Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Top 30 of 2008! (Part 2: 10-1)

Yesterday I covered 30-11, read it here.

10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have been doing this music thing for a very long time, but this is my first experience with there music, so I have nothing in their back catalog to compare it to, but if Dig!!! is any indicator, I need to look into them.

This album is laced with gritty guitars, funky bass lines, instrumental textures, electronic noises, and Cave's distinct vocals. Lyrically it mixes complicated biblical imagery, such as the story of Lazarus in the title track, with a gritty real world-ness that blends perfectly with the music and vocals. Both dark, and exciting, angry, and humorous, and at the same times, sacred and profane, Dig!!! walks a line that feels so honest and real that anyone can relate to if you let yourself.
Check it out

9. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cardinology
Ryan Adams is at it again. This guy puts out so much consistently good music that he has earned a yearly spot on this list. Cardinology finds him once again with the Cardinals, which in my opinion is when he is at his best.

Cardinology might be my favorite Adams album since 2005's Cold Roses. That might not seem like a big deal, being only 3 years ago, but that was 5 albums in the past. As with Roses and last years Easy Tiger, this is Ryan blending seamlessly his brand of Alt. Country with good ol' Rock n' Roll, some 60's southern rock, and some glimpses at his early career in punk rock. The downfall with Easy Tiger was the rocker "Holloweenhead", it was almost enough to ruin the album. Cardinology is void of any such low point.
Check it out

8. Starflyer 59 - Dial M
Starflyer 59 has been making great music since 1993, but outside of a very devoted fan base, not many people know of them. Founder, front-man, and songwriter Jason Martin takes his band in a different direction then past albums, at risk of upsetting their fan base, the results are an album that is both original and interesting and just plain enjoyable to listen to.

Dial M has Starflyer exploring areas they have always dabbled in like new-wave, electronica, and shoe-gaze, but not showing any of the restraint to jump all the way in that could be heard in previous releases. There is such a smooth groove to these songs with Starflyer's signature melodic guitars blended perfectly with synths that don't ever threaten to sound too cheesy. Those who liked Starflyer at their rockiest in Silver or I Am the Portuguese Blues might not like this record, but it is nothing short of a natural maturing and progression of a band developing a sound that is truly original. Lyrically Dial M has a clearer message then earlier Starflyer albums with more openly spiritual content and more audible vocals.
Check it out

7. Sun Kil Moon- April
This is Indie/Slowcore band Sun Kil Moon's third release. Mark Kozelek got some help with backing vocals from Will Oldham, Ben Gibbard and Eric Pollard on this one.

April starts off slowly, but you have to stay with this one, it builds gradually to reveal beautiful melodic arrangements, you will know them when you get to them. This is album seems so delicate and harmless at first, but Kozelek knows how to craft a song that will carry with it enough emotion, and power to move anyone. The heavy mood set by the slow churning guitar is brought to a whole other level by Kozelek's deep, dark, introspective, yet comfortable lyrics. It will give you goose bumps.
Check it out

6. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend's debut self titled album mixes up something like I haven't heard before. Their unique blend of Chamber rock arraignments, Afro-pop beats and guitars, 80's pop, and reggae make something completely unexpected from 4 college kids from New York.

Vampire Weekend shows obvious influence from Afro-pop in the same way 80's acts like Peter Gabriel, the Talking Heads, and Paul Simon did it, but somehow they pull it off in a way that makes this music seem incredibly relevant. Enormous melodies, chimes and hopping guitars provide a unique contrast to lyrics taking a seemingly sarcastic look at privileged suburban life. While pulling form world music stylings, make no mistake, this is an indie pop record. Lead singer Ezra Koenig's vocals clash just enough with the musical style to keep it interesting. If you are looking for something new in a sea of boring music, this might be it.
Check it out

5. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes have taken the indie rock world by storm since their debut album dropped in June. Appearing as #1 on a lot of 2008 music lists. It looks like Seattle is making a name on the music scene once again.

Epic baroque pop and moody harmonic vocals make Fleet Foxes a brilliantly crafted and intelligent debut album. Heavily influenced by folk/rock legends of the past, like Neil Young, Van Morrison, Simon and Garfunkle, and the Beach Boys, there is something so comforting about this album, it's like they took the best of American music and wrapped it in a new package. In the same vain as Midlake, My Morning Jacket, or even the Shins, they explore the echoing harmonic story telling with layers and layers of acoustic musical textures for a complicated yet obviously folky feel. This is a brilliantly beautiful album from a band stepping out in a big way. I can't wait to see what the future holds for Fleet Foxes.
Check it out

4. Shearwater- Rook
This year Jonathan Meiburg did better with his break off band then his original band Okkervil River. Shearwater's fifth studio album deserves it's high rating, and I had a hard time not placing it higher. This album is nothing short of amazing.

Rooks has so much going on in it that you would think it would be too much, but Shearwater some how can meld harp, glockenspiel, woodwind, and a hammer dulcimer among more conventional instruments such as guitar and piano into a musical landscape so vast that is seemingly will never run out of room for more. With all of this they still pull of a sound that evokes the feeling of desolation. Meiburg's often falsetto vocals are the emotional thread running through these songs. It is a sound that is both enormous and spacious, I really don't know how else to describe it. Just a beautiful record.
Check it out


3. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Lie Down In The Light
Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy has been called an "Appalachian post-punk solipsist" and is notable for his unique voice, which has been described as "a fragile sort-of warble frittering around haunted melodies in the American folk or country tradition." Lie Down In The Light brings us Billy at his best.

Whichever way you look at it, this is an upbeat, uplifting record, almost sunny in outlook, but don't mistake that for a lack of intellect. This album takes you through the good and the bad of life, without ever losing sight of a hopeful aspect. Lyrically, Billy isn't anything if not honest. This album shows a musical maturity that isn't always present in "freak folk". The fiddles, woodwinds, pedal steel, banjos, bells, and piano, all feel like they fit perfectly within each song, not going to far as is often the case with a cast of this many players.
Check it out

2. TV on the Radio - Dear Science,
After there break out album, Return to Cookie Mountain, I never thought TV on the Radio would be able to follow it up with something even better. They are working on becoming one of my all time favorite bands if they keep this up.

Dear Science, is TV on the Radio's third, and best album yet. They are more tight and cohesive then in previous records, this is the sound of a band coming into it's own. Still melding musical influences from Prince to David Bowie in a way nobody else would dare, they have leaned a little heavier on some hip-hop and funk influences with this album without abandoning the noisy guitar, synth, reverb, and driving percussion of previous work. There is a sense of energy in this album, you can't listen to it without feeling like this is something important.
Check it out


1. Son Lux - At War With Walls and Mazes
Son Lux is basically 29 year old Ryan Lott of New York. Lott pieced together his debut album over the course of four years, using bits and pieces of recordings he'd gathered. In the process he created one of the most interestingly beautiful musical compositions I have heard, and this years Album of the Year!

At War With Walls and Mazes isn't like anything else I reviewed this year. It's more like appreciating a classical composition or even a work of art in a gallery, this piece goes beyond the limits of a normal music album. This album paints a sort or post-apocalyptic landscape with it's many layers of music and noise. It has weight behind it, building from a meek, gentle, lonely place into something so powerful and beautiful it makes you listen again. Lott's gentle, yearning, hushed, and a bit "off" vocal stylings layered over his musical landscape just add to the emotional power of this record. There are very few actual lyrics in this album, used more as an instrument or another layer of music added to the whole composition, but there is so much more content then can be read in the liner notes. There is no doubt a story of heavenly hope woven through this album. I think even more then a bunch of words could express, this album dives face first into the subjects of God, War, and internal conflict.
Check it out

There you have it! This years top 10 (plus 20). Go out and get yourselves some new music!

8 comments:

SON LUX said...

thank you, J.R.! here's a bunch of free stuff, in case you don't have it all already:

ALBUM OUTTAKE...

"DO" BY SON LUX: http://anticon.com/anthill/Do.mp3

SON LUX REMIXES...

RADIOHEAD: http://sonluxmusic.com/Free/SonLux-Nude_PopularityContestRemake.mp3

MY BRIGHTEST DIAMOND: http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/download/50441-my-brightest-diamond-inside-a-boy-son-lux-remix-mp3stream

BEIRUT: http://rcrdlbl.com/artists/Son_Lux/download/Beirut_-_A_Sunday_Smile_Son_Lux_Remix

JAMIE LIDELL: http://stereogum.com/archives/mp3/new-jamie-lidell-little-bit-of-feel-good-son-lux-r_009744.html

CASTANETS: http://stereogum.com/archives/mp3/new-castanets-sway-and-this-is-the-early-game-son_006414.html

enjoy, and feel free to spread these around! - ryan (son lux)

J.R. said...

Sweet! Thanks Ryan! You did an amazing job on this album, can't wait to check out the rest!

Son Lux was my first comment, how cool is that?

Zena and Joshua said...

pretty freakin' cool.

Brian Postlewait said...

Thanks JR I've been spending my Christmas ITunes on some of your recomendations. Here is one you missed however,

Greg Laswell, "Three Flights from Alto Nido"

Check it out--love to here what you think.

Tim said...

checking out Son Lux right now.

nice, thorough list.

jennylou said...

Hi babe, it's always good to see what I have been/will be listening to in the car with you. Plus, it's hot when you use music-speak. Seriously. (also, couldn't agree more with how lame "Halloweenhead" is)

Scott Savage said...

Okay, so if you had to recommend one band to start out with, who it be? This does not necessarily have to be your favorite band of the ten you listed. And don't say Fleet Foxes because I already have them. Peace!

J.R. said...

Scott,
My #1 recommendation has to be my #1 album! You need to check out everyone on this list though. If I ever saw you anymore I could hook you up....

Also, if you don't own anything from TV on the Radio you need to remedy that ASAP.