Category Archives: Music — 2000s

Top Albums of 2008: Honorable Mentions

For a variety of reasons, the following albums did not make the final cut for my eagerly-anticipated (by me, at least) annual Top 20 list

The “21 Spot”
Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Patterson Hood’s short stories set to music have become a tad repetitious (thematically), and losing guitarist Jason Isbell last year hurt their songwriting batting average. Still musically incendiary, though. This would be No. 21 if we did a Top 21.

The Superstars
R.E.M – Accelerate
Kudos to the boys from Athens for putting a little more bite in their bark, resulting in their best work for over a decade. Still a tad lacking on the memorable melodies that they used to toss off effortlessly.
Coldplay – Viva La Vida
About five great – I mean really great – songs. Not enough to make the Top 20.
Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul
I consider myself pretty anti-drug (see the spiel below), but Noel Gallagher is the exception that proves the rule. Ever since he laid off the booger sugar, his songwriting has become erratic. All the post-cocaine Oasis albums contain a handful of stone-cold classics padded with a bunch of filler. This half-great album, their seventh, continues the slight upswing begun by 2005’s Don’t Believe The Truth after the nadir of their 2000 and 2003 albums.

Gentleman Jesse – Gentleman Jesse & His Men
Eagles Of Death Metal – Heart On
Howlin’ Rain – Magnificent Fiend
Music that is unapologetically riff-based and retro is generally referred to by my Idle Time colleagues, somewhat disparagingly, as “Mattrock.” Originality may be low, but grooves are high. Gentleman Jesse is earnest and garage-y, Eagles Of Death Metal definitely tongue-in-cheek (which does not diminish the pleasure of listening to them), and Howlin’ Rain the most blatantly Mattrockish, with its wailing organ conjuring up the spirit of the Allman Brothers, and its guitars right in the Faces-era Ron Wood wheelhouse.

Sonic Adventurers
The Raveonettes – Lust Lust Lust
The Raveonettes’ spooky, noisy take on old-fashioned boy-girl pop harmonies was another very near-miss for my Top 20.
The Dirtbombs – We Have You Surrounded
From the same Detroit garage-rock scene that spawned The White Stripes and The Von Bondies, The Dirtbombs are all about the big bottom, with two drummers and sometimes two bassists rumbling ominously under fuzzed-out rock and roll that’s steeped in a soulfulness unique to the Motor City.
Firewater – The Golden Hour
The result of bandleader Tod A’s extended trek through the Near and Far East, The Golden Hour is world music-meets-circus music-meets an inflamed political conscience.
The Secret Machines Secret Machines
Usually described as “space rock” and the heirs to Pink Floyd’s long-form atmospherics, the Secret Machines refuse to be pigeonholed that easily, and would certainly not merit an honorable mention here if they were, because, well, Pink Floyd kind of sucks. This album careens from the dance floor to the bedroom (alone), packing a gritty punch (even in the longer songs) absent from even the most concise Pink Floyd songs because, well…see above.
The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age Of The Understatement
Solo project by the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner is a throwback to sultry, swinging, orchestrated Bacharach-style 60’s pop. (And a shout-out within a shout-out to Green Day side project Foxboro Hot Tubs for their take on raw Nuggets-style 60’s pop, Stop, Drop & Roll!!) Continue reading

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The Beginning of the End of 2008

It’s that time of year. The Institute Of Idle Time‘s long-awaited sixth annual compilation of the absolute best music of 2008 is currently under construction, and will officially be made public in January 2009. The final list is determined by a mathematical average of six people’s individual ratings of six people’s Top 20 albums. The result is a collaborative cream-of-the-crop, a thing of wonder.

Over the next few weeks, I will post in these pages (Holy Bee of Ephesus) my individual Top 20 Albums of 2008, soon subject to the opinions of the five other Idle Timers. How many will make the final list in January? It remains to be seen.

We will begin in the next week or so with Honorable Mentions, albums that either greatly pained me to have to cut from my final list, or were interesting but just not strong enough to make the Big Show.

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Top 20 Albums of 2007

#20. Band Of Horses – Cease To Begin
A haunting album both literally (several songs mention ghosts) and figuratively (it boasts the best break-up song of the year, “No One’s Gonna Love You”), Cease To Begin benefits from Band of Horses recent line-up change that put South Carolina’s Ben Bridwell firmly in the driver’s seat and allowing him to temper the band’s swirling indie-rock with a little more Southern gothic twang.
Key Tracks: “Is There A Ghost” “No One’s Gonna Love You” “The General Specific”

#19. Shout Out Louds – Our Ill Wills
Lead singer Adam Olenius’ yelping vocals certainly sound very familiar, which leads most people to make a hasty comparison between S.O.L. and the Cure. Vocals aside, the Cure’s tired shtick can’t hold a candle to the percussive, driving sound of this album. The bright, pop-oriented production counterbalances the dark themes of the lyrics, creating the aural equivalent of drinking a black-and-tan.
Key Tracks: “Parents Livingroom” “You Are Dreaming” “Impossible”

#18. Jackpot – Moonbreath
Local favorites (Sacramento) make my list for the third album in a row. Sonically, Moonbreath genre-hops between deadpan, Bowie-esque swagger (“Chemical Reaction”), Belle & Sebastian style chamber pop (“Tongue Tied”), and the alt-country and blues pastiches that are their specialty. An entire disc’s worth of hidden “bonus” material, far from being throwaways that didn’t make the final cut, actually strengthen the album’s overall appeal, especially the acoustic lament “Womanly Slippers.”
Key Tracks: Noted above, along with the love-it-or-hate-it “Vital Signs” (I love it).

#17. Jason Isbell – Sirens Of The Ditch
A member of the Drive-By Truckers from 2001 to 2007, Isbell wrote some of the band’s strongest material of that era (check out “Outfits” or the title track from 2003’s Decoration Day). As a solo artist, Isbell tones down the Skynyrd-style raunch of his former band to craft a more intimate, singer-songwriter sound. Imagine if Paul Westerberg had been born in down in Dixie.
Key Tracks: “Down In A Hole” “Dress Blues” “The Devil Is My Running Mate”

#16 Kaiser Chiefs – Yours Truly, Angry Mob
The Chiefs avoid the sophomore slump by toning down the jangly pianos and dance-rock synths of their debut, and exchanging them for cranked-up guitars. They have kept the jittery, quadruple-espresso energy and pub singalong lyrics.
Key Tracks: “Ruby” “The Angry Mob” “Retirement”

#15 Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – “Baby 81”
A band that began as a better-than-average Jesus And Mary Chain knock-off came close to permanently imploding before roaring back to life with 2005’s semi-acoustic, gospel & blues-tinged Howl, recorded as a duo. The follow-up has the band back at full capacity, and combines the roots-rock song structures of Howl with the electric, hornet’s nest buzz of their first two albums.
Key Tracks: “Berlin” “Cold Wind” “666 Conducer”

#14 Wilco – “Sky Blue Sky”
A solid return to form after the aggressivley anti-melodic A Ghost Is Born. Jeff Tweedy has remembered to write actual songs here, and treats recently-joined guitarist Nels Cline like a new toy, spraying his jazzy licks all over the tracks like a drunk with a garden hose. The songs sport a mature, confident sound, reminiscent of “Rolling Thunder”-era Dylan.
Key Tracks: “Impossible Germany” “You Are My Face” “What Light”

#13 Vietnam – “Vietnam
Sounding like a tripped-out bar band through a haze of cough syrup, New York quartet Vietnam reel off their tales of losers and junkies to an audience they seem to believe is not really listening. Their loose, sometimes lazy, melodies are punched up with deft touches of brass and keyboard, but the guitars are the stars here.
Key Tracks: “Step On Inside” “Priest, Poet & The Pig” “Mr. Goldfinger”

#12 The Hives – “The Black And White Album”
As much as I like the Hives, I have to admit that their earlier albums tended to run out of gas before they were over. Not that they lacked energy (the Hives have no shortage of that), but the songs would begin to sound the same. Finally, with this album, they have crafted a batch of songs that are unique (and even experimental) from track to track without sacrificing their trademark sound.
Key Tracks: “Tick Tick Boom” “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.” “Well Allright”

#11 Against Me! – “New Wave”
Normally I enjoy politics in my music about as much as heavy cream in my screwdriver, but activist-minded Against Me! have managed to slip in their messages about the state of the world with enough subtlety so that it doesn’t weigh the album down into a pedantic lecture course. Long-time fans (I am not one) have cried “sell-out” due to this album’s toned-down agenda and hi-fi production…but people who cry “sell-out” tend to be no goddam fun. Continue reading

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Another "music was better back in my day" rant

(2011 note: This is my very first blog entry from early 2007, originally posted my old My Space site. As I was just a baby blogger, it’s not very good, and chunks of it have been re-written and re-purposed for later entries. I keep it as a historical curiosity.)

I have dedicated the past eight years to the field of education, and in doing so passed from a 24-year-old whose evenings out did not really get going until at least 10:00 pm to a 32-year-old whose Target bed-in-a-bag comforter is usually tucked up around his chin by 11:00. The second thoughts and repercussions of this life choice may fill a future blog or two, but is not the subject of tonight’s spiel. The subject of tonight’s spiel is music, and emotional ownership of music.

I am privy to any number of conversations carried on by high school freshman and sophomores when they are supposed to be engaged in whatever drivel I have assigned them. Recently, I heard one freshman lass make repeated references to a “Pete.” Playing the part of stern classroom disciplinarian, I reprimanded her to stay on task, and who was this “Pete” person anyway? Turns out, she was referencing Pete Wentz of the band Fall Out Boy. I made a disparaging comment about the state of young folks’ music, and went back to pretending to work. The freshman girl in question wasn’t even pretending to work, so I guess that puts her one up on me.

Having not heard a lick of Fall Out Boy’s music, but having seen a number of glossy hairstyle-oriented photos and read some reviews, I feel pretty secure in dismissing them as utter horseshit. But I am not the target audience, and the emotional investment of the girl who was discussing them was just as fervent as my own to my own music…a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. No…actually about 15 years ago in the exact same dead-end town of Yuba City, California. Continue reading

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