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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Top 31 Albums of 2008 (Pt. 3)

Albums 31-21

#10: Conor Oberst: Conor Oberst - Another year passes and another Conor Oberst album makes it into my Top 10. The whole idea is getting quite old, yet Oberst’s music remains just as fresh today as it was back in August. On his self-titled solo album, the Bright Eyes frontman ditched a lot of the self-loathing, depressing songwriting for a more upbeat, exciting record. Even depressing songs like “Danny Callahan” have an uplifting feel to them. Oberst also takes the time to clean up that death rattle of a voice to something much more accessible (or acceptable). In the end, it’s just a great album that you absolutely need to hear.

#9: CSS: Donkey - I, like many, found CSS’s debut to be a bit on the annoying side. Their follow-up has its fair share of annoyances as well. However, for every minor annoyance, there are a handful of cool harmonies, infectious grooves, and inescapable hooks! Donkey is one of the most solid pop albums in recent memory. It will make you feel dirty, it will make you want to dance; but I promise it will not make you want to watch Dirty Dancing.

#8: Jaymay: Autumn Fallin’ - When I first received an email about Jamie Seerman in early 2008, I had no idea how much her music would affect me throughout the year. An mp3 sample of single “Blue Skies” hooked me, and I politely requested a copy of the album for review. Two months later, I gave the album an 8 out of 10 rating, and it remains just as poignant, beautiful, and poetic today! Seerman is an undeniable talent in songwriting, and you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this album today!

#7: Plants and Animals: Parc Avenue - P&A managed to take the best from 60s psychedelia and indie rock and turn it into one masterful work. I’ve already had the opportunity to introduce this band to 40 and 50-year-olds who have enjoyed every second of Parc Avenue. While the last few songs on the record do wear a bit thin, it is more than bolstered by its miraculous first half. If you haven’t done so already....listen to it.

#6: Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend - And the award for best new artist goes too....(sorry, Fleet Foxes). Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut was one of the most focused, enjoyable, and universally acclaimed albums of 2008, and all of that praise was deserved. It’s not every day that an album comes around that will make seasoned music journalists fein knowledge of genres of which they have no background (in this case African music). I guess that's just another reason why we “lesser people” should look down upon the snooty students at Columbia University. You’re not that much better than us!!

#5: Pop Levi: Never Never Love - I’ll go ahead and stop ranting and raving about the greatness of Pop Levi’s second album as soon as I know that some of you have taken my advice and checked it out. However, judging by the album’s ranking on (one of the few places you can actually find it), few of you have taken the leap yet. Don’t be an idiot. Go get a hold of hit soon! An album this good doesn’t come around often, and you don’t want to be that person who hears it 2 years later than everyone else.

#4: Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs - For such a shitey album title, Death Cab’s latest surprised most of us. True, the band doesn’t take any huge leaps in any direction, but they stayed true to their classic sound and in the process created what many might call their crowning achievement (though Ben Gibbard getting engaged to Zooey Deschanel is giving it a run for its money). I know it’s my favorite Death Cab album, and with such instant classics as “Cath...” and “Grapevine Fires,” it’s bound to be rocking my iPod for many more months to come.

#3: My Brightest Diamond: A Thousand Shark’s Teeth - I’ll be the first to admit that Shara Worden doesn’t have the sort of universal appeal as, say, Vampire Weekend. What she does have, however, is a depth of talent that rivals any of her peers and an album in A Thousand Shark’s Teeth that put most competitors to shame in 2008. For all the grandeur and theatricalities of her 2006 debut, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth far exceeded any expectations and benchmarks that she may have set. It is a wonderful album and an absolute joy to listen to. I recommend you do it at least once.

#2: Of Montreal: Skeletal Lamping - Poor Of Montreal. For as many years as I’ve been making year-end lists, my favorite band on the planet has only gotten to the #1 spot once (for 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic). Every other year that they’ve been eligible have resulted with a fantastic, though still disappointing #2 placement. The sad truth is that were it not for last year’s “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” or this year’s “Gallery Piece” they may have nudged their way into first place every time. But for all the excessiveness that Kevin Barnes has nailed perfectly, there’s always one or two tracks that just seem like a bit much. Skeletal Lamping is the picture of excess, and with the exception of that one track, it was the best album of 2008.

#1: M83: Saturdays=Youth - If you were to tell me in January that my #1 album of the year would be an M83 record, I would’ve probably laughed in your face. M83 has been off my radar since 2005, and for good reason. For as brilliant as Anthony Gonzalez’s past works have been, they were never as enthralling a few weeks after their initial play. Saturdays=Youth, a 1980s, John Hughes tribute album in more ways than one, has been my favorite album of 2008 since it was released way back when. It is easily the most impressive album of the year with its ability to uncannily recreate the sounds, harmonies, feelings, and imagery of what all of us envision a teenage life in the 1980s would have been like. From start to finish, it is a layered vision, a masterpiece of production and performance. In fact, the only thing holding it back from a perfect 10 out of 10 rating (a rarity on Audio Overflow) is the fact that it’s lyrics are full of the cheesy poignancy that one would expect of an 80s teen drama. As such, the listener is taken on a ride, but it’s not an emotional one that they themselves can experience. Besides this minor and oft-overlooked blunder, Saturdays=Youth is a marvel of electronic pop music that will be remembered for years and years to come. Giving the #1 spot on my list to anyone else would not have seemed appropriate, and there’s no one who deserves it more.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

The Top 31 Albums of 2008 (Pt. 2)

#20: Ladytron: Velocifiero - For all the praise poured on Ladytron over the years, it wasn’t until Velocifero that I really think I figured out what the band was all about. Does that mean I absolutely adore it and listen to it a few times a week? Hardly. But for once, I can say that Ladytron is enjoyable if you’re in the right mood. That mood doesn’t come around too often, but every now and then you just want some thick, wet....synths. What? What did you think I would say?

#19: Headlights: Some Racing, Some Stopping - Headlights’ debut album was a masterpiece of indie rock with some really catchy and meaningful songs. In 2006, it easily made it into my Top 10. This year, the band tried something different, which is always appreciated. They took off a bit of the polish, focused in more on a particular sound, and took Erin Fein off of lead vocals quite often. The result is a satisfying album that is just barely outdone by its predecessor.

#18: Dieter Schoon: Lablaza - If there’s one album in the Top 20 that absolutely no one has ever heard, it’s probably this one. Do yourself a favor and download “The Harbour’s Cold” or “Jethead” and find out what you’re missing. Lablaza is a inventive vision of electronic music that deserves to be heard outside of the artist’s native Sweden.

#17: Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles - I should make myself absolutely clear when I say that Alice Glass is an absolutely worthless piece of garbage. Well, her vocals at least. For as brilliant as Crystal Castles’ debut is, there are just moments when she comes in and ruins everything with her whiny screams. Fortunately, tracks are more than skippable, and if you do yourself the favor of not loading those songs on your iPod you’ll find that the rest of this album is absolutely amazing. This coming from a guy who up until about a year ago swore off of most types of electronic music.

#16: Sia: Some People Have Real Problems - Sia’s third LP is easily her best, and fortunately, her most commercially successful. Throwing away much of the melancholy from her past albums, Sia returned with a triumphant, exuberant record that displays the full talent of her voice and, in my book, clears her a spot right up towards the top of the greatest vocalists of all time. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, if only on the inside, and you’ll keep listening to it for months. Just an awesome album.

#15: My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges - Note to Jim James: lose the falsetto, it doesn’t work. Honestly, MMJ’s frontman’ s vocals were sketchy enough as it was, but the Prince impression is severely lacking. The best moment’s from Evil Urges were reserved for when the band was doing what they always do; play great, southern-tinged rock music.

#14: The Notwist: The Devil, You + Me - In my review for this album I stated that it doesn’t necessarily succeed expectations as much as it does defy them. I’ll stick to my guns on that one, for as much as The Devil falls short of the band’s 2002 masterpiece Neon Golden, it is still an amazing album that I think most were not expecting. The band’s addition of strings and prominent guitars make for an interesting if not entrancing listen.

#13: Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes - If there were one reason why you should read this list, it’s for this: Fleet Foxes is not #1. Take a deep breath. Get it all in there because you won’t see that often in 2008. Now I loves me some Fleet Foxes, that’s why they beat out some of my favorite bands to make it this far on the list, but their debut is not the perfect album that many are making it out to be. It is focused, moody, it makes you feel like taking a trip to Appalachia, but as far as bringing out emotion, action, thoughts out of the listener, there are others that just did it better this year. They are as follows....

#12: The Streets: Everything is Borrowed - Sometimes music critics just sort of blow my mind. For they most part, they had nothing but praise for Mike Skinner’s first two LPs and nothing but disdain for his last two. I’ll go ahead and advocate the opposite, because to me, the artist has finally come into his own. He’s finally making songs that are more universal, more catchy, could actually be considered hip hop. Everything is Borrowed is far from perfect, and it may not be as emotionally gripping as his past albums, but to call it a dud would just be an injustice.

#11: Portishead: Third - The only album I rated with a 9 this year that fell out of the top 10, Portishead’s comeback album still deserves a hell of a lot of credit. Were I a depressed college kid, this album would have easily been closer to the top of my list. But 2008 was a good year for me, and I found myself happier than I’ve been in quite a few years. As such, it doesn’t seem right for me to move this album higher when I just couldn’t devote myself to the doom and gloom that it bleeds. Still, if you find yourself with black hair, black clothes, and a razor blade fantasy, check it out. At least you won’t be 100% stereotypical.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

The Top 31 Albums of 2008 (Pt. 1)

#31: Chris Walla: Field Manual - When I first wrote my review of Chris Walla’s debut album, I described it as a sort of “socially conscious” Death Cab-lite album that would serve as a nice filler while waiting for the next Death Cab album. I stick with that assessment today. With the exception of one or two songs, this album lost my attention by February. That Death Cab album, however, wound up being one of the most surprisingly satisfying albums of 2008!

#30: Magnetic Fields: Distortion - This too is another album that fell off of my radar rather quickly. The Magnetic Fields was one of the first indie bands that I really got into, and like many, I was disappointed with their previous album. Distortion is a much better effort by far. Though it takes some time to get used to the layer of distortion that plagues each track on the album, the songs that go on top of that are nothing short of the brilliance that we’ve come to expect from this legendary group.

#29: The Dears: Missiles - Of all the bands in 2008 that I thought would disappoint me, I never suspected The Dears, whose previous two albums had been masterpieces of moody, indie rock. Missiles ended up getting mixed reviews from critics, many of whom even put it towards the top of their year-end lists. I, however, found Missiles to be a remarkably drab affair with little of the tension and emotional pull of the band’s earlier work. It still wound up being a somewhat decent record, but several miles off from what I feel needed to be achieved.

#28: Tilly and the Wall: O - Who would have thought that a band who made their name by replacing a drummer with a tap-dancer would be able to make the jump from playground tomfoolery to edgy punk rockers? Answer: nobody, and personally, I wasn’t buying it either. I believe I originally gave this album a 5/10 score. Nowadays, I’d be more inclined to give it a 6/10. Sure that’s not saying much, but when you overcome all the nonsense you start to realize that there are some good tracks on O. Not all of them, clearly, but some of them.

#27: Mates of State: Re-Arrange Us - Mates of State made hints on Bring it Back that they were becoming adults but it wasn’t until the release of Re-Arrange Us that we all found out what that would mean for the group. What it meant was ditching the Casio for a piano, shelving shouting and yelling for soft, subtle harmonies, and taking the energy and trading it in for poignancy. Re-Arrange Us is in no way a bad album. But it is severely lacking in almost everything that I used to love about the band. Parenthood definitely makes a person grow up. I just wish they would have held it off for a few years.

#26: Sun Kil Moon: April - Mark Kozelek is a master of making repetitive, mediocre tunes into mesmerizing snapshots of life. He is a true artist, not someone who relies on gimmicks or “it” sounds to creating memorable songs. One gets the sense that deep down, he is aware of his flaws; his lack of compositional flare or his whiny, nasally voice. The remarkable thing is that he perseveres through these shortcomings and even uses them to his advantage in some cases. In the end, what you get is something that is never special, but more than ordinary. April is one of those albums.

#25: She & Him: Volume One - I’m a bit surprised to see She & Him winding up on so many year-end lists for the simple fact that the music contained on Volume One was in no way inventive, flawless, or even entirely memorable. While Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have made a respectable album with several catchy songs, one simply cannot ignore the nearly-mediocre vocals or the somewhat juvenile lyricism. Let’s face it, we all have a schoolyard crush on Deschanel, let’s try not to let that cloud our judgement.

#24: The Dodos: Visiter - Sometime in February or March (I can’t really remember when), I was in a musical drought with nothing new or interesting to listen to. Somehow I came across Visiter and, based off of favorable reviews, decided to give it a try. While not entirely perfect, The Dodos have managed to make one of the most inventive albums of the year! Just from listening it’s hard to gauge who their influences are. There’s some definite similarities with Glen Hansard and Animal Collective, but even that is reaching far. The important thing to remember is that what you’re listening to is good. Who it sounds like is secondary. Enjoy it!

#23: The Mars Volta: The Bedlam in Goliath - Redemption is a sweet, sweet thing. Over two years ago, The Mars Volta followed what many would consider to be their best album (Frances the Mute), with one that most would consider their worst (Amputecture). This year, TMV gave us a much more respectable record that, while not achieving the heights of their first two LPs, manages to get things back on the right foot. Here’s hoping that 2009’s TMV album (assuming that they continue to release a record every 18 months or so) blows ‘em all out of the water!

#22: The Little Ones: Morning Tide - This album crossed my desk around the same time that I first got a hold of Of Montreal’s Skeletal Lamping. The result, unsurprisingly, was a severe lack of attention paid to it on my part. As the year wound down, however, I discovered just how charming and delightful The Little Ones can be! Morning Tide is a pretty cookie-cutter indie pop album, and many will be deterred by the sheer averageness of it all. However, despite its lack of creativity, Morning Tide is an extremely well-assembled album that contains more than its fair share of potential singles and sing-alongles. I recommend that you all check it out, whether you really want to or not.

#21: The Wombats: A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation - Call it what you will - punk, indie, a combination of both - but few can deny the sheer energy that this band exudes at every corner nor the infectious nature of that energy. The Wombats are not nearly as popular here in the States as one would expect, what, with such a marketable sound. I suppose that should tell you a lot about the state of music media in the US of A. But hey, good for Lil’ Wayne. Good for auto-tune!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Top 31 Songs of 2008

In years' past, I have made it a point to post my songs and albums together in one long, tedious, and confusing list.  This year, I've simplified the process just a little bit.  Don't get cocky, I did it mostly for myself - but you can still be grateful.  Below you'll find my Top 31 Songs of 2008 in one glorious list.  I've even sprinkled it with some commentary because, well, this is a blog after all.  Enjoy the list and be sure to tell me what your #1 (or Top 5 or 31) are.


#31: "Got Your Number" by Nadia Oh - It should be known that I fully understand that Nadia Oh is without an ounce of verifiable talent. It should also be known that I'm a sucker for good production and a catchy tune. And my standards have dropped significantly this year. Obviously.

#30: "The Score" by Chris Walla

#29: "Boracay" by The Little Ones

#28: "I'm Amazed" by My Morning Jacket

#27: "White Composition" by Darker My Love

#26: "Dark Leaves From a Thread" by Destroyer

#25: "Crisis 1 & 2" by The Dears

#24: "Walking" by The Dodos

#23: "Valerie Plame" by The Decemberists - Who would've thought that one of the most hilarious, catchy tunes of the year would be from a collection of mediocre songs brought to us by The Decemberists?

#22: "Triphallus, to Punctuate!" by Of Montreal - It's two songs in one, and both songs are equally enchanting, exciting, and lovable.

#21: "Souled Out!!!" by Conor Oberst

#20: "Jager Yoga" by CSS - The title doesn't sound fun at all. The song does.

#19: "Cath..." by Death Cab for Cutie

#18: "Get-Well Cards" by Conor Oberst

#17: "Kill the Director" by The Wombats

#16: "Courtship Date" by Crystal Castles - I've only just recently started listening to Crystal Castles, but I can confidently say that their debut album is one of the coolest things to happen to electronic music in a while. This song is my favorite from the record.

#15: "Txt Me Yr Love" by Wallpaper - If you listen to one song on this list, make it this one. But come on, just listen to 'em all!

#14: "Couleurs" by M83 - I don't care which country you're from, that's an incorrect way to spell "colors."

#13: "Id Engager" by Of Montreal

#12: "Grapevine Fires" by Death Cab for Cutie

#11: "Bye Bye Bye" by Plants and Animals
- The best "Bye Bye Bye" since JT had Jheri Curls.

#10: "The Devil, You & Me" by The Notwist - One could make the argument that this is the greatest song The Notwist has ever written. I might be inclined to agree.

#9: "Oxford Comma" by Vampire Weekend - The first several times I listened to VW's debut, this one just didn't stand out among the afro-pop stylings of "Mansard Roof" or "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa." After a year or so of letting it sit, this one is the stand-out for sure!!

#8: "The Escapist" by The Streets - Mike Skinner's latest is a fun romp through the ususal, though it lacks a bit of the emotion that I enjoyed from his previous record. "The Escapist," however, is more than enough reason to pick up this album. The rest of the songs ain't bad either.

#7: "The Re-Arranger" by Mates of State - The "Biggest Disappointment of the Year" award may go to the Mates' newest record, but you simply can't deny the heart put into the title track.

#6: "Market Girl" by Headlights - It started the year as one of my favorite tracks and showed more resiliency than any other song on this list. Do yourself a favor and check out this catchy tune.

#5: "To Pluto's Moon" by My Brightest Diamond - Shara Worden is a genius - we all knew that. But "To Pluto's Moon" is not only her crowning achievement of 2008, but perhaps her entire (brief) career. It's hard to imagine her being able to being able to top such an honestly heartbreaking song.

#4: "Dita Dimone" by Pop Levi - If 2008 has done anything for me, it has reaffirmed my love for pop music. This list, and others to come, are filled with great pop music. This just happens to be one of the best songs of the year, not to mention one of the best pop tracks.

#3: "Ill Willed Person" by Jaymay - Early on, "Sea Green, See Blue" was my favorite. Nowadays, I simply can't get enough of Jamie Seerman's "other" track. "Ill Willed Person" is such an emotional and truthful song that you simply can't hate it.

#2: "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" by Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes has been this year's IT band, and I feel that a lot of that hype is undeserved. While putting together a solid album, the band has also revealed a lot of flaws and gaps in creativity. This song, however, is one thing that they did right; very, very right.

#1: "Kim & Jessie" by M83 - It was my favorite song of 2008 when it released. It is my favorite song of 2008 now. It will probably be my favorite song of 2008 in 2009, 2010, and pretty much every moment until the world ends in 2012 (the ancient Mayans' call - not mine). The simple truth is that Anthony Gonzalez has a masterpiece on his hands. I simply could not get enough this year.
Now the big question is "When will that albums list be up?"  The good news is that it's compiled and ready to be go.  That bad news is that I'm not telling.  :)

Go ahead and enjoy that tense anticipation.  

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Friday, December 05, 2008

The 5th Annual Cale Awards: Winners!!

After a month of voting, the results are in!  This year's Cale Awards were trimmed down, and as a result, we ended up getting more votes than we had last year.  Of course, that could also have more to do with the increased readership over 2008.  I'll let you, dear reader, decide that one.  For now, enjoy the results of the awards that don't really matter, but make us feel important anyhow.

Best Myspace Artist:
50% of the vote
Cale's Pick:  Hanne Kolsto - In a way, I'm very pleased to see The Cyanide Valentine pull this one out.  Though they weren't my personal choice, they are a very talented band with a very unique sound.  Don't forget to visit their website to download their 2008 album for FREE!!

The Staying Power Award
Of Montreal:  Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
40% of the vote
Cale's Pick:  Spoon:  Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Last year, Spoon's album barely even made it to my year-end list.  It wasn't until 2008 that I really started to appreciate this album in its entirety.  "Finer Feelings" has made it on my iTunes "Top Played" list and I can't say I even placed it in my Key Tracks in my review of the album last year.  

Best Submitted Album
The Eastern Sea:  The Eastern Sea EP
83.3% of the vote
Cale's Pick:  The Eastern Sea:  The Eastern Sea EP - At the height of Audio Overflow's popularity (I do believe we've peaked at this point), I was receiving 2-3 CDs a week.  Unless I had spoken with the artist or label personally, most of them got brushed aside.  The Eastern Sea's debut as a full band was one that I could not ignore, and I'm pleased to see that the rest of you think so as well.

Best Album Artwork/Packaging
Radiohead:  In Rainbows
62.5% of the vote
Cale's Pick:  Sia:  Some People Have Real Problems - In general, I thought that this year was a step backward in album design.  Radiohead had a cool idea; give people stickers to make their own jewel case.  But how many of you have actually done that?  Exactly.  To me, Sia's packaging contained all the charm and playfulness of her best album yet!  Album art needs to convey the experience of the album in a tangible form, and this one did just that. 

Best EP
The Decemberists:  Always the Bridesmaid
50% of the vote

Cale's Pick:  Wallpaper: T-Rex - This is an experience that I probably could've only enjoyed in an EP form.  I'm not entirely sold on the idea that Wallpaper's pitch-corrected/vocoderized pop music wouldn't wear thin on me after more than 20 minutes.  But here, it's just enough to keep me smiling, singing, and trying to dance all cool-like. 

Best New Artist
Fleet Foxes
45% of the vote
Cale's Pick:  Jaymay - You'd think a label like Blue Note would put more money behind an artist's of Jaymay's calendar.  Still, nearly a year after her debut album released, find someone who know who Jaymay is and I'll give you a dollar.  For me, her debut was close to perfect and full of songs that still haven't gotten old.  Check it out if you haven't done so yet.

Band of the Year
Vampire Weekend
25% of the vote
Cale's Pick:  Vampire Weekend - There wasn't a band nominated that didn't deserve this one, but I think most of us can agree that Vampire Weekend has had the biggest impact on the music world this year.  Making indie kids smile and the MTVers curious, the band has taken their unique sound to the heights of music in a short amount of time.  That's good enough for me.

Female Artist of the Year
Jenny Lewis
40% of the vote
Cale's Pick:  Shara Worden - I'm now completely annoyed with Jenny Lewis.  She used to be one of my favorite artists, but her past 3 outings (two solos and a Rilo Kiley album) have all been relatively shitey.  Acid Tongue was a step in the right direction but still short of her earlier years.  No, for me, Shara Worden is the most-deserving of this award.  Her second MBD album was a wonder of dark, orchestral pop, and was a shoe-in for my Top 10 Albums of 2008.

Male Artist of the Year
Kevin Barnes
50% of the vote
Cale's Pick:  Pop Levi - Let's be honest, Kevin Barnes' transformation into Georgie Fruit has been one hell of a ride.  Any other year, and he would've gotten my vote easily.  But I've come to expect greatness from Barnes.  Pop Levi, on the other hand, was an artist I completely wrote off in 2007, only to fall in love with in 2008.  His second LP is an absolutely brilliant piece of pop rock and you owe it to yourself to check it out!  For coming out of nowhere to bring us something so awesome, this one's just easy.

Song of the Year
"Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" by Fleet Foxes
28.6% of the vote
Cale's Pick:  Coming Soon!

Album of the Year
Narrow Stairs by Death Cab for Cutie
41.2% of the vote
Cale's Pick:  Coming Soon!

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