Friday, December 28, 2007

Favorite Songs of 2007

Why? Cause everyone else is doing it. Again, these are my favorite songs (mainly, as determined by what iTunes and my iPod say I listened to the most), rather than the best songs. And this time, these are ranked in order. (Note also that my rules are one song per album. Otherwise my list would be 30 to 40 songs long...). I've tried to link to music videos of the originals whenever possible, but some of these are linked to live recordings instead.
  1. "Right Moves", from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (Josh Ritter). An extremely catchy song with lots of energy, and easy to sing along to. Particularly meaningful for me this year.
  2. "1234", from The Reminder (Feist). For what it's worth, I liked the song before the iPod commercial. She also makes awesome music videos.
  3. "Keep the Car Running," from Neon Bible (The Arcade Fire). Love how the strings enter quietly in the beginning, then swell, and then the song explodes in energy. Consistently gets my blood flowing every time I hear it.
  4. "The Underdog," from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Spoon). Needs no explaining. If you don't like this song, you don't like life.
  5. "Queen of Hearts," from America (Romantica). This was a late find for me. Mellow and catchy, singable, and touched me for some reason, from the first listen.
  6. "Paranoia in B flat Major," from Emotionalism (Avett Brothers). So many fine tracks to choose from off of this album. Great opening line: "I keep telling myself that it'll be fine / you can't make everybody happy all of the time."
  7. "Andy Warhol & the Honeybees," from Deliver Us From People (Walker Kong). Happy, peppy, summery song.
  8. "All My Friends," from Sound of Silver (LCD Soundsystem). Truly glorious song. Energetic, catchy beat. In my opinion, the best off of an entire album worth of awesomeness.
  9. "A Girl in Port," from The Stage Names (Okkervil River). Again, a lot to choose from here, but this kept me company on late night summer walks back from the department.
  10. "Apartment Story," from Boxer (The National). Not really sure how to pick just one from Boxer, or which one to pick - there's plenty to choose from that are just as good - but I suppose I listened to Apartment Story the most.
  11. "A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger," from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Of Montreal). Again, a lot to choose from on this album. I always thought this song sounded like something one could DDR to. Catchy beat, a song about depression that you want to dance to! Can't beat that chorus.
  12. "Running Away," from The Fragile Army (The Polyphonic Spree). The happiest song from a happy album from the happiest band in the country.
  13. "Australia," from Wincing the Night Away (The Shins). Because it has the most "la la las" out of any Shins song to date.
  14. "What Light", from Sky Blue Sky (Wilco). Sure, not the most intelligent of music, lyrically. But it's catchy. A "nice" song.
  15. "Scythian Empires," from Armchair Apocolypse (Andrew Bird). It was either this or Plasticities.

And, runner ups:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Because everyone else is doing it...

Why make a "best music of the year list?" Near as I can tell, there are at least 4 reasons:
  1. "Look at how much money I blew on music this year"
  2. Feed the ego; demonstrating superiority through obscure bands that no one else has heard of and are honestly not any better than Neon Bible or The Reminder, but you feel the need to include anyhow to appear musically literate
  3. Highlight music that you really enjoyed - in a concise manner - which you can use to introduce interesting music to others who may not have purchased a few dozen albums per month
  4. Because everyone else does

So let's get my motivations out of the way. Regarding (1) - at my last imprecise count, I purchased about 75 albums this year (via emusic, itunes, or Newbury comics), about 55 of which were released this year. The vast majority were through emusic (65 tracks for $15 per month, really you can't beat this) - so, yeah...I listened to more new music than I probably should have.

Regarding (3) - this is why I enjoy the end of the year so much. Everyone, regardless of qualification, publishes a "best of the year list," which I find enjoyable to read through not to see where my favorite bands placed or to judge the reviewer, but to see how similar the musical tastes of the reviewer match mine - and if the match is strong, then see what music they liked that I may have missed. The "best of" list that most matches mine comes from Largehearted Boy, who has also accumulated a list of hundreds of "best of" lists from around the internet. I hope something on my list strikes your attention and brings you joy.

What is a "best of" list, anyway? Music is such a personal thing, that means different things to different people. Some approach listening to music as if judging fine art, others use it to pass the time in the shower or commute, some use it to get through difficult times...Is the best album of the year the one that is musically most skillful and complex? Is it the one that you listen to the most, as a sort of comfortable soundtrack? It certainly varies based on the mood of the listener, what the listener went through in his or her life during the year...and "best of the year" is probably different from "favorite of the year." These overlap from time to time, but I'm pretty sure more people have rewatched Toy Story 2 than did Shindler's List. My list is "favorites of the year" - the albums that I listened to most frequently. Some of these are certainly "best of" as well, meaning beautifully and thoughtfully developed, while others are comfort listens that I find myself coming back to over and over, regardless of how complex. And, I see no need to rank things, either, since there really is no difference between a #10 and a #12. Instead, I'm grouping by what I've listened to most frequently this year (revealed preference....)

Albums that I listen to at least once a week:

The National, "Boxer" - OK, I lied. This is my favorite of the year, and I think the "best album" as well. Haunting, depressing, and beautiful. So happy that the band has gained significant media attention as a result of the album's success.

The Avett Brothers, "Emotionalism" - a bit more edge than traditional bluegrass, crossed with The Beatles. The best of their catalog, for all lovers of a folky/country/bluegrass sound. If you hate banjo, steer clear.

Feist, "The Reminder" - how awesome is it that the indie queen (sorry Neko Case) has received so much media attention this year? Thanks in part to that ubiquitous iPod commercial, no doubt. Move over, Norah!

Josh Ritter, "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" - not as good as "The Animal Years," in my opinion, and a couple songs are filler. But what is good is REALLY good!

Albums that are really good, but which I may not have gotten to at least once a week:

Okkervil River, "The Stage Names" - literate and thoughtful, and oh yeah - they rock!

The Arcade Fire, "Neon Bible" - it was on nonstop repeat for the first month it was released, but has slowly fallen away since then. Doesn't compare to "Funeral" in my book, but I use "Keep the Car Running" to get my blood rushing on the way to the department in the morning.

Great Lake Swimmers, "Onigara" - not for everyone, very mellow. The string arrangements are excellent.

Romantica, "America" - just came across this last week. For fans of Great Lake Swimmers, or for those who find GLS a bit too mellow. The first half of the album is country-rockier, the second half is more mellow. "Queen of Hearts" is definitely one of my favorite songs of the year, you owe yourself a listen.

Spoon, "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" - actually, I'm not sure how I avoided this on a weekly basis. Spoon excels in sparse, deconstructed rock, and 8 of these 10 tracks are among the very best of the year.

LCD Soundsystem, "Sound of Silver" - another nearly perfect album. The middle of the album - North American Scum through Us V Them - is perfection in music form.

My Teenage Stride, "Ears Like Golden Bats" ; AND Shout Out Louds, "Our Ill Wills" - grouped together because they taste like the 1980s. The Cure, The Smiths, Talking Heads, etc. - it's all in there. Shout Out Louds even have a track named "Meat is Murder," though it's catchier than the Smiths' (and, it's not a cover).

I suppose that forms my top twelve list, but here are some more albums that I've really enjoyed this year. So, perhaps you will too!:

White Rabbits, "Fort Nightly" - how the heck did these guys not break through into national stardom? Catchy, snappy, and these guys rock hard.

Bishop Allen, "The Broken String" - culled from their series of 12 EPs, one of which was released online for each month of the year. You may have heard "Click Click Click" on a camera commercial. Incidentally, named after the street in Cambridge.

Deer Tick, "War Elephant" - sure, he sounds like Dylan, but that's a good thing! Awesome arrangements, too (harmonia, accordian, organ, etc). Excellent album.

Bright Eyes, "Cassadaga" - I didn't give it enough time at first. A much fuller band sound than the last (non-digital) album, took a bit of getting used to, but it's grown on me. Conner sounds like he has less angst than in previous outings. And rumor has it that he and M. Ward are teaming up for a side-project band, so that's cool.

The New Pornographers, "Challengers" - the first half is really good, as good as "Twin Cinema," in my opinion.

The Polyphonic Spree, "The Fragile Army" - why don't these guys get any respect? I'm convinced it's because their music is so joyous that the angst-filled indie community is allergic. Awesome, emotional live concert, too. "Wait" EP is also excellent, best Nirvana cover ever.

Bowerbirds, "Hymns for a Dark Horse" - just came across this one the other day. Very, very sparse folky music - but very well done and enjoyable.

Phonograph, "Phonograph" and "Hiawatha Talking Machine EP" - alt-country, more Son Volt than Wilco. You can never have too much alt-country.

Radiohead, "In Rainbows" - everyone found this to be as accessible as "The Bends," but I'm still having trouble. It's quality and all, but I don't find myself coming back to it very often. I assume this is a fault of mine, rather than the music.

Beirut, "The Flying Club Cup" - I think this is what the subway stations in France sound like. A soundtrack for running through vineyards in the country? I like it much more than the Balkan sound from "Gulag Orkestrar."

Other albums which deserve a mention, because they were good, but for which I will write no more than one sentence because I am tired:

Iron & Wine, "The Shephard's Dog" - continuing the full band sound from Woman King EP, I've finally come around to it

The 1900's, "Cold & Kind" - promising debut, think Belle & Sebastian but less twee

Devandra Banhart, "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon" - entertaining in short bits

Of Montreal, "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer" - can never listen to the whole thing in one sitting

Jose Gonzolez, "In Our Nature" - reserved, like the early days of Iron & Wine. Perfect for a snowy or rainy sunday.

St. Vincent, "Marry Me" - for those who like their female singers with a full band sound. Former singer in Polyphonic Spree

And finally, Albums I could not get into even though I really tried:

Wilco, "Sky Blue Sky" (even though I love Wilco!); Panda Bear, "Person Pitch" (I understand how some would like the shoegazy Beach Boys sound, but not for me); I'm From Barcelona, "Let Me Introduce My Friends" (I am built to love 20+ piece groups who sing camp songs, but this batch was a bit too silly for my tastes); Patrick Watson, "Close to Paradise" (he won the Mercury Prize and all, but it sounds too much like Parachutes-era Coldplay for my tastes); Patrick Wolf "Magic Position" (first half of the album is awesome; second half feels entirely like filler); Modest Mouse, "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank" (even with Jonny Marr, I could never get into it; am I too old?)

Despite all this, I'm bummed to have missed a few biggies: Ryan Adams, White Stripes, Interpol, The Go! Team. 2007's not quite up yet, I still have some, did I miss anything important?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Music I really dig at the moment

Oh, I know have all been waiting patiently for my best of the year list, but since it's barely December, I feel that I still have some time.

While you're waiting, may I suggest the following music that I've recently discovered?

  • "War Elephant" by Deer Tick. Very Dylan-esque, enjoyable.
  • "Trials of Van Occupanther" by Midlake. OK, I haven't been able to stop listening to this for two weeks now. Think a restrained Thom Yorke singing about life in the wilderness and frontier, accompanied by gorgeous chamber pop. Released last year, really beautiful stuff.
  • Anything by Bobby Bare Jr. Especially "Young Criminals' Starvation League." "I'll Be Around" may be my favorite song I've heard all year (album came out in 2002, I think). Sort of alt-country-rock, maybe full-out country at times.

I'm baaaaaaaaaaack!

Well, for a moment, anyway. This whole "apply for a job" thing is definitely consuming more of my time than I thought it would. So much to discuss, where to begin....

OK, how about my favorite sequence from The Office this season (From "Money")?

Ryan: "What I really want is for you to be able to do this, so you can communicate it to your staff, your clients, whomever."

Michael: "mm, ok."

Ryan: "What"

Michael: "It's `whoever', not `whomever.' "

Ryan: "No, it's `whomever.' "

Michael: "No, `whomever' is never actually right."

Jim: "Well, sometimes it's right."

Creed: "Michael is right. It's a made up word used to trick students."

Andy: "Actually, `whomever' is the formal use of the word."

Oscar: "Obviously it's a real word, I just don't know when to use it."

Michael: "Not a native speaker."

Kevin: "I know what's right, but I'm not going to say. Because you're all jersk who didn't come to hear my band last night."

Ryan: "Do you really know which one is correct?"

Kevin: "I don't know."

Pam: "It's whom when it's the object of the sentence, and who when it's the subject."

Phyllis: "That sounds right."

Michael: "Well that sounds right, but is it?"

Stanley: "How did Ryan use it, as an object?"

Ryan: "As an object."

Kelly: "Ryan used me as an object."

Pam: "How did Ryan use it again?"

Toby: "It was, Ryan wanted Michael, the subject, to explain the computer system, the object. To whomever, meaning us, the indirect object. Which is the correct usage of the word."

Michael: "No one asked you anything ever, so whomever's name is Toby, why don't you stick a letter opener in your skull."
And since we're on the subject, more wpop placement (from "Local Ad"). Turns out Andy likes WPOP (Cola). But really, Mountain W is where it's at!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Out of commission until mid-November

This whole dissertation thing will literally consume every minute of my time until job applications are sent out in mid-November (though I will celebrate the completion of my job talk by seeing these guys in their sold out concert that evening, basically the minute after my presentation is over. I think I'll go in my suit. Aaaaaand...that's the break for the next month). Hence, all human contact - and blogging - is on hold until mid-November. Heaven help any distractions: new music, addictive TV, the ALCS, fantasy football, or people (my office mates will attest, distractions make me angry. You don't want to see me angry)

Not that I ever have anything exciting to share anyhow, but here is some free music to tide you over until I return.

And, before I go, new albums that I've recently enjoyed and can recommend:

  • Shout out Louds, "Our Ill Wills"
  • Phonograph, "Hiawatha Talking Machine"
  • And especially, Bishop Allen, "The Broken String"
  • The 1900's "Cold & Kind" wasn't quite as good as I hoped it would be, but is still a solid first effort (discounting the EP)

Still digging Jose Gonzalez's latest, but Iron & Wine's newest never really clicked with me.

That is all, goodbye for now, internet. I shall return in mid-November.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Wegmans and the Office: 4.2, "Dunder-Mufflin Infinity"

Loved much of last night's ep (favorite part: Kelly's two headshots, "We have a date!"). Only one Wegmans product appearance, near as I can tell:

Above the fridge, sure enough: Wegman's brand Corn Flakes!

This got me thinking: what Wegman's brand products am I most fond of? WPOP, definitely, and Wegman's brand ice cream has always been an important part of my life. I had my parents bring me an entire crate of Wegman's brand chicken noodle soup when I lived in DC. Wegman's apple cinnamon oatmeal, and lemon yogurt - all crucial ingredients to my youth.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Josh Ritter Thursday!

Short post today: Josh Ritter's playing the Somerville Theater tomorrow and Friday (I'm going tomorrow). He's probably my favorite musician behind M. Ward. The Animal Years, released last year, is one of my all time favorites. The Historical Conquest of Josh Ritter, released a few weeks ago, is also quite good.

One of his recent concerts was recorded and is streaming in entirety here.