Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Approximately 30 Best Albums of the Decade

OK – I didn’t want to leave off Sleater-Kinney, so I stretched the list to an unorthodox number. Also, I had planned to write a bit about many of these albums, but I went overboard with No. 1, so I’ll refrain from making this any more gratuitous than it already is.
— Tom McMahon

31. Sleater-Kinney – One Beat
30. Rilo Kiley – The Execution of All Things
29. Outkast – Stankonia
28. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
27. Marissa Nadler – Songs III: Bird on the Water
26. Jose Gonzalez – Veneer
25. Cass McCombs – Dropping the Writ
24. Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block
23. The Ruby Suns – Sea Lion
22. The Hives – Veni Vidi Vicious
21. M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
20. All Night Radio – Spirit Stereo Frequency
19. Crystal Skulls – Blocked Numbers
18. Sigur Ros – Aegaetis Byrjun
17. Beachwood Sparks – Beachwood Sparks
16. Neko Case – Blacklisted
15. The Faint – Danse Macabre
14. Caribou (then known as Manitoba) – Up in Flames
13. The Walkmen – Bows & Arrows
12. The Decemberists – Castaways and Cutouts
11. Alasdair Roberts – No Earthly Man
10. Alasdair Roberts – Spoils
9. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
8. Radiohead – Kid A
7. Kelley Polar – I Need You to Hold On While the Sky Is Falling
6. Of Montreal – Satanic Panic in the Attic
5. The Aislers Set – The Last Match
4. The Knife – Silent Shout
3. The Clientele – Suburban Light
2. The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic
1. The Shins – Oh, Inverted World
At the end of 2001, I got out a small piece of paper and listed on it my Top 10 albums of the year. I don’t remember showing it to anyone — it was just something I felt an urge to do, I suppose. Two years later, the Jamboree began, and it’s been much more fun sharing opinions with friends and some strangers.

Anyhow, besides getting a little nostalgic, the reason I mentioned that handwritten list from 2001 is that I was surprised, when I dug it out of a box recently, to see that I had the Shins’ Oh, Inverted World at No. 2 (tied with the Strokes’ Is This It), behind Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows. Eight years later, I rarely even think about 100 Broken Windows, but it’s totally clear in my mind that Oh, Inverted World is my favorite album of the decade.

A few years after the album came out, an annoying character in some sappy movie promised that the song “New Slang” would “change your life, I swear.” I don’t believe that any one song or album has changed my life. Rather, I think this album reminds me of my life.

One morning this fall, I listened to the album as I was driving along a narrow, windy road in the Santa Monica Mountains, trying to enjoy the spectacular panorama of the Pacific without going off the road. Almost as captivating as the view was these songs, which sound as magical and mysterious now as they did the first time I heard them.

As I listened, it was like the whole decade flashed before my eyes: college, meeting the love of my life, marrying her, road trips all over the Golden State, having kids. Not that the album was constantly playing (aloud or in my head) in everything I did. But I’ve come to regard Oh, Inverted World — and I think I will continue to many years later — as the sound of my 20s, which, appropriately enough, almost exactly matched the span of the 2000s.

Why do I love this album so much? I don’t think I can fully explain it, although I can pull out some key points: the leaping melodies, the weird harmonies, the cryptic lyrics, the tinny, reverby production, the muted but persistent drums, the swirling keyboards, the chiming guitars (especially in the intro of “The Celibate Life”). On paper, that may not seem like a recipe for success, but it all comes together in a strange and beautiful way. In my mind, every song here is a classic, and, unlike me, it never gets old.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Alright. I'm a little late here, but 2009 is still over, so I feel like I'm within my rights to contribute to this sheet of internet paper. I think I've posted an entry on here every year for the past few years, or maybe I've only done it once and considered doing it every year... but the problem I always run into is that, come December thirty-whateverthelastdayoftheyearis, I can't remember a single thing that happened. I can't remember which albums came out, which movies came out, what happened in the news....all of it is a blur. For instance, I'm inclined to say that my favorite album of 2009 was that Walkmen album with the New Year song on it. I thought it was pretty good. Did it come out this past year? Fuck if I know. May as well have. What is going to end up happening is that I'll do a google search (google, the only real choice in search engines) for something like "album release calendar 2009," and pick from that list. I'll go ahead and get that out of the way. Top 10 albums of 2009, picked from options given to me by [code][/code], in no particular order :
10. Wilco- Wilco: I like Wilco. I remember being happy about this album being on this year.
9. Elvis Costello- Secret Profane and Sugarcane: He's consistently listenable, and I remember buying this album, so let's go ahead and throw that on there.
8. Doves- Kingdom of Rust: They were a big deal, like, 4 years...5 years ago, right? I bet the album doesn't suck
7. Is the problem here that I just don't buy enough new music? Am I somehow, several years behind here? Maybe next year I'll take notes when I buy albums.

I'm not going to finish this particular list because I'm just not qualified. Here's what I will do though. I acquire probably somewhere around 2 albums a day through purchase, or other methods. My end of the year list is going to be the top 10 albums that I got this year. As far as I'm concerned, they were released this year. I didn't have them before do I know they even existed.

10. Norah Jones- The Fall: This was a really pleasant album. It seems like a giant leap for her, which I can respect. It definitely isn't her usual smoky jazzy type album, which was getting a little old. This particular album is still growing on me, but I put it on the list because I like the direction.

9. Paul Banks- Julian Plenti Is...Skyscraper: I don't know if I've ever actually paid full attention to this album from start to finish, but it makes for some pretty satisfying background noise, and when I do decide to tune back in, I'm not upset. Pretty forgettable, like everything Interpol has done post Antics, but even if I don't walk away humming it, it doesn't mean ...what doesn't it men. I'm not sure. Not a bad album. That's what I'm trying to say.

8. Kiss- Kiss: Strutter is an incredible song. I couldn't tell you a single other track on the album without looking on my iTunes, but Strutter...since April, I've listened to it like 30 times, which is a lot for me.

7. Blitzen Trapper- Black River EP: I really like these guys. This is a solid rootsy album that still hasn't gotten old to me.

6. Lily Allen- It's Not Me, It's You: Usually this isn't really my type of I take that back...I like girl pop. This is right up my alley. That "F*** You" song is really catchy. So is "The Fear," and "Everyone's At It." Really...It's a great pop album.

I just want to point out that I'm doing a lot better at containing this to 2009 than I expected.

5. Basia Bulat- Oh My Darling: She sounds like Joni Mitchell. Birds of Paradise is quite possibly the most beautiful song I've ever heard. The rest of the album is really good, but maybe not worthy of being #1 on my list. Birds of Paradise (the second track on the album), however, would most certainly go on a best of the decade list, if there were such a thing. Hey Tom and Paul...where is THAT?

4. Pavement- Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: Okay....I'm way behind on this. I'm still not going to concede that pavement is any good....but I like this album, especially that song Stop Breathin. What is this album, like 15 years old? Whatever. I got it this's on the list.

3. Serge Gainsbourg- Comic Strip: I've speant a lot of time not liking his music, and I finally decided to give him another shot this year (You're WELCOME, Serge Gainsbourg!). Anyhow, this was in heavy rotation in my car for a while.

2. Roy Orbison- Mystery Girl: Chris, if you're reading this...this shit falls on your shoulders. How did I not know about this album until, like....6 months ago.

1. Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: Seems liked I managed to pull a 2009-er out for the #1 spot. This was a hell of an album. It's so much fun from start to finish.

Thats it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nicest Albums of 2009

I’m gettin’ tired here, so I’m leaving a few entries without a lot of detail and maybe not making complete sense in some cases. Happy New Year to all, and I’ll be back soon with my albums of the decade. Hope some other folks still have lists in the works.
— Tom McMahon

15. Get Back Guinozzi! – Carpet Madness
The photo on the front of this album is like a Bizzaro version of the Buena Vista Social Club cover. And like with that Cuban masterpiece, it was the album cover that led me to check out this band I had never heard of. It was a rewarding venture. This is an irresistible batch of lo-fi party jams, with chirpy, French-accented vocals and hilarious lyrics like “Ooh, Mommy, Mommy, I love your tan.” Oddly enough, it includes a fantastic cover of the Clash’s “Police and Thieves.”

14. Alela Diane – To Be Still
Beautiful, haunting folk with some lush but organic-sounding arrangements.

13. Farmer Dave Scher – Flash Forward to the Good Times
More catchy stuff from this Beachwood Sparks and All Night Radio space cowboy. Less psychedelic but a little more soulful than ANR’s Spirit Stereo Frequency.

12. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
This is alternately mind-blowing and frustrating. “In the Flowers” is one of my favorite songs of the year. I love the way it jumps from an enchanting, dreamlike atmosphere to what sounds like a raucous street carnival. MPP is undoubtedly sonically innovative all the way through, but I find several of the songs to be tedious — particularly “Brother Sport” and “Taste” — with some lyrics inducing cringes (for example, the many-times repeated “Am I really all the things that are outside of me?”). I think they have a better album in them.

11. Desolation Wilderness — New Universe
Some of my favorite albums make me think of driving along the wide-open stretches of the central California coast, the Pacific shimmering in the sun. This album taps into that feeling, even though these guys live in Olympia, Wash. But it’s pretty clear from the song titles (“Venice Beach,” “Boardwalk Theme,” “San Francisco 2AM”) that they had California on their minds.

10. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
An incredible voice, and an outstanding songwriter. This album feels more fully realized than Fox Confessor did to me, although I don’t know why the last track, which is nothing but cricket noise, had to go on for more than 30 minutes.

9. Fever Ray – Fever Ray
Karin Dreijer Andersson of the Knife goes downtempo and even darker. I love this, but I also miss the crazed, fantasy-like electro jams that prevailed on the Knife’s Silent Shout. Here’s hoping that the siblings reunite soon.

8. The Clientele – Bonfires on the Heath
Just reading the lyrics of this album — which, unfortunately, may be their last — gives me the chills. Listening to Alasdair MacLean sing them in his soft, serpentine voice set to ghostly guitars, pianos and organs is, often, a transcendent experience. I think Suburban Light will, for me, always be their pinnacle, but this would be a great swan song.

7. Washed Out – Life of Leisure
I guess this is technically an EP, but it’s too good to leave out for that reason. Although I’ve never been to Miami, I think Life of Leisure should be the soundtrack to cruising around the city in a convertible on a summer night. It’s not nearly as slick as that might make it sound, though. It actually has a kind of warped, old-cassette feel to it. But it is seductive, what with its ethereal harmonies and pulsing beats.

6. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
I didn’t think this would eclipse their Yellow House for me, but as I just listened to it one more time, I realized that it finally has. Probably enough has been said about Veckatimest already, so I’ll just go with, “Pretty, pretty … pretty great.”

5. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
As Andrew Bird was about to play in Los Angeles after this album came out, the local paper had a blurb that I found really insightful. It said something to the effect of him having been tip-toeing on the verge of making an essential album. That’s the way I feel about this one, and the way I’ve felt about others of his. The first several songs on Noble Beast are so strong that it can’t help but lose some steam around the middle. But then he ends it with a great run, including a triumphant remake of one of his old tunes (the name of which he changed from “The Confession” to “Privateers”).

4. St. Vincent – Actor
I remember briefly checking this out around the time it was released and not thinking much of it. I must not have been listening very closely. Later in the year, Jamboree veteran Colin forced me to give it another shot, and I soon realized that this is no pedestrian singer-songwriter fare. It sounds by turns old-timey and experimental, charming and powerful. I continue to be stunned every time I experience the end of “Black Rainbow.”

3. Papercuts – You Can Have What You Want
This guy, Jason Quever, makes melancholy sound so inviting. The way the opening track washes over you with a plaintive organ and then hits you with “Once we walked in the sunlight / Three years ago this July 5th / Before the earth was a distant dream” — you just can’t help but be carried away. Strongly recommended if you like Beach House, with whom he’s played and whose Alex Scally plays here.

2. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
They say this is some sort of rock opera, but I haven’t bothered to really try to figure out the plot. Honestly, it doesn’t matter much to me. Even without considering the story, this is the biggest and boldest Decemberists work yet. It is a masterfully crafted and thoroughly engaging album. The “casting” of Becky Stark from Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond is perfect — the former’s voice beautiful and innocent, the latter’s powerful (oh, man, powerful!) and sinister. Then there’s the spooky kids choir. The recurring musical themes tie it all together and really give you a sense of what’s happening, even if you don’t follow the lyrics.

1. Alasdair Roberts – Spoils
Alasdair Roberts (pictured above) was one of my favorite artists of the decade, but I didn’t expect to be blown away like this at this point. Spoils, his fifth album under his own name (he previously went by Appendix Out) is as addictive as it is ambitious. He turns out his most interesting batch of original compositions, many of them shifting into thrilling new directions mid-song. Roberts also branches out instrumentally, throwing in several intriguing antique contraptions (psaltery, anyone?) as well as some prominent electric guitar (even a solo!). Throughout the album, the influence of the Incredible String Band is well incorporated — never overbearing. Perhaps unfairly, I didn't expect Roberts to be able to top No Earthly Man, his intense collection of death-themed folk songs and my favorite album of 2005. Now, it’s hard to imagine him surpassing Spoils, but I hope I’m wrong again.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Top 2 Fan Videos Of 2009

Okay, so maybe they're the only two fan videos I watched in 2009. And maybe I don't like the idea of fan videos in general because, for the most part, they're awful. But somehow, this year managed to turn out two that I not only happened to see, but actually enjoyed. Let the shortest countdown on this site begin!

2. Discovery - "Swing Tree" (by Dolezal06)
When it comes to fan videos, I'm betting less usually clocks in as more. This clip adheres nicely to that aesthetic, simply setting one of the better tracks off Discovery's (mostly terrible) LP to footage from what I can only assume is the most misleading Navy recruitment video of all time. It's a nice fit with amusing results.

1. Grizzly Bear - "Two Weeks" (by Gabe Askew)
It turns out that there are fan video exceptions to the "less is more" philosophy—at least one, anyway. 100% computer animated, this clip uses some of the newest technology available to create a shockingly realistic world of diorama-like simplicity. (How post-modern can you get, right?) Characters and set pieces appear as toy miniatures, stuffed animals, and cardboard cut-outs, all rendered with such meticulous attention to detail, it's easy to forget you aren't actually traveling through an elaborate cardboard maze of art. Add to that the absolutely masterful lighting and camera movement, along with the deftly creative representation of the song's lyrical content, and we're left with a work so captivating, so strikingly beautiful, and so, well, professional, it's downright baffling that no one was paid for it. This is not only the best fan video I've ever seen, it is one of the best overall music videos I've ever seen.

—Colin McCormick