Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top Albums of 2008 - Goose Edition

So we've already seen Cline's awesome best of 2008 music list, and now it's my turn.

Yes, we're two months into 2009, and 2008 feels as relevant as Pet Rock I have on my mantle. Everyone is hopping on the new thing bus, leaving me at the curb holding a greasy bag of 2008's music. But I'll let you in on a little secret - in the three years I've been tabulating a list of my favorite music of the year, this is the earliest I've ever gotten one out. I mean, it's not even March yet!

A quick look at how I do things. Because music is so subjective, it's difficult for me to say what is the "best" in a given year. Why is my opinion any more valid than anyone elses? Why is anyone elses more valid than mine? I'll let you in on another little secret. My opinion trumps no ones, and no one trumps mine. The opinions of others only hold the amount of weight you give them. So I'm not saying anything on this list is "better" than anything; I'm saying I simply like the music on this list more than anything I've heard in 2008.

2 Quick notes before we dive in...

1. To create this list, I looked at a lot of end of year best of lists, asked for recommendations and searched stuff out that I heard might be cool. I listened to a lot of albums...a lot were good, a lot were bad, and a few I hated.

2. We've made it easier than ever to buy the music on this list. Simply click on the album title (or the MP3) and it will take you to a direct link to Amazon. Yes, we get a percentage of the sale, but we promise it won't change us. We'll be the same sons of bitches we've always been.

Ok, so let's take a look at the list...

10. Dr. Dog - Fate (MP3)

Fleet Foxes got a lot of accolades this past year for their album. And while I’m not one to say people’s personal taste sucks (because when you get right down to it, these lists are simply personal opinion and there is no right or wrong answer. In fact, I’m just writing this in hopes you’re entertained, and don’t care one way or the other whether you think the music I’ve selected is good or not) but seriously people who like Fleet Foxes? Their personal tastes suck (and if you didn’t see that joke coming, then maybe you shouldn’t be reading this).

Seriously though, I think Dr. Dog (a band out of Philly so who knows, maybe I have a bias) is leaps and bounds better than the Foxes. I think their music offers a great variety of sound and ideas that Fleet Foxes hasn't shown yet. I know it's pointless to compare bands, but I wanted to make sure that all the people that jumped on The Fleet Foxes bandwagon got a chance to listen to a group that is, in my opinion, riding the same train but doing it better.

Here's the video for Hang On, my favorite song off the album...

9. The Black Angels - Directions to See a Ghost (MP3)

I thought long and hard how to describe the music on this album. Here’s a few I came up with:

“It’s a modern day update to the last hour of the Apocalypse Now soundtrack.”

“The soundtrack to an acid trip teetering on the edge between good and bad.”

“What you would have on the radio driving to your first midnight orgy held under a bridge somewhere."

"Something to listen to when you need to dispose a body."

Any of those ever happen to you? Didn't have the right music to set the mood? Well, thank God for The Black Angels.

Here's the video for the song "You On the Run," which pretty much captures the essence of the band:

And here's a song not on the album but awesome nonetheless, and guaranteed to make you think Pink Floyd (simply for the name alone): Sniper at the Gates of Heaven:

Also not on the album, here's Black Angels covering I Wanna Be Your Dog at Bonnaroo last year:

8. Blitzen Trapper - Furr (MP3)

The concept of the traditional rock band is dying. Music is trending toward the individual artist, with instruments becoming an afterthought. People are flocking to see DJs spin and program to watch the pretty lights and sounds emanate from electronic boxes while sipping on ecstasy shakes and pawing one another. Weed and LSD don't work at these shows; they're your grandfather's drug.

The extension of the cock isn't a guitar anymore, it's a USB cord, plugged into a projector designed to blink in 120 BPM time.

And yet there are still bands who are resisting our silver plated overlords and fighting the good fight. Bands like Blitzen Trapper. Their path is straight backwards, to a time when musicians with instrument talent were considered gods…When the guitar was an extension of sex. Listen to them and pick out the Dyaln, Beatles, Who references as their warm sound washes over you. We don't have to lose our souls to the cold, mathematical sounds of programming and Tron just yet; Blitzen Trapper is proof of that.

Here's the band playing the title track on Conan:

7. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (MP3)

Stay Positive is not a revolutionary album, but it is a great rock and roll album – something we’re finding less and less of. Impersonal in a good way, singer Craig Finn creates his songs for a more general audience this time around, leaving Charlemagne, Holly and others behind.

Unfortunately, I loved those characters, and I loved the way Mr. Finn recited their stories and memories to us. That's why, the first time I heard Stay Positive, I was disappointed. In my head, it didn’t hold up, and left me wanting more. Sure, it had big riffs and some clever wordplay, but it had neither the wit and “fuck life” attitude of Separation Sunday, nor the full sound and sly polish of Boys and Girls in America. In fact, for a brief instant, the term “watered down” entered my head. But I continued to listen, and realized I was wrong.

The evolution of sound from Boys and Girls in America to Stay Positive come in the instrumental arrangements and new sounds. Additional horns, new vocals and even a harpsichord come into play. Sure, some fail, but if we don’t reward the risk, then no one will ever attempt anything new again.

I didn’t want to put this in my top 10, but at the end of the day it wouldn’t let me forget it. The Hold Steady refuse to go away. And I for one am glad about that.

One of my favorite youtube videos...the mashup of the Muppets and Sequestered in Memphis. It's been taken down routinely, so watch it while you can:

6. The Black Keys - Attack and Release (MP3)

Every time I mention this band to my friends they immediately invoke the White Stripes. As in, “Aren’t they just like the White Stripes?” Now, while I can’t argue that both bands have two members, have a color in their name and frequently dip into the blues genre for inspiration, I don’t see the similarity. The sounds of both groups are different in my hear. Maybe both groups sound incredibly similar and I’m just missing something. I’m not above suggesting I’m an idiot.

But that’s beside the point, because The Black Keys play filthy, dirty blues to perfection. And while Dangermouse is on board for this album, he leaves the beeps, boops and heavy production back at Gnarls Barkley’s house. Like a good ump in baseball, Dangermouse doesn’t allow his presence to be noticed; instead he allows the gnarled, raw sound take center stage. And that raw sound kicks ass. Evovled into a controlled snarl, The Black Keys have harnessed it, allowing it come out when it's needed, and pull back on its leash when it gets too scary. Whenever I hear The Black Keys are working on a new album I get excited for what I will get to hear. And I haven't been disappointed yet.

Here's The Black Keys performing "I Got Mine" at Abbey Road:

5. Black Mountain - In the Future (MP3)

A phrase like "catchy psychadelia" is one that I'm sure frightens both people that enjoy Britney's latest and people that cling to the desperate chance that CAN will get back together, but it needn't. At least when it's used to describe the sound of Black Mountain. Because BM (an unfortunate acronym to be sure) give both camps that phrase invokes the seriousness they deserve.

Black Mountain makes music that doesn’t apologize for wanting to live in the same neighborhood as 70s prog rock bands AND the cute little apartment complex of catchier pop bands. So many bands have tried and failed to make this sound work; Black Mountain has found the formula and does it well.

This album includes the 16+ minutes opus Bright Lights, which is almost an entire album itself. I liken it to the Genesis masterpiece, “Supper’s Ready,” another album within an album song that takes the listener on an aural journey through many landscapes both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Not everything in it is enjoyable, but that only gives the food stuff a higher peak for which the listener to jump off and get involved.

Listening to Black Mountain gives me the simultaneous sense of both the familiar and unfamiliar. And I love them for it.

Here's a live version of the song "Tyrants:"

And, if you'd like to enjoy the epic "Bright Lights," here's part 1:

and part 2:

4. Girl Talk - Feed the Animals (MP3)

Sure, there’s a much larger debate about this album, and it’s a wonder where the lawsuits are, but that has no bearing on how entertaining the thing is. Bug out to the infectious beats, marveling at just how easy Feed the Animals makes it to get out on the dance floor and dry hump that pretty boy or lady you saw in the sequined shirt when you first came in. Never mind that it’s your neighbor’s house, and your actions will surely cause a scandal and lots of investigative journalism from Herb, that creepy guy no one likes that came to the last community meeting and filled the at-large chair because no one else wanted it. Girl Talk pushes all those thoughts and worries into tomorrow, filling your present state of mind with “Oh yeahs” and “I remember that ones” due to the possibly thousands of old school, new school and no school songs Girl Talk culls, collects and concocts into booty shaking gems. It's a musical time loop, overlaying the present on the past and giving you a chance to bump and grind in two different eras. Who knew Girl Talk would become the Lost of music?

And here's the man behind Girl Talk, talking about a serious problem:

3. Frightened Rabbits - The Midnight Organ Fight (MP3)

I wish this album were around during my romantic woes in high school. Unfortunately, all I had was Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever to comfort and aid my heartache. And while Mr. Petty can write a finely crafted song, Running Down a Dream just could not comfort me as I cradled my knees, contorted into a ball and cried myself to sleep every night. (Ok, maybe every other night, but only because I caught Letterman's top 10.)

Lush when it wants to be and sad when it has to be, The Midnight Organ Fight runs the gamut of emotions, and translates it all into beautiful music that offers no clich├ęs or Hollywood movie plotlines. Providing more than depression and sorrow, it's also not your standard break up album.

The song "Heads Roll Off" by Frightened Rabbit:

2. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid (MP3)

Full, lush songs that take the listener on a journey down a river of melodies.

Some scientist somehow took Sting and Dave Gahan (singer from Depeche Mode), and morphed them into one person. That weird Sting/Depeche Mode abomination somehow escaped its shackles, and instead of questioning its existence and the meaning of life (like that pussy monster in Shelley’s Frankenstein (and let’s be honest- who really thinks she wrote that to begin with?)) chose to find a few more musicians and become the band Elbow.

I mean, that’s the only scenario I can think of that can explain this band’s sound. If you have any other suggestions, I’ll certainly listen, but they better be pretty convincing.

The only negative thing I can say about this album is, aside from the first song and maybe one other, every track feels as though it could be the last song on the album. Whether that’s a negative is up to you.

Here's a perfect example of the Depeche Mode vibe with their song "Grounds for Divorce:"

1. TV On the Radio - Dear Science (MP3)

I really didn’t want to like this album. In fact, I pretty much dismissed it when it first came out because of how much I hated Return to Cookie Mountain. Yes, I’m the one. But then, I saw it popping up on so many year end lists, that I felt I had to give it a shot, if for no other reason so I could defend its omission.

The problem with that plan?

I enjoyed the album. Immensely.

Yes, there were times after listening to it I questioned just how much I liked it, but I kept going back to it, realizing how challenging and emotional it was. And above all else, and the thing I thought TV on the Radio was missing – it’s catchy. It’s something you want to listen to repeatedly, because it sounds good. For this album, they chose to lose the pretentiousness, or at least hide it behind some catchy riffs. And strangely, the strategy of using 8 sounds where 2 would do, works. I don't know how, but it does.

The one thing I will say is that they're spotty on live performances, though they don't sound too bad here:

So the moral of this tale? Other than just enjoy the music you enjoy and say Fuck You to anyone who suggests you're dumb? Music still surprises, often when you don't expect it to.

I hope you enjoyed the list, and please...I'm always looking for new music. So if you think I've missed anything, you're probably right, and I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

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