Best Music of 2008, Part III (Albums 10-6)

20 01 2009

{{{ Sunset }}} - Bright Blue Dream10. {{{ Sunset }}} – Bright Blue Dream (Buy It)

Highlight: “Bright Blue Dream” (Download)″

Track 3 of Bright Blue Dream starts early: 47 seconds of a faint, rumbling bass note, and Bill Baird coughs out the first lyric, “Paper clips and…” then stops abruptly, begins the song again, and corrects his placement of the lyrics. The stutter is an outtake, an artifact of the recording process that Baird has let accumulate alongside the detritus of his waking life: paper clips, motorcars, dry-eraser stains, etc. The first half of Bright Blue Dream concerns such detritus: “diamond studded caskets that roll around on wheels,” “the only free ferry left in the states,” the tattered life of a broken friend, etc. Baird, formerly of SOUND Team, whose Movie Monster LP made my list of top albums of 2006, has been releasing pieces of these songs for years on a jumble of lo-fi cassettes, CD-R’s and mp3’s formerly available on his formerly maze-like website. Bright Blue Dream puts the pieces together into a world-weary collection of forgotten songs which, while not technically a debut, will serve for many as the first introduction to {{{ Sunset }}}. In that first half of the album, images build like a thick, sedimentary residue on the conscious mind, just as Baird’s production layers lethargic, apathetic, somewhat facetious vocals like “we will, we will,” “I love my job” and “just try to smile” on faint, vaguely psychedelic arrangements of warm electronic tones, blunted percussion and muted chimes.

Midway through, though, the album takes a turn with the title track’s exhortation, to “sleep, sleep darling…as you dive into a deep blue dream.” For the next 14 minutes, “Bright Blue Dream” jettisons the images of sleepwalking through our waking state and gently wake-walks the listener into a dream. At the end of the next track,”Moebius,” after nearly 20-minutes of lulling, ambient effects, we emerge on the other side of the dream and into the warm embrace of “Old Sandy Bull Lee”:

Sandy Lee, Sandy Lee, hold your head up high
When you die you will turn to cosmic stardust in the sky
When you were a child, running brave and free
That’s how your world will be again and that’s where you’ll find me

Our love will feel new again like when we first met
We’ll laugh at silly things and share cigarettes
So tear up my ticket, melt it in the snow
The glow of your skin supplies all I need to know

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes9. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (Buy It)

Highlight: “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” (Download)″

Dear shadow alive and well, how can the body die, you tell me everything, anything true…

The best description I’ve read of this album comes from an incidental comment in an Animal Collective review: “a time capsule from a great American past that no one has ever experienced but have somehow remembered upon hearing.” Fleet Foxes is a beautiful pastoral album filled with exquisite harmonies and some stunning moments, such as when the instruments drop off at the end of “Oliver James” and Robin Pecknold’s voice rings out by itself all echoey, “Oliver James, washed in the rain, nooooo lonnnnggeeerrrrr….”

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!8. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!! (Buy It)

Highlight: “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!” (Download)″

Meanwhile Larry made up names for the ladies / Like miss Boo and miss Quick / He stockpiled weapons and took potshots in the air / He feasted on their lovely bodies like a lunatic / And wrapped himself up in their soft yellow hair

I can hear chants and incantations and some guy is mentioning me in his prayers / Well, I don’t know what it is but there’s definitely something going on upstairs

Dig!!! Lazaurs Dig!!! begins with an urban retelling of Lazarus’s resurrection, Larry reborn as a lowlife, dopefiend, womanizing hipster thug just dying to crawl back into the grave. The rest of the album follows suit, asking, “Does Jesus only love a man who loses?”, mining the language of resurrection and salvation for all the filth of original sin. Cave and his company are profane in a way that even the Stooges weren’t ever profane, slow, stewing, comfortable in their profanity, without all of that pent up aggression pulling them outside of themselves. Dig!!! Lazaurs Dig!!! wears its filth on its crusty sleeve, not only in the Howl-ish pseudo-spiritual sleaze of its lyrics, but also in every element of the sound. From Nick Cave’s voice like Neil Diamond run through a meat grinder, to the scuzzy bass lines, slick guitar bends, and hollow percussion of the Bad Seeds, this is an album that oozes filth like a syphilitic corpse in a house of ill repute, without joy or remorse, with only that smirk of the profane.

Shearwater - Rook7. Shearwater – Rook (Buy It)

Highlight: “Rooks” (Download)″

When the swallows fell from the eaves and the gulls from the spires / and starlings in the millions will feed on the ground where they lie / the ambulance men said there’s nowhere to flee for your life / so we stayed inside / and we’ll sleep until the world of man is paralyzed

Rook (n.): a slight, fragile thing, harbinger of storms, that, when surrounded by other slight, fragile things, speaks for its life, lest it be torn to pieces in a cacophonous flutter of black wings

Among the slight, fragile things on this album are a harp, a glockenspiel, a dulcimer, various woodwinds, a piano, and the trembling voice of an ornithologist who once sang with Okkervil River.

The Walkmen - You & Me6. The Walkmen – You & Me (Buy It)

Highlight: “On the Water” (Download)″

So here’s one to the pigeons / And the tugboats on the river / Here’s one to you / For walking in my shoes

You & Me is, for the Walkmen, the equivalent of what happens when you stand next to your TV antenna at the exact right angle so that the static clears and the picture finally comes in clearly. Oh, so this is what they’re supposed to sound like! Strip away the haze of Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone‘s merry-go-round pianos and the bitter sting of Bows + Arrows‘s angular fuzz and it’s suddenly clear that what made those albums great wasn’t their post-punk pretensions, but the straight-up rock chops underneath. Cleaned up and allowed to resonate, the Walkmen’s guitars and organs take on a new gravity, while Hamilton Leithauser’s characteristic dry-throated howls, seething with a singular choked-back bitterness, add a road-weary resignation to lyrics of well-traveled loneliness and disillusionment. In addition, Matt Barrick once again proves himself one of rock’s best contemporary drummers as the Walkmen work waltzes into rock & roll and mine deceptively simple, plodding melodies for the weighty anticlimaxes they portend and struggle to restrain.




6 responses

22 01 2009

I think you really hit the nail on the head with the Nick Cave album. Its a really awesomely filthy album, not sexually filthy (although it is that too, kind of), but just nihilistic. I guess “profane” is the word for it.

I just can’t get into Fleet Foxes. I know I’m in the minority here. Concededly, I haven’t listed to their whole album yet, but that’s because everytime I put it on, I want to turn it off. Their songs all sound like the most boring possible versions of “House of the Rising Sun.” But that’s just me.

Good list so far! Looking forward to the top 5.

22 01 2009

I’m not actively going to go to bat for Fleet Foxes, since I also think it’s overrated (as in there’s no way it should be anyone’s #1 or #2 album the year) and not terribly challenging, but it’s very pretty, and I sometimes like pretty music. If you haven’t listened to the album, I would listen for these moments:

-In Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (the song I posted), the “Dear Shadow, alive and well” part (the part I quoted), has some really rich harmonizing going on, as does the part that goes “I don’t know what I have done, I’m turning myself, to a demon”
-Your Protector is a bit darker than some of the other tracks
-The end of Oliver James, that I talk about in the post

These are places where I get little chills down my spine while listening.

Also, this needs to be said: I have been to Barnes & Nobles four times in the past two weeks to tutor a student, each time for 1 hour sessions. All four times, they played this album. I don’t mean one song. I mean playing through from the beginning. Apparently they only have two CDs in rotation…poor employees…

23 01 2009
Adam Roberts

I’d say the whole of the Fleet Foxes album is very pretty, in a Steeleye Span meets Crosby Stills and Nash sort of way. But it doesn’t drag weird and wonderful tendrils across the receptive membrane of my soul the way that Bright Blue Dream track you post, up there, does. That’s the best thing I’ve heard from your top 20 (so far, natch); and it’s an album I shall definitely be buying.

I might add: this whole countdown so far has been really fascinating: thank you for doing it. And I might add, further, I’m glad you like the Deerhunter; one of my favourites from the year.

13 02 2009

Listening to Fleet Foxes feels like taking a shower.

13 02 2009

In a good way?

24 06 2009
I’ve Got My Hands Full All Summer Long « Zombie Public Speaking

[…] his best of 2008 post, Matt lists The Walkmen’s “You & Me” as #6 and says “Oh, so this is what […]

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