My Favorite Music – 2008

My year-end music list this year is different. Not necessarily in style, but in form. The era of buying full albums is more or less over for me (and I think many others). I might have bought one or two full albums this year. Now I scan through albums via song samples and just buy songs. So I struggled with how to rank my tops for 2008 this year. I also didn’t get to really comb the depths as much as I have in the past, though I did find some new stuff that really grabbed a hold of me. In the end, I’ve decided to post some of my favorite songs of 2008. I hope you enjoy them and I hope I make you a rabid fan of something you haven’t heard previously – that’s really what gets me going.

The following are in no order whatsoever:

Pete & The Pirates:  I found these guys on EMusic.com, who recently revamped their music recommendation service and whatever they’re using now for recommendations is 100 times better than before! Yeah, Pete & The Pirates is a terrible name for a band, but I found some excellent stuff from them a few months back and it’s sticking. Check out “Lost In The Woods.”

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The Delta Spirit: perhaps my favorite band of the new year and I just discovered them about four weeks ago when I saw them open for Nada Surf. I was purchasing their music the next morning. There is a timeless, slightly weathered feeling to this music, yet a young energy that you just can’t shake. If you only listen to one band from my list here, listen to this one (but really, I know you’re listening to all of these. You better be – these posts take a long time). This one is called “Parade”

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David Byrne & Brian Eno: Again, EMusic. I am not a fan of David Byrne. Oh, I loved Psycho Killer and maybe one or two of the songs from the mid-1980s (I did love “Burning Down the House”) but I just can’t get into the Talking Heads. Any of it. Believe me, I have tried. So why did I sample this? Well, the way it was written up as a mini-review made me start sampling and I’ll be damned! It’s terrific. Most notably the song “Home,” which I also included in a November 20th post here, but it’s such an excellent song it’s here again:

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Blitzen Trapper: I know I’ve mentioned Blitzen Trapper here a few times. I’ve decided that their latest album isn’t as good as their previous effort, but it’s most certainly got a few phenomenal tunes on it and they continue to pretty much defy any genre or real accurate description, so of course I love them. Here’s the softer side, via a song called “Furr,” which I was so-so on until I saw them do it on Conan. Now I LOVE it.

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Jenny Lewis: Perfect example of why I’m only doing songs this year: I’m a BIG fan of Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis and even The Elected. But Jenny Lewis’s solo album released this year really turned me off. With the single exception of this song, called “Acid Tongue,” which feels so real and so heartfelt that I couldn’t stop listening to it when I first heard it. Sometimes she can just crank out a special one. This is it.

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Easton Stagger Phillips: It seems to me that no matter what Tim Easton does, it absolutely resonates with me in such a huge way. In between his own albums, he cut this one with some Alaskan friends of his and it’s pretty much a stunner. Very down home, warm, comfortable feeling with this one, so much so that I bought the whole album after hearing just one song – I didn’t have to sample the rest. I knew it would be incredible and it is. There isn’t a bad one to be found on this, so I’ll just close my eyes and poke a pencil at one song. It’s “She Was Gone.”

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Okkervil River: holy SHIT! I never got into these guys before, but their latest release has some AMAZING songs on it. Just sweeping, epic stuff – great lyrics, great music, great everything! I was so pleasantly surprised. For this post I’m picking “Blue Tulip” not just for it’s emotional ebb-and-flow, but because it contains the my single most favorite moment in a song. It starts at about the 2:10 mark, really starts to stab you at about 2:40 when that guitar hits and then BURIES you at about 3:08 when the lyrics start up again. This is near-perfect song craft. Might be my favorite song of the year.

For every single inch of me, I’m going to make you mean it,
With every single cell of me, i’m going to make you mean the words you sigh
You lie

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Sam Champion: This is one of the reasons I SO love it when people leave a comment on this blog. One day out of nowhere a few years back I got an email from a woman in Wisconsin who told me she’d been reading my blog for a year or so and thought we were musical compadres. So she recommended a local named Sam Champion so I went and sampled it and thought – very good. Well, he released another record this year and I found “You Can’t Stop” and downloaded it right away – just an awesome rock song. Love that riff in the beginning and the end, because you don’t feel at all like you’re getting a great rock song – then it HITS you! The middle is a total curve ball and it’s all good.

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The Hold Steady: I’m not as gung-ho on these guys as I used to be and I think their new album wasn’t as adventurous as I hoped. That said, what they did before worked, so they didn’t really have to throw any knuckleballs here. And there were a couple very good tunes on thier 2008 release. This one is my favorite, called “Slapped Actress.”

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Sloan: come on, you didn’t think I’d leave my favorite band of the last TEN years off, did you? Their 2008 release “Parallel Play” wasn’t as much of a romp as their double album from ’07, but it is, of course, full of terrific power pop. These guys can be relied on 100% to make music that will make you tap your feet. Their live show, which I think I’ve probably seen 4,356 times now, is one that ranks among my favorite. Ever. This is “Witch’s Wand.”

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The Black Keys: these guys are just pure ass-kickers with a sound all their own. Some would call them bluesy, others call them straight-up indie rock. It doesn’t matter what you call them – they make good, old-school music. You pretty much know it when you hear them. This is  “Things Ain’t Like They Used To Be.” Enjoy!

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The Racontuers: just like their first offering, I didn’t want to like them because I just can’t stand The White Stripes. But I can’t help it – I love these guys. More old-school rock that takes me back to the days of cranking WCOZ on my parents Scott stereo system (local alert! local alert!). This is one called “Rich Kid Blues.” Classic rock lives!

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Nada Surf: of course. These guys are making a run at Sloan for me. They just keep putting out album after album of such high quality material that it’s not even funny. It’s also not even a question anymore – when there’s a new album, ALL of it is purchased. No questions asked and no songs heard. It’s a done deal. You know I love a band when I get a baby-tee from the band for my kid. If you don’t like “Weightless,” then get off my cloud!

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Kelley Stoltz: one of my favorites of the last couple of years. Seriously, this guy is a genius. I don’t know what else to say at this point, besides that he’s so creative, inventive and crafts tunes that leave me occasionally quite speechless. One of them is “Put Your Troubles To Sleep.” Why can’t I  get over the guitar part that kicks in around the 2:10 mark? I can’t get over how much I love it.

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Holy shit, 2008 was better than I thought! Listen and leave comments!

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You Get What You Pay For

The cliche is “you get what you pay for.” This weekend as I was outside snowblowing I told myself that a) having a snowblower and b) spending a little extra for a higher quality snowblower is well worth it. You do, indeed, get what you pay for. Then, as I mindlessly went up-and-down the driveway, creating snow-line symmetry, I thought that’s all well and good, but what defies the cliche? In other words, what can you actually crimp a little on and still get something good? The first thing that popped into my head was wine. I’m not a huge wine drinker, but I do know that some $6.99 bottles taste GREAT! So what else? What other products defy the cliche?

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Ass

This Person Needs Glasses
This Person Needs Glasses

I dork out on all the parent magazines. If you’re a parent, you probably know them – Parents, Cookie, Wonder Time, etc. They’re so cheap that we get most of ’em. I’ve come to realize that these magazines make a living off of basically publishing the same 12 issues every year. It’s complete genius.  In June 2008, you got the “summer activities issue,” which, if you look,  has the exact same articles and themes as the June 2007 issue. Get it? Either way, we still read them, desperate for tips on what we can do to keep our kids engaged and amused. ANYTHING to keep them from freaking out in boredom.

What I find very amusing in the latest issue of Parents Magazine is this ad. Now, parents, in looking at this ad, do you see anything out of ordinary? I certainly do. For one thing, when I’m applying diaper cream to my kid’s arse, that is NOT where the cream usually goes. But I guess Desatin needs to deliver the message somehow that baby’s behinds are cute and if you use desatin, you get to put cream on that cute little behind. Alas, what is not reflected in this picture is your kid freaking out from diaper rash – or where the cream actually goes. As Faith No More sang in its early days, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.” We care a lot, indeed.

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Holiday Joy

Christmas cards appear to be much more important when you have children. You finally have something personal you can splash on the front of the card. I mean, when you don’t have kids, you can’t put a picture of you and your wife/girlfriend on a card, because that’s tacky, although one year (pre-kids) I did tell Stephanie that we ought to dress up in Chrismassy clothes like red and green one-piece sleeper pajamas, sit in front of the fireplace and pose as young babies one year for cards. I pictured myself with one of those huge candy canes and a big, stupid smile on my face, seated next to Steph. It would have made an AWESOME card. As you might imagine, it got voted down. Rightly so, I suppose.

Another example: I thought we were the only ones who had to – literally – take 4,234 pictures before we found one for the Christmas card that worked. I came to find out at a party this weekend that many other parents share this same process. You just keep taking pictures until you get one that is even remotely acceptable. I’d love to show everybody the thousands of pictures that we took, so you can see the proof. In most of them, the following scenarios are occurring:

  • The picture comes out with one kid sitting there with a beautiful smile on his face, while the other one is only 30% in the picture, has one arm and one leg up in the air – and a look of utter panic on his face.
  • They are both sitting there calmly, the only problem being that a) one of them has a stream of snot coming out of his nose that wasn’t there 2 seconds ago when you were setting them up and b) the other one sees the snot and goes exploring into his own nose for the same.
  • For some reason, on shot #3,421 you finally get a good pose, but the kids are blurry and the background is crystal clear. Yay!
  • Both kids look pissed off.
  • Both kids have their eyes closed.
  • Both kids are looking in different directions.

So how did we get one that worked? Well, we put them on the couch and I had to stand off the side and – as hard as I could – bounce them up and down by beating on the couch cushion. They were looking right at me, smiling, while Steph snapped away. It worked! So if you get a card from us, you can clearly see they are not looking at the camera. They are looking at their dad, laughing at him and trying to figure out why the doofus is making stupid noises and pounding on the couch cushion. There you have it!

An extra holiday shout-out to the folks at Tiny Prints, whose Christmas cards look awfully nice, but they can’t really figure out how to operate the rest of the business. We ordered our cards and red envelopes the last week of November. We finally got them late last week. With no envolopes. Poor Steph calls on Friday and they tell her we will DEFINITELY have them on Saturday, overnighted. No envelopes come Saturday. Or Monday. Call on Monday. We’ll DEFINITELY have them on Tuesday. Here they are! Only half are red, though. The other half are silver. What? Not a huge deal, but it’s still not what we ordered. Call back, we’re told we’ll DEFINITELY have the rest of our red envelopes by Thursday, December 18th. For an order we placed the last week of November. Wheeee!

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Red Means Run, Son

neil_young_gig1
Neil Young

There are only a few musicians whom I’ve long admired that I haven’t seen live yet.  Haven’t seen R.E.M. Or Van Morrison, The Kinks/Ray Davies, Teenage Fanclub or The Left Banke. Okay, just kidding about that last one. Until Saturday night, it seemed inexplicable, but I hadn’t ever seen Neil Young, either.

I can’t really say that Neil Young is on the list of my top 10 musicians of all time, but I can tell you that there has never been a time in my life when I wasn’t in a Neil Young phase. There is always a Neil Young song in that catalog somewhere that is going to work for you. I also admire him for always following his heart when it comes to his music. Whether the decision was a good one or a bad one – and there were plenty of bad ones – Young never veered from where his muse took him and he’s never sold his music or created a jingle for a commercial.

So Saturday night I crossed Young off the list with my homeless-for-the-weekend friend, out in the rusting, steel traps of Worcester, MA at the DCU Center. First things first, though. The “DCU Center” will always be the Centrum. No matter who pays for the name of the building. It’s the Centrum, ok? Just getting that out of the way. We missed Everest, the opening band, but Leo and I are fans of Wilco, the middle band, and while it was very very odd for us to see them in an arena, they still put on a neat set to a very appreciative crowd. I wasn’t sure if they were fans of the band or truly surprised by a new band they were hearing, but the crowd really dug them, so I was happy to see that. It feels like yesterday when I saw them at Johnny’s D’s in Somerville three weeks before their first album came out. But it was 1995. They’ve come a long way.

Young took the stage promptly at 9:15 and hit it like a locomotive hurtling down the tracks, everything firing. The first four songs were barn burners – opened with “Love & Only Love,” then “Hey Hey, My My,” “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” and then thankfully, “Powderfinger,” one of my favorite Young tunes. Truthfully, I could have gone home right then and been satisfied. And maybe I should have, because from then on it was incredibly hit-and-miss, much like Young’s career. So I wasn’t surprised, nor was I disappointed. The band sounded terrific, you had just had to wait for the nuggets you liked the best. Among those for me were “Cortez The Killer,” “Get Back To The Country,” and, despite their repetitive play on classic rock radio, “Cinnamon Girl” had the guts and whack of a band of twenty-somethings and “Old Man” had a crispness, clarity and heart that just I didn’t expect. The song which Young wrote when he was 24 is now about him and not the guy who lived near him at the time.

Oh, there were curveballs in the dirt, of course. There were two stretches in the show when he just about put the place to sleep. Which is fine, really. Again, Young was playing what he was passionate about and if he happens to be in the mood to play a lot of songs (some new) about cars and coughing up the bucks, so be it. You just want to be there when he uncorks the one or two in a row that make it worth the price of the show.

I suspect if I had seen Young previously, I would have been disappointed. But I’m glad I went, because I’m not leaving this great world until I see all the people who’ve made the music that contributed to the soundtrack of my life. Check another one off the list. Saturday night’s set list is here.

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