It’s been a looooooong time, and I’ve not written because I’ve been preoccupied with writing. And when you write all day, the last thing you want to do is write all night. That said, I’ve decided that my annual list of the year’s best music is a good time to start up again.
As with last year, these are in fairly loose order until we get towards the end. And I could have added a few other albums [like, say, Menomena's "Friend and Foe"] but I figured that would be against the whole spirit of the "Top 10 List."
I've also included rollovers to a few videos, a number of which are links to the brilliant "La Blogothéque."
Enough, already. Let’s jump into it, shall we?
Caribou — “Andorra”
This one was a pleasant surprise. It’s lush and much like a walk through 1967 without sounding overly derivative [and without the bad acid]. To my ear, it’s got a little early-90’s flavor to it as well [without the bad X]. But it’s a great marriage and I doubt there will be any arguing over who gets the dog any time soon. So let that be a lesson for all of you kids out there: Good acid + Good X = Damn fine music.
[Standout track: “She’s the One”]
Spoon — “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”
Aussie: “You call that a knife? THAT’S a knife!”
Bart: “That’s not a knife. That’s a spoon.”
Aussie: “GASP! I see you’ve played ‘knifey-spoony’ before!”
As we all know, “Spoon” is both a noun and a verb. And for almost 15 years, Spoon have been putting out songs that, at first listen, sound pretty much like what you’d expect from the average indie rock band today. But scratch the surface and you can hear the difference that Britt Daniels makes. “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” is a collection of catchy compositions and each one sounds exactly like Spoon. And that’s a very, very good thing.
[Standout track: “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”]
The National — “Boxer”
I had never heard of The National until 2007. [Thereby making me incredibly uncool. Again.] But “Boxer” is a good album with which to start. Taking a few cues from Lambchop, it’s a beautiful, smart album; beautiful, because of the string arrangements and smart because of the fucked-up time signatures in tracks like “Fake Empire.” And these two elements make it better than 99% of anything you’ll hear on the radio. [Have I ever mentioned that said radio sucks ass? If not, I need to remedy that — the radio sucks ass. Let's move on, then...]
[Standout track: “Fake Empire”]
The Bird and the Bee — “The Bird and the Bee”
Some advice: If you find yourself walking down Sunset Blvd, and Amoeba Music’s marquee reads, "TONIGHT: [Band You’ve Never Heard Of]," go inside and take a chance. I saw The Bird and the Bee at Amoeba and they were cool and refreshing — much like a tall glass of 7-up. First I fell in love with the singer; then I fell in love with her voice. If you like your Burt Bacharach mixed with a little electronica, this is the band for you. I do find that one either loves or hates them, though. So if you’re inclined to explore, keep that in mind.
[Stand out track: "Again and Again"]
Elliott Smith — “New Moon”
I’ve always believed that we form relationships with the musicians we listen to. Each elicits a unique emotional and intellectual response. For me, Elliott Smith always felt like the friend that needed a few words of encouragement. And when he committed suicide [was killed by his girlfriend], I can’t say that I was entirely shocked. “New Moon” is a delicate mix of new, incomplete tracks, and few covers and alternate takes. It captures his vulnerability and dignity. And it makes me miss my friend.
[Standout track: “New Monkey”]
Beirut — “The Flying Cup Club”
Everything Beirut does makes me feel like I’ve just walked into a smoky bistro in Paris — I hear catchy accordion-based tunes, smell like a cigarette, and wish there was a cheap streetwalker in close proximity. Somebody should tell Zach Condon he’s from Santa Fe. Better yet, don’t. Although this is one of the top albums of the year, I actually think their best song — and release — of the year was “Elephant Gun.” Regardless, who wants some Armagnac?
[Standout track: “Nantes”]
Feist — “The Reminder”
make me Steve Jobs’ corporate whore…”
Okay. Although I always find it annoying when a band gains public attention via a television commercial [Nick Drake's "Pink Moon"], it’s a good song and a great video. Mind you, I don’t have a problem with the ad as much as I do the laziness of the American music fan. [Dig, people. Earn your damn music.] But “The Reminder” is a terrific album, front to back, no matter where its audience first heard it.
[Standout track: “I Feel It All”]
Iron & Wine ¬— “The Shepherd’s Dog”
Sam Beam is consistently top-notch, and “The Shepherd’s Dog” is the next phase in the evolution of Iron & Wine. This one has a bit more electricity, and often when a band makes the jump from acoustic to electric, it’s a little awkward — not everyone can be Bob Dylan. Who, as I covered in last year’s list, is Bob Dylan. But Sam Beam is Sam Beam, and Sam Beam is pretty damn great. Plus, his beard makes Bob Dylan’s its bitch.
[Standout track: “Boy With A Coin”]
Okkervil River — “The Stage Names”
“The Stage Names” is a lot like Iron & Wine’s “The Shepherd’s Dog” release in that it’s a hugely successful step in the evolution of the band. This, thanks to Will Sheff. He’s a brilliant songwriter, who doesn’t pigeonhole himself and, in doing so, helps to shape the musical landscape. This one features my favorite single of the year...
[Standout track: “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe”]
Andrew Bird — “Armchair Apocrypha”
This guy makes the violin cool. I missed my chance to see Mr. Bird at Amoeba. I forget what I was doing, but I should have cancelled it twice. I have no excuses and as I write this, I feel a little sick to my stomach, much like an Olsen twin after eating a single ziti. This is a beautiful album. Andrew Bird never really follows musical trends. He makes great music, but no apologies. This one was close to being number one of the year. But then the next two albums on this list came out.
[Standout track: “Spare-Ohs”]
“Neon Bible” — The Arcade Fire
In 2004, “Funeral” was the album everyone was talking about — something that’s usually the kiss of death for any sophomore release. The Arcade Fire didn’t follow that blueprint. On this one, they kind of scattered every which way and ended up making what could have been the best of the year. There are so many standout tracks on this, I’ll just throw a dart at the track list and give you the one I hit.
[Standout track: “Windowstill”]
Radiohead — “In Rainbows”
It’s just not fair. Other bands should be whining. They should go to their mommies and tell. Radiohead continues to be the best band on earth. In fact, they’re so good, they could end up on this list during years in which they don’t release a note of music. They’re better than Christmas morning, the last day of school, Fonzie's motorcycle, and Monica Bellucci, combined. —On second thought, scratch that last example. But they're pretty damn fantastic, and “In Rainbows” just isn’t fair. It’s the best of the year and if you don’t agree, you’re wrong. But that's just my opinion.
Like the rest of this list.
[Standout track: “Videotape”]