Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Top 10 Albums of the Year 2005

I feel like 2005 might be the weakest year for new albums from 00-10. This is a working thesis, but right now I'm keen to believe it. Nothing in my top 10 is an album I'm obsessed with or would consider an all-time classic, though everything is good. This is the year where my number 1 album back in 2005 isn't even in the top 10 any longer. Either are #2, 3, 4 and 5. 2005 was also the year I created an mix cd at the conclusion of every month, highlighting new music. Many of the albums the songs on those mixes have come from have long since been removed from my music library and would be forgotten entirely if not for these mix files on my computer. Regardless, here's another Top 10. I'm burnt out doing this - I'm sure the reviews are unreadable at this point.

10. Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter II
(Cash Money Records)
Rank in 2005: 8

I was obsessed with Cash Money for awhile in middle school. I repped Juvenile lyrics on my binder, the beacon of everything a middle schooler stood for. On Wednesdays, I tried to organize "White Tee Wednesdays" where my friends and I would rock white tees before it was cool, though they never bought into it. I would rap along to every Big Tymers single, pretend to push a nice whip, all of that. Cash Money was my joint and back then - we never foresaw what Lil Wayne was going to become. Apart from the plethora of mixtapes leading up to it (and maybe 1 or 2 after it), "Tha Carter II" shows Wayne at the apex of his abilities. Before the autotune became a regular occurence, this album shows Wayne looser in his raps, but still understandable. He's not just spitting random shit on two bottle of purp like "Tha Carter III" or lots of his freestyles. This is a coherent album, the songs work - whether he's telling a story of (more likely) doing the braggadocio rap. It's hard to not be memorized by some of his verses, by his confidence on this recording. Before he went over the top, "Tha Carter II" may have just proven the point that Wayne and millions of others were claiming at the time, that he might very well be "The Best Rapper Alive".

9. Sam Prekop - Who's Your New Professor
(Thrill Jockey)
Rank in 2005: 20

Back in 2004 and 2005, all the money I earned, I spent on music. This was life before bills, before rent, before groceries. I'd head to whatever store I felt like hitting up on release day and pick up a cd or two. Every week I'd have a list of about 5, which I would somehow wittle down. I'd had some Sea and Cake albums on my computer at one particular time ("Oui", "Nassau" and "One Bedroom") and though I never really listened to them, I decided that Sam Prekop's solo album was one that I was going to buy on that trip. (I'm unsure, but the other might have been Fiery Furnace's "Blueberry Boat" which I proceeded to listen to like what...4 times?) "Who's Your New Professor" is the sound of a pleasant record. Perfect in the springtime, perfect during the summer mornings, summer picnics in the yard, fitting in the misty fall. Prekop's voice is so likable, the smoothness of his music so enjoyable, upon hearing this record for the first time, I immediately fell in love with it. It was around this time that my mom and I got close and I accompanied her on some of her sales trips for work. The cd that I brought along that we both enjoyed a lot was this. Fond memories of driving to the beach with "Who's Your New Professor" just capturing the serenity of the Oregon Coastal passages, of being the right amount of pleasant and intelligent and interesting to appeal to both of our wildly different tastes. It's not the best album ever, but it's one that I come back to every so often and always enjoy.

8. Edan - Beauty And The Beat
Rank in 2005: 21

I view "Beauty And The Beat" in a unique light. On one hand, I recognize the album as an gigantic artistic triumph. Edan has taken all kind of obscure psychedelic and soul samples (and vocal snippets) and created tracks that hit hard. This doesn't sound much like any sort of hip hop that had existed prior. It's futuristic, rough and a huge mind-fuck. For that, this album is great. On the other hand, even though it's only 34 minutes, I usually get exhausted about halfway through the album and therefore can't quite consider it a masterpiece or an essential hip hop album or even my favorite hip hop album of 2005. Edan's rapping is good enough, his flow fast and sharp, his voice earnest and mean. Maybe it's just one of those albums where I have to be in the exact mood to listen to it. When that mood comes, this is one of the best albums of the past decade, that mood just comes rarely. When I listen to hip hop, my ignorant ass usually wants something it's familiar with. Something that will bump in my car or make me think back to the golden age, I don't want music that shreds my speakers like Hendrix. Whatever is the case, this is an album that should be in everyone's collection and deserves the recognition it gets as one of the best hip hop release of the 2000's.

7. Robyn - Robyn
Rank in 2005: N/A

Robyn's big comeback album in 2005 has since seemingly been reissued countless times. Some indie publications recognized the brilliant pop music contained within during 2005, the UK started to pay attention in 2006 when she gave vocals to the huge Kleerup track "With Every Heartbeat", which led to a reissue in 2007 and then finally there were added tracks, reshuffling of tracks, and an finally an American tour and success (in small part due to helping out Snoop with a "Sexual Eruption" remix and a sketch on The Daily Show), but she still hasn't really broken through to the mainstream in the states. It's a crime really. Every song on this album should concievably be a smash single. Sung with attittude, with heart, with hurt, this might very well be the single best pure pop album of the past decade. Excellent production, just a load of fun. Robyn's come a long way, and with more and more releases being added to her repetoire - she might even finally break through (again) like she deserves.

6. Mountains - Mountains
Rank in 2005: N/A

The music of the duo Mountains (Koen Holtkamp and Brendan Anderegg) always captivates me. Sometimes it puts in a rapturous state, I'm so smitten and in awe of the near-spiritual aura that their music can convey. Other times, it makes everything I'm doing better - from laundry to walking around to (and perhaps most often) going to bed. The samples they choose always seem to be just the right samples, the ambient, synth-based stuff they play is always reposeful, the guitar and strings are just so god damn pretty. And that is why they are good - they make really, truly pretty music - without being over the top on the emotional scale, trying to draw every aching filtered, twisted string. It's a music that speaks to your every day parade and it is really outstanding.

5. M. Ward - Transistor Radio
Rank in 2005: 16

I can say right now, in 2010 that I believe every M. Ward album to be good. Every M. Ward solo album that is. From his debut "Duet For Guitars #2" out through 2009's "Hold Time", Matt Ward has become one of the most consistently excellent musicians in music. While his side projects and general project seems to get more and more Starbucks-centric however, "Transistor Radio" his old-timey concept record from 2005 remains amazing. Opening with an acoustic, instrumental cover of The Beach Boys' "You Still Believe In Me" on through modern folk songs sounding like they are being filtered through a tin can during the dust bowl, "Transistor Radio" is a complete effort - one that stays strong throughout, holding with the theme, giving the listeners memorable folk songs, memorable guitar lines. It's mostly gentle, some songs have been recycled from past releases, but overall the album is a ridiculous success. "Here Comes The Sun Again" should be a folk classic, "Paul's Song" is a song that stays stuck in my head for days upon hearing, it's just a magical album that is truly hard to not enjoy.

4. Common - Be
(GOOD Music)
Rank in 2005: 11

"Be" will go down as the last good Common album. Released after the uneven (though oddly charming) mess "Electric Circus", this album was Common's most straight-forward release of his career. Eleven tracks, nine produced by Kanye, two produced by Dilla. His lyrics suffer on some songs, but on the whole, it's Common spitting decent enough rhymes over some of the best beats Kanye was offering at the time. The album-titled opening track is one of my favorite beats ever, was my cellphone ring for years and sets the stage. "The Corner", when it was released as a single announced Common back from the love ballads that had been dominating his rise to fame recently. From there, we get a mixture of uplifting (sometimes corny) rap, street-conscious stuff, fun stuff, whatever. It's a short album, it's sequenced properly and it's no frills. It's just solid hip hop through and through and in a genre that is often so bloated with bullshit recycled and terrible "new" ideas, "Be" was a breath of fresh air in 2005.

3. Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
(Arts & Crafts)
Rank in 2005: 6

If "You Forgot It In People" was an exercise in how to make a lot of musicians and a lot of noise sound coherent, even beautiful, then Broken Social Scene's self-titled followup is how to add even more musicians, making it's loud points way louder, making it sound less coherent and capturing the spirit of too many beers in the studio. "Broken Social Scene" is a glorious mess, mixing anthemic indie rock songs like "7/4 (Shoreline)" and "It's All Gonna Break" with somber, even depressing sounding numbers like "Bandwitch". Nothing sticks out quite like the previous album, but as a whole - it still sounds good. Turn up the speakers loud, rock out when you can, rest when you can, enjoy the sounds of this conglomeration of musicians. Some people slandered this album as garbage compared to the previous release and that could partially be true, but that's what makes it good. It just sounds like a good time, people wanting to get invovled, a million ideas bouncing off the wall and all being played at once. It works in its own right, which is remarkable in and of itself. But seriously, play it loud.

2. Richard Hawley - Coles Corner
Rank in 2005: N/A

For a long while I've considered this to be the best album of 2005 and one of the top 5 best albums of the entire decade. I cannot even count the number of late nights this album has kept me company since it's release. "Oh look, its midnight and I have to be up another hour or 2 - let's listen to Coles Corner"...and that would turn into 2 or 3 listens. The voice, it's so...alarming. So smooth, saturated with cheese, sleaze - the record doesn't really make sense if you have your lights on. The songwriting is top notch, the production is top notch, it's a great record that just doesn't hold my attention like it used to. "The Ocean" is likely one of the 10 best songs of the past decade, and there are a lot of other really strong tracks as well, but I find myself now not being quite as mesmerized by it as I used to be. A great album to listen to alone, not with people.

1. Eluvium - Talk Amongst The Trees
(Temporary Residence)
Rank in 2005: 17

I can't actually explain what it is about Matthew Robert Cooper's ambient albums that make me love them that much more than everyone not named Brian Eno. I've talked about his compositional skills, the humanity of his music, all of that - but let's be honest - this isn't truly that much different from the hundreds of other ambient artists out there, it is just somehow a lot better. I don't know how, I don't know why. He must have a really selective ear, he must have really specific visions that he has to conjure up when selecting music to put on an album, but the fact is that "Talk Amongst The Trees" might very well be my single favorite ambient album of all time. It just fucking gets me. And it does it every time. It could be the cover, it could be all the feedback, whatever. It's beautiful, haunting, and perfect. Is it actually more skilled or better than releases from the other masters of the genre? Probably not in any objective sense, and I can't really argue a subjective point either. This album was just made for me, that's all there is to it.

Bonus Comparison for Laughs: Top 20 Albums of 2005 in 2005:
1. Why? - Elephant Eyelash
2. Jesu - Jesu
3. Jack Rose - Kensington Blues
4. Sunn 0))) - Black One
5. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Jacksonville City Nights
6. Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
7. Animal Collective - Feels
8. Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter 2
9. Slim Thug - Already Platinum
10. The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
11. Common - Be
12. XXL - Ciautastico
13. Sigur Ros - Takk...
14. Birchville Cat Motel - Chi Vampires
15. Dalek - Absence
16. M.Ward - Transistor Radio
17. Eluvium - Talk Amongst the Trees
18. Lightning Bolt - Hypermagic Mountain
19. Brazilian Girls - Brazilian Girls
20. Sam Prekop - Who's Your New Professor

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Kraven's Last Hunt

6-issue Spider-Man series that is so unbelievably good (and fucked up), it will have you reevaluating all other comics you read. Scary, dark, twisted. I don't even care about Spider-Man - but with all the stuff that's happening in the current timeline with Kraven's family, you should read this whether or not you care about comics or Spider-Man or anything. Amazing series.


Download Here

Thursday, June 17, 2010

While we wait

While we wait for more lists to be posted (oh boy!), and if you were curious as to what I think the best album of 2010 is so far: It's "Cosmogramma" by Flying Lotus.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Top 10 Albums of the Year 2004

Continuing on through the decade. 2004 was another exciting year, the year I can point to where the obsession with new music became overwhelming, where I was "acquiring" more albums than I could posisbly enjoy, where I took my knowledge and my foresight to mean something (it doesn't) and where I continued to write about and review music to my liking. I believe this was the year that I started my first music only blog as well - not with uploads (the occasional single song), but more of a "what I listened to today" blog with like 2 sentence reviews.

10. Annie - Anniemal
(679 Recordings)
Rank in 2004: 5

The single album that made me re-evaluate my take on pop music was "Anniemal". I was an angry teenager, pretending to be too cool for anything that would be considered pop - unless it was overly ironic or the occasional hip hop single. Something about the production, the almost-out-of-breath vocals, the hooks themselves just hooked me. There was no basis for why and in retrospect, much of my love for this album is probably due to praise from Pitchfork. Regardless, the first time I heard "Chewing Gum" I knew it should be a hit stateside. When I heard "Heartbeat" I knew I needed the albu
m. And it was a bare to get. I ordered through some bizarre website from a record shop in the UK, but did so through an e-mail. I never got a response, and one day about 4 months later the cd arrived. (Of course I had downloaded it prior). I loved this record, and I still really enjoy it. I don't think it to be the apex of early 2000's female pop music as a whole album, but the highs of this record are the highs of the genre and remain so.

9. Cam'Ron - Purple Haze
Rank in 2004: 40

I tried to ignore the whole Dipset/Byrd Gang/dude dressed entirely in pink and purple era of Cam'Ron and crew for a few years. I didn't follow the slew of mixtapes they were selling out the back of vans that jumpstarted the now thriving mixtape culture. I didn't catch their videos or youtubes, I didn't get excited when I heard "Oh Boy" on the radio, I thought that Juelz Santana was the worst rapper of all time. This, despite the fact that I loved Cam's first album and various guest appearances in the 90s. The lazy flow, the nonsense rhymes. The whole "no homo" and rhyming a word with itself is what through me off. And then I heard "Purple Haze" and everything changed. My entire concept of hip hop at the time was flipped upside down. Now the mainstream, fun, heavy production was what I wanted to listen to. Fuck the underground, get me that piff. Of course, this whole movement has died down, my interest in the clique has faded, somehow Jim Jones has become the only bonafide superstar out of Dipset, and Juelz Santana is the only one I like. While I acquired just about every Dipset related album for a couple years there - none can hold a candle to "Purple Haze". Some of the best production of the decade throughout the album and just fucking fun. Throw out all pretensions, all conceptions and just feel the sound of it. The silliness of it. It's great.

8. De La Soul - The Grind Date
Rank in 2004: 10

For awhile there I was considering "The Grind Date" to be one of the most underrated and overlooked albums of the past decade. I claimed it to be a near hip-hop classic, up there with De La's best. Truth be told, it's still overlooked - but my opinion on this record is not what it once was. Some really outstanding production, some of the best flows I've heard from from De La, but overall as an album it doesn't really have the consistency or feeling that their best records have. Regardless, De La Soul remains one of (if not THE) best hip hop groups in the history of the genre, evolving, changing their sound, staying relevant. I still love these guys and eagerly await something new.

7. Shuttle 358 - Chessa
Rank in 2004: N/A

It is funny that we can consider a music with no specific form to adhere to but whatever one hears in their own head as "soulless", yet many releases within this genre are exactly that. Dan Abrams aka Shuttle358 is anything but soulless. All positive reviews of ambient music make reference that a particular release is good because of the "warmth" and "humanity" that the music brings up for the listener. Specific memories in time are recaptured, current moments in the present are captured for the first time. Chessa is warm, Chessa is human. Recorded and released during the apex of the click-and-beep madhouse of 2004, Shuttle358's third album on 12k has spoken to me for 5 years now. The fuzz, the chimes, the buzzing sounds, the looped guitar - these are all elements that can be found on releases by any ambient composer - and yet, this release sticks out from the others. I listened to this album four times this afternoon as I watched the rain come and go out my window. As night set in, earlier than it should have, the music continued to soundtrack my evening. Every track seems to find itself matching my breaths as it clicks along, every track placed perfectly in context with the exact emotion I encounter upon this experience.

6. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born
Rank in 2004: 7

I have trouble determining which era of Wilco I like the best. Though I'm hesitant to admit it in this day and age, the fact is likely that Wilco has been and will remain one of my very favorite bands I've ever known. At one point or another I've loved every single thing they've put out and thought it to be their best (including the outtakes cd packaged with "The Wilco Book"). Part of me wants to consider the alt. country sound of "Being There" to be my favorite, with just a couple tracks of experimentation for good measure. The critic in me wants to quantify the Jay Bennett-era as the best for Wilco - the perfect blend of sonic experimentalism, pop, and a little country twang for good measure that we find in "Summer Teeth" and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and though generally I tend to think they've been on a downward slope since those years, another part of me just fucking love and adores the Nels Cline era, loves the guitar freakouts, the "dad-rock" sound and the strength of the songwriting of the last 3 Wilco albums. "A Ghost Is Born" cannot be considered "dad-rock", but it can't quite be put in the same area of their career as YHF. Long songs with meandering guitar, full-on speaker blowing solos, short and soft songs, this album is all over the place. I don't know if I give it the due it deserves, I think it's time to fall in love with it again.

5. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
(Paw Tracks)
Rank in 2004: 14

The thing about "Sung Tongs" in relation to other Animal Collective releases is that there a handful of tracks on here ("Who Could Win A Rabbit?", "Winters Love", "Sweet Road") that I would probably put in the top 10 AC songs of all, if not the top 5. There just also happens to be a few tracks on this album that over time I have felt are worth skipping over. Sonically, the album is beautiful. It introduced Animal Collective to the world, it was acoustic sounding in a sense (especially compared to the stuff they have done since), it was pastoral (oh that word), serene, and just weird. It still is all of those, but the effect this album has isn't the same as their other albums. If I ever wanted to put on an Animal Collective album for background music, "Sung Tongs" might be the one to do it. In 2004, there wasn't much like it. Nowadays, we've heard them, we like them, we can ignore them. I'm making this review sound negative. Listen, there are times when I think "Sung Tongs" is the absolute best Animal Collective release, that its among the finest albums of the entire decade, but those times are very few. It's a great album, but it doesn't blow my mind like it once did.

4. Drive-By Truckers - The Dirty South
(New West)
Rank in 2004: 11

If you've ever read any of my reviews other than this one, you would know that I am unforgivably hyperbolic in many of them. "This band is the best ever", "This is one of the best albums ever for this", "If you want to rock out like no one else..." Here's my hyperbolic statement for the Drive-By Truckers: Since 2000, they are the most consistent and best straight up rock n roll band in America. A string of critically acclaimed southern rock albums, awesomely written songs, bizarre concept albums, the DBT were doing it all. And then they dropped "The Dirty South" which stripped away some of the pretension, and just gave us a solid, unifying southern rock powerhouse that few other albums that sound anything remotely like it can even reach. Definitely one of my favorite rock records of the past 10 years, some of the most memorable songs, fun, depressing, great. My favorite Truckers album - and they've yet to put out a bad one.

3. Madvillain - Madvillainy
(Stones Throw)
Rank in 2004: 1

When MF Doom and Madlib teamed up for Madvillainy in 2004, there were no two bigger names in independent hip hop. Doom was back after years of silence, once again creating outstanding concept albums that made the underground (and some mainstream mags pay attention). Madlib was finally beginning to get the respect he deserved, fresh off Jaylib, known as the prime producer at Stones Throw and releasing a dope album of remixed Blue Note Records tracks. Madvillain changed the game. A loose concept album surrounding a bad guy from a comic book, the beats, the mood, the rapping, how fucking weird this album is...it all adds up to be one of the best rap albums of the entire decade. An instant classic in the eyes of many, Madvillain might very well be the last thing I remember hearing that I truly, deeply became obsessed with. Preorders, t-shirts, dvds, everything. Doom and Madlib reignited my love for hip hop like no other album could and though in the past couple years I've started to feel that the album isn't quite as special as I remembered...listening to it recently has revealed my initial reactions: this is a classic album, up there with the best of the entire genre.

2. Kanye West - The College Dropout
Rank in 2004: N/A

I burnt myself out on Kanye West back in 2004. There are 21 tracks, including skits and back when this album came out, it didn't long for me to be able to recite the entirety of the album front to back. Like much of the world, I loved "The College Dropout", I loved the anticipation of the album, I loved the rough versions of songs I'd had on my computer for a year, I loved the remixes that happened after the album came out, I sought out all the samples. With one album, Kanye West became THE premier recording artist in the world. And then I suddenly just got sick of him. Suffice to say, that didn't stay, I just needed to take a break. "The College Dropout" is a classic. That's all that needs to be said, really. You've heard it, you know the singles, you have a favorite track, but every moment on this album is a blast. Kanye when he was still establishing himself as a rapper, sounds exciting, refereshing, his beats before they were electro-ed out. A truly great album by a truly great artist.

1. Junior Boys - Last Exit
Rank in 2004: N/A

The smoothest, grooviest record. Equally great on a hot, summer day as a cold, winter night. Jeremy Greenspan is in top form here, singing over the icy, minimalistic beats that set Junior Boys apart from all the other electronic indie bands of the past 10 years. Instantly memorable. "High Come Down" sounds like the best new romantic song you've never heard. "Last Exit" is so smooth, you'll melt. "Birthday" gets stuck in my head for a week just about everytime I hear it, the perfect combination of hook and creepy beat. "Teach Me How To Fight" might very well be in my top 5 songs of the past decade. This is a masterful album, one that succeeded in sticking out from the rest of the vocal-based electronic music of the time. It still stands out now and though the Junior Boys have gone on to create two more albums of pop magic, nothing can top "Last Exit" - an album that should be regarded as a masterpiece in any age.

Bonus Comparison for Laughs: Top 20 Albums of 2004 in 2004:
1. Madvillain - Madvillainy
2. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Shake The Sheets
3. Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks
4. Elliott Smith - From A Basement on the Hill
5. Annie - Anniemal
6. Interpol - Antics
7. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born
8. Air - Talkie Walkie
9. TV On The Radio - Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
10. De La Soul - The Grind Date
11. Drive-By Truckers - The Dirty South
12. Espers - Espers
13. Joanna Newsom - Milk-Eyed Mender
14. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
15. Frausdots - Couture, Couture, Couture
16. Yesterday's New Quintent / Monk Hughes - A Tribute To Brother Weldon
17. Jason Forrest - The Unrelenting Songs Of A 1979 Post Disco Crash
18. Devendra Banhart - Rejoicing In The Hands / Nino Rojo
19. Ty - Upwards
20. John Legend - Get Lifted