03 March 2009

Albums of the Year 2008, Part Six: The Quickening
(Just Kidding, it's the Finale!)

Holy Frijoles, we’re finally here! It’s frickin’ March and we’re finally wrapping up the top 10 albums (plus Top 5 Canadian albums!) that caught my ear, held my attention or generally rocked my socks in 2008!

Before we get on to the final set of albums, let’s review (in brief for a change) where we are so far:

John Foxx - A New Kind of Man (Re-Make/Re-Model Award)
Girl Talk - Feed The Animals (Smashup the Mashup Award)
The Kooks - Konk (Glam-A-Rama Award)
The B-52s - Funplex (Still Doin' It For Me Award)
Mick Hucknall - Tribute to Bobby (This is Just a Tribute Award)
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (New Zoo Debut Award)
Elvis Costello - Momofuku (Takes a Licking, Keeps on Ticking Award)
Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell (Rock the Future Award)

10. Beach House - Devotion
09. The Decemberists – Always the Bridesmaid (a single series)
08. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours
07. Panic at the Disco! - Pretty. Odd.
06. Sam Phillips - Don’t Do Anything
05. Moby - Last Night
04. Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us
03. Joe Jackson - Rain

05. The Stills - Oceans Will Rise
04. The Dears - Missiles
03. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles
02. Stars - Sad Robot EP

No, they weren’t ranked before -- and no, this isn’t the order they appeared in! How observant of you! Next you’ll be telling me that I still have to name the top two albums and the #1 Canadian album of the year ...

Every single one of the above albums is definitely worth checking out, and the range represented there is so diverse I’ll wager almost anyone reading this would find something that makes their head nod in agreement.

One more bit of pre-finale business -- the Irving G. Thalberg Award for ... no wait, that’s not right ... how about “Best Digital-Only Release”? That one would go to Patti Smith for her breathtaking live album iTunes Originals. Patti actually did two albums in 2008: a reworked and expanded version of her poem The Coral Sea with My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, and then this intimate evening reprising her best known hits and talking about their creation. The former will be more interesting for the devoted fanbase, but the latter is the better record, in part because damn if she don’t still got it, and in part because she doesn’t just reprise the hits, she re-awakens them. Just wait till you hear her cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”!

Okay, okay ... geez, you don’t get this much foreplay in most sex-instruction manuals ...

And now, finally, on to our final picks for 2008. The second-best album of 2008 (IMO) is ...

Honeysuckle Weeks
Nettwerk Records

What?! Another duo comprised of a married couple where the woman is a great singer and the guy is so-so?? Are you sure you didn’t mix this up with Mates of State?

No, I’m not confused, or the owner of a sudden fetish for married duo-bands. It’s sheer coincidence, but where Mates of State are still in their charmingly awkward phase, The Subs have moved beyond them to be confident, polished veterans. Mates of State is music for indie fiends and college stations -- the Submarines are music for the big time, as evidenced by their featured spot in an iPhone commercial. But “You Me and the Bourgeoise” is only the tip of the iceberg for these guys: this is the kind of record one might make if one spent their whole life wishing they could make music, then one night a fairy grants your wish and you run into the studio as happy as a little girl -- playful, joyful, fresh and enthused.

If you’re a longtime music lover who’s just stumbling on to these guys, the comparison might be something like “Daniel Johnson and Jim Kerr write songs for an all-star band composed of The Postal Service, Stars and Feist.” Wait, what?!

And that means that the #1 Chas Album of the Year 2008 is ... is ...

The Botticellis
Old Home Movies
Antenna Farm Records

What is it about the California surf culture that attracts people who have never lived there or care about surfing? I’ve been to Cally, sure we all have, but despite all my time in Florida, the whole surf-sun-beachfires-Frankie & Annette thing was nothing I could relate to. Despite this, who doesn’t think at least some Beach Boys songs are sheer genius? It’s the same thing that helped Fleet Foxes to a massive hit debut in 2008, but the Botticellis have a little something more than just that Brian-Wilson-Meets-Phil-Spector production going for them. Being in San Francisco, maybe it’s that tinge of Sonny-Bono-hippiness, that Nazz-esque innocence, that Beatles-invade-the-USA earnestness, that Bread-like softer touch.

Man, I don’t know -- all I know is that this record took four years to make, but I want more. If you think the Submarines are like honeysuckle, Old Home Movies is like pure sweet syrup over butter-soaked pancakes. Maybe I’m just a sucker for happy, wimp-rock music, but both these albums are the 100% pure anti-grunge stuff I’ve been waiting for since prom night -- could we be on the brink of a new “Mello-lution?” (ooh! trademark! copyright! service mark! I own that, you hear me?!)

And finally, the #1 Canadian Album of 2008 is ... First Nations deerskin drum roll ...

Arm’s Way
Anti Records

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you (and the world) the birth of a new genre: indie-prog!

Yes, you heard me right. In the plundering of the past that makes up a huge chunk of this top 15 list, many bands have understandably raided their childhood favourites: 70s soft-rockers, California bands, New Wave outfits, a dose of hippy, a gram of glam, and a surprising amount of Paul-Simon-meets-Brian-Eno.

Montreal band Islands is having none of it. They feast on the corpses of giants: Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span (the “rock” era), King Crimson, Yes, ELP and even (gasp!) Zappa, but they blend this with a chaser of pop champagne. Getting the flavour of prog-rock without all those calories provides the listener with a reivigorated symphony, a bare-bones but fast-moving bombast that gives their homage just enough originality (or at least cleverness) to make it their own.

Arm’s Way starts right off, like all good prog albums, with a lead track that announces the album’s intentions like the prelude of a soundtrack. This is a journey of odd lyrics, off-kilter rhythms and complex arrangements, but never indulgent; this is a band that remembers its college-rock roots. They remind me, in an odd way, of Boston’s Human Sexual Reponse; trying to prove (and hoping against hope) that there really is more to rock music than three chords and studio trickery. It’s poppy, but layered in a way that most of their contemporaries miss. As they say on the iTunes Store, “deeper listening” is required.

And ... we’re done! Goodnight, everyone, and see you next year ... er, nine months from now ... yeah, we ran over time a little ... heh ...


Ron Kane said...

Haven't heard any of these, Chas-san. Send a sampler CD.

chas_m said...

Already underway, mes ami!