Friday, February 6, 2009

Best of 2008; We're Really Doin It

We haven’t been slow in getting out our best of 2008 lists; we’ve just waited for everyone else to give their best effort before we put forth the answer key. The format’s a little different this year. Each of us will offer only 3 albums (gold, silver, bronze) as our best albums of the year. We’ll then offer winners in other categories, created by us individually. Our 18-track 2008 mix tapes will follow. Sorry this is pretty bare bones with no pictures, links, etc. I just needed to get this up; will try and add frills later. Without further ado.

Gold – Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Haunting and beautiful, sparse yet full of sound, calming yet intense, Bon Iver put out the best album of the year. I think I already really liked this album before I even heard a song when I heard the back-story of Justin Vernon holing himself up in a cabin for the winter, hunting deer for food and recording this gorgeous album. Each song is well-crafted and they fit together perfectly. Every time I listen to this album I have a new favorite song. I predict this being my favorite album for a long time. Best listened to on vinyl while drinking a Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale.

Silver – Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Afro-pop, chamber-pop, ska, joy, energy, youthfulness, Cape Cod, all wrapped up for your listening pleasure. Prediction: their next album is going to be just as good. Best listened to on a road trip in the summertime in a Sienna mini-van.

Bronze – Sigur Ros – Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
Prettiest album of the year; huge sounds. Can’t comment on the lyrics because Sigur Ros sings in their own language translated as “Hopelalndic.” Dead serious. Look it up. I find it awesome because lead singer Jónsi Birgisson's voice just becomes another instrument, meshing with the music as he sees fit. Also, buying this album increased my collection of Icelandic music by 100%. Best listened to on a long-run in northern Michigan.

Special Categories:

Best Track Names: The Walkmen – You & Me
If I ever make an album, this is what I would want to name my songs. I would have bought this album without hearing a song just based on the track listings. Also, two tracks have parentheses tracks, which I like (question for discussion: what is the best track ever with a parentheses in the title? Mine’s probably Rosalita (Come Out Tonight). Little D’s is probably Over My Head (Cable Car), by the Fray. He loves the Fray.)
The track names (and this is a great album as well):
1. Donde esta la Playa
2. Flamingos (For Colbert)
3. On the Water
4. In the New Year
5. Seven Years of Holidays (For Stretch)
6. Postcards from Tiny Islands
7. Red Moon
8. Canadian Girl
9. Four Provinces
10. Long Time Ahead of Us
11. The Blue Route
12. New Country
13. I Lost You
14. If Only It Were True

Album I Won’t Be Able to Hold Off Buying Much Longer: The Killers – Day & Age
Everyone’s ragging on the Killers these days, but hey, maybe they just wanted to make some anthemic synth-pop that sounds a lot like Belinda Carlise; and maybe I’m okay with that. I’ve only heard two songs off this cd, Human and Spaceman, and I friggin love them both. I’ve had the mouse over the “buy this album” button once or twice; it’ll happen one of these days.

Best Album to Put On When You Have a Lady Over For a Mexican-Themed Dinner: Calexico – Carried to Dust
I would characterize this album as latin mysterious twang. “Slowness” is a beautiful number accented with some slide-guitar. Start making your move here.

Best Newcomer: Basia Bulat – Oh My Darlin
My early pick for album of the year, but was beat out. Pretty melodies, an auto-harp, and a beautiful, unique voice. Her next album will make waves.

Best EP of the Year: Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons – Cabin Ghosts
Partly recorded live at what sounds like a coffee shop in his hometown, this EP is a folk-record with soul. Beautiful songs and the kid can sing. Can’t wait for the full-length.

Most Arrogant Album of the Year: The War On Drugs – Wagonwheel Blues

A three-minute instrumental track, a song clocking in at 9:57, and a song called Needle In Your Eye #16. Arrogance. I do really love this album though. Bought it on vinyl. Gets better with every listen.

18 Tracks ( played in this order)

1) In the New Year - The Walkmen - You & Me
*It’s gonna be a good year.

2) Arms Like Boulders - The War On Drugs - Wagonwheel Blues
*Highway 61 Revisited…revisited. (I’m sure someone has used that line before, but I’m claiming it as my own)

3) Mexico City -Jolie Holland - The Living and the Dead
*Jolie Holland adds the number of quality songs about Mexico.

4) Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur - Sigur Rós - Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
*Happiest song of the year; but what would you expect from a band that sings in hopelandic.

5) Lights Out –Santogold –Santogold
*Sounds a bit like Cyndi Lauper…and by that I mean awesome.

6) Ready for the Floor - Hot Chip -Made In the Dark
*Automatic party.

7) In the Night - Basia Bulat -Oh, My Darling
*Best song of the year, hands down.

8) Half Asleep - School of Seven Bells -Alpinisms
*Postal Service beats, beautiful tune.

9) Play Your Part (Pt. 1) - Girl Talk - Feed The Animals
*Who knew you Lil’ Wayne and Sinead O’Connor went so well together.

10) Straight To Video- Chris Koza -The Dark Delirious Morning
*Minneapolis artist makes classic pop single.

11) That's Entrainment - Van Morrison -Keep It Simple
*It’s really hard for Van Morrison to produce a bad song.

12) On My Side - Cory Chisel -Cabin Ghosts
*Prettiest song of the year.

13) Skinny Love - Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
*This song cuts to the core.

14) Lost Coastlines -Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
*Classic Okkervil…complete with oh, oh, ohs…

15) Kids –MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

16) St. Peter's Day Festival - Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line
*This album was really close to being awesome. This song is.

17) A-Punk - Vampire Weekend
*My two year old cousin dances to this song. So do I.

18) Human -The Killers -Day & Age
*I kept trying to take this song off my list. Sorry.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

News and Notes

*While we're making grand, definitive statements, as we tend to do, I will say that the best single out right now is "Lost Coastlines," by Okkervil River. Give it a listen at their myspace.

*I don't know how into Ratatat everyone is, but I just got into them, and this song is one of the top 7 things that happened to me this summer. Turn up the volume.

*Last Christmas I got a record player for my parents and one for Maggie. I got one for my parents due to their ridiculous record collection that has gone unused since their old one broke some time in the 80s; it was pretty fantastic pulling out albums like "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs," and "Exile on Main St." on vinyl. I got the one for Maggie so that we could build up our record collection from scratch (pun intended); it's really fun for a few reasons. First, records sound amazing. Second, the process of actually putting a record on is a joy. And third, building a record collection allows you to weed out all the tunes you don't really want in your library. With records, you can't exactly skip tracks, so the albums you buy have to stellar throughout. Therefore, your record collection becomes only your favorite albums...a true reflection of who you are, musically speaking. We currently own five albums, with plans to expand. Those five are:

1) Ryan Adams and the Cardinals - Cold Roses
2) Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
3) The National - Boxer
4) Feist - The Reminder
5) The Arcade Fire - Funeral

I plan on buying some more vinyl tomorrow...I'll keep you posted.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Greatest Album of 2008

Yes, it's only September (and barely so). Yes, Ray LaMontagne still has yet to release his new album of songs about getting his feelings hurt. No matter; the greatest album of 2008 has already been released.

On March 17, 2008 Van the Man released his THIRTY THIRD studio album. And it is a masterpiece. It's a carefully crafted set of new originals that are both catchy and thoughtful. It's clear that Van was inspired to write, and the material is flawlessly executed. It's almost frightening when a guy who has:
1) the greatest voice of all time (distant second: Stevie Nix)
2) 40+ years of recording experience (1968's Astral Weeks is 40 this year)
decides that he has something fresh to say.

Stand out tracks are:
  1. How Can A Poor Boy
  2. School of Hard Knocks
  3. That's Entrainment
  4. Don't Go to Nightclubs Anymore
  5. Lover Come Back
  6. Keep It Simple
  7. End of the Land
  8. Song of Home
  9. No Thing
  10. Soul
  11. Behind the Ritual

It's too bad for Jackie Greene (see: Giving Up The Ghost) that this album was released in 2008, because otherwise Mr. Greene might have had a good shot at greatest album, but it's really just not a fair fight when a juggernaut like Van puts his mind to it.

That's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment, that's entrainment....

Noun: entrainment (plural entrainments):

1. Any of several processes in which a solid or liquid is put into motion by a fluid.
2. The carrying away of droplets of liquid during violent boiling
3. The movement of sediment in a stream of water or in a glacier
4. The mixing of air currents
5. (biology) The alignment of an organism's circadian rhythm to that of an external rhythm in its environment

If you don't own this album you don't care about music or science.

- JtR

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges

This album is great. Do you need to hear anything more? I'm sure by now you've heard that MMJ is the new savior of contemporary rock, so I won't bore you with the details. Ok, at least not all of them.

To be honest, I still have not bought Z. I regret it still, but funds are tight and priorities have to made so I skipped over it in my MMJ collection and bought Evil Urges. However, after a brilliant spectacle like Evil Urges, I think I'll have to find the pennies in my couch to purchase Z.

Jim James' voice soars over each track in perfect harmony as the guitars float seamlessly through the songs, no matter how different they are. "I'm Amazed," the lead single and best track on the album, blends oddly with "Highly Suspicious," a growly, hard-banging song that diverges wildly from the usual "voice in a subway" sound of previous albums. Instead, it features James doing his best Prince impersonation.

The more traditional MMJ sounding "Sec Walkin'" is hauntingly beautiful and more of what you would expect from James. However, even this simple song leaves you wanting more in an early Wilco-like moment. The mellowed out "Smokin from Shootin" blends a nice Ryan Adams sound as James soulfully croons.

I put on Evil Urges to write this post and had almost finished when "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 2" came on. It would have been a major oversight on my part if I hadn't included it here in some way. Easily a close second to "I'm Amazed," "Touch Me..." is a great track that gets you involved from start to finish. The Coldplay pop sound is there without the cheese and James speaks so honestly and emotionally that you just want him to let loose and scream by the end (which happens...sort of).

Evil Urges will definitely be in my crowded running for "Album of the Year" with its eclectic and progressive sound. Hopefully I'll get a chance to see them perform live someday because that is truly the test of a band's greatness. Until then, I'll rock out on my iPod and enjoy what I've got so far.

My Morning Jacket
*I'm Amazed.mp3

*Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 2.mp3

myspace link

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

Jump on the bandwagon, people. If you haven't heard of Fleet Foxes yet, you still might be drinking Crystal Pepsi. This CSNY-cum-Appalachian sounding group is taking the indie world by storm.

I got hooked on their excellent Sun Giant EP a few months ago, playing their signature track "Mykonos" over and over again. However, I never saw coming such a rich and thorough album follow-up as their self-titled debut provides (only $7.99 on Amazon mp3!).

As excited as I was for their full release to come out. I was actually expecting them to fall on their face a bit. It would be easy for a band like their's to overdue their sound. Instead, the feelings are almost understated as the listener is invited to sing in his or her own head (or out loud...) as a sixth member of the band.

At one point, lead singer Robin Pecknold was quoted as saying he liked being in a band where everyone sings because it provided a family-like atmosphere where everyone participates. I wholeheartedly agree with that philosophy and I hope it serves them well in the coming years.

It's hard to pick out favorite songs from the album because each track has its own endearing quality and sound, but the opening two tracks "Sun It Rises" and "White Winter Hymnal" should give you a pretty good idea about what this band is all about...but also check out the appropriately named "Blue Ridge Mountains" and the My Morning Jacket-esque "Your Protector."

Fleet Foxes -
*Sun It Rises.mp3

*White Winter Hymnal.mp3

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Josh Ritter - Live at Williamsburg Music Hall, NYC 4/28/08

Before I even get into Josh Ritter's performance, I have to say that I'm in love with Williamsburg Music Hall. The Bowery Ballroom attracts most of the best acts, but they would be much better served to play WMH on any given night. An intimate, yet sizable venue, WMH provides exactly the type of experience you would want from Josh Ritter.

It had taken me until April to see Ritter in person when he played a riveting solo acoustic performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Hilary Hahn, a famous violinist. His absolutely stunning version of "Idaho" sold me for good on his work (check out "Girl in the War" from that night on his myspace page). Not that I needed any convincing - see here and scroll to the bottom.

At WMH, Ritter played a great set list with a full band that truly seemed to enjoy playing with him. Unfortunately, Jack the Rabbit met Ritter a few days prior and officially dubbed him as arrogant and aloof (sounds like the perfect JTR artist if you ask me...), but I respect JTR's assessment. However, it was hard to not be moved by Ritter's on-stage presence.

His night managed to capture most of my favorite songs while keeping everything fresh. He didn't just run through The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter absentmindedly as so many artists do nowadays. Instead, he played quite a bit from his entire catalog, including songs like "Come and Find Me" from the Golden Age of Radio and a slew of songs from The Animal Years, including a fantastic "Lillian, Egypt" to close out the show.

One thing I found interesting was Ritter's decision to swap his opening songs from their order on THCOJR. On the album, "To the Dogs..." leads into "Mind's Eye," while in concert, he flipped the two to open the show. Was this a post-release realization of Ritter's or was he just trying something new? Anyone who's ever made a mix knows that the order of songs means just as much as the songs played so it's interesting to see Ritter switch it up so soon after an album's release.

You should probably own The Animal Years and THCOJR at least by now so I won't get into how great his performance was on those songs (and it was amazing...), but I will suggest you go see him live at some point. It's rare to see an artist seemingly enjoy their work so much that they can't help but smile throughout their show. At one point, Ritter asked the crowd to turn around and sing an a capella version of "Empty Hearts" to the sound man on tour. It was fun and definitely a highlight of the night.

Check out the set list below, but I highly recommend buying a few of his albums to get into his body of work if you haven't yet.

Set List:
  1. Mind's Eye
  2. To the Dogs or Whoever
  3. Wolves
  4. Open Doors
  5. Good Man
  6. Come and Find Me
  7. Snow Is Gone
  8. Here at the Right Time
  9. Wings
  10. Rumors
  11. Right Moves
  12. Real Long Distance
  13. Thin Blue Flame
  14. California
  15. Empty Hearts
  16. Kathleen
  1. Temptation of Adam
  2. Lilian, Egypt

*Side Note*
Check out Langhorne Slim. They opened and were so good I bought their self titled album on the spot. Cool sound, great stage presence, and a lot of fun.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Jack the Rabbit: This Bud's for You

An email from JTR (italics added by me for emphasis):
"We like the new ray lamontage single that’s been leaked, right? Sounds like it’s harkening back to the heart of the matter.

Worst albums I’ve ever bought:

The Weepies – Say I am You

Martin Sexton – Seeds

The National – Boxer

Ray – TTSTB"

JTR, in response to the last two albums, I have asked Harland Williams to best express my feelings at exactly 0:59 from the clip below. That is all.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


You'll thank me later:

Also, if you haven't heard it yet, head over to Heather's blog to check out Ray's new single, "Let It Be Me," off his upcoming Gossip in the Grain. I'm more than excited. It sounds like it could have come off of Trouble (quiet, backing instrumentation and lots of Ray's vocals) and I've already listened to it 5 times at work today.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Huckleberry Flynns

As promised a million years ago, I've found my version of The Huckleberry Flynn's A Lost Duet. This is not the version off of their EP Live in Rathmines, but rather off of a live bootleg set from 2006.

It's raw, but you can sense the burgeoning talent. Latest I've heard, the group added a Bristol, CT guitarist. They are currently giging in central Connecticut under their latest reincarnation, "The Bob Dylan Motorcycle Incident" but have plans to begin a recording effort dubbed the Red River Sessions before the end of the summer.

I will keep you posted as best I can as events develop.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

I've got about six other posts that I'm three months late on, but I couldn't wait on this one. After anxiously awaiting The Hold Steady's new release, Stay Positive, for so long, I was finally able to buy it late last Tuesday night. Needless to say, I listened to it three times before lunch the next day.

The only thing that would do it justice is to say that it is good. Really freaking good. Like 'I want to dance around like I'm in convulsions because Craig Finn does it and I can hear it in his voice as he spills his tales of drunken debauchery and youthful mistakes in love and life' good.

"Sequestered in Memphis" is the lead single from this album, and while entertaining, it's not the standout track for me. "Lord, I'm Discouraged" brings me into a Cream-esque daze that I want to climb into and never come out. A soaring guitar solo that lasts a full minute and soulful lyrics combine to make this song a memorable one in my book.

"Both Crosses" is Craig Finn's closest attempt at making a Springsteen song. Dark and dreary, it delves into the emotions of Christ's crucifixion - not happy stuff. Then again, nothing on this album is overly joyful. While some of the songs sound decently upbeat, the album title serves more as a warning than anything.

If I were to pick one song, I'd say "Magazines" is the front runner for a back to basics Hold Steady track. Wry lyrics, piano, and hard guitar riffs cover all their usual bases on this uptempo tune that is sure to please.

Overall, I have to say I really like this album. I don't think it will have the same staying power as their previous releases, but I think it will give them greater exposure as a band. I needed a new Hold Steady fix and this fills the gap nicely for now. I don't know how many times I can listen to "Party Pit" but I was beginning to test the limits, so this comes at just the right time.

I think Finn is branching out just enough to keep things interesting. While not reinventing himself, he is working with different styles and I like that (check out the Frampton sounding guitar work on "Joke About Jamaica"). The Hold Steady know what their sound is and they know that it works. While they might never achieve Springsteen status - and I know the analogy is overused, though accurate - I don't think an artist like Springsteen could flourish in today's market. Cream would never score and Van Morrison could take his pipes and go home. However, I think in 20-30 years, we'll have an interesting discovery of great music that got lost in the mix and never was able to fully develop.

Here's to hoping The Hold Steady find their Miracle-Gro.

The Hold Steady -
*Lord, I'm Discouraged.mp3

*Both Crosses.mp3