Hush Now

January 5, 2009

Rather than just talk about a band I would recommend going to see tomorrow night at Schubas, I asked Michael Hush, lead of pop-rockers Five Foot Nine, to tell me his favorite pop culture tidbits from 2008 (Now that it’s over).

Before I get all list-y, the Five Foot Nine play fresh, clever, well-arranged rock that most immediately reminds me of Brooklyn’s Bishop Allen. Both bands combine tasteful guy/gal harmonies, tight rhythm sections, and great sing-along choruses with charm to spare. Local swaggering glam-punk poppers The Handcuffs are also playing.

MP3: Five Foot Nine, “Back to the Tunnels” (file courtesy of Radio Free Chicago)

Here’s were Mike’s Pop Picks of 2008.

Books: as for fiction… Here are 3 novels that I really admired this year

  • Denis Johnson, “Tree of Smoke”
  • Michael Chabon, “Yiddish Policeman’s Union”
  • The Lazarus Project, “Alexander Hemon”

Movies:

Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky

  • The Visitor
  • Frozen River
  • Happy Go Lucky

Music:

  • Los Campesinos
  • Bonny Prince Billy
  • The Hold Steady

Commercial:

  • Probably Holiday Inn Express spot where the geeky marketing dude displays his dope rhyming skills on the corner in NY…

Pop Culture Moment:

  • got to be Grant Park on election night


2008’s “Best Of” Best Of (Continued)

December 17, 2008

Rolling Stone and Spin have released their top 50/40 so here are the updated “Best Albums of 2008” if you broke them all down number-like:

Top 10 based on any TWO nominations (by Rolling Stone, Spin, Paste, Meta, Mojo, Uncut)

1. B.B. King – One Kind Favor 3.00 (tie)
1. Shearwater – Rook 3.00 (tie)
3. TV On The Radio – Dear Science 7.50
4. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend 8.00
5. Beck – Modern Guilt 8.75
6. REM – Accelerate 9.50
7. Sigur Rós – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust 9.67 (tie)
7. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago 9.67 (tie)
9. Amadou & Mariam – Welcome To Mali 11.00 (tie)
9. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Real Emotional Trash 11.00 (tie)
9. The Bug – London Zoo 11.00 (tie)

Top 25 based on minimum THREE nominations (by Rolling Stone, Spin, Paste, Meta, Mojo, Uncut)

1. TV On The Radio – Dear Science 7.50*
2. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend 8.00
3. Beck – Modern Guilt 8.75
4. Sigur Rós – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust 9.67
5. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago 9.67*
6. Randy Newman – Harps And Angels 11.25
7. Santogold – Santogold 12.00
8. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive 16.00
9. Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark 17.33
10. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes 20.33*
11. Portishead – Third 20.50
12. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lone 20.67
13. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) 21.00
14. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid 22.33
15. Fucked Up – The Chemistry Of Common Life 22.33
16. Duffy – Rockferry 24.00
17. Hot Chip – Made In The Dark 30.00
18. Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night 35.00
19. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! 35.00*
20. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III 35.33
21. Lucinda Williams – Little Honey 37.75
22. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular 39.80
23. Metallica – Death Magnetic 40.25
24. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges 42.50
25. No Age – Nouns 44.67

*Nominated in ALL SIX Magazine’s “Best Of” lists.


Well Why Don’t You Just TELL Me the Best Album of 2008?

December 4, 2008
She & Him

In trying to think of my favorite albums of the year, I was looking around on other sites to see what albums actually came out this year (why this tag info doesn’t come up in iTunes baffles me).  I’m trying to listen to as MUCH 2008 music as possible in the next few days in order to make some decisions, but so far my opinions were more like Steve from Coupling’s thoughts on Fabric.

So, because I like Excel documents, I grabbed a few of the top 50-or-so lists (Paste, Mojo, Uncut) which, btw, is NOT a good sample of publications…  so I grabbed MetaCritic’s “Top 30 Best Reviewed Albums” and added it to the list too.  With a straight average (regardless of how many times they were referenced), here is the top 10 w/ their average ranking:

  1. She & Him – “Volume One” 1
  2. The Last Shadow Puppets – “The Age Of The Understatement” 2
  3. Plush – “Fed” 3
  4. Vampire Weekend – “Vampire Weekend” 4
  5. Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes” 4.25
  6. Bon Iver  – “For Emma, Forever Ago” 4.75
  7. Neil Young  – “Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968” 5 (tie)
  8. Okkervil River – “The Stand Ins” 5 (tie)
  9. The Bug – “London Zoo” 5.5
  10. Shugo Tokumaru – “Exit” 6

After seeing this very odd top 10, I have to mention that 6 of the Top 10 didn’t make the top 50 of any other list.  How can this be?  How can the best album of the year (according to Paste) be completely disregarded by all other mags?  What does this say about the world of criticism?  Well, in my humble opinion, every magazine, despite all being able to listen to the same LP’s in 2008, need to have their own little “things”.  They all feel the need to champion records to exalt their superior tastes — whether this means gushing over a record no one went super-crazy for, or one no one else has even heard of.

The Bug

I cannot claim to be completely informed about new music, but it does annoy me that 3 of the top 10 artists:  The Last Shadow Puppets, Plush, and Shugo Tokumaru; I haven’t heard peep about until now.  You can chalk that up to me living under a rock, or, as I’d rather; chalk it up to critics keeping their favorite records a secret and then sticking an obscure album way high in their Best-Of List, thereby solidifying their status as super cool, music insider/outsiders.

So, to get rid of the Let’s-Mention-an-Album-No-One-Else-Will epidemic, I will eliminate all albums mentioned only once in all four Year-End lists.  THEN, our top 10 looks like this:

  1. Vampire Weekend – “Vampire Weekend” 4
  2. Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes” 4.25
  3. Bon Iver  – “For Emma, Forever Ago” 4.75
  4. Neil Young  – “Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968” 5 (tie)
  5. Okkervil River – “The Stand Ins” 5 (tie)
  6. The Bug – “London Zoo” 5.5
  7. Shugo Tokumaru – “Exit” 6
  8. Paul Weller – “22 Dreams” 6.5
  9. Girl Talk – “Feed the Animals” 7
  10. Sun Kil Moon – “April” 8

This works more like DEMOCRACY!  Or, more like parliamentary procedure, like, you know, when one guys like “I move to nominate Girl Talk”, and then some other dude in a headband and American Apparel short-shorts is like “I second that!”…  The Girl Talk motion passes!

  

Now, we’ll cut the fat again, here is a list of albums that made three of the four 2008 Best-Of Lists (in an act divine intelligence, there are exactly 10 albums that did this):

  1. *Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes” 4.25
  2. *Bon Iver  – “For Emma, Forever Ago” 4.75
  3. *Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!”  9.25
  4. Portishead – “Third” 10
  5. *The Hold Steady – “Stay Positive” 12
  6. Drive-By Truckers – “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark” 17.33 (tie)
  7. Randy Newman – “Harps And Angels” 17.33 (tie)
  8. Sigur Rós– “Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust” 17.33 (tie)
  9. *TV On The Radio – “Dear Science” 19.25
  10. MGMT – “Oracular Spectacular”  30.33

*Appeared in all four Year-End lists

You can of course argue that reducing editorial content and criticism to averages strips the rating of any validity… I would probably agree with you. 

But here’s what the list above does:

  • It devalues the one-offs that a critic just had to put in the list for rep’s sake. 
  • The obligatory high ranking for the band that posed for your cover is marginalized. 
  • What emerges are albums that were universally liked — albums that you “buried” deep in your top 50 because they were too obvious, too mainstream, or were afraid to rank too highly.

What we have with this bottom list is 2008 albums that found favor with a diverse amount of critical publications — two iffy “rock” mags, a singer/songwriter obsessed one, and a computer aggregate site.  The result is LPs that span an array of tastes despite the gerrymandering that may effect one individual publication.

I’ll put my personal faves up later this month, and follow-up with a revised page when Stereogum, Pitchfork, and Tiny Mix Tapes, Coke Machine Glow, PopMatters, etc start to mention their favorites.


2006 Albums of the Year, Late As Usual

January 28, 2007

Top Albums 2006

Ahhhh! It’s the obligatory “end of year list,” and obligatorily posted late, by moi. Okay. I would like to mention that I can only rank albums that I’ve actually listened to. Here’s 10 (+5) albums from 2006 I’ve listened to a lot and have actual insight on:

Preface: In keeping with the concept of the Arctic Monkeys’ debut “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not” I will say that The Arctic Monkeys are good, and that they deserve to make any and every “top 10” list.

1. Hot Chip, Hot ChipThe Warning

Oh Man. You can’t hate on this CD. This is the kind of record that changes people opinion on a “sort” of music. I.E., my friend Jimmy’s 30-something pseudomentor Chad (that’s his real name). Chad said something like… “I really like that ‘Hot. Chip’ song. Even though it’s kind of, ‘dancey’.” Join the club Chadly! The LP is just too catchy, too poppy, too funky, too damn fun to categorically deny because of dudes with keyboards and silly mustaches.

Free mp3: “And I Was A Boy From School”

2. The Hold SteadyBoys And Girls In America

Everyone’s afraid to put this album at number 1. It SHOULD be. (Hypocrite warning). This is an album I would recommend, without hesitation, to anyone. It’s a straight-ahead rock n roll album… which I thought didn’t exist anymore. I thought every band needed some sort of concept, prepackaged backstory, or clever nod to whatever retro-trend in the band is aping. The Hold Steady has straight-up rock swagger that reminds me most immediately of Guided By Voices. But the content… oh my… the tales Craig Finn talk/sings are wonderful. They’re the kind of personal/universal “‘member when?” youth stories everyone relates to even if you’ve done nothing of the sort: Betting on ponies, drinking, smoking, troubled kids, raging parties, first loves. All of them done in this anthemic, Glory Days-meets-Chuck Klosterman type storytelling. Indifferent to cliché, Finn’s immediate literature reference, “…There are times when I think Sal Paradise was right,” sets a tone for a terrific and shambling LP.

Free mp3: “Killer Parties”

3. Junior BoysSo This Is Goodbye

This is a sexin’ album. It’s an album by and for th’ sexin. I didn’t think Junior Boys would be able to top their previous release, Junior Boys – Last Exit, but they did… well… he did… as one half of The J.B. left before this album got made. Yet another reason why the band can’t be mentioned without a casual name-drop of sonic frères’ m83. This stuff blows m83 out of the water. Transcendental, groovy, electronic but deeply soulful, the understated crooning (and sometimes just cool breathing) of hit single  “In The Morning” would have to be my favorite single of the year.

Free mp3: “In The Morning”

4. HeadlightsKill Them With Kindness

“Kind of a new record slipped into a list old safe ones… verrry PUSSY!”. Ha. Guilty. I got this record very late in the year, but, as Last.FM would testify, I’m enjoying very very much. Nothing exciting has come out of champaign, IL since, ohhhh… Braid, until now. I’m a sucker for girl/boy vocals, and this was THE album for me in the last few months. Think Stars (especially Amy Milian-like vocals, minus all the fatalistic/melancholic/depressive lovesickness, then sprinkle with a few exciting influences… occasional Mates of State keyboard fun, some navelgaze dabbling, a track that reminds me a bit of Broken Social Scene, and that standard “We’re twee But We’ll Include One Adorable Techno Track To Show We Can Do It” song. (Ahem, Belle and Sebastian – Electronic Renaissance, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – Topsy Turvy). Check ‘em out.

Free mp3: “Owl Eyes”

5. The Radio Dept.Pet Grief

Tim (The Muttering Retreats) turned me on to these guys. What a fabulous album. It’s this kind of new wave revivalism that makes me despise legwarmers and oversized belts a little less. It’s tough not to “influence pick” on the album, but it wonderfully re-creates a poppy The Jesus and Mary Chain thang in a haze of keyboards and drones and looooooooove.

Free mp3: “Against The Tide”

6. DecemberistsThe Crane Wife

Mad props for jumping to a major label and putting out an uncompromised LP, especially 10+ minute song sagas. Though, Castaways & Cutouts and Her Majesty… are still my personal favorites, Colin Meloy & Co went from your libraries favorite chamber pop band to a synth-soloing Genesis-nodding pop/progrock hybrid — quite a feat. And a little unsettling.

Free mp3: “Sons & Daughters”

7. The PipettesWe Are the Pipettes

I think, technically, this album hasn’t been released in the U.S. yet. I don’t care. Good music travels fast. Records labels can’t control product if the fanbase or buzz is large enough. The Pipettes bring back that girl group era to modern-times, a-lah Camera Obscura, but where C.O. delivers wispy lovelorn tunes with some occasional twang, The Pipettes have style, sass, swagger (and handclaps) to spare. The Pipettes – Your Kisses are Wasted on Meis a gem among an album filled with…well… other gems. The only downside is that the “we all have slightly different personalities and dress in polka-dots” seems suspiciously like a marketing ploy, you really can’t hate on these girls. 1 year from now, the re-united The White Stripes will have the Pipettes open for them. I predict it… it will come true.

8. Isobel Campbell & Mark LaneganBallad of the Broken Seas

When Isobel left Belle and Sebastian I was 95% sure her success would nearly match that of Looper. I picture, mid-Storytelling tour, Stuart Murdoch turns to Isobel on the tour bus and “Oi, Ah quite like your voice eeen that, buh eeets a bit wyrd, ya know, that one song you du, ‘The Sunrise Song’, eh?” Isobel promptly gives Stu’ the finger, jumps off the bus with a small, adorable, Scottish-looking suitcase, meets Mark Lanegan in a cowboy bar near the airport, and after a weekend in a motel, they decide to record an album. Isobel then flutters her eyes, forgets Mark for 3+ years and gives him a ring when she gets board spooning her cello.

Free mp3: “(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me”

9. TV on the RadioReturn To Cookie Mountain

Good, solid album, and a welcome return after a disappointing debut LP. I feel this one was a bit over buzzed, but it’s still incredible. A good listen, all the way through, the standout being the rollicking, driving assualt of “Wolf Like Me”. It’s SO hard to tell people there’s an indie band who combines, art-punk, trip-hop and Peter Gabriel and have them still pay attention to you. But, the word’s out on them, there will have to be no convincing.

Free mp3: “Wolf Like Me”

10. IslandsReturn to the Sea

Who woulda thunk it??? Especially now that all The Unicorns are dead. Turn the weirdness level down about two-notches, and what appears but yet another fabulous pop band out of Canadia. But to be honest, I kind of miss the previous weirdness levels, but their beginnings of silly instrumentation, deliberately incomplete songs structures, and childish deliveries allowed the .666Unicorns to flank the standard pop-rock formula and conquer all. Now… about Th’ Corn Gang.

Free mp3: “Jogging Gorgeous Summer”

Honorable Mentions:
11. Belle and SebastianThe Life Pursuit
Free mp3: “White Collar Boy”

12. Sufjan StevensThe Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras from Illinois Album

13. Jenny Lewis With The Watson TwinsRabbit Fur Coat
Free mp3: “Rise Up With Fists”

14. José GonzálezStay In The Shade

15. Camera ObscuraLet’s Get out of This Country
Free mp3: “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”

Mad shoutouts to an indie kids’ savior: The Hype Machine.

And the blogs I stole mp3’s from:
http://skyscraperlife.blogspot.com/
http://www.girlpants.org/  (not making this one up, promise)
http://res1999.blogspot.com/
http://www.michaelmieler.com/blog/ Mike Went West
http://timedoor.textdriven.com Timedoor
http://tracemyface.blogspot.com/ Red Blondehead
http://www.blogotheque.net/sommaire.php3 La Blagotheque