In Review 2008 | Food
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Ga Ga Ga Ga
Daniel hit his stride as a songwriter around Kill the Moonlight;
here, he and his band have finally nailed it in the studio.
A hodgepodge of sounds ranging from ’60s soul (“You Got Your
Cherry Bomb”) to deconstructionist pop (“The Ghost of You
Lingers”) to the hand-clappiest candidate for single of the
year (“The Underdog”), Spoon’s best album yet arrives as a
swaggering masterpiece and doesn’t make a false move for 36
their second full-length, James Murphy and company ditch the
canned goods for some real freshness, in the form of more
live instrumentation and some of the year’s best singles (“All
My Friends,” “North American Scum” . . . all of them, really).
Murphy’s lovable snark is one of the greatest things to happen
to pop music this decade.
some of the songs sound like glorified demos, but that only
goes to show that Radiohead’s trash would be most bands’ treasures—it’s
their best record since OK Computer. And have you seen
no secret (or is it?) that Joe Henry has produced a long string
of literate, stirring recordings, but Civilians is his most
consistent from front to back since 1996’s Trampoline,
thanks, in part, to a supporting cast that includes such no-name
hacks as Bill Frisell and Van Dyke Parks. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)
“Our Song” may be the best song of Henry’s career, and that’s
saying a lot.
Go ahead, try and tell me one more time how boring this record
is. Just goes to show you’re not listening (sure, you fell
asleep, whatever). Sky Blue Sky is the band’s best
overall collection of songs, and the performances—particularly
the oft-discussed guitar interplay between Jeff Tweedy and
six-string alchemist Nels Cline—are sublime. Wanna fight?
side project of sorts, Grinderman finds Nick Cave and
three of his trusty Bad Seeds turning out some righteously
rough rock. The Farfisa-fueled garage blast of “Honey Bee”
and one gloriously blunt exploration of the middle-aged-man’s
psyche (“No Pussy Blues”) are alone worth the trip; “Vortex”
ranks among Cave’s best ballads. This one hits on all levels.
The Arcade Fire
about all the blog hype and the Springsteen references, take
a step back, and listen again. See? It’s really, really good.
While Springsteen’s Magic was excellent in its own
right, it felt like a reliving-past-glories affair. Neon
Bible is firmly of the now and the what’s-to-come, and
that’s why they’re here instead of the Boss.
to be surprised by the solo debut by Delgados founder Emma
Pollock. Fireworks doesn’t blaze any uncharted territory,
but the surprise lies in the sheer volume of good songs, and
the grace with which Pollock traverses her pop universe. Very
easy to listen to, in the best possible way.
just as surprised as you are, but these former children of
grunge have made an ambitious and right killer recording here.
They reference such classic acts as Queen, Bowie, the Beatles
and Pink Floyd, all the while sounding perfectly modern; and
that little blond kid has grown into one mighty fine singer
Fountains of Wayne
to the first filler-free FOW release. If you have any questions,
please direct them to Yolanda Hayes at window B.
1. The Besnard Lakes
Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse
song cycle impresses for the mood it sets: cathartic, but
not overblown, serious, yet not melodramatic. It captures
the elusive, soul-bruised undercurrent of an era, much like
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea did a decade back.
(usually pronounced chk-chk-chk) are a bunch of stellar (and
underrated) musicians who aren’t afraid of getting goofy with
their disco-rock-funk experiment, making for one of the most
entertaining releases of recent years.
Seeger Sessions thing really got his mojo working again,
Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
meditation, refutation and continuation of the singer-songwriter
mythos, spanning down from Guthrie, spinning through Zimmerman
and winding up in a corn-fed 31-year-old guy from Idaho. Not
perfect, not ground-breaking, but before long Ritter might
wind up making a classic.
Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter
Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul
first fell for this disc upon its release in March, and found
myself returning to it throughout the year; Sykes’ alluring
voice and intriguing sensibility, coupled with the great performances
of her band, has me lashing myself to the mast whenever I
hear her sing.
the strongest release from 2007’s bumper crop of bedroom Brian
Wilsons, Canadian transplant Dan Snaith departs from the more
banging tracks of years past to deliver a moody sort of electronica.
It evokes drives through unfamiliar cities, and day rides
where the map flies out the window—you drive faster, both
to keep up with the sound, and to try in vain to outrace your
to Your Knees
it’s no II or Up on the Sun—hell, it’s not even
Forbidden Places—but it’s the best they’ve done since,
and for that this Meathead is very happy.
Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
sprawling mess of an album that works best when Banhart crosses
his Tropicalia roots with his seeming fixation on T. Rex.
Iron and Wine
almost all the albums on this list save the top three, this
CD seems to peter out about halfway through. But the highlights
are stunning, and to hear Mr. Beam stretching beyond what’s
expected of him is heartening for whatever’s next to follow.
Robert Plant and Allison Krauss
album would have to be included even if just for T-Bone Burnett’s
production work, with its minute attention to details of tone
and space. Though some songs fall flat (the single is vaguely
embarrassing), there are a few stunners, especially the cover
of Gene Clark’s “Polly,” with its perfectly understated performances
by Plant and the always amazing Marc Ribot.
1. Robert Wyatt
happens less often than leap year, but any year with a new
album by Robert Wyatt is a better year.
his inspiration from the lifelong career artists of country
and soul music, Lowe shows that he’s aging like a dignified
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Though I’ve respected them both, I’ve never owned an album
by either one of them (and that includes Led Zeppelin). In
this era glutted with duet albums, this is one of the few
pairings that’s truly about the sound of two blended voices
singing in harmonic unison.
combination of Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline is in full flower
here, as the former’s songs become springboards for the latter’s
guitar, calling to mind San Francisco ballroom era soloists
John Cipollina and Jorma Kaukonen.
last living singer from the Band got his voice back after
a bout with throat cancer. It has a richness that’s further
informed by his joy at being healthy and creating music. Robbie
Robertson may hold the keys to the Band’s bank account, but
that smooth operator couldn’t touch the heart of soul of Levon
Helm with a limo full of his Hollywood pals.
the country I rule in my head, Michael Hurley would be on
a postage stamp—and not just one stamp, but all of them, and
it would be right now, while he’s alive.
is not only the stellar set of songs we’ve come to expect
over the course of Thompson’s 40 years of recording, but also
his most bristling band outing of the decade.
assumed they’d disbanded, so this return of the Mabuses was
not only a mysteriously hypnotic jolt, but also a welcome
this year, and touring after a 10-year layoff, Crowded House
made a new disc that didn’t get the attention it deserves,
perhaps because it competes with the band’s resonant past
work. But here it is, waiting to become part of your life.
Levine is a guitarist-for-hire based in Boston, and many have
heard him without knowing his name. This latest instrumental
set manages to showcase his fluid skills, but, more importantly
in terms of making a lasting album, it’s a portrait of his
impeccable taste in material, his supple band, and his evocative
1. Bruce Springsteen
the Boss show in Albany this fall, the fans cheered for his
new songs nearly as much as they did for the old; at one point,
they sang along to Magic’s great “Girls in Their Summer
Clothes,” lifting up the wistful tune with a sea of voices.
That’s a testament to the quality of his new album: Its songs
can hold their own alongside the classics.
the year’s best song in “Someone Great” and maybe the year’s
best line in “North American Scum”: “New York’s the greatest
if you get someone to pay the rent.”
Bad Not Evil
A spoonful of humor makes the garage rock medicine go down
better; Black Lips are cheeky and irreverent when they’re
kidding around (“How do you tell a child that someone has
died?”) and even when they’re probably not (“Oh Katrina, why
you gotta be so mean?”).
quite as consistent as her debut, with a few duds, but the
brilliance of the Modern Lovers-referencing “Bamboo Banger”
and the Clash-sampling “Paper Planes” are undeniable.
The Black Angels
Austin, Texas, band opened up for Queens of the Stone Age
at Northern Lights this year, and while their dark, hypnotic
jams kept the audience fairly entranced, they sound even better
points for name-checking Obama and for one of the year’s best
lines in his duet with Lily Allen: “Doin’ all she can for
her man and her baby/Driving herself crazy like the astronaut
this on the iPod at the gym and the elliptical machine damn
near moves itself. Kanye West’s DJ took the vocals from mainstream
rappers and set them on top of sleek electro grooves. Sounds
terrible in theory, but in execution the two parts equal a
much better whole.
Ga Ga Ga Ga
title but best use of handclaps, mariachi horns and Slick
ersatz-reggae, with more than a passing nod to the Specials,
sounded really good in the summertime. Allen sings so sweetly
while she’s slipping the dagger in: “When I see you cry it
makes me smile.” Therein lies her charm.
and her husband are a trainwreck all right, wandering bloodied,
bruised and drugged-out through the streets; rock bottom could
still be a long way down. Producer Mark Ronson borrowed Sharon
Jones’ funk band the Dap-Kings (who deserve more of the credit)
and a wall of sound from Phil Spector, but Winehouse herself
(I think) wrote some great songs here. I recently saw an entire
bar of grizzled barflies in Hudson Falls sing along heartily
to “Rehab”—that counts for something.
1. Modest Mouse
Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
pseudo-epic shifts to strange and energetic declarations to
outright winning melodies, this album is complex and rewarding.
And while at first listen it may seem that guitarist Johnny
Marr leaves scant traces of himself throughout, one can still
sense his esoteric, lightning-in-a-bottle guitar at times.
Contains one of the great anthems of the year, “Missed the
Speaking of “Missed the Boat,” I took a lukewarm stance on
this when it came out, but in the intervening months have
become enthralled by the counterpointing guitar skirmishes,
loopy rhythms and Raymond Carver-esque lyrical explorations
about aging romance (particularly on “Flourescent Adolescent”).
All of this from a band of early-20-something Northern Englishmen.
of the most beautiful, wistful, and haunting music of the
year came from this Manchester, U.K., artist (aka Simon Aldred).
“Mathematics” is the most gorgeous track I’ve heard this year,
and Aldred is one in a great line of Manchester songwriters.
we simply aren’t used to mythic artists producing some of
their best work this late in the game. It would be like Bob
Dylan producing Blood on the Tracks in 2000, or Pete
Townshend sculpting Who’s Next right before the start
of the Iraq War. Bruce must have had this one bottled up and
roiling inside of him for a while, and it came out in one
this hip-hop svengali’s corner of the universe, the classy
and cinematic slam headlong into the rough and menacing. Consider
this an authentic and enthusiastic recommendation, not just
some jive-ass, white, 30-something critic trying to pepper
his list with color (though I am jive-ass, etc.).
The Good, the Bad & the Queen
Good, the Bad & the Queen
is more than “yet another” project from the creative fulcrum
of Gorillaz/Blur leader Damon Albarn. The primal throb of
Paul Simonon’s bass, the distinctly English lyrical abstractions
of Albarn, the creative guitar colors of former Verve man
Simon Tong and the exotic percussions of Afrobeat legend Tony
Allen add up to a striking and compelling work.
Came From Cropseyville
took a decade for the local rockabilly warriors to release
a proper album, and (as the cliché goes) it was worth the
wait. In the intervening years, the boys have become a powerhouse,
and, led by the nimble mastery of guitarist Graham Tichy,
this is rock & roll manna from heaven.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
powerful and melodic. The ominous whine, scalding slide guitar
and black groove of “Not What You Wanted” is another highlight
of the year . . . and there’s more where that came from.
of the most underestimated artists of his time produces one
of the most knotty, urgent and downright good albums of his
post-Creedence life, distilling rock & roll, swamp blues,
hard-edged Americana and that fearsome howl into one angry
and masterful album.
the Night Said
student Stratton evokes a little Pink Moon-era Nick
Drake here, a little Mojave 3 or Damon and Naomi there, but
is also distinctly his own man, alchemizing dreamy lyrical
expressions and wandering folk-pop into a gorgeous whole.
1. LCD Soundsystem
a synth-pop car-crash featuring Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Gary
Numan and David Bowie, Sound of Silver is easily the
catchiest, most propulsive album of the year. From the obnoxious
sarcasm of “North American Scum” to the warm cocoon of “Someone
Great,” LCD Soundsystem manage to make an album that spans
the gamut of emotions, all while making you want to dance,
and they do it with cheesy synths, funny loops, and awkwardly
elegant study of love and loss, In Rainbows finds Radiohead
less worried about what to label their music and more concerned
with the music they are making. And then there was that whole
Internet-release thing, which allowed fans to pay what they
wanted to download the album. The second disc of material
released with the In Rainbows box set shows off the
fat the band trimmed to arrive at such a concise, beautiful
collection of love songs.
Nine Inch Nails
Top 10 list this year was a battle between my mid-’90s loves
and my current tastes. But Year Zero didn’t make my list for
nostalgia alone—in fact, Year Zero is a visceral return
to Trent Reznor’s roots that, from time to time, gives me
the chills the way Pretty Hate Machine did. The viral
marketing campaign for the album was exciting, and the remix
album that followed was inventive in that it allowed fans
to remix every track themselves. It shows that Radiohead are
not the only ones thinking about the future of the record
industry. And tracks like “Capital G” and “Vessel” proved
that all it takes for Reznor to make people shake their asses
is a laptop.
Between the Buried and Me
most ambitious metal of the year also happens to be the best.
It’s not a mistake that Between the Buried and Me make both
my top live and top album of the year list, because as ambitious
as Colors is with its sprawling, death-metal prog,
Tom-Waits, Queen-inspired freakout, it would be nothing if
it could not be performed convincingly live—and, boy, can
it be! Between the Buried and Me have laid the groundwork
for a whole generation of hyper-progressive, hardcore metal
albums that are sure to follow.
American Gangster is one of the year’s better musical
surprises. Using lush samples and crisp beats, Jay-Z delivers
a masterwork inspired by the flick of the same name. A narrative
about a man’s rise from life on the streets to become a powerful
gangster, the album flows like a concept album, but each track
has a complete life of its own, full of drive and drama.
Ziltoid the story of an ultra-powerful alien conqueror
who has come to Earth so as to pilfer all of our finest coffee
beans, or is it that of a lowly chain-coffeehouse employee
with an inclination to daydream? That is for you, the listener,
to decide. But what is for sure is that Devin Townsend (formerly
of Strapping Young Lad) has produced with Ziltoid his
absolute masterwork. Part space-rock, part rock opera, part
industrial-death-metal dirge, Ziltoid, labels aside,
is quite simply one of the best rock albums of the year.
Weekend in the City
death-disco thing was supposed to be dead, right? You know,
the scene featuring bands like Franz Ferdinand and Death From
Above 1979? Well, it may very well be, but if Bloc Party are
forever to be defined by their original label, then death-disco
is alive and well, because A Weekend in the City is
a sweeping, indie-dance rock opera about life in London for
a 20-something-year-old, black, gay man. It transcends labels
and stereotypes; a good sign that Bloc Party have bright things
Zeitgeist very well may be on this list because of
nostalgia. I’d like to think that isn’t true, as songs like
“Doomsday Clock,” “(Come On) Let’s Go!” and “Bring the Light”
rock like all the best Pumpkins tracks do, but as a teen of
the ’90s, I know I worship at the altar of these fallen rock
gods like no one should. Still, I don’t want to hear it, ’cause
the Pumpkins got on my list the same way Springsteen wound
up on every other critic’s list: Every generation needs a
a year of the untraditional album releases, Neubauten’s album
stands out because the band have been operating a little bit
like a public radio station for the past few years, taking
donations from fans to produce their albums and giving back
special releases and access for their support. But the important
part of Alles Wieder Offen is that the band have released
their most concise artistic statement since their defining
releases, Haus Der Luge and Tabula Rasa. From
spoken word to primal pipe bashing, Neubauten are a musical
art project spawned out of Cold War-era Germany, and with
their latest release they prove they are as artistically fierce
as they were when they were banging scrap metal in a water
tower in Berlin two decades ago.
Sing of Only Love or Blood
Riggs should be the musical voice of a generation, but thanks
to circumstances and career choices, Riggs is an underground
novelty, a muse for both metalheads and indie kids. With We
Sing of Only Love or Blood, Riggs attempts to find a middle
ground between blues, punk, metal and glam, and is successful
not only because of his soulful voice, which can make a heart
skip a beat and hair stand on end, but because of a group
of musicians who, instead of playing to Riggs’ heart, play
to his grit and his worn voice. Maybe the next one will be
a soulful, swamp love song full of strings, but this one was
a bar brawl, and a good one at that.
list Radiohead at the top more for the group’s subversion
of the record industry than their music, though I think these
tracks are largely beautiful (my version of In Rainbows
is a Beijing-bought double bootleg CD I acquired in November
on a mind-blowing China trip for US $2; what’s that you say
about intellectual property?).
posthumous album is the toughest modern jazz of the year.
Everybody in this trophy group plays for his life, making
jazz of the rarest order: essential.
the diversity and texture of her Europop; in particular, for
“Sea Lion Woman.”
Fountains of Wayne
on smart pop from these Jersey guys; what’s extra-cool is
their take on consumerism and desire, in tunes like “Yolanda
Hayes” and “Strapped for Cash.” Subversiveness rarely sounds
Maria Schneider Orchestra
jazz at its most lyrical and expressive; this soars and more
than lives up to its title.
Clark is a punchy singer and a resonant writer, making Marry
Me one of the most striking alterna-pop (does the concept
even work anymore?) CDs of the year.
Not There Original Soundtrack
concept album of Dylan covers for a concept movie about a
real guy. Or is he? The songs are, that’s for sure. Fave:
Charlotte Gainsbourg and Calexico pillow-talking “Just Like
meditation on New York and film noir, Vega’s underappreciated
jazz-label debut delivers what Norah Jones, that smoky folk-euse,
hasn’t all these years: character and wit.
Middle East meets Phil Spector in this sequel to The Rising,
a resonant, politically charged return to E Street Band form.
Greatest pop surprise (and a step forward for Springsteen):
the gorgeous “Girls in Their Summer Clothes.”
the fun of it.