Archive for December, 2008

My 50 Favorite Albums of 2008: #05

December 30, 2008

Number 05

I discovered Portishead at an extremely early age, all thanks to my good friend, Tony Marshall. I’d say it was somewhere around the release of their second album, 1997’s self-titled affair, that my 13 year-old self was sitting in a dark room, both jamming to and freaking out from their sounds a bit. This trio had only two records (plus a live one) in their run in the 90’s, but I’d say their impact on the direction music would lead from then on was a massive one. It had been a full ten years since they released any type of material, and it seemed as though they had left their stamp and quietly bowed out, and if that were the case things would be fine; but we cannot lie that every once in a while we would always revert back to a pining for a Portishead return, because a world without new creations from a pioneering band such as this, is a lesser one. They have always been a simple and straight-forward and as far as titles are concerned, so when it came time for them to release their return with a third full-length earlier this spring, the set of songs was matter-of-factly called Third. It was such an unspeakably amazing thing – having the chance to open up a new Portishead record and smell it, knowing that you would hear the unique sounds accompanied by the one-and-only voice of Beth Gibbons again – even if the record weren’t to turn out the fantastic way it did, nothing could take away from that first moment of experiencing a grand, unexpected return such as this one.

Being away from the music of this group for such a long time made the listening process of Third a shift-shaping one. When I went through the record for the first two or three times, I was amazed as I knew I would be, but I was stuck on the idea that Portishead were being vintage Portishead, and even with a major absence on the scene. I wasn’t quick at all too realize that not only was this a amazing return, but one with commanding, loud, rebellious reason. It wouldn’t be until about the fifth spin that I caught myself in my premature, naive listening statements, and my ears would be derailed and crushed with the sound of a comeback by a band that we always knew we’re geniuses at what they do but kind of forgot just how much so, and then the recollection of all that eventually culminating in the staggering brilliance of Third. It’s impossible to even begin to nail down the bits and pieces that make this album the masterpiece that it is, but it’s obvious by the kaleidescope of forward change in the full scope of things heard here, that the ten years since their last release was not spent being absent from immersion in the artistry of music. They were always one of the most un-depressing of depressing music-makers…and now they have taken it to a new level.

3.Nylon Smile
4.The Rip
6.We Carry On
7.Deep Water
8.Machine Gun
10.Magic Doors


My 100 Favorite Songs of 2008: #25-01

December 30, 2008

part FOUR of FOUR

25.Sun Kil Moon: “Tonight In Bilbao”
24.Kathleen Edwards: “Scared At Night”
23.Beck: “Volcano”
22.TV on the Radio: “Halfway Home”
21.M83: “We Own The Sky”
20.Bon Iver: “Skinny Love”
19.She & Him: “Change Is Hard”
18.Frightened Rabbit: “The Twist”
17.Frightened Rabbit: “Poke”
16.Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: “More News From Nowhere”
15.M83: “Graveyard Girl”
14.Vampire Weekend: “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance”
13.The Radio Dept.: “Freddie and the Trojan Horse”
12.Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: “You Want That Picture”
11.TV on the Radio: “Shout Me Out”
10.Herman Dune: “Take Him Back To New York City”
09.Damien Jurado: “Everything Trying”
08.Kathleen Edwards: “Asking For Flowers”
07.Antony and the Johnsons: “Another World”
06.Conor Oberst: “Milk Thistle”
05.Sun Kil Moon: “Lost Verses”
04.Okkervil River: “Calling And Not Calling My Ex”
03.Dodos: “Winter”
02.Bon Iver: “Re: Stacks”
01.M83: “Kim & Jessie”

My 50 Favorite Albums of 2008: #06

December 29, 2008

Number 06

What more can be said that already hasn’t been in the last ten months, since For Emma, Forever Ago, the utterly brilliant debut by Bon Iver, was put out into the world. It is a small set of nine songs that run by quickly, but the effect it has on you is anything but small and quick. Immediately after Justin Vernon saw his previous band, DeYarmond Edison, disband, he opted to go for the desolate area of Wisconsin, where he shacked up in a cabin with no one but himself to work with. At the time he arrived there, it was the most stifling part of the winter season, and for the next few months he progressively moved towards molding together all the emotions that can so easily get pushed away if we don’t insist they be exposed; and out of this dissection came the foundation for Emma. As soon as the sign of spring came it also signified the time to finally put these emotions in a recording, and for the next few months the final stages of fleshing out this miraculous debut were followed through.

Like all of music that you personally hold dear, it only accents the effect of it when you get the privilege of seeing the artist perform it live, and that’s exactly what I got to do earlier this summer. In the first half of August, I saw Bon Iver not once, but twice, as they opened for Wilco in Indianapolis, and then headlined a show just eight days later in Bloomington; which was, needless to say, quite the treat. Vernon’s voice is something that seems to only come along once in a great while, as it’s been frequently compared to Jeff Buckley’s, which it’s not out of line to consider him this generation’s choice for that recognition. There are a lot of beautiful instruments on the album, all of them used in the most subtle of ways, to keep a calm feel to add to the overall theme of lost, broken souls. This is certainly one of the top three most played albums in my entire collection for the year, for which it has benefited from being in rotation since the middle of February, giving me ten months to let it soak in, and soak in, and then soak some more. It’s a full experience, even for what appears to be a limited one by the short track listing and running time. “Re: Stacks” was simply the best closing track of the year, and one of the standouts of the decade.

2.Lump Sum
3.Skinny Love
4.The Wolves (Acts I and II)
6.Creature Fear
8.For Emma

My 50 Favorite Albums of 2008: #07

December 29, 2008

Number 07

Among the many bands that I heard for the first time this year, Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit were one of a few that had a mainstay, repeated-listen impact. The band is led by brothers Scott and Grant Hutchison, with two others rounding out a four-piece collection that sets out to make catchy, foot-tapping music to accompany the heartbroken words of Scott, and they succeed with flying colors on their second full-length,  The Midnight Organ Fight. I didn’t hear an album all year that had this many legitimate contenders for pure single after pure single, and it had to be a tough, nail-biting choice when certain ones were chosen over others to release on 7″‘s and such. The first single and the one that would ultimately give them widespread enough attention to open up for Death Cab For Cutie, is the opening “The Modern Leper”, which pounds in in the most satisfying of ways. From that killer, eye-opening moment on, the rest of the album is peppered with impressive songwriting in all aspects, and it doesn’t take long for you to warm up to each and every song individually before you eventually give way to falling in love with the entire thing as one.

“It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm.”

There’s something incredibly strange and unique that happens when a musician can get the feel of writing about personal heartbreak right, without coming off as self-indulgent in the worst of ways. There’s really no escaping the inevitable realm of equal parts self-loathing and self-indulgence when it comes to making songs about personal relationship devastation, let alone basing an entire record on the whole experience, but what sets apart the best songwriters is that they manage to find the perfect mesh with the musical arrangements that surround the theme of the words, so it all seems genuine as it pours from the bleeding heart. Hutchison’s entire soul is laid out on a table to be dissected by anyone who listens to The Midnight Organ Fight, which I eventually would come to find is one of the most cherished albums in my entire collection, because I can pull it out whenever I need to relate to something and someone, or to simply know that these sort of things happen to far too many people, and here’s one of them. “I’m working hard on walking out, but my shoes keep sticking to the ground”, so he sings on the tremendous track, “My Backwards Walk”. It’s a long and inexplicably hard struggle, but there are many things that can help you get to where you need to be, and this record is certainly one of them.

1.The Modern Leper
2.I Feel Better
3.Good Arms vs. Bad Arms
4.Fast Blood
5.Old Old Fashioned
6.The Twist
7.Little Pink Bookmark
8.Head Rolls Off
9.My Backwards Walk
10.Keep Yourself Warm
13.Floating in the Forth
14.Who’d You Kill Now?

My 50 Favorite Albums of 2008: #08

December 29, 2008

Number 08

It’s been widely stated that the moniker-shifting songwriter, Will Oldham, hit his high point with the 1999 release, I See A Darkness; which was a pure classic that was delivered under the name Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. That album was such a thing of beautiful gloom that you’d think it would’ve had enough in it to ignite a following career that would give the artist a wide open avenue of new, possibly even lucrative avenues. Yes, it’s true that there is no arguing that it was and still remains Oldham’s most incredible of albums, but in the nine years since he saw a Darkness, there has been little to no due recognition on the commercial end for this unbelievably hard-working individual, who remains one of the true mavericks in today’s world of music. Throughout this entire decade he has consistently made his mark across a number of fascinating full-lengths, EP’s, film scores, compilations, and plenty of guest appearances on his peers recordings, all over the place. He has even acted in a handful of films, most notably the terrific starring performance in Kelly Reichardt’s, Old Joy. The point I’m trying to make is that the extremely overdue respect that I can only assume will one day come to Oldham, has not came; even with the release of yet another amazing set of songs, titled Lie Down in the Light, which is arguably his best work since Darkness.

Nearly a full decade since being immersed in a dark cave with minor places and nomadic reveries all around, Oldham is a little older, a little wiser, and has traveled far and wide to discover that he is a completely new man, which “Easy Does It” makes abundantly clear right away. There’s always a certian level of despair to the words in his songs, and usually in his music, but there is such an amazingly big difference on Lie Down in the Light than in his past work, first and foremost being the shining sense of gratefulness and optimism that is the record’s ammunition throughout. On “Missing One”, he turns the tables on handling the loss of a loved one by not dwelling on their absence, but using what was taught by that individual to live a better life, thus showing them they did indeed make an impenetrable impact. There is a cheerful aura around this entire thing, especially on pieces like “For Every Field There’s A Mole”, which boasts heavenly harmonies that are accompanied by the tune of a welcomed clarinet. The album was spontaneously introduced that it would be released in a week or so’s time back in May, leaving nothing in the way of press or advertisement. Still, those of us who are devoted fans would be there immediately, it will just take the rest of the world some time…maybe even years, or decades to understand the importance of Will Oldham. Of course, I’m probably missing the point here: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy couldn’t care one way or the other if he was recognized or not, he’s just proud to Lie Down in the Light, and bask in this wonderful world that allows him to have a voice, some good friends, and instruments.

1.Easy Does It
2.The Glory Goes
3.So Everyone
4.For Every Field There’s A Mole
5.Other’s Gain
6.You Want That Picture
7.Missing One
8.What’s Missing Is
9.Where is the Puzzle
10.Lie Down in the Light
11.Willow Trees Bend
12.I’ll Be Glad