Thursday, December 20, 2007

My (Bryan's) Top 10 Albums of 2007

Josh has given you both of his cents, now I'm throwing my hat into the ring. Quite a good year for music in my opinion. Some disappointments, some surprises, and a whole lot of booty shaking. Enjoy...

Honorable Mention
I debated long and hard about putting all of these in my Top 10, and hopefully each song will give you a good reason why. One song won’t do any of them justice, but hey, it’s a free download.

Burial - Untrue

Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings
The Crystal Cat

The Field - From Here We Go Sublime

Panda Bear - Person Pitch

Shocking Pinks - Shocking Pinks
How Am I Not Myself?

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
You Got Yr Cherry Bomb

10. Liars - Liars
Liars have a big bag of tricks. They follow their heavy krautrock opus with an album containing some actual radio-friendly songs. “Houseclouds” sounds like a long lost Beck tune, “Sailing To Byzantium” eerily sounds like Radiohead, and “Freak Out” is pure snarling Stooges. There’s still a heaping spoonful of their classic murk, but Liars is as varied an album as I’ve heard all year while being raw, upbeat, and straightforward. It’s fun listening to a band known for experimentation prove they can play by the rules. I consider this their Loaded.

Must Listen - “Sailing To Byzantium

9. The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters
As you can tell from the band name and album title, this Scottish quartet is a little bummed out. That doesn’t mean their music isn’t pretty. Layered My Bloody Valentine-inspired guitars and vivid lyrics make Fourteen Autumns’ angst touching rather than whiney. Lead singer James Graham occasionally screams lines with an accent so thick and charming it’s tough not to feel for him. In a year full of great danceable albums, it was refreshing to hear The Twilight Sad’s big rock sound and tormented lyrics.

Must Listen - “That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy”

8. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
I feel like such a putz for getting into Jens so late, but I’m glad I finally did. All the comparisons to The Magnetic Fields and Jonathan Richman had me curious yet suspicious, but Night Falls presented me an artist who clearly had his own voice (and what a voice at that). At first listen, the sweeping strings and playful woodwinds might seem a bit schmaltzy, but he delivers each word with such sincerity I’m forced to believe this is how Jens truly feels. His lyrics paint such interesting metaphors and touching scenes that it makes me want to pour a glass of wine, get sentimental, and dig into his entire back catalog.

Must Listen - “The Opposite of Hallelujah”

7. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Following up Funeral was no enviable task, but these Montrealians(?) gave it their all. There’s a sense of foreboding from the start as Win Butler sings of bombs and nightmares after a wave of thunder washes in. The album is packed with stories of fear, loss, and a grim future. “Intervention” is easily the best anti-Iraq War song I’ve heard and serves as the ultimate hipster protest anthem. Despite all the darkness, it’s far from depressing. It’s a call to action for anyone frustrated with our current political climate, economic climate, or climate climate. “My Body Is A Cage” closes the album not with fear, but with hope, as Butler pleads, “Set my spirit free.”

Must Listen - “Intervention”

6. Justice -
Throw this album on and you will D.A.N.C.E. for the next 48 minutes, not including the residual dancing that will follow. Their electro is so intricately crafted and instantly catchy, it’s going to be a daunting task for them to follow this up with something better. Some people claim they’ve lifted too much from Daft Punk, but Justice infuse harder house edges, some Motown sing-alongs, and considerably less cheesiness than their French idols. I’ve regretted every moment since I failed to score tickets to see them in concert. Not because I won’t have another opportunity, but because I desperately need to dance their music out of my head and onto the floor.

Must Listen - "Phantom

5. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
As a lover of AC, I can’t get enough of their fusion of tribal rhythms, innocent/creepy lyrics, and Brian Wilson-inspired melodies. Strawberry Jam is their most (relatively) accessible album to date. The tunes are more focused and simple, straying from their previous norm of using over 100 tracks per song. They’ve sacrificed sprawling tracks for uniform bounciness throughout. I’ve found it nearly impossible not to jump around like a twelve-year-old while listening to songs like “Peacebone” or “Winter Wonder Land.”

Must Listen - "For Reverend Green

4. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Once upon a time, men like David Bowie and Marc Bolan pranced around looking like women and posturing with excessive machismo. Of course their music had heart, truth, and wit as well. You can now lump Kevin Barnes into that mix. Of Montreal dole out sugar-coated synth while Barnes confidently sings about being unconfident. Hissing Fauna is a breakup album full of anxiety, but it doesn't revel in sadness despite Barnes baring his soul about relying on antidepressants, unabashed anger towards his ex, and the inability to flee his frustrations. The melodies are so bouncy and catchy, it almost makes getting your heart broken sound fun. Almost.

Must Listen - “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal

3. Radiohead - In Rainbows
I’ve always been a sucker for all things hauntingly beautiful, so obviously I’m a big Radiohead fan. Four years after their last album, they gave the world just over a week to guess what their next move was. More isolated? More ominous? More electronic? Radiohead’s answer to all of these was a resounding NO. It’s there most melodic album since OK Computer and their most personal since The Bends. I can’t help but get goose bumps when Jonny Greenwood’s guitar takes center stage 40 seconds into “15 Step.” Everything I love about Radiohead (Thom’s moody lyrics and vocals, Phil’s creative percussion, Jonny’s delicate guitar, Ed’s angelic backing vocals, Colin’s efficient bass, and just the right amount of piano and strings) is summed up in the five-minute “Reckoner.”

Must Listen - “Reckoner

2. M.I.A. - Kala
When I was younger I couldn’t stand samples, but I grew to realize the resulting songs could live separately without detracting from the originals. What’s wrong with using a great riff to create an entirely different piece of art? Here, M.I.A. samples beats from New Order to cash registers while spitting lyrics from The Modern Lovers to Bollywood disco hits. All of it blends into vibrant scenes of a hungry and dangerous third-world where gunshots provide the rhythm. For me it doesn’t make a bit of difference whether M.I.A. is truly being political or just cultivating an image. With lyrics this creative and beats this good, she could sing about gum drops and puppy dogs and still make it interesting.

Must Listen - “Paper Planes

1. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
With so many anticipated albums coming out this year, I was probably most nervous about Sound of Silver. I played James Murphy's first album repeatedly for about a month after I bought it, but with the dance-rock revolution seemingly in comfortable territory, I didn't quite know where he could go from there. Who knew all it took was making the music a little more personal. The snark is still there in “North American Scum” and “Get Innocuous,” but my favorite one-two punch of the year comes in “Someone Great” and “All My Friends.” These songs perfectly capture the struggles of young adulthood: maturely coping with loss, discovering your priorities, and becoming someone you might not want to be. Listening to “New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down” while riding the subway home from my temp job gave me a feeling Murphy's experienced some of the same lows I have. He makes fusing catchy dance beats with truthful, unpretentious lyrics seam effortless.

Must Listen - “All My Friends

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Top Ten Recods for 2007

Another year almost over, another top ten list to create. So, without any more ado, let's get right to it...

10. Andrew Bird-Armchair Apocrypha.
I've had this album for over a year, and it took practically the entire time for me to warm to it. I don't think it was until I heard his Daytrotter Sessions that I finally started to peel away at what Andrew Bird is doing on this record. Ultimately, there's a lot to like here once you accept that this record is simply far calmer and more meditative than his last one. I should have assumed as much, considering how long it took me to come around to Weather Systems, too.

9. Okkervil River-The Stage Names. I have a feeling that Will Sheff's voice is one of the love-it-or-hate-it types. Normally I go out of my way to avoid this kind of emotive singing, but his passionate, over-the-top singing voice just works for me. For some reason, I buy his emotion. Although he can intermittently be too much to handle, songs like "Unless It Kicks" have a great, Springsteen-esque bombast.

8. Ted Leo-Living With the Living. Might not have been this high or even made the list until I saw him at the McCarren Park Pool this summer. He's like the Sean Casey of the music world (for those of you that are baseball fans) in that he's just so likable and genuine that any of the stuff he does that might annoy me (e.g. the guitar solos that are, to be honest, only occasionally "anthemic") I just brush aside as an inoffensive quirk.

7. Arthur & Yu-In Camera. An unexpected surprise for me this year. If you're looking for a band that best captures the essence of the 3rd Velvet Underground record, this would be the one to check out. "1000 Words," in particular, is a haunting and beautiful song.

6. Wilco-Sky Blue Sky. The record merits inclusion if only for "You Are My Face," which has my single favorite guitar moment of the year at the 1:32 mark. Otherwise, the album has a great mellow, pleasant vibe that is the perfect recipe for 3 AM at a party, and who can have enough of those?

5. Spoon-Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. My favorite Spoon record since Girls Can Tell and probably their best record, top to bottom. Although "Cherry Bomb" and "The Underdog" are the standout tracks on this record, this is the first time I've thought of one of their albums as something more than "singles and a bunch of filler." "Finer Feelings" is a particularly excellent song buried near the end of the record.

At this point, there needs to be some sort of gap, because while the records that came before I really enjoyed to varying degrees, these final four were, pretty clearly, my favorite records of the year:

4. Animal Collective-Strawberry Jam. Although I know that I use the expression "one-two punch" more that anyone really should, "For Reverend Green" and "Fireworks" really do constitute my favorite back to back moments on any record this year. It wasn't until I had the record for a month that I could even get past those songs on focus on the additional standout tracks like "Derek" (I insist the brass sound near the end of this song is meant to sound like a college marching band) and "Cuckoo Cuckoo." Although I've given up on convincing people of how good this band is, it should be noted that this record is their 3rd in a row that could truly fall into the category of "accessible pop music." That being said, if you don't think "For Reverend Green" is a phenomenal song basically from the moment you hear it, you're probably just never going to like them.

3. Radiohead-In Rainbows. The real unexpected surprise this year, for me and everyone else. After never being able to connect with "Hail to the Thief" I figured that Radiohead's taste and mine were forevermore heading in different directions. 2 months later I'm still shocked at both how good this record is and how foolish I was to write this band off. In Rainbows, definitely my favorite record of theirs since OK Computer, is full of incredible highs and lows, from the high-energy opening tracks "15 Step" and "Bodysnatchers" to the more relaxed "House of Cards." In addition, musically and lyrically, "Reckoner" has to be one of Radiohead's top 5 songs of all time.

2. Jens Lekman-Night Falls Over Kortedala. With the bonus points I give Jens after seeing his solo show in Brooklyn this fall, this record could almost be "1B." Without even touching on the true standout tracks ("A Postcard to Nina," The Opposite of Hallelujah," "Your Arms Around Me"), what makes this record great is the way that this album seems to represent a synthesis of everything he does well. The typically great songwriting is less silly and more heartfult than his other records, while the music has a sustained 60's Doo-Wop/Motown vibe (with special props to The Tough Alliance for their help) that ties everything together extremely well. Finally, there's something trustworthy about his personality that helps to make every line he sings resonate more than it does with most other singers. When he sings lines like "I will never kiss anyone/That doesn't burn me like the sun," I believe him completely.

1. LCD-Sound of Silver. I can count on one hand the number of albums where I love EVERY SINGLE SONG, and this is one of them. I was trying to explain to someone a couple days ago just what makes this record so good, and it was hard for me to avoid explaining it in some sort of meta-musical sense. Basically, I feel that James Murphy has found a way to channel some of the greatest artists from the seventies and early 80s, in particular Brian Eno's early solo music and CAN, better than anyone else, no small feat considering how many artists mine this territory. And, what makes this especially incredible is his ability to sound completely fresh and distinct (and a lot of fun to listen to) while doing so. That being said, what really matters is that this record makes practically everyone that hears it happy! If you don't like the upbeat, especially easy-to-love songs "Time to Get Away" and "North American Scum," my tastes and yours are probably just never going to overlap. Anyway, what finally put this record over the top for me was all the unexpected heart found on this album. "Someone Great" is a poignant break-up song that works seamlessly with the music, while "All My Friends" perfectly captures the fear and sacrifices of getting older. This was my album of the year in January, and, incredibly, I still haven't heard anything in the last twelve months that can top it.

A few Honorable Mentions:

Vampire Weekend-Blue Cd-R.
I really love practically every track on this record, but I need more time to decide if it's just a passing fancy.
Caribou-Andorra. "Melody Day" is my choice for the best opening track of the year.
Elliott Smith-New Moon. I suppose, technically, this is more of a reissue. Still, this was probably the strongest Elliott Smith release since X/O
Panda Bear-Person Pitch. I'm finally, way after everyone else, coming around to this record. The music was too dense for me the first couple times around, but I finally warmed up to the album through the charms of the song "Bros"
New Pornographers-Challengers. "Myriad Harbor" is a fantastic song, and helps to make up for what was kind of a disappointing release following their spectacular last album, Twin Cinema.
Feist-The Reminder. As my friend Brandon says, there's something very "NPR" (calm, respectable, daring you to dislike it) about her sound that turns people off when they first hear it. Still, there's a ton of heart in this record, and "1234" is a wonderful song, despite how sick you may be of it after the Apple commercial.
Black Kids-Wizard of Ah's. Promising EP, well-grounded in that '77-82 sound that, let's face it, most of us can't get enough of.

That's my list. Let me know if have any questions/comments, or if you want me to email you a song from any of these records...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Paul Simon's Graceland

After listening to the pleasant, African-inspired pop of the band Vampire Weekend the last couple days, I was compelled to relisten to Paul Simon's Graceland, the record that everyone seems to mention when talking about this band. Considering how much everyone loves Paul Simon's definitive solo record, its really kind of a surprise that more people within the Indie music sphere don't attempt to emulate this sound. Perhaps it's because everyone's afraid that they'll miss the mark and end up in an overcommercial, Dave Matthews-ish territory? What does Graceland do that the others can't? How is it able to sound like a product of the 80's yet still seem fresh and not rooted in that decade? What other record from the last twenty-five years can be enjoyed so much by such a large cross-section of people?

First of all, let me state that I have certain sentimental reasons for loving this record. When I was 4 or 5 my uncle Ed bought this cd and played it for my brother, my cousin, and I. We fell in love with it and preceded to play over and over and over for years to come every time that my brother and I came to visit. Particular favorites were the songs "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" (mp3) and "I Know What I Know." Basically anytime Ladysmith Black Mambazo started doing anything in the background we went nuts and jumped all around the basement, attempting to song along to a style of music we had almost certainly never heard before. There's no doubt, for that matter, that Graceland was the first record I feel in love with.

And why shouldn't I have? The music still sounds great! Besides the obvious African roots of the the record, there is a straight-up tribute to Zydeco on the record as well (on the humorous "That Was Your Mother"), an appearance by Los Lobos on the final track ("The Myth of Fingerprints"), and even a little country on the painfully beautiful title track. This mix of sounds, maybe more than anything else, allows the album to achieve "classic" status. As it doesn't sound tethered to any particular era or genre, everyone is allowed to discover the album without any prejudice about what it should or shouldn't sound like.

That being said, there's no question that Paul Simon's vocals are the thread that holds this album together. I don't know how he does it, but there are few voices in pop music that sound more trustworthy. There's an underdog quality in the way he sings that makes you want to root for him and allows you to forget that he's a giant star making his 20th or so record. As I heard this record before I even knew who Simon and Garfunkel was, I've actually always preferred Paul Simon's solo music and singing voice to his more well-known sixties work (though "The Boxer," of course, is just about the greatest song ever written).

The lyrics are great, too, and have a pleasant mix of light and dark. The line about how the couple in "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" ending up "Sleeping in a doorway/By the bodegas and the lights on upper Broadway" was one of those lines that helped to frame New York in my young mind as an exotic, wonderful place where people party all night and sleep wherever they end up. Hmm...maybe that was true in the 70's and 80's? The song "Graceland" seems to be about the different ways that people try to overcome their grief, his particular method being a trip to Graceland. And I've always loved the way every verse of "You Can Call Me Al" starts off like the beginning of a joke ("A man walks down the street...")

Finally, who can dislike an album that brought us one the the funniest and strangest videos from the 80's?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back from Michigan

Ah, so nice to be back in New York after a few (mostly) enjoyable days in Lansing for an old friend's wedding. Although there's much to say about my stay and little time to do so right now, I thought that the least I could do is pass on a link for my old pal Bill's new blog, called Popanalia. For those two or three people that are excited by my posts on Michigan sports, this site promises to have a lot of stuff along the same lines, along with your basic music, culture, etc. discussions.

Anyway, more to come on Michigan in the future, along with my heavily-hyped, much-anticipated essay on the importance of the "rally song."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Our New Detroit Tigers

Is is too early to get excited about the upcoming baseball season?

Last night, The Detroit Tigers agreed to give up two top-10 prospects (including Cameron Maybin, a personal favorite of mine) to get back the following two players from the Florida Marlins:

All-star 3rd baseman Miguel Cabrera:And former Rookie of the Year and Cy Young runner-up Dontrelle Willis:

I'm so excited about this I couldn't get to sleep last night. I know a lot of my friends aren't the biggest sports fans, but for those of us who are, you live for these kind of trades to go through. It not only makes them much, much better going into the next season, it gives the fans months to speculate about how everything is going to shake out in terms of lineups, rivalries, etc. Damn, why did the Tigers have to get so good as soon as I left Michigan!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Not Your Father's Humor

Like a lot of you out there, my funny bone has been a little sad due to the ongoing writer’s strike. Topical TV shows are running theme weeks and compilation episodes, movie theaters are packed with award-seeking serious flicks, and the internet can be a tough sea to navigate. I’ve been forced to troll through YouTube trying to find this SNL sketch or that Daily Show report. The one humor site (other than The Onion) that keeps killing me is Super Deluxe.

I was directed to this haven for humor last spring and have rarely been disappointed by its short yet memorable videos. People like Bob Odenkirk, Norm Macdonald, and the Comedians of Comedy have recurring shows and post clips whenever they feel like it. Clips usually last only a few minutes, but they pack loads of intelligent humor in a variety of ways, unlike the now clich├ęd randomness of every single Adult Swim show.

Even with a number of semi-stars contributing to the site, it’s the people you’ve never heard of who drive Super Deluxe’s success. Most notably a comic book artist named Brad Neely, whose series The Professor Brothers and I Am Baby Cakes are the site's two most popular mainstays. Both use crudely drawn yet effectively nuanced stills instead of motion animation to tell their stories, and there are plenty of subtle sight gags you’ll have to re-watch to catch.

To give you a taste, I’ve posted an episode of the 30-year-old man-child Baby Cakes for your delight.

We all know the Internet is the way of the present, but with top comedians devoting time to places like Funny or Die and Channel 101, it might just be the most reliable source to get your funny fix.