Thursday, December 27, 2007

An Indie Music Junkie's Year-End Best Of List

What would December be without crass commercialism, rampant orgy-like spending, and random year-end lists?

It Was the Best of Concerts, It Was the Worst of Concerts

Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan, October 22, 2007 - In October the two music icons appeared at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. Costello, armed with an array of guitars, delivered a memorable solo performance full of the spite, anger, humor, and occasional tenderness that mark his best songs. There was crowd participation, furious guitar playing, and a perfect “The Scarlet Tide” to close the set. Then Dylan ambled out, played a couple songs on guitar, and retreated behind his keyboard for a set that sounded like the end days. The mix was horrible, and Dylan could barely wheeze three words at a time as he growled his way through the murk.

Reunion Album That Reconfirmed It All

Beyond - Dinosaur Jr. - Sure, J Mascis looks like the guy you always see in Best Buy monopolizing Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock while children wait impatiently for their crack at it, but Beyond was a tremendous reunion album. With its mix of guitar squall and buried melodies, it stands right alongside You’re Living All Over Me as a classic Dinosaur Jr. album.

Reunion Album That Ruined It All

The Weirdness - The Stooges - Forget that “Lust for Life” is now the theme song for a cruise ship commercial (with the lines about liquor and drugs carefully removed). This underwhelming album by the Stooges killed whatever mystique they had left. Even Steve Albini as “recorder” couldn’t save it.

Best Artist to Have a Song Featured in a Car Commercial

It was an interesting year for Band of Horses. After a spat with fans in San Diego over videotaping of the band’s July 6 performance, the Sub Poppers took some heat for licensing songs to Wal-Mart for use in an online campaign. In recent weeks, the band’s song “Funeral” has been in heavy rotation for a Ford television commercial, marking the strangest use of a song for commercial purposes since Volkswagen used Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” in 2000.

Best Artist to Not Have a Song Featured in a Car Commercial

That Tom Waits is a bad mofo. In January, Waits won a decision against Adam Opel AG, an offshoot of General Motors, for using a Waits soundalike to sell cars…in Scandinavia. It was the second time in less than two years that Waits won such a lawsuit. Rumors that BMW wants to use Waits’ “Misery is the River of the World” for their 2008 marketing campaign are not yet confirmed.

Favorite Concert

When The National played the Duck Room in St. Louis on June 11, Boxer was freshly released and beginning to garner plaudits that ranged from reserved praise to over-the-top awe. What could have been a sparsely attended show was instead a packed house with an eager, energetic crowd. Relying on the new material but also playing songs from Alligator and Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, the band delivered an intense, cathartic performance, surpassing the increasing hype. Now, if someone has a recording of it, I’m not hard to reach.

Reissues Are More Than Just Cash Grabs

Bronze – Calenture, The Triffids - The underappreciated 1980s Australian band finally got their due with a nice reissue of their 1987 album Calenture, the follow up to the essential Born Sandy Devotional. The original album, demos, and outtakes were spread out over two discs, plus the album’s packaging was snazzy and liner notes were actually informative.

Silver – Stand in the Fire, Warren Zevon - Long out of print on disc, Warren Zevon’s Stand in the Fire received the digital treatment this year. A recording of a wild, frenzied 1981 performance, the album showed Zevon at his manic best. Four cuts excluded from the original album were included to top it off. Play it loud.

Gold – Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth - Sonic Youth’s much-worshiped Daydream Nation was given a fat dose of bonus tracks this year. The original album is, of course, great, but the real treat here was the second disc, which was jammed full of Sonic Youth goodness, including a live version of each album track, as well as covers of songs by The Beatles, Neil Young, and Captain Beefheart. A nice essay and cool period photos made this reissue an essential purchase.

You Fool, Reissues Just Rob You of Money

Pointless reissues or compilations were certainly not in short supply in 2007. While many major labels could be taken to task for uninspired reissues/compilations, Columbia’s bland, boring, and utterly useless Dylan release represented everything wrong with such releases. With zero unreleased recordings (unless you paid on iTunes), this abomination rehashed most of the same damn songs as Dylan’s many other compilations. With an artist whose vault must be packed with unreleased goodies, lazy stuff like this shouldn’t even exist.

Favorite Albums

Bronze – Neon Bible, Arcade Fire - Even if many music fans and critics blew their loads over 2004’s Funeral, the Arcade Fire’s self-produced sophomore album gave everyone a chance to get fired up again. Even though the images of apocalypse and bombs could grow a little heavy-handed at times, Win Butler’s voice, ranging from howls to everything in between, and the band’s damn loud playing made this album more than just another rant about the sorry state of our world.

Silver – Armchair Apocrypha, Andrew Bird - With the guitar pushed to the forefront, Armchair Apocrypha marked a stylistic shift for Andrew Bird. The songs were highly textured and far more layered than his previous albums; violin loops, drums, whistling, guitars and glockenspiels were thrown together to create a symphonic sound that amazingly didn’t result in garbled mush. The songs could sometimes be decidedly heavy; absurd superstitions, old age, the futility of war and the fall of empires, childhood confusion, and a general helplessness against a vast, impersonal world all unfolded in Bird’s lyrics. There aren’t many albums that sound like this one, and that’s a good thing.

Gold – Boxer, The National - Never has an album whose characters suffer under a veil of fuck-it-all resignation sounded so good. The songs on Boxer invoked themes of broken relationships, people aging quickly beyond their years, and passing, superficial comforts like drugs and booze; even the implied threats of “Start a War” sounded powerless and empty. Evocative lyrics, Matt Berninger’s weary baritone, and the band’s sometimes minimalist, sometimes layered instrumentation combined beautifully to create one of the best albums of the decade.

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