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, happy post-Labor Day. I hope my readers one and all enjoyed their holiday weekend. I had a fairly ironic Labor Day (spent it working). Tonight will be a short column for two reasons. 1.) I have early meetings tomorrow. 2.) I have A Super Secret Special Interview to edit for tomorrow. So enjoy the shortish column for tonight and tune in tomorrow for the first ever Fifty Two Tuesdays Interview.
Listening: Been on a Raconteurs kick lately, broken only by the occasional listen-through of The Wallflower’s Breach. (My friend Trevor’d never heard the album, so I introduced him to it on our way out to Seattle last week and a few of the tunes have been stuck in my head ever since.)
Two preference questions for the audience: Broken Boy Soldiers or Consolers of the Lonely? Breach or Red Letter Days? Personally, I think that Consolers of the Lonely is the better overall album. It’s more cohesive, better written, and more musicall mature. That being said, Broken Boy Soldiers DID have “Steady, As She Goes” and “Hands”. On the Wallflowers side, I think that Breach takes the cake. It’s a much more expressive album, and Jakob Dylan’s songwriting and vocals are best when they’re emotive. Red Letter Days has some groovy tunes on it, but I think it lacks the emotional punch of Breach.
Upcoming: New albums out today from Jefferson Starship, Olivia Newton John & Friends, and New Kids on the Block, making it a perfect “wait, they’re still around?” trifecta. (I’ll leave to the audience any snarky observations of irony regarding a band called “New Kids on the Block” coming back after 14 years to release and album called The Block.)
Next week new albums from…Well, just about everyone, really. Michael Franti, Calexico, Joan Baez, Gym Class Heroes, LL Cool J, Jessica Simpson, Okkervil River, Dar Williams, Metallica, Joan Osbourne,…
Thinking: …no, wait. I’m sorry, I just can’t leave a reference to Metallica’s new album to slide casually by.
PLEASE stop making albums. Every time you release a new album, it only serves to remind people that you used to be influential, energetic, and listenable. St. Anger was an album too far. I mean, I wasn’t even that big a fan of ReLoad, but okay, fine, I was willing to give you one last go after such an illustrious career. But seriously, guys, you’re becoming the Bono of metal music. When was the last time anyone gave a rat’s ass about what Bono was doing musically? If you said “right around the last time he took off those ugly ass shades of his”, you’d be perfectly right. You’re becoming That Guy of the hard rock scene! (Except that, you know, there’s four of you.)
Now, I was a fan of Load, and your self-titled, and some of the early stuff. I even like some of the covers you did on Garage, Inc. But the most influential thing you’ve done in the past decade was to sue Napster and we still haven’t forgiven you for it.
C’mon guys, it’s time to hang up the recording equipment. You can still tour, still play in the garage of any of the four dozen mansions that you have amongst the lot of you, but we really don’t need to hear it. St. Anger was bad enough, anything else is sure to just damage the memory of what was, ultimately, a good an important career in modern music.
A. M. Brown
Thanks, had to get that off my chest.
News: Rock stars are strange, strange people. A short sampling: Axl Rose is creepy, dirty old man, despite being chronologically younger than I thought. Pete Doherty gets his (apparent) wish and dies, only to have some meddling paramedics intervene. Jack Black is a strong contender for “Most Boring Addict In History“. And Amy Winehouse has another mind-altering influence in her life.
Song of the Week: The Wallflowers, “Letters from the Wasteland”, off of Breach.
Intro: Probably another short one this week. Work continues to be mad-crazy, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Whether it’s the other end or a train is both undetermined and largely immaterial; either way, it means not having to debug serial communications code anymore.
Listening: This week’s been work-intensive, which means that I’ve spent most of my concious hours tuned in to Pandora. The three stations that have been getting the most airtime this week have been my California Punk station (Bad Religion + The Dead Kennedys + The Vandals + Social Distortion + Black Flag), my Industrial station (Nine Inch Nails + Orgy), and a random station I put together out of bands that I just had a hankering to listen to. (The Raconteurs, The Rakes, The Flaming Lips, and Echo & the Bunnymen). Needless to say, that last station’s a bit of a head trip.
Upcoming: Wait, you mean they’re STILL making MORE music? I can barely keep up with the stuff that was new a month ago much less anything that’s still coming out. Only thing I’m looking forward to music-wise at the moment is hitting up the Ryan Adams/Oasis show later this month with my buddy Trevor.
News: Well, the news from the UK is that the Mercury Award Nominees have been announced. No surprises there except that…wait. Wait a minute. There’s been a mistake. The new Portishead album isn’t on the list. That has to have been an oversight. I mean, admittedly, I haven’t heard all the albums on the list, (though there are one or two on there that I’ve been meaning to grab), but how can Third not be among the nominees. It’s BRILLIANCE! Dark, groovy, barely-sensical brilliance!
I expect this heinous act of nominatory (it’s a word now!) incompetence to be rectified shortly.
Thinking: I sure do blog a lot about British music, don’t I? I mean, maybe there are certain elements of the British musical aesthetic that just mesh nicely with my own, but if you figure out “FTT blog space per capita”, I’m pretty sure it’s probably way skewed towards stuff from the UK. Interesting, that. I mean, I’m a fairly unapologetic Anglophile in a lot of ways, but it never occurred to me that my ear might be biased in that direction. Definitely something that bears further consideration.
Song of the Week: Apologies for the short columns two weeks running. The work craziness will be sorted out soon. In the meantime, here are the Raconteurs doing “Steady As She Goes” off Broken Boy Soldiers:
Artist: The Raconteurs
Album: Consolers of the Lonely
Label: Warner Bros. / Third Man Records
Release Date: Tuesday, 2008.3.25
For some reason, I’ve always been a bit suspicious of the Raconteurs. Why? I’m not exactly sure. But when Broken Boy Soldiers came out a couple years ago, I passed it up. I distinctly remember thinking “Jack White, a couple of the guys from the Greenhornes, and that Brendan Benson fellow? That’s what passes for a ‘supergroup’ these days?” Which isn’t necessarily a knock against any of those artists, but I couldn’t imagine how they could band together to create music that I’d care to listen to.
Let me just say that I was wrong, and I will be grabbing Broken Boy Soldiers at the earliest opportunity. If Consolers of the Lonely is any indication of the Raconteurs’ talent for songcraft, Broken Boy Soldiers should be a smart musical investment. Consolers has dispelled every doubt I have that White & Co. are not only all fantastic musicians, but also work well together to create groovy, fun alt rock.
This is most evident in tunes like the energetic alt-rock anthem “Salute Your Solution”, which features tight guitar hooks and growling bass lines. White’s aggressive vocals and the noisy solo guitar work complete the feel of a repeat-friendly rock tune. The song undoubtedly shows that the gamble of the diverse talents and styles of the Raconteurs’ members can definitely pay off.
True to their name, however, the Raconteurs really seem to be at their best when they’re telling a story. Two excellent examples of this are “The Switch and the Spurs” and “Carolina Drama”. “The Switch and the Spurs” is a surreal vignette about a fugitive in the desert. Bright, blaring trumpets and pounding piano lines create a mysterious, slightly sinister atmosphere for Jack White’s lyrics. The overall effect is nothing short of chilling as White relates the criminal’s descent into delirium, complete with a demented musical bridge and repeated chorus.
The final track on the album, “Carolina Drama”, trades the surreal for the earthy without losing any of the sense myth. White moans his way through the story of a poor Carolina boy killing his mother’s boyfriend to save an old priest. White relates anger and compassion in equally skillful fashion and spins a compelling enough yarn that, even where his lyrics may be a bit stilted, the listener is probably caught up enough in the story not to notice. Supporting White’s lyric are alternating sections of manic, busy alt country sections and simpler vocal and keyboard sections. The overall effect is an extremely powerful story told through an interesting musical medium.
I’m a big believer in the importance of sophomore albums. I’ve always believed that, when it comes to musical careers, the three most important releases in a band’s lifecycle are the first, the second, and the last. I can’t say for sure how good the Raconteurs’ first album (Broken Boy Soldiers, 2006) is, but Consolers of the Lonely is good enough that I sure as hell hope it isn’t their last. I would love to hear some more from White, Benson, Lawrence, and Keeler.
Well, it took awhile, but my review of Yael Naim is finally up. Which of course, means, more voting. This next week’s field was a large one, and included at least one album that I was sure had already been released (though both Metacritic and Billboard.com tell me I’m either mistaken or a craven liar).
Material comes to us from former Jane’s Addiction bassist Eric Avery, as well as from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Spoon, and Decemberists front man Colin Meloy.
Eric Avery, Help Wanted (LINK)
The Breeders, Mountain Battles (LINK)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus, Dig! (LINK)
Colin Meloy, Colin Meloy Sings Live! (LINK)
Spoon, Don’t You Evah (LINK)