09 January 2009

BEST of 2008...in no particular order

Earth: The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull - It is the sound of the burning, desolate West. It has the pace of a Cinemascope vista revealing that parched landscape in slow master shot detail. The music would fit a western shot by Malick. Bill Frisell is guest guitarist on three tracks.
Listen: "The Driver" or "Rise To Glory".

Sam Phillips: Don't Do Anything - This record defined so much of what I love of great songwriting: simplicity, concision, and sharp yearning. It's a very modest record, but Phillips' restrained delivery is devastating. One reason I love it so is due to it reminding me of a beloved friend: simple but stunning. It's a pop record but not an ostentatious or obnoxious one. It has simple guitars, drumming, and spare strings. The major draw is Phillips warm, knowing voice devoid of the self-pity (or sentimentality) that often handicaps the usual artist. She is the anti-Feist. For me, this gorgeous, simple record was the album of the year.
Listen: "Don't Do Anything" and "My Career In Chemistry".

Jesu: Why Are We Not Perfect - The appeal is the music's shoegaze values and heavy percussion. This EP has some of the best car music I heard this year.
Listen: "Farewell".

Islands: Arm's Way - A great pop record that could have been the best of the year. Many were disappointed with it, however. One reason for it was the limited musical palette. The playing is good - even though Boeckner and Krug are absent here - but it seems a bit unimaginative in light of the conventional music. Tellingly, listeners only seem to remember "Creeper" or "I Feel Evil Creeping In". (Or "Vertigo" and its Who homage if they made to the LP's end.) More interestingly, Nick wrote many songs about betrayal as well as death. Is he talking about Jaime here? However, it's still a great achievement for Nick and augers well for the band's future.
Listen: "I Feel Evil Creeping In".

Krallice: s/t - Whereas Wolves In The Throne Room evoked a forest atmosphere and then blew it up for a new creation, Krallice just blows it all up with the rock 'n roll and never looks back. It feels more like rock than metal, but it still combines the two to make the music a compelling force. The album bangs on and on, but it's so brutal, energetic, and varied that it hardly feels as if it's one song played for one hour. Lovers of post-rock and air guitar have much to love here. This one also provided excellent car music this year.
Listen: The whole album! (If you need one song, just try "Cnestorial" though.)

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Dig Lazarus Dig!!! - Evidently, the world didn't end in the way that Nick Cave had foreseen. This is a post apocalyptic record. There's confusion, deceit, desolation, zombies, leveled cities, and Nick Cave's moustache. However, it's still as witty and enjoyable as the last effort from the band. Drawing on his previous record as Grinderman, Cave has found his inner Mark E. Smith. If this is Nick Cave growing old, Leonard Cohen better watch his back.
Listen: The whole album!

Alejandro Escovedo: Real Animal - There are some ghosts he puts to rest here. It is no nostalgia trip however; Escovedo looks back to recall the good times. He was nearly dead once so here he remembers joyously what it was to be alive in his youth. This album is more of a rocker than his previous one, but the song vignettes focus it more tightly. The lyrics are much more narrative here than surreal as on The Boxing Mirror. His songs are in the tradition of Dylan and Westerberg. This would be a superb finale, but it feels as if Escovedo is only warming up.
Listen: "Always A Friend" and "Sister Lost Soul".

Okkervil River: The Stand Ins - I had expected this to be a bit of b-side slag as in Black Sheep Boy Appendix, but this turned out not to be the case. I find it hard to imagine how the songs here could fit into The Stage Names, though. They are too distinctly pop so I suppose that it's good they've now been released separately. Lyrically, it's all the same consistency with The Stage Names. The only difference is that they're more upbeat. There are more hits here than on the previous album so it bounces along really well while using Sheff's keen details and observation to great effect.
Listen: "Lost Coastlines" and "Calling and Not Calling my Ex".

16 Horsepower: March 2001 - This is a live album from 2001 now released. Such an occasion is always cause for great celebration. The album never lets you forget how great this band was in its glorious angst and energy. There is a Joy Division cover here that is one of the best that I've heard in awhile. Anyone new to 16 Horsepower now has an impeccable introduction.
Listen: "American Wheeze" and "Twenty Four Hours".

Mountain Goats: Heretic Pride - This is one of their best records. It has all the beloved Darnielle trademarks and even rocks out a little. This man brings humor, pathos, and beauty like none other. I'd love to see them tour with Sam Phillips and Okkervil River. "When the house goes up in flames/No-one emerges triumphant."
Listen: "Lovecraft In Brooklyn" and "Michael Myers Resplendent".

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