Every December I go through over 80 albums and try to codify them some way. Though it may take until after Christmas before my final top list (and mix cd) is ready, my favorite albums of the year are always fairly obvious to me by now. These are the ones that meant the most to me.
Top NW Albums
1) Grand Archives – s/t 2) Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga 3) Menomena – Friend & Foe 4) Tullycraft – Every Scene Needs A Center 5) Shake Some Action – s/t 6) Blitzen Trapper – Wild Mountain Nation 7) The Cave Singers – Invitation Songs 8) Welcome – Sirs 9) Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank 10) Awesome – Beehive Sessions 11) Carolyn Mark – Nothing Is Free 12) Grand Hallway – Yes Is The Answer 13) The New Pornographers – Challengers 14) Ghost Stories – Quixoticism 15) The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
Overall Top 10 Albums of 2007
1) Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga 2) Arcade Fire – Neon Bible 3) Emma Pollock – Watch The Fireworks 4) Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala 5) Feist – The Reminder 6) Menomena – Friend & Foe 7) Blonde Redhead – 23 8) Shellac – Excellent Italian Greyhound 9) Apostle Of Hustle – National Anthem Of Nowhere 10) Radiohead – In Rainbows
Sometimes I think it takes me waaay too long to come up with my Top 20 albums of a given year. There are a lot of internal debates and arguments that really have no right answer. Really, you reach a point where all the albums are good but how to rank them gets to be quite the challenge. This year was chock full of good music (not matter what the naysayers might groan). I counted something like 175+ albums worth mentioning in 2007, and that is only a tip of the iceberg when it comes to everything that was released in the year. However, I did whittle it down to 20… well, 22 if you count my 2 EP exception (EP’s don’t count as real albums).
If you’re interested in some sub-lists, like my albums “with apologizes” (albums I didn’t hear but should have) or “best imports” or “most disappointing” (hint, the band who made it rhymes with Milo Biley), check it out here.
So, here we go:
#21 The EP’s – Two EP’s made me happy this year, and really, they would be in the top 20, but it seems unfair to me to include EP’s versus albums. They’re both UK pop, and they’re both brilliant in their own cute way.
Los Campesinos! Sticking Fingers Into Sockets (Thanks to igLiz for this band!)
Kate Nash Foundations (Really, this is only a U.S. teaser EP for her great debut, Made of Bricks).
#20 Peter Bjorn & John Writers’ Block Sure, everyone likes this Scandinavian band and I was a little behind the curve on them, but this is such a luscious pop record.
#19 The Fratellis Costello Music – Yeah, OK, this album is nothing special, but it didn’t stop me from listening to it over and over. The sort of bubblegum rock they record is just taking a page off of the 60’s British rock that makes me filled with glee.
#18 Tender Forever Wider The newest album on the list, it’s that synth pop that I am a total sucker for. It might not be as infectious and well-constructed as the Blow’s brilliant Paper Television or YACHT (see above), but it is ridiculously charming.
#17 Architecture in Helsinki Places Like This A great dance album, just chock full of energy.
#16 Jay-Z American Gangster Well, it’s no Black Album, but it was a heck of a lot better than Kingdom Come. Jay-Z might be the biggest act in the world right now, not sure what to make of that.
#15 M.I.A. Kala There are a lot of M.I.A. haters lurking around TIG, but I think she can be briliant. She’s not always brilliant, but when she gets it right, it’s dumbfounding (well, at least to me).
#14 The Long Blondes Someone to Drive You Home A perfect post-punk return to Siouxsie and the Banshees with the New Wave synths bogging them down (no, I’m not dissing Siouxsie, really). The Long Blondes recorded a disc that is populated with ready-made hit singles, if only radio was interested (and boy, is Kate Jackson is sizzling).
#13 Tullycraft Every Scene Needs a Center Probably the most mature and diverse Tullycraft album, but that is not to say that they’re missing any of their ageless fun and whimsy (did I just use the word “whimsy”?) Why this disc hasn’t gotten more press baffles me… maybe they’re too busy listening to messes like the Animal Collective.
#12 Busdriver Roadkill Overcoat Thanks to igAsh for this guy. It is the sort of nerd rap that I gravitate towards (see also Del, MC Paul Barman, etc.) and Roadkill Overcoat is full of obtuse references and complex production.
#11 New Pornographers Challengers I might be the only person in the universe who liked Challengers better than Twin Cinema. Go figure. There just seemed to be a lot more to offer on this album by the Canadian supergroup, but maybe I was just in the right mood for a new New Pornographers album.
#10 Bat for Lashes Fur & Gold Think of Bat for Lashes something like PJ Harvey 2.0: the band is really one woman, she makes songs that are dark and sinister and the songs are seductive as all heck.
#9 Amon Tobin Foley Room I don’t think Amon Tobin has ever recorded an album I didn’t like, he’s just that good. DJ’s seem to be a thing of the past, at least any DJ who is meaningful in the current music scene, but Amon Tobin seems to have been immune from this. (Oh yeah, and any album with the Kronos Quartet gets points from me, too.)
#8 Patrick Wolf The Magic Position This album has so many high points (and its fair share of album filler, too). Wolf put together some of those unforgettable pop songs that will never get heard, but maybe that is what makes it so exciting (and check out Wolf’s outfit on this clip from Conan).
#7 Radiohead In Rainbows Possibly the most anticipated “surprise” release of the year. No one really saw it coming, but then the whole world was talking about Radiohead, their “screw you record industry” moves and, well, a darn good album on their part. That being said, I haven’t listened to it as much as I expected. (By the way, not sure if this is the official video for “All I Need,” but it is great anyway).
#6 YACHT I Believe in You. Your Magic is Real. One (former) half of the Blow, YACHT took that next step to put together a synth pop gem. It isn’t as lovelorn as Paper Television, but it makes up for it with just plain enjoyment.
#5 Beirut The Flying Club Cup I feel like Beirut is slowly filling in that Neutral Milk Hotel-shaped hole in all of our hearts. The album draws in so many influences and so many sounds that each listen feels new.
#4 Dizzee Rascal Maths & English First of two albums in my top five that weren’t technically ever released in the U.S. Dizzee has the leg up as Maths & English was released digitally, but that just baffles me as the album is the most “America friendly” Dizzee has recorded. It is just filthy, from start to finish.
#3 Cats on Fire The Province Complains My find from Finland (and lacking a U.S. release), Cats on Fire put down one of those melancholy pop albums that you wish Belle & Sebastian could record. It is only a matter of time now before Cats on Fire wins the hearts of all the dark-sweater-and-bespectacled modern rockers of the States.
#2 Jens Lekman Night Falls Over Kortedala You just knew he would record an absolute gem. All his talk about retiring was just he Scandinavian version of Jay Z’s posturing, and what he went and did was record an album that matures his sound, tackles new directions and is generally impossible to ignore. (And how charming is this version of “The Opposite of Hallelujah” recorded in Japan with a makeshift band?)
#1 LCD Soundsystem Sound of Silver Congratulations! You made it, and is it any surprise what you find at #1 for 2007? Pretty much since the first time I popped Sound of Silver in and heard it unfold, I knew this album was special. James Murphy is so dynamic and captivating, creating club anthems (“North American Scum”), techno-ballads (“Someone Great”) and even a classic crooner (“New York I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down”). It might not seem monumental yet, but just you wait.
Honorable Mentions: Ghost Stories – Quixoticism; Grinderman – Grinderman; Jose Gonzalez – In Our Nature; Okkervil River – The Stage Names; Dinosaur Jr. – Beyond; Blue Scholars – Bayani; Bloc Party – Weekend in the City; Interpol – Our Love to Admire; Bright Eyes – Cassadaga; Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
Tonight's the night! The final show of the Noise for the Needy week of shows is tonight at Neumo's and, boy oh boy is it a humdinger.
The night is a tasty blend of local and out-of-towner supa stars: Okkervil River, Sera Cahoone, and Ghost Stories. There are a ton of reasons to join us at this show, but perhaps the biggest reason is because Okkervil River have been working so hard on their new record (Stage Names, releasing on August 7, 2007), that they've been awfully selective on the show front. Besides this show, their only other tour stop is in New Hampshire (for an equally worthy cause). Okkervil River never disappoint, and tonight's will surely feature some sneak previews at the new album and the sound of some breaking heartstrings.
Congrats to the NFTN folks and their stellar 13 showcases of fundraising for local charity Rise and Shine.
Quixoticism might not be the most exotically new-sounding album you’ve ever heard, but it's quite a satisfying treat from a Seattle jack-of-all-bands. Ron Lewis, beyond Ghost Stories, finds himself in the Joggers (sometimes), Grand Archives, and the Fruit Bats, along with being a purveyor of cheesy comestibles.
Ghost Stories is more or less a one man show and what you get is a highly adorable pop record in the vein of XTC, late 60’s Beatles, or Michael Penn, chock full of catchy melodies and fun lyrics from start to finish. Everything seems very pleasant on Quixoticism, with a musical sincerity that is seriously lacking in a lot of modern rock these days without turning into monstrous twee (not that there is anything particular wrong with twee, but sometimes change is good). It's sort of hard to get across the pleasant feeling I get when I listen to Ghost Stories – the best I can do is that it feels like the sonic equivalent of watching snow fall from inside a nice, warm house in the middle of winter. Something like that, like kittens dancing in unison in slow motion. Pleasant enough for you?
“The Upper Ten/The Lower Five” starts off with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-like feel that then slowly morphs into a disturbingly accurate Andy Partridge impression that then arrives at a very fine Beatles song, and, in a nutshell, that is what to expect from Ghost Stories. “You Were It Like a Stained Glass Window,” beyond its fabulous title, is an infectious two minute pop song that deserved airplay more than most summertime hits. Ghost Stories shows off its quieter side on the Elliot Smith-meets-Belle & Sebastian number “Secret Life of the Union, Part II,” a song broken in half by pleasurable chimes and bird sounds – a modern rock lullaby. This less-desolate Elliot Smith sound is returned to on “The Pink Princess Eskimonia,” a cute little ballad. “Secret Life of the Union, Part I” (which comes after Part II if you’re keeping score at home) is livelier, more like an Arcade Fire song, but with a little more Beatles-like pop sensibility that breaks into as anthemic of a song you might expect from a one-man band. You get a more Decemberists flavor on “The Black Hand,” which is driven by a Baltic rhythm and an oddly Cash-like guitar that grooves into a full-blown bleak-pop gem.
If anything, you just have to appreciate Lewis’ dedication to creating infectious melodies, because once you get to “Isn’t It Appropriate That Way,” the aggressive XTC sound has blossomed and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to get this album out of your head. The album closes with an absolute marvel of self-loathing song naming – “Even a Vampire Wouldn’t Drink My Blood” – and the song comes through like a perfect prize to end the disc. It starts with a marching beat that breaks down into a stripped down verse that rebuilds the song piece by piece until you’re sucked in like a black hole of pop-rock flawlessness waiting for the instruments to drop out and Lewis half-sing, half-whisper the song title.
Ghost Stories have clearly put their best foot forward with Quixoticism by creating an album that knows what it wants to do, does it and doesn’t care that it isn’t shocking the audience into submission through unwarranted noise and experiments. This album caught me by surprise, and now it can catch you by surprise because if you’re looking for a great early summer soundtrack, this is exactly the sort of album you need.
This lineup is a stellar one, especially for a Tuesday night, with recent Sub Pop signee Tiny Vipers and Sonic Boom Recordings band Ghost Stories playing bookends to a suspected soon-to-be-huge local duo called Arthur & Yu.
While the pair (Grant Olsen & Sonya Westcott, yeah, Arthur and Yu aren't their real names — weird, right?) are to date are most famous for being the first band to sign to Sub Pop spinoff label Hardly Art, we suspect that will all change once their debut record In Camera releases on June 19th. Much like Dean & Britta, the pair evokes a nostalgic, 1960's romanticism with their gentle, quirky harmonies and echoic production values. The tracks they've made available on their MySpace page are charmers for sure.
Noise for the Needy is a local non-profit that sponsors a yearly music showcase in Seattle to benefit a charity. This year the event will benefit Rise 'N Shine, an organization that provides emotional support programs, stability, advocacy, and AIDS education for children and teens affected by HIV and AIDS.
The organization is as worthy as their lineup is spectacular this year. Check out these shows!
Kick off event Sponsored by Fourthcity with DJ Exhibition and Foscil (Baltic Room)
The Handsome Family, Rosyvelt, and The Maldives (Tractor Tavern)
The Marble Faun, C'est la Mort + Blue Light Curtain (Nectar Lounge)
CSS, Matt and Kim, Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head, DJ Pretty Titty (Neumos)
The Cops, Optimus Rhyme, Tall Birds, TV Coahran (The Comet)
Cancer Rising, Shorthand for Epic, Shim, Key Note Speaker (The Sunset)
Head like a Kite, The Sun The Sea, Dept of Energy (The Sunset)
The Lights, Thee Emergency, Kissing Potion, The Whore Moans (The Comet Tavern)
Hip Hop Showcase (Chop Suey)
Wintergreen, The Prids, Das Llamas, Feral Children with DJ JimiC (The Sunset)
Razrez, Emeralds, Nudity, Flying Fox with DJ AJ (The Comet Tavern)
Triumph of Lethargy, Pleasureboaters, Bullet Club, Whiskey Tango (The Funhouse)
Okkervil River, Sera Cahoone, Ghost Stories (Neumos)
This event, co-presented by Velouria Boutique and Sonic Boom Recordings, is a perfect melding of Indie Rock meets Indie Style. The show not only features two great local bands — Siberian and Ghost Stories — but also will have local models displaying the latest fashions by independent designers before, between, and after each act. Also, it starts early, at 8:30, so don't dilly-dally.
I attended the last Velouria and Sonic Boom-sponsored event last fall at the Triple Door, and it was definitely a smashing way to spend the evening. It fulfilled all my pret a pôrter rock and roll fantasies.
From the press release:
Local Independent Label Sonic Boom Recordings will showcase two of its newest additions , Siberian and Ghost Stories, alongside a slew of independent fashion designers. Local SeattleVelouria, owned by local clothing designer Tes de Luna, will feature 3 fashion sets of local, national and international independent designers making clothing, jewelry and accessories. In between live music segments models will strut their stuff to record spinning Djs while showing off Spring collections by designers such as- Liza Rietz, Holly Stalder, ZUZUPOP, Elizabeth Dye, Frocky Jack Morgan, Dagg and Stacey, Modaspia, RikaRika, and House of Spy boutique
The night is about celebrating small independent businesses that help emerging talent in music, art and fashion.
Worth it to attend to catch Siberian alone, who recorded one of my favorite local releases so far in 2007, with brit-pop flavoured soaring melodies and bombasic vocals. It sounds kinda like all the good elements of the Coldplay/Travis genre of indie-rock without any of the wankery ones.
Aside to Velouria: congrats on the Daily Candy shoutout! It's about time they caught on to what's good in this here town…
I think Eric Grandy over at the Stranger might be as huge of a Carissa's Wierd fan as I am, as he's doing a stellar job keeping me and the rest of Seattle up-to-date on the haps of Grand Archives, a brand new band featuring Mat Brooke (Carissa's Wierd's somber front-man) as well as Ron Lewis (Ghost Stories, ex-Mines) and Curtis Hall (ex-Jeunes). Not only did he scoop TIG on the news that Grand Archives was added to the Modest Mouse bill on 4/15 last week, but he also just reported on Pitchfork's latest write-up of the band. My favorite quote from the Pfork article:
"…this sounds like the project most Carissa's Wierd devotees have been pining for. Grand Archives could very well trump the regional success and cult status attained by their forebears, for whom ambition seemed impossible. At the very least, their spelling has improved."
I am such an editor-nerd. And such a huge Carissa's Wierd fan!
As I wrote last week, I'm so nervous Mat Brooke is going to break my music heart again that I've been too terrified to listen. I plan to break through my fears and confront the music of Grand Archives today.
And I've got some more scoop for ya: Grand Archives has just been added to the bill for the Welcome CD release show at the Croc on 4/27 (good thing too, as the modest Mouse show is long since sold out).
Join TIG and most of the Seattle music community tonight at the Crocodile Cafe where we gather together to wish Pete Greenberg, booker extraordinare and all-around amazing fella to know, a super happy birthday — with what else but live music? Tonight also marks the second year that this auspicious day is marked with an Elvis Costello cover night featuring tons of great local bands (Ghost Stories, Young Sportsmen, High Page Delay, the Sea Navy, yadda yadda) doing their best to pull off what are, in my humble opinion, some of the greatest pop songs ever written.
Of particular note, Seattle band Central Services. While these five blokes are talented musicians in their own right, they ABSOLUTELY KILL at cover nights. I've seen them pull off the Soft Rock (including a horn solo on Chuck Mangione's 1970's classic "Feels So Good" that was nothing short of astonishing). I just recently watched them slay at the "Dancing on a Valentine" Duran Duran benefit last month (worth the price of admission to see frontman Kevin Emerson in his white blazer and headband alone). I have high hopes for them this evening, especially since they will be joined by Andrea Wittgens, a Seattle-based singer-songwriter with one helluva set of pipes.
Also hugely noteworthy, at last year's shindig, Jim the Sound Guy (who has been making every band at the Croc sound incredible since it first opened in 1991) got onstage and sang "Allison." I've got my fingers crossed for an encore performance…
Come join the fun, and here's to hoping someone is ballsy enough this year to take on "I Want You."
The plane was unloading and I was in the back. I remained seated for about ten minutes, after we felt the slight jolt confirming our having stopped outside the B terminal at Sea-Tac airport. After waiting for everyone in front to gather their bags (which might have shifted during the flight) I stood, swung my canvas bag across a shoulder — thus temporarily yanking a headphone from my left ear — and, with my coat draped under an arm replacing the headphone — enter Philip Glass piano chords, stage right — saluted the flight attendants and red-nosed pilot before making my way up the jetway. The initial draft of cold, evergreen air was delicious. It has been 11 months since last I was home.
Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, Crocodile Café.
Tonight's bill: Ghost Stories / Slender Means / Long Winters
What do you do when you haven't been to the Crocodile for a long time? You get there earlier than you need to and sit alone at a table with the first hard copy of The Stranger you've held in the past year and politely order a coffee and bowl of veggie gumbo. After the gumbo arrives, you immediately order a glass of water; without ice.
You've arrived at the Crocodile early because you've been looking forward to this show since you bought your plane tickets from Newark to Sea-Tac. You've never seen Slender Means before — but having heard them on a friend's wedding soundtrack, you're looking forward to it — and you've never heard of Ghost Stories (but being on this bill, they must have something crazy-cool to offer). You've seen Long Winters several times; enough in-stores and appearances at Sasquatch! side-stages you can't really remember if you've actually ever seen them at the Croc. Probably; definitely at Sunset.
Seattle is great. This is what you've been thinking while you've been sitting there. Seattle is great. All the men have beards and plaid. The women have no makeup, tangled hair and sweatshirts. Everyone looks like they wear to work the same thing they sleep in the same thing they go out in. It's great; it's home. No pretension and no performance. The bands are in the audience and the audience may as well be onstage; enough other bands here for that. Everyone is just like everyone else is just like their dream, narcissistic mind-in-the-mirror image of themselves. There are no backstage personalities or hidden interiors between strangers, and strangers are only one or two friends away from being connected. The network is tight. But in New York, everyone is a competitor; everyone is bent on getting somewhere other they where they are right that second. To a New Yorker, the future is just a block away, and if anyone gets in the way, they're gonna get run them over.
But in Seattle, everyone is where they want to be; everyone is in a constant state of becoming that which they hope to become. Often, we don't know what we want to become; someone happy, someone proud, someone stronger, wiser, more accomplished more talented; but we know that if we are on a track that keeps us happy, if we are in a happy state of becoming, that ephemerality will only lead to something greater, which we will be easily able to define as Loved.
You look at things differently here. You wake up on Capitol Hill on a clear day and look west to Queen Anne and the Space Needle, out past to the water and out past further to the mountains. Possibilities of distance and time and beauty. You say hello and notice the people on the street. You meet people in coffee shops and know the names of the different staffs at Sonic Boom Ballard versus Sonic Boom Fremont; you remember the Long Shoreman's Daughter and the gumbo and the Croc, and you get there early to enjoy it because you feel like you're being run over by trucks in New York. You're content with being someone living in the present, because you're content being in that state of becoming. You're in New York to try and become a writer, and you're only there because New York is where you have to be if you want to make money for that sort of thing. Thus, the melting pot of talent; the leftover stew of ambition and shit and struggle – high in carbs and protein, low on taste.
In New York, and along most of the East Coast, people are more worried about what they will become than whether or not they are becoming right now. They worry because they are so worried about the future that they don't know where they are in the present.
So now you're at the Long Winters show. Ghost Stories plays, succeeds on half the songs to get the crowd excited and buzzed, succeeds on the other half to entrance a third with subtle intensity of what they call "slower songs" and send the other two-thirds into conversations or the line for drinks. Ghost Stories, or at least the guys from the band, stand next to you as fans for the Slender Means set, which is a raucous, circus orchestra set; the crowds is bumping and buzzed and smoking like chimneys, lighting them up before the smoking ban falls like a net, dragging hot orange dots out the door to surround a tin bucket full of butts.
You make your way round and round, running into friends, meeting new friends, talking to people you just met about how the live version of "Ultimatum" that John plays solo is worth the price of admission alone. The Croc is jammed — full capacity, on a holiday weekend. You think for a moment that it might be strange for everyone to be out the day after Thanksgiving. Aren't people home for the holidays? Shouldn't people be spending time with their families? Then you think, I got here early.
Pushing out into that same crisp evergreen air at 1 am, thinking about the plane ride 36 hours away and getting ready to drive home, you take a deep breath through the nostrils and look around at the moon and the green neon above your head. The taller builings down 2nd Avenue, and you think how this looks so much different than the 2nd Avenue you love on in New York.
This is a small town; a community of friends, built on watery, green hillsides where great music is loved, and great loves are made into beautiful music.
Or maybe it's all bullshit? Maybe this is just your way of wishing for something greater than the present…hoping or thinking that Seattle must be better than New York. Maybe everyone is subject sometimes to "the grass is always greener…" syndrome.
Whether or not, it doesn't matter. You need to become more productive. Set yourself to work with the Long Winters playing in the background and a Ghost Stories pin on your jacket. Start writing something — a better column is just another type of better mousetrap, and my finger hurts.