Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Look What Happened

I've been exceedingly busy at work lately, that's no secret. Today while dashing off various emails and answering way too many phone calls I had a moment of shocking deja vu. I heard the same song twice while my iPod was on shuffle! (and one of my favorite songs to boot!) Now this may not be a shock for most people or even all that interesting, but I have a 60 GB iPod stuffed to the gills (14,279 songs) and I listen to it all day long. When I have it on shuffle I never hear the same song twice (though once I remember hearing two songs off the same album play in succession, in order). So I took a momentary break to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Here's how it happened: around 1:50 PM the song "Look What Happened" off of Anthem by Less Than Jake came up. This is one of my favorite LTJ songs and although I'm not a big fan of Anthem I do really like this song. But here's the thing - LTJ had recorded this very song on their previous album, Borders & Boundaries. So when this very track came up almost one hour later at around 2:50 PM I immediately took notice.

Sometimes a very minor thing comes along and gives you a break from all the hassle and headache of a busy day. This is what made my day OK. (Also, dig that shuffle mix - eclectic indeed, but it could have been much, much more so had the German techno come up)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Top 25 of 2008

I've been inspired by a group of the year-end best of lists (Muzzle of Bees, the CDP, Fuel/Friends, etc.) and I've put together 25 of my favorite albums from this year. Why 25? I went through my iPod and wrote down the ones that caught my eye, and this just so happened to be 25. I've kind of ranked them by completely subjective means - I gave myself 30 seconds to write down the ranks, so a lot of it has to do with page placement. I'm also going to list a stand-out track, which is pretty much one that I'm currently into (not necessarily a favorite, but whatever). Anyway, here it is:

#25: Vietnam Werewolf - Ohio's City
This independent release by this Cleveland-based punk band with an awesomely-terrifying name was the first (and to date only) release I purchased based on a Punknews.org review. Excellent high-energy punk is something that I never get tired of and something that takes a bit of digging to find. I'm lucky I took a chance (albeit small) with Vietnam Werewolf. Stand-out track: "I Used To Be A Kid, I'm A Notary Public Now"

#24: Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
This follow-up to The Stage Names didn't immediately become a favorite like its predecessor, but after listening to the album a few times the same Okkervil River charm was too much for me to not like. Plus there's a somewhat funny story involved. My parents were downtown and called me to ask if I needed anything. Jokingly I told my father to pick up the new Okkervil River at B-Side. Thirty minutes later he called again to ask the name again - he was at the counter asking for a copy, probably the first time they were at a State Street record store since waning days of the Ford Administration. Stand-out track: "Singer Songwriter"

#23: No Use For A Name - The Feel Good Record Of The Year
NUFAN had been one of my favorites back in the late 90's and this record was like meeting up with an old friend and finding out that some things never change. I enjoyed their 2005 release Keep Them Confused but this album is their best since Making Friends. Consistent quality is sometimes overlooked and I sometimes forget how much I enjoy this album. Stand-out track: "The Trumpet Player"

#22: Black 47 - Iraq
I've always had an ear for the Celtic-tinged punk and I'd come across Black 47 a few times prior. But after reading in the New Yorker about their new concept album on the Iraq War I picked this up. The band incorporates a variety of musical styles, but it's really the lyrics that make this a great album. This would have ranked much higher had this not included "Ballad of Cindy Sheehan" which was an absolutely atrocious song - the first time I've deleted a song from my iPod. Stand-out track: "Stars and Stripes"

#21: Sleeping in the Aviary - Expensive Vomit In A Cheap Hotel
One of my favorite Madison bands, Sleeping in the Aviary's second album is a bit of a change from their garage punky Oh, Thing Old Thing? but the band has definitely not lost any of the energy that made their debut great. I was lucky enough to get my copy from Science of Sound a week early since I pre-ordered it together with the new Pale Young Gentlemen. Thanks Terrin! Stand-out track: "Girl In The Ground"

#20: Why? - Alopecia
After seeing Why? open for the Silver Jews a couple of years ago I was a fan. When I saw that the band was touring in support of a new album and would be playing Madison, I didn't delay. Alopecia is a little darker than Elephant Eyelash but is great nonetheless. Why? plays on the fringes of my favorite genres but I find that it fits my mood more often that not. Stand-out track: "Good Friday"

#19: James McMurtry - Just Us Kids
My favorite singing Texan since Townes Van Zandt, James McMurtry's newest is close to his best yet. He sharpened his wit and hits hard, but the songs that really stick with you are the narratives about people getting older and looking back on the years of regrets. Stand-out track: "Just Us Kids"

#18: Off With Their Heads - From The Bottom
My favorite depressing Minneapolis punk band follows up on last year's collection All Things Move Toward Their End with a full album of awesomely sad yet catchy songs. Who would have thought that the general shittiness of life in these United States could sound so good? Stand-out track: "Fuck This, I'm Out"

#17: Flogging Molly - Float
Flogging Molly is a consistently great band, and all of their releases have been solid. Float took a little while to sink in, and while it isn't necessarily a departure in style, it has a bit more depth to the songs. There's still a massive amount of energy in the songs and it's hard not to feel the urge to get moving to the music. Stand-out track: "The Story So Far"

#16: Nada Surf - Lucky
I rediscovered Nada Surf on 2005's The Weight Is A Gift and saw them play an exceptional show at the Annex (exceptionally hot as well). I was excited to get their new album and was certainly not disappointed. It's a very mature and uplifting collection of songs that I never tire of listening to. Stand-out track: "Beautiful Beat"

#15: Less Than Jake - GNV FLA
Less Than Jake will always be my favorite band spanning 1996-2003 - the high school and college years. I've grown up a bit and LTJ had put out two albums (Anthem which I bought but didn't really like & In With The Out Crowd which I didn't even buy it was said to be so bad) that I thought marked the end of their relevance. Well, it was a mistake for me to count them out. GNV FLA is an excellent return to form. I may never be as enthralled by ska-punk as I was when I was 18 but I'll always have a place for LTJ when they make music as good as this. Stand-out track: "Does The Lion City Still Roar?"

#14: Backyard Tire Fire - The Places We Lived
I picked up Backyard's newest after their show at the Annex earlier this fall. Ever since E Eugene introduced me to them I've been a fan of Bloomington's finest. This is a band that transcends musical genres and whose members are exceedingly talented. Stand-out track: "Rainy Day (don't go away)"

#13: Madison Bloodbath - Gittin' Loose With Madison Bloodbath
When I read on Punknews.org that two-thirds of tiltWheel had formed another band and released an album I didn't hesitate to buy it. The songs are beautifully rough and catchy, with smokey vocals and shout-along choruses. This is exactly the kind of punk that I can't get enough of these days. Stand-out track: "Oh, The Places You'll Stay"

#12: The Felice Brothers - The Felice Brothers
After seeing the Felice Brothers open for DBT and completely rock the Pabst Theater I was an immediate fan. I bought their eponymous debut album the day it came out from B-Side. The Felice Brothers are often described as a Hudson Valley Dylan-sounding outfit and there's definite truth to that, but the songs these brothers sing have a unique provenance, old-fashioned and folky yet somehow current. Easily one of the best discoveries of the year. Stand-out track: "Radio Song"

#11: Alejandro Escovedo - Real Animal
I'd fallen in love with Alejandro Escovedo the first time I heard 2001's A Man Under The Influence and I was happy to hear he had recovered from his health issues when he released 2006's The Boxing Mirror. Unfortunately John Cale's production marred the album, and I'll admit I was a bit hesitant to pick Real Animal up. This was completely unfounded, because Al is back. There are few artists out there that can combine the Rock and the Beauty quite as well as Escovedo. Stand-out track: "Chelsea Hotel '78"

#10: Marah - Angels Of Destruction!
Marah is the band that my sister and I share an affinity for, and this year was supposed to be the year that the two of us would finally see this legendary live act. Unfortunately for us there were issues with the rhythm section and the US tour in support of this album was cancelled. That doesn't take away from the excellence of Angels Of Destruction! which is top to bottom solid. I've been a fan of Marah since Kids In Philly and I'll follow them whichever musical direction they follow. Stand-out track: "Angels Of Destruction!"

#9: The Whipsaws - 60 Watt Avenue
My favorite Alaskans come back with a scorching album of alt.country bar rock. I wish the situation with Miles of Music would have turned out better (and I hate to think that my money didn't make it their way), but such real-world distractions don't get in the way of enjoying this album. The Whipsaws have played Madison at least once but E Eugene and I were unable to make it. I hope that we don't have to go to Anchorage to make up for it. Stand-out track: "The War"

#8: Constantines - Kensington Heights
Speaking of northern latitudes, one of my favorite Canadian bands put out an incredible album. Kensington Heights is everything you'd want in a Constantines record. With catchy riffs and superb lyrics, a Constantines song may not blow you away on first listen, but once it sinks in it is exceptional. Stand-out track: "Credit River"

#7: Blueheels - Lessons In Sunday Driving
The second release by my favorite Madison band takes a decided turn toward the rock side of the equation, but there is still Robby Schiller's country twang to balance out Justin Bricco's blazing guitar. Their live show is the best in town and the level of energy they bring to the stage is astounding. I regret missing so many of their local shows this year but I managed to make it to a few. I'm certainly planning on making it to quite a few more in 2009. Stand-out track: "Stupid Little Smile"

#6: Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
Like most all DBT fans I was shocked and saddened to hear about Jason Isbell's departure from the band. I had counted many of Isbell's songs as my favorites and I didn't know if the great songwriting that forms the foundation of the band would be compromised. Fortunately this proved to not be the case, as Isbell's departure was filled by increased contributions from Patterson Hood & Mike Cooley and the new songs by Shonna Tucker. After purchasing this album at B-Side it did not leave my auditory halo for days. I usually listen to this long player (and it certainly plays long) straight through. Just about every song could be placed on my list of favorites. Stand-out track: "The Man I Shot"

#5: Pale Young Gentlemen - Black Forest (tra la la)
I would not have thought I would enjoy the chamber pop of Pale Young Gentlemen as much as I do. The uptempo songs that usually pique my interest aren't the centerpiece of the album. But instead of finding the slower songs boring I find them to be emotionally gripping. Something in how everything comes together so well makes it completely fascinating to me. When I first received this album I gave it a cursory listen and it fell to the bottom of the pile. However I found myself coming back after a couple of weeks and this album has gradually become one of my most played over the fall and winter. Stand-out track: "Kettle Drum (I Left a Note)"

#4: Drag the River - You Can't Live This Way
I came late to the Drag the River party. I had heard repeatedly of the "side project" of ALL and Armchair Martian but had never managed to really listen to them until taking a chance on a singular copy of Hobo's Demos at B-Side a year ago. I was forever changed, and thought I had terrible timing because the band had a falling out that year. Here I had discovered a new favorite just to see them break up. But it was not necessarily to be, and I learned that a new album would be released in 2008. I always kept an eye out for it at B-Side but after a few months I impulsively ordered it (along with seven other records) from Suburban Home Records (also a new favorite). I had four DTR albums to listen to once my order arrived, but I noticed You Can't Live This Way rapidly became my favorite. I truly hope that this band remains in existence, and I absolutely regret not finding a way to see them in Chicago this past September. But until then I'll pour myself another drink and spin this one again. Stand-out track: "Br00tal"

#3: The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
I adore the Hold Steady. I have since I first heard snippets of their songs on NPR. Separation Sunday took a few listens to engrain in my mind, but once it set in I became a full-blown convert. I was so excited to get this album that I scoured the various blogs and downloaded live bootlegs of new songs. When I finally got my hands on this my expectations were exceeded on the first track alone. Stay Positive has everything I love about the Hold Steady and then a little bit more this go-around. Guest appearances by Patterson Hood of DBT and Ben Nichols of Lucero caused me to geek out a bit. The capper came at the Majestic Theater in July, where I got to sing along to all of my favorite new songs. Stand-out track: "Sequestered in Memphis"

#2: Two Cow Garage - Speaking In Cursive
Two Cow Garage was once just a alt.country band with a funny name that I heard from time to time on certain Internet radio stations. I liked those particular songs and made it a point to pick up their second self-released album The Wall Against Our Backs prior to seeing them open for Slobberbone in Chicago. That show was the greatest I've ever seen. Since that night at the Abbey Pub I've kept a close eye on this hard-working band from Ohio. I was especially excited when their third album, Three, came out as a self-released record, Suburban Home "adopted" the band giving them a label. When I heard that Suburban Home would be releasing a new album this year I knew it had to be great. I signed up for the first pre-order I could and patiently waited, sustaining myself on the couple of mp3 downloads from SH. I was literally blown away when I received Speaking In Cursive and I am still somehow surprised every time I listen to this album. I liked the past three albums very much, but with this one Two Cow Garage has stepped up their game to an unbelievable level. Stand-out track: "Not Your Friends"

#1: The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
I think I suspected this album would be my favorite before I listened to it. There are very few times I would consider myself on the cutting edge of anything, but I can honestly say that I have watched the Gaslight Anthem go from a couple of demo tracks posted on Punknews.org to seeing them on Conan when I turned on my television at a Minnesota hotel. Their debut album, Sink or Swim was an instant favorite, and I can't begin to say how high my expectations were for their first release on SideOneDummy. I jumped on the pre-order and was happy in that my order came a day before the actual release date. I'm even happier to say that The '59 Sound is everything it was made out to be and more. While not as raw as some of the tracks off of Sink or Swim (which in turn seemed polished compared to the demos) the songs on The '59 Sound are top to bottom exceptional. Every time I listen I have a new favorite. My only regret is that I was not around to see the Gaslight Anthem play the High Noon last month. Stand-out track: "The Backseat"

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Gaslight Anthem on Conan

Hey - I've got a lot to write about but not so much time. I just got back from a long trip to MN, but I did manage to catch one of my favorite bands on Conan one night in a hotel room in Baxter. Here's the video: