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 time...so, did I miss anything important?

3 comments:

Teri said...

hmmm... strawberry jam by animal collective would be number 1 on my list of 2007... you mention panda bear's album, but not his better known band? although, strawberry jam is more of an avey tare album than panda bear one... anyway, it's worth some listening time.

and rise above by dirty projectors...

CSmith429 said...

I've tried to like AC, I really have. But I can't. In fact, I dislike them, pretty strongly actually. Almost always, I like to be able to understand what the singer is singing, and this is rarely possible with Animal Collective.

Teri said...

i dunno... with ac i don't think it's that important to tell what every lyric is. their appeal is their immense creativity in their experimental music and random vocals to capture an emotional intensity unlike many other musicians... although their newest album is easier to understand what they're singing... and the lyrics are terrific when you look them up.