24 December 2008

Top 9 Records of the Year

Wolf Parade – At Mt. Zoomer
At Mt. Zoomer is another piece of mastery from this Canadian quartet. Between Wolf Parade releases both of the band’s songwriters have released albums that don’t stand up to their talents as collaborators. The album works both as a singles album as well as a coherent piece thanks to the prowess of Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner. The aesthetic is similar to their previous works, keeping with the lo-fi sound, punchy guitars, and swirling keyboards. The production, coupled with the imagery of ghosts, static, radios, and constant danger, reminds me of a time when child abuse was common, muddied long-johns were a display of productivity, and the macabre was all the rage.

Walkmen – You & Me
After their misstep “A Hundred Miles Off” in 2006, the Walkmen put out an album this year that’s both a return to form as well as a fresh take on their patented sound. The usual instrumentation is everywhere- the trebled guitars, piano, that straining voice- as well as a few new additions. The bass sounds like it was recorded underwater on both the intro track “Donde Esta La Playa?” and “On the Water.” There also seems to be a bigger emphasis on the bass drum and floor tom, which gives the music a greater depth. They’ve continued to use horns to great effect, allowing for a more worldly image. This record is mostly a mellow affair, one that could be enjoyed with a glass of red wine and some mood lighting.

Koushik – Out My Window
Using a combination of downbeat hip-hop beats, electronic manipulation, psychedelia, and ambient/shoegaze vocals, this guy has come up with one of the most amalgamated and fresh sounding albums of the year. Some of these songs sound like they belong on a J Dilla record while others fit in with Caribou, RJD2, or Four Tet. I was absolutely blown away upon first hearing this album, and also really disappointed that nobody has mentioned this as one of the best albums of 2008.
Koushik - Be With.mp3

Mount Eerie – Lost Wisdom/Black Wooden Ceiling Opening
Lost Wisdom showcases much of what’s great about Phil Elverum’s songwriting talent. Though the words are moody and cryptic, he states them matter-of-factly, displaying the disparate elements of each song. Here he teams up with Julie Doiron, a Jagjaguwar folkie/solo artist, to help sing. Thanks to these female backing vocals, this release sounds most like the Phil/Mirah tag-team of early Microphones days.
Then there’s “Black Wooden Ceiling Opening.” It kept being described as metal, which it definitely is not. The music is distorted and slapdash, reminiscent of a mid 90’s punk band recording in their basement with one microphone in the center of the room. This album is not recommended as an introduction to Mount Eerie, but is a great anomaly in the discography of a very prolific songwriter.

Shearwater - Rook
Everywhere that Okkervil River has gone wrong in the last few years, Shearwater has gone right. I should give props to Okkervil River for giving Jonathan Meiburg a chance to sing on their newest record, but why bother waiting around to hear a snippet of his voice when you can pick up a Shearwater record and bask in it? This record is dramatic, often utilizing a loud/soft dynamic to establish moods of beauty and terror at once. The band uses a boatload of instruments, including dulcimer, glockenspiel, pump organ, horn section, and a string quartet. And Meiburg offers what so many rock bands can’t, which is a pure voice that could break glass. There’s no idiosyncratic tone or word manipulation, just a great range and powerful delivery.

Bottomless Pit – Congress
Late last year this band released “Hammer of the Gods,” a surprisingly amazing album (ep?) from the former Silkworm guys. I never especially liked Silkworm until I heard this last album. The guys in this band have only gotten tighter and more comfortable with themselves musically over the years. Each new release better explains the previous one, showing both their progress and methodology. Still keeping the 90’s low-end indie rock torch lit, the Bottomless Pit are a band that Chicago should be proud of having as an alternative to Kid Sister or Fall Out Boy.
Bottomless Pit - Fish Eyes.mp3

Dr. Dog – Fate
Fourth release in as many years, “Fate” serves as catchiest album on this here year-end list. Scott and Toby alternate songs on this album (as usual), and though there are none of Toby’s stand-outs like “Goner” and “Pretender,” buried deep is “The Beach,” a show-stopper live. Scott’s “The Old Days” moves fluidly, like the roaring Mississippi, while “The Rabbit, the Rat, and the Reindeer” is pure ear candy from start to finish. Sure they blatantly rip off the Beatles, but so do SO many other bands, and not as well as this band (dear Oasis: fuck you). How these guys aren’t more popular I don’t understand.

Beach House – Devotion
I wasn’t expecting to really enjoy this album, as their first one was ok but didn’t show much room for growth. Their second full-length shows them using the same formula to greater appeal, highlighting both vocal and guitar work this time around. I’d like to see them experiment with keyboards a bit more, but for a band that’s only been around for two years, they definitely know how to write some dark, dreamy lullabies. If you think Brightblack Morning light are a little boring, and She & Him was too glossy, this is definitely the album to check out.
Beach House - Gila.mp3

Benoit Pioulard – Temper
Thomas Meluch (aka Benoit Pioulard) appears to be shaping himself as the next Lindsey Buckingham. His powerful, pulsating fingerpicking work rivals Buckingham’s, and the two share a lo-fi intimate atmosphere so commonly shunned in the age of digital recording technology. The tense moods and paranoia are more prominent on Temper than they were on Precis. Where Meluch branches off from Buckingham is in his use of found sounds and atmospheric washes. This experimental bent provides a layered backdrop for Meluch’s bedroom pop.
Benoit Pioulard - Idyll.mp3

Other good albums this year:
Portishead – Third
Sparks – Exotic Creatures of the Deep
She & Him – Volume One
Dianogah – Qhnnnl
Spiritualized – Songs In A & E
Grouper – Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
School of Seven Bells – Alpinisms
School of Seven Bells - Iamundernodisguise.mp3
Department of Eagles – In Ear Park
Silver Jews – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
Jamie Lidell – Jim
Jamie Lidell - Another Day.mp3
Dungen – 4
Izza Kizza – Kizzaland

Album that should have been good but wasn’t:
TV on the Radio – Dear Science,

Album that should have been bad but wasn’t:
Kanye West – 808’s and Heartbreak