Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Best Of 2008 -- Initial Mix

As the amount & variety of new music I pick up decreases each year, my traditional “best of the year mix,” which I’ve been doing for well over a decade (see 'em all on my mix page) is becoming increasingly a “mix of songs from new cd’s I just happened to buy this year.” So, yeah, I’m sure I’m missing an awful lot of great stuff, which with luck I’ll manage to discover over the next five years and eventually incorporate into a new & improved reissued version (though I have yet to do that with any of the prior mixes I’ve wanted to revisit, but still, there’s always hope...).

Which leads us to this past year. I picked up maybe five albums I really liked (My Morning Jacket, Vampire Weekend, Drive-By Truckers, Fleet Foxes, R.E.M.) and then a bunch of albums which were either pretty good or just ok but had at least one or two tunes worth remembering. Plus some decent music that was just too downbeat to work well on a mix that I try to keep relatively poppy (i.e. Beach House, Sun Kil Moon). And, by the way, I keep trying to get into the Hold Steady but, nope, still don’t care for ‘em that much and they didn’t make the cut.

Burned the initial mix this weekend (might still swap out a tune or two, we'll see); links to YouTube videos for most of these below.

My Morning Jacket’s “Aluminum Park” (from Evil Ways) may be my favorite track of the year, a perfect little rock & roll anthem in the classic rock mode. (“I’m Amazed” was a close second.) Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut was the album I probably listened to most this year (though it took me a few listens to catch on); “A-Punk” is the most obvious selection, though there were another three or four that would almost as easily have worked here. I don’t necessarily love Mates of State, but “Get Better” is a delightful song (with an outstanding video, by the way). Death Cab For Cutie’s Narrow Stairs wasn’t quite as great as their last two albums, both of which I rank as among my favorite albums of the past decade, but it’s still good enough that it was tough settling on a single selection; while “I Will Possess Your Heart” was a fine (if overlong) single, “Long Division” is a bit more immediate. The Ben Folds album was kinda mediocre, but “You Don’t Know Me” was a throwback to the kind of pop he used to write pretty effortlessly, and the duet with Regina Spektor, while way too cute & precious, is nonetheless infectious. R.E.M.’s Accelerate wasn’t the return to glory that some critics proclaimed, it was indescribably better than the last three albums; “Mr. Richards” was my favorite song, but “Man-Sized Wreath” (like a half dozen others on the album) is a far more catchy and obvious selection here.

The Watson Twins were just fine backing Jenny Lewis a couple years ago, but don’t really have enough strong material to make for a solid cd of their own; still, their folkie adult-oriented-pop is pleasant enough, particularly the catchy "How Am I To Be," and the sort of thing I have much more patience for in my advancing age. The Drive-By TruckersBrighter Than Creation’s Dark was one of the year’s coolest releases, southern rock for people who kinda hate southern rock, and it was killer trying to settle on a single song; “Righteous Path” may not be the best tune, but I do find it compelling. Flight Of The Conchords, on top of having one of the funniest shows on cable, make music which stands up ok even without the show, particularly the joyous “Business Time” (though it may hit a bit close to home lyrically). Not a huge fan of Jenny Lewis’ second solo album, which I find much duller than most of her Rilo Kiley material, but “Carpetbaggers” is the closest thing to a solid pop track, and the duet with Elvis made me feel less bad about excluding his Momofuku album on this year’s mix. The Sea & Cake, who have been quietly releasing mellow, jazz-infused Americana for, like, forever, don’t always make for great mix music – much more background-friendly than foreground-friendly – though this year’s Car Alarm album had a bit more electricity than some prior work.

The Ting Tings are a bit too dance-oriented for my taste, but “Shut Up And Let Me Go” is an amazing blend (or rip-off) of Franz Ferdinand, Blondie and Chic, and a definite guilty pleasure that I may end up regretting down the road. The Fleet Foxes’ full-length debut got critical raves, pastoral Beach Boys-influenced vocal stylings and all; I don’t like it as much as when it first came out, but it’s still pretty amazing, and "White Winter Hymnal" is rather breathtaking. Can’t say I was totally excited about the Magnetic Fields’ decision to run their usual offbeat synth-pop through a Jesus & Mary Chain wall of noise on the aptly-titled Distortion, but I guess it made up for the somewhat lackluster music they’ve been releasing since the epic 69 Love Songs box set. Perennial power popper Matthew Sweet hasn’t exactly been terribly relevant over the past decade, but each new album has a handful of tunes which, if not memorable, are catchy enough. I probably should like Los Campesinos!’ post-Pavement boy-girl indie rock more than I do, but the male vocalist is a bit irritating; still, the music (and the female vocalist) is catchy enough, and it's tough not to bop along to "Death To Los Campesinos." Calexico may be a bit too quiet for this sort of mix, but their rust southwestern Americana stylings do help break things up a bit. The Raveonettes’ latest 50s-girl-group-by-way-of-Jesus-and-Mary-Chain album isn’t much of a departure from prior releases, but it’s still great, and "Dead Sound," well, shit, what can you say?

I’m not a major Ryan Adams fan; Whiskeytown was pretty good, but his solo work is painfully erratic. Couple solid tracks on the new one; as usual, I’m sure there’s a fantastic Ryan Adams’ Greatest Hits coming one day, but the albums are, well, whatever. She & Him, like the Watson Twins, are one of those acts I would have scoffed at a few years ago, but they work pretty well for a guy in his 40s who needs some mellow folk-pop when he’s reading the Sunday Times; nice video for "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here." MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular is hit & miss, synth & guitar indie rock with a touch of the Flaming Lips (whose Dave Fridmann produced), but damn if “Kids” isn’t one of those songs that sticks in your head every time it comes on the radio. The Explorers Club is a total Beach Boys rip-off (rather than just a BB-influenced band like Fleet Foxes), but I can’t think of a band (other than maybe the Wondermints) who pull it off so well. Cat Power had another album of covers this year and, whatever, it’s fine, I guess, particularly "New York." I grow less interested in Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus with each new release, and liked this year’s Real Emotional Trash a lot less than his last one, but it’s still Malkmus. Vetiver’s Thing Of The Past is a collection of acoustic Americana-ish covers, but since I don’t know any of the (relatively obscure) originals it sounds new to me, and a pretty nice way to end the mix.


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