Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Best Music of 2008: #5-1

#5. Kings of Leon -Only by the Night
Initially I was a little disappointed with Night, but after I put it aside for a few weeks, I went back to it and it became a top-ten album. They were vaulted into the top five after I saw them in Indy a couple of weeks back (video below). This album definitely seems like it's poised for--and has already received some--mainstream success with its spic-and-span production value. There's some grit or something missing in Night. I can't quite put my fingers on it, but there's something Because of the Times had that Night lacks. However, it's still a really good album that has definitely broadened the fan base. Here's "On Call," probably my favorite song from the show.

#4. Beck - Modern Guilt
This album was conspicuously absent from most year-end lists. It got good reviews when it came out, so I can't really understand what happened. Guilt might just be my favorite Beck album (and perhaps I owe it all to producer Danger Mouse). I'm not really a fan of his '90s stuff--it's fine but purposeful dissonance has never floated my boat. Guero was one of my top albums from '05, but I was disappointed with The Information (2007), so I didn't really know what to expect when Guilt dropped back in July. I'm sure [super producer] Danger Mouse helped Beck focus to refine Guilt's sound. I also thought Beck's lyrics were stronger on Guilt than on Information. My favorite tracks are "Youthless," "Walls," "Orphans," and "Gamma Ray," the video for which is featured here (again, the video is weird... which seems to be a theme for a lot of the videos I've posted):

#3. Sigur Ros -
Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
As was the case with the Kings of Leon album, I was also initially disappointed with Med Sud. I wasn't bothered by the fact they went more accoustic with guitars or whatever, it's simply the fact that their '05 release Takk... is one of my favorite albums of all time. However, seeing Sigur Ros in concert back in September certainly gave me a new perspective on Med Sud. I still don't think it's as good as Takk..., but I like it more than ( ). "Gobledigook," "Inni Myr," and "Vid Spilum" are all five-star tracks and can hold their own against other amazing songs such as [my all-time fave] "Saeglopur", "Hoppipolla," and "Glosoli." If you ever get the chance, catch their show... it's fantastic (in the words of Flight of the Conchords, "definitely in the top three"). This outdoor performance [of "Inni Myr"] doesn't convey it, but they put on a visually spectacular show:

#2. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Although Emma was released in 2007, it was a very limited release and I didn't stumble upon it until JagJaguar released it in February of '08. I instantly fell in love and told just about everybody that would listen to buy this album. First, Emma deals a lot with heartbreak, something I was going through at this time last year, so it got a lot of bonus points for that. But even when I listen to it today, I'm still amazed at how haunting and beautiful it remains. Justin Vernon (AKA Bon Iver) wrote and recorded most of the album on a now-famous hiatus in a Wisconsin cabin during the winter, chopping wood for heat and hunting his own food. That solitude permeates the album, but it's semi-melancholoy nature doesn't depress becuase his falsetto voice seems uplifting--even when its bellowing out a tune about lost love. I'm aleady in love with Blood Bank, and I can't wait for his next LP (although that song "Woods" seems like a cheap Imogen Heap knock off). You can also hear his song, "Bracket, WI" on the righthand side of this blog (it's part of one of the greatest for-charity compliations ever). This music video for "The Wolves" might give you a sense of Vernon's surroundings as he wrote Emma.

#1. Horse Feathers - House with no Home
For those of you keeping score at home, this is the third Portland-based band to make the list (Starf***er and Blitzen Trapper being the other two). How this album escaped every year-end list I came across seems absolutely befuddling, bemusing, bewildering, and--with all due respect--just plain dumb (what? I said with all due respect). The only good thing about their absence from those lists is that it sets mine apart from the rest of the field (a hipster requirement, to be sure), but I would've loved for them to have gotten the publicity. I was at their show in November and they produce America's most beautiful music. There's no doubt. Their music is just as hauntingly beautiful as Bon Iver, except it's got a cello and a violin... instruments that make almost any song better! :) "Curs in the Weeds" might be my favorite song from 2008. Just. Freaking. Beautiful. I also really enjoy "Working Poor," one of the faster-paced songs from Home. Here's the aforementioned "Curs":

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More music for your eyebulbs

Okay ... so I saw this video and instantly loved it. I bought the album, and it's not so good. It's kind of like that album by The Feeling ... you know the one. It's got that song "Fill My Little World" - really good. The rest of the album is a big w-o-t wast of time.

Back to Matt and Kim. Their first album (self titled, released 2006) is like that Feeling album sans "Fill My Little World." That's right, avoid it. In fact, if you see it somewhere in a social setting don't even give it a head nod of acknowledgment.

Their whole sound is kind of in the vein of the minimalist thing the White Stripes do (did?). And unlike Jack and Meg they are still married. Instead of drums and guitar, Matt and Kim use drums and synth/keyboard. Sounds workable right? They're slowly but surely honing their craft.

The good news is that Matt and Kim's newest album, Grand, is much, much better. More than one good song, in fact. I will bet you (stakes tbd) that you will like "Daylight" (featured in this video) and "Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare."

As I mentioned, this is the "Daylight" music video. Delightful really. They look so happy! Seriously, we gotta figure out a way to bottle this!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Best Music of 2008: #10-6

We made it to the top ten! (Facebookers: you know where to go... and I mean that in the nicest possible way.)

#10. Blitzen Trapper - Furr
At the start of 2008, I had never even heard of these Portlanders. While the 2007 song "Wild Mountain Nation" is tremendous, that album is a less stellar than it's title track, possessing some of the worst parts of early Beck (schizo electrono-rock with purposeful dissonance and auditory overload). Although I've somewhat decried apparent mainstream-ization of albums *cough Dear Science cough*, Blitzen Trapper's latest effort benefits from a sonic scalpel, likely applied by the guys over at Sub Pop. By toning down the worst parts of the band and boosting the best, BT put together a solid album (although it probably wouldn't be in the top 10 if I hadn't seen them in concert in November... hearing their songs evokes memories of their very lively show; there's no doubt in my mind if I had seen The Black Keys this year, Blitzen Trapper would be knocked out of this spot). "Furr" isn't my favorite track off the album of the same name, but it's got a cool video (and is evidence of BT's storytelling):

#9. Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple
While that awesome-but-quickly-ubiquitous-and-subsequently-annoying song "Crazy" got all the fame, I was a bigger fan of St. Elsewhere's weirder tracks, like "Go-Go-Gadget Gospel" and "Transformers." Odd Couple is the triumph of the weird-but-good vibe from their debut album. However, while bands with a similar sound (TVotR) seems to get an insane amount of praise, the fact that Odd Couple was left out of so many best-of lists seems--wait for it--odd, especially given how much cred Danger Mouse seems to have. One of the reasons Odd Couple is so high in my countdown is the number of listens this album garnered: just like Konk, this album stayed in my car's six-disc player from it's release date until one or two months ago. Here's the video for "Going On," one of my favorite tracks off the album:

. Lykke Li - Youth Novels
Yet another artist with whom I was unfamiliar at the outset of this past year. This sprightly Swedish twentysomething burst onto the scene thanks to the work of Bjorn (of Peter Bjorn & John fame) and you can tell--or at least I think I can tell--his influence: electronic beats and sometimes-slightly-off-key tones. This album is full of a few songs that will become big singles: "I'm Good, I'm Gone," "Breaking it Up," "Complaint Department," "Dance, Dance, Dance," and "Little Bit." If those saw the light of day on MTV (or whatever it is that influences high schoolers), the kids would be eating it up. For now, I'll keep things the way they are (I'm a little bit in love with her). Here's the [weird but good] video for "I'm Good, I'm Gone":

#7. Dr. Dog - Fate
When I saw these guys open for The Black Keys in '06, I thought they had a fun stage presence, but didn't think they'd amount to much. This is like, you know, one of the three or four times in my life that I've been wrong. Fate is a tremendous album that takes a few listens to really get into your head, but you later find yourself craving it, as I often do with the song "The Old Days" (video below). The songs are catchy without being cheesy; think Rooney, and then the exact opposite... sort of like if Spoon took PCP and heroine and then played a show at a trucker's bar in Philly. Genuine emotions are carried in each tune, and the lyrics can be a treat at times: not every band can question the meaning of life and get away with it. If they come back to the area anytime soon, I'll definitely show up... as long as nobody's head gets chopped off, like in "The Ark"; here's a studio version of my favorite song, "The Old Days":

"The Old Days" - Dr. Dog from LaundroMatinee on Vimeo.

#6. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
It took me a long time to get my hands on this album. I put it on my Amazon wishlist when it was released, but I could never scrounge enough cash together to actually buy it (or my cash went towards the purchase of other albums). Thankfully, some friends intervened and gave me a copy. While this album has received an unbelievable amount of praise (Pitchfork's #1 album), I tried not to hold that against it (I think the offices at Pitchfork have those leadership posters, but instead of inspirational words, they've got stuff like "Pride" and "Pretension" and "Braggadocio"). Some people have criticized FF for sounding like Band of Horses, and while there is a recognizable similarity, it doesn't bother me at all. With each listen, this album inched itself up this list, from initially being just outside the top 20 to being inside the top 10. If I had another month, it might take that next step into the top 5. Here's a great little stop-motion animation video for "White Winter Hymnal":

The top 5 is next...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Music for your eye-bulbs

Sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled list. People like you need these lists. Let's be honest, we all love them. But now I want to zoom in a bit on a single song.

Is this a good song? If you listen to it without the music video, you probably wouldn't think so. Do yourself a favor and watch while you listen. The combination is unbeatable. The music and video go together perfectly. Plus, I'm a sucker for animation. Love it. Love it like cheese.
My Morning Jacket - New Music - More Music Videos
Also ... Sorry about the commercial.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Best Music of 2008: #15-11

The countdown continues (Facebookers: see the original post to view the videos without having to leave the page)....

#15. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
The third major release for TVotR is a fine album as I've already stated, but it doesn't live up to the stunning sound of Return to Cookie Mountain (2006). Science seems to lack an "I Was a Lover" or a "Staring at the Sun," (although "DLZ" is a five-star song); furthermore, the album is dragged down by "Red Dress" and "Dancing Choose." Science feels like it was meant for more mainstream success, and I hope TVotR achieves it, but if you have to get one of their albums, try Cookie Mountain. Enjoy this totally weird video, "Golden Age":

"Golden Age" - TV On The Radio

#14. Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
The first single released from Stairs was "I Will Possess Your Heart," a near-nine-minute track that was terribly repetitive for the first four minutes. Once you get past those four minutes, it's a fine song, but I think that track turned a lot of people off to the album before it was even released. Stairs, while not as good as Transatlanticism or Plans, is still a decent record. In my opinion, there is only one five-star song on the album: "Grapevine Fires," a tale of loss and love. While I enjoy DCfC, most of their songs are about love/relationships (although "Bixby Canyon Bridge" is an obvious--and welcome--deviation). On the other hand, when I got this album , I was dealing with those issues, so the album resonated with me more than if I had somehow stumbled upon an advance copy in '07. I enjoyed "Your New Twin Sized Bed" and "The Ice Is Getting Thinner," but here is the aforementioned "Grapevine Fires" (a live, in-studio version):

. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Talk about hype! This album got so much pre-release buzz, I was fearful they would be another Arctic Monkeys (all hype, no talent). And, after my initial listen, I thought my fears had been confirmed, but I kept the album on repeat (alternating with Dear Science) while I painted my bedroom and by the time I finished, I really liked the album (should I blame the paint fumes?). I was also annoyed that everybody thought it was so clever that somebody sang about grammar in a song... "Like, oh my God, four young lads from an Ivy League school that wrote a song called 'Oxford Comma'!" I felt like VW was trying too hard to be clever. These guys aren't the LeBron James of hype--where they live up to and then exceed the hype--but they certainly have come close to justifying the hype. Plus, it wasn't their fault a couple of music blogs went nuts over their stuff. There isn't a quality music video available for my favorite song, "Walcott," and although I don't care for the song, the video for "Oxford Comma" has a cool, Wes Anderson vibe to it; the video for "A-Punk" demonstrates VW's fun nature and dancability (which is not, in any way, related to drinkability):

"A-Punk" - Vampire Weekend

#12. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
As I've previously mentioned, I'm more than willing to indulge in a little neo-'80s electronica. MGMT not only embodies that genre, they nearly perfected it in 2008. I have already listed several albums described as "fun" (#20, #19, #13) and that word also fits for Oracular. MGMT are also East Coast college kids, but [thankfully?] they didn't get the press that Vampire Weekend did. While I'm not in love with the whole album (I usually skip "The Youth" and "4th Dimension"), Oracular is home to three songs that are, well, spectacular. "Electric Feel" definitely has some sort of Prince thing going on, but it's terribly fun. "Kids" is another terrific song from the album. However, the absolute stand-out track is "Time to Pretend." The song is a ridiculous parody of the American dream: making music, making money, going to Paris, shooting heroine, marrying a model, then divorcing said model after having kids, but then finding another model to marry. For me, that's much more clever than "Oxford Comma." Dropping acid right before this video might increase your viewing pleasure:

"Time To Pretend" - MGMT

#11. The Black Keys - Attack & Release
These Ohio natives know how to rock. I saw them at The Vogue in December of '06 (the timing of their '08 didn't mesh with my schedule) and they melted my face off. You might think that two dudes--one on drums and the other on guitar--would produce a pretty sparse sound, but it totally works. Plus, on Attack, TBK employed super producer Danger Mouse (who we'll run into later in the countdown... twice). It took me a while to warm up to the album--it's a different sound, no doubt due to Danger Mouse--but I eventually started digging it. While I prefer the raucous tunes of Rubber Factory (2004) and Thickfreakness (2003), Attack was a welcome change from the sometimes stale sound of Magic Potion (2006). Need some evidence of their rock 'n' roll greatness? Check out "I Got Mine" from their show at the Crystal Ballroom (and yes, I am totally envious of that sweet beard):

#10-6 coming soon...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Best Music of 2008: #16-20

I realize I'm a little late to the year-end-list party (not to be confused with My Year In Lists), but I had to wait this long to acquire some of the albums I suspected would be on this list. Furthermore, if I don't do it now, it will be 2009 before I get my mitts on all the good albums from the past year. The bands which produced good albums in 2008 which I have yet to completely acquire (I have singles from most of them), and thus, will not appear on this list, are as follows (in no order): Anathallo, Chad VanGaalen, Frightened Rabbit, King Khan & The Shrines, Santogold, Whitely, Wild Sweet Orange, Los Campesinos!, Gentleman Jesse, Mason Proper, My Brightest Diamond, Pale Young Gentlemen, The Acorn, The Walkmen, Slow Runner, and the Welcome Wagon. It's possible--though unlikely--that all of those albums would've made their way into this year-end list if I had their works. That caveat outtathaway, let's get to work (if you're reading this on Facebook, it might be best to head over to the original post so you can listen to the tracks or watch videos without leaving the webpage).

#20. The Kooks - Konk
This is probably my guilty pleasure of the year. It's total schlock pop. This made the top twenty simply because I listened to this album a lot this year. I picked it up back in May and it stayed in my car's six-disc changer all summer. It's great driving music because it's totally catchy and cheesy and it's great sing-along stuff for the road. These guys are Arctic Monkeys, except not sixteen years old, and [far] less annoying. This isn't my favorite song of theirs, but it's only one of two available on YouTube:

#19. Starf**ker -
These electrono-pop-rockers from Portland are probably my most obscure band of the year. I stumbled upon them and their name immediately caught my attention--obviously--so I checked them out and fell in like (not love). The major drawback of this eponymous record is it's short run time (barely over 30 minutes). On the other hand, if these guys roll into town (Indy) any time soon, I'll definitely have to check them out because it looks like they put on a pretty fun show. The audio quality [on imeem] for my favorite song, "Pop Song," is a little poor, so feel free to check out "Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second" or "German Love"; here's "Holly":

Holly - Starf***er

#18. Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us
Dubbed "indie rock's favorite married couple" by my favorite music magazine, the Mates put out a quality album. I would describe them as New Pornographers lite/diet/jr. There aren't too many songs on Re-Arrange that knock you over, it's simply a solid album. Also, I'm glad to see that they've gotten paid recently... good for them! Indie rockers make so little, I love it when they can bring home the bacon and spread their tunes. Check out "Free," my favorite song off the album (with "Blue and Gold Print" and the title track running a close second).

You Are Free - Mates of State

#17. Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line
I bought this album from Amazon's MP3 store for $1.99 the week it was released and it's been well worth the cash. The blend of guitar(s) and cello/violin is a sweet sound; whether it's been Silverchair (Diorama/Young Modern) or Andrew Bird, I'm always a fan of the mixture of those instruments. Ra Ra is sort of an ecstatic version of Arcade Fire, minus the organs... and the depression. Here's a video for "Ghost Under Rocks" (and the video for "Dying is Fine" is also pretty cool):

#16. The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely
The White Stripes have been pretty hit-and-miss with me--I usually love half the album and hate the other half, and the first Raconteurs album didn't impress me. This album, however, is a different story. It's fairly solid throughout, and there's only one or two songs I skip, which is pretty good for 14 tracks. Consolers is plain old rock 'n' roll... and I'm not complaining. Here's a live, in-studio version of my favorite song, "Carolina Drama," a folk diddy with a violent end:

#15-11 coming soon....

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Spirit

More like The Suck. I was curious about this movie after I saw the preview this summer, but I grew evermore skeptical when the reviews were published. Furthermore, the trailer that's been playing on TV during the holidays featured quotes from a website called MoviePictureFilm.com. What? That sounds like a website created by Borat. However, I had a free ticket and we showed up 5 minutes before showtime looking for a movie to watch, so we took a chance... not a great way to start off 2009.

While I enjoyed the insanely-violent Sin City, I was never sold on 300, so the "Frank Miller" tag didn't entice me. What confused me about The Spirit is that sometimes it was purposefully campy and at other times it seemed as if its campiness resulted from an accident or poor acting. If you're going to deliberately cheese-up your film, you have to do it consistently, so that way the audience doesn't blame it on poor writing/acting (off the top of my head, I think Firefly/Serenity did a good job with its intentional campiness).

Secondly, the addition of everybody's favorite angryblackman, Samuel L. Jackson, just made the film worse (that clip is his best role). He actually had some funny lines in The Spirit, but most of his dialogue was so ridiculous I laughed. What ever happened to the hold-on-to-your-butts version of SLJ.

One thing The Spirit did have going for it was sex appeal. I don't mean to be crude, but there certainly was a collection of "talent" on the screen: Paz Vega (AKA the other Penelope Cruz), Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, and several other lesser known actresses. However, The Spirit's failure proves that action + hot women =/ success. A good story and clever writing always trump eye candy (although I can think of a few exceptions, namely District B13 and Ong Bak).

Grade: D+
Blurb: Don't watch this movie, even if you have a free ticket... but you should definitely rent it if they make an accompanying RiffTrax.