Monday, January 19, 2009
This year in music was more confusing than ever, but there were a few key things I latched onto. As the quiet folk stylings grew stale to me this vacuum imploded and hip-hop emerged on top as some of my most listened music of 2008. I cannot say that this year was better for hip-hop than other years, but this year I was just paying more attention.
The confidence on display in hip-hop spoke to me. The swagger and the hustle of some of these artists inspired me in many ways because they knew that in order to be successful you have to be willing to work harder than everyone else.
But we are here to talk about music right?
This year more than any other year I chose albums that I really listened to most often. Sure there were albums I thought were better, but what difference does it make if I’m not putting them on repeat? If they aren’t getting stuck in my head? If they aren’t inspiring me?
So my top twenty albums of 2008 aren’t necessarily the best of 2008, but they are the albums that pulled their weight…into my heart…yeah.
1-10 (In Alphabetical Order):
Chris Zabriskie-O Great Queen Electric, What Do You Have Waiting For Me?
A quite record that occasionally bursts at the seams, Chris Zabriskie’s first record of 2008, O Great Queen Electric, What Do You Have Waiting For Me? is unbelievably tender, contemplative and pervasive. I am constantly humming the melodies and musing over things that Zabriskie sings about. It is a beautiful exercise in minimalism, one of the very best of its kind.
“I’m On A Talk Show”
Chris Zabriskie on Myspace
Existential Hero-The Great Sublime Melancholy!
Those who know me and read this blog know I am not shy at all about tooting my horn (that’s what she said). This is why I am not ashamed to think that The Great Sublime Melancholy!, an album I wrote and recorded while traveling in New Zealand, is one of the very best records of 2008. I also wouldn’t place this up here if I didn’t listen to it constantly and know that others listen to it also on a regular basis. I feel like it’s my most holistic work to date and truly captures a particular mood, time and place like no other. Take this for what you will.
“I Dream Of Antarctica”
“Until The Very Last Moment”
“Meant To Carry Me Along”
Existential Hero on Myspace
Gang Of Virgins-Virgins?
This is the kind of record that makes me believe in psychedelia again. Rob and Max literally fuck shit up and create a hazy mirror to reflect our modern society. Virgins? is a funhouse mirror that only shows us the nightmares and fleeting moments of bliss. Although Rob’s poetry can overwhelm me I try and shout along no less. It’s a rallying cry for the sick and neurotic, the hopeless and toxic.
“Aubrey De Grey”
Gang Of Virgins on Myspace
Kanye West-808s & Heartbreak
Even with Obama’s presidential victory and a renewed faith in hope, some people were still depressed. Kanye West beat emo at its own game and emerged victorious with one of the best records of 2008, 808s & Heartbreak. His mother died and his fiancé left him, why would anyone want to party? Regardless of logic or reason, sometimes we still feel like shit. Translate this into some of West’s catchiest beats and an arsenal of auto-tuned cries. One of hip-hop’s bleakest affairs in recent memory, 808s & Heartbreak is a stunning album that only gets more and more nuanced and true with time.
“Welcome To Heartbreak (Feat. Kid Cudi)”
“Amazing (Ft. Young Jeezy)”
Kanye West site
Lil Wayne-Tha Carter III
As most people consistently state, Lil Wayne is force of nature, a black hole where empirical modes of thinking are useless. Tha Carter III proves that Weezy Baby rides the spectrum of brilliant to ridiculously absurd. Is he the greatest rapper alive? If you are listening to him while pondering that question the relentless assault of images, sensations and jokes will beat you into submission screaming, “You are indeed the greatest rapper alive!”
“Mr. Carter (Ft. Jay-Z)”
“Lollipop (Ft. Static Major)”
“Let The Beat Build”
Lil Wayne site
Scarlett Johansson-Anywhere I Lay My Head
Down in the Louisiana bayou, in a hazy fog of swamps and moonshine arises the beautiful Scarlett Johansson uttering the gospel according to Tom Waits. David Sitek captures the whole affair in Anywhere I Lay My Head. So full of atmosphere, Johansson’s husky vocals ghosting in and out of the fog, the experience is slightly ethereal and pretty drunk. Throw down your misconceptions and dive into the murky water.
“Town With No Cheer”
“Anywhere I Lay My Head”
“I Wish I Was In New Orleans”
Scarlett Johansson on Myspace
Secret Owl Society-Ghosts Of Children Past
Secret Owl Society has crafted an album of dreams. Entering Ghosts Of Children is like getting all your senses rewired; new smells, tastes, sights and sounds emerge. There is something terrifying at work here and only when you’ve fully committed does this become apparent. The dreams become a nightmare, but there is solace in despair. It is liberating to be swallowed whole.
“If Only They Could Turn Around”
Secret Owl Society on Myspace
Tinyfolk-Sic Semper Equis
OKAY, WE GET IT! TINYFOLK’S SIC SEMPER EQUIS IS AN AMAZING RECORD. SHUT UP ALREADY! So maybe you feel that way about my continued praises of Russ Woods’ postmodern hilariously melancholy landscape, Sic Semper Equis. I swear this is the last time I talk about this album. If you haven’t listened at this point, you might be dead, or one of those scared animals in the forest.
“If I Was A Person”
“Thus Always Horses”
“Animals Are Stupid”
Tinyfolk on Myspace
Vampire Weekend-Vampire Weekend
Unlike most of the records on this list, Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut is all kinds of fun. Seriously has there ever been a less pretentious album this year? Honestly these cats are enjoying themselves so much it’s infectious. Don’t be a hater just because they go to college and actually try and do something other than cock rock. Vampire Weekend is a breath of fresh air in the overindulgent, stiff and snobbish scene that exists today.
“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”
Vampire Weekend site
There is always one album that I find right as the year comes to a close that immediately finds its way into my heart. That album would be Wabash’s Glucose. Spiritual by nature and joyful in its longing, Glucose is loaded with all kinds of keyboards, organs and lo-fi piano sounds that culminate in a completely beautiful album. An uplifting experience into existential longing, Wabash’s Glucose is a refreshing and enthralling album from start to finish. You will believe.
Wabash on myspace
11-20 (In Alphabetical Order):
Adam Faucett-Show Me Magic, Show Me Out
This year the Arkansas troubadour manages to outdo his debut The Great Basking Shark with Show Me Magic, Show Me Out. I never really know quite what Faucett sings about, but I feel it and that is usually more important. With a voice that pierces the thickest of whiskey brews and fingers that won’t quit, Show Me Magic, Show Me Out displays everything great about Faucett’s abilities while at the same time increasing the mystery of what he’s really all about. Undoubtedly a timeless record to be sure.
“Poor Directions In Rabbits Blood”
“You Do It”
Adam Faucett on Myspace
A.R. Rahman (& M.I.A.)-Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack
A.R. Rahman’s score (with assistance from Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A.) of Danny Boyle’s magical Slumdog Millionaire is simply electric. Mixing more traditional Indian music with more modern techno sounds was simply genius. It never feels trite mixing sitars and beats together. The score perfectly reflects the kind of developing society portrayed in the film. World’s collide, ideals clash and music echoes in beautifully frantic harmony.
“Liquid Dance (ft. Palakkad Sriram & Madhumitha)”
Slumdog Millionaire site
Death Cab For Cutie-Narrow Stairs
There is a revitalized angst in Ben Gibbard’s voice. No longer is he resigned to death as he was on Plans. Here on Narrow Stairs he refuses to back down and Death Cab For Cutie come in with fightin’ words and clenched fists. Laying out the punches, the songs are dirty and confined, no longer is Chris Walla allowed to play in open pastures. Death Cab For Cutie have created some of their catchiest numbers yet on Narrow Stairs. This is what happens when someone lights a fire under your ass.
“Bixby Canyon Bridge”
“You Can Do Better Than Me”
Death Cab For Cutie site
Ross Major (Iamb)-Farewell (Dear Friends)
San Luis Obispo’s Ross Major used his impending move to UC Santa Cruz as a way to create Farewell, a shockingly tender and beautiful record. Regret, loss and longing are deftly handled here in a way that blows away Iamb’s earlier, if a bit overblown, album I’ll Stay Waiting. Farewell is definitely one of the best folk albums of the year, using the ghosts of the form’s rich history to shape a mythic story of his own, looking brightly (and bruised) into the future, whatever that may be.
“The Sea In San Diego”
“When The Plane Landed In Seattle, WA”
Ross Major (Iamb) on Myspace
Madeline Ava-Film And Lentils/In The Aeroplane Under The Sea
The first in my two-for-one top 20 album deal is Madeline Ava’s Film And Lentils and her cover album of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Under The Sea. Madeline’s voice is certainly the star of the show here (the ukulele strumming is kept to a delightful, but to a bare minimum). A slight rasp augmented by a girlish tone (she often giggles in her songs Lil Wayne style), Film And Lentils paints a sweet portrait of the life of a slightly normal girl in a day-to-day perspective. Her astonishing cover album of In The Aeroplane Under The Sea allows Madeline’s spirits to take flight.
“Tambourine In Time”
Madeline Ava on Myspace
Patrick Ripoll-Praise The Lord!/Spawning
Emotional provocateur Patrick Ripoll is more popular for his sampling wizardry, but I have always preferred his folk stylings and in 2008 he offered up two great albums, Praise The Lord! and Spawning. Like two schizophrenic brothers, both play off each other. Praise The Lord! is more diverse and scattered spanning as much time as it does tracks while Spawning focuses on one specific relationship and is minimal in execution. Both are unbelievably down to earth albums and complicate any notions of simple artist evolution. They are capsules of emotion, pockets of passion that we dig up with wonder.
“Another Fucking Titanic Song”
Patrick Ripoll on Myspace
Original review of Praise The Lord!
The Roots-Rising Down
In stark contrast to the rest of the hip-hop on my top 20, The Roots eighth studio album, Rising Down, is fierce, passionate and incendiary. Using dirty synths and horns that squelch and squeal, ?uestlove’s drums keep constant rhythms for Black Thought and friends to spit on. Everything from war, global warming, racism and human perceptions in a real and gritty world careen off each other to make one of the most openly political and refreshing hip hop albums in years.
“75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)”
“Criminal (Feat. Truck North and Saigon)”
“I Will Not Apologize (Feat. Porn and Dice Raw)”
The Roots site
T. I.-Paper Trail
T.I. doesn’t appear to be that special on first glance, but the hooks, the rhymes, they grow on you. He has that certain southern charm and on Paper Trail all these factors combine to make his most satisfying experience yet. His confidence here is tempered with a new sense of mortality that makes the claims of success all the more melancholy, but at the same time, all the more joyous. You can feel more than just the alcohol in the club with these songs.
“Live Your Life (Ft. Rihanna)”
“Whatever You Like”
“Swagga Like Us (Ft. Kanye West, Jay-Z & Lil Wayne)”
Various Artists-21 Love Songs - A Tribute To The Magnetic Fields
Organized by James Eric, this DIY tribute to the Magnetic Fields, 21 Love Songs, is what collectivity and family are all about. Artists ranging from Tinyfolk to Manipulator Alligator to Your Yellow Dress all offer diverse hilarious and melancholy renditions of Stephin Merritt’s tunes. All these new takes echo a great love of music and no matter how much of a fan you are of The Magnetic Fields or of these artists, it’s great to see a community so unified.
Abrevadero-“All My Little Words”
Manipulator Alligator-“living in an abandoned firehouse with you”
Your Yellow Dress-“Absolutely Cuckoo”
Download 21 Love Songs here on CLLCT
Wee Pop! Records’ Releases
Wee Pop has definitely carved out its own beautiful niche in the DIY scene and in 2008, its second year, rose to number one in my eyes as the best and most consistent label out there.
Every release by Wee Pop! Records this year was unique and redefined the very definition of what pop music means to us. Here are my three favorites of 2008:
Let’s Whisper-Make Me Smile
The sweetest most unpretentious little EP this year, Colin Cleary and Dana Kaplan of The Smittens took the melodies and lessons learned in that band and constructed something more minimal more tender and even more intimate. A true gem that makes me feel at home.
Let's Whisper on Myspace
Mexican Kids At Home-When We All Live In Igloos
I like my original description of Mexican Kids At Home, “A chibi Led Zeppelin” and my adoration of this little EP has grown since. The songs all carry a vibe of the mythic, but leave behind any grandiose or verbose renderings. It would as if Lord Of The Rings was adapted as a puppet show (maybe we should ask these guys). This EP is tons of fun.
"Start A One Man Band!"
Mexican Kids At Home site
-One Happy Island-Secret Party That The Other Party Doesn’t Know About
Boston’s finest sloppy pop band, One Happy Island Island’s second album on Wee Pop! Records is more fun, more catchy and more melancholy. The songs are more nuanced in their range of emotions and are more cathartic. They easily have found their way into my heart.
One Happy Island on Myspace
Wee Pop! Records
And there we go. These lists are exhausting, but worth it. Hope you all enjoy it.
I quick top ten I made for The Daily Nexus back in December
CLLCT to download a bunch of these albums for free!
Saturday, January 3, 2009
I use that headline to make a point about Sam Mendes’s new beautifully crafted film Revolutionary Road. It Stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as a couple who have fleeting moments of happiness, but mostly cannot find a way to satisfy their lost desires and dreams.
BUT The Wheelers have made it. April (Winslet) and Frank (DiCaprio) have the house with the white-picket fence and two kids. Frank works at a decent job he cannot stand and April is a fulltime housewife who had dreamed of being an actress. So what’s the problem?
Obviously if you were thinking that question you probably wouldn’t sympathize with April and Frank when they talking about wanting to feel alive and special. Or you won’t sympathize with each character when they start cheating or when April declares that she is trapped or when Frank says he doesn't want to end up like his father.
April is selfish, immature and aggressive. Frank is passive-aggressive, a coward and a smooth-talker. It was a match made in heaven and at times it becomes difficult to watch these two simmer and explode.
However Winslet and DiCaprio make Revolutionary Road and I couldn’t keep my eyes off their wonderful performances. And even though I had a problem with the wordiness of Justin Haythe’s script Winslet turns those overly intellectual speeches into pieces of terrifying venom and despair while DiCaprio turns those 50s misogynistic lines of power into spineless weapons of hope.
Through all the ugliness seething in Revolutionary Road emerges a wonderful, if a bit clunky, film. Michael Shannon as an electroshocked son of The Wheeler’s friends says most pointedly to them, “Plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”
I think we care about April and Frank because more often than not, we see it too.
Revolutionary Road on IMDB
Friday, January 2, 2009
What a movie.
I haven’t followed David Fincher’s work as much as I’d like (although check out the magical assembly cut of Alien 3). I basically got a lot of shit for not seeing Fight Club freshman year of college.
So I was slightly apathetic when I first heard of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button even thought my peers sang praises for Zodiac. However, I have always respected Brad Pitt and I often fall in love with Cate Blanchett so I was excited to see their performances.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is about (in case you haven’t heard by now) a man who is born looking like an old man and ages backward through several eras. As someone said he is a man of his condition and Benjamin touches lives and sees history literally happening right before him.
Before this film was released those who had seen it were hailing it a masterpiece, but as I sit today, critics are as sharply divided as my friends. Roger Ebert had a heart attack at the very premise whereas Sasha Stone from Awards Daily is in love with it. Most average moviegoers call it a masterpiece whereas film majors and filmmakers call it essentially a Forrest Gump rip-off (Eric Roth wrote both screenplays). So how do I feel?
It’s a beautiful movie and if you don’t have respect for Brad Pitt after this film than I think you have lost your way. He is simply electric, transformative and when he finally comes of age it takes your breath away.
Cate Blanchett is no slouch either. Although I love her more in other films, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is just as much about her as it is about Pitt. Daisy is a normal girl who meets this strange man and falls in love with him, but it isn’t that easy. I think it’s unfair to think of her as shallow, what would you do if you met Benjamin Button?
Ultimately how I feel about this film is more important than any kind of logic. Is it a masterpiece? No. Will it win best picture at the Oscars? It’s a possibility. Will it stick with me? Yes. There is something so irrevocably sad about The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and this man’s life through history. I’m more inclined to cherish those I love and I’m grateful for that enlightenment more than anything.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button on IMDB
Awards Daily for all your movie needs
Roger Ebert's slightly curious review
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Independent film director Kelly Reichardt is telling a simple story in Wendy And Lucy with deep implications.
A girl named Wendy (played with graceful complexity by Michelle Williams) is on the road in hopes of getting a good job up in Alaska. She brings her dog Lucy with her on the journey filled with nights sleeping in her car and refreshing in gas station bathrooms. However through a series of events and a broken-down car, Lucy goes missing and Wendy must use her wits and what little cash she has to get her back.
The film is so beautifully minimal it almost takes your breath away how bare and real everything feels. Reichardt said in an interview that they didn’t have money to close locations like big Hollywood films so the environments they were filming in did have a whirling sense of spontaneity and truth.
The film’s political subtext about economic hard times hits most poignantly when Wendy, asking to make change for a payphone, is offered a chance to use a security guard's cellphone while he says, “No one uses a payphone anymore.” Harsh words for a girl stuck in dire straits.
Wendy And Lucy is ultimately about the interaction between strangers and as Wendy makes her way in this small town, Reichardt and writing partner Jonathon Raymond explore all the subtle details to how we treat those fleeting bodies around us and how we deal with them once one makes contact.
A beautifully minimal movie, Wendy And Lucy hits harder than you think and Michelle Williams lucid and striking performance cements this as definitely the best independent movie this year proving you don’t need big bucks or special effects to strike a chord or lay reality bare.
Wendy And Lucy on IMDB