Best Music of 2008, Part VII (Songs 21-30)

3 03 2009

Here are the final 10 of my favorite songs of 2008. New visitors, don’t forget to check out my top albums of 2008. 2008 is finally, officially, wrapped up at Songs About Radios:

  • Santogold – L.E.S. Artistes (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/01-les-artistes.mp3″

    Just barely knocked off my top 20 albums of the year. Despite comparisons to M.I.A. for the diversity of her influences, Santi White is clearly the more talented songwriter, though certainly not as eccentric of a personality as M.I.A.

  • Sister Suvi – The Lot (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/the-lot.mp3″

    Another irrepressible ear worm, in this case thanks to the rhythmic tension between the guitar and the layered vocals.

  • ((Sounder)) – Good Things (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/good-things.mp3″

    A simple, almost meditative, cyclical chant exchanging good things with bad things, built upon a low, rumbling, slowly developing, layer of fuzz.

  • These New Puritans – Navigate, Navigate (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/navigate-navigate.mp3″

    Drawing on a Gang of Four-like, post-punk aesthetic, “Navigate, Navigate” juxtaposes blunt, punctual vocals with angular guitars for rhythmic effect. Originally written for the 2007 Dior Homme fashion show.

  • Throw Me the Statue – About to Walk (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/06-about-to-walk.mp3″

    Catchiest indie pop song of 2008. If only the rest of the album were this good…

  • Tokyo Police Club – Your English Is Good (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/09-your-english-is-good.mp3″

    Scrappy indie rockers who probably would have gotten a mention on my list last year if they had released more than 17 minutes of music at that point. Elephant Shell wasn’t quite consistent enough to make my top 20 albums, but “Your English is Good” deserves some attention.

  • Wavves – Beach Demon (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/beach-demon.mp3″

    I mentioned Wavves in my review of the Vivian Girls as another example of the trend towards Jesus & Mary Chain style distortion over the past year or two. While Wavves’s garagier take on noise doesn’t appeal to me as consistently or as compellingly as the Vivian Girls, “Beach Demon” is a romp.

  • The Whiskers – Roses (Download) (Download the Album for Free) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/01-roses.mp3″

    Signs that Spencer Krug is starting to have an influence beyond Wolf Parade and his myriad of side projects. “Say your prayers and pick your battleship configurations cause I’m gonna sink your grandpa’s sailboat.”

  • White Hinterland – Chant de Grillon (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/chant-de-grillon.mp3″

    Casey Dienel hardly sounds like the same singer whose transparently titled “La La Song” made my best songs of 2006, having now replaced the pop sentimentality with a trancelike repetitive bassline in the style of the Velvet Underground and with haunting vocals that tread boldly through an ominous mass of fluttering tones and shrieking effects.

  • Wiley – Wearing My Rolex (Download) (Buy It) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/wearing-my-rolex-radio-edit.mp3″

    If I lived in London I’d probably hate this song by now – I get the impression that it’s all over the place there, but with good reason: the combination of a great beat and the kind of very simple, repetitive lyrical structure that makes it hard to get a song out of your head.

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Best Music of 2008, Part VI (Songs 11-20)

15 02 2009




Best Music of 2008 Part V (Songs 1-10)

12 02 2009

And you thought 2008 was over! It’s February already…

Well, for the past couple of years, ever since I started blogging about my top 20 albums of the year, I’ve also included an additional 30 songs, in no particular order, from 30 artists not already represented by my top albums. Sure, I’ve been a little slow this year, but that’s no reason to deprive my readers of some of the best songs of 2008.

Here are the first 10:





Best Music of 2008, Part IV (Albums 5-1)

4 02 2009

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III5. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III (Buy It)

Highlight: “3 Peat” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/01-3-peat.mp3″

Shit, get on my level, you can’t get on my level, you would need a space shuttle or a ladder that’s forever

Forget the club tracks like “Got Money” and “Lollipop,” what makes this album great is the way that Wayne spits, boasts, and recycles his way through disarticulated syllables, double-entendres and localisms (“Su-Woop and Da Da Doe”) like his voice has taken on a disembodied life of its own. On Phone Home, Weezy declares, “We are not the same, I am a Martian,” but really it’s his voice that’s alien, even to Wayne. Every so often, he seems genuinely surprised by whatever’s just come out of his mouth, like it doesn’t belong to him, like it emerged spontaneously from the words themselves. Sure, he boasts like it was his all along, on “Dr. Carter” even laying his style down as a set of artistic principles, but on “A Milli” he tells us that he “don’t write shit,” ’cause he “ain’t got time,” – his flow isn’t the deliberate labor of a craftsman, but literally a flow (“like a menstrual bleed through the pencil”), something you can’t stop and you can’t catch. Weezy’s always wheezing trying to catch his breath, to catch up with himself so he can look back and claim his exhalations as his own.

Sun Kil Moon - April4. Sun Kil Moon – April (Buy It)

Highlight: “Heron Blue” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/05-heron-blue.mp3″

Don’t sing that old sad hymn no more / It resonates inside my soul /It haunts me in my waking dream / I cannot bear to hear it

April is a secondary work of mourning. It deals not with the loss of love, but with the traces that love and loss leave on the soul several years later. From its slightly out of focus cover art, to its austere acoustic arpeggios, to its lyrics about ghosts and rolling fogs, April is haunted by a past that it cannot bear to hear, but cannot erase. Mark Kozelek’s voice is somber, but its steadiness, through thoughts that should make his throat swell, betrays a deep inner calm. That calm has been there for me on many nights, reaching its tendrils into my soul and twisting restless racing thoughts into peaceful self-reflection.

Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak3. Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreaks (Buy It)

Highlight: “Paranoid (Feat. Mr. Hudson)” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/06-paranoid-feat-mr-hudson.mp3″

808s & Heartbreaks casts Kanye’s ego in a whole new light. On Graduation, singing about the good life, Kanye looked larger than life, invulnerable to the world, almost inhumanly so. Now, through the lens of the loss of the two women closest to him, we see him at his weakest, and the ego looks like a contrived spectacle. Using 808s to bare the sutures of his production and the faintest trace of auto-tune to emphasize the artifice of his voice, Kanye seems to be confessing the ruse of his ego, admitting that’s it’s just another impressive result of his talents as a producer.

But the more robotic Kanye makes himself sound, the more human he appears. In the repeated, sometimes hard to swallow, assertions of glory with which he attempts to hold together his shattered head, we hear a man rediscovering his inner life. The more Kanye stutters and stammers to produce the illusion of invulnerability, the more vulnerable he sounds. So if the ego on his earlier albums now seems fake, it doesn’t make those albums seem shallow: if anything, it deepens them, since we can now hear in them the real Kanye: not the ego being projected, but the man nervously at work at the projector.

…unless the gesture of vulnerability is just another ruse.

TV on the Radio - Dear Science,2. TV on the Radio – Dear Science, (Buy It)

Highlight: “Dancing Choose” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/03-dancing-choose.mp3″

Angry young mannequin, american, apparently / still to the rhythm, better get to the back of me / Can’t stand the vision, better tongue the anatomy / Gold plated overhead, blank transparency…

Dear Science is that kind of album that tells the world a band is going to be around for a while: a captivating third LP that pulls off a change in style without abandoning the defining characteristics of its predecessors. On this latest album, TV on the Radio are making a statement about the versatility of their original vision, the full potential of which remains inexhausted, still to be explored for years to come. One can’t help but hear traces of Bowie (who lended vocals to “Province” on an earlier album and picked TV on the Radio to cover “Heroes” on the the War Child charity comp), not only in the aesthetic, but in the particular spirit of innovation and exploration evidenced by this release.

On their debut EP, Young Liars and the follow-up LP, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, TV on the Radio offered a strikingly unique sound made out of elements of doo-wop and post-punk, a mixture of Tumbe Adebimpe and Kyp Malone’s rich, frightening vocal harmonies with David Sitek’s noisy, atmospheric production. On their sophomore LP, Return to Cookie Mountain, they ramped up some of the rock elements, but generally remained in the same idiom. What makes Dear Science, so impressive as an album is the way that TV on the Radio are able to explore new directions while preserving a sense of identity that links the album to their earlier work. While songs like “DLZ” would be at home on Desperate Youth, the majority of the album moves in a funkier direction. Prince is an apparent influence, though some of the album’s sexuality seems exaggerated to the point of parody (“I’m gonna take you, I’m gonna shake you, I’m gonna make you cum. Swear to god it will get so hot, it’ll melt our faces off.”) There are also shades of gospel on tracks like “Golden Age.” But the doo-wop harmonies are still there, with, for example, the introductory scat of album opener “Halfway Home” not so far off from the vocal bass line of Desperate Youth’s standout “Ambulance.” And the production, though generally cleaner, still reveals fascinatingly complex uses of electronic tonalities, reverbed percussion, and occasionally menacing distortion. The production has been absorbed into the work with a new subtlety that speaks to the growth TV on the Radio as artists. Watching their continued development in the years to come is certain to be exciting.

Portishead - Third1. Portishead – Third (Buy It)

Highlight: “Threads” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/11-threads.mp3″

I’m worn, tired of my mind / I’m worn out, thinking of why / I’m always so unsure…

From the first words of the cryptic Portuguese aphorism with which “Silence” begins, to the final moment when Beth Gibbons’s wavering voice is swallowed by lumbering fog horns at the end of “Threads,” I am spellbound, terrified. At times I literally have to catch my breath. Third works on the nerves from all angles, bass textures rumbling portentously under strings stroked slowly and vibrating unsteadily as jarring machine gun style bursts of percussion fragment any illusion of continuity. I am left scattered but transfixed, unable to turn away and unable to turn towards. How Beth Gibbons can acclimate her voice to this abyss which saps my strength just as a spectator, I cannot fathom. Her voice appears as if in a constant battle with the uncertainty surrounding her: at times, it seems like a feat just to sustain a single note; at times, she allows herself to recede, tenderly, just barely. Snatched out from under the jaws of death, always on the verge of crumbling back to dust, she sustains a sublime fragility with an inhuman fortitude.





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) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/06-bright-blue-dream.mp3″

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) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/04-tiger-mountain-peasant-song.mp3″

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) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/dig-lazarus-dig.mp3″

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) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/02-rooks.mp3″

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) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/03-on-the-water.mp3″

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.





Best Music of 2008, Part II (Albums 15-11)

12 01 2009

Vivian Girls - Vivian Girls15. Vivian Girls – Vivian Girls (Buy It)

Highlight: “Where Do You Run To” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/06-where-do-you-run-to.mp3″

“It’s alright, just leave the light on; I will never ask you why.”

In a year in which the Jesus & Mary’s Chain’s blend of pop melodies and heavy distortion was a reference point for so many newish bands (No Age, Times New Viking, Crystal Stilts, Wavves, etc.), the Vivian Girls were the best of the bunch. “Where Do You Run To” is easily my favorite song of 2008. The chorus’s refusal to resolve makes it the perfect infectious little earworm, and yet there’s so much there behind the pop veneer. As for the album, 10 songs in 22 minutes makes for great pop, but I was ready at first to dismiss all but a couple of songs as charming yet forgettable until I heard Greg Kott and Jim DeRogatis’s review on Sound Opinions. The turning point was Jim and Greg’s explanation of the source of the name “Vivian Girls”:

Jim: …named for the outsider artist from Chicago, this man who was a janitor, Henry Darger. He’s really controversial because, on the one hand, it’s very naive youngster art … these young, sort of sexless naif children, but he invented this fantasy world where these children the Vivian girls were slaves and they were tortured by unseen, evil forces; it’s very disturbing stuff. The Vivian girls are playing with this in terms of, on the one hand, we’re pretending we’re 9 years old, we just picked up these instruments, on the other hand, it’s very sophisticated music.

Greg: I think the Darger reference is very apt because Darger talked about this collision of innocence and extreme violence in that epic work that he created, and I think that’s what we’re hearing here [on “Tell The World”]. Those innocent voices against these scuzzed up guitars and these trashcan drums; it’s intentionally lo-fi, the production is … it’s not about the production, but there is a sound here and it’s a cool sound; I think that’s an absolutely haunting song; there are these explosions of exhiliration where they’re talking, I want to tell the whole world about the new love that I found, and then there’s a dark undertone on a song like that where they almost seem haunted by this idea of walking into this new world or this new love and finding out what it means.

Jim and Greg say it better here than I could have. This is the proof that the Vivian Girls get it, that unlike so many J&MC knock-offs, the Vivian Girls know what they’re getting into. Their description puts the Vivian Girls into a logical line of descent from some of my favorite girl group hits of the 60’s: the Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember,” Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” and “What am I Gonna Do With You?,” the Crystal’s “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss),” Dawn’s “I’m Afraid They’re All Talking About Me,” etc. The essence of these songs is to uncover in the basic material of pop music (the most ordinary experiences of teenage romance) something powerful and unsettling that pop music is just unable to deal with. These songs leave a residue, an uncanny feeling that our most familiar, most common experiences are perhaps unfamiliar even to ourselves.

MGMT - Oracular Spectacular14. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (Buy It)

Highlight: “Electric Feel” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/04-electric-feel.mp3″

“I said ooh girl / shock me like an electric eel / baby girl / turn me on with your electric feel “

I read a post on a message board in which the poster said he couldn’t understand how anyone too old to raid their parents’ liquor cabinet could still listen to this album. That’s sort of how I feel about it too, and yet here it is at #14 of my top albums of 2008, and I’m 27 years old. Listening to this album involves some cognitive dissonance. I feel a mixture of joy and revulsion. It’s a perfect example of the “life affirming” music I talked about in an earlier post, one of my brother’s top 2 or 3 albums of the year, I think. It’s an album about growing up, about dragging that “live fast and die young,” “do what you feel” mentality into the world of office jobs and morning commutes. It’s full of cliched nostalgia (“I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms”), wide-eyed optimism (“And in spite of the weather, we could learn to make it together”) and only the faintest traces of fear (“Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do?”). It feels like it’s overcompensating – these kids singing about finding models for wives are about to graduate from college into the second great depression; they have no idea what they’re in for, and yet they’re just so excited to be growing up.

So it surprises me somewhat that I keep coming back to this album. Is it just that these songs are incredibly catchy, that “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel,” and “Kids” are three of the best singles of the year, that the mixture of groovy bass lines, aqueous synth reverbs, and falsetto vocals are just indie enough to avoid being disco, and just disco enough to shock me like an electric eel? Or is it some mixture of escapism and vicarious pleasure? Is anyone else experiencing the same conflict with this album, or is it just me?

M83 - Saturdays = Youth13. M83 – Saturdays = Youth (Buy It)

Highlight: “Kim & Jessie” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/02-kim-jessie.mp3″

“Kim and Jessie / They have a secret world in the twilight / Kids outside worlds / They are crazy about romance and illusion

Somebody lurks in the shadows / Somebody whispers / Somebody lurks in the shadows / Yeah yeah yeah”

Much like Oracular Spectacular, this album should be someone’s favorite album of 2008, just not mine. M83’s 2003 debut, Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts, is a masterpiece, and I know at least one reader who would agree with me. But Saturdays = Youth is just so…naive. So youthful. And jaded at the same time. It makes that contradiction make sense. Its comes from a perspective that takes so much joy in a nostalgia for an innocence that it has lost that it becomes innocent all over again. But the youth it eulogizes is already a fucked up sort of innocence. These kids are weirdos, outsiders, maybe too weird to know how fucked up they are, maybe too fucked up to realize how normal they are. Graveyard Girl writes in high school cliches that are all the more touching for being cliche:

I’m gonna jump the walls and run
I wonder if they’ll miss me?
I won’t miss them.
The cemetery is my home
I want to be a part of it,
Invisible even to the night.
Then I’ll read poetry to the stones
Maybe one day I could be one of them…
Wise and silent.
Waiting for someone to love me.
Waiting for someone to kiss me.
I’m fifteen years old
And I feel it’s already too late to live.
Don’t you?”

That already too late to live, as if her heart weren’t made of bubble gum, as if she’d reached some sort of modernist epiphany, as if that modernist trope weren’t just something she learned in an English class, as if there wouldn’t be another moment when it would be too late to live, when waiting for someone to love her would seem precisely like life, when she would be wise and silent and hear the echo of her question and want to be 15 again…

Deerhunter - Microcastle12. Deerhunter – Microcastle (Buy It or Buy Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. together for a couple extra bucks)

Highlight: “Nothing Ever Happened” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/09-nothing-ever-happened.mp3″

“Nothing ever happened to me / Nothing ever happened to me / Nothing ever happened to me / Life just passing, flash right thru me

I never, saw it coming / waiting for something, for nothing / I never, saw it coming / waiting for something, for nothing”

I can never seem to remember having listened to this album. I think it’s intended to be that way. The tracks blur together in memory, wrapped in a luscious, dream-like haze. The lyrics escape into faint echoes resounding around an absent center. There’s something hiding here, which refuses to stick in the net of the conscious mind. Microcastles is the residue of a trauma. No matter how vehemently Bradford Cox insists that nothing ever happened to him, every song vibrates under the sedimentary weight of an event, a faint pulse that never stops, that resounds with the constant tremor of Deerhunter’s guitars. “Agorophobia” wills blindness so that it can avoid naming the source of its pain. “Little Kids” submerges a double violence – a man is burnt alive by a pack of drunken kids for seemingly no reason, but the act itself is mentioned only briefly, drowned out by feedback, leaving no mention at all of the even more haunting psychological violence that must have driven these kids to the act. Songs like the title track and “Activa” are paratactic and impressionistic, leaving gaping wounds dripping between sodden, ambiguous phrases. Deerhunter wraps these wounds in thick, gauzy rags still stained from My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Chord structures are often simple and plodding, but distorion and reverb wax and wane with a masterful imprecision that works the gravity of each note like the moon does the tide.

I don’t particularly like Bradford Cox – I especially dislike the way that Pitchfork fawns over every piece of excrement that comes out of his mouth – but Microcastle is the album he was born to write.

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer11. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer (Buy It)

Highlight: “California Dreamier” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/05-california-dreamer.mp3″

“And I think I might have heard you on the radio, but the radio waves were like snow”

At Mount Zoomer, Wolf Parade’s follow-up to their already classic 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, starts off in familiar territory. Opener “Soldier’s Grin” is a typical Dan Boeckner song that could just as easily have been saved for his side project, Handsome Furs, while I wouldn’t be surprised if Spencer Krug had originally written “Bang Your Drum” with Sunset Rubdown in mind. Fans of Apologies will be most at home on the first four tracks, but things really begin to get interesting with the fifth track, “California Dreamer.” While preserving the jittery rhythms, ragged stomps, competing melodies and richly metaphorical lyrics that made Apologies my favorite album of 2005, the second half of At Mount Zoomer sees Wolf Parade explore richer arrangements and a wider palette of ideas, including a brief lapse into 7/8 time signature on “Fine Young Cannibals” and a wicked 11-minute proggy monstrosity of an album closer in “Kissing the Beehive,” all of which makes At Mount Zoomer yet another point in the column of reasons why Spencer Krug is my favorite contemporary artist.





Best Music of 2008, Part I (Albums 20-16)

10 01 2009

The Notwist - The Devil, You + Me20. The Notwist – The Devil, You + Me (Buy It)

Highlight: “Good Lies” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/01-good-lies.mp3″

“We’ll remember good lies when they live in a room with us, use our kitchen table and our little beds.”

There are two types of songs on this album. About half the album is made of fairly simple, straighforward songs about melancholy and regret that lament things like staying for the wrong reasons and lying to ourselves to get by. These songs are carried by the smallness of Markus Acher’s voice, which lends a sweetness to the sorrow, as if taking a bit of solace or even joy in the humanity of regret. The rest of the songs are built around slightly dissonant, repetitive melodic patterns washed out by complex, unsettling percussion and trembling strings. These songs are darker and more foreboding, but again anchored by the simplicity of Acher’s delivery. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but with this exception of the title track, the album is quite consistent and occasionally touching, and works out a few interesting ideas with some success.

The Dodos - Visiter19. The Dodos – Visiter (Buy It)

Highlight: “Fools” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/04-fools1.mp3″

And he thinks in his mind that he’s just getting by, but he’s a compromise, he’s just a compromising fool

Yeah, I guess I’ll let this slide into the top 20. My enthusiasm for this album has waned since the beginning of the year, but the second half especially is still a lot of fun – rapid guitar strumming and erratic (though sometimes imprecise) percussion make for a pulse quickening, nerdy (sometimes to the point of awkwardness), quizzical good time.

King Khan & the Shrines - Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines18. King Khan & the Shrines – Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines (Buy It)

Highlight: “Land of the Freak” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/04-land-of-the-freak.mp3″

You’re lost, you’re loaded and you’re losing your mind, oh don’t ya worry ’cause we got your fix. We’re comin’ to take ya to the midnight mover, the freak with a big back of tricks

King Khan’s set at the Bottom Lounge after the first night of this summer’s Pitchfork Music Festival was definitively the best small-venue show I saw all year. Backed by the blaring horns of the Shrines and a cast of characters ranging from cheerleaders to afroed cross-dressers, Khan’s accelerated throwbacks to vintage garage rock and soul had everyone at the Lounge twisting and shouting. Sweating profusing, yelping, stuttering, and eventually taking off his pants, Khan whipped the crowd into a frothy madness as all hell broke lose on stage.

The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines captures all the jittery energy of the live show with a compilation of the swarthiest, tightest, most jolting hits of King Khan’s career. These are songs that would be at home on the Nuggets collection of “Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era,” dated to the present only by the lyrical bluntness of songs like “Took My Lady to Dinner” (“My babies fat, she’s ugly, she’s fat and she’s ugly, but I love her”), “I Wanna Be a Girl,” and the Shrine’s love song about welfare, “Welfare Bread.” If you’re missing the days when vintage garage rock was still played in garages, King Khan and the Shrines have what you need.

White Denim - Workout Holiday17. White Denim – Workout Holiday (Buy It or Buy White Denim’s U.S. release, Exposion for about a third of the price)

Highlight: “Shake Shake Shake” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/02-shake-shake-shake.mp3″

Hey, say what? What? I’m gonna do it! What’s that? Hands up! Shake shake shake shake shake shake shake shake shake shake shake shake shake!

Many of the tracks on Workout Holiday have been around for a couple of years now in a variety of formats. Readers of my old blog may recall that I listed the opening track, “Let’s Talk About It,” as one of my favorite songs of 2006. This year alone, White Denim released three slightly different versions of their debut album under different titles. All of this suggests some difficulty arranging a somewhat diverse set of material into a single album: Workout Holiday’s biggest flaw is that it doesn’t fit together very well as a whole. At the same time, it’s clear that White Denim has taken its time building up a body of quality works, and track after track proves this band has talent.

The majority of the songs on Workout Holiday evince a fast paced, riff based garage style with hints of psychedelia and a spastic quality that seems drawn from punk. But unlike King Khan’s deliberately vintage sound, White Denim sounds like it came from this side of the 80’s. I hear hints of Devo on several tracks, a certain stilted quality that adds tension by stopping up the rush of energy. While most of these songs are blunt and to the point, though, some of the directness is broken up by meandering tracks like “Sitting” and “Don’t Look At Me That Way” or bluesier pieces like “IEIEI.”

Beck - Modern Guilt16. Beck – Modern Guilt (Buy It)

Highlight: “Gamma Ray” (Download) https://songsaboutradios.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/02-gamma-ray.mp3″

Come a little gamma ray / standing in a hurricane / Your brains are bored like a refugee from the houses burning / And the heat wave’s calling your name

I haven’t enjoyed a Beck album this much in a decade. There’s not a track on here that lacks a spark or fails to stand up on its own. Shying away from the stuttering funk that defined Odelay and Guero, Modern Guilt veers closer to the 60’s psychedlia of Mutations (where album closer “Volcanos” would fit right in), adding a more driving beat on about half of the tracks that places them into more of a rock idiom. “Orphans” recalls “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Chemtrails feels like it could cozy up next to Lee Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra’s “Some Velvet Morning,” while Gamma Ray’s bass line would fit right in with the Standells or the Count Five. DJ Dangermouse’s production is seemless – while he does add in an occasional glitchy sample that sounds like it was made by a machine (listen to the verse of the title track, for example) even these samples usually blend right into the psychadelia. The two exceptions are “Youthless” and “Replica,” where the percussion is foregrounded to create more modern sounding beats.