Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

I've been meaning to offer up some thoughts about my favorite movies and music from 2008, but one thing after another got in the way, and here it is, almost February, and I'm just now getting around to try to do it.

So, today, it's music.

First up will be favorite albums of the year, to be followed (hopefully on Sunday) by favorite songs from albums that didn't appear on the list below.

Sadly, I don't get around to listening to enough new music every year to really make a "10 best" list with any legitimacy. And I often find that I love a track or two from most of the new albums that I do hear, but that the full thing doesn't hold up.

That said, there were a handful of albums that I did think worked as a whole (for the post part) and would constitute my "favorites" of 2008.

So, in no particular order, with my pick for the best of the year at the bottom:

* Asking for Flowers, by Kathleen Edwards: The Canadian Lucinda Williams returned in 2008 with 10 new tracks of alt-country genius and one half-clunker. "Run," "Oil Man's War" and "Alicia Ross," especially, are fantastic tracks.

* Conor Oberst, by Conor Oberst: Recording under his own name for the first time after releasing a number of critically acclaimed records under the moniker Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst is Conor Oberst's best album, or at least equal to the haunting Bright Eyes effort I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. The first six songs on the record -- "Cape Canaveral," "Sausalito," "Get-Well-Cards," "Lenders in the Temple," "Danny Callahan" and "I Don't Want to Die in a Hospital" -- are terrific.

* Stay Positive, by The Hold Steady: It might not be as good as Boys and Girls in America, but seven out of 11 tracks are stellar, so that batting average will have to do. Standout picks to click: the title track, "Constructive Summer," "Sequestered in Memphis," "Slapped Actress" and "Joke About Jamaica."

* Only by the Night, by Kings of Leon: I haven't loved much of their recorded output before this, so I didn't have great expectations when this one arrived on my radar screen. So, I was pleasantly surprised to the point of being overjoyed when, after just one listen, I basically loved it. Essential tracks: All of them. Seriously. But my favorites are "Closer," "Sex on Fire," "Use Somebody," "Manhattan" and "Be Somebody."

* Tell Tale Signs, by Bob Dylan: OK, much of this isn't new material, but it's absolutely brilliant, nonetheless. Essential tracks: The beautiful piano demo version of "Dignity," two unreleased versions of his masterpiece "Mississippi" from 2001's Love and Theft, and "Red River Shore."

* Cardinology, by Ryan Adams: Although "side two" is a bit slow and meandering, the first seven songs struck me as a return to form reminiscent of Gold, his best solo work. Best track: "Magick."

* Rockferry, by Duffy: It took me a while, but I came to really like it. The title track, "Warwick Avenue" and the hit single, "Mercy," are not to be missed.

* Oracular Spectacular, by MGMT: Good, catchy, pop from a pair of snotty young punks. "Time to Pretend," "Weekend Wars," "The Youth," "Electric Feel" and "Kids" -- the first five songs on this album -- will stick in your head.

And, now, my favorite album of 2008...

This is a record I'd heard about for much of the year and seen countless hundreds of words written about it, whether it be from mainstream media, music blogs or friends who took to e-mail and message boards to evangelize about it.

And, still, I resisted picking it up.

Then, I met some friends for lunch around Christmas time, and one of my pals gave me a copy.

For the next month -- until a leak of the new Springsteen fell off a truck a couple weeks in advance to distract me -- I played this record non-stop.

For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver: A dude named Justin Vernon locked himself into a cabin in Wisconsin during the dead of winter, and three months later emerged with this haunting meditation on love, loss, regret and soul. It's hard to describe, but the cumulative power of this aching masterpiece is undeniable. It's difficult to separate out individual songs to listen to out of context, but "Skinny Love," "Flume" and the title track are great places to start.

No comments: