This list was even harder to come up with than the best albums. (Speaking of which, I’m still kicking myself for one ommission from that list: Day & Age by the Killers. It’s brilliant and definitely deserves to be on that list. But thems the breaks when you try to break an AMAZING year in music down to 5 albums and 5 singles.)
At any rate, I’ve been agonizing over this for the past few days, so it’s time to just rip the bandaid off and get it over with. So here they are, the best singles of 2008:
5.) The Last of the Shadow Puppets, “The Age of the Understatement”:
4.) The Killers, “Spaceman”
3.) Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, “Magick”:
2.) Sigur Rós, “Gobbledigook” (video is NSFW):
1.) The Cure, “The Only One”:
The Cure – The Only One – The Cure
Well, it’s that time of the year folks. Snow is on the ground and lists are in the air. And not one to miss out on a good excuse for a list, this week’s Tuesday Playlist will be usurped instead by my picks for best album of the year. Two notes before we begin, though:
1.) So I take it from the resounding silence on Friday that no one who reads this blog is interested in playing the Friday Five Quiz Game. (Save for Ann. Thanks, Ann!) I dig. If anyone’s still curious, the answer was that all the bands had had a member die while the band was active.
2.) As my friend Mike reminded me, the new album by Jubilee is supposed to be out sometime before the end of the year. Now that I’ve been reminded of that, I do remember reading that somewhere, but now I can’t find any info on a hard release date.
So with those notes out of the way, on to the list. There was some pretty stiff competition this year, and a lot of records that would have been clear choices other years just didn’t quite make the cut. Below are my choices for the best albums of 2008. As always, feel free to tell me in the comments just how wrong I am.
Fifty-Two Tuesday’s Best Albums of 2008
5.) Yael Naim, Yael Naïm
With a history-making single, “New Soul”, and an album to match, Israeli pop songstress Yael Naïm exploded onto the American scene earlier this year. The album is a trilingual pop masterpiece that makes me sincerely hope that we’ll be hearing more from Ms. Naïm in the future. If for no other reason than I’d love to have a few more catchy Pop singles like the bopping, upbeat “New Soul”. Seriously, go listen to it a few times. That is what a pop single is meant to be.
4.) The Shondes, The Red Sea
For as much as I’ve squeed about this album the past year, you’d think this was my number one album of all time at all, ever. Really, it’s just a damn fine album of solid rock music that’s novel and interesting besides. What makes it even more amazing is that it’s a self-released album by a comparatively obscure bunch of rock mavens. I honestly think that it’s not only one of the best albums of the year, but also one of the most important. The Shondes are playing with genre, message, and composition in ways that other bands lately just aren’t.
3.) The Cure, 4:13 Dream
Simply put, this album was a tidy, well-produced encapsulation of everything I’ve ever liked about the Cure. Slick, guitar-driven New Wave, heavy with quippy little hooks and dark, dream-like lyrics. Well-crafted songs, clean production, and Robert Smith and company in top form. What more can one ask for, really?
2.) Portishead, Third
Normally when we say that a band’s new album was “worth the wait”, we’re not talking about a wait of a decade. That is, of course, unless we’re talking about Portishead’s highly anticipated third album, the aptly named, Third. This album is not only the best that this year in Synth Pop had to offer, it’s good enough that it may well set the bar for the genre for a few years to come. Rumor has it Portishead are already hard at work on the next album (working title: Fourth ?), so our grandchildren will have that to look forward to.
1.) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
On the surface, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ fourteenth studio album is full of exactly the sort of crunchy, noisy, dark rock that we’ve come to expect from them after all these years. But dig deeper (no pun intended) and there’s also some pretty clever images and some pretty powerful recurrent themes. It displays the sort of deep symbolism and insightful commentary that common opinion tells us doesn’t exist in modern music. It marries form and substance into a package which, aside from being great rock music, is excellent art.
Video: The music video for the title track off of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!.
Chris Walla, Field Manual
Okay, so apparently I was the only person in the world who liked this album? I thought it was both well-conceived and well-executed, but other reviewers seem to be sort of tepid at best about it. Admittedly it hasn’t grown on me much, but I thought it had a lot of good tracks and really wanted only for cohesion. I mean, hell, it deserves a spot on this list if only for the fact that it contains some of the first politically-oriented music I’ve heard in ages that didn’t make me want to reach through my stereo and punch whoever was singing it.
The Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely
If anyone ever asks me to defend my assertion that The Raconteurs are one of the best narrative bands in modern music, (second, I think, only to Nick Cave) I’ll point them to two songs: “The Switch and the Spur” and “Carolina Drama”. Admittedly, the former isn’t really a coherent story so much as a brilliantly drawn-out snapshot scene from one, but they’re both exactly the sort of evocative, rocking tunes that make the band both great musicians and great storytellers. To be honest, I kind of hope that they’re next album is a rock opera. Yeah, you heard me. I said that I’d welcome news a Raconteurs rock opera. So there.
Intro: Well, it’s election Tuesday, and that means that I’ve got a television and a six pack of Sam Adams waiting for me. I figured I should probably throw my column together before I sat down to survey the political damage. I also figured that I should steer clear of anything political in case anyone out there wants to stare at some non-election-related for a few minutes.
So here it is, your election-news-free Tuesday Playlist.
Listening: Okay, have you ever liked a Cure song? In your entire life? Do you think “Lovesong” was kind of awesome, or maybe think that “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” is sort of catchy? Maybe, like me, you have a fondness for “10:15 Saturday Night” because it’s a fairly accurate picture of your social life? If so, then drop what you are doing and go get a copy of the new Cure album. It’s called Dream 4:13 and I honestly don’t think that Robert Smith & Co. have done an album this great since 1989′s Disintegration. It’s exactly the sort of dark, melodic New Wave goodness that have made the Cure one of the best bands of the past few decades.
I mean, I’d go on and on about the tracks off of the album to which I’m addicted and which are being spun on constant repeat but, well, that’s pretty much all of them. I mean, hell, “The Only One” was released as a single back in May and I’m still totally smitten with it. It’s full of the sort of catchy musical quips that make the Cure so effortlessly listenable and enjoyable. “The Reasons Why” is a perfect example of exactly the sort of hook-laden, spacey New Wave pop that made most of us fall in love with the Cure in the first place.
Also quite excellent is the the new album Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cardinology. My friend Trevor aptly described it as the upbeat version of Cold Roses. I haven’t gotten too much of a chance to listen to it thanks to the new Cure album taking up near permanent residence in my stereo, but it’s definitely Ryan Adams’ rich, well-crafted rock music, but with a more upbeat aesthetic than a lot of his previous albums. I’m especially a fan of “Magick” and “Born Into a Light”.
Upcoming: Election day this year will sees the release of new material from Shiny Toy Guns, OhGr, and Travis, among others. In the following weeks look for full lengh albums from Chris Cornell, Mudvayne, Nickelback, Beyonce, Sammy Hagar, and even a new project by Sir Paul McCarney, called the Fireman.
Thinking: Of late I’ve mostly been devoting mental run cycles to either work or thesis, so no deep, insightful thoughts regarding music. So here’s a video of Bjork explaining how a TV works. Hat tip on that one to Ann.
News: You’ve all seen these literally-lyric-ed music videos, right? If not, then watch them immediately. The one for “Take On Me” is brilliant, as is the newest one, for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”:
Okay, so not really news, but, uh, brilliant. And new, at least to me. . . .
Right, in REAL news: Snoop Dogg has apparently figured out that he needs decent musicians to prop him up these days and has collaborated on a track with UK Trip-Hoppers Massive Attack. If you’re undecided even at this late hour but still have the chance to vote, you might want to consider that Akon has announced he’ll leave the US if McCain wins. So, you know, not saying that on its own is enough to vote McCain, but it certainly does give one something to think about. Finally, Noel Gallagher announces that he’s already written the next Oasis album and that it’ll sound like the Kinks.
Song of the Week: Here’s another of the singles off of the new Cure album. It’s called “Freakshow” and I find it to be all kinds of groovy.
Intro: Well, fall is in the air, the rock shows are moving inside, and the hipsters are trying to decide which kafia best compliments their boxframe glasses. It also means, unfortunately, that I was well due for my semiannual illness, hence my missing last week’s column. Again, my apologies for that.
Listening: Fall for me also means digging out old albums that I haven’t listened to in awhile. Whether this is because fall makes me nostalgic or because the record companies are hoarding all their promising releases until Fat Sacks of Money DayChristmas is probably even odds.
Most recently, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the two Loudermilk full-length albums. Now, I will fully admit that I like the Loudermilk albums more than they deserve. Man with Gun Kills Three and The Red Record are great albums. But for me, they’re both the sort of albums that I could only in good conscience give a 10 to if we were talking about a 5-point scale. The Red Record in particular is one of the best rock albums I’ve ever heard. That the first rock show I ever went to was a Loudermilk show, or that I spent most of my formative years desperately wanting to be Mark Watrous probably has nothing to do with it.
Another such disk is an EP by a Portland-based band called PDeX, which has been soundtracking my drive to and from work the past couple days. I’m actually working on a post/review/essay thing about that EP, so I’ll say no more about it for now, other than that it’s another fine example of music from the halcyon days of my youth.
On a more modern note, I became one of the last people in the world to acquire a copy of Carnavas by Silversun Pickups. It’s awesome. The single off of it, “Lazy Eye”, is pretty representative of the album both stylistically and quality-wise. So basically my review is this – listen to the below and if you think you’d like that plus 10 more tracks kinda like it, well, then you should probably grab Carnavas:
Upcoming: New albums out today by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, The Cure, and Kaiser Chiefs. Next week sees the release of new material from Sarah Brightman and Travis, as well as the US release of the entire Stereophonics back catalog.
Thinking: Honestly, I’ve been a little too busy to do much music-related thinking of late. Most of my mental energy has been work- and/or thesis-oriented the past couple of weeks. That being said, I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with my friend Becky about certain similarities between art (particularly music) and religion (particularly sacraments). Now, it bears mentioning that I go back on forth on why, exactly, we make music and what it is we’re doing when we listen to it. I do, however, think that at some level it’s about communicating important parts of the human experience which can’t be relayed any other way. I mean, I could tell someone what Leonard Cohen meant by the lyrics in “Hallelujah”, that would, in a way, totally be missing the point of the song. If I really wanted to communicate to someone what the song was all about, I think I’d have no other recourse than to just sit them down and play it for them.
And in this communicative aspect, I think, lies the core of the sacramental nature of music: in listening to music, we’re recipients of a message which transcends words. It’s a level of communication which is entirely beyond normal verbal transactions. At the moment, I’m pretty sure that that’s why we listen to music. Each song is a message that cuts deeper than language, right to some deep and important structure of what it means to be human.
News: Island Records is turning 50. Which in some circles is synonymous with saying that music itself is now a half-century old. Island’s been responsible for a large portion of the good things to happen to the music industry in the past 50 years (though on the downside they’re also responsible for U2). I mean, everyone from Led Zeppelin to Tom Waits released on Island at one point or another. So, from Fifty-Two Tuesdays, happy birthday, Island! I sincerely hope I’ll get to say the same in another 50 years.
In sadder news, Levi Stubbs, the lead singer of the Four Tops, died awhile ago. If anyone ever wonders what Motown was about, they need look no further than Stubbs and company. Here’s perhaps the defining tune of the whole Motown phenonemon, “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops.
Rest in Peace.
Song of the Week: But on a happier note, what do you get when you combine Gosling (formerly Loudermilk) and David Bowie? Pure, uncut awesome, that’s what. Here they are doing “Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)”, originally by David Bowie:
Well, I’m off to see The Mathematicians at the Empyrean. But before I scamper off . . .
Five Covers That I Like More Than the Original:
The Killers, “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself?” (Morrissey cover)
Nirvana, “The Man Who Sold the World” (David Bowie cover)
Johnny Cash, “Hurt” (Nine Inch Nails cover)
Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower” (Bob Dylan cover)
The Cure, “Creep” (Radiohead cover)
Hey folks. First off, I’m sorry there was no Tuesday Playlist this week. I kept meaning to get to it and suddenly it was Friday.
First off, good news has arrived via my good friend Ann that reports of the imminent death of Pandora and other internet radio stations may not be so emminent! Needless to say, I think this is a Good Thing. Not only for music fans (I listen to Pandora between 6 and 8 hours a day most days), but also for the music industry. (I’ve bought at least a dozen albums based purely on the strength of tracks I’ve heard on Pandora and other internet radio stations. And I don’t think that I’m atypical in that respect.)
Unfortunately, no all is well in the world of music. Turns out that an Australian “artist” claims to have Kurt Cobains stolen ashes and intends to smoke them as part of a performance art piece. All I will say is, it turns out that my rage can go all the way to 11.
…No, fuck it. I’m sorry, that’s not all I will say. If what this woman says is true, she has received the ashes of a dead man which were stolen from his widow’s home. She intends to desecrate those ashes by smoking them. This woman is a ghoul, pure and simple. Any creature who would show so little respect for a fellow human being, and a dead one at that, is not worthy of the basic dignity that they’re denying a fellow human being. That this woman would disrespect Kurt Cobain for the sake of publicity disgusts me on a visceral level.
She is not “setting him free”. It is not magic. It is a vile form of disrespect. And while I am not a violent man, it makes me understand why some cultures rank desecrating the dead along side murder when doling out punishments. This woman, who apparently has no prior relation to Cobain, is using the death of a troubled man for personal gain.
In my book, that doesn’t make her an artist. It makes her a monster.
On a lighter note: Melissa McEwan wins the internet.
And now, five songs with awesome guitar hooks:
Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Sonic Youth, “Incinerate”
Gosling, “One Hand, Two Hand”
The Cure, “Alt.End”
David Bowie, “The Man Who Sold The World”
Intro: Well, folks, unfortunately going to be a short one tonight. Work, as always, has me slammed and since I’m working with clients in the Eastern time zone, it means an early morning tomorrow. So here’s a condensed Playlist for you which will have to tide you over until next week or until things calm down enough that I can post a little more frequently.
Listening: The past month or so I’ve really just been listening to old favorites. I think that after almost a year of buying and listening heavily to a new album every week I was kind of craving some of the classics. This week it’s mainly been Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia by the Dandy Warhols and a selection of my favorite Cure tracks/albums.
First off, I really have to say that Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia is the most underrated albums of the past decade. I honestly think that it’s musically and satirically brilliant. The opener “Godless” to the closer “The Gospel” and peaking with the much-loved single “Bohemian Like You” it really is a masterful sendup of turn-of-the-millennium hipster culture and modern society as a whole. Add to that that it’s full of absolutely masterful rock tunes and you have one of the best rock albums of the new millennium.
Secondly, the Cure. Top 5 Cure tunes. Anyone want to play? Mine are as follows:
1.) “Lovesong” (This is as much because I associate it with someone very special as anything else, but it is a brilliant tune.)
2.) “Grinding Halt” (The Cure do Punk back when Punk was still important? Yes, please!)
3.) “alt.end” (“There’s a big, bright, beautiful world/Just the other side of the door.” Yeah, I think we can all relate sometimes.)
4.) “The Lovecats” (Maybe I’m just weird like that, but I kind of want this song played at my wedding.)
5.) “Killing an Arab” (The Cure riff on Camus; what’s not to like?)
Upcoming: Haven’t really seen anything exciting coming up. I have, however, heard great things about the Hold Steady, so I may need to grab the album they released last week. Also, I’m still loving Beck’s latest and I’m planning to review it as soon as I get a chance.
Oh, and then there’s the new Paul Westerberg album. I’ve never been a huge Replacements or Paul Westerberg fan (pardon me while I dodge brickbats from the audience), personally, but it’s there if you’re into that kind of thing.
News: The new Paul Westerberg (late of the Replacements) album that I mentioned above is for sale through Amazon for only $.49. That’s right, less than half a dollar. The whole thing’s a bit gimmicky: a single-track album, called 49:00, for sale for $.49, on July 19th (or as the calender-impaired Westerberg claims: June 49th). Inexplicably, Mr. Westerberg shies at the last gate: the monotractual (it’s a word now!) album clocks in at just 43:55.
Thinking: Why is everyone surprised that John Lydon’s been implicated in a racist dust-up? This is a man who, along with Sid Vicious and co., defined the public shock-persona. At this point, it doesn’t matter whether John Lydon is or isn’t racist; people are scandalized that Johnny Rotten might be. And really, that’s what matters, I think, as far as Lydon/Rotten is concerned.
Song of the Week: Here’s The Cure’s “Grinding Halt” (off their 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys) accompanied by an awesome stop-motion video done by youtube user badhill:
One band that I’m particularly excited about is The Cure, who are headlining Sunday night’s show. They’ve got talent and experience and I’ve been a huge fan of their music for years. They’re touring in support of their upcoming 13th studio album. Here they are playing “Alt.End” off of their self-titled 2004 release:
And, as an added bonus, here’s “The Only One”, the first single off of their (as yet unnamed) upcoming album:
So Cure and R.E.M as headliners? Awesome. A few other good bands in there as well. But how sweet would it be to get to see the Kinks? I didn’t even know those guys were still alive! I mean, shit, they were old in the early 70s.
As proof, here they are performing “Lola” in 1970: