Thursday, January 8, 2009

Partial recovery of ‘Best of 2008’

All links, formatting and embedded clips, etc., are gone, and I really don't feel like going to all that trouble again. But here it is, at least until Google allows it to mysteriously disappear again:


ALBUMS

1. Vampire Weekend (XL). Although the role of blogs in their success might be overstated, as people who know have suggested, there’s no denying a textbook 21st-century phenomenon. Yet there’s also something comfortingly classic going on here. The album has a clear musical vision and sonic consistency — two elements endangered by “unbundling” — and, most important, tight, smart songwriting. The rampant Graceland comparisons are simplistic and inaccurate, but this does remind me of the clean minimalism of the ’80s. The Police, maybe? Anyway, fishing for antecedents is a dismal pursuit. The reason this is great is just that it is great.

2. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar). The sad-sack lo-fi album is the most pathetically overdone trend since 15-year-olds discovered black lipstick. But Justin Vernon has done it about as best as can be done, with breathy, wintry harmonies and a perfectionism that still allows for something ragged and unbalanced, making this seem at times like a very low-energy tantrum. Best of all, that perfectionism puts other boo-hoo boys on notice. The age of the trembling Conor Oberst imitation is dead; you have to actually sing now.

3. Girl Talk, Feed the Animals (Illegal Art). There’s nothing new about mashups, nor about an album made entirely of samples. What Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, has done is return the art of sampling to its origins, which were all about the thrill of familiarity. DJ’s recontextualized old sounds, yes, but they chose those sounds in part to piggyback on the memories they triggered. A typical GT track is nostalgia in hyperdrive, stitched together from dozens of samples — each of which you are happy to hear again and again, and again and again.

4. Metallica, Death Magnetic (Warner Bros.). Maybe it is compressed; so what. This is a return to the Metallica that I love, the Metallica I haven’t heard from in 20 years. Physicality = viscera = blood rush = the hunt = murder = pain. In many ways this is a simple horror film, with lyrics like “Crushing metal, ripping skin/Tossing body, mannequin.” There’s also new depth in there, though, thanks to age and the mirror of rehab. But you don’t really care about that, do you? They had you at “ripping skin.”

5. TV on the Radio, Dear Science (Interscope). I’m getting tired of putting TVOTR albums on my best-of lists. But they twisted my arm. This is maybe their best, the noise-cloud gathered into cleaner, sharper lines, the falsetto still kickin’, the caustic surrealism still kickin’ too.

6. Randy Newman, Harps and Angels (Nonesuch). Perhaps the best piece of political satire all year. Newman did a beautiful thing by taking a step away from partisan rancor and arrogance, and then using lighthearted entertainment to brutally lambaste them. How better to frame a theme of post-Katrina shame than with avuncular New Orleans showmanship?

7. My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges (ATO). Jim James may make a great album some day. This isn’t it — disqualified for sexy librarians and “the Interweb” — but it’s one of the most ambitious records by a major band in 2008. (I contend that only Coldplay and Axl Rose took bolder risks. Discuss.) It’s a tug-of-war about paranoia and alienation, and goes through a lot of itchy electronic stuff before getting anywhere close to the Southern-rock pastorals they are known for. And when they do get there (“Thank You Too!”) it’s absolutely gorgeous.

8. Black Kids, Partie Traumatic (Columbia). The Black Kids suffered a bit from the industry-not-moving-as-fast-as-the-Web thing. (Not too bad, though; I still heard them every time I walked into an Urban Outfitters.) But any backlash reflected badly on the blogosphere itself. This is smartass indie dance-pop at its best, and the lyrical wit (“Hello, this is your body/What do you want, my body?/I wanna feel somebody on me”) is the cherry on top.

9. Jonas Brothers, A Little Bit Longer (Hollywood). Perfect rocklegum. How long do we have to wait until Nick Jonas hits his Brian Wilson period?

10. Beach House, Devotion (Car Park). Victoria Legrand has a suppler, deeper alto than Chan Marshall, although she doesn’t reach the same expressive heights. But on Devotion, she wins. Her voice is like a hormonal beacon through clouds of organ and slide guitar (by the other member of Beach House, Alex Scalley), whereas Cat Power’s aimless Jukebox just gets lost. My worry: There’s not much else but texture here. I hope Legrand (and Scalley) develop further and don’t end up simply treading pretty water.


SINGLES

1. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold”
2. Jonas Brothers, “Lovebug”
3. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida”
4. Black Kids, “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You”
5. She & Him, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”
6. Fall Out Boy, “I Don’t Care”
7. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love”
8. Lucinda Williams, “If Wishes Were Horses”
9. Jazmine Sullivan, “Bust Your Windows”
10. Kid Rock, “All Summer Long”


30 MORE RECOMMENDED ALBUMS

Al Green, Lay It Down (Blue Note)
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song (Mercury Nashville)
Coldplay, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (Capitol)
Jay Reatard, Matador Singles 08 (Matador)
Jay Reatard, Singles 06-07 (In the Red)
She & Him, Volume One (Merge)
Nick Cave, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (Anti-)
Lykke Li, Youth Novels (LL/Atlantic)
Portishead, Third (Island)
School of Seven Bells, Alpinisms (Ghostly)
Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely (Warner Brothers)
Jazmine Sullivan, Fearless (J)
Nine Inch Nails, Ghosts I-IV (Null Corporation)
Fall Out Boy, Folie à Deux (Island)
Joe Jackson, Rain (Ryko)
Liam Finn, I’ll Be Lightning (Yep Roc)
Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
Sons & Daughters, This Gift (Domino)
Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)
Hercules and Love Affair (DFA/EMI)
Shearwater, Rook (Matador)
Magnetic Fields, Distortion (Nonesuch)
Jealous Girlfriends (Good Fences)
Tokyo Police Club, Elephant Shell (Saddle Creek)
Hot Chip, Made in the Dark (DFA/EMI)
MGMT, Oracular Spectacular (Columbia)
Wye Oak, If Children (Merge)
Death Vessel, Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us (Sub Pop)
Jolie Holland, The Living and the Dead (Anti-)
Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer (Sub Pop)

REISSUES

Nick Lowe, Jesus of Cool (Yep Roc)
Dennis Wilson, Pacific Ocean Blue (Legacy)
Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia (Legacy)

MORE SINGLES I LIKED

Lykke Li, “Little Bit”
Ting Tings, “That’s Not My Name”
Beach House, “Gila”
Kanye West, “Love Lockdown”
John Legend, “Green Light”
Weezer, “Pork and Beans”
Pussycat Dolls, “When I Grow Up”

BLANK STARE

Guns N’ Roses, Chinese Democracy (Geffen)

MOST INTERESTING FAILURE

Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak (Def Jam)

BEST TITLES (ALSO HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)

Marnie Stern, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That (Kill Rock Stars)
Kasai Allstars, In The 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic (Crammed Discs)

FAVORITE COVER

[Crystal Castles]


YES BUT 2007

Flo Rida, “Low”
M.I.A., “Paper Planes”

HONORARY MENTION

Bruce Springsteen’s powerful reading of Suicide’s life-affirming “Dream Baby Dream,” on a purposely obscure 10-inch (cover, right) that kicked off a series of singles on Blast First Petite in honor of Alan Vega’s 70th birthday (yes, 70th!). It was limited to 4,000 copies, one of which I snagged with an advance order on Amazon. Supposedly it’s sold out, although the last time I was at Kim’s on St. Marks they had three of them, and it’s on eMusic.

MOST OVERRATED INDIE BANDS

No Age
Fleet Foxes

WHITE CRITIC’S OBLIGATORY LIL WAYNE REFERENCE

Lil Wayne

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin’ (Lost Highway)
Ray Davies, Working Man’s Cafe (New West)
Cat Power, Jukebox (Matador)
Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple (Atlantic)

CAN’T BE A DISAPPOINTMENT IF YOU DON’T CARE

Beck, Modern Guilt (Interscope)

WORST ALBUM OF 2008

Scarlett Johnansson, Anywhere I Lay My Head (Atco)

2 comments:

rudylandsam said...

Pretty interesting stuff on here...recorded in a cabin in Wisconsin, wow! I am suprised that this failed to make the cut though.

Örn Ingvars said...

It's a good list you've got there. But about Al Green's album; I think it was OK, but it was nothing like the old days. And to be honest, i was really disappointed that Questlove didn't make more of it. Also; i would be interested in hearing why you think Kanye's 808s was a failure.