Wednesday, December 31, 2008

thanks for all the posts, kids. thought i'd end on a tasteful note.

see you all in 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

My post won't allow me to do any formatting...apologies for its annoying look.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

To echo Kyle's sentiment, thanks to all for your blogs this year, however infrequent or distracted they may have been on occasion.

My 2008 was a middling year musically. While I found an ample supply of appealing pop music - as much or more than any year in the past few - I didn't find the one or two records that I had a strong connection to, over-listened to, was inspired by (thought I'd max out the dangling prepositions there...). In terms of Other-than-Pop, perhaps even less of a good year, despite a few gems. Most of favourite jazz of the year was 60's and 70's (70's which is still pretty new terrirtory for me). No doubt this is at least partially a reflection of the pace of my life, reliance on on-line sources for music, not being "out there" in any meaningful way. Didn't find an Illinoise, Van Occupanther, an Is This it, or Man Made.
So having lulled you into a state of torpor with all of that nonsense, my top ten favourite pop songs this year (and they may very well be from 2007, and hell, yes 2006...these things sometimes take time to percolate) are:
10. Flume - Bon Iver. I hate the term "soulful", but....this is beautifully soulful music. Much loved and commented on so I will keep it short.
9. For Science Fiction - Maritime. An outstanding mix of clean power and melody, great singer in the former Promise Ring's Davey Von Bohlen, anthemic like GBV could be. Best driving song of the year for me. From 2007.
8. Chinatown Bus - Bishop Allen. I love the elliptical story-telling lyric of this song, a window into a life from one moment's perspective. And there's a nice soft rhythmic acoustic feel here that is quite unique. These guys can get a bit too cute for my liking, but the best few songs on this 2008 record are really good.
7. You Can Stay There - The Capitol Years. Apparently this is from 2006. Who knew? Ear-pleasing shimmery power pop; great production and a few memorable songs ("Long Time"); really very good, and entirely unheralded. I would imagine they're due for a new record next year so will be looking out for it.
6. Chicago - The Uglysuit. In the absence of a new Sufjan record I managed to find a song about the midwest to curb my appetite. Ha! Actually these dudes are from Oklahoma, and "Chicago", which (again) is a gorgeous piece of lush pop, is at 4 minutes by far the shortest track on their record - from '08 this time (don't mention it). One of the better albums of the year.
5. Regret - Wye Oak. This is a quiet finger-picking acoustic number from a debut release. Boy girl sounds abound, and lots of range sonically on the album (also one of my faves), though often not all that far removed from the Yo Le Tengo archetype. I love the hushed Paul Simon-esque quality of this number.
4. Walk Away from a Good Thing - The Bicycles. I'm really fond of these slightly goofy Toronto-based popsters, and their second album, which came out in late '08, is more of the same witty, uber-melodic backward looking pop. Check 'em out. And let's plan to see them live sometime.
3. Summer Special - Land of Talk. These Guelph-based rockers had an '08 release that I haven't caught up with yet, but I spent a lot of time this year with their '06 record (Applause Cheer Boo Hiss), where this number is pulled from, and I think it's really strong - edgy but still frail, great guitar-driven songs with a memorable female vocalist.
2. Young Sensualists - Throw Me the Statue. I love this song, the story of two guys who meet at an airport, party together for a couple of days, until our protaganist steals the other guy's girl. Told in a detached but poignant way, feels like a short film. Nice mix of synthetic and real instruments to create the bittersweet musical backdrop. I saw the band at the El Mo in the spring and it is my favourite musical moment of 08.
1. Market Girl - Headlights. Just a fantastic song, a mix of driving rhythms, acoustic strumming, and layer upon layer of guitars, bells, and vocals. I love the bass in this song. More than any other this year, Market Girl is the song I wish I had written. Lyrically, a bit of melancholia, describing in turn a (current) leaky apartment, childhood memories of 4th of July fireworks, and a first love. And off one of the better albums of the year.
I won't bother with honourable mentions, though the rest of the songs on my "best of" CDs are all ones I enjoyed. I've ignored Plants and Animals and The Walkmen on this list, and like Derek, I'm not sure why. They are both very good and could easily be right in there. Mike, I have copies of my best of 08 disks for you (one pop and one not) for the CD club on Jan 31 if you make it (and how is that looking?).
My other favourite song of the year is actually from 2004 - Grizzly Bear's "Don't Ask" - which I eliminated given its vintage (even I have principles). This is a beautiful, simple song, which if you haven't heard, go grab from emusic soon. Incidentally, all of the music above is available on emusic.
In terms of albums, earlier woes aside, my favourites would be Headlights, Bicycles, Liam Finn, The Breeders, Earlimart, Wye Oak, The Bound Stems, The Uglysuit, James McMurtry, and Suzanne Vega (though this is 07 too).
From a jazz and other perspective, I loved Guillermo Klein's record this year, plus Avishai Cohen, Vijay Ayer, Gilfema, Dave Newman, Enrico Pieranunzi's jazz record (he also made an album of Scarlatti), Steve Kuhn (whom we saw playing piano for Joe Lovano you may recall), and Anne Mette Iversen's double CD, one of which has her jazz quartet playing with a string quartet. All on emusic.
Happy New Year to y'all! Keep the blog alive.
Kyle, I think you should invite Jeff to join. It aligns well with his midlife crisis.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Thanks for sharing these lists - I'm going to use them to drive my next few emusic months. I want to reciprocate, but it isn't easy for me to come up with a "Best of 2008" list. I spent a lot of 2008 digitizing my existing music collection rather than looking for new music. And I am generally not on top of new releases, so the albums I latch onto in a given year are not usually new. I'll probably stumble across some great 2008 albums over the next 2-3 years! However, I do have all my songs tagged with years, so I can fairly easily look at my collection and identify the 2008 discs. Having done that, here are the ones that I'd list as favorites (in no particular order):

REM - Accelerate
The Stills - Oceans Will Rise
Headlights - Some Racing, Some Stopping
Kathleen Edwards - Asking for Flowers
The Rosebuds - Life Like
Skydiggers - City of Sirens
Todd Snider - Peace Queer
Over the Rhine - Snow Angels

I wasn't going to include "Snow Angels" because it is a Christmas album, but after I got into this, I realized that I didn't actually have 10 favorite new albums of 2008, so I decided to include it to help fill up the list (and I really do like the album a lot).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

OK my turn to sum up 2008 in my musical world.

Best tunes:

The Dodos - Fools
Frightened Rabbit - The Modern Leper
Justin Townes Earle - Ain't Glad I'm Leaving
Department of Eagles - Teenagers
Jose James - Park Bench People
The New Year - The Company I Can Get
Odd Nosdam - Fat Hooks
Sigur Ros - Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur (track #2)
Walkmen - The New Year
Deerhunter - Never Stops
Vampire Weekend - Campus
Benga - Zero M2
Two Hours Traffic - Backseat Sweetheart
Last Shadow Puppets - Calm Like You
City and Colour - The Girl
Cut Copy - Out There on the Ice
Wolf Parade - The Soldier's Grin
TV on the Radio - Family Tree
Jay Reatard - Painted Shut
Fuck Buttons - Sweet Love for Planet Earth

Favourite Albums: Walkmen, Deerhunter, Frightened Rabbit, TV on the Radio, Department of Eagles, Sigur Ros, City and Colour, Cut Copy, David Torn - "Prezens", Marcin Wasilewski - "Trio"

Albums that got all sorts of hype that came no where close to their billing: Lindstrom, Santogold, Portishead (are they paying music critics under the table?), Vampire Weekend, and Fucked Up.

And in case anyone is wondering what happened to Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and Plants and Animals on my list something about the overlap, at least in my mind, on these 3 records prevented any one of them from really standing out as one of my favourites of last year as much as I enjoyed each of them.

Hope you all have a great xmas and all the best for 2009.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Probably my last post of 2008 so let me say: I very much appreciate all the divergent thoughts, rants, complaints, praise of all things musical that have been posted here in the last year. Even though my own contributions have been sporadic, and occassionally cruel or mocking (sorry, Stu), I have always enjoyed coming here and reading about what you’ve loved, loathed, or reflected upon this year. Please keep posting!

Okay, albums. I estimate with the number of downloads I get from emusic (90/month), buy from itunes (another half dozen), get from the odd torrent (another handful), and buy in cd form (again another handful), I've probably listened to 80-90 albums this year. Some of these are jazz and classical issues and the odd pop album from previous years but I would guess that around 3/4 or 60-70 of these were 2008 releases. Why do I mention this at the outset?

Well, mostly to put this whole list-making exercise in perspective. I haven't come anywhere close experiencing even a fraction of all the music released this year, certainly when compared to what the average music critic experiences each week. But I still think it’s a good enough sample size to allow me to truly separate ‘Best’ from the ‘Rest’.

My filter:

1) I keep going back to the album and playing it over and over
2) When I’m listening to the album in the background, I frequently stop what I’m doing in the foreground just to listen and admire
3) I start creating playlists in itunes that includes these songs for year-end compilation cds because I feel I have to share them with my friends
4) I will, or at least attempt to, sing this song in the shower

Here then are the discs of 2008 that satisfied 3 or more of the above conditions:

The next five:·

  • TV on the Radio – Dear Science
  • The French Kicks – Swimming
  • Au – Verbs (perhaps a good accompaniment to No Age’s Nouns)
  • Ida – Lovers Prayers
  • Adele – 19

Worst of 2008

  • Steve Malkmus – Real Emotional Trash (subtract the first two words and the title sums it up)·
  • Portishead – Third (and yet it appears on most of the best of lists I’ve seen….why???)
  • Mercury Rev - maybe one or two salvagable tracks off of 2 discs (one instrumental)?
  • Coldplay -Vida La ...even the title goes on forever and annoys me
  • Catpower – Jukebox – really really really bad covers of songs that don't need to be covered again by anyone ever (New York?)

Released in previous years but only discovered in 2008:

  • The Microphones – The Glow Part 2 (hat tip to Brian for the suggestion)
  • Odd Nosdam – Level Live Wires (hat tip to Derek for the suggestion)
  • The Acorn – The Pink Ghosts
  • Jason Palmer – Songbook
  • Etudes - Geri Allen w/ Charlie Haden, Paul Motian

Artist of the Year:

Bradford Cox, of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound. Deerhunter released 2 albums this year, Microcastles and a second album of more electronic stuff

Hope Santa brings you some nice music this week and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Beautiful tracks and great finds, Mike. Good for those with downloads left on emusic.
I'm not sure that I'd put this on a best of 2008 list, because it is a Christmas album, but if you're tired of the same old Christmas songs, you might want to download "Snow Angels" by Over the Rhine. It is an album full of original new Christmas songs, some of which are excellent. My favorite is "White Horse", which I couldn't find on You Tube, so here are a couple of other examples from the album instead.

All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue

Darlin' (Christmas is Coming)
You think it's hard putting together a year-end list. Try working on this.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sarah was listening to Q the other day when she heard about The Blogotheque, a site which films and posts videos of indie artists (Fleet Foxes, Animal Collective, Bon Iver, other bands which will appear prominently in my best of 2008 list) playing acoustic versions of songs in public spaces. I particularly like Bloc Party's rendition of This Modern Love.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Albums to come shortly, but for now, I thought I'd post my favourite songs of the year. Where possible, I have embedded YouTube clips. I'll save the deconstruction/explanations for the albums.

It goes without saying that many of these will be making an appearance on your christmas discs. Mike, since I won't see you in time for the holidays, I'll make you a special groundhog's day disc.

10. Fat Hooks - Odd Nosdam

9. Her Morning Elegance - Oren Lavie

8. Creeper - Islands

7. Dead Sound - The Raveonettes

6. In the New Year - The Walkmen

5. Creature Fear - Bon Iver

4. Never Stops - Deerhunter

3. Fairie Dance - Plants & Animals

2. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes

1. Cape Canaveral - Conor Oberst

Honourable Mentions: Everybody Here is a Cloud - The Cloud Cult, Gila - Beach House, Sex Tourists - The French Kicks, Travel in Time - Marching Band, River Card - Atlas Sound

Monday, December 15, 2008

agree mike. the stripped down acoustic version of 'hamster' was easily superior.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I preferred the original version.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Early front-runner for song of the year, with a very timely and urgent message for us all to consider:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I didn't even know there was a Luna documentary. Will have to scour the local indie video store.

I am working on my year end list. Am trying not to read other year end lists, other than Exclaim's, which I recently mentioned here, so that my own list isn't just a rehash of what everybody else is picking. I don't expect I'll be able to avoid inclusion of a lot of the usual suspects but will try to craft my list accordingly. Time to hold your breath.... now!
All of which leads us to the inevitable, but still fun, process of choosing our best of 08. I've been giving it some thought but am not ready. Anybody prepared to throw together a list of music discovered / loved / hated / surprised by / indifferent to / disappointed by this year?

I saw the Luna documentary Tell Me Do You Miss Me this week (it's a couple of years old now) and really loved it. Has anyone seen it? Reminded me what how hard it is to be a musician, perhaps especially in a rock band, for a living, and was a really good portrait of the people in the band, particularly Dean and Sean, who couldn't be more different people. Really hard to believe they survived 10 years (maybe because Sean is a fantastic guitar player). Also, what great simple songs.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sorry that the link did not work. I was referencing Mike's very moving tribute to his recently deceased friend. But you're right, Stuart's ode to Paradise Radio, which has appeared as a link on the right side of the blog for the past year or two, was also touching.

With regards to criticism, I've just found that so much of what has been highly recommended or rated this past year has been, for the most part, pretty damn mediocre. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that 2008 has been, imo, mostly a pretty mediocre year for pop music in general. The reason I linked to this article and posed the question is because I felt that too many mediocre or just not very good albums were being given a pass or graded on a curve.

Two relatively popular cases in point:

Example 1: Coldplay's Vida La Vida, a collection of shallow, overproduced songs trying to out-epic each other, received mostly glowing reviews upon its release this spring, most of which were based on the fact that the album wasn't as bad as its predecessor.

Example 2: Kanye West's latest 808s & Heartbreak, listless vocoder-enhanced whining that NOW magazine just gave a glowing 4 stars, similar to accolades received elsewhere.

Are either albums terrible? No. But the reviews either suggest brilliance or gloss over the shortcomings. I think I'd like to read more balanced assessments.

UPDATE: Lest you think I'm picking on some bigger names, easier targets, here are some examples of over-hyped new bands/releases see, "Ra Ra Riot", "Ladyhawke" and "Santogold".

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Interesting query, Kyle. Before I get into a response, I'm curious to know which post you were citing in your first couple of lines, as the link didn't work. Probably one of Stuart's.

So....from my perspective, criticism is meant to highlight the extra layers in the art, the artist's influences and intentions, put it in the context in which it was created, and consider the context in which it might be reviewed in the future. And good critics find words to illuminate the beauty and power of art, and potentially the truth or falseness.

All of this is obvious, I know. But I truly don't veer far from that perspective when I read criticism, even something as puny as local-rag critiques of pop music. So I tend to think, not about whether the critics are using a negative or positive lens, which I'm sure happens, but whether their critiques ring true, inspire me to listen, look at, watch, make the art mean more to me.

Good/great critics can be generally scathing (think of Jay Scott) but have to convince you of their love for the medium to be compelling - if you like movies, you won't want to read a guy (not every day anyway) who always says they're crap. They can also be cheerleaders, like say Roger Ebert, as long as their knowledge of the art form works for me.

All of which is to say that, no I hadn't noticed a trend towards pollyanna-ism in reviews. And Malkmus for me is dead dead dead (incl, the latest). Too bad re Malkmus, possibly as much a function of me not wanting him to change that beautiful thing that was Pavement as him getting "worse" at writing and performing songs (but more likely just that). So any paper that touts his latest as one of the best of the year is describing a rough year in pop, and/or isn't listening to the good stuff.