Sunday, December 7, 2008

Best Albums of 2008: 21-25

25. Nico Muhly - Mothertongue
My experience with Nico Muhly is as strange as it unlikely. I found the album through Kyle who had proclaimed it the best album of the year sometime in early July. I hated it. There were no songs per se, just what felt like aimless drifting punctuated by a nervous sense of distress. It is essentially an instrumental album, but he uses tapes of vocals whispering nonsense over and over until you feel like you're in a hushed elevator and you can't get off. I thought my time with Nico was done.

Unbeknownst to me, Nico was touring with Doveman, who had just made cover album of the Original Footloose soundtrack (!!). My friend Hal created the website for the album, which ended up being a minor Internet sensation. Hal also got free tickets, so I got to see Nico and Doveman, and Sam Amidon. And it was there, when I could see the mad frenzy take place on stage, that the music sunk in. What sounded like scattered ideas on record were beautifully orchestrated movements. Where once there was discord, now a melody appeared.
In particular I've became infatuated with The Only Tune Pt 1, 2 and 3, a suite based on a creepy old folk song that Nico's parents used to sing to him. Something about two sisters walking down by a pond. One pushes the other in. The dead sister is fished out of a pond by an old man who makes a fiddle out of her remains. Only problem is the fiddle can only play one song, Oh the Dreadful Wind and Rain.

Creepy. Right. So he takes that song and makes it into major blood soaked tragedy, something cinematic and real and I can't get it out of my head. I wish I could say the same about the rest of the album, which is why it's hanging out down here at number 25. But the visions of that song stay with me, and it's why it made the list.

24. Beck – Modern Guilt
Joey Waronker has blood on his hands. The famous session drummer and insanely talented man, is also the Grim Reaper of established bands. Everything he touched in the late nineties went to shit. Think about it. Smashing Pumpkins flopped with Adore. R.E.M. with UP. And with Beck, Joey has been there throughout it all, mucking up every album since Odelay. I know the moment a band dumps their drummer and picks him up things are about to go to shit.

Dude is talented to all hell, but something gets lost when he is there. Beck made the beat for "Loser" on a cheap drum machine in a living room, and it destroys anything Joey has done. Which is why I've been into Modern Guilt from the start. With Danger Mouse providing the beats, and Joey left to just one track, Beck's songs sound like the have some purpose.

It certainly isn't a fun album, but it's his most cohesive in years and songs like "Walls", "Profanity Prayers", and the title track are the best since his heyday. Plus, it has the best album cover of the year, and that has to count for something.

23. Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul

I’m the biggest closet Oasis fan I know. While I’ll wax poetic about the genius of their first two albums and a smattering of singles released between 94 and 96, I’ve also been known to listen to latter day Oasis albums more than once. Each time I’m convinced they’ve made their best album since Definitely Maybe, only to find that I’ve just wasted perfectly good hours of my life that I will never get back.

Though they will never make an album as good as their first again, I think any Oasis fan would have gladly accepted another bloated Be Here Now. At least that album had a few good songs. And you know what? That’s basically what they've done here. This sucker is a mess. It's poorly produced, loud as all hell, and yet still I come back to it.

I'm not going to try and dissect songs like Bag it Up, The Turning, Waiting for the Rapture, and The Shock of the Lightning, but they do reconnect with their much more interesting first album. They ditched their second drummer Alan White an album ago, and it was much needed. The flashy White indulged their overblown "Hey Jude" sensibilities a little too much. Their first drummer had no talent, but his blundering style provided Oasis with (perhaps unintentional) hints of shoegaze's numbing beat. This album occasionally gets back there, and it's enough to make this album not just okay, but actually their best since Be Here Now. You can take that as a compliment or a curse.

22. The Raveonettes – Lust, Lust, Lust

I adore their second album, which wraps sweet bubble gum pop in piercing, abrasive distortion, but figured it was kind of a one-off affair. Their third album kept the songs but ditched the noise, and once I could peak in and take a look at the songs I realized there wasn't much going on.

Well, the noise is certainly back, and so is the purpose. This sucker is huge and I'm hearing all kind of things I'm sure aren't actually there. I'm such a sucker for this sound.

About half of these songs try to act menacing, and I’m having none of it. Give me the songs that sound so sweet you want to gush and the distortion so overwhelming as to magically turn into a Phil Spector sized orchestra.

First single “You Want the Candy” is good, but even better is “Sad Transmission” which swipes the baseline from "Duke of Earl" (Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl) and beat straight from Motown. The guitars are obviously Jesus and Mary Chain loud, but there is also some killer Buddy Holly happening, too.

21. Dodo’s - Visiter

I don't have anything to say about this album. I've tried to write things but none of it matters. I like the drums and the acoustic guitars, but not much beyond that. I originally took that as indication that I didn't really care about the album and that I should leave it off the list, but the sucker has three songs in my iTunes top 25 most played songs. That should count for something, right? Perhaps it was just my consolation Animal Collective album this year. Whatever it is, I listened to it a lot and I think other people should, too.


medina said...

Okay so I have none of these albums, nor have I listened to them. This might be an interesting year for the lists...I guess I need to listen to the Dodos

Blake said...

The fucking Dodos. I did my part, Nick. They made my list. I also had no idea there was a new Oasis album.