Monday, December 15th, 2008 | musiX
I’ve been wrestling with the whole year-end list thing since I saw them popping up in November. Some makes lists of 50. Others try 33. Twenty-five is always a good number. So is 20. I’ve decided to go with 10 (plus a few honorable mentions) … any more than that would be five too many. And I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to resemble yours. Or his. Or hers. Or theirs. That’s probably a good thing. Click on the cover to buy the album. And let the civil discourse begin …
10. Yes No Yes No Yes No – The Girls: I grew up during the early days of MTV when bands like Missing Persons, Devo and The Cars were coming in loud and clear in technicolor. The five men who are The Girls take the innocence, and the excess, of ’80s new wave and power pop without resorting to kitsch—then they grind it up with giddy Blank Generation riffs. What can I say? It’s damn good fun. “Not I” is the immediate standout, but “Who Are the Forgetters” is The Girls’ secret weapon that will sneak up on you and threaten to wear out the repeat button.
“Who Are the Forgetters” – The Girls
9. Nevergreens Vol. 1 and 2 – Los Fancy Free: Mexico City’s Los Fancy Free has been at it for years. Martin Thulin (aka Menonita Rock) was born to Swedish hippies in a Scandanavian Mennonite community in Northern Mexico. It reflects in the music—a rock outfit that relies just as much on flower power as it does on stomp boxes, with lyrics in English and Spanish. This year, the band released a double-disc gem. It’s a long and winding trip through the desert aboard the Partridge Family bus with pockets full of peyote. And they do a 10-minute psych-punk version of “Sultans of Swing.” Rules.
“Money Money Money” – Los Fancy Free
8. Rising Down – The Roots: The Roots continue to do all the right things by pointing out the wrong in America. Rising Down is less organic than past albums, and it’s definitely one of the group’s feistiest, taking issue with, well, everything: global warming, school shootings and the black experience in general. The biting social commentary is given weight by the always-steady back beat of ?uestlove and a revolving door of guest MCs including Talib Kweli and Mos Def. Should have made more lists. I’ll take The Roots over Lil Wayne’s haughty ways any day.
“Lost Desire” – The Roots
7. The Airing of Grievances – Titus Andronicus: Jersey’s Titus Andronicus punched me in the face and then kicked me in the ribs. Then they barked at me about Camus’ existentialist ways. Guitars and drums clang together like they were recorded in a tin shed while frontman Patrick Stickles screams like Conor Oberst on a whiskey bender. It’s actually a near-exact translation of their live show. If the E Street Band hopped a train to CBGB and sat in with The Ramones, you’d get Titus Andronicus which, fittingly, takes its name from William Shakespeare’s most violent tragedy.
“Joset of Nazareth’s Blues” – Titus Andronicus
6. S/T – Vampire Weekend: I heard “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and, slightly annoyed, went on with my business. But a friend made me listen to the entire album. At gunpoint. I started humming “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma” (which, sadly, I do give a fuck about). I began getting annoyed when critics focused more on the band’s Ivy League pedigree and its proclivity for sweaters and Sperry Top-Siders. Silly critics. It’s a smart, fun record—there, I said it. I hope Vampire Weekend keeps making decent albums; unless they’re willing to try new things, their Afro-indie pop could wear thin fast.
“Oxford Comma” – Vampire Weekend
5. Real Emotional Trash – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Stephen Malkmus still has a way with words. He also wields a mighty axe, and it’s evident that Malkmus is indulging himself here, experimenting with strung-out epics that are heavy on the guitar. But Real Emotional Trash is still a pop gem, made even sunnier by the warm production. Even if he goes for the hippie jam (the 10-minute title track), or the stoner riff (“Dragonfly Pie”) Malkmus returns to those shimmering pop melodies with “Cold Son” and “We Can’t Help You,” the latter on which Janet Weiss’ vocals melt me every time.
“We Can’t Help You” – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
4. Anonymous – Nothing People: This three-piece hails from a tiny sliver of land in Northern California. I always picture them as these sort of mad scientists that hole themselves up with an array of vintage gear and effects inside this fortress-like laboratory among the wind-swept olive groves. Anonymous is Nothing People’s first full-length after releasing a handful of excellent 7-inches. The band makes controlled chaos where echo-y vocals quiver over distortion and feedback and occasional drum loops and keyboards. In fact, if I didn’t know them better, I’d say they were not of this earth.
“I-5″ (live) – Nothing People
3. Blame it On Gravity - Old 97′s: Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of the Old 97′s. Unhealthy huge. But, even I wasn’t too keen on this record upon initial spins; I selfishly wanted a full return to those glorious Bloodshot days. Then I began to notice Rhett Miller’s familiar bookish wordplay, which wasn’t quite there on 2004′s Drag It Up. And guitarist Ken Bethea’s leads and licks killed me. Blame it On Gravity essentially plays like a greatest hits album, tapping from the band’s 15-year history and all of their clear-cut influences—’60s Brit-pop, Replacements rawk, outlaw-country. How could it not be good?
“Here’s to the Halcyon” – Old 97′s
2. I’ll Be Lightning – Liam Finn: I wanted to hear this album because of my love for Liam’s pops. He definitely inherited Neil’s knack for writing a pretty pop song, even snagging some of his old man’s vocal phrasings in “Music Moves My Feet” and “Lead Balloon.” The young Finn plays most of the instruments here, and he isn’t afraid to throw some ugly on top of the pretty … in a very handsome sort of way. There’s always something lurking in the background to make songs like “Second Chance” and “I’ll Be Lightning” feel not-so Crowded House—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
“Lead Balloon” – Liam Finn
1. Furr - Blitzen Trapper: I gravitate toward melodies and dynamics, even production, well before lyrics begin talking to me. But Eric Earley can spin a yarn—whether it be a murder ballad in “Black River Killer” or the tale of a young man who, literally, follows his animal instincts in the title track. What’s most impressive is how naturally this band can traverses folk (“Furr”), country (“Stolen Shoes & a Rifle”) and even ramshackle garage (“Love U”). There’s even a weepy, Elton-inspired ballad in “Not Your Lover.” So good an album that I actually get a little sad when it ends.
“Black River Killer” – Blitzen Trapper
Even more to love (in no particular order):
Microcastle - Deerhunter
Evil Urges – My Morning Jacket
Dear Science - TV on the Radio
Alight of Night – Crystal Stilts
S/T – Fleet Foxes