14 January 2009

Albums of the Year 2008, Part 2

Let’s carry on looking at some of the 10 albums* that caught my ear, held my attention or in some rare cases actually thrilled me, shall we?

*Cheating a bit -- I’m also including a “sidebar” of good Canadian bands, since I’m living here, because Canada actually has a thriving and diverse musical scene, and because they are often overlooked south of the border. So those bands are extras.

Panic at the Disco
Pretty. Odd.
Atlantic Records

Here’s one that going to raise an eyebrow or two, but Las Vegas’ Panic at the Disco took the occasion of 2008 to grow the fuck up and become a truly wonderful band. Their previous album, 2005’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out held some seeds of greatness (WAY above-average lyrics and a Queen-like intermission), mostly in their titles (“I Write Sins Not Tragedies” and “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is the Press Coverage” for examples) -- but they were trapped in an emo wrapper and stuffed with radio-friendly “alternative”-ness.

And it worked. They were a huge hit, album went platinum, world tour, got laid about 800 times each, toast of MTV, etc. The only thing wrong with it all was that it was as soul-filling as a soap bubble.

Then, at some point while working on their sophomore album, they looked into the abyss of where emo-pop bands end up, and had an epiphany. They abandoned that work, crawled back to their childhood rooms and got their Sweet, Queen, ELO and Beatles records off the shelf and gave them a listen.

Well, I’m here to report that they escaped their prison. The resulting rewritten album, Pretty. Odd., has driven half their former fan base batshit insane with hatred. They feel betrayed, I feel like they saved their souls. The album has a joyousness, a happiness, a glamtastic whimsy that you could never ever get from the dead-end backalley that is emo.

Jellyfish fans, glam hags and 70s UK rockers will latch onto this record like barnacles on a merry old pirate ship (in fact, the only thing missing here is a right old sea shanty). If it was any more happy-go-lucky, the CD would sprout legs, kick up its heels, and go on glorious Bowie bender.

You may have heard “Nine in the Afternoon,” as it became something of a hit just on the band’s previous rep -- and it’s great, maybe it will open a few teenybop eyes -- but in committing radio suicide, they may have heard their true voice. Here’s a non-single example called “That Green Gentleman.”

Beach House
Carpark Records

So we go from a band that sounds like an entire genre to one that just sounds like a very specific sub-genre: rock from ghosts in the dead of night. If you haven’t given your Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star albums a spin for a while, this is essentially the same stuff, only this time from Baltimore. I suspect they made this album solely in hopes of scoring some soundtrack work from John Waters, but if you’re in the mood for that “dream pop” thing, you’re in the mood for it, and this complements it to a “T.”

Next up, our Canadian “sidebar,” and this might be considered a cheat-within-a-cheat because the band didn’t actually put out a full album -- just an EP -- this past year. But I only found out about the Montreal-based Stars this year, and I’m giving you some of the ‘08 material, so I say it counts.

I’ve already shared a little about Stars before -- a video for their last hit “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” -- and I’m still loving them, though I’m quite hard-pressed to describe them. The closest I think I’ve come is “The Beautiful South fused with the Trash Can Sinatras laying on Morrissey’s grave” and that should hold you long enough for me to whip out their new Sad Robot EP and show the obligatory -- oh wait, no video for YOU! We only have audio -- like that’s a bad thing:

“A Thread Cut with a Carving Knife” by Stars from Sad Robot EP

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