Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Favorite Music of 2008 (Part 1: Top 10 Albums)

Inspired by Goose’s mostly annual, highly entertaining list of his favorite music of the previous year, here’s the first half covering my Top 10 Albums. I’ve included streaming versions of 2 tracks from each of them, and a random selection of YouTube clips.

If you’ve listened to our podcasts (if not, why not?), you’ll know that Goose listens to a much more eclectic range of music (Bolivian Vacuum Polka Funk, anyone?) than I. Also pretty sure he’s the reason Comcast may start throttling users’ bandwidth. Admittedly, I could stand to open the valve wider into my ear hole, but what I love, I love.

So here’s the Top 10 albums I loved the most in 2008. Eligibility was determined by the Year that came up in iTunes.

Part 2 (Songs & Shows) is now up as well.

Selling Out

We’ve said from the beginning that we will sell out to the first person who offers us enough money to buy us a nice sandwich. The same applies for persons 2 to 100. But that’s where we draw the line.

The Popcorn Trick is easing on down the slow road to whoredom. All of the albums listed below are linked to their respective Amazon CD & MP3 pages. If you purchase them from the links on our page, we get a few shekels kicked back in our direction.

We give you hours and hours of entertainment, and all we ask in return is that a 3rd party compensate us.

If you do actually buy one of these albums, drop us an email or a comment so we can see if this scam actually works. I think you have to buy the product in the same browser session you initiated when you click a link.

Top 10 Sampler

Here’s 2 of my favorite tunes from each of the Top 10 Albums. In some cases, I did not choose my favorite because they will be included in my favorite songs of 2008. And they’re somewhat out of order because I changed my mind on the Top 10, and you can’t edit a mixtape once you’ve created one.

Fuzz.com says that songs will stop being playable after a few weeks, but the Christmas mixtape I did back in December is still working, so who knows?

Press the Play button to open the case and start the music. If you have any problems viewing the embedded player, you can check the mixtape out here.

The Best

#10 My Morning JacketEvil Urges (MP3)

“It Still Moves” might me one of my Top 10 Albums of all time. It’s that good. Most of the songs I heard off their follow-up, Z, were going in a more experimental direction compared to the stadium-rock, jammy-but-not-too-jammy-more-like-Neil-Young-than-Phish-jammy, stuff off ISM. Left me cold.

This feels like they moved the dial somewhere in between those 2 motifs. You have the full-throttle rock of “Aluminum Park” and “Remnants” juxtaposed with the atmospheric weirdness of “Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream Pts. 1 & 2”. But they split the difference with several mid-tempo numbers touched by late-model Wilco-ness (“Sec Walkin” and “Two Halves”). It gets eclectic with some falsetto soul (“Evil Urges”), sweet-sounding but lyrically caustic beauty (“I'm Amazed”) and a fricking bizarre song which I have to be in the right mood to enjoy (“Highly Suspicious”).

This one has really grown on me, and it feels like they’re still growing and trying new things without going all Radiohead on me.


Here’s 2 members of MMJ doing one of their weird ones in the back of a cab:

#9 Two Cow GarageSpeaking in Cursive (MP3)

I’ve pimped these guys multiple times before. Their combination of raspy vocals and blistering cowpunk hit me in the cozy hearth of my wheelhouse. And while I’ve never seen them in a crowd of more than 20 people, they are incredible live.

But this album feels like it could have been a lot better and a bit of a step back from their last one (“III”). The peaks are high (“Humble Narrator”, “Bastards & Bridesmaids”, “Skinny Legged Girl”, “Funeral Drag”), but there’s more filler (“Swallowed by the Seas”, “Glass City”, “The Heart and the Crown”) than there should be.

This could be one of the greatest 6-song EPs ever, but as it is, it’s a frustrating collection of classics and skip-this songs.


It did provide probably my favorite YouTube of the year:

Here’s a bonus clip of “Humble Narrator”:

#8 Mates of StateRe-arrange Us (MP3)

A few years back I was walking around the Austin City Limits Festival and came across these guys playing on one of the smaller stages. I wasn’t familiar with their stuff, but was really impressed with the size and scope of the music they made from just 2 people. I made a mental note to check them out. That joined my resolution to

Fast-forward to this year when this album came out. I heard “My Only Offer”, liked it, and eventually got the album in December. I then listened to it like a mental patient. I love the interplay of their vocals and the sparse but hook-filled tunes. It may be the most consistently good album on this list. There isn’t a bad song on the album. It makes me want to go back and get some of their older stuff.


Also, I think Kori Gardner may be a future version of Kristen Bell:

mates of state1

Here’s an in-store performance of an older song with a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” inserted into the middle:

#7 Old 97’sBlame It on Gravity (MP3)

Always been a big fan of the country/pop/rock thing these guys do. Their stuff has gotten more polished and more pop-centric over the years with mixed results.

BIOG could still have a bit more edge and grit, but it’s a good collection of the kind of songs they can probably craft in their sleep (whilst counting their Chili’s money).

The highlights are the twirling word play of “Dance With Me” and the simply beautiful “The Color of Lonely Heart is Blue”. The latter is Murray Hammond’s contribution (the rest are Rhett Miller’s). Normally, the song or 2 a band gives the bassist seems more like a bone tossed to him in attempt to forestall a prolonged pouting session. But Murray makes the most of his bones, and this song overcomes its mawkish title in a big way.


Here’s the video for “Dance With Me”. It features a Gallifinakisian protagonist fighting his way towards some chick from Battlestar Galactica.

#6 Jenny LewisAcid Tongue (MP3)

I had a chance to see Rilo Kiley at the Troc over a year ago. At the time, I only knew “Portions for Foxes” and passed. A decision for which I’m currently kicking myself. Really. It’s

I’ve fallen hard for both Rilo Kiley and Jenny Lewis. Not just because she’s hot. And not just because she was in Troop Beverly Hills, a movie whose tape my kid sister just about wore out watching to my disbelief.

She’s got skills as a singer and songwriter, but what I love most of all is her unpredictability. While there are hooks all over the place like some kind of house whose inhabitants have way too many coats, the song structures rarely feel familiar from one song to the next. They’re much more about the journey than the destination.

This album alternates between slower tunes that explore the upper end of her register (“Black Sand”, “Trying My Best to Love You”) and tempo-shifting romps (“See Fernando”, “Jack Killed Mom”, “The Next Messiah”). The clear highlight for me is the title track, which is the one of the most desolately beautiful song I’ve ever heard. It feels like something Linda Ronstadt and some hangers-on would sing at sunset during Jackson Brown’s Annual Clam Bake and Quaalude Festival in Reseda.

While I still prefer her R-K work, you can feel the fun they had experimenting with different styles.


Here’s a clip of her doing Carpetbaggers with Elvis Costello:

#5 The Hold SteadyStay Positive (MP3)

This is not the masterpiece I think these guys are capable of producing at some point, but it’s a solid double in the gap nonetheless.

“Navy Sheets” is an annoying misstep. Probably my least or second-least favorite song in the Top 5.

“Sequestered in Memphis” grabbed me from the get go, but I like the sax less and less with every listen.

The guest vocalists (Ben Nichols from Lucero, Patterson Hood, amongst others) are subtly used throughout. Maybe too subtly.

You can feel them trying a to write an anthem with “Stay Positive” & “Constructive Summer”. When that kind of aspiration is tangible, it’s usually not a good thing. But they’re so winningly earnest about their desire for you to pump your first and sing along, it works.

The other weird thing about this album is that the best 2 songs are the last 2. “Joke About Jamaica” and “Slapped Actress” do indulge in their usual storytelling and name-checking, but not even obliquely referencing Hallelujah or Charlemagne feels liberating and a new take on things. The next album should be all references to the man who called a blind blues man “Elvis” and asked him to play something with balls.


These guys do web videos, and they somehow finagled an afternoon of drinking and playing bar games with THS. Not bad work if you can get it. Check out the chick’s potty mouth, and also the tattoos that Tad and another guy got at the end of this. Weird.

x``
The Hold Steady Vs. VBS - Bar Games - The best video clips are here

#4 Girl TalkFeed the Animals

Here’s another artist that The Popcorn Trick is firmly in lockstep behind. It’s music whose building blocks are a rapid-fire assault of beats and clips of songs well-known and obscure.

If you look at the list of 20-30 songs necessary to build each track, some of them are the obvious ones you can hear. But there’s a lot buried deep in the mix and/or distorted to the point of being unrecognizable. Popular songs are hardwired into our DNA and these songs use that both on the liminal and the areas below the liminal.

It does seem that the beds of the song use more rock/pop with hip-hop more featured in the foreground, as compared to his previous effort, “Night Ripper”. It also seems like he’s using more distorted vocals (“The Weight” in “Still Here” and “Nothing Compares 2 U” in “Play Your Part (pt. 1)”). Those vocals play like an attempt to bond with the listener over how good, but worn out those songs have become over the years.

Picking out favorite tracks is hard, since they’re all such altered beasts. Favorite moments, however, are plentiful and easier to spot. They distill two or more disparate well-known musical sensibilities from different eras into combinations that seems obvious in hindsight.

  • Metallica’s “One” & Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss” -- (“Like This”)
  • Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”, Quad City DJs “Ride the Train”, & ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” -- (“Here’s the Thing”)
  • Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” & Big Country’s “In a Big Country” -- (“Hands in the Air”)

I included a bunch of their videos way back when, but here are a couple I didn’t. In this first one, Greg walks us through how he puts together a few seconds of mashed up goodness. He also tries to justify the manner in which he makes his music and wordlessly show off the Level-9 Stockholm Syndrome chick he has dozing in the background.

While most of the Girl Talk YouTube clips use the original videos for the songs in the mashup, this guy is different. He puts up the lyrics and pics of the bands as the song plays out. Literal, but I like it:

#3 Drive-By TruckersBrighter Than Creation’s Dark (MP3)

Albums are not made in a vacuum by robots. At least not until 2015. They’re made by humans and are shaped by their personal lives, by factors mundane and ethereal.

The DBTs’ last effort (“A Blessing & a Curse”) was the last one made with Jason Isbell before he divorced Shonna Tucker (the band’s bass player) and went solo less than a year later. You can hear the transitional aspect of that album. The band that made “Decoration Day” & “The Dirty South” knew what they were and that they could kick your ass. The band that made ABAAC could still kick your ass, but they seemed to be spinning their wheels.

This album, however, seems to find the band in a much more settled place. And that’s a good thing. I’ve written at length wondering what direction they’re going to take in their post-Isbell times. If you can judge by this album, they’re turning down the volume and turning up the warmth. Adding pedal steel (John Neff), piano (Spooner Oldham), and female vocals (Tucker) will do that.

They can still stomp a mud hole and walk it dry (“The Righteous Path”, “That Man I Shot”, & “Goode’s Field Road”). But the intimacy of songs like “Daddy Needs a Drink” and “Two Daughters & a Beautiful Wife” is comforting, even if the subject matter of the lyrics isn’t

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Shonna’s efforts, especially “I’m Sorry Huston” and “Home Field Advantage”. I question her range (the clip of her doing the female part of THS’ “Chill-Out Tent” is cringe-inducing), but her husky voice is well-suited to these regret-soaked songs.

My only major qualm with the album is that its 19 tracks are 4 or 5 too much. Take out “Bob”, “Lisa’s Birthday”, “Perfect Timing”, and “The Purgatory Line”, and I probably move it up to #2. Note that three of those songs are Mike Cooley’s. That would be my only minor qualm, that his efforts could have been stronger.


Patterson Hood & I share some favorite bands:

Doing “Marry Me” with some help from #5 and a guy in a gorilla suit:

#2 MarahAngels of Destruction! (MP3)

This one came out so early in 2008, I had almost forgotten about it. Thankfully iTunes’ Smart Playlist technology had not.

It’s easy to forget about an album when a band doesn’t tour behind it. The bad taste in my mouth from yet another band reshuffling causing that non-touring didn’t help either. I’ll be damned if they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot for fear of taking that next step yet again. I don’t know where Marah is headed, since Serge Bielanko is on semi-permanent hiatus in Utah having just become a father.

All that being said, this is a great album. It doesn’t really have a cohesive feel to it, but that’s OK because the songs are that good.

“Blue But Cool” is one of the few missteps, and even that has more good moments than bad. There’s all kinds of styles here, from the carnival folk of “Can’t Take it With You” to the propulsive “Coughing Up Blood” to the moody verses/uplifting chorus combo of “Angels on a Passing Train”.

“Jesus in the Temple” is a really good, but out of place stylistically. That’s not easy to do on an album as diverse as this one. It’s largely the efforts of yet another rhythm section shown the door. They left to form Adam & Dave’s Bloodline (a really good band in its own right). With them still in the fold, Marah would have been a powerhouse.

The album closes on a 10-minute track (“Wilderness”) which is 2 songs connected by a bagpipe interlude (a shout-out to the end of their debut effort). The first part is a stomping, defiant ode to persevering through struggle (“passing through this wilderness… searching for our home… together and alone…”). The second part is a slow, jokey song about Dave Bielanko’s incarceration for falling asleep drunk in the lobby of an Indiana hotel. The first part would give me hope that this too shall pass, but the reality says otherwise. Also, I’d love to hear them stomp through Wilderness live. With Serge.

“Marah” is still touring, but in a more stripped-down fashion. Marah will always be Dave & Serge, and whomever they haven’t pissed off yet filling in the rest. They’ve been a huge part of my life in the last 10 years, but it feels like I will be talking more and more about them in the past tense. This album reminds me how much that sucks


Here’s Dave doing “Can’t Take it With You” in the UK with Christine Smith on keys:

#1 The Felice BrothersThe Felice Brothers (MP3)

On the recommendation of some fellow Marah fans, I checked these guys out at the First Unitarian Church’s exceedingly intimate Chapel back in April. It was, to put it mildly, incredible. They climbed all across the altar and shivered the rafters with their murder ballads and heartache takes on folk classics. They are by far my favorite musical discovery this year.

3 of the 5 members are actual brothers, and the rest of the band is filled out by washboard and traveling dice players. Seriously. Seriously.

Everything seems loose and organic with these guys. Nothing’s forced. It’s entirely plausible that they traveled here from a 1930s Dust Bowl tent city via time travel.

When I saw Old Crow Medicine Show earlier this year, I couldn’t help but compare them to The Felice Brothers. OCMS has all the ingredients of a great band, but it all seems forced. I don’t want to get into an authenticity pissing match, but the gut feel I get from both bands couldn’t be more different.

Oh, and the album? Transcendent. They turn phrases and paint evocative stories with remarkable consistency. I do lunge for the Next button when “Goddamn You, Jim” comes up, but the rest is straight from the Big Pink. The highlights are “Frankie’s Gun”, “She Loves Me Tenderly”, & “Whiskey in my Whiskey”.


Here’s a MixTube list of videos I recorded at a fantastic house show last June. Possibly my favorite show of the year, but I’ll save that for Part II.

And here’s another Black Cab Session:

The Rest:

  1. The WhigsMission Control (MP3)
    • Got this after hearing the killer single “Right Hand on My Heart”. It hasn’t held up fantastically on repeated listenings, but they bring the heat live.
  2. Gutter TwinsSaturnalia (MP3)
    • As I’ve mentioned in several places on this blog, this outing really disappointed based on my love of most things Dulli and a fondness for Mark Lanegan’s Screaming Trees work. But the whole is less than the sum of its parts. It occasionally hits its dark stride on tracks like “Idle Hands”, but generally it just mopes along.
  3. She & HimVolume One (MP3)
    • Haven’t really gotten into this one too much. My first impression that it was a little too stark. I loved “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” and its girl-group flourishes which seem to be absent from most of the other tracks.
  4. Centro-Matic/South San GabrielDual Hawks (MP3)
    • Basically the same band with 2 musical approaches put out a double album with each approach getting their own “side”. Love Centro-Matic, but the SSG sound is too mellow for my tastes. It felt like SSG bled over more into the CM stuff, so I’m not feeling it as much as previous works. Still highly, highly recommended live.
  5. Hayes CarllTrouble in Mind (MP3)
    • Wryly sarcastic lyrics and good drawling vocals are a good combination, but the production was too glossy and new-Nashville for my tastes at times. “She Left Me For Jesus” is still one of the funniest songs in recent memory. And the video ain’t bad either.

Albums I Wished I Had Checked Out in 2008, and Intend to Check Out in 2009

  1. The Streets - Everything is Borrowed (MP3)
  2. Jonatha Brooke - The Works (MP3)
  3. Spiritualized - Songs in A&E (MP3)

2 comments:

Goose said...

I like Navy Sheets. Except for the repeated mantra "Everybody's coming on their navy sheets," I think it's a good song and love the spacey middle breakdown.

And we'll agree to disagree on BTCD. I'm not the DBT expert, but I think this was a misstep and a sign that they don't know what to do. Not saying they won't find themselves, but really, it seems all over the place.

Other than that though, great list.

www.huesca-3d.com said...

Pretty helpful data, thank you for the article.