My Year in Music: Part II

January 15, 2008


10. The Clientele – God Save the Clientele

I really love this band, and the addition of the chick on keys/violin/backup vox does make them a tad more enjoyable (and with her Nico-esque vibe, they’re a lot more fun to look at too). Yet, this is all the same. And ultimately, that hurts it in the long run. It’s no different from Strange Geometry, and across 14 tracks there’s not much variation. Still, they can write a song — even if they write essentially the same song over and over and over and over.

9. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortadela

This music is a little too gay/fey for me, and I can’t take it in huge doses, but you’ve got to give Jens a hand — this is an impressive accomplishment. His sampling is, on its own, as good as an Avalanches album or something, and then you throw his just oh-so-precious wit on top and it’s almost too much. You’re never going to win at arm wrestling or race riding lawnmowers to this album, but if you’re me — or you’re reading this list — when are you going to do that anyway? You’re more likely to be sitting alone in tight jeans acting like a pretentious asshole. And so it works.

8. Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog

Jim Beam’s decision to Phil Spector-ize (or, shall I say, “Brian-Deck-out”) his initial, endearing lo-fi style has been met with mixed reviews; some say his new sonic experimentation only increases his genius, others say it strips away (or more appropriately, buries) everything that made Iron and Wine Iron and Wine. I’m somewhat in the no man’s land between the two camps; it took me a long time to come around to this album, and given my unabashed love for his previous two, that’s definitely a bit odd. But, once you get over the initial shock and this settles in to a groove, you realize just what a fantastic piece of work this is from start to finish, even if it doesn’t bring you to tears like “Southern Anthem” does.

7. Feist – The Reminder

Here’s the review I wanted to write for this album: “The perfect album for upper-class, graduate, or graduated white female college students; those that have framed French posters/Marilyn Monroe portraits on the wall of their apartments, which are decorated with tons of Ikea and photos of friends; those that enjoy clothing consisting of lots of polka dots and/or the color black; fans of black-and-white photography; those who are trying to convince their hipster boyfriend they’re somewhat cool; those who find the sultry sample of high-heeled feet walking down steps at the end of “My Moon, My Man,” when juxtaposed with the hand-clappy girly “dance party!” fun of “1,2,3,4” to be just about the perfect sound collage of their ideal world; those who watch the Notebook but keep some Camus on the shelf for good measure.”

The review I have to give: This album is outstanding. A bit boring at parts, but very good. I’ll marry a girl who writes a song for me like “Brandy Alexander,” particularly the spacey outro, which is my favorite part of the album.

6. Okkervil River – The Stage Names

I think I over-rate these guys every time they release an album and I think I’m doing it again here. That being said, these guys have a way of writing pop music that on the surface seems simple but continually has me coming back trying to find some sort of hidden secret. It’s as if they trick me into believing there’s a lot more there. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t, but the mystery alone is enough to give them a top spot. “A Girl in Port” just rules.

5. M.I.A – Kala

This album dropped about a week or two after I got home from Cambodia and listening to it almost gave me flashbacks. A lot of people shit on M.I.A. because she’s just a singer and the producers do all the work and she’s a media darling and she’s just famous because of her political controversy / international flavor / being a woman / yada yada yada. I don’t really let shit like that interfere with my enjoyment of music, and I really dug this. It’s definetly a more deep, bass-y, grungier version of Arular (which somehow sounds downright small and unassuming in comparison), which is appropriate given its pretty nasty subject matter throughout. The Indian samples reminded me so much of SE Asia I could almost smell rotting garbage. And “Paper Planes” destroyed on so many levels — the sample, the beat, the lyrical content. I’m curious to see where she (and her producers) go next; just leave off Timbaland next time.

4. Kanye West – Graduation

I headed to Chicago for job interviews in September with a heavy heart and this album on my iPod. This was me, a few days post-emotional devastation, being cocky. Riding on the El, looking at the Second City: the buildings, the water, the opportunity, the payoff, the appreciation, the courting, the filet mignon lunches and the five star hotels by Millennium Park. There was a time in my life where, if I wasn’t cocky, I would have folded. And it wasn’t really cockiness; it was fighting like all hell to not break. Faux-arrogance that constructed delusion; I knew no other way. I blasted this album as I walked the streets of the city I wanted and that wanted me, the city I would one day own, the city Kan sang about, and let his cockiness craft my cockiness. I didn’t so much like this album as I needed it. I needed the creepy piano roll of “I Wonder” as I sat alone in my hotel room at night with the lights off looking out high above the lit-up buildings. I needed the swagger of “The Good Life” to tape over the bullshit that was killing me then. I even found myself appreciating Chris Martin’s chorus on “Homecoming” (Do you remember when? Fireworks on Lake Michigan) because it seemed so Chicago to me. This is not a perfect album but it’s one I’ll always be thankful for.

3. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

The doors of McNamara Terminal slid open. Eight weeks of what-the-fuck were over. There she was. She had a bag in her hand, a welcome home gift, and this disc was in it. So, I guess in a lot of ways I should hate this album, because it was essentially a soundtrack to a 1.5 month illusion. This July/August, I was enjoying the summer I wasn’t sure I was going to have a few weeks earlier, when shit hit the fan and my world was falling apart. It was all fixed for a few sweet weeks, and there I was cruising around Metro Detroit, not alone, windows down, blaring a brilliant Spoon album built for summer blaring. Going to Cedar Point like usual like nothing was wrong, like nothing had happened. The same teenage shit, just with a continuous ignoring of the elephant in the room I had convinced myself didn’t exist (and perhaps for good reason). I knew this album was totally great when a few weeks later I could still listen to it; that amidst the pain and the heartache, and despite the longing this album made me feel for a time that was sort of like a dream that ended too quickly, I could still enjoy it no matter what. It was too good to be fucked up by a fucked up situation.

2. The Field – From Here We Go to Sublime

For a few years now I’ve wanted to travel so badly I could cry. I’ll never forget walking off the plane in Tokyo in May and seeing Japanese writing on the walls of Narita airport. I had finally done it. The next day I’d be traveling around Hong Kong on a sleek train, diving in and out of tunnels, watching what seemed an alien landscape. Seaports hugging paradise-like lagoons in front of misshaped mountains. The cluster of downtown rising out of a nest of foothills like the emerald city of Oz, but with beachfront property. A dirty nasty city plopped into an exotic island cluster off the coast of China. It was surreal, it was hazy, and it constantly had some sort of beat behind it. Am I talking about Hong Kong or this album? I don’t know. They go so well together it’s hard to find the edges. You didn’t love this album as much as I did this year. You couldn’t have. Every time it comes on I go back to the same place. And it’s unbelievable.

1. Radiohead – In Rainbows

Putting this album at number one requires some sort of justification, especially when you’re a Radiohead fanboy like myself. I’ll thank you to recall that in 2003 I slotted Hail to the Thief at number eight or nine (and looking back I realize that was probably way too high), so it’s not like I’m that delusional about this band. Here, I’m not making a statement that they’re back or that they’re not going away or that this is as good as anything they put out between 1995-2001. Simply put, in my opinion, this album was better than the other albums that came out this year. Yes, that’s because I’m preconditoned to like it more just because I like the way their music sounds. Yes, that’s because it got a more million more chances than a lot of the other stuff I listened to. And yes, that’s because it deserves it.


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