Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2008 Best Albums: The Final Five!

And here is the long-awaited final 5 albums of the year!!! 2008 was pretty solid for music. The Format broke up. A Billion Ernies got back together. We had some album flops and some crappy "comebacks." But, we also had some of the strongest releases I've heard in awhile, and I personally went to some very memorable concerts. Well, without further ado, drummmmmmmroooooollllllllll... #5-1!

5.) “Dark Shades of Blue” by Xavier Rudd

Aussie Xavier Rudd released this gem to the world in August and has literally been touring the globe since. As the album title would suggest, “Dark Shades of Blue” comes off a bit edgier and, well, darker than his previous recording endeavors. The opening track “Black Water” is a lyric-free onslaught of squealing guitars and powerful drums and leads right into the title track. While many of the jams are heavy in instrumentation, Rudd does not abandon his beautiful slide guitar work and harmonies, heard on “Shiver,” a seven-and-a-half minute opus, and the Dave Matthews-esque “Hope That You’ll Stay.”

4.) “The Eventually Home” by Right Away, Great Captain!

In my opinion, this album solidifies Andy Hull as one of the preeminent songwriters of this generation. All naysayers should be stricken. If you’ve been following his career as I have, you know of his strong releases with Manchester Orchestra, the most recent being the “Let My Pride Be What’s Left Behind” EP. But this release, under his solo RAGC! moniker, is on the list because of what it isn’t. It isn’t Manchester Orchestra. It isn’t polished and overproduced. It isn’t loud, rocking, or even all that catchy. But good God, can this guy write music that grips you with story, metaphor, and meaning. Armed with little more than a guitar, beautiful self-harmony, and raw emotion poised on his sleeve, Hull chronicles the tale of a sailor on his way home to punish his cheating wife. This is not one to miss.

3.) “Gossip In The Grain" by Ray LaMontagne

LaMontagne shone on his breakthrough “Trouble,” but lost a little of himself on his follow-up “Till the Sun Turns Black” But, LaMontagne shut the critics up and proved why he is one of the best contemporary songwriters out there. From the opening horns of “You Are The Best Thing” to the closing smoky whisper of “Gossip In The Grain,” this release is a knockout of emotion. The piano and guitar work alike are mesmerizing, as they wrap you into each word LaMontagne croons. Also, who else can get away with writing an unambiguous love song for the drummer of The White Stripes? (Go listen to “Meg White” and wish it was written for you.)

2.) “Anorexia Nervosa” by Showbread

Showbread released quite the labor of love this year with two albums dropping on the same day. They are concept albums, written and orchestrated around intertwined storylines about two sisters, Anorexia and Nervosa, and their quest for self-fulfillment.

The accompanying linear notes are meticulous, detailing the siste

rs’ tales by giving time markers to read a paragraph at a specific point in each song. In true Showbread fashion, both albums are remarkably heavy and grotesque, both lyrically and musically. And this is where the project truly shines. Every word and note of every song is purposeful and important, whether haunting and disturbing or elegant and worshipful. They prove that even amongst the harshest and noisiest of chaos, God can be found and praised.

1.) “Canopy Glow” by Anathallo

And the winner for best album of the year is Anathallo’s “Canopy Glow.” I’ll admit I was pretty excited for this record to come out, but also hesitant that it wouldn’t be able to compare to their previous EPs and other full-length “Floating World.” I knew they had it in them, especially after seeing their passionate artistry live a few years ago. But, I was unsure whether or not Anathallo would deliver. As soon as I got “Canopy Glow” in the mail one fine November day, I knew all my fears were quelled. The grace and sophistication of this record outweighs anything else I have had the pleasure of listening to this year. This band utilizes everything from basic guitar, bass, and drums to piano, organ, hand bells, trombone, flugelhorn, shakers, strings, glockenspiel, and many more. They are used in precision, not overbearingly, and then, when the lyrics are overlaid, they are delicate and harmonizing, as an instrument, one with the rest of the band. Anathallo creates a lush and sunny appeal with musical depth and intensity, while being able to conjure up images of death and passing from this world to the next. Every song is its own highlight. Support this band. They will be touring nationally this spring and summer!


Runner-Ups: AKA the Almost-But-Not-Quites-But-Still-Worth-Mentioning

Ben Sollee “Learning to Bend

William Fitzsimmons “The Sparrow and the Crow”

Mates of States “Rearrange Us”

Owl City “Maybe I’m Dreaming”

Sigur Ros “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust" aka "Butt CD"

Punch Brothers “Punch”

Well, that's all folks! The bar is set high. I look forward to a strong 2009!!!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2008: 10-6

As with any list of favorites, this 2008 Best Albums list is littered with bias and opinion. That's the point, duh! If you don't agree, tell me so in the comments. Don't bother telling me what I overlooked though, because I can't listen to everything that came out this year. (In the words of Homer Simpson, "I'm just one man, Marge.")
Also, unlike many of those other more known blogs with more advertising, I don't get free CDs or mp3s from record labels and bands trying to hit it big. I don't have that kind of pull. So this list is just what I heard or sought out and truly enjoyed. (Alt
hough, I am not opposed to getting and promoting bands if I like them. Email me a song or two, and we'll see what happens.)

The rules were simple. The album had to be full-length, and it had to be released in 2008. I think all of them have enough a
ppeal to sizzle in my cerebellum for years to come. And here...we...GO!

10.) “Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)” by Cloud Cult

The eccentric stylings of Cloud Cult are put on full display on this, their possible last album. While some folks have criticized their recycling of old sounds and/or rehashing ideas, I think it is fitting to culminate with an all-inclusive album, hitting the high notes of their career with all the peculiar vocal flair and song structure that Cloud Cult has. A strong album from start to finish, highlights on “Feel Good Ghosts” include “Everybody Here is a Cloud,” “Journey of the Featherless,” “No One Said It Would Be Easy,” and “Love You All.”

“A Memory Stream” by The American Dollar

Considering Explosions in the Sky, Foxhole, and The American Dollar are some of my favorite bands, it is surprising that this is the only instrumental album to make the list. An under the radar type release, I found out TAD had a new album a few months after the fact, jumped on it, and was pleasantly surprised with another solid release. One would think that with similar instrumental accompaniment and no lyrics, these guys would run out of ideas (or at least grow dull on a listener), but I am here to say the opposite. Heavy on the synth and ethereal organ, “A Memory Stream” plays out like the soundtrack of a heart wrenching, bittersweet film. These two gents from Queens know just how to build a song into an avalanche of sound, crashing drums, alluring guitar work, and sweeping melodies, and bring it back down to make you listen all the more closely.

8.) "The Grand Archives" by Grand Archives

The debut album from Seattle’s Grand Archives is nothing short of folk pop wonder. The melodies and hooks are catchy, and I can’t help but smile through the three and four part harmonies. Lyrically, the album is a bit obscure and pulls storytelling sensibility with bizarre analogy, but it works. While the whistling chorus on “Miniature Birds” is endearing, the album standout would have to be “Sleepdriving.” This album will stick in your mind, fill you with memories and nostalgia, and transport you to with Americana.

7.) “Lost in the Sound of Separation" by Underoath

Unrelenting, weighty, and ferocious are the three words I would use to describe Underoath’s 2008 release “Lost in the Sound of Separation.” Everything about the album pummels the listener to a sonic pulp. One may say it is an auditory assault. The songs are ear-splitting but melodic, hideous but elegant. If their last album “Define the Great Line” was about the dealing with and overcoming personal drug and alcohol addiction, then this albums finds the members discovering hope in God, despite despair found in humanity. These hard rockers are not afraid to scream out their need for a savior. Aaron Gillespie’s drumming is spot-on and technical, intense and crisp, while Spencer Chamberlain’s guttural screeches have improved to become some of the best in the business.

6.) "Anti-Meridian" by Brave Saint Saturn

If an album opens up quoting a Dylan Thomas poem and covering a song by Electric Light Orchestra, it has to follow through with great songwriting and consistency. And that is exactly what Reese Roper and co. do on this, their third and final release of the BS2 trilogy. About 95% of it works wonderfully, wrapping up the storylines that the first two releases started with the crew of the U.S.S. Gloria with some spoken word “interviews” with the astronauts. The 5% that doesn’t work as well is from songs that just feel a bit out of place (“When You Burn Too Fast” and “Fortress of Solitude). But with 17 tracks, the album is able to shine with such well-written and energetic jams as “Mercenary,” “Starling,” and “Blessed are the Land Mines.” But of course, album closers (“These Frail Hands” and “Invictus”) seal the deal, lyrically and musically, bringing me near to tears with every listen.

I pulled one song from each album and compiled them for DOWNLOAD HERE.

Numbers 5-1 coming up soon, so keep checking back.