some added attention, but for all the wrong reasons. Yes, he screams, but this band is far from such mindless noise. They’ve flown under the radar for several years now, you don’t hear about their new releases unless you check out their website (or obsessively check Metacritic), but they’ve consistently improved their craft. They never make Radiohead-like changes to their music, they’ve not adapted to the times, one could say, but this is a great album with consistent, interesting songs from beginning to end.

9) Adele – 21

Well, yeah. I can’t deny that while living an ocean away from my future wife I didn’t listen to his album and then upon reunion share it with her and it become the soundtrack of our first shared apartment living. It’s a bit bloated, some of the songs downright boring, but I deleted those songs. One cannot deny “Someone Like You,” even André 3000 references it.

8) The Field – Looping State of Mind

I would like to spend just one day with this guy, just to see how he operates. I want to know how he happens upon his ideas. How does one say, hey, I’m going to hold a warbling tone for over seven minutes, give a smattering of drums here and there, a few other hiccups of sound and it’s going to be awesome? And then, how does one actually pull this off? Just like I suppose his creative process to be, the allure of this album is inexplicable.

7) Florence and the Machine – Ceremonies

I’m a sucker for bombastic melancholy and continual images of graveyard and ethereal angels. I can’t help it. Florence really just attacks singing, like she’s fighting against the words, the instruments, and herself and somehow this struggle works. I don’t know. I can just listen to this album on repeat, doing anything—including simply listening.

6) Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

I am even more confused by Tim Hecker than I am by the Field. This album is 52 minutes of barely tampered with white noise and it is transcendent. Wait for it to snow, put this album on a good set of headphones and go for a walk. Then you’ll understand.

5) The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday

Ever since the second mixtape “Thursday” dropped I’ve always listened to these two in tandem and can’t really distinguish between the two of them—I’m not cheating. The Weeknd took a lot of heat this year from lovers of traditional r&b for trying to fix what isn’t broken, but seriously. r&b is boring as shit, it was boring in the 90s. When people asked what music I liked I said everything except r&b. But the production on these, largely, slow-burning songs is so hypnotic, so entrancing that I am never bored. Add that one of the most original and recognizable new voices and you’ve got an unbelievable new talent.

4) Drake – Take Care

I found this album only a month ago, but it completely destroyed me. I mean, it made all other music for at least a week dull as paint. I couldn’t listen to anything else, Rahel almost killed me. The first time “Marvin’s Room” came on it was over. I knew little of Drake before I got this album and sincerely wish I’d not read anything about him or watched any of his posturing music videos (the Marvin’s Room video being a (slight) exception), as some of the sheen was dampened on this album. But I know I’ll be listening to this for a long time.

3) James Blake – James Blake

My most played album of the year. I was first introduced to Blake through last year’s EP, which was amazing, but did nothing to prepare me for this album. When I first put it on, I was like, what the hell is this? But almost immediately I was drawn into Blake’s world. I’ve spent a lot of time by myself this year, especially in the second half and listening to this album, you can tell that Blake did the same. He would’ve had to, in order to produce such a masterpiece. Solitude has been, in no way, bad, but it’s been nice to have some company.

2) M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

I’ve been waiting for this album a long ass time. I’ve always liked the idea of M83, but was never satisfied by the listening experience: the songs were overlong, the singing too subdued, the arrangements a bit “samey.” But this double-album with just about everything you could ever want in every song? M83 has finally drawn level with their promise.

You can pick out individual songs and they work beautifully (especially Midnight City, though…was I the only one that saw that Victoria’s Secret commercial? No other websites seem to make mention of it) but really this album demands to be listened to from the beginning to the end to be fully appreciated. Something I’ve done over and over.

1) Bon Iver – Bon Iver

A few years back I put “For Emma, Forever Ago,” at the top of my list, so it was going to be a given that I was going to like this album. It was also going to be a given that I as going to avoid putting this sophomore effort atop my list again, just so I wouldn’t be boring. But no other album can go here.

In truth, this isn’t even the same artist.

This music contains every emotion simultaneously. It is melancholic, joyful, sad, triumphant, tragic all at once. In short, it’s life compressed in under 50 minutes and no worse for that compression.

I listened to other albums for more than I listened to this one, but that’s because I couldn’t listen to it often. It’s been a crazy year, a wonderful year, but sometimes this album was a little too intense, a little too much.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong at the top of my list.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Top Albums of 2010

Yes, I know my list is late, and rather short. I did not listen to much “new” music this year. There are several things that are new to me which I fell in love with such has Japandroids and the Pixies (I know I’m really late on this). Nevertheless, I was able to cobble together a top five and an honorable mention.

Honorable Mention
(in no particular order)

Best Coast – Crazy for You
Hurray for the Riff Raff – S/T
Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM
Sufjan Stevens – All Delight People EP (miles better on vinyl)
Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin

Top 5

5) Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard

There is nothing really dangerous or sexy about Ra Ra Riot. The automatic genre tag in iTunes is “Easy Listening,” which I don’t necessarily find fair, but can’t exactly argue against. The singer’s voice is pleasant and his lyrics vaguely poetic, a cellist and violinist are members of the band and they rely on the bass as the driving force of almost every song. But, I can’t help but really enjoy this album.

4) Wolf Parade – Expo 86

Many people seemed to jump ship on Wolf Parade after “At Mount Zoomer.” Not that they could be blamed, it was downright boring especially when compared to their debut and there interesting side projects. I have it on good authority, however, that the ennui of the album was due more to the production job than the songs themselves and that live they rocked out. Well, Wolf Parade seems to have taken that to heart, recording vocals to this album live (and perhaps other parts) and then just tweaking in the studio. And the process paid off, because from start to finish this album pulses with energy. It’s not as good as “Apologies to…” but it’s close.

3) Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

I, like many people, was quite wary of this title, fearing ramped up didactics like on Neon Bible, and at first I did not like this album. I did not mind it, but it—for a long time—was not something that I put on first, it was something that I’d put on only if I’d cycled through most of my other new music. I wish I could remember exactly when it clicked with me, but I don’t. At some point it became a first choice and has remained there.

2) Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Upon first listen in the Airport with my headphones the sonic detail on this album floored me. I sat there like a fool with a shit-eating grin on my face. The second time I listened—and by second I mean on vinyl—I couldn’t handle how warm every detail was, how well mixed, how much space every part of each song had. Unfortunately, the vinyl also reinforced certain misgivings I had the first time around, mainly that I don’t like the album all the way through. Most songs are certain genius, but not all of them, which kept this out of the top spot. Most of the blame lies with Chris Rock.

1) Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

Before this album officially came out Nick and I had a long correspondence pertaining to the aesthetics—if you will—of the album versus the already-released EP. We reached the conclusion that the album was going to be too purposefully difficult, too (and these are my own words) Brooklyn. However, being a loyal fan and addicted to buying vinyl, I still bought the album and it quietly, subtly worked it’s magic on me until I would be sitting at my dining room table looking forward to each and every song, no matter how long that song (25 minutes!) may be. The blending of all previous styles along with the more confident and assertive singing style showcased on “You are the Blood” make for an album I listen to on repeat.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Top 100

Sorry this is so late. Maybe I'll post pictures later.

1) Okkervil River – Black Sheep Boy This album makes we weep over things I haven’t—and probably won’t—experience. I understand that perhaps they became a tighter and perhaps “better” band on subsequent albums but I can’t get over the raw intensity and lonely desperation of this album. It almost makes me want to have more pain in my life because it sounds so beautiful here. I still can’t listen to “A Stone” without completely stopping anything that I am doing. That includes driving…I don’t’ listen to this album much in the car.

2) Sunset Rubdown – Shut Up I Am Dreaming When I put this album on top of my list a few years back I didn’t know how to write about it nor explain why it had topped my list. I still don’t know how to write about it. How do you write about something you love? This album simultaneously recalls for small, yet beautifully detailed memories and images, created in my mind with the aid of this music, that hold an equally vivid place in my mind. There are certain nights alone when I listen to “Shut Up I Am Dreaming of Places Where Lover’s Have Wings.” It never ceases to make me feel better.

3) Tom Waits – Alice Yes, I love Radiohead and they made an enormous impact on my musical life. But I’m not sure that any of their albums trump this one in terms of refining my pallet and causing me to ask questions such as: what constitutes emotion? What makes good music?

4) Radiohead – Amnesiac Yes, I have it higher than Kid A. I make no apologies. Amnesiac is not an album that I came to eventually. It was, for some odd reason, immediate for me. I’ve been a staunch defender of every single one of these songs since the beginning. I even love “Hunting Bears” and Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors.” And in my opinion “Life In a Glass House” is the best album ender ever.

5) Animal Collective – Sung Tongs The only appearance they’ll be making so I figured I’d make it a good one. To be honest I can’t get into anything they’ve released since the album. I know they are saviors or something but I just want everything to sound like album. In fact, if all music could sound like “Winter Love” I would be content.

6) Bright Eyes – Lifted, or the Story’s in the Soil Keep Your Ear to the Ground It completely wrecked my list when I realized that this was released this decade. I love every single song on this album and I wish I didn’t find it clever and profound but those of you that know me know that I would find something like this album clever and profound.

7) Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker The only album I’m including from this prolific artist. He has several terrific and worthy songs not on this album, but this is the only really solid effort I feel he has produced. Reinforced by recent rides through the recession-ridden Midwest and south.

8) Sufjan Stevens – Michigan Higher than “Illinoise”? Yes. Perhaps it’s sacrilege but as I’ve gotten distance on all things Sufjan (please, Mr. Stevens, release something else, don’t tease us so much with “You Are the Blood”) this album continues to be the one that resonates with me more.

9) Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights Just an unreal album that sounds like it was recorded somewhere else. These guys must experience a reality different than the rest of us, the receptors on their eyes must pick up different wave lengths.

10) The Arcade Fire – Funeral There’s really not much I can say about this album. It has aged incredibly well with me. There are still moments with “Crown of Love” and “Rebellion (Lies)” that effect me just as they did the first time. I can still vividly remember Kyle excitedly playing this for us in the duplex and it was so great I had no idea how to react. It’s an album where the some songs are so great you forget how good the other songs are until they come over he speakers. It’s an album I put on, surprisingly perhaps, to be happy.

11) Wolf Parade – Apologies to Queen Mary Before I fell completely in love with everything Spencer Krug shitted on tape there was this album that introduced me to him. The simmering, yet often falsetto-ed aggression never ceases to appeal to me. For some reason I connect with so many lyrics without having any idea what they mean.

12) Radiohead – Kid A Most people will say this is the most influential album of this decade. They have convincing arguments and in a face to face discussion I am sure I would let myself be convinced. Mainly because I love Radiohead. But for me it still harkens back to the nineties and I’m sorry, I still like Ok Computer better.

13) Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning Sir Oberst is on my list too much I know. This album I feel is timeless and I recognize that it’s better than the album of his that I’ve placed higher but it’s too emotional at this point.

14) Jay Z – The Black Album I didn’t like rap until I listened to this album. In fact I had never made it through an entire rap album until I listened to this whole thing. Even with Kanye and Jay’s earlier albums. I know that perhaps some of the albums are better, but this is a personal favorite.

15) Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise A sad, spiritual experience. I’m not entirely sure those two adjectives should belong together. Sufjan wants to make me believe in something because the world is so sad. Nope, that doesn’t make sense.

16) Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago When I put this at the top of my list last year I worried then that in a year I would completely forget about it. I was convinced that I was just stuck in a particular mood and moment and that once I was past these things I would listen to this album less and less and then not at all. It’s not true.

17) Lil’ Wayne - Tha Carter 3: Mixtape I know that it’s a free throwaway more or less to stir up excitement for the actual release and I probably shouldn’t have it higher than the actual Carter III. But I can’t help it. I can clumsily and ridiculously rap along to every word. I still want to write a paper about his lyrics. Probably a fruitless endeavor but I would still enjoy it.

18) Iron & Wine/CalxicoHe Lays in the Reins It’s just a phenomenal, and painfully small, collection of songs that I make we want to cry and live life just so I can feel such beautiful pain and regret. Man, I need to stop working on this list.

19) The Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca I thought they would never top “Rise Above” but they proved me wrong.

20) Junior Senior – Hey Hey My My Yo Yo Ridiculously fun. I don’t know what else to say.

21) Brand New – Deja Entendu I’ve wanted to write about this album for a while. Admittedly I was sadly into “emo” for a period in college, but luckily I left most of those bands behind. Except for this one. I feel like this is one of the most underrated albums made. Between biting lyrics, clever melodies and youthful rage it’s a masterpiece of emo-otion. Plus, at time I felt like I could’ve written this or that lyric.

22) Grizzly Bear – Vecktamest I know that this is a lot of chamber singing and that it’s really controlled and perhaps a bit to…what’s the word…pretty? I sense some latent, barely contained rage in the album for some reason. And that is what keeps me interested.

23) The Books – The Lemon of Pink I actually can’t distinguish between the Books albums that well. They sort of blend together and they are all lovely. I just say that this one represents all of them. Mainly because it has “Tokyo” on it.

24) Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds I really don’t want to have this album that high, but the more I fought against it the highest the album climbed. I think in a couple years, perhaps another decade, this album will be a pop album regarded as a classic.

25) Kanye West – College Dropout I’m so sick of Kanye. I’m only including the one album that he created when I wasn’t sick of him.

26) Max Richter – The Blue Notebooks There a rule book somewhere for creating year-end and decade album lists and probably this book says that an album without any words, and especially one that, in the aughts, has no experimental feedback or instrumentations. This straightforward neo-(or post?)-classical album defies such a rule.

27) Bjork – Medulla I realize that I have two atmospheric and beautiful albums right next to each other. I could really write the same thing about he dreams and stuff, just a few years later.

28) Sigur Ros – Ágaetis Byrun I still recall some of the dreams this album induced freshman year of college when Nick and I would fall asleep to it almost every night in our dorm room. Should music be this beautiful yet somehow disturbing?

29) The Streets – Original Pirate Material You’re not going to find “A Grand Don’t Come For Free” on this list though that was the first Streets album I listened to, but the only reason I mention it is because I was led to this far superior album. It’s a rainy day rap album. I don’t know if another of its kind exists.

30) The Dirty Projectors – Rise Above An album that I keep trying to pull apart and understand better than I do, like a Pychon novel or something. When I really should just sit back and enjoy it.

31) Girl Talk – Night Ripper Originally, a couple years back, I had this album so low on a year end list that it probably shouldn’t have made this one. But I realized that I had just been denying something that I truly, completely loved.

32) Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Spoon finally clicked with me on this album. I understood the aesthetic and I really caught on to the songs. I don’t know how many times I’ve played this in my car.

33) Apes and Androids – Blood Moon Another album I thought I would forget about. For some reason it has worked its way into several aspects of my life.

34) Bright Eyes – Fever and Mirrors This album barely made it onto the list, released just inside of the aughts and often ignored by many except die-hard fans like myself. I guess bright eyes is ignored by most people….

35) Beirut – Gulag Orkestar Again an album taken directly from the “Musical Things Austin Likes” folder. I like the faux middle eastern vibe, or however one could describe. I like how effected his voice is. I like the drolling, depressing progress of the album. I feel brighten by the few happy moments that pop up.

36) Radiohead – In Rainbows This is one of those albums that as you listen to it you get obsessed with whatever song your listening to, thinking that it’s the best song on the album. You get lost in the little details, the background singer, the impeccable drumming while still appreciating the song as a cohesive whole. You love the song, you are tempted to hit rewind as the song ends. But you get distracted and the next track comes on and suddenly you’ve found a new obsession.

37) Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Is this my favorite Wilco album? No (Summerteeth). But do I still want to be in the band that made this album because it would be fun to hang out on the musical mount Olympus? Yes.

38) Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? I don’t know how to explain my affection for this album. And I am already late in posting so just accept that I love, love it.

39) Jamie Lidell – Multiply It’s just so good. I could talk about every single little detail that I love. But Let’s just leave it at that. It’s so good.

40) The Rapture – Pieces of the People We Love I always forget how much I love this album. How catchy it is and how it just makes me feel good and happy. If I need to get people going, or just myself motivated this is a reliable to throw on.

41) Patrick Wolf – Wind in the Wires Yes, he is over-dramatic, self-serious and strange in a somewhat uncouth way. And no, he should not have access to a Twitter account but I can’t help but love his music. On this album his music mixes soundtrack fodder, layered voices yelping elaborate lyrical metaphors, weeping violins, tinkling piano lines and an innate sense of pop. All of these things can be found in the file titled “Musical things Austin likes.”

42) Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix I’ve liked Phoenix for awhile but I never listened to them for longs stretches of time until this album. I also never distinguished between one album and the other, but every single song on this album is better than anything they’ve done before.

43) The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree If you have never given this album a chance I would highly recommend it. The music is simply yet inventive and they lyrics are more like snatches of prose pulled from a novel than anything else.

44) Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica I’ve appreciated this album more the older I’ve gotten. I liked it from the start but as my taste has matured (I’m sure some of you have valid arguments against this) my appreciation of this album has increased and I even look forward to the three-song drag in the middle of the album. Lyrically it has not lost its resonance and/or shock. Musically I get nostalgic and wish Modest Mouse had returned more to this sounds following “Good News…” but the world isn’t fair.

45) Jens Lekman – Oh You’re So Silent Jens I still remember the first time I listened to this album. I had no idea what to make of it. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the simplicity nor the complete orgy of music. But for some reason I couldn’t keep from listening to it. I still go on benders with this album sometimes.

46) Lil’ Wayne – Tha Carter III I like this album more than I should. Don’t worry there is more shame to come. (Who loves foreshadowing?)

47) N*E*R*D – In Search Of… An album I listened to on repeat before I started to really “listen” to music. For awhile it was just Radiohead and then other shit. But for me this album gets more intelligent the more music I know. I’m not making any sense. It’s okay. Please listen to this album.

48) The Go! Team – ThunderLightingStrike I am thoroughly addicted to this album for sometimes inexplicable reasons.

49) Aesop Rock – Labor Days Aesop Rock has an addictive flow that he uses to drop (sometimes too) clever lines and references to history, mythology and pop culture. Sometimes the production could be a little more inventive and sometimes I wish he’d drop the saxophone. In my opinion he peaked with the song “Daylight”—both in terms of production and extremely quotable lines: “Life’s not a bitch/ Life’s a beautiful woman/ You just call her a bitch because she didn’t let you get that pussy.”

50) The Tallest Man on Earth – Shallow Graves Found this album thanks to this yearly exercise we’ve all engaged in. Perfect for those snow-laden mornings where the light is only grey and the cold is something that doesn’t stop biting you.

51) The Roots – Game Theory I miss Philly. There are times when I ask myself why I don’t move back. While this album reminds me of all the things I more or less feared in that blessed city it makes me ache all the more for West Philly, for the Italian Market, for those streets that seem as though they are perpetually stuck in the season of fall.

52) Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s – The Dust of Retreat There is something to be said for straightforward sadness and depression committed to tape. Most people get bored with it. I wish I did.

53) The Knife – Silent Shout I like this record with reach passing year. It’s like a fine wine or something. It’s so crazy, really.

54) Modest Mouse – Good News for People Who Love Bad News Front to back I can listen to this album. I love the caustic lyrics, the pointless horn flares and intros, and yes, even the pop infusion that angered many Modest Mouse fans—even myself at first. I didn’t’ want “Float On” to be as big as it was, when you have a small band you like you simultaneously want everyone to like it and know one to know about it. It was impossible to ignore Modest Mouse after his album, for good reason.

55) Tom Waits – Blood Money I wrote an entire set of poems based on the titles and music from this album. I don’t know what else to say about that except that I still like the poems.

56) Jamie Lidell – Jim Not quite as stunning to me as his debut but I have to admit that certain songs (“Green Light” in particular) I like better than anything else he’s done.

57) The Killers – Hot Fuss Many may dismiss this pick because it was so huge and commercial and because they suck in concert. But I never stop thinking that this album is brilliant and such a unique (if flawed) sound. I know some will argue. Please feel free.

58) Ratatat – Remixes, Vol. 1 Thank you Mike for cluing me into this album. I zeroed my play count on itunes not to long ago because I was almost ashamed of how high the play count was for this album. Once I zeroed everything though I felt a certain loss, a certain sense of betrayal.

59) Iron & Wine – Woman King If you are feeling lonely and the sun is setting don’t listen to this album, even though it fits the mood perfectly. It won’t make things better.

60) Thursday – War All of the Time Yes I have two of their albums on this list. I have no explanation other than I have an unnatural affection for this scary kid screamo. I can still listen to this album, years and years later.

61) Okkervil River – The Stand-Ins Sorry, you won’t find The Stage Names. I like this album so much more. Always makes me want to smoke a cigarette. I think it’s time for a break…

62) Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer I saw Spencer and the crew play this whole album live before it actually came out. I was a bit disappointed because I couldn’t figure out if I had anything to look forward to because I already knew all the songs. I did.

63) Bloc Party – Intimacy More or less universally panned I still love this album and can’t stop listening to it.

64) Immortal Technique – Revolutionary, Vol. 2 The production isn’t fantastic. Sometimes his flow trips over itself, lost in it’s own ambition and vanity. But every time I listen to this album I notice another new, vitriolic, clever and uncomfortable line.

65) Common – Be I intermittently forget about this album, then rediscover it and listen on repeat. It’s a time-traveling album, harkening back to a point in the decade where Kanye produced less self-centered tracks and featuring John Mayer and John Legend wasn’t completely uncouth. The songs are excellently distilled and Common’s raps drip affirming and caustic from his lips.

66) Brand New – The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me Brand New somewhat fell off the “popular” radar with this album. They abandoned any sense of emo-punk-pop, which they had perfected while simultaneously managing to sort of make the genre more…credible. Instead they indulged (sometimes too much) in longer, at times a-melodic, songs with profound (yes I said it) and introspective lyrics. I realize that emo, by definition, is self-reflective to a fault and perhaps it is because I identify with Jesse Lacey’s sentiments, but there are some lines on this album that are almost too honest. Musically, though some of the songs can drag, it is also a great leap forward for this band and I hope they will continue to improve.

67) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – S/T Such an up and down album for me. It’s fluctuated to much on the list and I need to just get the damn thing up.

68) The Walkmen – You and Me I can be a bit of a depressive guy. Never in interactions but just in general thoughts and my yearning that every day was overcast and rainy. This album plays completely into these feelings.

69) Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line Had they not emerged in the shadow of Vampire Weekend I am sure these guys would be more well known, more loved and more critically acclaimed than those boat shoe wearing posers.

70) Vampire Weekend – S/T If I am ever in a bad mood these days, or if I wake up and I can’t conceive the idea of teaching rowdy twelve year olds I put on this album and immediately feel better.

71) Jay-Z – The Blueprint I know I should like to and listen to this album more than I do. But I just don’t listen to it as much. I’m sure other lists will push it higher than this on the final main list.

72) The Decemberists – Castaways and Cutouts This band hasn’t exactly aged well with me. Were I to base their placement on how much I listened to them senior year and the summer after graduation they would be somewhere in or near the top ten. But like I said they haven’t aged well and are only making one appearance.

73) Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover My least favorite Sunset album but that still says a lot. Also “The Courtesan Has Sung” has weaseled its way on to many a playlist. It’s not really a song for playlist, but I don’t care because I love it.

74) Handsome Furs – Face Control Pretty amazing stuff that I had sort of avoided on principle because I didn’t want anything to interfere with my love for Sunset Rubdown. I am not sure why I thought the Handsome Furs threatened this, but love is sometimes irrational.

75) Adele – 19 Another female singer that I can’t listen enough. There is nothing inventive or clever or particularly interesting about this album. It’s just beautiful and full of sappy emotion I can’t help but be attracted to.

76) Passon Pit – Manners It’s ridiculous and indulgent on my part. I often pretend not to like those late eighties-pop songs like “King of Wishful Thinking” when they come on. But I do like them. I hate it. This album makes me feel better about all this self-loathing.

77) Pete Yorn – Musicforthemorningafter I know that singer-songwriters are supposedly the destruction of music. Perhaps I agree. I still love this album. Every single song is tied to a different memory from college and I can’t just pass that over.

78) Matt & Kim – Grand They are getting poorly oversaturated at the moment. Their songs keep popping up awkwardly in commercials where they shouldn’t. I don’t blame them, I am sure it’s a great windfall. But it’s getting increasingly hard to separate. Hmm…not really an endorsement for a relatively high placement. It’s a good catchy album, check it out

79) Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies I am quite aware that there are other Destroyer albums out there from this decade. I gave some of them a listen, and though many would protest, I don’t think they are as good as this one.

80) The Knife – Deep Cuts This album could be included on my list on the strength of “Heartbeats” alone. But I also find myself consistently gravitating towards other tracks on the album such as “Pass This On” and “Take My Breath Away.” Karin’s voice, even when heavily modulated, is mesmerizing and the music is both beautiful and not just a bit disturbing.

81) Rilo Kiley – The Execution of All Things One of my first “indie” bands discovered late in my college career as I slowly moved away from just singer-songwriters and emo. I still have a soft spot for this album.

82) Metric – Fantasies I saw this band live once in Philly and they were ridiculously good. But when I bought their album I was quite disappointed. The energetic, melodically smart band I’d seen in concert didn’t translate to a cohesive, catchy album. They finally did it with this one. It’s been steadily atop my “Recently Played” list.

83) Spoon – Kill the Moonlight Spoon just rocks. “The Way We Get By” makes me want to return to high school. I hated high school.

84) Mylo – Destroyer Still a brilliant album. Sometimes I’ll be singing “Missing Persons, Duran Duran” in my head even if I haven’t listened to his album in many, many moons.

85) Amy Winehouse – Back to Black I like this album for the very reasons everyone else talks about liking this album. It’s universal in that sense. Like cocaine.

86) The Pipettes – We Are the Pipettes It came along at a time when I needed something, some music, that was completely ridiculous and light. I will forever be indebted to this album for coming along when it did.

87) Tapes ‘n Tapes – The Loon I can go for years without listening to this album, but then I’ll pick it up and realize that I remember every single song. That the lyrics and the cool break downs still lurk in the background of my memory. Mark of a good album in my book.

88) Frightend Rabbit – Midnight Organ Fight There is definitely something to be said for music this straightforward and so endearing.

89) Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye Dark, yet catchy. I love the hushed style of singing perhaps more than I should.

90) Thrice – The Artist in the Ambulance From the time I first plugged in I wanted to be able to play thrash metal. Unlike Nick who gets into the droning of distortion I wanted to wrap that distortion around a flurry of neo-classical notes but not have a singer who would be mistaken for a girl—and I didn’t want to wear spandex. This album is an answer to my dreams.

91) Ratatat – S/T One of the best albums to work or study to ever. Ever.

92) Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog The only full album from this weepy that I feel sustains itself for an entire album. If I hadn’t decided to include EPs this would be his only appearance.

93) Godspeed You Black Emperor – Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven I can’t really describe how happy I was when I realized that this album counted as something from the Aughts.

94) Band of Horse – Everything All the Time A sleepy record that is good for both studying and falling asleep (sometimes those activities go hand in hand anyways). Their follow-up “Cease to Begin” may have a little more snap and pop to it, but the lyrics and melodies of this album have stuck with specific, nostalgic memories of mine so this album makes the list.

95) Mos Def – The Estatic I haven’t had enough time with this album. I’m sure, given more time it would be indefinitely higher. As it is…

96) Lykke Li – Youth Novel So syrupy sweet, how could I not include it? Seriously though, it’s a good album. And her voice works its way into your psyche like an arrow from Eros.

97) Why – Alopecia An album I picked up after seeing it on a myriad of lists for good reason. It awakens a small amount of 90’s nostalgia, while being completely modern and belonging to the aughts.

98) Girl Talk – Feed the Animals I listen to this album far more than I should.

99) Gorillaz – Demon Days I want to like this album more than I do because there are so may good songs on it. They just made “Feel Good Inc.” too well. I can’t get past it.

100) Thursday – A City by the Lights Divided I have no friends who like Thursday. At least, none who would profess it. I guess I don’t really care, even if Pitchfork describes their music simply as “shit.” With this album the band I thought would never change actually “matured.” Most will never understand my excitement over this fact.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Top 25 of 2008: 5-1

5. Jamie Lidell – Jim

I often get weird looks when people ask me what type of music I like. I don’t like to define a type, because I’m that cool, rather I list artists. When I say Sunset Rubdown, or Okkervil River or Hercules and Love Affair, people, not acquainted with any of this type of music, generally assume they won’t like the same type of music as me.

Then I put on Jamie.

How can you not like this music? It’s throwback, for sure, but its updated throwback. It simply makes you want to move. And, especially on Jim, the production is impeccable. Listen to “Green Light” on a good pair of headphones and I challenge you not to be intrigued. Also, you can’t listen to the coda of “Hurricane” and not think of some funkified verision of the Beatles.

Ultimately I just appreciate the Lidell does exactly what he wants. I saw him in concert and he went on a ten minute electronic freestyle trip. The people I had convinced to go with me with the likes of “Another Day” and “All I Wanna Do” didn’t like it, but I thought it was fantastic.

I guess perhaps, for me, he can do no wrong.

4. Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line

I kept my appreciation for this band under wraps this year. The album hasn’t been around for long, but the second I listened to it I just felt a weird sort of affection. This is a band that I root for, I want them to be popular, I want them to make it. And in certain circles, I guess they already have.

They were garnering a lot of buzz last year around the same time as Vampire Weekend, but their drummer died and delayed the release. And while I feel sorry for their loss I must say the experience has benefited their music. No group’s debut album should sound this mature. This album has the intensity that most debut albums of good groups have, but it’s welded with a musical, and dare I say, lyrical sophistication that groups don’t find until several albums later (some, sadly, never do).

Plus I’m a complete sucker for the inclusion of a string section with garage band type music. Maybe this means I’m secretly fifteen years old, but I don’t care. Also I like that they have two female and these vixens blend their voices perfectly with the lead singer.

In short, I’m a big, big fan.

3. Okkervil River – The Stand-Ins

Like Michael, I was initially unimpressed (more or less disappointed) with the Stage Names. And also like him I gained a better appreciation of it this year, but this appreciation stems from how enthralled I am with this album. The band is just so tight. The bass line never simply follows the guitar, nor do the keyboards merely echo and reinforce the overall chord progression. It all goes together so well.

I will say that, lyrically, nothing will top Black Sheep Boy, some of those songs still make me want to cry, but this album has some tough moments too. Due to certain experiences this year, I loved “Calling and Not Calling My Ex” as well as well as “Pop Lie.” I’ve already said this, but if I could sing like anyone I would sing like Will Shef, and I think, sometimes in my head I do sound like him. But this is just adoration.

Okkervil River is, and if they’re recent output is any indication will remain, one of my favorite bands. There is not an album that I can’t simply listen to, and this one is no exception.

2. Apes & Androids – Blood Moon

So Michael was embarrassed to have this album in his top ten, and as I push it into my top five I attempt a sense of embarrassment, perhaps just a small blush of shame, but it’s not there.

I unabashedly love every track on this album.

They combine every dirty pleasure, musical and otherwise, I have and make it sound great. I’m a sucker for those guitar solos from eighties movies. I’m a sucker for dreamy synthesizer combined with over-processed drums. I love reverb, eighties-The Cure-to-the-max guitars. Basically they take every musical element that I wish I didn’t like and make it okay. Perhaps this is dangerous.

I know this album is not for everyone, but I don’t care. I love how this album just never lets up. It reminds of those more innocent, caffeine riddled nights, when my friend Trevor (he, like me, was also a “rock musician” imprisoned in the countryside of Kentucky) and I would spend the entire night messing around with the eight-track recorder his parents bought him for Christmas. We made music like this but it sounded like shit.

Perhaps I like this album because it feels, somehow, like vindication.

1. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

In years past I’ve maybe placed albums that I, in fact, listened to on a more regular basis, behind albums that I thought were musically better—at least musically better from an objective stand point (the arrangements more refined, the musically, overall, more inventive, and, yes, better critically accepted). But with this album it’s unavoidable. There is not a single album that even comes close to how many times I’ve listened to this album, we’re talking all day writing binges soundtrack-ed only by Iver’s haunting voice.

My friend Tom, when I sent him this album, said, “If I could make music I would make this.” I don’t feel that way. I would more make music like Apes and Andriods, if I could be any music I would be this music. I want to sing like Shef, but if I could some how exist as a voice I would be Iver’s voice.

I know this sounds dramatic, but I am unable to be objective about this album, I’m unable to list and quantify its musical attributes, to discern what works and what doesn’t because I just connect to it on a personal level. Maybe it’s just been my particular, overall mood this year and perhaps in a year I won’t feel the same way. But I’m not writing this list next year, I’m writing it now. And right now, though I tried to avoid it, there is no other album that should be at the top.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Top 25 of 2008: 10-6

10) Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer

It has been an on again, off again type of year between Wolf Parade and I. I was initially disappointed with this album; it didn’t have the fire, the intensity of Apologies to Queen Mary. But then I friend of mine saw them in concert and told me I had to give it another listen and a loud listen at that. I fooled around with the levels a bit and she was right—the production on this album sucks, but the energy of the songs is definitely there.

Then I saw Sunset Rubdown in concert and my complete adoration for them was cemented, which instead of augmenting my love of Wolf Parade served to diminish it. Instead of listening to this album I put on old Sunset Rubdown albums. And if this album popped up at random I would just switch to Sunset. It was a sad situation.

And then, inexplicably, this album became something, that for a couple weeks, was the only thing I could listen to. Perhaps it was the piano hook on “Call It a Ritual.” And as long as I was listening to that song I might as well continue with “Language City” and there were the catchy drum highlights on “Bang Your Drum” and before I knew it was listening to all ten minutes of “Kissing the Beehive” with rapt attention.

9) Bloc Party – Intimacy

There is this great section in 2666 by Roberto Bolano, where Amalfitano asks a young pharmacists what his favorite books are:

Without turning, the pharmacist answered that he liked books like The Metamorphoses, Bartleby, A Simple Heart and A Christmas Carol. Leaving aside the fact that A Simple Heart and A Christmas Carol were stories, not books, there was something relevatory about the taste of this bookish young pharmacist...and who clearly preferred minor works to major ones. What a sad paradox, though Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacistsare afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works.
This album has been roundly criticized for being overambitious, for throwing too much stuff into one album (luckily much of what they thrown in is drums), and for the failure to achieve what they set out to accomplish. But, to me, it’s a beautiful failure.

8) TV on the Radio – Dear Science

I’ve never been a big TVOTR fan, and by that I mean I’ve never given their albums more than one spin before I decidedly dismissed them as music I don’t like. This does not necessarily mean I discounted their talent, or their appeal to some people, but it wasn’t for me.

However, I couldn’t ignore the buzz around this album. Scarlette Johansson recommended it on the Daily Beast for crying out loud, and how can she be wrong? So I put it on one morning for my drive into work. My drive is usually about 45 minutes and I leave around 5 a.m. and usually I found the time passes most quickly with NPR, not with music. But this morning, with TVOTR soundtracking my journey it felt like no drive at all. And after this drive I couldn’t stop thinking about this album, replaying certain hooks and choruses over in my head, wondering why the fit together so well, why they were catchy, because on the surface much of this is not catchy.

7) Lil’ Wayne – Tha Carter III

Jennifer Olmsted, reacting to a “This American Life” piece that asserted Americans as a whole are getting smarter and more intellectual, wrote the following:
“Intelligence is the new chic. Chic, and easy to attain. Learn to pronounce Foucault, drop a well-placed Freaks and Geeks reference, read a few Great Books, subscribe to HBO and the Economist, mix in a little ironic Lil Wayne appreciation, and suddenly, you've got class, intelligence, and culture. And everyone perusing your Facebook knows it. Appearance, not reality.

Ironic Lil’ Wayne appreciation? This quote, though I didn’t much creedance to the post as a whole, caused a minor crisis. Was my appreciation of Lil’ Wayne only ironic? A Latin teacher in the suburbs of Boston listening all the time to Weezy rap about hustling rock, ironic? Who really knows what this word means?

Following Michael’s recommendation last year I got the mixtape version of this album and I haven’t looked back since. I would like to write a paper on the lyrics of Lil’s Wayne, but a study of the lyrics alone would only address half of the genius of this artist: the impact comes in the delivery, the evident pain in boastful raps, the slight chuckle after a line about death, the humor that is both sincere and (gasp) ironic.

I could go on gushing about this album and about Wayne’s body of work in general, but I’ll stop because I don’t have much time.

6) The Walkmen – You & Me

The colder weather hurt Hercules and Love Affair, and as they fell the Walkmen climbed. I don’t know if I can necessarily define the mood of their music. Is it dreary? Is it quietly joyful? Or does it simply exist? Is it just a mood, a state of being? I am inclined to think the latter, because I find my affection for this album indefinable.

Many, many mornings have spent with coffee writing and listening to this album. Over and over. Over and Over.