December 30, 2008

a taste of indulgence to come

Either more inspired thanks to the usual flurry of year-end blog activity, or empowered by the presence of my top ten list in Stylus magazine's year end feature, I couldn't resist starting things off with the albums that have driven me into seclusion over the last 12 months. Why anyone cares at this point, I'd love to know.

1. Deerhunter - Microcastle/Weird Era Cont
No album this year has absorbed me like Microcastle­, Deerhunter’s follow-up to the one-two punch of 2007’s Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey EP. Seamlessly paced, Microcastle is driven by a nostalgic love affair with feedback and melody. Beginning with the soothing “Cover Me (Slowly),” Deerhunter’s lazy euphoria finally stumbles into the broken chords of “Activa.” But just when they appear to lose his steam, Deerhunter launch into “Nothing Ever Happened,” an impossible epic that explodes into an all-out prog-jam. Once Microcastle draws you inside, there’s no getting out.
2. Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane
Chad VanGaalen sounds joyfully at ease on Soft Airplane, his third album since debuting in 2005 with Infiniheart, a wonderfully dysfunctional collection of self-produced experimental folk-rock. The Calgary native dipped into the same pool of material for his 2006 follow-up, the Polaris Prize nominated Skelliconnection. Soft Airplane marks a new stage in VanGaalen’s catalogue: it’s his first offering of newly written material, recorded with an album in mind, and it shows. Amidst the garage crunch of “Inside the Molecules,” VanGaalen sounds truly content, while the sublime catchiness of “City of Electric Light” and the ecstatic electro-pop of “TMNT Mask” display VanGaalen in top form. With lyrics that fascinate and puzzle, VanGaalen’s chilling voice is unmistakable; as with his other albums, the artwork, like the music, is all his own, always twisted but eerily familiar.

3. Portishead - Third
What more could be said about this chilling assualt on the senses? Everyone makes mention of the long gap between Third and its predecessor and the fact that it sounds nothing like the smooth trip-hop Portishead helped define in the late 90s. Still, I think we all underestimated them and their ability to evolve and adapt. There's word of a Fourth on the way. I can't wait to see what Portishead does next.

4. Constantines - Kensington Heights
One of the few popular Canadian bands that still wears its punk politics on its sleeve, Constantines didn't release their best album this year, but they managed to open up their sound with an added urgency and made some intriguing theological statements in the process. Springsteen eat your heart out.

5. Times New Viking - Rip It Off
Some can't get past the audible feedback "hiss" that carries each track, but this pastiche of 90s DIY indie-rock is an indispensible testament to the incestuous nature of popular music. Loaded with melody, this helps make up for years of disgraceful major-label "punk-pop" sludge.

6. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash
Post-Pavement (sigh), but engaging and surefooted - maybe a little too smooth. I don't care. Malkmus doesn't scare me off when he gets proggy and just having Janet Weiss pounding out beats is enough to make this a satisfying "prog rock" album, entact with Malkmus' usual drugged out self-reflexive jibberish - something I'll never get tired of.

7. NOMO - Ghost Rock
With their third album, NOMO had the sound I'd been waiting to hear all year. Always promised, never delivered. Ghost Rock had legs, a jazz record running through post-punk, treading lightly through the afrobeat revivalism that seemed to define this year's releases.

8. The Magnetic Fields - Distortion
First of all, its a brilliant pop album that should be recognized as such -with one of the best female vocalists around. Second, its soaked in feedback and sustains the novelty (the irony?) straight through songs that treat sex and alcohol like sacramental fixations.

9. Wild Beasts - Limbo, Panto
Chris Talbot, possesses a tight falsetto that can soar like Morrissey and a cathartic growl that brings to mind Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes. Talbot croons overtop waltzing guitars and tribal drums that never cease to sound like a death-rattle on repeat. Exhibitionists to the bitter end, Wild Beasts have discovered a cabaret in a cemetery, or in the final words of “Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye,” they have created “a requiem in a circus tent.”

10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazuras, Dig!!!
Quite honestly, this is the first Nick Cave album I've really stuck with. It's worth its weight in critical acclaim, not least for the twisted nature of its concept, the gall of Cave's wordplay, or the uncanny work of the Bad Seeds.

11. M83 - Saturdays=Youth
12. Women - Women
13. The Walkmen - You & Me
14. TV on the Radio - Dear Science,
15. - Juana Molina - Un Dia

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