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My favorite albums from 2000-2009

Painstakingly sequenced…here they are, the lucky 13. They are albums I was obsessed with. They are albums I know by heart. They became my best friends.

  1. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois: I have never listened to this album and not gotten the chills at some point. In fact, I regularly cry during any given song during the first half. Despite its quiet nature, this album became a driving companion on many trips to Wisconsin, bringing this Minnesota girl just a little closer to Illinois. Check out Jacksonville, a song forever on my mix CDs for friends. That banjo!!
  2. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: I wasted probably a year not liking this album. I must have somehow missed Kamera.
  3. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells: Absolutely perfect album from the 1960s or 1970s that somehow landed in the 2000s. Jack White’s songwriting could not be better here. The simple, arresting power of these songs thrills me every time I listen. And what was the best homage to Citizen Kane this decade? The Union Forever.
  4. The Strokes – Is This It: This is the album I grew up to. Sitting alone in my studio apartment in St. Paul, a country girl in the big city chatting on MSN all night, trying to play Someday on my acoustic guitar. I had downloaded all the tracks individually through Napster or something, and they’re mostly different from the American album. Don’t worry Julian, Fab, etc. – I did eventually buy the real version.
  5. Badly Drawn Boy – Hour of Bewilderbeast: Let the world not forget this incredible debut album! He never came close to replicating this masterpiece, but Damon Gough will always have a place near and dear to my heart. Camping Next to Water helped me transition from college to real life.
  6. The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow: I don’t know if the songs on this album were simply overplayed, or if they don’t stand the test of time, but this is not an album I still listen to. Yet, it was one of those rare albums I heard once and gasped at its cleverness. I couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t wait for particular bits of songs, like the swirling organ on Mine’s Not a High Horse. It sounded different every time I heard it, and I love that.
  7. Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther: I submitted this album to a music club I was in, and it was a huge smash. It started my fascination with what I’ve dubbed “pastoral rock”…not necessarily folk rock, but songs with an earthy feel, almost always played by men with beards. My term never seemed to take off, and some simply call it beard rock, but I think my description is more accurate, especially based on the video for Roscoe which I swear I haven’t seen until this posting.
  8. Radiohead – Kid A: Even though In Rainbows is fresher in my mind, I had to go with Kid A here just for the memories. I wasn’t happier in college until I couldn’t get the drone of Idioteque out of my head while I walked home from working at the library at 4:00 am one night a week.
  9. The National – Boxer: Matt Berninger, the baritone of The National, is a fucking fantastic songwriter. He is like a bastard son of Paul Simon and Kurt Cobain. He writes of personal but ordinary things like Simon, while still speaking for a generation like Kurt. Slow Show came at the right time as I entered 30th year.
  10. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: I don’t think I can add any more praise than what I’ve already written.
  11. Brian Wilson – SMiLE: I’ve been interested in rock music history for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted to know how we got to where we are today. Despite having started this album in 1967, occasionally scraping a few songs from the pile for various Beach Boys albums, Brian Wilson finally got to the point of releasing SMiLE. Its weird, arresting tracks sprint through American history while making it. Listen to the old west, mad musical and lyrical genius style: Cabin Essence.
  12. Jenny Lewis – Rabbit Fur Coat: I’ve never been a New Pornographers fan, but for some reason, probably thanks to Bob Boilen’s great taste, I became totally obsessed with this album. Jenny’s voice with the Watson Twins is nothing short of angelic, while maintaining that true country & western nastiness. Her lyrics really grabbed me: And it’s a surefire bet I’m gonna die / So I’m taking up praying on Sunday nights /And it’s not that I believe in your almight / But I might as well as insurance or bail. This album also opened my ears to female singers, who I had avoided since Mariah Carey’s sophomore album.
  13. M. Ward – Post-War: What I find interesting about Matt Ward is that he verges on the lame. His lyrics are always teetering on uninteresting comments on love or God, yet somehow it always works. Maybe it’s his outstanding guitar skills or raspy voice that make up for it. I can’t help but love a man who loves recordings from before he was born, and it’s nice to see his work display that love so consistently. Every song from Post-War is now a classic in my fakebook, but nothing is more epically classic than To Go Home.

Check back in the coming weeks for my favorites of 2009, and probably some other random lists. Because that’s what I do well…I make lists.

Greats of 2008, part 5

And now, the final installment of the Greats of 2008 series.

Greats of 2008 Soundtrack

For the past two years, I’ve made a mix CD for friends featuring my favorite music of the past year. It’s not always songs from my favorite albums, but they are songs that I consistently rewound for second or third plays in a row. Here’s what made the cut this year.

No One Does It Like You – Department of Eagles: Best song of the year for me — absolutely no doubt.

Call It A Ritual – Wolf Parade: I love all the different ways he says the title. His enunciation intrigues me.

Modern Guilt – Beck: Lots of really great ditties on that album, and some so-so ones. I love the beat and the little electronic blips on this track. And of course I dig the 60s vibe.

Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur – Sigur Ros: Yes, they can be FUN!

The Re-arranger – Mates of State: Possibly my second favorite song of the year. A late find for me. I’m so glad they stopped shouting because they can make really beautiful music.

Two Ways – The 1900s: This is a version from Daytrotter that was recorded in February, though I think the song is from 2007. No matter, it’s a brilliant one.

Oxford Comma – Vampire Weekend: I hated this song at first because I thought “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford Comma” was a stupid way to open a song. It is still, but the rest of the rich melody makes up for it. I love how he sings “put the chap stick on your lips”.

California Girls – The Magnetic Fields: I mainly included this song because I completely agree with its thesis.

Don’t Do Anything – Sam Phillips: Another favorite song of the year for me. It contains all that I love about songs as an artform — simplicity usually wins.

Weather to Fly – Elbow: I don’t like the beginning of this song, but I love how he goes “perfect weather to fly” then immediately follows it with another “weather to fly” sung higher in this almost churchly fashion. It’s like when you first hear a Brit say something but it sounds like they’re asking a question, because they end on a higher note. Love it.

Flume – Bon Iver: For some reason “Skinny Love” became everyone’s fave off the album, but the first track is the killer for me. I’m a sucker for weird droney feedbacky sounds.

Tiger Mountain Pleasant Song – Fleet Foxes: I mean, seriously. If this song isn’t entered in a time capsule for 2008, I’ll cry.

Among the Pines – A.A. Bondy: Another Daytrotter session. I’m not sure when this originally came out, but I think this Dylan wannabe has a lot of talent. No matter what all the mean, old folks at the Bondy/Heartless Bastards show said.

Acid Tongue – Jenny Lewis: I rarely fully memorize songs any more, mostly because I don’t understand lyrics very well and I don’t bother sitting down with the lyric book like I did in high school. But this one stuck to me right away, and I’m happy for that.

Librarian – My Morning Jacket: This song is about me and my kind. And I think it’s sexy when he says “duck into the men’s room” even though it’s probably the worst part of the song.

Sing the Changes – The Fireman: Just give it a try. I can say no more.

Sentimental Heart – She & Him: Yeah, everyone needs a little folk bubble gum on a mix CD. The version I included is actually a live take from somewhere, but you can’t even tell.

Happy Holidays!

Greats of 2008, part 4

Here we are at last – my favorite music of 2008. Like one of my comrades in music inspection, this was a hard one. I think it was a great year for music, in the sense that I liked and purchased a lot of albums. More than any other year, probably. But there were no real stand out obvious choices, except for my top one. But even then, it wasn’t like Sufjan Stevens or Midlake where I listened to the album every day and memorized the whole thing. Or maybe I’m just too old for that now.

10. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer: Although I’ve hardly listened to the second half of this album, the songs that are good are really innovative, and deserve recognition here. [For whatever that's worth.] I never paid attention to this band until I heard “Call It a Ritual” with its off-kilter piano this year and immediately loved it. These guys make great hooks with a mean guitar. I listened to Apologies to the Queen Mary to make up for lost time, but it felt empty to me. Still, I predict that Wolf Parade have a long and varied career.

9. Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs, The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: The last decade or so of Dylan’s career has seen a resurgence of his talent finally. Was it really gone or was he just putting his energy into something none of us understood (his Christianity and desire for shitty production)? Anyway, this set makes his voice sound great and showcases his amazing band. They are so tight, which from what I understand, is diffcult to do with Dylan. Greatest songwriter ever, so shutup you hipster haters.

8.  Sam Phillips – Don’t Do Anything: I’d never heard of this chick until Bob Boilen was gabbing about her Tiny Desk Concert at NPR. From what I read, I thought I wouldn’t be interested, but my gut told me to give it a try. Boy am I glad I have a smart gut. The sound of this album is really surprising — it’s just as full of distortion as the Magnetic Fields were in January, and the songwriting is almost of equal caliber. This was my biggest, and happiest, surprise of 2008 for sure. She’s certainly not for the hardcore hipsters though.

7. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: To be fair, I’d probably put this one higher if not for all the hype and subsequent backlash. Yeah, I can ride a bandwagon with the best of ‘em. But really, this is a clever album with sounds pop music hasn’t heard since Paul Simon’s Graceland. I’m hoping they’ll grow up with their next album, stop talking about the east coast and college, and even ditch the Afropop. They’ve got real potential. But they’ll probably just break up. Or pretend not to like The Strokes.

6.  Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue: She does it again, though in an only slightly less country way. She’s sly with her songs — you really need to pay attention. Ditch Rilo Kiley, Jenny, you’re better without them.

5. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid: This was my favorite album for a really long time, and I’m glad it won the Mercury Prize. But then suddenly all the sentimentality lost its luster, and I think a lot of it had to do with the totally lame video for “The Bones of You“, an otherwise brilliant song. Now I’m turned off by it, but I predict that it will become meaningful again in the future.

4. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago: I already included this in my Lists of 2007, but it deserves another highlight here. I’m so happy that Justin Vernon has made such a splash around the world with this gorgeous album. MOJO even interviewed him at home in Eau Claire (where I lived during college for 4.5 years)! And he’s following it up with an EP next month, so keep your ears peeled.

3.  Department of Eagles – In Ear Park: I can’t understand why this album is missing from so many lists this year. I’ve liked Grizzly Bear (both featuring Daniel Rossen), but never got as obsessed with Yellow House or Friend as I did this one. The soundscape on this album is miraculous. It’s what Brian Wilson wished That Lucky Old Sun could sound like. Heavenly…

2. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges: Screw you, haters of this album. I love that the sounds are all over the place. I love that it’s overproduced in spots (that’s the only time you’ll ever hear me say that). I love the proggy sound (again, that’s the only time you’ll hear me say that). This album had nothing going for it in terms of my musical taste. But every song is amazing because Jim James knows how to sing, play guitar, and write fine songs. It’s as simple as that. It’s the Revolver of 2008. I hope MMJ make their Sgt Pepper next year.

1. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes & Sun Giant [EP]: Best newish band of the year. Best live act for me. Best songs. Part Shins, part Midlake, all Northwest, pastoral, bearded goodness. While I was in Oregon earlier this year, driving through deep woods, my mind’s soundtrack kept repeating “White Winter Hymnal“. Absolutely perfect.

Greats of 2008, part 3

I was thinking of having a post about all the non-music things that I saw or got into this year, but I realized that it would involve a lot of research and memory. Plus, I haven’t seen too many movies this year, and I’m not used to reviewing plays, so I’m sticking to music.

Missed ‘Em

Here’s some music that I’ve seen on some best of 2008 lists that I’d like to spend more time with.

  1. Beach House – Devotion: I liked their last record, but I didn’t even realize that they had a new one this year. That’s what I get for paying more attention to NPR than Pitchfork.
  2. No Age – Nouns: Even Rolling Stone had this in their top albums. I can’t let Rolling Stone get the best of me.
  3. The Walkmen – You & Me: I have liked their stuff in the past (namely their Pussycats cover record), but they seem a little too macho. Like old school, sloppy “We’re dudes in a band! Let’s party!” types (The Hold Steady is another example). But I heard a couple songs from this album and really liked the mood they set.
  4. Deerhunter – Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.: I get all the “deer” bands messed up and I think I thought this was Deerhoof, who I do not like, so I skipped it. But then I happened to hear a song and was impressed. It was an acousticy number, which I find myself almost exclusively attracted to these days.
  5. Santogold – Santogold: So far not what I expected. Love that.

Nearly Favorites

And now, working up to my top 10, here’s the albums that didn’t make the big list. These are albums I did spend time with, or saw on tour, but didn’t really get obsessed with.

  •  M83 – Saturdays = Youth: This is not my typical musical taste. I hate synths. I can’t stand most 80s/New Wave songs…it’s all so unorganic sounding. But for some reason — maybe it was the mystery each song leaves you with, or the fantastic trip the entire album takes you on — but this album was my work soundtrack for weeks. It sounded very familiar to me, but not trite, and that’s hard to accomplish.
  • Stephen Malkmus – Real Emotional Trash: I think Malkmus keeps getting stronger and stronger both as a songwriter and as a guitarist. This is no Face the Truth, but it says a lot that I actually love the long guitar solos on this record. Just good, raw guitar rock. Janet Weiss was a perfect addition to the Jicks. This might also be the only worthwhile Matador album of 2008. What’s up with them?
  • She & Him – Volume 1: I debated on not including this in any of my lists since Paste named it their album of the year. As I commented on Stereogum, I think this album is a step backward for music. I know M. Ward doesn’t mean it this way, but the idea of the album reeks of Ike backing Tina Turner or Phil backing Ronnie Spector. I suppose Zoey needed someone to legitimize her foray into music. She does have a great voice, and her songwriting chops are commendable. But it gets boring. It’s a step backward in music. It’s not like Fleet Foxes who have taken the folk history of rock and turned it into something beautiful and important for today. It’s just a bunch of simple songs that sound good. Lots of people can do that.
  • Magnetic Fields – Distortion: It was thrilling to hear the Magnetic Fields electrified, but then the novelty kinda wore off.
  • Sigur Ros – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust: I respect and admire Sigur Ros more than I actually enjoy listening to them. I love hearing the music, but it’s sometimes emotionally draining to hear it repeatedly. Even the happy songs feel draining. I’m glad they made a poppier record that remained true to themselves.
  • Spirtitualized – Songs in A+E: I was very briefly obsessed with this one, I guess because it’s so stark and depressing. But listening to it weeks later made me feel icky, which I think is intentional. The creepy romanticism I’ve always associated with him doesn’t work for me much any more.
  • REM – Accelerate: Thank God that one turned out all right.

Greats of 2008, Part 1

We’ve finally made it. The US has a swell new prez, there’s more cute cat videos online than ever before, and Britney Spears may actually come back to some state of normalcy. It’s a great time to post some best of lists!

I’m starting with my favorite shows of 2008 because what I witnessed was amazing time and time again. Some shows were little, some big, but nearly all exciting and memorable.

Favorite Shows

  1. Fleet Foxes – 7th Street Entry, July 20: Whenever I think about the great shows I saw this year, Fleet Foxes is the first one that comes to mind. The intimacy was overwhelming. Being that close to the band made me aware of how rare it is for voices so beautiful to come together and make such wonderful music. Some bands are built for greatness, and I think Fleet Foxes is one of them.
  2. The National & REM – Xcel Energy Center, June 5: Maybe it was my great seats, or maybe it was the singalong factor that is so rare for shows I normally see, but Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, etc. really know how to pack a punch. Stipe is a vain clown on stage, encouraging you to have a great time. The National doesn’t quite work the crowd the same way, but they proved to be a big hit for the over 40-set. I was proud of them, in a strange way. Like, “Yes, the indie kids won over the oldies!”
  3. Sigur Ros – Orpheum Theater, September 25: An absolutely stunning show that left the girls behind us crying and me with goose bumps. I have never seen a concert like Sigur Ros. I expected a small orchestra for some reason, instead it was just a rock band making orchestral-caliber music.
  4. Magnetic Fields – Madison WI, October 11: If I was making a list of funniest shows of 2008, Magnetic Fields would be at the top. The opening PowerPoint presentations by Liz Clayton and Paul Lukas created an LOL ambiance seldom felt at presentations or rock concerts. The band’s musicianship is amazing — turning the songs from Distortion into little folk ditties you’d swear were from 16th century Ireland if not for the modern references.
  5. St Vincent- Cedar Cultural Center, February 22: Continuing my fascination with this singer/songwriter, St Vincent proved once again that her songs are better live than recorded. This time, she had a band, which I thought would diminish her strong presence. Instead it augmented her sound without pushing her aside. Hopefully I can see her again in 2009 and make it three years in a row.

More lists to come!

P.S.

I Voted in 89.3 The Current's Top 89 Albums of 2006

2008.5 – a year in music so far

Here we are – about half way through another year. It’s hard to believe we’re almost done with the first decade of the 21st century!

What a great time to be a music fan though.  The pseudo-mainstreaming of indie rock has catapulted non-bubble gum pop/rock to the forefront of MTV time and time again. TV dramady writers love to showcase songs by their favorite indie bands on their shows, and of course Garden State made one band change the lives of millions.

I want to share a couple things here: first, my adoration of what I’ve dubbed Pastoral (Indie)Rock. New-ish bands in this subgenre consists of, but is not limited to:

Each of these bands or musicians share a penchant for singing or playing about earthy things, or taking more modern thoughts and spinning them in a hymn-like web, in a very beautiful way. The instrumentation is always so intricate, and often includes banjos. I’m a big fan. There are more bands (Wilco, M. Ward for instance), but these are the ones taking it on now.

Secondly, I’d like to highlight my favorite releases this year so far. You can vote for yours at All Songs Considered.

  •  My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges: I cannot stop thinking about this music! As I Twitted, to me, much of it sounds like a lost collaboration between Paul McCartney and George Harrison from 1976. I normally can’t stand music from the 1970s, but MMJ are making me change my mind.
  • Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: Although not as strong of the “Sun Giant” EP, this album is full of engaging melodies and delicate playing. Pastoral indie rock at its best.
  • She & Him – Volume 1: This is almost Pastoral Rock because it features one of its inventors, M. Ward. However, at least one member is required to have a bushy beard, and Zooey’s huge hair doesn’t count.
  • Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: I ain’t too proud to say I still like ‘em.
  • Magnetic Fields – Distortion: I hope this doesn’t get lost because it was released so early in the year.

There are other albums (Shearwater, Stephen Malkmus, R.E.M.) that are really good, but haven’t really stuck to me. I’ve been listening to an interesting mix of old and new this year. My favorite album for the past three weeks has been Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue Live 1975 (Bootleg Series Vol. 5). So passionate.
That’s enough!