Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The inaugural shaking of my shimmy, with my top 10 of 2008 (and then some!)

Howdy. I am the aforementioned Georgy, hailing from the crispy climes of Boston, Mass., where I can be found alternately freelancing for the local alt-weekly, writing about one of the top universities in the area, running or eating cookies. So, what exactly am I doing here? Well, every year, on my personal blog, I create a list of my top 10 albums of the year, with various additional categories and rankings if I am so inclined. When this here blog got started, I asked its humble proprietor -- whom I met via my blog service on a mutual friend's blog -- if I could sully its pages with my ramblings. For some reason, he agreed. So, without further ado, here are my musical picks, pans, scans and other assorted leftovers from 2008. Enjoy!

1) Nada Surf - Lucky
These guys aren't showy. They aren't pushing new boundaries. Sometimes I wince at some of their more unpoetic lyrical offerings. But you know what? Their songs are genuine. They're catchy, not in a vapid way, but in a crawl-under-your-skin-and-stay-a-while way. These guys fly just under the radar, far removed from "Popular," turning out gem after gem and I get to sit back and enjoy it all. Works for me. Plus, the video for "Whose Authority" features older Pete from "The Adventures of Pete and Pete." That makes a winner in my book.

2) Cloud Cult - Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)
I had heard a random Cloud Cult song here and there in the past ("Take Your Medicine" stood out the most), and while it was enjoyable, I wasn't compelled to run out and buy up their catalog. Then I heard "The Ghost Inside Our House," which encapsulated what I would come to learn and love about Cloud Cult -- they are not afraid to be unabashedly in love, vulnerable, fragile, honest, emotive, devoted. Package that with lush, creative songcraft and you have an album I could not extract from my stereo this year. Finding a band with zero pretense, emotionally or musically, is a treat.

3) Bob Mould - District Line
I've been a Bob Mould fan for a long time -- even saw him solo live last fall -- and this album was not a letdown. From the electronica-tinged "Stupid Now" to the beautiful ballad "Old Highs, New Lows" to the straight-up rocker "The Silence Between Us," Mould never ceases exploring his musical boundaries, expanding his sound to new dimensions and exposing us to his most intimate thoughts and feelings. We should feel privileged.

4) Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious
Though I am doomed to never see him live, this album will keep be satisfied for a while to come. While the first half is stronger than the second half -- with amazing entries like the emphatic Iraq War response "Fort Hood," the funky "Put it Down" and the self-affirming love song "I Wrote a Song About Your Car" -- it's still overall another strong effort in his solo catalogue.

5) Fleet Foxes - s/t
For the record, I like to think I got in *slightly* ahead of the curve with these guys. I discovered "White Winter Hymnal" and was pretty much haunted from that point on. That's pretty much the only word to describe it. It's hard to say whether these songs warm me like a fever or a fire, cool me like a breeze or a chill. Somehow, they do it all. They are, simply put, pervasive in their beauty.

6) Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride
John Darnielle can do no wrong. The songs here are intelligent, affecting, gut-baring and musically compelling, which is par for the course when it comes to the Goats, but each time they get crisper without getting slicker, tighter without wringing the feeling out of them. It's a careful balance, and Darnielle's come a long way from his lo-fi days, but he keeps on keepin' on, and we are the richer for it.

7) Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
I don't even remember where I first heard these guys -- some MP3 blog, in all likelihood -- and I was literally blown away. I love me some Scottish rock -- particularly the sneering vocals -- but I was pleasantly taken aback by the blunt, in-your-face quality of the songs. "It takes more than fucking someone you don't know to keep warm"? "You're the shit and I'm knee deep in it"? Who WRITES lyrics like that? More to the point, why don't more people write lyrics like that?

8) Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
This was also a grower -- I loved "Plans" so much, I was skeptical this could even match that in quality -- but I soon became quite enamored. From the romp "No Sunlight" to the more pensive "Bixby Canyon Bridge," Death Cab may be driving the same car, but they continue to grow more confident behind the wheel. The songs didn't affect me as personally as the ones on "Plans" did, but I can feel the growth on this album. I have a feeling, though, that they need to shake things up soon, lest they grow complacent.

9) Elbow - The Seldom-Seen Kid
I heard an advance of Elbow's first album at a party many years ago and fell in love. We grew apart with their intervening releases, but after hearing the song "Starlings" off of this album, we were back on. Now I need to go back and see what I missed. This album has a little bit of everything -- world-weary blues, indie rock attitude, orchestral glory (see "Starlings"). It's quite an accomplishment and a pleasant rediscovery of a once-loved band.

10) We Are Scientists - Brain Thrust Mastery
I was a huge fan of "with Love and Squalor," and while this album was slightly more of a grower for me, it's become a frequent presence in my stereo. The rollicking barhop anthem "After Hours" is just the capper to a sophisticated, well-crafted, enjoyable rock album. There's not a lot of frills or scene here, just some solid pop hooks and killer licks. What more do you need?

Bonus, Since It's a Live Album

Girlyman - Somewhere Different
Now, Girlyman is my great folk indulgence, and I am happily addicted to their three-part harmonies and heartfelt songwriting. But the highlight of the Girlyman experience is their exceptional live show, made special not only by their music but their incredible stage banter. It's high quality stuff, and they did not shrink from including a healthy amount of it on their first live CD. We also get great live versions of unreleased tracks like "Everything's Easy" and "Storms Were Mine," as well as covers of "All Through the Night," "Angel of the Morning" and Girlyman's classic version of "Son of a Preacher Man."

Honorable Mentions

Vampire Weekend - s/t
Catchy and fun as all hell, but I have doubts about how it will age. Get wasted while you can, I guess.
She and Him - Volume One
A true delight. These songs are a fun throwback, but she distinctly owns them. Zooey Deschanel i's not pretending to be something she isn't -- this is who she is.

Watson Twins - Fire Songs
This was one of my favorite surprises of the year, a near-miss from the top 10. If you loved "Rabbit Fur Coat," you'll dig this. Pick up their earlier "Southern Manners," too.

Mike Viola - Lurch (EDIT: This was on my list, but apparently it's technically a 2007 release. Kept here for continuity's sake, since I've posted this list elsewhere.)
It's Mike Viola, what's not to love? We know exactly what to expect -- wry, catchy, clever songs about life and love -- but he is among the best in the game. Perhaps THE master of the medium. Look forward to the collaboration with Mandy Moore (!) in '09!

Santogold - s/t
Yeah, yeah, you'd love me if I put out remixes with Diplo, too.

R.E.M. - Accelerate
Another nice surprise. A better effort than "Around the Sun," and while it didn't blow my mind, I've come to terms with the fact that R.E.M. and I are past that point in our relationship.

Aimee Mann - @#%&*! Smilers
Ms. Mann is lovely, as always, though my one hope is that I don't identify with "Thirty-One Today" when I reach that age in, uh, less than two years.

Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down - We Brave Bee Stings and All
Another fun discovery this year, who I had the pleasure to see live. These songs are head-boppingly fun, but they're not fluff -- sort of an earthy whimsy

Freedy Johnston - My Favorite Waste of Time
One of my favorite underrated singer-songwriters released a great covers album this year, complete with a fun version of Matthew Sweet's "I've Been Waiting." You can't go wrong.

Mates of State - Rearrange Us
At one point this year, I looked at my CD shelves and remarked, "Why on earth do I own five Mates of State albums?" This album reminded me why. A thoroughly enjoyable listen.

Certificate of Participation

Islands - Arm's Way
Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Pershing

Biggest Disappointments

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
It's a great album, don't get me wrong. I'm probably not being fair to it since I was so madly in love with "Boys and Girls in America." But, hey, I never said this list wasn't subjective or cruel.

Radiohead - In Rainbows (EDIT: This was on my list, but apparently it's technically a 2007 release. Kept here for continuity's sake, since I've posted this list elsewhere.)
I admit needing to give this more time, but I'll chalk up this ranking for the time being to an irrational predisposition to unfairly measure MP3-only albums (which "In Rainbows" was when I bought it -- I was quite annoyed when it came out on CD a few months later).

Crystal Castles - s/t
"Vanished" blew my mind, but the rest was just OK.

Best Albums I Didn't Hear…

Hello Saferide - More Modern Short Stories From...
Glen Phillips - Reveals Secrets of the New Explorers / Plover / Remote Tree Children
Crooked Fingers - Forfeit/Fortune
Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby – s/t
Los Campesinos - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
School of Seven Bells - Alpinisms
Lucksmiths - First Frost
Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line
Q Tip - The Renaissance
David Byrne and Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

…Or Hear Enough Of (the Underlistened)
Girl Talk - Feed the Animals
The Major Labels - Aquavia
The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing
Tokyo Police Club – Elephant Shell
Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – Angles
Martha Wainwright - I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too
They Might Be Giants - The Else (also apparently 2007)
Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping

Special "I'm Still Waiting for the US Release" Entry

Winterkids - Memoirs

Best Albums of 2009 (in no order)

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
A.C. Newman - Get Guilty
Beirut - March of the Zapotec
The Decemberists - Hazards of Love
M. Ward - Hold Time
Midlake - Courage of Others
New Pornographers
The Postal Service
Mike Viola/Mandy Moore


Anonymous said...

take another listen to the crystal castles album. you're missing out on crimewave, courtship, untrust us, good time. it tops my year end list without contest.

Zak Champagne said...

nice job! But I'm not sure any of use will ever here another Postal Service record. That record is becoming the new "Chinese Democracy."