Monday, December 18, 2006
Listory of the World, Part IV
Here's my top 10 albums of the year list, as filed with the Idolator Jackin’ Pop Poll. I agonized over it a bit, struggling with the incriminating indie-rockness of it all, but in the end, I made peace with the effete nature of my taste, upbringing and essence. Here it is:
1. TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
2. Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk
3. Joanna Newsom - Ys
4. Richard Buckner - Meadow
5. Priestess - Hello Master
6. Jason Molina - Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me GO
7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones
8. Shearwater - Palo Santo
9. Brightblack Morning Light - Brightblack Morning Light
10. The Sword - Age of Winters
There was a great piece by Louis Menand in the New Yorker a few years back about End of Year critics' lists. With typical surgical reasoning and insight, Menand spelled out all of the standard expectations and assumptions about critics' lists – about the need to establish some of-the-people cred by including something totally middle-brow and for the masses, about the urge to fold in one or two mentions of works from another culture, so as to demonstrate that one isn’t blinkered by American cultural hegemony, etc, and also the required choice of an oddball neglected masterwork to prove to readers that the critic is still doing their job, slogging through all the garbage to find the unappreciated gem.
It’s true, the TV on the Radio sometimes seems to scream "challenging work of genius!" in an annoying way, but that’s what it is. Every time I hear the opening track I’m re-amazed at the weird mix of abrasiveness, android soul-funk and Eno-Fela hypnotic groovalism.
The Ladyhawk has been in steady rotation since late spring and it has rarely failed to please. It started what I thought might be a possibly pleasant wave of grunge revivalism, with the rubbed-raw scream-singing, the juvenile alienation and fixations with substance abuse and sex. I just love the echoes of the Band and Crazy Horse, plus the sneaky bits of jazzy chords and heroic drumming. Plus they’re Canadian and they have a little hidden homage to Neil Young’s Trans tucked into their record cover. Listen to "Sad Eyes."
As Sasha Frere-Jones wrote about Joanna Newsom, "unfuckwithable." You can talk about acquired tastes and West African harp techniques and terza rima and epic song cycles and fluid meter change, and all, but she’s just smarter and more talented than pretty much everyone else.
Richard Buckner has such an amazing voice, it’s like some weathered rock face, heat-blasted desert, prismatic mountain sun, smell of rain, nobility of beast, some Chief Seattle shit. Buckner sometimes reminds me a little of Richard Thompson, but he does that country-fied mellismatic melodic wiggle that we associate with George Jones. There’s a funny dynamic in the music, a kind of nervous tension between the energetic backing players and Buckner’s I-have-stared-into-the-face-of-eternity-and-I-have-a-hangover voice. Every time I put this on I’m moved to head-shaking by how good it is, and I’m always a little surprised at how the brilliance of Buckner’s voice actually eclipses whatever is happening in the songs.
Priestess – They’re from Montreal. They rock. Singer sometimes sounds like Diamond Dave. Band kicks it like Motorhead when they want to, but sometimes they want to go Def Leppard style, and more power to them. I think the record is nearly perfect from start to finish. You get a mix of flooded feelings – embarrassment and pride at how dumb it makes you feel.
Jason Molina - I thought Magnolia Electric Co.’s "What Comes After the Blues" was fantastic. So short, so pretty, so miserable. Every time I hear the song that ends with Molina singing "I thought I saw the light," I get all wrapped up in smirky thoughts about uncertainty, grace and redemption. His solo record reminds me of songs based on folk tales. There are all these elemental forces and animal spirits. Nothing extra. Somewhere on there he sings "While I lived was I a stray black dog?" You have to ask yourself.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - I think that sometimes bands can be judged on hair. And Karen O and YYYs have the hair to backup any artistic ambitions. (The same principle holds true with Tegan and Sara – you can pretty much tell they rule by their shellac-like futuristic butch mullets). YYYs remind me of Missing Persons. I love all the rabid yips, the guitar-nerd sounds, the righteous drumming.
Shearwater - this one takes a little time to sit with. The main guys is an ornithologist, so that pretty much guarantees a certain amount of satisfaction. I believe the Palo Santo is the tree from which they get yerba mate, another clear indication of artistic goodness. The record isn’t exactly homogeneous, it skips around from weird glammy Jesus-Christ-Superstar-esque pounding urgent piano anthems to creepy/sad acoustic laments. There’s a tune called "Sing, Litte Birdie" that is just heartbreakingly beautiful.
Brightblack Morning Light - super-slow nature-worshipping, neo-folk, blues funk. It’s like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on a mix of some gnarly vision-inducing Carlos Castaneta root-magic and loads of cough syrup. Excellent horn arrangements pop up in surprising places – like 5 minutes into a jam. They play with a dog on stage. See what I’m saying?
The Sword: dungeons-and-dragons stoner metal from Texas. Totally Frank Frazetta.
I thought briefly of putting the Beck and Arctic Monkeys records on there, but then my obscurantist predilections overrode. As for re-issues, I've already plugged the Karen Dalton and the John Phillips here.