Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Disappointing Albums Of 2008

The albums I liked this year, I liked a lot. I listened to each of them a ton, and a lot of them became solid parts of my daily life. Then, I would hear about albums that other people liked a lot, and decided to check them out. Needless to say, not all of them stuck. At times, I even felt like I had just wasted my time by listening to some of these albums. Some are by artists who have been around for a while, who I have followed for years, but are continually nosediving in quality, others are by artists slathered in hype who I don't think are all that good in the end.


MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

Let's get this one out of the way real quick. This album has two really good songs on it, tops. The rest I find to be nothing more than jangly glam-pop that is very self-involved and preoccupied with its posturing. Hearing horror stories about this band's live act hasn't helped my view of them either. At least they recognized how stupid their association with Gucci is (see the issue of SPIN with them on the cover for this little tidbit).

CSS - Donkey
Once again, an album that has two very good songs on it ("Rat Is Dead (Rage) and "Move"). However, my negative feelings towards this aren't half as vehement as they are towards the MGMT album. The rest of Donkey is really just kind of "eh." I understand that most of this album was written and recorded on the road, and it kind of shows. Several songs fall into retread dance-punk territory that the band would have been just as happy to smash on their first full length. On Donkey, one can truly see a band that's just out of their element. I don't listen to CSS to hear cute love songs, or anything of any real substance, really. The band is at their best when they display the fuck-all attitude that made their first album a sleeper hit in my book.

Beach House - Devotion

Beach House, Beach House, Beach House. I've given you an honest shot, but you've let me down two times now. I can't really wrap my head around why so many people like this band so much, but at least I can say I gave them a try. I just ended up listening to what could be one of the most boring albums I heard this year.

The Black Keys - Attack And Release

These Akron bluesheads lost me with everything released after Rubber Factory, an album that I still find incredibly rewarding in terms of songwriting and recording (it was knocked out over a five month period in 2004, inside of an abandoned warehouse in their hometown of Akron, OH). Attack And Release finds the Keys in an actual studio, with Danger Mouse behind the boards. What came out was their cleanest, weirdest release yet. In other words, everything I don't want from this band.

Alkaline Trio - Agony And Irony

Just a complete mess of an album. The Trio's last release, Crimson, was kind of iffy, but I was still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Then they came out with this, 11 tracks of hardly memorable rock music. There were times when I would look at my CD player while listening to this and be shocked that five tracks had gone by without me even realizing.

Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs

Where was the noise? Where was the discord promised in this album? Did Ben Gibbard mistake "discord" to mean "eight minute long lead single whose first half isn't really necessary?" I see this album as marking the beginning of the real downward spiral for Death Cab.

Weezer - Weezer

Weezer's Red album is the equivalent of somebody you meet at a party. You think they're pretty cool, so you exchange contact information. The next day, you meet up, and all of a sudden, this person is REALLY obnoxious, and not the alright person you had met the night before. The first half of the album starts off inoffensively enough (in that it doesn't start with "Beverly Hills") with "Troublemaker," which follows into "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived," which, although containing some questionable lyrics, isn't that bad of a song. "Pork And Beans" even manages to recapture some of the band's Blue Album crunch.

And then the second half of the album dashes away any goodwill the first half established like a rock to the skull. WHY, RIVERS, WHY did you let the rest of the band take lead vocals on ANYTHING? Did you actually read bassist Scott Shriner's lyrics to "Cold Dark World?" I don't want to ever hear that dude say he's going to sex anything up in a strained near-rap-rock style. While it's good to see Rivers Cuomo coming out of his Make Believe era shell a little bit, it shouldn't be at the cost of an entire Weezer album.

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges

Evil Urges wastes almost no time destroying its chances of being a great album. Article A: "Highly Suspicious," the most confounding thing this band has ever done. Over a bass guitar draped in effects that dude with long hair that you always see at Guitar Center is constantly tooling around with, Jim James shrieks and squeals about "peanut butter pudding surprises" and whatnot. Then there's the goofy ass chorus. It makes you completely forget about the epic title track and "Touch Me, I'm Going To Scream Pt. 1," which are two very worthy additions to the MMJ canon. I'm not even kidding when I say "Highly Suspicious" ruined this entire album for me.

Ratatat - LP3

I'm just going to call this one a swing and a miss. The first two Ratatat albums are still great. The guys just decided to try a bunch of new stuff, and it just so happened to result in a not-that-coherent album that lacks the non-stop hook assault that defined their earlier work. It happens.

Jaguar Love - Take Me To The Sea

I'm always a little suspicious when the first single from an album is also the first track. Is a single supposed to serve as the strongest representation of the album, or just the most accessible? Either way, "Highways Of Gold" is still a good song. Unfortunately, placing it at the beginning of the album set the bar a little too high for the rest of the album from these Pretty Girls Make Graves/Blood Brothers alums to reach.

Guns 'N Roses - Chinese Democracy

Well no shit. Any album that has been built up since I was seven years old is almost inevitably going to disappoint when it is finally released. I even think Chuck Klosterman was straining when he awarded this album an A- over at the Onion AV Club. I'm only writing about this because I like Appetite For Destruction, and there was part of me that thought Axl was saving something special inside of himself for this, but no. He apparently stopped thinking of ideas after 1996, which is when it sounds like this album should have come out. But who cares, really? Who cares what Pitchfork, or Klosterman, or any outlet that focuses mainly on indie/punk/hardcore/whatever thinks? There will still be people that buy this album and love it unconditionally.

The Cure - 4:13 Dream

The first three songs from this almost had all of my faith in The Cure restored after 2004's spotty self-titled album. I was then completely unexpected for what happened next. "Freakshow" is just not good. I can't put it any other way, really. The rest of the album finds The Cure flailing through a few of their more poppy styles, but never really managing to make anything stick. It's almost like when a person trips on something and they fling their arms around trying to find something to grab on to before they hit the ground. 4:13 Dream finds the veteran band trying to grab on to a fully realized concept and failing.


Albums of 2008 That Were Just OK.

The title kind of says it all this time. These were the albums of 2008 that, while not bad by any means, somehow failed to really get me hooked. In some of these cases, there was a great deal of critical/blog pants-shitting done, and I imagine some of these will turn up on several "Best of 2008" lists, and that's fine. Just, for whatever reason, I wasn't completely convinced. Whoops.

So without further ado...


TV On The Radio - Dear Science,

Aside from having one of the most obnoxiously punctuated album titles of the year (which, by the way, I've noticed a lot of publications omitting the comma at the end), my main gripe with this album is simply that it wasn't on par with Return To Cookie Mountain. I really thought the huge, expansive sound of that album fit this band extremely well, and to see them kind of rein things in a bit this time around was a little off-putting. That being said, there are still some really strong tunes to be found here. Not many albums this year had as strong of an opening 1-2 punch as "Halfway Home" immediately followed by "Crying" (especially with the latter's ridiculously great synth lines), but then "Dancing Choose" happens. Honestly, I think it's the most obnoxious track this band has written, with the exception of the Antibalas horns. I don't think I've heard a song they've been featured on that I haven't liked. I think this album might be a grower.

Girl Talk - Feed The Animals

The inclusion of Girl Talk's latest album on this part of the list has nothing to do with my personal refusal to ever go to any of his shows anymore (past incidents include a subzero evening spent outside of the Middle East Upstairs, and my aborted attempt to see him at 2007's Pitchfork Music Festival, where I could only get about 100 yards away, jerks were still running into me non-stop, and all I could hear was THUMP THUMP THUMP-pop music sample-THUMP THUMP THUMP). It's just the simple fact that a lot of the fun Gregg Gillis was able to capture on Night Ripper just didn't seem as much the second time around. However, I am still endlessly amused by the Metallica/Lil' Mama collision.

No Age - Nouns

I'm a big fan of any band who can take very little and turn into a whole lot of noise, and No Age is definitely scraping the bare minimum of resources with their guitar/drum attack. "Teen Creeps" is still by far my favorite track from this album, as it it hits all of the crunchy, clashy notes I hoped this band could bring. On the other side, I did have to hear "Eraser" every day for a month at my place of employment this past summer, and it honestly got a little old. To the point that I never really had any desire to listen to this album once I got home. Besides those two songs, I couldn't tell you how any of the rest of this album goes, despite having listened to it in its entirety quite a few times this year. I still think these dudes have a much better album still in them. This one just wasn't it.

Russian Circles - Station

This album almost made its way into my "disappointments" list (which is still to come), which bummed me out a bunch, because this band is one of the most solid live acts I've had the chance to see over the past couple years, and their debut full length, Enter, is easily one of my favorite instrumental metal/post-rock/whatever albums of all time. Purists be damned. I guess with my expectations set so high, it was only natural that I would feel a little let down by Station, which lacks some of the bombast and volume that always drew me back to Enter. There are some fantastic riffs on this album, but it's a far more subtle affair. Like the TV On The Radio album, this will probably grow on me over time.

Murder By Death - Red Of Tooth And Claw

I orginally got hooked on Murder By Death around the time of the release of their second full length, 2003's Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left Of Them?. This led to me backtracking to their first full length, Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing, and their fantastic split with Volta Do Mar. Actually visiting their hometown of Bloomington, IN for a college visit only enhanced my liking of them, because I felt like the music truly reflected their surroundings. Then, In Bocca al Lupo came out, and out came Adam Turla's Johnny Cash impression. I don't care what anyone else says, from that point on, I feel like Murder By Death lost a little of what made them who they were. Red Of Tooth And Claw only continued down that road for me. This and In Bocca... are both really good albums, but not the kind of albums I personally wish Murder By Death was making. Word is that on their current tour, they're playing this and Who Will Survive back to back in their entirety, so maybe I'll have to check out that tour to understand the context they wanted this album to be held.

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
I wish I could have listened to this band without knowing what they looked like, what school they went to, what clothes or boat shoes they wear, or anything regarding their musical influences/reference points. But, every article that dealt with these guys harped on those facts endlessly, tainting this album for me before I had even popped it in. There is definitely some catchy stuff going on here, and I'm definitely interested in what these dudes are capable of in the future, as long as it veers away from aural turds such as "One (Blake's Got A New Face)," which easily stands in my mind as one of the most annoying songs I heard this year. Most of this album makes me just want to hang out, wear sweaters, and sail boats in a harbor, though, which provides for a nice escape when the weather bites it here in Massachusetts.

Oh, and I know it wasn't on the official release of the album, but that song "Boston" that they have just reeks of freshman year open mics I went to, where kids with acoustic guitars played songs they had just written about "being in the big city" and shit like that. No thanks.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Albums of 2008 That I Did Not Hear, But Want To

Now that I've gotten the introduction to this thing out of the way, let's knock out one of the more boring lists I managed to come up with for 2008!


Black Mountain - In The Future
Keep on hearing a lot about these folks. I’ll have to check it soon.

Bob Mould - District Line
Along with his work with Sugar, delving into Bob Mould’s post Husker Du work is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. There’s always 2009!

Los Campesinos! - Both releases
I figure if enough people I know who like good things like this band, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll like it too. Just saying.

Millencolin - Machine 15
You can’t hate Millencolin. If you do, you’re heartless. I just missed this one, plain and simple.

Sun Kil Moon - April
2008 slowly brought me into the world of the Red House Painters, but not in time for me to check this album by Mark Kozelek’s post RHP project.

Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst
This album is probably good. I just didn’t hear it.

GZA - Pro Tools
Once again, it’s probably good. I’m a bit hesitant to check it out given the quality of his last couple of solo albums, but Liquid Swords holds such a high place in my mind that I’m always willing to give The Genius the benefit of the doubt.

Islands - Arm's Way
While in some instances on this list, I at least heard one or two songs, I somehow did not manage to hear a single note from this album.

Wolf Parade - At Mt. Zoomer
Exact same case as the Islands album mentioned above.

Deerhoof - Offend Maggie
2008 was a big year for Deerhoof in my book, but it was mainly me playing catch-up, and not checking this album out.

Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping
I’m hearing conflicting things about it. Some say it’s good, others say it’s the most boring Of Montreal album they’ve ever heard.

Ryan Adams And the Cardinals - Cardinology
I own almost everything this dude has put out since Heartbreaker, but still haven’t managed to pick this one up.

Q-Tip - The Renaissance
One of my favorite rappers puts out an album, and yet I’m hesitant to listen. Could still be the aftershocks from seeing him in a music video with the Black Eyed Peas when I was in the mall once.

Obligatory First Entry!

I'm getting a jump start on my New Year's Resolution by doing this.

My name is Erik. 20/m/split my time between Cincinnati, OH and Boston, MA.

This is me eating at the fine Cincinnati establishment Skyline Chili:

I like to talk about music, a lot. To a stupid degree, really. So that's why I'm starting this blog. I'm going to write about stuff I'm listening to, and that's really about it. There are already enough sites out there that tell you what's happening up to the minute in the world of music, or sites that sort of tell you what artists to dry hump. This isn't going to be any of that. I'm just hoping to write about music as I discover it, and talk to other people who might be into the same stuff.

The first few posts here will by my wrap-ups of 2008 music. I'm super dorky about making lists. Expect a bunch of them!