Best Albums of 2008

Disclaimer: I cannot have possibly heard all of the records released this year. For example, I still have not heard what almost certainly promises to be the best Of Montreal album of their career yet. I have not heard Bloc Party's latest. I never listened to Bon Iver's debut and I deliberately abstained from all those "next best thing" bands like MGMT, Santogold, Lykke Li, Yeasayer and Cut Copy (granted they might not all have new records, but you see my point). My point is, and this is something all music reviewers glance right over like a plane over most of Jersey, that there is no way in hell that everyone can possibly hear every album. So here's my criterion: It was released this year, it was made by one artist, and I heard it. On the reissue front, Chameleons' Script Of The Bridge and Honeychurch's Early Times were both excellent. Below my reviews are some other staff writer picks. Also, I chose 20, cause that's what I did last year.

I'd like to digress for a moment and talk about albums as a medium. Typically, in this radio-ready culture of ours, albums are collections of singles that have no real underlying traits in common. The songs are there to be appreciated on their own, not as a collective. Occassionally this is not the case and an album comes out sounding wildly different from song to song. This can work beautifully sometimes (French Kicks' Two Thousand or Iron & Wine's The Shepherd's Dog being two excellent examples). An album as I've come to see it this year, should be something with a recurring sonic feel. Nearly every record I listened to this year, good or bad, has had that similarity of condition, every song sounds similar in a lot of ways to all the others. This is not to say the songwriting is weak, it is simply that one gets the feeling of a band making a full, solid album with the same gear in the same sitting. Take the French Kicks' latest; each song has a very similar mood and the guitar parts are never vastly different, each one spreading lines around like a smoke machine. They sound alike, but they are not all alike. This, is what really makes an album. Neon Bible is another excellent precedent in this bubble of indie music.

In no particular order (though, as you go further down, I get more impressed):

Swimming
by The French Kicks

The French Kicks music is like taking on a portion of the world with nothing but music in your ears, all else is silent and still, simply there to be observed. Swimming is all mood, something the band has toyed with in the past, but perfected here. Granted I liked their previous album a little better, this one fills your head with its soundscapes and each song simply builds on what the last established. Swimming takes the listener from the empty streets of Chelsea at dawn to abandoned subway platforms to alienating parties where everyone talks but no communicates; the listener swims through the sound and feeling just as the singer Nick Stumpf seems to be swimming in some emotional turmoil. Swimming is an album that creates an atmosphere that is simply unavoidable. Cool malaise permeates every second of the New York band’s fourth album and it’s really alright that they aren’t so hook laden as they might have been. This is a record, dammit, and they’ve got something to say. Drums, voice, guitar, keys; they’re all there for the same thing.

You & Me
by The Walkmen

“Thank God!” I thought to myself when I heard The New Year, the first single off the Walkmen’s newest album. “Back to what they do best. I was wondering when someone was going to show up The National.” Maybe there’s no Bows & Arrows-style-organ, but this is a return to form uncanny for hipster darlings like these guys (for example, I’d put money on Bloc Party not coming back to put out a record as good as Silent Alarm). To understand why You & Me works, you should probably listen to Swimming by the French Kicks. The two bands share a rehearsal space in New York, and The French Kicks cavernous yet lazy mood music must have dripped through the walls and into the heads of The Walkmen. Here is the quietest album they’ve yet done (it erupts when it needs to, however). Hamilton Leithauser is back to doing what I loved about him in the first place; howling like a mad bastard. His lyrics are back up to snuff, he’s back to that drunken poetry he does so well. Paul Maroon’s guitar sounds more like Tom Waits’ than it ever has and the mood is feverish all around. Matt Barrick, who is more than capable of destroying his kit, keeps the whole thing anchored with his brushes and sticks, occasionally in swing or waltz time. This band has talent and it seems like they’ve settled on the role of cabaret band in the last bar on earth this time around. I can’t wait to see what they do next; they’ve done dark and brooding perfectly on You & Me, where will they go next?

In Ear Park
by Department of Eagles

Sometimes it’s a good question what half of a famous duo brings what to the table. Listen to Simon & Garfunkle’s respective solo albums and you’ll get a good sense who was responsible for what. Listening to Department of Eagles, one can get a sense of who’s doing the heavy lifting of what elements in Grizzly Bear. Listen to Daniel Rossen’s first band Department of Eagles and those murky guitars and crashing drums all of a sudden have a point of origin. It becomes apparent what happened between Grizzly Bear’s first and second albums. Anyway, to Department of Eagles. Wonderfully weird and quiet in all the right spots, In Ear Park displays Rossen and college roommate Fred Nicolaus bring the textures, noise, and pretty guitar playing together with Rossen’s recognizable production. Despite the odds and sods present throughout and harshness of sound in some places, there’s something undeniably juvenile about many of the songs. Many of these songs play like dystopian teen love songs with naivete and tenderness, just through a dark grey lens. It’s a lot of fun to listen to and it’ll do till the next Bear record.

Fate
by Dr. Dog

Ever wanna grip the back of a freight train? Or rob a bank with a six-gun? Spend a winter hunting for your food, building fires to stay warm and following whatever rules keep you alive? Dr. Dog do! Or anyway, this record makes a pretty good case for that sort of wistful behavior. Fate plays like a series of musical headline from 1913. A rustic menagerie of old-timey melodies and instrumentation, though not without modern flares, Fate is a timewarp in your ear. Take for example Army of Ancients, a ballad that, for a few decades, could have been written and sung by Sam Cooke. Bassist Toby Leaman’s howling really takes the reins and on the whole he makes a damn fine showing of himself and so I say the comparison is wanted. This is a linear record and each song leads nicely into the next and they all give you that warm nostalgia for times you weren’t even close to around for.

Missiles
by The Dears

I don’t see what the big deal is. Every review I read for this record led me to believe I was about to bite into a live bear sandwich wearing a suit made of honey. People were saying that because Murray Lightburn, the singer and guitarist fired everyone except his wife, Natalia Yanchuk, and recorded with hired guns that he’d somehow lost his mind and the result would give the average listener nightmares with its aimlessness. I listened to it and instead of finding the indie rock equivalent to Zombie 3, I found something that was pleasing, accessible, and easy to sing along to. Sure there’s some brooding and quietness, but Christ the man went by the nickname “the Black Morrissey” for a while. You think he’s gonna get happy cause people stopped paying attention to him? Anyway, the lyrics fall into that same sort of irreverent trap they did on the last record, Gang of Losers, but then, this whole album is like Gang of Losers in space. A lot more ethereal and not half as grounded as anything else they’ve done, Missiles never stops flying until the end when it does what 2001: A Space Odyssey does, confronts the listener with mortality, youth, and ecstatic embrace of life. A fitting comparison, if I do say so myself; that received mixed reviews when it came out. Go ahead and yell at me!

Oceans Will Rise
by The Stills

Was anyone else worried when Paul McCartney asked The Stills to open for him when he played some big Canadian dates last year? I was. What were they playing McCartney songs, now? I’m the only one? Ok, well, so, come with me for a second to 2003. The Still In Love Song, that moody, Depeche Mode-y song the Stills started their career with has just found it’s way to your ears. You listen to it for most of that year and well into 2004, by 2006, you’ve forgotten about it, until wedged between matt pond PA and Yo La Tengo on a bill at the TLA is The Stills, fresh from three years silence and obscurity. They don’t play that single you like, but the new stuff rocks pretty hard. When that album comes out, Without Feathers, it’s pretty damn good, but also noticeably different from the first record. Now it’s 2008 and they have a new record coming out. Given their penchant for changing sounds, a Paul McCartney opening date was enough to scare me that they’d be playing Wings covers. Luckily, they went back to the moodiness of their first record and added the sophistication of the second one. Oceans Will Rise is really good and I could tell from the first song. In fact, I knew it was going on this list nearly right away. It’s slick, shiny, and everything blends in nicely in that Canadian way I love so much. It’s got the rhythm of an English Beat record and the swagger of Bauhaus or something from Manchester. Wintery guitar sounds, not unlike Radiohead’s, prevail and that old Stills magic has won me over again.


Nouns
by No Age

I was in a record store with a friend and as we were checking out, I heard something on the loud speakers. I thought it was My Bloody Valentine. When the noise didn’t subside and it got faster, too fast to be anything British from 1986-1990, I looked at the Now Playing card. There, bold as brass, was that new band No Age I’d read about. The band whose guitar player wore the inside-out Obama shirt on CBS with “Free Healthcare” writ in sharpie. The noise duo with more sneer than the Black Keys. Nouns, their debut album, is all attitude and no silence. Whatever else can be said, No Age is pretty much out on their own on the style front. Alternating between incredible layered ambient tracks comprised of Randy Randall’s guitar running through every foot pedal imaginable and breathless punk/post-punk songs, this album is compositionally a dead-ringer for David Bowie’s Low. It’s not easy for a band to show up out of nowhere and give you a concrete image of them and their music through one album. The Dipers did it. The Horrors did it. No Age did it with exactly one song that I heard over the chatter of two dozen kids in a record store with a lot else on my mind. Not too shabby.

A Mad & Faithful Telling
by Devotchka

Ladies & Gentlemen, the sequel to Devotchka’s How It Ends. A Mad & Faithful telling isn’t new territory for the Colorado band, it’s simply bigger and more dramatic. Murkier production prevails throughout and it’s somehow even harder to tell what Nick Urata is saying, but the songs are up to code. It sounds as though Devotchka simply took one step further into the musical world they live in. Listen to Blessing In Disguise, Comrade Z, and Strizzalo, for example and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what I mean. The instrumentation is more complex and vicious and Urata and his bandmates focus on different instruments this time around (Bouzouki, theremin, violin, sousaphone) and electric instruments are all but invisible. Nick Urata’s delivery is more desperate and fits the music’s more dramatic turn. Devotchka isn’t just aping the sounds of a Romanian circus, they are that Romanian circus band. Some groups are content to simply emulate, Devotchka lives their music, as evidenced by the high-wire trapeze act they brought along on their most recent tour. The pop elements from How It Ends are there, they’re simply subordinate to the ethos of the band’s vision. That vision is a marching, soaring, sailing trip through mountains, oceans, and the poorest of streets.

Carried To Dust
by Calexico

After Garden Ruin, the border band’s pop-heavy last record, for a split second I worried that they’d never return to the horn-happy cantina music they’d come so close to perfecting (not that Garden Ruin isn’t a great listen). When Carried To Dust slipped in undetected earlier this years, I held off for lack of funds; a foolish mistake. Carried To Dust fuses their border music with their pop music and the result is their greatest album to date. Each song is catchier than the next and each sounds like Calexico. This isn’t something new, simply the old done perfectly. Songs like the In The Reins-esque Writer’s Minor Holiday or Slowness are saved from being ordinary thanks to the band’s stellar production and pop sensibilities (the whispery vocal melody that tails the chorus on the former song is truly dreamlike). Carried to Dust has the soul of a Cormac McCarthy novel, the feel of an old pair of boots , and the sound of a desert sunset.

The Secret Machines
by The Secret Machines

I saw Secret Machines for the first time in late 2004 on the tour where guitarist Benjamin Curtis met the future bandmates he would ditch his brother Brandon and drummer Josh Garza for. When Benjamin left, I worried, but apparently that was the push in the right direction The Secret Machines needed all along (the sword is double edged, it seems; Benjamin’s other band, School of Seven Bells is fantastic). Adopting new adventurous guitarist Phil Karnats, the Secret Machines take that crown of reigning champs of modern psych and wear it with pride. Karnats’ guitar screams like a mixture of Ed O’Brien and David Gilmour. Josh Garza’s drumming is unchanged, but the music it supports finally matches his thunderous sound. Brandon Curtis, now sole lyricist and vocalist, goes hog wild with his psych writing. We have some Deep Purple-esque marathon tracks, arrangements as complex as John Anderson’s, lyrics as batty as Peter Sinfeld’s and melodies as fast as Ian McDonald’s. Things are bright all over, but the bashing, shining asteroid that this album knows it is finally crashes with The Fire Is Waiting, it’s 11 minute Bowie-inspired closer. With frequent Bowie collaborator Tony Vischonti on the loudest woodwinds since Kevin Sheilds hired a floutist for My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless tour. As world’s crash and flames rise, the music of The Secret Machines floats freely above it all, both harbinger and narrator. If we’d listened to the lessons in the music, perhaps it wouldn’t arrive, but if it’s as mind-bending as their musical predictions, it’s almost worth destroying the earth to find out.

Do You Like Rock Music?
by British Sea Power

Kick drum. Kick drum is a good way to start an album. Especially when your album title is a challenge to the consumers of distorted guitars, crashing symbols, and chugging basslines. If you’re going to call your album Do You Like Rock Music? You had better deliver. When the guitars burst forth and the floodgate of drums and choral vocals surround the listener like an epic surge of water, the promise is kept. The whole album isn’t as poignant as the first three songs, but my what an entrance British Sea Power make. Once considered Blur-Lite by all who’d heard them and needed to write them off, British Sea Power finally have an album as distinct and flashy as any of their predecessors. Unpretentious, soaring rock music prevails and a good time is had by all. When the lead singer says “Come on, Allons-y, Let’s go.” And the music makes you pack your things and get in the car, you know you’re in capable hands. Many songs on the band’s third album simply shine as hard as they can until the band lights them on fire. Rock Music is a universal appeal to lovers of distortion, wonderfully quirky, yet meaningful lyrics, and the power of a song.

4
by Dungen

Gustav Ejstes has all my respect. He writes and plays most of the music on all of Dungen’s records and is still nice enough to shake my hand and humble enough to be legitimately flattered by a career fan. 4 is an album that showcases a band with the power to do anything, but you wouldn’t know it from a conversation with Ejstes. Dungen takes a step back from beating The Mars Volta as the champions of psych-metal and decides to hone it’s smoke-filled desert drive music. Like the soundtrack to a lost biker movie, 4 is at once laid back and vicious. Ejstes is in complete control all the time and so the parts of the album where the music is laid back and firmly locked in a stoner groove are all the more impressive because Ejstes can and does bring it all back at will. His guitar playing is still some of the best on the scene and his arrangements are still mind-blowing. Perhaps not as instantly unforgettable as Tio Bitar, but I can live with that, and clearly so can Dungen; they’re in total control.

Love At The End Of The World
by Sam Roberts

Sam Roberts is, effortlessly and free of any championing in the press, the best 60s singer making music today. Though production and music is decidedly modern, who else is singing about love for all and positive change in such terms? Like Dylan and Lennon, Sam Roberts feels out of step with the masses, wanting to change things for the better with his music, and I for one think that if this album were a touch louder, he could have done it. Love At The End Of The World’s relative lack of distortion isn’t a problem musically, cause there are incredible songs in here. Sam believes in abandoning hate, materialism, prejudice, and his strongest weapon is some sloppy early 70s rock. His lessons transcend time and could have been written anytime after the 1965; he’s a gifted lyricist where timelessness is concerned. The band really goes all in with Detroit ’67, which sounds appropriately enough, like something 40 years old. Meeting Sam Roberts and his band is one of the fondest memories I have. Sam, his band, and their manager confirmed many of my favorite assumptions concerning the kindness, creativity, and lovely nature of Canadians. Dave Nugent, Dave Spencer, Sam Roberts, James Hall, Josh Trager, and especially keyboard player Eric Fares live like folk heroes and were about as kind to me, a perfect stranger, as anyone I know. They invited me to see them play for free and when I couldn’t get into the venue, they snuck me in. Never had a band put themselves in the line of fire like that for me. For a full day, starting with my recognize them parked outside my school’s radio station and my sneaking out of class to see them play their radio set. The excitement of walking through the backdoor of a club shoulder to shoulder (shoulder to head is a bit more accurate, Eric Fares is easily two feet taller than me) with people I’d loved since their debut record hit the states, whose music I had stayed up late learning to play, whose concert I’d been dying to see for three years was unimaginable. It was like something from another time, a simpler one. The kind Sam and the band remind me of with every song they play. Note: I recognize that I’m cheating with this release as it doesn’t hit US stores till January, but Dave Spencer sent me one and I didn’t want to have to wait a year to tell everyone to buy this record because it’s damn good.


Glasvegas
by Glasvegas

If I’d known that I could read some lyrics over Moonlight Sonata and call it a song, I’d have sold a lot more records than I have now. That is to say, any. I’m joking of course, but, that’s what Glasvegas did; they took the lyrics from an old demo track called Stabbed and James Allan, the singer, read them over Wolfgang’s piece. And it really is that simple. All of Glasvegas’ music is incredibly simple, most songs don’t have more than one chord change, but therein lies the genius of Glasvegas. I saw this band open for Echo & The Bunnymen when they played their show with a ten piece orchestra at Radio City. I didn’t think anything of the performance, they sounded like The Chameleons, who I’d just gotten into. My boss, Blair Elliott mentioned a likeness to Jesus & Mary Chain. Then I got ahold of Geraldine, the best song off their debut self-titled. What’s cool about that song, indeed the whole record, is if you only hear ten seconds of it, the songs put you in Radio City Music Hall; the bass is up, the drums really sing (I mean, really), the guitars reverberate off every surface like the shouting faces of concert goers; no record’s don e that for me in a long while. James Allan’s voice ain’t Ian McColluch’s, but it’s not a far cry from Paul Haig or Mark Burgess. This album would fit in quite nicely with the new releases of October 1985. Rab Allan’s guitar basically plays the vocal melody in each song, and when it doesn’t, it’s something short and catchy; the whole album rings like bells on Christmas morning. Something funny, an aside, James Allan’s singing voice comes through his molasses-thick Scottish accent, making him sound like a tough drunkard. Listen to his words. They’re as moody as they come. Nice duplicity; the sort of thing that makes this record irresistable. I can’t tell you how much fun I have singing to myself, for the millionth time, “My name is Geraldine, I’m your Social Worker” through a Scottish accent.

Keep Your Eyes Ahead
by The Helio Sequence

When Brandon Curtis probably went through the break-up that everyone assumed fueled The Secret Machines second album Ten Silver Drops, everyone seemed to think it accounted for every possible aspect of the music. I didn’t get that; the record wasn’t even mildly somber, it was mostly wistful. Anyway, I have a feeling Brandon Summers went through a break-up, and nobody seems to care enough to guess about it’s effect on their second album. Except me! Sorry, if I’m wrong Brandon, but the lyrics and musical style have become sadder and I don’t think you pull out your Dylan impersonation for just any reason. Don’t worry, I’m not criticizing, this was the first record I heard this year and I knew right away it was one of the best. Things may have gotten sadder, but they also got a whole lot more interesting. Summers pulls out a lot of his impersonations, not the least impressive of which is his Edge. The guitars bouncing off walls inside the speakers is the best U2 homage I’ve yet encountered and the hooks are more consistent than they are on Boy, War, or October. See, I told you I had good news. Weikel’s drumming recalls Larry Mullen Jr. and Chris Frantz. These two know how to rock, despite their being on sub pop. I don’t know why they don’t get more attention; they’re a duo, they’ve cut down on the blips, they’re catchy as all get out, and they sound great. This record is pretty tremendous, especially the first two tracks. This is, perhaps by virtue of the fact that I got to it in early June, the album I’ve listened to the most this year. It helps a good deal when you live in a disgusting two room apartment and eat only what you can microwave when you can sing a song with a delightful chorus that simply repeats “I’m Living Alone, Living Alone.”

Walk It Off
by Tapes 'n Tapes

To any and everyone who said that Tapes ‘n Tapes debut The Loon is a more solid album, I say, you’re sorely mistaken. I liked The Loon, but it, like its title, was uneven and a little too quirky; it seemed they were making up for gaps in the songwriting with small doses of weird. Here, we have rock, loud boorish rock. This is the way a small band sticks around, they find what they’re good at. Where The Loon was directionless, Walk It Off finds the band exploiting their strengths. Eric Appelwick’s bass is a good example of what I’m talking about. On the first record, it had great, full tone. Here it fits in instead of standing alone. Josh Grier’s guitar does a lot of cool things. On Le Ruse, it takes the chorus on its own and really well at that. It moves, it shakes, it’s catchy, it’s crunchy, it’s fantastically lo-fi and fun. Hang Them All, Headshock, and Lines are competent rockers and the album is a whole is thoroughly satisfying and way listenable. Having seen them at Coachella where they were all volume, it finally made sense after hearing Walk It Off. I can almost see the sweat hitting Jeremy Hanson’s thoroughly abused drum kit everytime I play this record.

Something For All Of Us
by Broken Social Scene Presents: Brendan Canning

The Broken Social Scene Presents series is an incredibly useful tool for the compulsive music fan. For someone like me, who can name every member of Broken Social Scene and their respective bands like they were the presidents of the United States or the members of his family, seeing one member of an enormous band take the reins is a useful tool. I can finally see a few things. I can see what that person has been bringing to the table all along. I can see what they’re genius looks like when it doesn’t have to share, and I can see what everyone’s strengths look like funneled into a different vision. And thanks to the charming album cover I can see what every member of the band looks like as a crude cartoon character. Brendan Canning is one of the greatest people I’ve had the fortune of meeting. He and Kevin Drew let me into their show for free, the last New England date until the next Broken Social Scene record (I wear my hoodie purchased that evening with pride). Canning is the principle bass player and second most-prominent songwriter for Canada’s largest band and his songs are a bit noisier even than Kevin Drews. Fuzz is the one word I would use to sum this record up and I’d do so with a smile on my face. Full of the sort of distorted lullabyes BSS hasn’t touched since You Forgot It In People, and a number of really kickass vocal switches, Canning has chops and then some. Listen to a song like Churches Under The Stairs. The song is full of complex parts running circles around each other; how did he write this? Switching from crushing rockers to sultry funk numbers to extroverted pop arrangements in the snap of a finger, Canning gives the band it’s greatest challenge yet and they more than meet it.

Viva La Vida
by Coldplay

I call it audacity when a man stops copying John Lennon and simply becomes him for a minute and a half. Coldplay no longer sound as though they’re taking from U2 or The Beatles, they simply sound like they stepped in to replace them. The first half of 42 is perhaps the boldest damn thing Chris Martin has ever done; sounds like he’s trying to one-up Imagine, doesn’t it? And then, sly fox that he is, he makes you forget all about it because Guy Berryman, Johnny Buckland, and Will Champion join him and the song becomes the catchiest damn rock song ever written. How’s that for audacity. I may be biased in my appraissal of this album as a good deal of why I got into it was because I had the oppurtunity to see my friend Nick dancing in my living room to Viva La Vida. I have a theory, and that is that Coldplay’s been listening to The Arcade Fire. Where else did they get that compulsory change songs mid-stream thing they do every other track? Like the songs on Neon Bible, the songs on Viva La Vida are more than meets the eye. 42 changes from elegiac funeral song to super-charged brit pop and back again; Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love turns from Madchester love song to Badly Drawn Boy-esque declaration; don’t even get me started on Yes. Yes has buried in it’s 7 minute length my favorite song of the year. Just when you think you’re listening to a desperate plea for gypsy rock favor, that song cuts out and becomes a blistering, reverb dripping tribute to Creation Records bands Ride, Jesus & Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. Shimmering like the fountain of youth and pulsing like the piston of a train, the only thing wrong with Yes is that it has to end. In fact that maybe the biggest sin of Viva La Vida. Chris Martin and his band have written a number of impeccably beautiful songs, in fact, they wrote too many. They overload each song with a whole rogue’s gallery of the stunningly gorgeous and tousled-yet-charming. So when the closing track changes it’s tune for the last time, and the album’s opening chords come back, you know that by definition the album is over, yet you want more from them. How’s THAT for audacious?

Fleet Foxes
by Fleet Foxes

A band can do just about anything it wants to. If a band that has garnered all the praise that Fleet Foxes have in the year they’ve been under the main stream microscope, had done so quicker, had taken to the airwaves, had demanded world peace, they might just have gotten it. I’ve never heard of this phenomenon where a band is universally praised; I’ve yet to read a bad notice. I’m not complaining, it’s just remarkable that I’m not wrong about this album. I certainly can’t stop listening to it, and apparently no one else can either. I think singer Robin Pecknold needs to start making demands, otherwise he’s just giving it away! I know why I love Fleet Foxes; no other band has so effortlessly brought me out of a Boston subway station and into a log cabin in the middle of a wooded mountain pass surrounded by the people I love. This is an album that has a mood and a goal so clear you can taste it on the tip of your tongue. What other record is so clear about it’s intentions, to make you feel at ease, warm, and in love with the land. Talk of woodland creatures, forests, and mountains; this music is as inexorable and timeless as it’s subject matter. Robin Pecknold and his four brothers in arm craft a densely layered, rustic tribute to glory and nothing has ever been so doggedly gorgeous. Five part vocal melodies on nearly every track, floating guitar, piano, and mandolin that have the power of a string quartet, and Pecknold’s lovely songwriting; the songs are as catchy as anything Brian Wilson ever wrote and twice as much as Ray Davies. This album reminds me of a feeling a friend once told me about No Country For Old Men. So convincing and thorough was the creation of that atmosphere that when she left the theatre, she was shocked to learn she was in fact not in a Texas border town. That’s the disappointment that awaits everyone who partakes of Fleet Foxes. When it’s done you have to come to terms with the fact that the journey you were just on has come to a close. Luckily, you can always listen again.

Dear Science
by TV On The Radio

I told you so! That feels good. Ever champion something and have no one believe you? When TV On The Radio made their first appearance on late night TV in 2004, I was there. Their performance of Staring At The Sun with the addition of bass and drums was incendiary and I listened to the bootleg I made everyday until I leant it to my math teacher and never saw it again. When Return To Cookie Mountain came out and I stayed up night after night playing along to Wolf Like Me, comparing my telecaster to David Andrew Sitek’s, they all laughed. But who’s laughing now!? Me, that’s who! The band that I always knew capable of melding the minds of millions to their own collective conscious and transmit their message has finally done so and they’re finally getting the recognition I knew they had coming to them since day 1. TV On The Radio is no ordinary post-punk act. Comprised of gifted singers Tunde Adebimpe & Kyp Malone, guitarist/producer Sitek, and rhythm section Jaleel Bunton and Gerard Smith, TV On The Radio can go where no other band can go. Which is why it’s not at all surprising that they finally did and have some of written some of their best songs to date. Halfway Home, the album’s opener is a storming fuzz-laden warning about the state of things. Adebimpe starts off quiet, almost hauntingly so, and then lets out a primordial cry and starts the chorus and for my money the masses appreciation for this band; he has everyone’s attention. Next comes Crying and that’s when their latest foray comes on in earnest; afro-beat, funk, and hip-hop elements start hear. Though it starts with a compositional hint and Kyp Malone’s jump into Peter Tosh falsetto, it ends with Stuart Bogie’s Bar Kays-esque horns and keyboards, but they have an edge over their influences in Sitek’s slick production, nothing ever steps out of balance. And just as your catching your breath, Adebimpe throws himself into Dancing Choose, a lightning quick, whiplash delving into 80s hip-hop, and he sounds as intense as Chuck D and manic as Ghostface. And then the horns again. This is no ordinary reinvention, this is a hostile take-over of your expectations and your senses. Suspicions confirmed on Golden Age. How many times has your band wished they were Talking Heads, David Bowie, Chic, and Otis Redding. Well Kyp Malone must feel pretty good about himself when he sings Golden Age, one of the greatest songs of this or any year (he gets points for unironic use of the term ‘ghetto blaster’) because his band sounds like a fusion of all of them. And what’s best about this unprecedented musical triumph? It turns out that every member of this band is about as nice and genuine a human being as there is to encounter. I met the members of TV on the Radio thanks to Dizzy’s familial connections and insistent nature and so I got a chance to tell them in my way how much I love them and I got nothing but grace and integrity in response. One minute we stand sleepless on Charles street and the next we're sharing a veggie burger with Kyp, Tunde and Stuart. And they're funny, they're kind, they're laughter is infectuous, they don't perpetuate stereotype 1. It was like falling into the giant, jovial embrace of another family. Backstage, everyone who entered the room was kin instantly. Smiles, jokes, pats on the back, and all after having played one of the highest energy concerts I've yet witnessed. Anyone who can turn The Wrong Way into a revivalist tent barn-burner and then get backstage and dish with friends and perfect strangers alike about vegan food, avant garde musicians, and 180 gram vinyl is as saintly as they come in my book. Meeting your heroes and discovering how selfless they are is unlike any other experience you may have. ‘Rockstars’ these guys are not, they just happen to fall under that heading. Don’t think for a second they can’t rock, they just can’t act like sneering ingrates like so many of the people making music today. Meeting TV On The Radio started off a long chain of revelations that has led me to reappraise my faith in art, people, and the state of things. This rebirth is reaffirmed everytime I hear Family Tree, one of the most gorgeous tracks by any band with electric guitars in it. Tunde Adebimpe’s many-octave voice taking the helm and arresting everyone in earshot like he does during his vows in Rachel Getting Married. Malone, Sitek, Bunton, and Smith join him, along with strings, layers and layers of beautiful noise and every heart in spitting distance. The notes echo on into the ether and you can’t help but think that things are going to be fine. Better than fine. Things are going to be excellent because there are brilliant and kindhearted people out there singing to you.

Mr Danvers Picks:
New Amerykah part one: Fourth World War
by Erykah Badu

I'm not going to lie, I like my alternative female funk/soul singers! Erykah must ring as one the most impressive. Over the course of four albums and one crazy EP she has changed her style significantly. She is a true example of an artist deeply effected by the outside world. So much that has to reflect it straight into her music. This might be why a lot of this album does not make sense at first (besides the simple and 'sweet' "Honey"). I'm not one to judge how 'odd' it might sound to someone else though since I've listened to it so much that everything sounds extremely common and familiar. But, something that still excites me is the amazing transitions in the album. The songs move so smoothly that when I click to hear one song I end up listening to the rest of the album. Anyways, other people might write it off but her songs are really universal after a deeper insight (especially the second half of "master teacher" and "Telephone" which both deal with the funeral of a friend). Check out "Me" and "That Hump".

Venus On Earth
by Dengue Fever

Another soul diva plus really jammin instrument men. This album is amazing. I loved them before but now I really really really like them. The common category others put this album is 'Cambodian', 'Beach', and 'Soul'. If that isn't enough check out "Sober Driver" a fantastic duet about someone using you for a ride home. A more relaxed song, "Monsoon of Perfume", is so pretty it makes you wish that you knew what the hell she was saying (is Cambodian a language? I've gotten mixed answers but if so I want to learn so I can sing this song). Also check out the song and lyric translation of "Seeing Hands", a passive aggresive hate song. Its all really really good!

Reissue front: Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair
Not exactly soul diva but amazing nonetheless. Also, extremely, but oddly, catchy! I've been running around going "I want all that stupid old shit like letters and soda" enough to make my parents kill me. Go check " 6'1" " and "F**k and Run" out if you haven't heard it. fifteenth anniversary reissue.

Dizzy Picks:
Dear Science
by TV On The Radio

My Summer Job

Here's a comic I made.






The Existentialist Noir Style Of The Third Man

Graham Greene’s novella treatment for The Third Man has since its publishing fallen victim to the greatest eclipsing in history. Though Greene’s name is inextricably linked to the title The Third Man many of the details of his brilliant novel have been lost over the years. There are still many people who, in summarizing the book, use the changed names from the film’s final screenplay. Greene himself seems to have come to terms with the superiority of the film’s influence over his own comparatively small work, stating in the book’s prologue that it was only “written to be seen”. This sort of dramatic sigh in remembrance for a book, the world’s willingness to let it be forgotten like the protagonists of No Exit happens to be the perfect context to sum up the book’s great existential flavor, which time, a movie, a political theme overshadowed by that of pulp mystery, and Greene’s better known work have all overshadowed. The book seems almost destined to be the poster child for existentialist fiction, as the actions of each character fall squarely in line with Sartre’s treatment of existentialism, L'existentialisme est un humanism.

We open on Rollo Martins, a British dime western author, just off the plane from London. Rollo is in Vienna for the first time because he’s been offered a job from lifelong friend Harry Lime, whom Martins worships. Martins is shocked and dismayed to discover that Lime was killed only days ago and that the police, as represented by Sergeant Calloway our narrator, have him pegged as a racketeer. Martins, disappointed that his once and current hero could be so easily dismissed as a criminal makes like one of his western characters and starts looking for retribution for the libel of Calloway and for his friend’s supposed death. Thus we are introduced to the characters that help Martins and the reader get to the bottom of things.

The existential nature of the book comes out right away. “I’m going to make you look the biggest bloody fool in Vienna. There’s one dead man you aren’t going to pin your unsolved crimes on (Greene 32),” says Martins to Calloway, both men arrogant enough to believe he has the answers to both the racketeering and the murder without all the facts. In fact it is the initial impression of each character which determines their fate. As Sartre says “Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realizes himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions.” Everyone of Martins assumptions will be shot down piecemeal, and Calloway’s right with them. And for our deliciously noirish catalyst, the doorman who opens the investigation by explaining to Martins that Harry was killed on impact during the car accident is himself murdered by Harry when Martins sleuthing goes too far. This is but our first taste of the mammoth string of reversals about to take place.

Because Martins relies heavily on both his own nose for sniffing out facts and his love of the Harry Lime he thought he know, both will be proven dead wrong. After speaking to one of Lime’s associates, Cooler, he determines he’s on the level because of his impression of the man; this is wrong. When he meets Lime’s girlfriend Anna, he falls in love with her and finds himself bold enough to suggest he might take Harry’s place; this backfires. He comes to Vienna to begin a new life with Harry, and leaves only after having killed him and soiled his memory. This karmic irony is not limited solely to Martins, of course, nearly everyone gets a turn. Anna spends the length of the novel pining for Harry’s return from the afterlife to comfort her as he once did, “He used to look in, and when I heard your ring, just for a moment, I thought… (Greene 80)” When Martins finds that Harry is still alive, he couldn’t have less concern for her well-being, and in fact he all but gives her away to his schoolhood friend. Calloway, so happy to know that Harry is dead, doesn’t consider that it could have been a set up and has to tango with his nemesis once again. Harry, for all his cleverness in faking his own death, concludes the round of existentialist fate dispensing by attending his second funeral in casket.

Sartre’s positing that “the coward makes himself cowardly, the hero makes himself heroic; and that there is always a possibility for the coward to give up cowardice and for the hero to stop being a hero (Sartre),” shows itself in the reversal of expectations on the parts of Harry, Anna, Calloway, and Martins. Martins has his expectations tarnished by all of the characters that surround him on his stay in Vienna. Calloway, the heel whom he takes a swing at and calls stupid, is his only friend when the curtain falls. Anna, with whom his only connection initially is a mutual love of Harry, turns the tables on his impression of her as a damsel in distress when she rebukes his advances and abandons him at Harry’s funeral (Greene 156). Harry, whom he freely admits to loving becomes an abstract murderer (in his remarkable speech about little dots, starkly reminiscent of Sartre’s allegorical military leader) and then a very concrete one when he shoots at Martins in the sewer during the book’s climax, misses and kills a police officer instead. Martins himself experiences a meta-theatrical version of this drop in expectations when he hilariously impersonates an author who shares his penname at a conference full of high-minded intellectuals. Though the host laughs at Martins implication that Zane Grey the pulp novelist is one of the greatest living authors and though they are shocked to learn he’s never heard of James Joyce, the audience hangs on his every word until they discover he is not who they thought he was (Greene 94). Everyone whom we are told will be ‘heroic’ will become ‘cowardly’ before too long, Martins himself included. As Sartre points out, “there is no God…which can adapt the world and all its possibilities to my will. (Sartre)” Everyone has to discover the cruel realities of the world by seeing their version of it crumble in their hands like the proverbial cookie.

The Third Man is full of twists and turns, action, political intrigue, romantic inclinations, militaristic confusion, and gallows humour and so it’s easy to let the book’s existential nature take a back seat to everything else. Greene’s tragic heroes fall neatly in line with many of Sartre’s claims about existentialism and go a long way toward proving the latter man’s claim that “the destiny of man is placed within himself (Sartre)”. Calloway gets the shot at proving his theories about Harry he didn’t have when his enemy’s death left it ambiguous. Anna really does find herself in the same dreadful state she imagined she was in, only after she comes to terms with what Harry really meant to her. Harry, the laid back murderer who believes himself the cool orchestrator of all things dies hopelessly by the one man he thought to include in his scheme; he abandons his friends for his murderous, money-loving impulses, and so is left with very alone in the end. Martins, who has set out to vindicate his friend and prove his own worth, (as he begins as the epitome of worthless (only five pounds sterling in his pocket [Greene 17])) must destroy what he loves. He must kill Harry, whose ambiguous actions Sartre explains simply “vanish like water into sand”, which Harry literally does in the book’s climax when he falls into the rushing sewerage. And so, too does Martins vanish, out of Calloway’s sight after Harry’s second funeral, and out of the book.

Sartre, Jean-Paul, L'existentialisme est un Humanism. Translation by Philip
Mairet, 1946. First appeared in Existentialism and Humanism, Meuthen & Co., Ltd., London. < http://jya.com/sartre-eih.htm>
Greene, Graham. The Third Man. 4th ed. New York, NY: Penguin, 1999.