Lately, I've been doing things late. I fell in love with Sex and the City after the show had wrapped. I fell in love with Gilmore Girls after it had broadcast its last scene. I started watching The L Word between seasons five and six. And now I am here, in April 2009, writing about my favorite tunes of 2008. Granted, I like to give things time to sink in. So I guess I've given you some time to miss the sounds of music past, and now that I'm revisiting them, you can drift back and listen to them with fond ears. Intentionally-created nostalgia! Unless you haven't heard these songs yet, and then you can enjoy the excitement of discovering these beautiful works anew, the way I experience Lorelai Gilmore every time she steps on screen. Right. So in no particular order:
1. Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville
Elizabeth Clark Phair released a remastered version of the seminal Exile in Guyville and then made a DVD to go along with it. See both previous blog posts ("Once More, With Feeling" and "I Am Offering You a Free CD. This is Not a Gimmick.") to hear my thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams and desires about it. The remastering is Grade A, the bonus tracks are welcome additions (I put the Girlysound version of Ant in Alaska on a bleeding heart compilation years ago) and the subsequent tour in support of it surpassed any prior notion I had of a dream come true. (Try these for the optimal listening experience.)
2. Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell
These young, charming, adorable Canadians had a lot to live up to after their stellar, revelatory 2006 debut EP A Lesson in Crime. The raw, confident talent they showcased at such young ages is the kind that causes me to wonder why the only thing I could think about during my late teens and early twenties was how to hang out as much as possible with my current lady of choice. Why couldn't I hang out with my lady AND write succinct, infectious, pugilistic dance rock? With a disc that clocks in at under 30 minutes, be sure not to let lines like "Australopithecine, rekindle your heart / These hospital machines are state of the art" pass you by.
3. Thrice - The Alchemy Index, Vols. III & IV: Air & Earth
Thrice spent two albums writing standout songs that did much to popularize a screamo, hard-edged, metallic genre. Then, in 2005, they turned away from it by expanding their boundaries and sound with a darker, sulkier, more digitized album called Vheissu. Since the band's inception, the one constant has been their evident evolution. They are ambitious, intellectual, challenging, hard-working and, above all else, true to themselves. They know who they are, they know what they want to do and they work hard to be it and do it all the time, over time. In 2007, this meant releasing volumes I and II of The Alchemy Index - four EP's each built around a different element. Volumes I and II were Fire and Water. Volumes III and IV: Air & Earth, released in 2008, are chock full of pianos rooted in vocal harmonies, guitars that sift notes like dirt, atmospheric variance that twinkles like stars and...sonnets. Masters of their craft, their live shows are mindblowing. As an added bonus, Thrice put out another release at the end of last year: the Live at the House of Blues DVD.
4. CSS - Donkey
Cansei de Ser Sexy ("I got tired of being sexy" in Brazilian Portuguese) finds itself on more serious ground with their sophomore effort. This is all relative, of course, as the album is called Donkey. Singer Lovefoxxx shines through blissfully with her accented girlish growls and decisive, commanding, rhythmic voice work. The rest of the team certainly holds up their end of the deal, wasting no time with punky hooks that consistently collide to make inspired dance music at its finest. Also, go see them live. Right now.
5. Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us
I'm a relationship-oriented person. This applies to family relationships, friend relationships and romantic relationships. [I guess I could've just said, "all relationships."] Even though I haven't heard it, I'm pretty sure the Katy Perry/Kelly Clarkson song I Do Not Hook Up is about me. My Relationship-Orient Express is also true for bands. I appreciate superior albums and superior songs but what I'm most interested in, and actively seek out, are superior bands. I want to find bands that I know I will want to be with until they break up with me. This tends to cut back on quantity, but it's a sacrifice I can live with. It also tends to block out objectivity - if I have a relationship with a band, that relationship colors my opinion. The biases of loyalty and affection are alive and well in my love of music.
I first saw Mates of State at a theater in 2002, a year after members Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel got married. In the seven years since, they have released two children, three full-lengths and an EP. Sometimes they take their kids on the road with them and sometimes their kids come on stage with them. I love families! I love rock! And I am completely enamored with this rock star family. I already love how Mates of State's music has evolved. And the way their beautiful marriage has beautifully married family and music into their lives has done much to enhance my relationship with their music. Their trademark spazz organ factor is decidedly absent on this latest disc - the large, reflective domestication of piano sound that takes its place is new, exciting, familial, familiar and wonderfully re-arranged.
6. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
These Scottish heroes are my musical equivalent of Meryl Streep, with a depth and range that is undeniable. They make thumping rhythms and driving melodies that spread out like a fog and envelop me before I have any clue of what's happening. And it's so irresistible, that once I realize it, alls I want to do is sit back and breathe it in. Combined with words that explore the shadow underbelly of love and the sordidness of its absence, The Midnight Organ Fight punctures and punctuates the soundscape with dark, raw, sweaty, reflective songs that, above all else, just keep it so damn real.
7. Stars - Sad Robots EP
Stars' brand of pensive, intellectual, anthemic electro-rock is right up my alley. I've actually said before that if I was a band, I'd be Stars. Or if Stars were a person, they'd be me. They have such a strong, specific overall artistic vision that shapes and colors everything they do, from the music to their layout designs to their lyrical themes to their album concepts to their live shows. The Stars brand is unmistakable and utterly enthralling. The first time I heard the Sad Robots EP on my wonderful, tiny speakers, I was pretty sure I was having a heart attack. True to form, its sweeping, massive musical textures envelop, mesmerize and hypnotize.
8. The Jealous Sound - Got Friends EP
The breathy, raucous shreds of Blair Shehan's band knapsack largely defined my high school career. His subsequent cleaner, more polished project, The Jealous Sound, largely defined my college career. Thus, I went through an entire cycle of denial, eventual acceptance and grief when, after the release of their brilliant self-titled debut EP and their incredible full-length debut, Kill Them With Kindness, The Jealous Sound signed with The Militia Group and then dropped off the face of the earth. The last update on their website is from 2005. So it was an unexpected, jaw-dropping turn and twist (I gasped loudly when I found out) when the band released the Got Friends EP in 2008. Rumored to be what the band managed to record before...they just kind of stopped, the Got Friends EP includes three new tracks plus two remixes of the song, Got Friends - one by the band's bassist John McGinnis and one by Jimmy Tamborello of DNTEL and Postal Service fame. Speaking about knapsack, Blair Shehan once said, "I think we make dark, hard-rocking music with a hook and varied dynamics." That pretty much sums it up for The Jealous Sound too. This EP encapsulates a feeling of being on the cusp. The feeling before the break, the feeling of being on the verge of surmounting the final edge before a vast expanse. It's a hopeful, wide open breath of fresh air from a band that, according to the horse's mouth, is finally stepping into the world of endless possibilities that has always been waiting for it:
From the band's MySpace page:
Posted by The Jealous Sound on Saturday, February 21, 2009 - 3:42 AM
Posted by The Jealous Sound on Saturday, March 07, 2009 - 5:50 AM
Other Notes of Note:
Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
I can't talk about my relationships with bands and not talk about a band that I've been with since college. The unfortunate thing about Death Cab is that they have graduated from 9:30 Club-size venues to D.A.R. Constitution Hall-size venues. I don't typically follow bands to D.A.R. Constitution Hall. It has nothing to do with elitist judgement. (Or maybe it does, a little.) It has to do with the fact that I have no desire to purchase tickets to a show that I have to choose an actual seat for, at a venue that holds thousands of people. Especially when I've seen Death Cab in a college gymnasium. It seems that their venues aren't the only thing I've outgrown (undergrown?), as I don't enjoy Narrow Stairs as much as I enjoy their other releases. (Of course, playing at venues like D.A.R. Constitution Hall, they certainly don't need my devotion.) Still, their live show always rocks way more than their albums would have you think and the last two songs they've made videos for are two of my favorite songs on the disc.
The Stills - Being Here
I became intimate with The Stills' 2006 album Without Feathers when they played at the 9:30 Club with Rogue Wave. Last year, The Stills released Oceans Will Rise, which won the Juno award for Alternative Album of the Year and the band won the award for Best New Group. (What constitutes a "new group"?) Being Here is the leadoff track for Oceans Will Rise and is the only song I've heard off the album. I really like it. The Stills go down nice, smooth and easy and Being Here is a quintessential example of their crisp, layered cocktail of straightforward rock.