Monday, December 29, 2008

In Praise Of Polyhymnia

I know, it's a pretentious post title, but I didn't want to call it something generic like "Best Albums of 2008". I'm just jazzing it up a little. That's how I roll.

At any rate, I was going to aim for the usual ten or so, but I realized that I really didn't hear ten great albums released this year. Many of the ones I was eagerly anticipating turned out to be uninspired (Dandy Warhols, Earth to the Dandy Warhols), uneven (TV on the Radio, Dear Science), or just plain bad (Primal Scream, Beautiful Future). So I'll just list what occurs to me, and maybe throw in some other notable discs that weren't actually released this year, but I played the hell out of anyway.

Beck, Modern Guilt

I was overjoyed to finally hear of the release date for this back in the summer, but that was quickly tempered by fear: how could this possibly follow the sublime one-two punch of Guero and The Information? I utterly worship those records; should I just steel myself to accept that chances are he'll never be that good again and just enjoy whatever moments he can still offer? Well, I'm happy to report that I don't have to cross that bridge for a while yet. The biggest disappointment for me was the album's brevity, barely more than a half-hour long, while on the plus side, songs like "Profanity Prayers" and "Soul of a Man" are as good as anything he's ever recorded, and several others aren't too shabby either. The worst of Beck is still better than the best of many other artists.

Favorite songs: Profanity Prayers, Soul of a Man, Volcano, Replica

The Vines, Melodia

The pop sensibilities and psychedelica of the Beatles mixed with the bipolar punk of Nirvana, sometimes in the same song. Their first disc, Highly Evolved, cast a shadow that the subsequent three haven't quite escaped from, but Craig Nicholls still writes great songs within those boundaries.

Favorite Songs: A Girl I Knew, A.S. 3, Orange Amber

Tribe After Tribe, M.O.A.B.

African acid rock. That's how Robbi Robb described their music way back when, and I guess it suits as well as any label can. I couldn't possibly detail all the ways he and his band have influenced me. I bought their record Love Under Will on June 14th, 1994. I still remember the date because...well, because it was one of those life-altering events that make it impossible to forget where you were and what was going on. It was so heavy, but in a percussive way, not like the wall-of-guitar sound I was used to hearing from metal bands. The lyrics were abstractly poetic without being completely impenetrable. I spent months listening to it every single day, and always seemed to find something new in one of the songs. It changed not only the way I wrote music and poetry myself, but the way I thought about and understood music, for that matter. The only other two records I could name that had a comparable effect were Metallica's ...And Justice For All and Type O Negative's October Rust.

A decade and a half later, they're thankfully still at it, even though I had to buy the album through his website thanks to a lack of distribution - isn't that always the way of it? In a just world, this band would be a household name.

Favorite song: Burning Bush

Econoline Crush, Ignite

Last I had heard, their criminally overlooked 2001 album Brand New History was their swan song, but I heard of this one shortly after it had been released (late last year, technically). Picked up right where they left off, they did. I've always loved that Trevor Hurst's voice sounds like Ian Astbury of The Cult mixed with...new wave influence, maybe? Something '80s, I just can't quite place it. Sharp, punchy alternative rock with a little electronic feel added in. Bonus fun fact: a friend of mine saw these guys in a club many years ago, and the local paper had screwed up the time and date of the gig. Combined with their invisibility on most music fans' radar, this led to no one being there for the show but the aforementioned friend of mine. Rather than go back to the van or motel to sulk, they decided to treat it as a rehearsal and played their entire set while he watched, then hung out and shot the breeze with him for a while afterwards. Super cool guys.

Favorite songs: Get Out of the Way, The Love You Feel

King's X, XV

The legendarily underappreciated Texas trio, King's X. Almost every rock musician knows and reveres them, but that's never translated into record sales. They've got it all except mainstream success. Other friends of mine have gotten to open for them and share the stage for a couple songs, even, and once again, great guys. Fifteen releases later, they show no signs of letting up, and thank goodness for that.


Ladytron, Velocifero

European electro-pop. I didn't like it at first listen, but then it grew on me. Another one of those where the expectations are so high, it's almost a sure thing that you'll be initially let down, and that was the case here. I still don't think it's their best overall, but the song "Versus" would be good enough to cancel out ten more shitty songs.

Favorite songs: Versus, Ghosts

Best New Old Band of the Year: Folk Implosion

How the hell did I miss these guys back in the late '90s? I heard the song "Natural One" on the radio one day this past summer, recognized it, thought, "Hey, I like that song, I should find out who it is and look them up," and so I did. Nothing extraordinary, just great alternative rock with Lou Barlow's subdued, almost insecure voice tucked away inside it somewhere.

Honorable Mentions:

Sigur Rós, Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust

Takk...and Ágætis Byrjun will always be the gold standard for me when it comes to these guys, but while this may not be on the same level, it's still Sigur Rós. 'Nuff said. Favorite song: Inní mér syngur vitleysyngur

The Fratellis, Here We Stand

Good ol' raucous rock 'n' roll. Not quite as good as Costello Music to me, but still fun, and that's all that matters here. Favorite songs: Mistress Mabel, Jesus Stole My Baby

VAST, BangBandSixxx

Jon Crosby leaves behind his folk-traveling minstrel experiments for a return to the industrial/electronic rock that he started with. Favorite song: Lift Me Up
Eisbrecher, Sünde

German tanz-metal, slightly - and I mean slightly - less skull-crushing than, say, Rammstein. Favorite songs: Kuss, This is Deutsch

The Black Crowes, Warpaint

The roots-rocking, rabble-rousing brothers Robinson finally got back together and put out something new, hilariously taking a bite out of Maxim in the process. Once again, this doesn't compare for me to their best work (Amorica and Three Snakes and One Charm), but I still enjoy it and think the Crowes deserve better than to be constantly slagged off as Stones/Faces ripoffs. Favorite songs: Oh Josephine, Locust Street

2 comments:

Heywood J. said...

Great list, lots of stuff I'll have to check out now. Glad to see King's X are still going, one of those bands that inexplicably never got popular beyond musicians. They should have been huge.

The Vile Scribbler said...

Well, I was hoping to be able to put some heavier stuff on here, but I didn't listen to as much in recent months, and most of the stuff I liked was older releases that I hadn't picked up when they were new. So it looks like you're going to have to pick up my slack in that department!

Yeah, King's X are one of those stories that make you realize just how much of the music industry has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with talent and everything to do with who you know and how lucky you are. It just seems so excruciatingly simple sometimes: play these songs on radio or tv, and you can guarantee people will like them and buy the record. What the hell gets in the way of that? How is that not doable? Just blows my mind sometime.