Not a single Lost in the Cloud post in 2015. We could give excuses, but we don’t think anyone is suffering without our ramblings (Greg and I have an audience weekly in our respective congregations…). We won’t insult our readers with elaborate promises of innumerable posts to follow in 2016. All we can do is offer you our modest annual delight, albeit a wee bit late. This being 6 January, for your Epiphanic pleasure, we hope you find some winners amongst our favourites.
Greg & Elijah
Elijah’s Top 10 Albums of 2015
10. Brace the Wave Lou Barlow — Former and present Dinosaur Jr. bassist, a songwriter so dear to the hearts of both of your Losers in the Cloud, has returned for his first studio album since 2009’s Goodnight Unknown. Admittedly, there are a few tracks that don’t stand up as well as others, but in Aristotelian fashion, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Several tracks might even be considered some of Barlow’s finest.
9. Fading Frontier Deerhunter — Gently, Bradford Cox pulls us into Fading Frontier. Those accustomed to the sometimes jarring brokenness of Deerhunter’s previous albums will find familiar hints in softer packages. Whilst not the greatest Deerhunter effort to date, Fading Frontier is full of excellent material, showcasing Cox’s ever-improving songwriting.
8. Weirdo Shrine La Luz — Vague references to an erotic sci-fi-horror comic? No problem. Surf rock? Even better. La Luz’ second album, Weirdo Shrine, is full of instrumental, vocal and lyrical precision, wrapped tastefully in reverb and harmony. There’s a paradoxical playfulness and seriousness to singer Shana Cleveland’s lead, which, accompanied by equally paradoxical arrangements, makes Weirdo Shrine a supremely satisfying listen and causes me to long for those autumnal twilights along the Californian coast of my youth.
7. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress Godspeed You! Black Emperor — Neither ones for a short band name, nor short album titles nor short songs, Godspeed You! Black Emperor demonstrate once again that they’re not for settling down. The soundscapes of Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress are especially suited to a drookit trek through a Hebridean peat bog, but other contexts, such as sitting in your front room, having a shower, walking your dog or driving to work, are also suitable. Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes distressing, sometimes triumphant and always moving, GY!BE deliver the goods.
6. Vulnicura Björk — I wouldn’t say that as of late Björk has fallen out of favour in my listening patterns, but her last two records, Volta (2007) and Biophilia (2011), left me feeling less engaged than the previous three. This may well be due more in part of my own shortcomings than those of Björk. But Vulnicura has left me with something I cannot put down. As with most, though not all of my favourite records this year, this album is a grower. Upon every listen, I discover more to love. It is a complex sonic tapestry that demands attention. Unlike so many artists, Vulnicura proves that even as she approaches 51, Björk is brimming with creativity still. She also demonstrates her willingness to engage with fresh talent, collaborating with the Haxan Cloak and Arca, among others. Oh, and check this madness out:
5. I Love You, Honeybear Father John Misty — FJM returns with a new record, but as Greg observes astutely, so returns J. Tillman’s ‘self-obsessed cynicism’. Surely there’s only so much one can take of a disaffected man, hellbent on constructing a new world around himself. But there’s another side to I Love You, Honeybear that stands out to this listener. The apocalyptic Americana bard could content himself with repeating the same winning formula with which we fell in love from Fear Fun (Greg’s top pick of 2012 and one of my honourable mentions). But he ventures elsewhere on Honeybear, bringing a fuller, heavier and more convicted sound to the record, earning him a mid-table slot on my list.
4. Viet Cong Viet Cong — This debut release from the Canadian post-punkers is most definitely a grower. The onslaught of energy is apparent from the onset, but the finesse is the wee bit that reveals itself to you upon repeated listens. In what seems like a time when so many post-punk-labelled bands churn out album upon album of the same song, Viet Cong has done something extraordinary. The ground covered in Viet Cong far exceeds its seven-tracks over 37-minutes. The third track alone gives the listener six minutes and twenty seconds of breadth – a repetitive electronic introduction lulls the listener into head swaying territory, waiting for the floor to drop from beneath you with the oncoming deconstructed harmonies that build into relative despair before the return of a dance beat. It’s really something to hear for yourself: ‘March of Progress‘.
3. Depression Cherry Beach House — Whilst finishing my doctoral dissertation this past autumn I was spending a lot of time listening to Cocteau Twins (engagement with shoegaze and dream pop formed a significant part of the third chapter). I have always sensed a kinship between Cocteau Twins and Beach House. A lad and a lass. Dreamy, simple arrangements. Idiosyncratic female vocals accompanied by reverberating and chorus-laden guitars. And although I would argue that Depression Cherry isn’t as easily consumed as Beach House’s previous albums, Cocteau Twins reminded me to be patient with their dream pop heirs. When one makes the time to absorb Depression Cherry, they will find some of Beach House’s strongest material. For example, I think that the sixth track, ‘PPP‘, is their best to date. I would encourage you to give this record a go — it’s worth every penny and every second.
2. Currents Tame Impala — The Perth-based psychedelic rockers have been a favourite of us here at Lost in the Cloud since we first heard Innerspeaker in 2010. Their follow-up, Lonerism (2012), also impressed (though not as much for Greg as for me). But Currents is most assuredly ‘next level’. The persistence of the phased beat remains, as do Kevin Parker’s George Harrison-esque vocals. But the band is forging new boundaries. They are demonstrating what it means to evolve as musicians and doing so with expert precision and maturity. Tame Impala have not lost their psychedelic, trance-inducing edge — they’ve just sharpened it.
1. Carrie & Lowell Sufjan Stevens — It comes as no surprise to me that both Greg and I have chosen Carrie & Lowell for this top slot. It’s hard to believe that Illinois was released over a decade ago. Many of us Sufjan-obsessed lot wondered where he would go after that album. We saw him through his early songwriting, a mixture of delicate pop folk and low-fi noise (A Sun Came, 2000), through his electronic odyssey (Enjoy Your Rabbit, 2001), through his intensely personal meditations on life in the Midwest (Greetings from Michigan, 2003), joyous folk theodicy (Seven Swans, 2004) and outright indie pop. In danger of professing what may be blasphemy to many, I was never as sold on Illinois as a whole as I had been with his previous efforts. I feared that Sufjan wouldn’t find new territory as he had during the first five years of his career. He lay silent for a while (2006’s Avalanche is composed of songs from his 2004 Illinois sessions). We who heard ‘Majesty Snowbird’ performed live braced ourselves for something extraordinary. But we were made to wait. In 2007, Stevens showed his film The B.Q.E., which was accompanied by a live orchestra. Its soundtrack was released in 2009. By his own admission, Stevens had lost his faith in the form of ‘song’. Then we heard news of an album proper to be released in 2010, which was preceded, without warning, by the All Delighted People EP. We had heard the new sound and it was glorious. Two months later we entered into the Age of Adz. Both Greg and I knew from very early on that it was our shared favourite album of 2010. Then he fell silent again. We wondered where he could go from the satisfying chaos and vulnerability of Age of Adz. Finally, nearly five years later, we got our answer. Much has been, can and should be said and written of Carrie & Lowell. A masterpiece. A revelation. A portrait of serene torture. There’s a sense of despair and hopelessness that carries throughout Carrie & Lowell, but with it is a natural sense of hope and the affirmation of life. In his essay ‘The Experience of God and the Axiology of the Impossible’, American philosopher John Caputo posits:
Hope is only hope when one hopes against hope, only when the situation is hopeless. Hope has the full force of hope only when we have first been led to the point where it is impossible to hope – and then we hope against hope, even as faith is faith in the face of the incredible. Hope is only hope when all I can do is to try to keep hope alive even though there is no hope. There is no hope, I know that and I am convinced of that, but I still hope.
In this way, I must extend my gratitude: Thank you, Sufjan, for giving us hope.
- Escape from Evil Lower Dens
- Natalie Prass Natalie Prass
- Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit Courtney Barnett
- New Bermuda Deafheaven
- Return to the Moon EL VY
- The Agent Intellect Protomartyr
- Have You in My Wilderness Julia Holter
Greg’s Top 10 Albums of 2015
It was lovely to find a few more albums than last year that I knew would be on this list as soon as I heard them—and I’m gratified that my and Elijah’s lists converged more this year than some. I always find myself having to catch up with some of his more esoteric choices and I hope that I am able to help any of our dear readers catch a scent of some new sonic pleasures as well. Bon appétit (wow, a muddle of metaphors if there ever was one)!
10. Times Infinity Vol. One The Dears — I do love this Canadian indie band quite a bit, even though they don’t always live up to their potential. This album feels a bit slight (supposedly there is a Vol. Two forthcoming), but honestly it’s nice to see a band not fill out an album with padding of middling material or playing a song to death with endlessly-repeated choruses at the end of a song (ok, The Dears are sometimes guilty of this). They ask in their almost funky lead single, ‘I Used to Wait for the Heavens to Fall‘: ‘Whose side are you on?’ I am on your side, Dears.
9. Return to the Moon EL VY — Part of me wanted to love this album (more Matt Berninger from The National!), part of me wanted to ignore it (don’t be unfaithful to your bandmates with some poppy, multi-instrumentalist from Oregon!). I gave it a number of focused listens & I just can’t help but get taken in by it–his lyrics, his low melodic rumblings, they are just too brilliant to neglect & the arrangements have grown on me (I wasn’t a huge fan of the title cut at first, but it’s all really quite good), even the ‘haunted house’ feel of ‘Silent Ivy Hotel‘ (love the faux-Elvira/Beetlejuice video…such a great sense of humor!!).
8. Sprinter Torres — Her 2013 self-titled album would have come close to making my list that year if I’d heard it in time (that was such an AMAZING year of music!!), this album is a wholly other turn. When I heard it (on Amazon Prime Music no less), I immediately thought of the early PJ Harvey (it turns out she has a member of Harvey’s old band playing & producing!) and even the primal punk power of the young Sinead O’Connor. Supposedly, the album is about her rejection of Christian faith/upbringing (I need to listen more carefully to the lyrics to sort it all out), but she is IN CONTROL HERE—tight arrangements, in-your-face snarls & howls, layers of harmony on top of crunchy guitars…check out ‘Sprinter.’
7. Brother The Brilliance — This is a Christian group and we use a number of their songs in worship services at my church, so it may seem strange a bit odd here. But honestly, this band, more than any other Christian worship group ever, makes it eminently beautiful at every level—haunting melodies on cello & piano laid down beneath a voice filled with tenderness and longing (there’s a good deal of the spare instrumentation reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens here, so that’s probably part of my affection…though the Age of Adz-y synth bleep-bloops on ‘Love Remains’ is a bit much). Exhibit A: ‘Does Your Heart Break?‘ (note the Elliott Smith shout-out near the end of the song—which is only instrumental on the YouTube video link there, but they actually sing ‘everything means nothing to me’ on the album). The lyrics are poignant & filled with questions of God such as ‘Are you watching as your children die?’ (some of which I take theological issue with, but still think are legitimate forms of lamenting confusion). So many amazing songs here—their whole catalog is filled with this level of quality.
6. Depression Cherry Beach House — Just listen to it. The opening Phillip Glass by way of Mazzy Star track is only the beginning. There’s part of me that realizes that this is just a guy & girl in a studio with a drum machine & a bunch of keyboards & some guitars, but it comes out so transcendent, so ethereal…it’s musical alchemy. Don’t know what else to say. (I would allow you to skip the second song with its shoegazy sort of distorted acoustic guitar, but that would be the one exception).
5. Dear Wormwood The Oh Hellos — Discovered this band through a free download of their album Through the Deep, Dark Valley on NoiseTrade (which sadly usually has more misses than hits for me) a couple years back and felt like I’d been given a bag of gold. I ordered this album sight unseen (and I suppose more importantly, sound unheard) and here it is, right at the top. It’s an immediate masterpiece, not an album of songs per se, but an ALBUM’s album. You should listen to the whole thing to understand it. I found myself choking up on the title track—’I know who I am know and all that you made of me / I know who you are now, and I name you my enemy’—the triumph of pursuing the good over giving in to the evil that can worm its way into our lives.
4. Bashed Out This Is the Kit — Matt Berninger wasn’t the only one playing around outside of The National this year. The Dessner bros are producing & playing on this album. This album came out of nowhere for me. I saw somewhere that Elbow’s Guy Garvey had recommended this album, so I downloaded it. Then fell in love with this album. It is like being inside the head of someone who is so true and kind and lovely; such a captivating vocalist, with layers of sounds and lovely tunes surrounding it. This is an intuitive recommendation—my affection for this album may translate for you. No worries. I’m just so glad I found this band. A good entry point might be ‘Silver John,’ but it’s not really representative of the whole album.
3. Vulnicura Björk — While I followed Björk pretty faithfully through the Sugar Cubes and early solo years, her albums got a bit too out there for me (conventional sort that I am). But this, while wildly experimental at times, is undoubtedly a work of genius. It’s a cathartically painful account of a relational break-up, but it is a masterpiece of exploring the loss with perfectly apt musical accompaniment & vocalization. I feel so terrible for her, but as often happens, hard lives make great art. You have to make the time to listen to the whole album in one sitting—it’s profound, heartbreaking, and epic.
2. Currents Tame Impala — Another break-up album, but this time from the one who left (I think!) rather than the one who was left (a la Björk). I secretly think that the one-man band that is Kevin Parker challenged himself to take a bunch of non-cool musical materials (the most cheesy 80’s synth sounds conceivable—think Spandau Ballet, handclaps, falsettos) and make the most awesome album imaginable. Beggaring belief, he succeeded. A few little filler tracks aside, this is a record of the highest level of song-writing ability and musicianship possible.
1. Carrie & Lowell Sufjan Stevens — So much has been said and written about this album. I don’t think I can even describe what this album means to me. Loss, longing, despair, regret captured by God’s own bard.
- Brace the Wave Lou Barlow (I love Lou and was so delighted to see him live this year, but this album didn’t measure up to his previous solo work for me)
- I Love You, Honeybear Father John Misty (it’s quite a good album, I’m just so sick of his self-obsessed cynicism)
- The Waterfall My Morning Jacket (really good, I just didn’t listen to it enough to evaluate)
- Love Songs for Robots Patrick Watson (always worth listening to)
- Star Wars Wilco (I only started listening to this last week. It’s REALLY good. Too late to include, but may have made the cut)
In typical LITC obsessive list-making fashion I’ve decided to compile a list of my Top 20 Bands of all time. I must admit that this list is prone to change, whether it be in order or in composition (perhaps in the coming years more recent groups like Frightened Rabbit, Grizzly Bear and Deerhunter might make their way on or classics that have been in my rotation for most if not all of my life will sneak in like Starflyer 59, Nirvana, The Rolling Stones and The Smashing Pumpkins). I’ll probably modify this list with my ever-changing taste and an ever-growing musical collection, but I will say that the bulk of this list has remained rather consistent over the last few years. I’ve decided instead of one massive post to split it up into groups of two. Perhaps you’ve not really given some of these groups a fair listen, or perhaps this will encourage you to give them another shot. So without further ado, I give you 20 and 19.
This group, borne from the ashes of Spacemen 3 in 1990-1, consists primarily of Jason Pierce (J. Spaceman) and his inability to stop creating good music. From space rock to gospel, Spiritualized have been a mainstay of English music for two decades, while their commercial success has yet to match their commercial success. Annette first turned me onto this band in 2006 (very late in the game) and I can’t get enough. Their 2008 record Songs in A & E can found among my Top 50 Albums. Might I also suggest 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space, which was narrowly edged out of my Top 50 Albums in a move I’m not entirely confident in.
‘Broken Heart’ from Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space, live in 1998 on Later… with Jools Holland:
‘You Lie You Cheat’ from Songs in A & E, live on The Late Show with David Letterman, 2008:
19. Sebadoh/Lou Barlow
Lou Barlow is an amazing songwriter and over the last 20+ years he has certainly spread his influence through Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, Sentridoh, The Folk Implosion and his recent solo career. As mentioned before, Greg first turned me on to Lou Barlow. Read more about him (and take a look at list of Greg and my ‘Top 30 Lou Barlow Songs‘) in this post. His amazing record with Sebadoh III (1991) is featured among my Top 50 Albums.
‘Rebound’ from Sebadoh’s 1994 album Bakesale:
‘Too Much Freedom’ from Lou Barlow’s 2009 album Goodnight Unknown:
The other day my friend Erin Hennessy saw you on the F train in NYC, but she couldn’t get up the nerve to say anything to you. That got me thinking of what I would say to you if I ran into you (even though I never would, as I live on the other side of the country). The first thing that came to mind was to talk to you about your 50 states project, which you began so beautifully with Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State and Illinois/The Avalanche.
Now back in the day (the early two thousands or so), I took your proclamation to make an album (or EP, maybe?) for each one of the 50 states seriously, even though some of my more cynical friends would mock me saying it was impossible for you to do in your lifetime (they would start with some calculations, ask your age, etc. PS We share the same birthday!). The reason I believed you was because I saw this limitless sort of creative genius in you, and even beyond that, it was as if you were the Emersonian “Poet” for this generation of Americans–seeing and showing us the beauty and agony and the divine in the everyday, transforming the mundane into the sublime, telling us stories full of wonder and longing and brilliant details from towns like Ypsilanti and Holland and Romulus.
You made me suddenly attentive to the people and places of America: you imbued them with a magical luster simply by naming them in the midst of your deeply moving, melancholic, and rich melodies and arrangements, or by inserting them amongst such evocative mystical lines of verse:
When the revenant came down
We couldn’t imagine what it was
In the spirit of three stars
The alien thing that took its form
Then to Lebanon, oh God!
The flashing at night, the sirens grow and grow
(Oh, history involved itself)
Mysterious shade that took its form
(Or what it was!), incarnation, three stars
Delivering signs and dusting from their eyes
-“Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”
All that to say that I really, really wish the 50 states project would continue–I think it could become one of the national treasures of our country for centuries to come, a Leaves of Grass for the 21st century that American kids would listen to to understand where they’ve come from and what kind of people we are. I heard at one point that you said the 50 states project was “such a joke,” but I would challenge you in earnest, if only for the sake of those future little kids, to reconsider abandoning this momentous endeavor.
Realizing that it might very well be impossible for you to write and record all of the albums yourself, what if you instead became the director of the project–you have set the standard quite high with your first two albums–and with the profound respect you have from your artistic peers, I honestly believe you could rally together the best artists from each state to collaborate with to make this happen, creating a kind of ark of American culture.
Here are some suggestions to begin with (I admit some may be wishful thinking) & I call on any reader to add to/better the selection of songwriters for any state (I have put brackets around bands with whom I have only a cursory familiarity & some states I have absolutely no idea about):
- Alabama = The Snake the Cross the Crown
- Alaska = Portugal The Man
- Arizona = Calexico
- Arkansas = ???
- California = Elijah Wade Smith, Beck, Stephen Malkmus
- Colorado = DeVotchKa, The Apples in Stereo
- Connecticut = Rivers Cuomo?
- Delaware = The Spinto Band
- Florida = Iron & Wine, Aaron Marsh
- Georgia = Deerhunter, Of Montreal, Bill Mallonee
- Hawaii = Mason Jennings
- Idaho = Built to Spill, Finn Riggins
- Illinois = Sufjan Stevens
- Indiana = Mock Orange
- Iowa = Caleb Engstrom
- Kansas = Drakkar Sauna, Mates of State, The New Amsterdams, The Appleseed Cast
- Kentucky = Bonnie “Prince” Billy, My Morning Jacket
- Louisiana = Jeff Mangum, Mutemath
- Maine = [Phantom Buffalo]
- Maryland = John Vanderslice, Wye Oak
- Massachusetts = Lou Barlow, Winterpills
- Michigan = Sufjan Stevens
- Minnesota = Low, Cloud Cult, Lucky Wilbur
- Mississippi = ???
- Missouri = [Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin]
- Montana = Colin Meloy
- Nebraska = Cursive, Bright Eyes
- Nevada = The Killers?
- New Hampshire = [Wild Light]
- New Jersey = Sufjan Stevens (?), Danielson, Yo La Tango
- New Mexico = The Shins, Beirut
- New York = The Magnetic Fields, Sonic Youth, Interpol, The Walkmen
- North Carolina = The Mountain Goats
- North Dakota = [The White Foliage]
- Ohio = Robert Pollard, Over the Rhine, The National, Mark Kozelek
- Oklahoma = The Flaming Lips, Kings of Leon
- Oregon = Laura Veirs, M. Ward, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, The Decemberists
- Pennsylvania = The Innocence Mission, Denison Witmer, Matt Pond PA
- Rhode Island = The Low Anthem, Death Vessel
- South Carolina = Band of Horses
- South Dakota = Haley Bonar
- Tennessee = Derek Webb
- Texas = Josh T. Pearson, Ramesh Srivastava (formerly of Voxtrot), The Polyphonic Spree, Okkervil River, Devendra Banhart
- Utah = [Joshua James]
- Vermont = Anais Mitchell
- Virginia = Thao Nguyen, Hush Arbors
- Washington = David Bazan, Damien Jurado, Jeremy Enigk, Fleet Foxes
- West Virginia = ???
- Wisconsin = Bon Iver, Marla Hansen
- Wyoming = ???
With the deepest respect & admiration,
Shortly after I met Greg, Lou released Emoh and Greg the ‘Band Evangelist‘ went about formally introducing me to the Gospel of Lou Barlow. Since then, Lou’s various incarnations—Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh (and Sentridoh to a lesser extent), The Folk Implosion, solo Lou Barlow—have occupied a place both deep in my heart and oft played in my music library. Lou Barlow, on top of the whole lo-fi signature, is a great songwriter. His music is intensely personal and honest in a Neil Young and Elliott Smith sort of way. On top of both the lo-fi signature and the songwriting, Lou is extremely musically creative – his recent use of more complex musical arrangements always catches me off-guard. So if I could add another album to my list of favourite albums of the first decade of the 21st century I would most certainly add Emoh (and it would occupy a spot in the top ten). I mean, who else could cover Ratt so well?
Some of my favourite Barlow-related material to listen to if you have yet to do so:
- Dinosaur (1985) Dinosaur Jr. – This was Dinosaur Jr.’s first album. It’s very hardcore/protogrunge/all over the place and that’s probably why I’m in love with it. Essentialness: 9
- You’re Living All Over Me (1987) Dinosaur Jr. – This album is a lot more coherent with itself and more obviously an album as a whole while retaining some of the edginess of Dinosaur. Essentialness: 8.5
- III (1991) Sebadoh – As one can deduce from the title, this was Sebadoh’s third album and like the reissue of their first record, 1989’s The Freed Man, the reissue has a second CD-worth of additional tracks, some good, some meh. Still, there are enough gems on this lo-fi masterpiece to consider it such. Essentialness: 9.5
- Bubble and Scrape (1993) Sebadoh – This album marks a turning point in Lou’s musical career. The excessively lo-fi and haphazard style for which he was known was traded for a more refined and musically complex (and longer) songs. Essentialness: 10
- Bakesake (1994) Sebadoh – This album, along with 1996’s Harmacy, is worth owning, especially if the earlier lo-fi material is too inaccessible for one’s taste. These records contain plenty of catchy choruses and guitar riffs to make good mainstream records while remaining unique and unconventional thanks to Lou’s songwriting. Essentialness: 8.5
- Emoh (2005) Lou Barlow – This album is Lou’s first solo album. Each track is incredibly well written and as a whole represent a synthesis of everything that makes Lou Barlow amazing, some of which include his songwriting, engaging arrangements, noise/screwing around on a 4-track between songs. The second track on the record is entitled ‘Home’, which spelled backwards is Emoh – I see a connection! Essentialness: 9.5
- Farm (2009) Dinosaur Jr – In 2005, the three original members of Dinosaur Jr. (J Mascis, Murph and Lou Barlow) regrouped and recorded their ‘comeback’ Beyond in 2007. Farm ended up the better record of the two, though I prefer more Lou and less J Mascis. Essentialness: 8.5
- Goodnight Unknown (2009) Lou Barlow – This album was on Greg’s Best of 2009 and my honourable mentions for Best of 2009, but the more I listen the more I hear how incredible a follow-up to Emoh this record truly is. Essentialness: 9.5
As a added bonus, because his [early] albums are oftentimes inconsistent, here are Greg & my Top 30 Lou Barlow Tracks (in alphabetical order):
- ‘Back To Your Heart’ – Dinosaur Jr. (Beyond)
- ‘Brand New Love’ – Sebadoh (The Freed Weed, 1990)
- ‘Caterpillar Girl’ – Lou Barlow (Emoh)
- ‘Cats in a Bowl’ – Dinosaur Jr. (Dinosaur, written by J Mascias, vocals by Lou)
- ‘Flame’ – Sebadoh (The Sebadoh)
- ‘Free To Go’ – The Folk Implosion (One Part Lullaby, 1999; American Beauty: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1999)
- ‘The Freed Pig’ – Sebadoh (III)
- ‘Goodnight Unknown’ – Lou Barlow (Goodnight Unknown)
- ‘Home’ – Lou Barlow (Emoh)
- ‘Homemade’ – Sebadoh (Bubble and Scrape)
- ‘I Can’t See’ – Sebadoh (The Freed Weed)
- ‘Kath’ – Sebadoh (III)
- ‘Magnet’s Coil’ – Sebadoh (Bakesale)
- ‘Mary’ – Lou Barlow (Emoh)
- ‘Modesty’ – Lou Barlow (Goodnight Unknown)
- ‘Monkey Begun’ – Lou Barlow (Emoh)
- ‘None of Your Goddam Bizness’ – Sentridoh (Free Sentridoh: Songs from Loobiecore, 2002)
- ‘Not A Friend’ – Sebadoh (Bakesale)
- ‘Not Nice to Be Nice’ – Lou Barlow (Winning Losers: A Collection of Home Recordings 89-93, 1994)
- ‘One Machine, One Long Fight’ – Lou Barlow (Goodnight Unknown)
- ‘Paradise’ – Lou Barlow (Loobiecore MP3s)
- ‘Poledo’ – Dinosaur Jr. (You’re Living All Over Me)
- ‘Spoiled’ – Sebadoh (III)
- ‘Strange Love’ – Sentridoh (The Original Losing Losers, 1995)
- ‘Think (Let Tomorrow Bee)’ – Sebadoh (Bubble and Scrape)
- ‘Too Much Freedom’ – Lou Barlow (Goodnight Unknown)
- ‘Total Peace’ – Sebadoh (III)
- ‘Truly Great Thing’ – Sebadoh (III)
- ‘Willing to Wait’ – Sebadoh (Harmacy)
- ‘Your Weather’ – Dinosaur Jr. (Farm)
And here’s Lou Barlow’s ‘vast and confusing website‘ to keep yourself well-occupied for 30-120 minutes.
Our own brilliant Elijah Wade Smith posted his favorite new albums of the year a bit early this year (August) [ELIJAH ADDS: and with a stated reason for doing so…], but I’d like to pick up where he left off and share some favorite albums from this year, along with my definitive songs of 2009 and one marvelous musical discovery…
Since Elijah already listed 4 of the albums I would have chosen (We Were Promised Jetpacks, Cass McCombs, Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective), I will use this space to highlight 10 other albums (3 of which earned an honorable mention from my esteemed colleague). Between my regular CD purchases and my beloved eMusic account (which I was not paid in any way to mention), I was able to purchase around 50 albums this year, but I still feel like I have certainly neglected many more releases that should have been heard (e.g. I have not heard one note of the new Muse album).
Sadly, this year some of my favorite artists only turned out middling efforts at best (Andrew Bird, Jeremy Enigk, Imogen Heap, Patrick Watson) and deeply disappointing at worst (Doves, Pete Yorn, Morrissey). The jury is still out on the new Swell Season album (feelings are ambivalent–is it too derivative or a purposeful homage?) and I intentionally neglected to include U2‘s album, as I am unable to evaluate their work in isolation from their status/body of work. A final note: though Sufjan Stevens‘ “The BQE” was released this October, it feels like it belongs to another year (2007, when it was initially performed)…I will say that I LOVED his “You Are the Blood” on the Dark Was the Night compilation, and of course, I admire his work in general more than anything else I’ve ever heard, so I’m sure any appraisal of it would be unfairly elevated as well.
Without further caveat, I give you (alphabetically listed) the best, with my best…
TOP TEN ALBUMS (not on Elijah’s list):
• Lou Barlow—Goodnight Unknown: I would include Barlow amongst the best living American songwriters. His stylistic range is somewhat limited (he’s practically copyrighted a particular kind of staccato down strum), but if it isn’t broke…(I couldn’t force the “ain’t” in there). He’s lyrically sentimental on some songs, but it’s the tender truthful sort, and then in other places he’s brutally insightful. A beautiful, rich album: see “Gravitate,” “Too Much Freedom,” and “Modesty.”
“…Curse your branches is his masterpiece — a beautiful, passionate, profoundly courageous work of art that deserves and will reward your close attention. It is a deeply personal, frankly autobiographical dispatch from the front lines of a crisis of faith. Song after song peers deep into the abyss of insoluble mysteries and comes up with something far more useful than answers.”
Do I agree? Maybe. Still, it’s light years better than any of the shite that makes millions these days.
• Neko Case—Middle Cyclone: One day, I drove my sister-in-law Megan’s truck up to LAX to pick her up and this CD was in the player. Love at first listen. I knew her voice from The New Pornographers (lovely, fierce, voluptuous), but her singing her own melodies and lyrics = twisted longing & lovely loss. The experience was so intensely moving I ended up listening to all 30 minutes of the last song–which is only the sound of crickets in the field outside her studio.
• Hayden—The Place Where We Lived: He was on my top 10 last year…how in the heck did he put another little gem together so quickly. I will say that he may be an acquired taste, so do give this album a test run before you trust my quirk-happy palate.
• Lightning Dust—Infinite Light: I have no recollection of where I came across this album, but it’s a rare flower: timeless (and therefore similar to what has come before) and unique (the quaver of the singer’s vibrato–again, may not be to all tastes–and her wry, experienced, and [creepy to say it] sexy delivery…kind of a Chick Jagger if you get my meaning).
• Passion Pit—Manners: The sound of this album is like eating a substantial meal of sweets. I’m not sure if people can keep from loving this band…it is my kid’s number one choice off my iPod. Unbelievable hooks, propulsive beats & a mystifying falsetto…
• The Low Anthem—Oh My God, Charlie Darwin: I’m just going to admit that before two weeks ago, I knew only the name of this band. I am so seriously excited about looking more into this band, past & future…go to iTunes and listen to the first three songs (then skip the next two) and tell me you can’t hear the talent. I’m anxious to figure out the evolution (if you will) of the lyrical themes, but it’s work I look forward to.
• Matt & Kim—Grand: Another admission–I only discovered this band because of the placement of their insanely catchy song “Daylight” in a Bacardi ad. BUT these two performers give me hope for the next generation of bands…and they DIY’d it without the help of a guitar, fueled only by raw passion and teen spirit.
• The Mountain Goats—The Life of the World to Come: Every song is named after a passage from the Bible, but just listen to the lyrics and you’ll know you’re not in Jesusland: “I became a crystal healer and my ministry was to the sick / Creeping vines would send out runners and seek me in their numbers / I sold self-help tapes.” I would strongly recommend “Hebrews 11:40,” “1 John 4:16,” and “Deuteronomy 2:10.” I haven’t yet looked up any of the scripture references, but I think that the passages will probably function in a way similar to the inspiration of the 10 commandments in Krysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue. Perhaps this could be a topic for some student of theology & culture…in Scotland?
• Regina Spektor—Far: This album almost didn’t make this list due to the dolphin noises she makes at exactly 2 minutes into “Folding Chair”–she needs a naysayer in her entourage. But she can write a pop song or melancholy ballad with her piano and lovely, funny voice like nobody’s business (see “Laughing With,” “Human of the Year,” and “Genius Next Door” along with most of the other cuts…though “Machine” is a bit awkward as well). She’s really amazing…
BEST SONGS OF THE YEAR:
I made an iMix of these which can be found by pasting the words “Sgt Grumbles Best Songs 2009” into the iTunes iMix search box…570 seconds of goodness at least.
- “Charlie Darwin”: The Low Anthem/Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
- “Hard To Be”: David Bazan/Curse Your Branches
- “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)”: Monsters Of Folk/Monsters Of Folk
- “Ten Thousand Words”: The Avett Brothers/I And Love And You
- “Laughing With”: Regina Spektor/Far
- “Too Much Time”: John Vanderslice/Romanian Names
- “Two Weeks”: Grizzly Bear/Veckatimest
- “Little Secrets”: Passion Pit/Manners
- “My Girls”: Animal Collective/Merriweather Post Pavilion
- “Wondering What Everyone Knows”: Lightning Dust/Infinite Light
- “Daylight”: Matt and Kim/Grand
- “Modesty”: Lou Barlow/Goodnight Unknown
- “The Pharoahs”: Neko Case/Middle Cyclone
- “Deuteronomy 2:10”: The Mountain Goats/The Life Of The World To Come
- “The Executioner’s Song”: Cass McCombs/Catacombs
- “An Almighty Thud”: We Were Promised Jetpacks/These Four Walls
- “I Want You Back”: Discovery/LP
- “Let It Last”: Hayden/The Place Where We Lived
- “Lille”: Lisa Hannigan/Sea Sew
• The album The Texas/Jerusalem Crossroads by the band Lift to Experience. I don’t completely know how to describe how important this album has become to me. It is simply one of the most fascinating ALBUMS ever recorded, as in a musical composition where everything is working together towards one purpose/theme on EVERY LEVEL IMAGINABLE. You listen to it, and you must listen to in IN ITS ENTIRETY & you feel like you are in some run down warehouse listening to them play, no CREATE–right there and then–this mad, apocalyptic masterpiece of beauty and fierce passion that is flowing in some profane mixture of Ahab-esque monomania and true divine inspiration. I don’t have the inclination to ruin the bizarre experience of discerning the “tale” of this one-of-a-kind concept album, but here is a formula that may help give a sense of what we’re talking about here:
Jeff Buckley + Explosions in the Sky + My Bloody Valentine (the book of Revelation/ fundamentalist preacher’s kid) + Texan pride/outsider art (messiah complex) – worst album cover art ever (it looks like it was designed on Microsoft Word!) = one of the greatest albums ever
I was going to include some books, but I’ve asked enough of your time. I will be back with more later…
It’s late August and I’ve already got a top ten list for the best albums of the year. As I pointed out in an entry last year, it isn’t really my thing to jump on ‘new’ music per se. I am typically balancing myself between ‘new’ music and ‘old’ music that’s ‘new’ to me. This year I wanted to challenge myself to listen to more “new” music (i.e. music that has been/will be released in 2009).
With the trusty aid of music blogs, Lala, random databases, and Greg I’ve been able to become exposed to a larger body of ‘new’ music this year and I decided that before I leave to Scotland and my postgraduate occupation with a large number of books, I would compile a list of my top ten albums of the year. Who knows, maybe this will be my final top ten list for the year (though it has been altered a bit even in the last 24 hours).
10. Cass McCombs—Catacombs
Cass McCombs reminds me of T Bone Burnett and Neil Young more than ever. He remains very unpretentious and sincere, perhaps on this album more than his previous records. Two tracks to reel you in: “You Saved My Life,” & “Lionkiller Got Married.”
9. Andrew Bird—Noble Beast
I really thought I would hate this album. I’m not much of a fan of Andrew Bird’s music. I’ve never enjoyed his voice. Perhaps Noble Beast’s inclusion on this list is a response to how much I tolerated it as opposed to how much I loved it. But I am leaning more toward its inclusion because I thoroughly enjoy listening to this album. Two tracks to reel you in: “Masterswarm,” & “Not a Robot, But a Ghost.”
This album was very surprising. I hadn’t been very impressed with Chris Cohen’s work with Curtains on Asthmatic Kitty, so I didn’t expect a lot. I saw Cryptasize for the first time with Danielson last November and they didn’t leave a very strong impression, but this album really brings out their strengths. It has a great mood—unpredictable but not irritating (like the Dirty Projectors’ new album…). Two tracks to reel you in: “Blue Tears,” & “Gotta Get Into That Feeling.”
7. We Were Promised Jetpacks—These Four Walls
Thanks to Sgt. Grumbles for this suggestion a couple months back. It reminds me of high school, in the best way possible. Enjoy the lovely accent, the token glockenspiel, and the incredible sincerity—one of the most important qualities I look for in an artist. Two tracks to reel you in: “It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning,” & “An Almighty Thud.”
6. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart—The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
American faux-Brit pop never felt so great! It’s delightfully reminiscent of The Smiths, Jesus & Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. Two tracks to reel you in: “Young Adult Friction,” & “A Teenager In Love.” Note: the album cover bears a ridiculously close resemblance to Belle & Sebastian’s 2006 album, The Life Pursuit:
5. Sunset Rubdown—Dragonslayer
This album is a great step forward for Sunset Rubdown. It’s not obnoxiously poppy like Shut Up I Am Dreaming tended to be. There’s a lot going on musically, yet no component is overpowered by another within a song. Two tracks to reel you in: “Silver Moons,” & “Idiot Heart.”
4. Camera Obscura—My Maudlin Career
Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for Scotch indie-pop. This is probably my favorite release from Camera Obscura. Maybe I love it so much because Belle & Sebastian hasn’t released an LP since 2006. Even if there is a hint of my love for B & S in this pick, the album (and the band) stands on its own through musical precision and artistic maturity. Thank you Tracyanne Campbell for your exceptional wit. Two tracks to reel you in: “French Navy,” & “My Maudlin Career.”
3. Cursive—Mama, I’m Swollen
Mama, I’m Swollen probably seems to be an odd pick for this number three slot, but I will always have a soft spot for Cursive. This is not to say that this album is undeserving of praise. Cursive is not interested in being another experimental freak-folk-electro-post-rock-cross-genre-remixed piece of overproduced crap like so many other groups are becoming (namely Dirty Projectors). They are faithful to their expressive indie roots, this album being far less poppy than Happy Hollow. It reminds me of Domestica even. Tim Kasher is still obsessed with refuting a theistic/morally superior worldview, but he does it with so much passion and angst I can’t help but be stirred. Cursive encourages us to realize the failure of our Enlightenment/modern ideals and to accept our animalistic/primitive nature. I don’t buy it but not because it’s not packaged well. Two tracks to reel you in: “From the Hips,” & “Let Me Up.”
2. Animal Collective—Merriweather Post Pavilion
Though it is more accessible (think Pet Sounds) than their entire repertoire (a bad start in my odd musical sense), this album is very unique, big (to the point of breathtaking at times), and yet more cohesive with itself than any other Animal Collective album. The songs don’t leave you asking, “When is this going to end/how does that even fit?” Two tracks to reel you in: “My Girls,” & “Summertime Clothes.”
1. Grizzly Bear—Veckatimest
My first listen of this record was a positive, but not profound experience. Only two tracks really stuck out to me: “Two Weeks,” and “While You Wait for the Others.” I was even a little disappointed with the album version of “While You Wait for the Others,” at first (compared to their incredible live performance I saw on Morning Becomes Eclectic last year). I sat with the album for another month and at that point it hit me. This is by far (maybe I’ll get harassed for saying that) Grizzly Bear’s best record. By best I mean that they demonstrate great maturity and excellence both in writing and execution, two points that have always seemed to miss one another by an ever-so-slight degree. This record is certain to remain among my favorites unless I fully give myself over to jazz-fusion or something. Two tracks to reel you in: “Two Weeks,” & “I Live With You.”
Compilations worth mentioning
Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison – a compilation of George Harrison’s solo music spanning his entire post-Beatle career.
Dark Was the Night – a compilation release benefiting the Red Hot Organization.
Royal City – a Royal City B-side compilation released by Asthmatic Kitty.
God Help the Girl – a music/film project written Stuart Murdoch, the singer of Belle & Sebastian. Members of Belle & Sebastian with guest vocalists. CD Booklet features a short story that goes with the music.
Lou Barlow—Goodnight Unknown
David Bazan—Curse Your Branches
Castanets—Texas Rose, the Beasts, and the Thaw
The Decemberists (primarily because of Shara Worden’s contribution)—The Hazards of Love
Wye Oak—The Knot
Look out for
Converge—Axe to Fall (20 October)
Atlas Sound—Logos (20 October)
Why does anyone like
Dirty Projectors—Bitte Orca – It could’ve been so great, but it’s incredibly obnoxious.