Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gold Sounds: Top Ten Albums of 2008

Tim of Gold Sounds here, presenting the top ten albums of the year. 2008 saw an influx of many new artists, a fact that is reflected by this list, more than half of which consists of debut albums from these new artists.

10) French Miami - s/t

The musical climate of the past few years has been absolutely littered with dance-oriented rock/electronic bands, most of which are mediocre at best. French Miami's debut album could be best described as dance rock, but they manage to separate themselves from their dance rock contemporaries by injecting some interesting qualities into their music - the constant time changes of "God Damn Best" and the technical, Minus the Bear-esque guitar work of "Science Fiction" are good examples of this. However, this is still a very listener-friendly album with shouting vocals and fun songs that will get stuck in your head for days ("Lil' Rabbits," "All on Fire"), and this combination of complexity and exuberance results in one of 2008's most pleasant surprises.

Listen: French Miami

9) Lykke Li - Youth Novels

Swedish songstress Lykke Li begins her debut album with the entrancing "Melodies & Desires," where she sings, "Love is the harmony/Desire is the key/Love is a symphony/Now play it with me." This statement sets the tone for the rest of the album, where Li explores the feelings and complications of love, from noting, "I'm a little bit in love with you/If only you're a little bit in love with me," to later teasing, "I'll let you think that I'm yours when I'm not." Maybe she's just being cruel, but more likely she's just trying to wrap her head around love, and who hasn't ever been confused by that feeling? Besides, who could hate that cooing voice (especially enticing in "This Trumpet in My Head") and those melodies, ranging from cute ("Let it Fall") to driving and aggressive ("Breaking it Up")? From lyrical content to musical arrangements, Youth Novels delivers and is yet another impressive new artist debut.

Listen: Lykke Li

8) Monroe Mustang - Monroe Mustang, the Imaginary Band, Regretfully Declines

If this were a 'Top Ten Relaxing Albums of 2008" list, this album would be king. Several years in the making, slowcore (e.g. Low, early Death Cab, The New Year) artist Monroe Mustang has released the perfect Sunday morning album, calm, lazy and contemplative. That's not to say the album can't be enjoyed during other times: Little moments like the piano outro/intro of "Found Out"/"R.O.W." and the sudden dynamic shift of "Consequence" keep the listener intrigued and provide more incentive to continue listening. As a result, the album is rewarding as well as relaxing.

Listen: Monroe Mustang

7) Tobacco - Fucked Up Friends

2008 was a banner year for the anticon. collective, with Tobacco's (member of Black Moth Super Rainbow) solo debut among one of their best releases. One of 2008's most ridiculous albums, Tobacco creates music that can best be described as the aural equivalent of getting drunk; it's a woozy and somewhat sloppy instrumental hybrid of electronica and hip-hop. As a result, listening to it might elicit drunken dancing behavior despite your sober state during the day, and any album that causes one to lose their inhibitions about dancing so quickly no matter their level of intoxication can't be bad. With the seriousness most artists display toward their work these days, it's refreshing to see an artist just having fun with their music and whose main goal is making people dance and grin uncontrollably.

Listen: Tobacco

6) Miniature Tigers -Tell it to the Volcano

The debut album from Miniature Tigers proudly displays the band's affinity for traditional pop/rock. Singing about the highs and lows of relationships with a sense of humor, the band mixes poppy melodies reminiscent of bands past (The Beach Boys) and present (Fourth of July, The Flaming Lips) with relatable lyrical content about college and twenty-something life ("I don't want to move too fast/I don't want to scare you off/I don't want to move too slow/Someone's gonna snatch you up", "Tell me how you feel about me/Do you like or like like me", and "Washing off last night's fake blood/From an even faker cut" are prime examples). Despite the obvious poppy influences and familiar lyrical content, the melodies remain original and the lyrics (especially in relation to their song title metaphors) are clever enough to warrant multiple listens.

Listen: Miniature Tigers

5) Jessica Lea Mayfield - With Blasphemy So Heartfelt

19 year old Jessica Lea Mayfield first gained national exposure when she provided vocals on the Black Keys' newest album, and her debut has that band's bluesy feel. Though the album lacks some of the Keys' finer musical moments (excepting the guitar in "I Can't Lie to You, Love") it more than makes up for it with Mayfield's incredible, haunting voice. Her singing lends every song, most of which deal with feelings of love, a certain mystical quality that 99% of female singers could only hope to duplicate. When you hear her sing, "Is this it baby, are you out of my life?" on "Is This Love?," you feel as though she's either singing directly to you or on behalf of one of your personal lost loves. Also, the endearing lyrical content, such as "If you want, you can call/I will stay awake for you" and referring to a man's shallow love interests as "girlies" would only turn up on an album from someone so young, another way of separating Mayfield from her contemporaries. A truly unique album from a truly unique singer.

Listen: Jessica Lea Mayfield

4) Los Campesinos! - Hold on Now, Youngster

Welsh septet Los Campesinos! released two albums in 2008, both of which were gloriously loud and unrestrained. However, it's their debut full-length, Hold On Now, Youngster, that proves to be superior. Full of poppy singalongs such as opener "Death to Los Campesinos!," one can't help but shake their feet to the rhythm of these twelve songs. It's these melodies along with the band's clever, relatable lyrics (especially to those privy to the current technological age, which most likely includes you if you're reading this) and unabashed enthusiasm so seemingly rare in music these days that keep listeners coming back for more.

Listen: Los Campesinos!

3) We Versus the Shark -Dirty Versions

Simply put, this album (We Versus the Shark's second) slays. From the opening sonic onslaught of "Hello Blood," where both guitars seem to be racing to an unknown finish line, to the ever-changing structure of "Practical Animals," each song possesses razor-sharp guitar parts and a punishing rhythm section. However, there's more charm to the album than the raw, powerful musicianship. The varying lyrical content (from war and the economy in "I am the President of the World" to a friend's foray into the wild world of werewolves in "Keep it Wolf") keeps things interesting on multiple fronts, and like the album title (make no mistake, these songs are gloriously dirty), some song titles manage to accurately depict its contents. For example, "Mountaineering" slowly builds to a very epic climax, making the listener feel as though they are participating in the titular hobby. This is the rock album of 2008.

Listen: We Versus the Shark

2) Why? - Alopecia

Despite the plentiful amazing releases of anticon. in 2008, none were as compelling as Why?'s third full-length, Alopecia. The album is lyrically puzzling, including the absurd refrain of opener "The Vowels pt. 2" ("Cheeri-a, cheeri-e, cheeri-i, cherri-o, cherri-u"? What?) and really all the lyrics in general (it's impossible not to laugh or balk at some of the lines in "Good Friday"). The album is musically puzzling as well, a goofy mix of hip-hop and indie rock with Yoni Wolf's slightly nasally vocals at the foreground. However, the strange lyrics and music work together exceptionally well, especially in "By Torpedo or Crohn's," where Yoni laments puking behind Whole Foods, and "Fatalist Palmistry," the closest thing the album has to an instantly accessible song (and also lyrically the album's best, with clever lines like "I know a psychic who reads her own palms and her findings are personal"). The most interesting thing about the album, however, is its many moods and feelings; from the utter depression of "Song of the Sad Assassin" and the frustration of "The Fall of Mr. Fifths" to the hopeful unrequited love of "Simeon's Dilemma," the album's fourteen songs all have a different, unique feel. This will be an album put on repeat for years to come.

Listen: Why?

1) Pattern Is Movement - All Together

Chalk this one up to consistency. All ten songs are not only good, but standouts; "Right Away" was chosen as the first single, but any other song would have served just as well. Each track consists of several repeated movements (staying true to the band's moniker), with the impressive musical talents of the band's two members creating a full, lush, orchestrated sound. Simple lyrical declarations such as, "How I just love the sound of your voice," accompany these complex arrangements; musically precise like Pinback but with a bizarre mixture of almost opera-style singing and pop that mostly sounds like it was created in a dark dungeon, the album isn't instantly welcoming. However, after a couple listens, an appreciation for these unique musical stylings, from the wistful, longing atmostphere of "Peach Trees" to the bounding, enthused feel of "Jenny Ono," develops. In addition to this, unlike the other albums of 2008 (which are all to some degree hit-or-miss), this album is consistently great and inventive, features often prominent when discussing great albums, All Together being part of that class.

Listen: Pattern Is Movement

Honorable mention:
Talkdemonic - Eyes at Half Mast
The Walkmen - You and Me
Alias - Resurgam
Pegasuses-XL - The Antiphon
Appomattox - AO
We Versus the Shark - Murmurmur (the pure rock of Dirty Versions in the form of cover songs. Download it for free from Quote Unquote Records.)

Some anticipated albums of 2009:
So Many Dynamos - The Loud Wars (recorded with Chris Walla way back in July 2007 and finally getting released on April 7th by Vagrant Records. This will be one of the year's best albums; look for them to get the same sort of exposure the Hold Steady got upon releasing their first album on Vagrant)

Bomb the Music Industry! - Scrambles (finished recording, no info on a release date but it probably won't be too long now. Looking forward to see how the full band setup introduced on Get Warmer is developed)

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (comes out next month. Always curious about whatever Animal Collective comes up with)

Charles Spearin - The Happiness Project (comes out in February. Do Make Say Think/Broken Social Scene member creates an album in hopes to answer the question: What is happiness? Listen to a song and learn more here)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ambient signal's Top 10 Albums of 2008 and other enumerations

This was a year of great triumphs and great let downs..not quite sure if this was a year to beat but I seemed to have an unusually high volume of highly anticipated releases this year. We'll start off with the Top 10 or so best albums, best songs, then biggest let downs, and most anticipated releases of 2009.

Top 10 or so albums of 2008:
1. Son Lux - At War with Walls and Mazes

This was a landmark year for the record label anticon in my opinion. They became even more removed from the sort of fringe electronic/hiphop label I had associated them with a few years ago and released some albums that really pushed some boundaries. The debut album from Son Lux is certainly no exception. I was completely addicted to this album when it came out, not for its hooks, but for its deep musical structures and innovations. Part hip hop drums, part classical (opera samples anyone?), part something else entirely. A clear line runs through the whole album, and many musical themes pop up in different forms in different songs. When first listening to the whole album I found myself going "What??? You can't do that!" and its outbursts like that that made me realize I was dealing with something really special, and it has been #1 in my mind ever since it came out in March.
Key Songs: Stay, Raise, Stand

2. Why? - Alopecia
Again, you can see why I called this a landmark year for anticon...I really thought this was going to be #1 of the year before Son Lux came along. This third Why? effort feels extremely cohesive but with each song having an identity of its own. Handling topics like death and palm reading with an odd but amazing combination of hiphop and indie pop. Yoni Wolf's lyrics dance around from topic to disconnected topic with a certain sense of humor and weirdness that I think everyone needs every once in a while.
Key tracks: By Torpedo or Crohns, Fatalist Palmistry, These Few Presidents

3. Sigur Ros - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
I can't resist a good ol' fashioned Sigur Ros album. Luckily for me I hadn't been anticipating this album for months or years, which I think led to it being much more satisfying (unlike other albums..see below). It came out in the summer, which I don't normally associate with icelandic post-rock but this album made me change my mind. While not quite as solid as their last two releases, it definitely has its share of innovations and great songs.
Key Tracks: Með suð í eyrum, Inni mer syngur vitleysingur, Festival

4. Helio Sequence - Keep your eyes ahead
I was a little dismayed to hear my favorite song on this album being played during an episode of The Hills, but I guess dem's da brakes. I hadn't been into the Helio Sequence before this album, but this was a really solid offering with many hits and very few misses. They are great live too.
Key tracks: Lately, Hallelujah, Back to this
5. Talkdemonic - Eyes at half mast
6. Annuals - Such Fun
7. Azeda Booth - In Flesh Tones
8. Johann Johannson - Fordlandia
---Not really sure of the order after this
Starfucker - Starfucker
This Will Destroy You - This Will Destroy You
Margot and the Nuclear So and So's - Not Animal
Alias - Resurgam
Brendan Canning - Something for all of us
The Falcon - EP
Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs
Dosh - Wolves and Wishes
Flight of the Conchords - s/t
School of Seven Bells - Alpinisms

Best songs (no order):
School of Seven Bells - Half Asleep
Chad Vangaalen - Willow Tree
Son Lux - Raise
Annuals - Always Do
Brendan Canning - Hit the wall
Land of talk - Some are lakes
Azeda Booth - In Red
Wolf Parade - Language City
Cut Copy - Hearts on fire
Dosh - Kit and Pearls
Why? - By Torpedo or Crohns
Margot and the Nuclear so and so's - As tall as cliffs
The Falcon - The Sandfighter
and more!

Biggest letdowns:
---Neva Dinova - You may already be dreaming
I had been anticipating this album for a long time and unfortunately there just wasn't a song I could really gravitate towards and the lyrics weren't quite at the same level as other albums. Oh well..keep it up guys!
---Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst
I'm not sure what I was expecting from Oberst's solo debut, but it wasn't quite up to snuff for me when compared to Bright Eyes stuff, but I'm glad he took the chance to stretch some other muscles.
---Margot and the Nuclear so and so's - Animal/Not Animal
Although there are some great tracks on this album, it didn't come close to 2006's Dust of Retreat (which was my #1 album that year) but I guess you can't improve much on perfection...I had also been anticipating this album for over a year and its hard to deliver on that much anticipation
---Hammock - Maybe they will sing for us tomorrow
Unfortunately my favorite ambient artist Hammock has been veering more towards beatless ambient soundscapes rather than the more song minded light post rock that drew me to them in the first place..this album just didn't do it for me like some of their earlier ones

Most anticipated releases of 2009 (in no order of course):
Animal Collective - Merryweather post-pavilion (January)
Grizzly Bear (March/April)
Charlie Everywhere (done recording, shopping for a label)
Menomena (Recording now, Fall 2009)
The Velvet Teen (Recording now, no telling)
The Album Leaf (Recording now, Fall 2009)
Cat Power (Done recording? no telling
Bright Eyes (Recording now, no telling)
Doves (Done recording? Anytime now?)
Hopes and wishes: Sunset Rubdown, Camera Obscura (might be recording..I forget), Feist, Amiina, Battles