Friday, December 12, 2008

Best Albums of 2008: 1-5

5. TV on the Radio – Dear Science,I was not a believer of Return to Cookie Mountain, which had lots of effects and ZERO tunes. Was there a melody on that whole album? But make an album of carefully crafted pop so adventurous as to transcend classification and then I’ll fall over and praise you. First track "Halfway Home" starts like sixties garage before mixing soul vocals, off kilter drums, and keyboard atmospherics. It’s not until the last 30 seconds lays on the regular rocking. It’s worth the wait.

"Crying" sounds like the offspring of LCD Soundsystem and U2’s Achtung Baby. Hand claps sound like snare drums. I have a hard time figuring out whether a guitar is being played or a keyboard blare. "Golden Age" is all bass at first until they throw it atop some massive keyboards, a catchy chorus, and what sounds like an orchestra.

But no matter how weird things get, how many effects or intruments they pile on, everything is built upon the solid frame of a killer song. Surely not as difficult as thier last album, but when it is so easy to sing along why fight the urge?

4. Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love AffairPitchfork gave the The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack an 8.7 but had this disclaimer:

It did so by diluting disco's more extreme elements to create a safer, more marketable package. Even then, conservative audiences saw disco culture as a Sodom and Gomorrah rather than an alternative Eden.

I was skeptical that there was some deep, dark disco universe I didn't know about. Sure, I knew about the drugs and the sex that happened at the club, but the music?? Though I've enjoyed some of the disco elements that modern indie bands have incorporated into their music, I've never actually, consciously, listened to what can be called "disco" without sort of enjoyment. I can't ironically dance to old disco hits. I can laugh along with LCD Soundsystem, but that's about it.

But here is a living breathing Disco album and the most striking thing about the whole experience is how dark and menacing the experience is. Though the music definitely makes you dance, this is dancing for some kind of understanding or, at the very least, some sort of release from the regular world. It's no joke that they brought in Antony to sing on so many of the tracks. His weary voice gives meaning to these songs, and an importance that can't be diminished.

Rather like Austin, I was tempted for a few weeks this summer to throw this album up top and be done with it. A nearly perfect dance album featuring insane single after insane single, this album was one that sounded equally good on the dance floor as it did on headphones. Hell, I even played the title track during my wedding reception and people danced.

But unlike Austin, I never let go. "Blind" sounded as good to me in the summer sun as it did while I was ducking into buildings during cold Chicago winters.

3. Okkervil River – The Stand InsAustin, I hope you're happy. I've been trying for the past four years to dismiss Okkervil River as an average guitar band. I had vindication with Black Sheep Boy, an album I still don't care for. But last years The Stage Names slowly wore me down. And now with The Stand Ins standing as one of my most played albums of the year, I have nothing left to fight against. I've given in. Okkervil River are an astonishing band.

This has been called a brother to The Stage Acts, but it’s easily the superior album. Every song on this collection is solid and distinctive. Little bits of classic songs have been tossed in for effect, but it never feels like stealing. It just sounds like a band on stage playing to the crowd to see if they are cool enough to get the jokes. It’s for the faithful, the ones that stuck around through the encore to see what else the band could do. I’ve played it a dozens of times, and each time I find a new sound, a new instrument, a new melody buried deep within.

2. Bonnie "Prince" Billy – Lie Down in the LightI often have River Cottage induced dreams of retiring to the country to raise pigs and tend to gardens, and now have the singer I’d like to have on my imaginary front porch. Bonnie "Prince" Billy didn't mean much to me before this but I've been completely taken aback by this album. I still can’t listen to I See a Darkness. I know it’s the supposedly his best album and I’ve tried to go back to it, but nothing sounds as comfortable as this album.

This is an album of infinite pleasures, starting with "Easy Does It" a simple song that's quietly my favorite song of the year. There's something so refreshing about the complete lack of irony when he sings, "There's my brothers and my girlfriend, my mom, and my dad, and meeee....and that's all there needs to be." It's all backed by instrumentation that's the furthest thing from flashy, but is also perfectly suited and steady as can be.

But that's only the start. "For Every Field There is a Mole", with its biblical refrain gets me teary eyed and by the time we've hit "What's Missing Is" I'm home. I feel the weight of the Ohio River flowing by the hills of my small hometown in Southern Indiana. I can hear the heaviness of the air. It's all there in this album, and that's way I returned to it so often this year.

1. Deerhunter – Microcastle

Like all of my favorite music, the idea that this has a beginning or an end is unimportant. This could play in loops - it often has - and I'd never tire of it, never fail to hear something new.

I certainly got in with "Agoraphobia", with the dream-like lyrics floating over my head. But that's really just the beginning. "Never Stops" continues that incessant beat, and features the beginning of that gorgeous wave of distortion that seems to pop around this album. And then the rest of it is a blur. One incredible blur of an album I've been trying to digest again and again to see if I can figure out what is going on. Yet, it always remains out of reach. So I try again. I think I'm going to be doing this for a long, long time. This album and me are far from over.

This album works wonders. Though Deerhunter don't sound much like Radiohead, this album feels like a distant cousin of OK Computer. It's really that astonishing. It creeps under your skin in odd and disturbing ways, yet it glides along like the best pop music.


medina said...

"It’s for the faithful, the ones that stuck around through the encore to see what else the band could do"

--Couldn't have said it better (though I wish I had) myself.

Blake said...

Deerhunter really did me in, too. It's always interesting to see how much similarity there is to our lists when you get closer to #1.

Gold Skulltulla said...

Props for Herc, looks like I really need to give Deerhunter a chance. Great list overall.