Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Killing 2008 Softly...and His Mom, Too: The Year in Music

King Khan. Crazy motherfucker. Genius of rock and soul.

2008 is almost over and I have yet to buy many of my immediate family members presents, but I've made time to give your listening holes and looking balls some dirty elevator love. So let's get those metaphorical pants off and get to it...

Artist of the Year: King Khan

Simply the most fascinating, strange, badass on the planet, King Khan and his two acts (King Khan and the Shrines and The King Khan and BBQ Show) have never failed to do anything but entertain my lame ass this year. In 2008, The Supreme Genius of King Khan and The Shrines was released in the U.S. and is one of the best records I have or will ever own. Combining a cocktail of 60's soul, funk, and rock, the album is a compilation of all the band's best work that had until this year never been released stateside (because it's all previously released, I can't rank the album in the "Best of 2008" category). King Khan who is Indian by birth, Canadian by upbringing, and German by citizenship had neglected to share the Shrines with America in the same fashion that he had The King Khan & BBQ (Mark Sultan) Show until now. I am still awaiting my first opportunity to see the man, the myth, and the legend live but am sure there will be no shortage of entertainment and mayhem to go around. A short glimpse at madness/greatness if you will:

King Khan and The Shrines on MySpace:

The King Khan & BBQ Show:

The Best Albums of 2008

Honorable Mention

TV On the Radio: Dear Science, (DGC/Interscope)

The Quick Take: TVOTR's most consistent album to date. I always feel like I'm listening to the result of a dirty, one night stand between Prince and Radiohead. And that's a strong good thing.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

The Stills: Oceans Will Rise (Arts & Crafts)

The Quick Take: A return to form for a band that I thought had faded away. The Stills are an imminently listenable indie band with pop sensibility tempered with just enough quirks to keep you interested. This is their best overall album to date and one that really grew on me with each listen.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

The Gaslight Anthem: The '59 Sound (Side One Dummy)

The Quick Take: Maybe the best straight-ahead rock album of the year, The Gaslight Anthem's latest was a late addition to my collection. This album is for those of you who think my alt shit is too alt and you need something simple and pure. These guys may do Springsteen better than Springsteen does. This record is very impressive, fun, and bold. They remind me a bit of The Reigning Sound, though maybe a little less "garage-y". There's a little of The Hold Steady in here for sure, but without the misguided experimentation of some songs on this year's Stay Positive.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks: Real Emotional Trash (Matador)

The Quick Take: The former Pavement frontman returns with another stellar solo effort. However, this one feels like the rawest of his post-Pavement work to date. Do I hear a little Black Keys in here? Malkmus is an excellent guitarist who really lets it howl here more than I've heard in a long, long time. If you love that Keys-esque dirty guitar rock, I think this may really be a great record to investigate.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

And now for the best of the best...

12. Okkervil River: The Stand-Ins (Jagjaguwar)

The Quick Take: A conceptual sequel to last year's amazing
The Stage Names, this is another impressive effort from one of the best bands going. Lead singer Will Scheff continues to find a great balance between his poetic and literary lyrics and the need to rock you so gently and good awesome. "Blue Tulip" from this album is one of the finest songs they've ever made. If you haven't discovered Okkervil River yet, don't side with the terrorists. Go check them out. Start with Down the River of Golden Dreams or Black Sheep Boy.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

11. Jay Reatard:
Matador Singles '08 (In the Red)

The Quick Take: Don't let the name fool you. There's nothing dense about this guy--well at least not that much. His 2006 release
Blood Visions was a record that I discovered a year too late which was characterized by its two minutes and a cloud of smoke "rawk your face off" tunes that posessed a machine-gun like precision characteristic of early Ramones. If Jay Reatard was a one-trick pony, I'd pay to hear it from here to eternity. But his subsequent two releases including this one (which may be my favorite album cover of the year) have shown a greater depth and diversity both lyrically and musically. This is a man who knows how to make great little 2-3 minute rock songs. He keeps it simple, stupid. And ironically in music, that's often the hardest thing to get right.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

10. Pete & The Pirates:
Little Death (Stolen)

The Quick Take: In a real down year for British rock music, Pete & The Pirates stood out on several levels. Unlike so many of their current peers, they avoid the spineless unoriginality of so many British groups attempting to take the place of The Libertines or who are trying to "out-Franz" Franz Ferdinand. Pete & The Pirates only try to be themselves and in keeping with this year's theme so far, know how to make tight, pop rock songs. "Song for Today" may be the track that best embodies who this group is. It's epic without being self-important. It hints at the band's potential greatness without overshadowing the song itself--which always seems to be the band's first priority. The fuck they give is about the music as far as I can tell--something that is becoming increasingly rare in British music these days.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

9. Phantom Planet:
Raise the Dead (FBR)

The Quick Take: No one is more surprised than I am about the inclusion of Phantom Planet in this list. They've always been a guilty pleasure favorite of mine who I must admit made me cringe a bit when their fine song "California" was made the theme song for the recently deceased Fox drama
The O.C. But true to their name, they have this strange little niche of music that's part So-Cal rock and pop tinged with themes of zombies and aliens that were the inspiration for the band's name. It saddened me to learn recently that this would be their final album as the band members have decided to pursue separate projects. Raise the Dead is an excellent album of finely-crafted pop rock that grew on me with every listen. The album is fun and happy and sad and road-trip worthy. The album also includes what is perhaps the song title of the year, "Leave Yourself for Somebody Else". Awesometown. Alex Greenwald--you and your mates will be missed. Get that solo record out ASAP!

The Non-Rob Review: Here

8. Fleet Foxes:
Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)

The Quick-Take: One of the most beautiful and affecting debuts I've heard in years, Fleet Foxes are about as different from anything on this list as you can get. However, there is something timeless and powerful about their sound. You'd never know these guys hail from Seattle as their harmonies sound straight out of an Appalachian chorus of bearded angels. My friend Julie gets huge kudos for exposing me to this band who have created something that is both unique and accessible and gentle and extremely well-made.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

7. The Dutchess & The Duke:
She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke (Hardly Art)

The Quick Take: Two members. A guy and a girl. Simple rock. I'm sure you've heard this before. But The Dutchess & The Duke take some pretty simple rock pleasures and create a haunting record of acoustic Stones-esque songs that will stick in your head real hard. These two also have a vocal chemistry that offers a harmonic quality that is bigger than the size of the band. Songs like "I Am Just a Ghost" with its heartbreaking overtone and old-style guitar solo will leave you wanting and may even inspire you to finally pick up that notebook and write to your long lost love. And "Armageddon Song" is the sweetest, happiest song about the end of the world I've heard since Ben Lee's rendition of "End of the World". I'd really like these two to play at my 30th birthday if at all possible...

The Non-Rob Review: Here

6. Vampire Weekend:
Vampire Weekend (XL)

The Quick Take: In a year of really strong debuts, Vampire Weekend stands out. It would be easy to pigeonhole them into that New York scenester, music school student, trendy shit that many of us can get so easily annoyed at. But Vampire Weekend are most impressive because of their ability to incorporate complex instrumentation into completely hooky, polished pop songs that are hard not to love. There's a fine line between a diverse sound and a sound that's pretentious and inaccessible (the latter are usually the records Pitchfork seems to love the most). Vampire Weekend are a group of gifted musicians who know they're good but yet find a way not to alienate you in their precise pursuit of actually entertaining you.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

5. Ra Ra Riot:
The Rhumb Line (Barsuk)

The Quick Take: A New York band with diverse instrumental qualities in the vein of the aforementioned Vampire Weekend, Ra Ra Riot distinguish themselves with the sheer pace and intensity of their music as a whole. Specifically, the percussion is a bigger player in their songs than other bands like them. Ra Ra Riot offer classical sensibilities with the use of the cello and violin in a manner that in no way takes away from their mission as a true indie rock band. Combined with Wes Miles' polished vocals (at times he's a dead-ringer for Sting), Ra Ra Riot construct a record for people who like Death Cab for Cutie but wish they would or could make something this good again.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

4. Eddy Current Suppression Ring:
Primary Colours (Goner)

The Quick Take: What a name, eh? How best to describe the sound of Eddy Current Suppression Ring's sound? Let me try this in a way that most of you might understand. Think about a simpler, purer, more elementary guitar-driven version of Kings of Leon--only Australian. Oh and before Kings of Leon really started trying to become the southern Strokes. Guess what guys? Only The Strokes can really pull that off. ECSR are a hooky little garage rock/punk outfit that just want to rock you or "rawk" you. The vocals are great, drunken outback weapons, but they only serve as an accent to the featured player--the instruments. Guitar, bass, drums. Success. This is not an album for everyone. It's a record for those who appreciate the truly primal, simple pleasures of rock.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

3. Titus Andronicus:
The Airing of Grievances (Troubleman Unlimited)

The Quick Take: You can't celebrate Festivus without
The Airing of the Grievances, right? As I stated earlier this year in this space, Titus Andronicus can be best compared to Bright Eyes if Bright Eyes had any balls and you didn't want to kick him in the teeth everytime you saw/heard him. Titus Andronicus makes dirty, messy, angry, really smart rock music that finds a way to burrow into your subconscience. Never has an album about alienation and the end of youth been so fun to jam out to. My favorite track on this album is "My Time Outside the Womb" that serves as a funny reminder about the bummer that can be the experience of birth and all that follows. Great record, great fun. It takes talent to take the morose and make it into something inspiring and gutsy.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

2. Gentleman Jesse and His Men:
Gentleman Jesse and His Men (Douchemaster)

The Quick Take: What a great, fun, amazing record. The first time I heard Gentleman Jesse spinning at my friend Clint's place, I swore I was listening to some pop rock outfit from the late 70s or early 80s in the tradition of The Cars. Gentleman Jesse and His Men have made a record that makes me want to speak of them in that kiss-ass way that James Lipton speaks of everyone. The record contains simple, clever lyrics all while maintaining simple, clever musical hooks. The album is timeless without a hint of irony. I love it because it feels effortless and doesn't try to do too much. It takes everything that is supposed to be good about rock music and gives it to you without pre-condition. There's no heavy context or understanding required to enjoy this rock. I challenge you to listen to this album on your next commute and keep a smile off that pretty face of yours.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

1. The Walkmen:
You & Me (Gigantic)

The Quick Take:
You & Me just barely edged out Gentleman Jesse, but it is certainly a worthy #1 for this year. The Walkmen have, in my opinion, made the finest album of their career with this one. Simply stated, this is a collection of beautiful, sad, hopeful little songs. The guitars and percussion sound like they're coming from some beach somewhere in the middle of the night in your dreams. Sometimes they echo in the background to the point that you think it may all be in your imagination until they return forcefully at the right moment. Singer Hamilton Leithauser has a pained, breathtakingly unique voice that is well beyond his years. I have walked around the historic neighborhoods of Oklahoma City at dusk with this record playing on my Zune and never felt more right with the world. It is the soundtrack of yearning, heartbreak, devotion, doubt, and just enough hope for now.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

Well there you have it. You are all caught up on your music education for 2008. Let me know your thoughts. There's nothing better than a good discussion or discourse on music--especially when it's music that I love. Enjoy the holidays, everyone. Rob loves him some you.

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