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Monday, December 29, 2008

2008...you looked like a winner.

For the last couple of years, I've thrown together a list of my favorite albums of the year. This year will be no different, except for the fact that I recruited a few other Heavy Soul contributors to submit some of their favorites to give a couple of different tastes. In all actuality, there's not much difference in tastes.

10. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Dig!!! Lazurus Dig!!! Nick Cave had always been one of those figures in my head that I always knew I should know more about than I actually did. Like T-Rex or Todd Rundgren. I think the only things I'd ever heard from him before this album was his frightening cover of "Let it Be" from the I Am Sam soundtrack and his hilarious single, "No Pussy Blues" as his alter-ego Grinderman. So you can imagine how excited I was to discover the title track of the Goth Prince of Rock 'n' Roll to be a very listenable and accessible ditty. If you aren't fully versed, Cave's speak-sing vocal style will be familiar to fans of The Hold Steady. Also, Nick Cave may have the creepiest/awesomest mustache this side of the bad guy who ties the damsel to the train tracks.

9. Blitzen Trapper, Furr. When I first reviewed this album in October, my tone was that of reluctant surprise. I was surprised that a band I imagined to be more folksy and hippie could rock so soundly. The opening track, "Sleepytime in the Western World" is an upbeat tune that definitely borrows from the classic rock era, but in such an unabashed way that's tough not to like. "Not Your Lover" is a heartbreakingly lovely ballad that could be an undiscovered Neil Young gem. This album is the definition of a grower, the type that works well on the way to the lake or on the way down the slopes. A very natural sound without the patchouli.

8. Los Campesinos!, Hold On Now, Youngster. Apparently, this isn't the only great LC!album to come out in 2008, but it is the only one that could physically be found in the musical hotbed of central Iowa. LC! is equal parts pop, punk, and indie-rock collaboration woven into an upbeat album that can put you in a good mood pretty quickly. Lyrically, LC!! won't be drawing Dylan comparisons anytime soon, but don't let the party sounds fool you. Listen carefully and you'll get a picture of indie-rock culture in the United Kingdom. Key tracks are: "Death to Los Campesinos!" "You! Me! Dancing!" and "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks". Another fun fact is that the whole band legally changed their last names to Campesinos. I like that gag.

7. Titus Andronicus, The Airing of Grievances. If you don't like Conor Oberst or Bright Eyes because of all the lamenting and whining, Titus Andronicus might be for you. When Pete told me that these guys sounded like Conor Oberst screaming and fronting a band consisting of members of Rancid and Arcade Fire, I was in. The entirety of the album sounds like a cut and paste effort of a live show giving it a very DIY sound. And as good as it sounds recorded, the album gives you the feeling that Titus Andronicus' best stuff comes out in person. I got a chance to see them live at the Pitchfork Festival and I was not disappointed. The band came out with five guitarists in the beginning of a rainstorm. It seemed fitting. It's probably not the way you draw it up, but it made for a perfect set. Messy and distorted and humid and hairy. Fitting for a bunch of kids from New Jersey.

6. MGMT, Oracular Spectacular. I've grown to hate the idea of this band. Artsy and psychedelic. Cover shoots with animal skins on their heads and feathers in their hair. I wish I could quit you, MGMT. But I can't because you're too damn catchy. You've heard "Time to Pretend" played in a movie if you've seen one in the last year or so. And "Weekend Wars" is one of the better songs I've listened to this year. So despite my growing discontent for the band, the album continues to satisfy.

5. My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges. I like this album because it's good and comes from the most creative band out there. It's not all radio ready. It's not all even extremely listenable. But it's ballsy. And that goes for something in my book. Jim James has one of the most pleasant voices I've ever heard and the band's sound is one that in a relatively short time has influenced a number of good bands (I'm looking in your direction Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, etc.). Oh, and to all of those buttlicking critics who say the song "Highly Suspicious" sucks, bite me. Bite my big, fat, hairy, pasty ass. That song has a corner office in the City Hall of Awesometown, which is the county seat of Awesome County.
4. Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst. It wouldn't be an MIB end-of-year music review if it didn't include some Conor Oberst project, right? Well, who am I to break precedent? Oberst's self-titled release is not extremely noteworthy, as it continues his development along the country/folk genre that began on Lifted, and blossomed on I'm Wide Awake. The album does mark Oberst's first recording without Mike Mogis in over a dozen years, hence the lack of the Bright Eyes moniker. Oberst shows a continual maturation lyrically and seems a bit happier and more at peace with life, love, and liberty. Hopefully, next year I'll be reviewing the Monsters of Folk (Oberts, Jim James, and M. Ward) album.

3. Hayes Carll, Trouble in Mind. Not sure who or how I got turned onto this album, but I'm thankful I did. Carll tells his stories like Hank Jr. Lots of booze and broads, sure, but also with a code of honor from days gone by. Most of the songs could be classified as singalongs, but be cautious--you'll sing yourself to a dark place you may not have known you were going to.

1 (tie). The Hold Steady, Stay Positive. If any given album has a finite number of plays, then Stay Positive may be coming to the end of its run on my iPeezy. From the time "Sequestered in Memphis" first leaked its way to my computer in May to the drive home from work this evening, this album hasn't gone a week without being played in its entirety. Stay Positive definitely doesn't stray from the tried and true formula that Craig and the boys have developed, but I don't hear anyone asking them to. I like to think of The Hold Steady's catalog as a menu at a steakhouse. There are several different steaks on the menu each with their own distinct characteristics. But when you break it down, they're all hunks of bloody, delicious beef. Keep the butcher shop open, THS. Keep the butcher shop open.

1 (tie). TV on The Radio, Dear Science. It seems like just a couple of years ago that TVOTR and The Hold Steady topped my favorite album list. Hopefully that means that 2010 is going to be another awesome year. This band does a considerable amount of ass kicking. The album is kind of dark and kind of unsafe, like driving at night by yourself for the first time in Detroit. But there are parts of the album that feel familiar and comforting ("Love Dog", "Golden Age"). And then there's that one part ("DLZ") where you're the only car on the road for miles and you decide to see how much muscle your car really has.

I'm glad you mentioned Carl Hayes. Doc's crew could use a guy like that on their roster this year. 6'9" with the ability to step out and hit a big J, in more ways than one. This wirey brother knew his role, and fulfilled it soundly. He & Dapriess Owens made for a pair of tough 6'9" dudes in the early-to-mid ninety's. Thanks Danny Nee.
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