Sunday, December 30, 2007

EJP's Top 10 Albums of 2007

Unlike the previous 20 entries on this list, these are actually sort of in order. #'s 9 and 10 are really pretty much a tie with Andrew Bird for 9th place, the top three are really the top three, and the stuff in between are all pretty close to each other. There are probably a few surprises on here, and then some complete non-surprises. Comments and questions are welcome.

10) Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
This album's really quite a departure for Sam Beam. There are a lot more musical styles involved, more instruments, more of just about everything. More is not always necessarily better, and I can't say this became my favorite Iron & Wine album, but a not-the-best I&W album is still better than a lot of other stuff out there. I ranted about going to see these guys live previously on this blog; it's really a hit or miss live show. But again, don't let that discourage anyone from checking out this CD.

9) Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
I sort of reviewed this album very early in this blog's life, and I stand by my statement that it only ranks third among Spoon albums. But Britt Daniel and his crew fall in with Andrew Bird and Iron & Wine in that for the time being, they can do no wrong in my eyes.

8) I'm From Barcelona - Let Me Introduce My Friends
Phew...I don't even know where to start on this one. What we have here is basically a bunch of Swedes (and by a bunch I mean over two dozen at times) who got together to make a lot of happy scrappy music. Oh, and they named their band, such as it is, after a Monty Python sketch. 'Cuz, you see, they're not really from Barcelona. They're from Sweden, being Swedes and all. These are songs about oversleeping, building a tree house, comparing love to chicken pox. Pretty simple stuff. Whenever I needed a pick-me-up, which happened a lot this past year, this was the CD I went to.

7) Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
It's kind of sad that I had to hear about Josh Ritter (who's from Idaho) from my Irish pen pal. The dude's apparently huge in Ireland. Again, there's lots of fun songs here, with "Wait For Love" and "Empty Hearts" being two of my favorites. A lot of it's just simple singer-songwriter stuff--Josh and his guitar. There's almost a crude quality to the production, which I like. I also liked this album considerably more than Hello Starling, the only other Ritter album I've hard. But after enjoying this one so much, I'm going to check out his last album, The Animal Years, as soon as I get the chance.

6) Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight
I read a lot of negative reviews for this album--a lot of Rilo Kiley fans apparently felt it was too much of a departure from their older stuff, or that it sounded like they were trying to hard to sound more accessible. Whatever. I thought it was a strong album pretty much from beginning to end with some great hooks and plenty of racy lyrics here and there. And how cool is Jenny Lewis? This album couldn't be much more different than Rabbit Fur Coat, the recent album she did with the Watson Twins, yet both are, in my opinion, excellent.

5) The New Pornographers - Challengers
I came very close to not even listening to this album. I liked the New Pornographers alright, but they never blew me away. This album changed that--it quickly became not only my favorite NP album, but obviously one of my favorite albums of this year. On earlier albums, the songs tended to blend together for me a bit, but here every song is different and every song is good. And "Myriad Harbour" is definitely in my top 5 songs of the year. It's just so weirdly addictive. Again I say, go Canada!

4) Menomena - Friend and Foe
I have to confess that I bought this CD this past spring based exclusively on the packaging, something I generally try not to do. But really, this is the the coolest CD package you might ever see. Sometimes cool packaging means the band is trying to compensate for crap music, so one can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to find the the music was awesome. There's so much to listen to in every song, it really bears repeat listens just to try to catch all the details. I'm extremely jealous that Evelyn Is Not Real got to see these guys live a couple times this year. They've got to do some mad looping to pull these songs off live.

3) Brandi Carlile - The Story
If any album on this whole list makes me lose any cool cred I ever had, it'll probably be this one. I heard Brandi Carlile interviewed on NPR and they played the title track of this album. "The Story" is easily my favorite track of the year. Why? It's hard to say. It's a love song, an anthem. It actually mentions crossing mountain tops and swimming oceans, or something along those lines, which should be the kiss of death for any song. It's really pretty over-the-top. But I really, really like it, and I'm not embarrassed to say so. I had it stuck in my head today just thinking about writing this post tonight. So I bought the CD and initially was listening to it primarily to hear this song, and it eventually occurred to me that I really liked most of the other songs as well. The primary category for this album on Amazon is "Adult Alternative." I'm not sure what that means, but I'm guessing it signifies that I'm getting old. This is an album you might buy for your mom (my mom would have loved it), but secretly make a copy of it for yourself.

2) Bishop Allen - The Broken String
Another year and this album may not have been as important to me, but The Broken String was exactly what I needed to cheer me up when I needed it. A lot of the songs are re-workings of the best songs from the band's monthly EP project from 2006, but I like most of these versions better. These songs are intelligent, personal, catchy...everything I could want from an album. This was my Chutes Too Narrow for 2007.

1) The National - Boxer

When Evelyn Is Not Real and his friends put up their top albums of the year so far this past summer, this album kept popping up. It was completely off my radar, so I'm grateful for those lists. I can't even pinpoint why I like this album so first listen it seems like a straight-up rock album. And to some degree, that's exactly what it is. Maybe it's Matt Berninger's vocals, or Bryan Devendorf's perfect drumming, the excellent song-writing...everything just gels for me on this one. This album became the perfect comfort food for my ears. It might take a few listens for it to really sink in, but it will sink in.

That's it. Finally. I'm sure I missed some good stuff. I'm also sure I like some stuff other people hate. Whatever. I hope this list at least piques the interest of a few people. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Holy crap, I saw another movie!

Since there are only about two dozen people in my building today, I decided to play hookie (am I really dating myself with that term?) and catch a matinee of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I don't really have time for a long review, but I can say that I enjoyed it immensely. I wouldn't say it's Tim Burton's best, but it's probably in the top 4 or 5. Ups: the visuals are excellent with a color palette basically consisting of black, white, and red; it's both amusing and gory and a musical without one detracting from the other; the three lead actors (Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman) are perfect for their roles. Helena Bonham Carter is the real convenient is it that Tim Burton's girlfriend is the go-to woman to play pale, frazzled psychos? Also, the three young newcomers in supporting roles are decent singers, which leads me to...downs: As good as they were in their roles, the three leads aren't great singers. But really, I didn't care that much about the quality of the singing. For the most part, I could almost forget that this was a musical (not my favorite genre). That said, some of the songs were painfully long and hurt the pacing--I feel like the movie could have been a good 15 minutes shorter. But all in all, a worthy addition to the Tim Burton catalogue. Probably not necessary to see at the theater unless you feel a geek-like obligation to help Burton's box office, but certainly worth renting at some point down the line.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

EJP's Favorite Albums of 2007 - Installment II

Sorry these installments are taking so long. What with the holidays and The Bug teething, I've either been busy or trying to catch up on sleep. Again, these 10 are in no particular order (for the most part):

20) Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
Sometimes I just like stuff because it doesn't like anything else I've ever heard. This album falls solidly into that category. Imagine an old-school crooner with a slight Swedish accent who sings songs about cutting a tip of his finger off while slicing an avocado or pretending to be his lesbian friend's boyfriend to appease her Catholic father. I can appreciate anyone who writes amusing songs that don't cross over into novelty, and many of these songs pull that off.

19) Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles - Diamonds in the Dark
OK, when Sarah Borges writes her songs, a 30-something molecular biologist/dad is probably not the target audience she has in mind, which makes my enjoyment of this album that much more amazing. She's a local girl (local for me being Boston) and her songs are largely country-ish in nature. Why do I like twangy songs called "False Eyelashes" and "Belle of the Bar"? I can't really say...I just know I listened to this album a lot and it just got better with time. If you're looking to bust out of an indie-rock rut, I highly recommend this album.

18) Fountains of Wayne - Traffic and Weather
Pitchfork trashed this album: reason #205 why I don't particularly like Pitchfork reviews. A lot of critics lamented "more of the same" from the F of W, but I really don't think that's a bad thing, especially when the songs are as ridiculously catchy as these. And the surprise ending of "Someone to Love" is almost worth the price of admission right there.

17) Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Living With the Living
Ted Leo manages to be politically relevant without being preachy and without losing entertainment value--no easy task. This is definitely a band I appreciate more for having seen live last year, and this album manages to maintain some of that live energy. You can just imagine Mr. Leo whacking his microphone into his forehead until he draws blood...but, but you know, in a good way.

16) Gogol Bordello - Super Taranta
Already reviewed this one here.

15) Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
I don't have much to say about this one, other than it's a consistently good album by a consistently good band. I'm glad they're getting more notice without having to clean themselves up much. Their music is kind of like that grungy old T-shirt that you kept wearing until it actually became retro enough to be cool.

14) Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Probably my second favorite Wilco album after Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and definitely an improvement after the challenging A Ghost Is Born.

13) Feist - The Reminder
Wow, I'm realizing that I have a lot of Canadians on this list. Feist is one of 5. Go Canada! It was nice to see an album of originals since her first album, though good, was a lot of covers. I understand that at least one of these songs has turned up on an over-played commercial, but at least her stuff's getting out there. I'm all about artists I like actually getting heard.

12) Don Brownrigg - Wander Songs
What? Who? Yes. I randomly ordered this CD off the internets (probably the only way you'll find it) months ago. The description mentioned something along the lines of "If you like M. Ward then..." It's an apt comparison, but this Newfie (yep, another one of the Canadians) has his own style. He's not quite the guitar virtuoso that Ward is, but the song writing and his voice are solid. Probably the only purely folk album I have on this whole list, and I'm not talking about "freak-folk", whatever the hell that means.

11) Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
This album's place at number 11 is not random, because I had a hard time deciding whether or not to put it in the top 10. I'm still on the fence. It's not quite as good as The Mysterious Production of Eggs, but since I can honestly say that's one of my favorite albums, it would be tough act to follow. Also, some of the tracks are on the Fingerlings 3 album, and I like those versions a little better than the versions on AA. Those quibbles aside, Andrew Bird is still amazing. I hope he keeps making albums for a long, long time.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

EJP's Favorite 2007 albums - Installment I

So I'm totally cheating on the favorite albums of the year thing. Instead of doing 10, I'm doing 30, in three installments of 10. Since I haven't been watching many movies or much TV, I've been listening to a lot of music, so it's not like I'm just throwing every album I listened to up here.

My criteria are pretty simple. At any given time, I have a fairly large stack of CDs on my desk. I'm kind of anal retentive about my music, so I sort of have a system of listening to everything at least three times before it gets ripped onto the computer. There's always a few CDs that I have to force myself to listen to that many times. Those obviously wouldn't make this list. There are some that I don't mind listening to, but I know realistically that I probably won't listen to it much in the future. A good example of an album like this would be this year's new Animal Collective album, Strawberry Jam. Not a bad album at all, but not something I can listen to over and over again. Again, not making this list. Then there are albums that I really look forward to in the rotation, and I might cycle them through multiple times for several months. Many of those will be on my list. Finally, there are the albums that I find myself listening to over and over again, the ones that only come out of the stack because I've run out of room on my desk. Those will be the top 10.

In any case, here's 21-30. No particular order within this range, and I won't get into much or any details since this post is already long and I haven't even started the list yet. I'll probably have more details for stuff higher up the list.

30) Arcade Fire-Neon Bible
As discussed with Evelyn Is Not Real, this one would probably be higher on the list if I'd seen them live at some point this year. I didn't fall in love with this album, but I recognize it as excellent craftmanship all the same.

29) Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
Pretty much worth it for the song "Shabop Shalom" alone. Yeah, he's weird and probably crazy, but he can write some entertaining songs.

28) Manu Chao - La Radiolina
Way too long for a single album, but in bits and pieces, Manu Chao is always a fun listen.

27) The Pipettes - We Are the Pipettes
So silly and trivial. So very fun. Next year I might be rolling my eyes and shaking my head at the thought of how much I've listened to this CD, but for now it's a guilty pleasure.

26) Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights
New music that sounds oldish. Good stuff, and quite a set of pipes on this woman.

25) The Hives - The Black and White Album
10%of the albums on my top 30 list (so, like, three of them) are from Scandinavian artists, this being one of them. I don't know that there's anything particularly unique about these guys, but their music is totally rockoutable.

24) The Brunettes -Structure & Cosmetics
A Kiwi couple that consistently creates cute and cuddly pop songs.

23) Cloud Cult - The Meaning of 8
Takes a couple listens, but this one really grew on me.

22) Bright Eyes - Cassadaga

Probably my new favorite Bright Eyes album. I wouldn't say every song is a winner necessarily, but there are a lot of good'uns. "Four Winds", "Soul Singer in a Session Band", and "I Must Belong Somewhere" are a few of the standouts. Also, for some reason, Conor Oberst's voice didn't bug me as much as it sometimes can. The packaging for the CD was pretty cool, too, requiring a secret decoder thing on the inside to look at most of the illustrations.

21) Tegan & Sara - The Con
I really their 2004 album, So Jealous, was way underrated. Pitchfork gave it a dismal rating, but then, Pitchfork hates a lot of bands that I like. This album didn't click with me as quickly as that one, but it's still full of plenty of catchy tunes. The best music being produced by cute, Canadian lesbian twin sisters today.

Monday, December 10, 2007

EJP's Best of the Oddball Classification Albums - 2007

I guess everyone has their own definition of what a "real" album is. In my mind, an album is an LP of songs by one performer or band, releasing primarily new, original material. Musical entities I don't feel fall under this definition are: EPs, posthumously released material, "Best of ..."s, soundtracks, and reissues. Yet I'll still buy some of these types of CDs, so before I start listing my real albums of the year, I'll list a few things I've enjoyed that don't qualify for the other lists. Also, I don't really have time for lots of links and pictures, but if you can't find more information on any given one of these albums in a 10 second search, you probably should stop using the internets now.

Best EP: Beirut - Lon Gisland
Pretty much worth it for the song "Elephant Gun" alone, Beirut also
released an LP, The Flying Club Cup, later in the year. That CD won't be making my album list--not that I don't like it, but it just didn't make the cut. Beirut is definitely a band to watch though.

Best posthumous album: Elliot Smith - New Moon
Kind of a no-brainer since it's the only posthumous album I listened to this year, but that's not to say it wasn't good. This really wasn't the best year for me to be listening to sad Elliot Smith music though...I'll probably bring this one back out next year and give it another shot.

Second Best Reissue: Pavement - Wowee Zowee
Only second best because I already posted on the best, Wowee Zowee is actually my favorite Pavement album. I'm sure other fans will take issue with that, but whatever. This reissue goes almost a little overboard with the extras, but I had to get it since I wore out my old copy of the CD (one of the first CDs I ever bought) a while ago.

Best Soundtrack: The Darjeeling Limited
Even without the help of Mark Mothersbaugh, Wes Anderson still produced yet another stellar soundtrack album. If he ever wants to stop making movies (please don't stop making movies), he can just spend his time making mix CDs for me.

Best CD I picked up for less that $4 at my local grocery store: Three Dog Night - Joy to the World: Their Greatest Hits
Don't you judge me. I used to listen to this album on a tape when I was a kid and I still know nearly every song by heart. Have you even heard "Never Been to Spain"? That's a kick-ass song.

Friday, December 7, 2007

From My Youth

One of my favorite CDs as a teenager was Fugazi's Repeater. I bought it on tape, and I listened to it until the tape fell apart. After that, I sort of forgot about it and never bought it on CD (by that time I was in college and was too busy working and studying).

During my 3 hours of driving today, on Sirius's punk channel I heard Fugazi's song "Repeater." Hearing that song really took me back to when I was 14 and had skater hair and red combat boots. And it made me realize just how fucking cool I was as a teenager in Alabama.

I just bought Repeater on iTunes, and it is just as great now as it was then. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Most Disappointing Albums of 2007

Not to be all Mr. Negativity, but not everything up here can be a rave. There were a couple 2007 albums for which I had high hopes that turned out to be pretty meh. I'll probably have some dissenters (if anyone's even still reading this blog), but these are, after all, just my opinions. No links on this post since I'm not really encouraging anyone to check these things out.

1.) The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
Chutes Too Narrow had to have been a difficult album to follow up--it's probably in my top 10 of the decade so far. I didn't expect the next album to be as good necessarily, but I was hoping to enjoy it more than I did WtNA. I gave this CD several chances, but it just never grew on me. I'm reminded of another band (cough, Weezer, cough, cough) that had a pretty good debut followed by an excellent sophomore album followed by an OK third album. If the comparison is really apt, the fourth album by The Shins will be barely OK followed by a critical disaster by album five.

2.) Okkervil River - The Stage Names

Again, considering how much I enjoyed Black Sheep Boy, maybe I just had my hop
es up too much. I actually really like a few of the songs on this album, but I find it tiresome to listen to from beginning to end. I'm generally not too picky about vocalists (I mean, how many indie rockers can actually sing, really?), but Will Sheff's voice started getting on my nerves after a while. Clever lyrics will only go so far if the voice that's singing them becomes grating.

There were a few more albums I didn't particularly like, but I can't really call them disappointing because I didn't really have high expectations. They Might Be Giants' The Else was neither better nor worse than their last "adult" album, The Spine. I will always have a special place in my heart for TMBG, but I have come to accept that either I've outgrown them to some extent, or they really did peak over a decade ago. This won't stop me from getting their children's CDs for my son, and I'll probably continue to buy whatever they put out for as long the Johns can continue to tolerate each other, but I doubt we'll see another Flood or Apollo 18 from them.

Pretty much the same story for Charles Thompson/Frank Black/Black Francis. He hasn't really done much I liked since the last album with the Catholics, Show Me Your Tears. I actually hated Honeycomb enough to sell the CD (something I almost never do), and this year's release under the Black Francis moniker, Bluefinger, is about the same standard of mediocrity as last year's Fast Man Raider Man. I was listening to Teenager of the Year not long ago, and I couldn't help but think, what happened to that guy? It makes me sad. At this point I'm expecting disappointment from him, so if he actually produces an album I really like again, I'll be ecstatically surprised.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Top 3 Albums I Missed in 2006

Before all the 2007 list-making starts, there are a few 2006 albums that I really enjoyed this past year that technically shouldn't make a 2007 list. Better late than never, I guess...

1.) Rotary Downs - Chained to the Chariot
I heard bits from this band on a couple different NPR shows (Studio 360, All Songs Considered) and found their songs getting stuck in my head. They're indie rockers from a place one doesn't usually associate with indie rock: New Orleans. You can hear some Pavement influence here, but for the most part it's a pretty unique sound with lots of catchy tunes. This one's been a heavy rotation for a few months now.

2.) Alexi Murdoch - Time Without Consequence

If you don't like Nick Drake, I'd quickly warn you away from this one. Murdoch's voice and style of music are very reminiscent of him. Since I do like Nick Drake (though I have to be in the right mood), I like this album. I wouldn't say I like every song, but the songs I do like, I like a lot. "Wait" and "Orange Sky" are a few of my favorites. Nothing you'd want to blast from your car with the windows down, but good chill out music.

3.) Forro in the Dark - Bonfires of Sao Joao

Say what you will about David Byrne--they guy has good taste in music. His solo stuff may be pretty weird (I don't know from first hand experience, but I've heard), but he's brought some cool music to the public's ears over the years. Besides giving a home to Jim White on his Luaka Bop label, he's brought a lot of Brazilian music to the US, including this group. I don't understand 90% of the lyrics on here, but it's still one my favorite albums I've heard all year. I'd love to hear these guys live, and I understand they brought down the house when they played in Austin this past summer. If you can listen to this album without shaking your ass, then you need to get to get your ass fixed.

That's it for now. There's a couple other albums that almost made this list (like The Hold Steady), but I'm out of time and these really were the top three. Check'em out if you get the chance.