Normalnorman’s Best of 2008

December 31, 2008

Ok, here it is, my top 10 of ’08.  I have to confess, I think music this year has been more geared toward individual singles than full length albums.  There’s been a handfull of absolutely amazing singles that were put out in ’08, some of which are included in my top 10 albums (TV On the Radio – DLZ, MGMT – Kids, Santogold – Lights Out for example).  

Anyway, there were definitely some great records, and others that almost made my list but I had to leave out… I mean, I only get 10 here.  So enjoy.

  1. TV on the Radio – Dear Science, - Hands down my favorite of the year, this record has not left the top spot in my music rotation.  I was an instant fan of TVOTR after first hearing their first big single, Wolf Like Me from their 2006 album Return From Cookie Mountain, and was further drawn when I went back and listened to the songs Staring at the Sun and New Health Rock.  What sucked me in was the contrast of melody + hooks on top of artsy/dance beats and white noise… the only problem, in my opinion, was not enough hooks to fill the white noise.  On Dear Science, TVOTR replaced the overused with fantastic instrumentation and hooks for days.  Every song can stand on it’s own as a single, yet the album definitely has a flow and cohesiveness between songs.  The second-to-last track, DLZ might be my pick for single of the year.  Brilliant fucking record… and a kickass live show as well.
     
     
  2. Minus the Bear – They Make Beer Commercials Like This - Ok, this one might not count… it’s an EP… and it’s also a re-issue of an EP with an extra song, bringing to total to 7 tracks.  I just had to put it here because, in my opinion, it’s THAT good.  It’s great to see a band use an EP the right way and not overdo it.  These songs are simple as far as structure goes, but there are some great hooks and the musicianship (especially David Knudson’s guitar playing) is damn good.  With song titles like I’m Not Totally Down With Rob’s Alien and Houston, We Have Uh-Oh, Minus the Bear keep the tone light, but fluctuate the mood drastically throughout.  I have to say, this is the only EP I’ve ever listened to 3 times in a row before noticing it was on repeat. (NOTE: The video below is audio from the original album, so the audio is REALLY rough)
     
  3. Radiohead – In Rainbows - What can I say?  Great record and an amazing new concept for distributing music.  I’m not a big Radiohead fan by any means, but ReckonerAll I Need, and Jigsaw Falling Into Place are great songs.
     
  4. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago - Really fucking good song writing, AMAZING hooks, and a very original voice that is extremely expressive and emotional, but not over the top.  The first time I heard Skinny Love, I was pretty shocked how good of a song it was, and had it stuck in my head for two days straight.  After hearing the entire album, I am shocked at how good it is as a whole… minus a couple of iffy tracks, every song is a single.
     
  5. Colour Revolt – Plunder, Beg and Curse - I absolutely loved their self titled EP from 2006.  The songs Mattresses Under Water and A New Family are pretty haunting songs.  So I expected their first full length to be an extension of the self titled.  It wasn’t even close, but in a VERY VERY good way.  Not a single song from the EP made it on Plunder, Beg, and Curse.  Instead, it’s a very raw record that has a Southern-Rock backbone mixed with THICK layered guitars, big bass lines, and uniquely dynamic vocals with LOTS of harmonies that support the complicated themes on the record. 

  6. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular - Undeniably catchy songs, almost all singles on this album.  Kids and Time to Pretend are about as anthemic as it gets.

     
  7. Santogold – Santogold - A lot like the MGMT record… nothing but singles.  I think I’ve heard at least half of these songs on commercials already.

     
  8. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes - I think just about everyone agrees that the debut from Fleet Foxes should be somewhere in the top 10. It is an undeniably great record, but I put it down at number 8 for one reason: it gets a little repetitive.  I kind of have to be in a certain mood to listen to it, which isn’t a horrible thing. 

     
  9. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges - The exact opposite problem of the Fleet Foxes album, Evil Urges might be a little too dynamic.  It’s a great record, no doubt, with songs ranging from traditional MMJ rock-jam style, to Beegee’s style dance tunes , to the Prince style vocals on the title track… but it lacks a little bit of cohesiveness between songs.  Still an amazing record. 

     
  10. White Denim – Exposion - I just recently started listening to this album about a month ago and haven’t been able to put it down.  Really raw sound at times, very subtle instrumentation on some tracks as well.  It’s crazy to think the record is this good and it’s their first full length.  The only reason I put it at 10 is that I just started listening to it.  
    

Steven Seagal is Against the Dark

December 29, 2008

Seagal fights vampires.  How could that not be awesome?


Gordon Winslow’s Best of 2008

December 27, 2008

I don’t claim this is any sort of definitive best of 2008.  There are many albums I want to buy that I haven’t yet, and I’ve got a small stack of albums I have bought that I haven’t absorbed yet.  This is the best of what I’ve heard from 2008 so far.  My picks here will shock absolutely no one who is a regular reader of this site.

I don’t think 2008 was a very good year for music.  Since I started reviewing albums for this site in June, I’ve rated exactly one album four stars out of five (Mudcrutch) and none higher.  Let’s hope 2009 is a better year, and that there are some 2008 treats that I will soon discover that will change my opinion of this year.

Except for Mudcrutch, albums are in no particular order.  Links are to my original review.

How square is it to have a Tom Petty album at the top of a best-of list?  Well, that’s how it is.  You youngster musicians out there are just going to have to work harder if you want to convince me to be hip.

Mudcrutch – Mudcrutch

Tom Petty reunites his original band with stellar results.  “Scare Easy” is the killer single that Tom manages to put on every album, but the whole thing is great.

Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight

Thanks to Jason for turning me on to this band.  “Heads Roll Off” is a good candidate for song of the year.

Rocket From the Crypt – All Systems Go, Vol. 3

Is it fair to list a bunch of demos recorded between 1997 and 2000 as one of the best of 2008?  Why not?  Do you think that album that came out in January was recorded in 2008?  This just took a little longer to get released.

Essentially a lost album from a band I adore, and randomly stumbling across it at the record store was my happiest musical surprise this year.

“No Way At All”:

The Raveonettes – Lust Lust Lust

The Jesus and Mary Chain may not record any more, but their disciples do.  Here’s the lovely “Blush.”

Alejandro Escovedo – Real Animal

Austin legend does it again.  “Sister Lost Soul” is another contender for song of the year.  I’d embed it, but the copyright police have yanked it.  Can’t have you hearing it!  It might make you want to buy the album or something.  Nope, can’t have that.

Bitch Session Continues: Here’s a decent live version, but not being able to share the studio version with you really sticks in my craw.  It takes a special kind of genius to think that making it impossible for people to hear a not-very-famous musician is the best method of convincing people to plunk their hard-earned money down for an album by said musician.

Martha Wainwright - I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too

I thought this well-reviewed album would get more attention.  Maybe that’s why I write on a blog for free instead of having a career as a hot-shot A&R guy (A&R job offers welcome).  Here’s “You Cheated Me.” Video mildly not safe for work.

YouTube

Paul Westerberg – 49:00

A welcome return to form for the former Replacements frontman, and only 49¢!

Some Songs Worth Mentioning

This section is especially random.

“If I Don’t See You Again” by Neil Diamond

I panned the album, but this song is amazing.  Get it back together, Neil!  I love you at your best.

“Lost Coastlines” by Okkervil River

Jason didn’t care for The Stand Ins.  I liked it better, but not “best of year” better.  This song is pretty great, though.

“Russian Roulette” by Jesse Malin

It might not be right to include a cover on a best-of list, but I was stoked to hear a great version of an unjustly obscure song.

My review of his album, On Your Sleeve, is here.

“Plan to Marry” by Lucinda Williams

A rough patch on the second half stops Little Honey from making my best-of list (although it’s still worth your time), but this song is a thing of beauty.

As for this year in pop…

“Bad Influence” by Pink

After the stunning I’m Not Dead, Funhouse was a letdown.  It wouldn’t be a Pink album, even a mediocre one, without some killer tracks, though, and there are some here.  “So What” is the big single, and I like it a lot, but “Bad Influence” is the one that gets stuck in my head for days on end.

Wind me up and watch me go!

“Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis

There wasn’t any glorious, guilty-pleasure radio pop in 2008 as awe-inspiring as last year’s “Umbrella” by Rihanna, so far as I know.  This one from a Simon Cowell discovery comes closest.

So that’s it for this year!  I’ve really enjoyed our first year of (mostly) music-blogging.  Special thanks to my co-bloggers for always coming up with fascinating posts.  It’s pretty cool to look forward every day to seeing what’s new at your own blog.  I think this would be my favorite music blog even if I didn’t write for it.


Album Review: Rocket From the Crypt – All Systems Go, Vol. 3

December 26, 2008

Rocket From the Crypt - All Systems Go, Vol. 3I was a tad obsessive about Rocket From the Crypt when they were around, so I was utterly thrilled when I stumbled across All Systems Go, Vol. 3 at the record store.  It appears to have been released without any fanfare, which is too bad as I imagine there are a lot of fans who don’t realize this is out there.

For those not familiar, San Diego’s Rocket From the Crypt were the garage band nonpareil for about a decade beginning in 1991.  Led by singer/guitarist John Reis (Speedo to fans), their sound was like an amplified version of the raunchiest Nuggets-type stuff, sort of like the Sonics with a horn section, broadcast through a football stadium PA system.  And boy, did they tear it up live.

For awhile there, they cranked out new material at an astonishing rate.  They had seven studio albums in their eleven recording years, some EPs, and an ungodly number of non-LP singles, compilation tracks, B-sides, and other stuff.  Much of the non-LP material is collected on the packed-to-the-gills All Systems Go, volumes 1 and 2, and there is enough out there for another couple of volumes.

I was expecting All Systems Go, Vol. 3 to round up another bunch of stray tracks, but it doesn’t.  Subtitled The Lost Masters, 1997-2000, it’s instead a bunch of demos that mostly were never released.  Upon realizing that I had just paid money for unreleased demos, I was prepared to spin it once, bitch a bit to the one or two people I know who love this band, and file it away for the sake of completeness because that’s what record geeks do instead of selling off junk.

Wrong-o.  ASG3 packs a wallop.  The songs don’t sound demo quality, or, to be more accurate, they sound no more demo quality than most of the band’s proper albums.  There are hooks galore, and furious guitars and horns that will pummel you until you say “uncle.”

RFTC album-buyers will only be familiar with “When in Rome (Do the Jerk)” and “Dick on a Dog” from the slickly-produced (not an insult) RFTC album, presented here in rawer form.  That might not have worked for a lot of the material on that album, but it’s great for these two tracks.  Fans who have delved deeper may be familiar with a couple of other songs, “Chariots on Fire” and “This Way Out.”  I’m pretty sure the other sixteen tracks will be completely new to anyone who is not a personal friend of Speedo’s.

This batch of demos actually holds together as an album, and a pretty darn good one. In fact, ASG3 is much better than RFTC’s final studio album, Live From Camp X-Ray, their only dud and a disappointing ending to a stellar career.  Knowing they were cutting much of this material around the same time makes me wonder, what the hell were they thinking?

Well, who cares what they were thinking?  I’ve got the stuff now.  You should get it, too.

Three and a Half Stars

“Chariots on Fire”:

“No Way At All”:


What I Got for Christmas

December 26, 2008

The Shangri-Las – Myrmidons of Melodrama

Various Artists – Love Train:The Sound of Philadelphia

Merle Haggard – Down Every Road: 1962-1994

That’s a lot of awesomeness to absorb, but I think I’m just the man for the job.

Anyone else get anything they’d like to brag about?


A Christmas Gift for Alex

December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, Ho!I hate to point out the obvious, but this is not Santa.

What, too inside?


The Song That’s Been Stuck in My Head All Day: Christmas Edition

December 25, 2008

"I Want an Alien for Christmas" by Fountains of Wayne

“I Want an Alien for Christmas” by Fountains of Wayne.

According to the liner notes:

Our friend Steve Greenberg was working with Hanson, who were making a Christmas album. I gave a demo of this song to him to pass along. They didn’t use it, so we recorded it ourselves on a day off in Liverpool.  I am surprised they even let you record novelty Christmas songs like this in Liverpool.  Alarmingly, it became our highest charting single in the UK up to that point.

All YouTube has is a fan video with footage of the new Dr. Who show.  Don’t let the video distract you, unless you’re into the new Dr. Who.

Now I have “Everybody Knows the Claus” by Hanson stuck in my head, too.  I think I’ll save that one for next year.  Merry Christmas!


“Santa Claus is a Black Man” by Akim and the Teddy Vann Production Company

December 25, 2008

"Santa Claus is a Black Man" by Akim and the Teddy Vann Production CompanyAs our first black president prepares to take office, it seems like the timing is appropriate to celebrate our first black Santa, or at least the only one I’m aware of to be memorialized in song.  This barrier was broken in 1973 (I think) with this novelty number, which is sort of an Afrocentric take on “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

I discovered “Santa Claus is a Black Man” on A John Waters Christmas.  The song’s writer, Teddy Vann, is apparently none too amused that Waters put the song on his compilation, and is suing him.  (Neither a lawsuit nor doing something deserving of a lawsuit is very Christmassy, guys!)  According to Allmusic.com, A John Waters Christmas is the only place the song is available, unless you care to spend a lot of money for the original single.  I’d better find my lost copy of JWC–it may be a collector’s item soon.

The song doesn’t appear to be well-known, but I saw some comments on message boards and such that seem to indicate that it was (is?) popular in New Orleans.  I’d be interested in information on this or anything else about the song, so please comment if you can add to my knowledge.

According to the article about the lawsuit, Akim is Teddy Vann’s daughter.

Teddy Vann also co-wrote “Power of Love/Love Power” with Luther Vandross, which won a Grammy.

Merry Christmas!


The Star Wars Holiday Special

December 24, 2008

The Star Wars Holiday Special aired only once, for good reason.  It is indescribably awful–not even so-bad-it’s-good, just so-bad-it’s-bad.  It is one of the most painful two hours of “entertainment” that I have ever sat through.  Horrifying.

With [George Lucas's] attention elsewhere during most of its production, The Star Wars Holiday Special metastasized into a monster. Two directors and much turmoil later, the finished special didn’t so much resemble its namesake as it did another science-fiction film: The Thing with Two Heads. Onto the body of Lucas’s sentimental and irony-free Wookiee plotline, the producers and writers grafted a campy 70s variety show that makes suspension of disbelief impossible. In between minutes-long stretches of guttural, untranslated Wookiee dialogue that could almost pass for avant-garde cinema, Maude’s Bea Arthur sings and dances with the aliens from the movie’s cantina scene; The Honeymooners’ Art Carney consoles Chewbacca’s family with such comedy chestnuts as “Why all the long, hairy faces?”; Harvey Korman mugs shamelessly as a multi-limbed intergalactic Julia Child cooking “Bantha Surprise”; the Jefferson Starship pops up to play a number about U.F.O.’s; and original Star Wars cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill walk around looking cosmically miserable.

Yes, you read that right–Jefferson Starship.

Thirty years later, this piece in Vanity Fair tells the story of this odd Star Wars footnote.

If you’ve never seen it, and you just have to, here it is.  You’ll regret it, I promise.

You may want to skim it just so you have some idea of the horrors that awaited millions of children huddled in front of their televisions in eager anticipation in 1978.  Scrooge himself couldn’t have done a better job of ruining the holidays.

Via Ace, who has more.

Update: Here’s a more managable bit (three minutes).  Princess Leia sings!  Happy Life Day!:


Redd Volkaert – “Home In San Antone”

December 24, 2008

This is not Christmas music in any sense, but instead is my Christmas gift to all you non-Austinites out there.  Redd Volkaert is without a doubt the greatest Telecaster fingerpicker I have ever had the good fortune to see play live many times here in Austin.  Redd hails from Canada, but he is now a naturalized Texan, and we’re glad to have him.  If you ever swing through Austin, look him up and go see him play at the Continental Club on South Congress (he plays with a group called Heybale on Sunday nights).  You will not regret it.

This is real country music.  Screw that crap they play on country radio these days!

Merry Christmas!


Sufjan Stevens – “Put The Lights On The Tree”

December 23, 2008

“Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues (with Kirsty MacColl)

December 23, 2008

I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I call “Fairytale of New York” the greatest secular Christmas song of all time and one of the greatest songs ever.

The Pogues were at a creative peak when If I Should Fall From Grace With God was released in 1988, and while the band was much too ragged to release a flawless album, both Grace and their previous record, Rum, Sodomy, & the Lash are dazzling achievements.

“Fairytale of New York,” the fourth track on Grace, opens with the narrator in the drunk tank on Christmas Eve.  From there he flashes back on the life he and his lover have shared, from the joyous optimism of two Irish immigrants in New York City to their later descent into animosity and substance abuse.  The song ends on a hopeful note, with the narrator deciding to turn his life around, glorious, swelling strings hinting that maybe this Christmas will be the day he begins to redeem himself.

The late Kirsty MacColl provides the female vocal, and it’s a tremendous performance–when she declares “You took my dreams from me,” the heartache is palpable.  Pogues’ lead Shane MacGowan is almost as good, his three-packs-a-day rasp contrasting vividly with MacColl’s lilt.  Their chemistry is amazing–like a classic romantic film.  After “You took my dreams from me,” comes the perfect rejoinder: “I kept them with me, babe.”

Whether you’ve never heard this song or if you’ve heard it a thousand times, I encourage you to take four minutes, turn up your speakers, and listen to this masterpiece.  From the songwriting, to the arrangement, to the performance, it’s about as perfect a song as mere humans can create.  I am also not exaggerating when I say that it gives me goosebumps nearly every time I hear it.


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