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Archive for December, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008 Top 15 albums of 2008 (Part 3 of 3)

Well folks here it is… Our final top 15 albums of 2008. From writers in 8 countries we have tallied all the votes, crunched the numbers and POW… this is it… broken down into 3 groups (15 to 11. – 10 to 6. then 5 to 1.) Here is our list for the year. ENJOY! Now for the top of the heap, Number 5 to 1!!

Hope you enjoy our selections, See you in January!

1 Tv On the Radio: Dear Science
(Halfway Home- Video)

New York’s TV On the Radio used to make difficult music that was easier to admire than to like. However, their fourth album seems to answer the conundrum of how to make experimental music popular. Led by guitarist/production wizkid David Sitek, Dear Science comes laden with awkward drums, avant jazz squawks, the hum of electric pylons and what at one point sounds like the whirr of a recorded hedge trimmer. However, the noises inhabit tunes that are never less than singable. With influences as diverse as The The, afrobeat and the funky guitar sound favoured by Chic and Haircut 100, Dear Science is both visceral and cerebral. Tunde Adebimpe sings everything from pop critique (“Angry young mannequin, American apparently”) to old-fashioned sauce (“I’m gonna shake you, I’m gonna make you come”). The driving Spector-Numanesque Halfway Home may be album opener of the year, while the spectacularly lovely Family Tree is, implausibly, an art rock ballad. Career-defining stuff. And our album of the year.

2 White Denim: Exposion
(Shake Shake Shake- Video)

Right off the bat on Exposion, it’s hard to pin White Denim down. The first riff could be one jagged and broken guitar line. Or it could be a breakneck, two-guitar interplay. Or it could be samples of guitar notes cobbled together to make a fractured riff. It’s broken down and crackled enough to be made of busted parts, but based on a string of notes so quick and infectious that it is the perfect hook to pull you into the album. It also sets up an album where things that appear broken or backwards are actually the driving forces. On “Transparency”, you can hear the dry ruffle of the guitarist’s hard strumming almost as clearly as you can hear the chords coming out of the amplifier. “Migration Wind” opens with a cacophony of battling guitar notes and deep-underwater bass lines. “Shake Shake Shake” is almost too fast for its own good, the guitars so full of treble they sound like they might crack. But nothing ever does crack on Exposion. It always manages to just barely hold together. Not only does it keep its jagged pieces knotted together to make a whole, it meshes different sounds throughout the record. The frenetic energy on every track works against the album’s bluesy intentions in a very interesting way, making the emotion on these songs sound more exasperated and desperate than beaten down and sad. The vocals, even at their quietest, are full-throated howls of want and not keening wails of melancholy. And our baying hawkers—the whole band shouts in the background throughout the record—lead us through a rough and beautiful freak show of sounds. There’s the psychedelic pop of “Ieieie”. The atmospheric southern rock of “You Can’t Say”. The pastoral folk into sawdust power-pop of “Heart from All of Us”. From song to song, the band surprises the listener with a new take on a sound that is all theirs. Even when they take a break from the rough speed of most of their songs, they don’t lose any of their boundless energy. “WDA” has the laidback jazzy feel of mid-career Sea and Cake, while “All Truckers Roll” is all country road feel, but both break away from their starts in their own way. The former gets crunchier as it goes, while the latter crumbles from its sweet beginnings into the scratch and fizzle of cymbals and distortion squeaks.
From beginning to end, Exposion threatens chaos, but White Denim know the value of pushing to the edge without going over. The pop sensibility behind all this sprawling, sweaty R&B, mixed with a heavy dose of the roadrunner speed and snarl of garage punk, is what drives the haphazard beauty of this album. At its most out of control, this album exudes an impressive amount of focus, and in the end, White Denim gets to have it both ways. They’re as catchy as any pop band going, but they also handle strange sounds, texture, and off-kilter compositions as well as your favorite noise experimenter. No matter what music you’re into, Exposion probably has something for you.

3 Tabacco: Fucked up Friends
(Backwoods Alter- Video)

Solo debut from the main constituent behind Black Moth Super Rainbow. Features vocals from Aesop Rock. Early version of Fucked Up Friends’ audio was featured on Tobacco’s limited DVD collaboration with visual artist Beta Carnage. Follows up Black Moth Super Rainbow’s 2007 smash hit, Dandelion Gum. On his first solo album, Tobacco explores a darker, starker, and altogether more badass dimension of his complex vision. With his group, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Tobacco distinguishes himself as a master of jagged beats, glowing melodies, and pronounced tension. This time, he works alone, in rural Pennsylvania, away from conventions and interference. And the results? They are magnificent.

4 Calexico: Carried to Dust
(Two Silver Trees- Video)

It’s impossible to experience any undue tension or stress while listening to Calexico. Despite time spent in Los Angeles, where they met, founders Joey Burns (vocals, guitar) and John Convertino (drums) produce sounds more reflective of their sun-blasted Tucson environs. Since spinning off Howe Gelb’s indomitable Giant Sand and forming their own collective, their songs have always been too hushed, too much like lullabies not to soothe the most savage breast, and Carried to Dust marks their most relaxed and confident effort to date. Burns and Convertino pursue such a mellow, yet expansive muse that they blur the lines between indie rock, imaginary soundtracks, and ethnographic explorations. As with the work of Douglas McCombs (Tortoise) and Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), who contribute to their sixth long-player, this isn’t such a bad thing (the duo previously collaborated with Beam on 2005’s In the Reins). What they lack in edge or, God forbid, trendiness, the band makes up for in beauty and creativity. Note, for instance, the cascading keyboard figures of “Two Silver Trees” or the way toy piano and chimes entwine on lovely closer “Contention City.” Calexico don’t make music to get the party started, but to bring it to a warm and satisfying conclusion.

5 Deerhunter- Microcastle
(Nothing Ever Happened- Video)

Deerhunter wants to stay put. To be locked in windowless rooms. To never age. To sleep. To be dead. In a way, it’s ironic that the Atlanta band gets tagged as punk, even when it’s attached to prefixes like “psych,” “ambient,” or “art”: Punk music agitates for upheaval, but Deerhunter seeks only stasis. “I had a dream no longer to be free,” goes “Agoraphobia,” and the line summarizes Microcastle: Deerhunter’s latest is a complete
fantasy, a shimmering depiction of what it’s like to wish fervently for calm, but know it’s not coming. The harsh, ambient darkness of 2007’s Cryptograms is mostly absent on Microcastle, replaced by blazing gold and orange hues, warmly whirring guitar solos, pepped-up drumming, pop hooks, and gauzy echoes of Motown and krautrock. The bolder sound signals that Deerhunter is now less concerned with the scarring effects of loss, conflict, and the passage of time, and more concerned with the ways to escape those things—even if that escape is fleeting. On “Little Kids,” a group of drunken youths symbolically reject aging by lighting an old man on fire. But as the flames rise, so does the sumptuous shoegaze squall and Bradford Cox’s soft insistence that those kids will “get older still.” Freedom from hurt: Deerhunter realizes it’s impossible, but Microcastle shows it’s a beautiful idea all the same.

Monday, December 1, 2008

White Denim- Let’s talk about it (Video)

Kanye West- 808 and Heartbreak (Album Review)

I have this vision of Kanye West sitting in a hotel room, sad-eyed and head down, listening to his lady break up with him. She rattles off a long list of reasons why it’s not working, and West storms off in a huff, angry yet devastated.

The next day, he goes straight to the studio and records “808s & Heartbreak,” which is out today, just a little more than a year since his last album, “Graduation.”

That’s probably not how it happened, but on “808s,” West holds a serious grudge. He sounds reactionary, ready to exact revenge on anyone who’s broken his heart. It is by far the strangest record he’s ever made: a willfully sullen and uncompromising electro-pop album from one of hip-hop’s biggest stars. Aside from the first two singles (“Love Lockdown,” “Heartless”), much of “808s” sounds like a sonic wasteland, with West’s digitized voice floating in like a tumbleweed.

It’s his first serious attempt to sing more than rap. But he relies so heavily on Auto-Tune, the du jour studio trick that dominates Top 40 urban radio, that you don’t get a real sense of his vocal chops. He doesn’t sing so much as he allows Auto-Tune to bend his pitch, flattening out all the nuances.

But his vocals are easy to overlook because the production values are so interesting. The songs have a lot going on, yet they sound bone-dry, sometimes industrial and cold. “Say You Will” opens the album on a spartan note, trailing off into three minutes of blips pinging back and forth.

The biggest problem here is West’s songwriting. Some of his better lyrics would be clever as one-off rhymes in a rap song, but they’re not strong enough to build into full-blown choruses. The shockingly shallow hook of “Amazing” is just West looping the words “so amazing”; not even guest rapper Young Jeezy, sounding like he’s just snuffed out his 100th cigarette of the day, gives the song much life. Similarly, Lil Wayne’s talent is squandered on “See You in My Nightmares.”

After a foreboding cello intro, West hints at inner turmoil on “Welcome to Heartbreak,” but it’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who seems to have it all. “My friend showed me pictures of his kids/ And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs,” he sings.

He’s more in his element on the dance track “Paranoid,” perhaps because he’s back to rapping. He’s quick on his feet as he glides over the kind of pulsating ’80s synthesizers you might expect from Lupe Fiasco. And West finally gets in some good lines: “You wanna check into the Heartbreak Hotel/ But sorry, we’re closed.”

At least the brokenhearted star gets in the last word – it’s just too bad he decided to sing it.

Live Earth India Canceled After Terror Attacks

The Live Earth India concert, scheduled to be held in Mumbai on Sunday (Dec. 7), has been called off after terror attacks in India’s financial capital killed nearly 200 people.

Jon Bon Jovi, Roger Waters and Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan were to share the stage at the event to raise funds for lighting homes with solar energy in places where people do not have access to electricity.

Islamist gunmen held Mumbai hostage for three days last week using assault rifles and grenades at two luxury hotels and other landmarks, killing close to 200 people, including 22 foreigners.

“We are all shaken up by this event, and even though we believe in the cause of global warming, we have indefinitely postponed the Live Earth concert,” said Viraf Sarkari, director of the Wizcraft event management firm, the local organiser.

Many international artists due to perform at the event were bound by advisories issued by their countries asking citizens not to travel to India, making this an “overriding factor” in the decision to cancel the concert, he added.

“We have artists like Jon Bon Jovi and Roger Waters, so we had to take this into account as well,” he said.

The statement was issued by Live Earth founder Kevin Wall, former United States vice president Al Gore and R.K. Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Inter-government Panel for Climate Chang