Posted by: cousinbrandon | July 15, 2009

“The Mixes” Series: Feast and Famine, 2008

Originally published July 15, 2009 on 710 ESPN

Way back in 1999, my cousin, Matt, and I, along with a couple other music snobs/aficionados, started compiling our own year-end “Best of…” lists, usually ranking our top 10 full-length releases of the year. Always the ambitious one, I stopped at no less than 20 releases, as there was just too much goodness out there for me to limit myself to only 10 CDs. (And, yes, this was a time when all of my listening habits meant purchasing actual CDs as opposed to downloading, streaming, and “borrowing” digital music.)

Matt and I typically had a lot of similar music interests, which meant a lot of overlap on our lists. Granted, we both had a habit of “withholding” one or two releases from the other. I’m not sure if we wanted to employ the element of surprise, or if we simply tried to take ownership of something dear to us, like a couple of new dads protecting their babies from this cruel world. Despite our occasional differences, we all of us followed the same criteria when compiling our lists, which I dug out of an old email I sent on January 3, 2003, four years after coming up with the idea in the first place:

As is always the case, I feel the need to preface my list by pointing out some of the criteria which determines those albums which are eligible for consideration:

1) No soundtracks, thereby disqualifying 8 Mile
2) No compilations, thereby disqualifying Now That’s What I Call Music Vol. 26
3) No reissues
4) No EPs

Now because I’m completely self-conscious and concerned you might actually take me seriously, no, I was not considering the 8 Mile soundtrack for my list, nor that awful MTV-esque compilation which likely featured such hits as “Groove is in the Heart” and “Good Vibrations,” and I don’t mean The Beach Boys version. Yes, even then, I was a sarcastic ass.

In the old days, we used to do nothing more than email each other our lists. In fact, to give you an idea of just how in-depth and in-sane I really am, here’s my entire email (that’s referenced above) in its entirety, sans the aforementioned criteria, for the year 2002:

In addition, there are always albums which may appear alarmingly absent from my list, such as Super Furry Animal’s Rings Around The World. As is always the case, my budget does not allow for me to purchase every album released during the year, so I have to base my decisions based on what I actually own.

Finally, there are albums which, with more time, would certainly be on my list. For instance, I just obtained the new release from Rocket From The Crypt in the last two weeks. With more time, I’m certain it would be on my list. But seeing as how I’d like to get this out in a timely manner, this is all I can offer. Also, I just picked up the new Godspeed You Black Emperor! record which, with more time, would certainly be higher on my list. Don’t get me wrong: my list is still pretty darn good.

But before I get into the list, here are a couple of extras:

Best Reissue of 2002:
Pavement – Slanted And Enchanted: Luxe And Reduxe (Matador)

Most Disappointing Record of 2002 (based on how long I waited):
The Breeders – Title TK (4AD)

Most Honorable Mentions of 2002:
Silkworm – Italian Platinum (Touch And Go)
Sleater-Kinney – One Beat (Kill Rock Stars)
Desaparecidos – Read Music/Speak Spanish (Saddle Creek)
The Reindeer Section – Son Of Evil Reindeer (Pias Recordings)
Ugly Casanova – Sharpen Your Teeth (Sub Pop)
Blackalicious – Blazing Arrow (MCA) 

TOP 20 OF ’02

20. The French KicksOne Time Bells (StarTime)
19. Elf PowerCreatures (spinART)
18. Secret MachinesSeptember 000 (Ace Fu)
17. Godspeed You Black EmperorYanqui U.X.O. (Constellation)
16. Swearing At MotoristsThis Flag Signals Goodbye (Secretly Canadian)
15. BeckSea Change (Geffen)
14. John VandersliceLife And Death Of An American Fourtracker (Barsuk)
13. The DecemberistsCastaways And Cutouts (Hush)
12. The Flaming LipsYoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Warner Brothers)
11. Richard BucknerImpasse (Overcoat)

10. EnonHigh Society (Touch And Go)
This is where I hand out cigars. Congratulations are in order. I don’t know if you heard, but Stereolab, Dismemberment Plan, Portishead, and Grandmaster Flash got together and had themselves a kid. Hot damn, it’s cute! At times it’s nothing but throaty female coochie-coos, and sometimes it shakes its naked little ass while the doctor’s still spanking it. Aw, would you look at that? High Society just went and spit up a little, and damn if it’s not doing it rather rhythmically. Hell, the whole emergency room is bomping up and down. I’ll be damned! It’s not just their heads that everyone’s shaking, but their entire bodies! Wait! Is that dancing?! By god, it is! It’s so nice to have a baby in the house. The poor young thing has gone and made dancing acceptable again. Now who wants their bottle?

09. Badly Drawn BoyHave You Fed The Fish? (XL-Recordings)
There seems to be a common contempt for eclecticism in our society. Nowadays it’s all specialization. You can’t just be a doctor; rather, you’ve got to focus on the index finger. You can’t make it by studying literature; instead, you’ve got to have a hold on Navajo Women Folklore. And despite our constant push for “niche-ing,” Badly Drawn Boy (a.k.a. Damon Gough, or the Knit-cap Wonder, if you prefer) has once again flashed his middle finger in the face of expectations and created an album filed under the “A” section in your local record store. That’s “A” for “All over the map,” or simply the grade itself. Where The Hour Of Bewilderbeast may have been slightly more cohesive (if that’s even possible for a BDB album) and less produced, Fish is both ambitious and dynamic. Gough isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, as evidenced by such memorable tracks as “You Were Right” or the vaudevillian, Beatlesque “Tickets To What You Need.” If jumping all over the place means producing results like this, by all means jump, Boy! Jump!

08. InterpolTurn On The Bright Lights (Matador)
Yeah, sure, I know what Pitchfork thinks. Hell, I know what Matt thinks, as well. “Turn On The Bright Lights is easily the album of the year.” Well, I have to take issue with this assumption. Great album? Absolutely. Album of the year? No. Don’t get me wrong. Interpol’s debut is a true stunner. Sure, they, too, have fallen into the ever-growing pile of “Derivative” (see: The Strokes), but I have absolutely no problem with imitation as long as it’s done well. And sure enough, Interpol does it really well. To call this record haunting doesn’t quite do it justice. Usually we try to forget the things that haunt us. In this case, you’ll find yourself anxiously checking from side-to-side to make sure no one’s around so you can belt out tracks like “NYC” without embarrassment. Crafty guitar work, vocal moans, and a variety of mood swings helped to lift Interpol’s debut into my top 10 with ease. A debut as spastic as it was enjoyable.

07. Sigur Ros( ) (Fatcat/Pias/MCA)
When the Icelandic foursome’s debut was released in America way back in 2000, I got a copy after the fact and was forced to leave their stunning first record off of my list. Now, two years later, they’ve struck again with an album I prefer over the original. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Perhaps I’ve learned to give myself over to the band’s faux-language, Hopelandic; or maybe I’ve simply prepared myself to be further dumbfounded this time around. In any event, one thing is for sure: it’s not the parentheses that sold me. Sure, I still find myself “deciphering” lyrics, trying to “sing along” with the album. But Sigur Ros has truly accomplished the feat of turning the vocals into an instrument of equal weight and importance. Peter Frampton, take note: there’s no need to make your guitar sing when the vocals will not only suffice, but do it better. Now who’s got a secret decoder ring I can borrow?

06. Elvis CostelloWhen I Was Cruel (Island Records)
Call me sentimental, but there’s simply no denying the comeback by Liverpool’s own King of America. I’ve loved EC for years. In fact, I saw him play the Mann in Philly a couple of times, the second of which for his Mighty Like A Rose Tour. Fortunately he’s past the point of wearing gold lame hats a la the one he wore on SNL about a ten years ago. With When I Was Cruel, my favorite Liverpudlian (well, save those other four guys) has rebounded from Bacharach Hell with his strongest effort in more than a decade. With the passion and heartache of Blood And Chocolate and the eclecticism of Spike, When I Was Cruel is a reminder that not all English rock stars need to unplug their amps and hang up their stockings (I’m looking at you Mick, Paul, Roger, and Rod) before making the long walk up the apples and pears to the “Once Upon A Time” Graveyard. If you’re not convinced that the horn-rimmed, gap-toothed Englishman has still got it in him, give “Tart” (track 7) a listen. You’ll come around. Long live the King!

05. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of DeadSource Tags And Codes (Interscope)
It’s pretty easy to look at bands like The Strokes and The Hives and applaud them for putting rock back on the map. But let’s face it — they don’t break any ground; they simply put down a new layer of asphalt. So thank the good Lord for this Texas quartet’s balls-out attitude which digs up the linoleum with hand-held drills and pick-axes then pisses all over it, all completed while highly intoxicated. Trail Of Dead is like the guy who hangs out the car window with a baseball bat swatting mailboxes to oblivion, the last of which is most likely his own. Source Tags And Codes is the rock album that rock bands aspire to make. It’s in-your-face and unrestrained like a dope on crystal meth, yet equally controlled and measured. Now how the hell is that even possible? I’d suggest a drive to the Lone Star State at 90+ miles per hour for the answer. Just watch your head; I hear these guys like to kick.

04. SpoonKill The Moonlight (Merge)
When your band puts out the album of the year (last year’s brilliant Girls Can Tell), it’s tough to immediately produce a companion piece that’s just as strong (just ask The Flaming Lips). So how in the hell did Britt Daniel and his fellow Spoon-hands manage to create such a kick-ass follow-up to Girls? Some of my cohorts (Matt, Chuck) insist that Kill The Moonlight is the stronger of the two albums. Maybe so, but for me Girls is the album that broke the proverbial mold in two; Kill The Moonlight came along and smashed it into a million pieces. After all, there’s no denying the blues/rock seduction and changes on tracks like “Something To Look Forward To.” It’s clear that Spoon has emerged as one of rock’s — one of music’s — definitive juggernauts. If this is what happens when the moonlight is put out, I look forward to seeing it glimmer (wasn’t that Mariah’s movie?). Spoon is one of the few bands making music today who not only subscribe to the “less is more” theory, but confidently pull it off.

03. WilcoYankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
If nothing else, Wilco proved in 2002 that there’s such a thing as justifiable hype. After all the rumors — after the “problems” with the industry, the inner-circle struggles (Jay Bennett, where are you?), the bidding war — Wilco emerged from the smoke and ashes like the proverbial phoenix on their own terms with arguably their strongest effort to date (sorry, but I’m still an A.M. man myself). Jeff Tweedy and company have figured out a way to not only reach for the brass ring, but to snatch it from its perch and have the damn thing fitted: they’ve achieved commercial success on their own terms. While YHF may have began 2002 as my pick of the year, it slipped just a tad. It doesn’t speak to their lack of staying-power, but to the strength of Wilco’s competition. God bless you, Jeff Tweedy, though I’m sure you’d agree that God is dead. Probably too many cigarettes …

02. The Good LifeBlack Out (Saddle Creek)
I hated the 80’s. I hated New Wave. I hated bands like The Cure, The Smiths, and Joy Division. So somebody please tell me why the hell I am so utterly infatuated with Black Out. I kept telling myself, “I don’t want to like this album,” and yet I not only insisted on listening to it over and over again, but I consistently forced it on others. The album functions as one long story (concept album?) concerning a drinking binge. But damn if it isn’t as charming as it is depressing. Black Out may be as schizophrenic as it is enjoyable, based on lead-Lifer Tim Kasher’s ability to go from zero to Lunatic in a matter of seconds. His desperation will have you wavering between dumping your Jack down the drain or double-fisting it for hours. A no-brainer on any list, yet strangely absent from Pitchfork, Lost At Sea, Chris Laughlin… Easily the album of the year, er, if not for the album of the year.

01. Do Make Say Think& Yet & Yet (Constellation)
When Do Make Say Think released Goodbye Enemy Airship The Landlord Is Dead way back in 2000, I missed the boat completely. That is, I didn’t discover the album until after the year had passed. To this day, I still think, What a damn shame! But with 2002 came an all new collection of the Canadian post-rock outfit’s “moodular” music, and once again I was hooked immediately. Perhaps it had something to do with my frame of mind this past year, what with my constant workload and study habits. But no album found its way onto my Discman as often as this one. Usually I’d play it as background noise while reading or writing only to discover that, time and again, concentrating on my own work was hopeless.

& Yet & Yet is the type of album that I hope to discover on an annual basis. Whether you’re looking for ambient background noise to drown out the local coffee-shop goers while reading through a text on poetic forms, or instead want to completely immerse yourself in the music as if some type of enlightened answer might suddenly appear — a clarity, if you will — look no further. And hot damn if they can’t put a catchy track together with changes aplenty.

DMST’s M.O. seems to revolve around a more condensed, tighter version of Godspeed You Black Emperor’s best tracks interspliced with the utter goodness of Mogwai. If GYBE’s albums are soundtracks to epic films, then Do Make Say Think’s albums function as a collection of shorts, each one complete in itself, yet connected to every other track to form a whole that’s somehow larger. As dynamic as any GYBE track and as tight as any Mogwai effort, each single on & Yet & Yet is like a miniature explosion. It’s the listener’s job to pick up the rubble each time through, a chore I happily welcomed.

Okay, so this sort of calculated, meticulous scrutiny went on with me for years, until two things finally happened:

  1. I was no longer able to come up with 10 great releases every year, let alone 20; and
  2. I was tired of simply providing people with text, and instead decided it time to start creating mixes of my own to represent the year’s best music.

So, when 2003 came to an end, I abandoned the list altogether and put together my first year-end mix. I realized a couple of things: 1) that there weren’t enough great records in their entirety to make me want to write a list; and 2) that a single CD wouldn’t cut it. There were a ton of great tracks released that year, but not enough great records. Rather than attempt to squeeze a hodgepodge of music onto a single CD, I was inspired to do something different altogether: I made two discs, one containing the year’s best “fast” tracks and one capturing the year’s best “slow” tracks. And sure enough, I’ve been doing it ever since. Hell, I’ve even gone back and made mixes after the fact for the years I wasn’t doing it. Making mixes gave me a bit more freedom in that I no longer had to worry about the source material; that is, I no longer worry about if the song comes from a full-length, EP, compilation, what have you. My only real criteria are that it comes from the year in question, and that no more than one song by any band can appear on a single CD. Sure, a band might be represented on both the fast and slow mix, but no more than one song on each.

So, to get things started, I thought I’d supply you with both my “fast” and “slow” year-end mixes for 2008. My hopes are to get one of these lists together every week or so until my year-end mixes are in your hands. After that, I intend to tackle a completely different type of music list (hopefully) for your enjoyment. And while I’m not linking to the audio directly, I tried to provide some YouTube clips of the various songs and bands so that you might learn a little something about what I like to call “taste.” Enjoy.

Feast (The Best “Fast” Tracks of 2008):

1. Ratatat – “Mirando
2. Islands – “J’aime Vous Voire Quitter
3. Vivian Girls – “No
4. No Age – “Eraser
5. Sigur Ros – “Gobbledigook
6. Wolf Parade – “Soldier’s Grin
7. Tapes ‘n Tapes – “Le Ruse”
8. F***** Up – “Magic Word
9. The Whigs – “Like a Vibration
10. Liam Finn – “Second Chance
11. Frightened Rabbit – “The Modern Leper
12. Delta Spirit – “Trashcan
13. Dr. Dog – “Hang On
14. The Shaky Hands – “We Are Young
15. Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk
16. Born Ruffians – “Barnacle Goose
17. The Futureheads – “Broke Up The Time
18. The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Luciana
19. Marnie Stern – “Roads? Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads
20. Ladyhawk – “You Ran
21. Oxford Collapse – “The Birthday Wars
22. Royal Bangs – “Russia Goodbye”
23. Albert Hammond Jr. – “Bargain of a Century
24. Mogwai – “Batcat

Famine (The Best “Slow” Tracks of 2008):

1. Sigur Ros – “Inni mer syngur vitleysingur
2. The Dodos – “Red and Purple
3. The Futureheads – “Hard to Bear
4. Delta Spirit – “Parade
5. The Hold Steady – “One For the Cutters
6. Dr. Dog – “Army of Ancients
7. Ladyhawk – “(I’ll Be Your) Ashtray”
8. The Black Keys – “All You Ever Wanted
9. Frightened Rabbit – “The Twist
10. Bon Iver – “Skinny Love
11. Okay – “My”
12. Damien Jurado – “Gillian Was a Horse
13. Silver Jews – “Suffering Jukebox
14. Fleet Foxes – “White Winter Hymnal
15. The Breeders – “Regalame Esta Noche
16. Little Joy – “Don’t Watch Me Dancing
17. Black Francis – “Half Man
18. The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Four Night Rider
19. Born Ruffians – “Foxes Mate For Life
20. Okkervil River – “Calling and Not Calling My Ex
21. Lightspeed Champion – “Dry Lips
22. Radar Bros. – “On Nautilus”
23. Portishead – “Deep Water

Well, that’s it for 2008. Keep your eyes open for 2007, which will be here soon enough. And as always, have at it, you vultures!

-BD

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