Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Last years best albums countdown

# 1. Band of Horses - Cease to Begin (Sub Pop)

Tada! (make a fanfare sound in your head). Cease to Begin, Band of Horses sophomore effort was in my humble opinion 2007's best album. I'm not going to say without a doubt. Because believe me there has been some doubt. Not great doubt though. This one and Kristofer Åström have had a battle in my head for some time now but finally a decision had to be made and this beautiful album won. This is the only album this year that I went to the record player to turn on again immediatly after it had finished. I was literally paralyzed throughout the whole first listen of this album. It really is that great. Even a little bit better than 2006's Everything All the Time.

Ben Bridwell's voice is so damn amazing. I almost well up with tears just thinking about it. Just to hear the lines "I could sleep, I could sleep, I could sleep" from the opener "Is There a Ghost?" had me sold. I was a huge fan of the first album but this time around I have gotten virtually obsessed. They just sound so good and like nothing else around. Well, that's not entirely true since both My Morning Jacket and newcomers Alberta Cross have some of the same sound. Still there's just something about this band from Mount Pleasant, North Carolina. The band also relocated to their native North Carolina from Seattle before recording this album. The feeling I get from the album is that I'm sitting on the front porch of a house in a really green place in the USA on a warm summer evening just listening to the grass grow.

Each and every song on the album is fantastic. If I were to pick any favourites it would be "Is There a Ghost?", "Ode to LRC", "Detlef Schrempf", "Islands on the Coast" and "Marry Song".

The song "Detlef Schrempf" has some of my favourite lyrics, it's just so emotional. "..So take it as a song or a lesson to learn. And sometime soon be better than you were. If you say you're gonna go, then be careful and watch how you treat every living soul. My eyes can't look at you any other way.."

I am lost for words now. The best album of 2007 period. Everything is going to be ok, at least that's the feeling I get when I listen to Ben Bridwell sing.

"The world is such a wonderful place.."

Last years best albums countdown

# 2. Kristofer Åström - Rainawaytown (Startracks)

Kristofer Åström has been one of my favourite artists for a long time now and every new release is of course met with huge enthusiasm. Last time around I must admit I got a little dissapointed. This time all of that is forgotten and forgiven. Rainaway Town is simply a country-rock landmark. It's absolutely brilliant. Åström has found the perfect mixture of uptempo and mellow songs. Earlier albums have focused more on one tempo throughout the whole album rather than mixing it up. If I had a gun to my head and were forced to rate his albums this one would be among the top three. So, if you like this one - check out his backcatalogue too.

One of the most important things for me about Kristofer Åström's music has always been his lyrics. He writes about bad break-ups and broken hearts in the same way as the greatest country songwriters. He has once stated that he believes that Waylon Jennings' song "Sandy Sends Her Best" is the saddest song ever written. I don't know if he's just inspired by songs like this or his life really is as sad as you would imagine from some of his lyrics but I hope and think he just likes this way of writing. Though, it all seems pretty real when you hear his vocal delivery. "..like a useless drunken fight, escalating into the night. Can't remember what about. I just remember screaming and shouting. I don't think I will manage to get out of this dark.."

But it's not all dark and hopeless. "..and now it's three years and counting, I never knew it could last that long. And when my eyes saw you this morning, my eyes will never prove me wrong.. ..I've fallen for you". So there you go, even sad boys can get happy and fall in love. And hopefully not get hurt and thrown into the same spiral.

My absolute favourite out of all the great songs on this album is a Neil Young and Crazy Horse-ish rocker called "Blacked Out" who ends up in a fantastic guitar frenzy. God I would love to see this guy live in concert.

Last years best albums countdown

# 3. Alberta Cross - The Thief & the Heartbreaker (Fiction Records)

Every once in a while something new hits you and leaves you standing there gasping for air. This Alberta Cross EP did just that. I got the same feeling from last year's Band of Horses debut. Alberta Cross is a band, currently living in London, England but from the sound of this remarkable debut you would have thought that they were born and raised somewhere in the US of A. Clearly in debt to early seventies records from the likes of Neil Young and the Band. The Thief & the Heartbreaker isn't a full length effort but rather a mini-album. That may be a definition question though. It's almost the same length as the Josh Rouse album listed earlier in this countdown. The length of the album isn't what's important anyway. The songs are important and my oh my the songs on this one.

All of the album's seven songs are some of the best songs I heard all last year. My personal favourites are the second song "Lucy Rider" and the extraordinary gospel-tinged closer "The Devil's All You Ever Had". That song is one of those that you can put on your stereo and it will change your day or even life. It has that special thing that's impossible to explain, it just does something to your mood. Maybe it's soothing or comforting or something like that. I don't know just what it is, but it surely can make a bad day turn good.

I hope Alberta Cross can get the same media attention and following that bands like My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses have gotten the last few years. The reason I mention those bands is simply that's the easiest way to explain what Alberta Cross sounds like.

Please check this one out, I promise you won't regret it.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Last years best albums countdown

# 4. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)

Jeff Tweedy reinvents Wilco yet again. This time it sounds like Tweedy and his group of extraordinary gentlemen have been listening to early seventies westcoast softrock like Steely Dan and Joe Walsh. It sounds great. Wilco sounds like a real band again. Gone are the experimental layers of noise over Tweedy's fantastic folksongs. The songs just speak for them selves this time. It's a group effort. This may be the ultimate Wilco line-up, the same lineup as the one on 2006's live album. Guitar-God Nels Cline brings an extra dimension of a loose jam-based live sound to the band. The sound is playful and fresh.

When the comes to the lyrics of Sky Blue Sky it seems that Tweedy is more open about what goes on in his life than he has been on the last couple of albums. Like ".. I should warn you when I’m not well I can’t tell. Oh, there’s nothing I can do to make this easier for you. You’re gonna need to be patient with me" from "Please Be Patient With Me". A song that with sparse instrumentation and the closeness of Tweedy's voice sounds like he's in the room with you singing it. From the lyrics you understand that he's singing it to someone close, like his wife or something. But you could, as a fan listening, interpret the meaning that he is singing this to you to try to explain some of the moodswings he is known to have on and off stage. That said I think most of the lyrics on the album are about Tweedy himself and his life with his wife. You can see traces of it everywhere. And I think that's great, it gives the album a personal touch without forcing it on the listener. It makes me feel good, it sounds like it's written by a man who lives a happy life, and that rubs off on me as a listener.

My favourite song on the album is "Impossible Germany" which builds up to this epic double guitar duell between Tweedy and Cline towards the closure of the song. It sounds like they could go on forever. It reminds me somewhat of the soloing on the end of "Hotel California". It just simply rocks. Other favourites are the folky "What Light" which have a Guthrie/Dylan/Byrds-y feeling to it. "You Are My Face" is also a beautiful classic Wilco track.

Sky Blue Sky is a classic rock album, one that will stand the test of time.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Last years best albums countdown

# 5. Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight (Warner Bros.)

I had big expectations about this album since 2006 gave us outstanding albums by both Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett, Rabit Fur Coat and the Elected's Sun, Sun, Sun respectively. These albums were both more country-folk-westcoast than the albums the pair has released with Rilo Kiley so I was hoping that this would rub off on the Rilo Kiley songwriting. Well, it sort of did, just not in the way I had expected. At first I must admit I was a little dissapointed in the album, but already at the second listen-through it started to grow on me. It's just a great pop-record by a band that's not afraid to "sell-out". Personally I don't think they have sold out. I just think they have made the album that they wanted to make, and who is to complain when it's as good as this.

Blender Magazine refered to the album as "an album of classically sleek, apocalyptic '70s L.A. coke-rock, in the fine Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan tradition." I couldn't have said it better myself. It does sound like those bands, but still it sounds completely new. To people who don't know Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan that good it probably sounds like something completely new, and that is one of the things I love about this album. Both my girlfriend and myself love this album, but for different reasons. Things like that make classic albums.

Well, what about the songs then. The opener "Silver Lining" wouldn't have been out of place on More Adventourous. The first single "Moneymaker" is a untypical Rilo Kiley song and a strange choice for a single, but it shows the direction the band is taking on this album and like the album itself it is a grower. The next song "Breakin' Up" is one of the strongest tracks on the album. A feelgood song about a break up. Kind of a r'n'b feeling to the choruses. Other standouts for me is the titlesong "Under the Blacklight", the honky-tonk swagger of "15" and Blake Sennett's "Dreamworld" which sounds like it's stolen from one of Lindsay Buckingham's lost demotapes around Fleetwood Mac's Rumours or Tusk.


Under the Blacklight may have been dissapointing to some of Rilo Kiley's fans but to them I just have one thing to say: Open your goddamn ears!

Last years best albums countdown

# 6. Josh Rouse - Country Mouse City House (Bedroom Classics)

First of all I just have to admit that I never really got all the fuzz about Josh Rouse. Yeah, I liked 1972 and I liked Nashville, but I never thought they were all that. Then came Subtítulo which I found boring as hell upon it's release. So needless to say I wasn't especting all that and a bag of chips from this album. The funny thing is that because of all this it caught me off guard and I just simply loved it. I listened to it constantly. Almost to the point of frustration for some of my coworkers, but hey, they didn't say anything.

Country Mouse City House starts with the simply irresistable "Sweetie" which he wrote with his spanish girlfriend Paz Suay. That song simply makes me feel like everything is perfect and your out with your girlfriend having fun on a warm summer evening. Well, in fact, the whole album makes me feel like that. I get that good warm feeling of being in love. In love with a girl, in love with the music, yeah even in love with the world. "Sweetie" makes you feel all that, and still it isn't a cheesy song. Hats off to Josh Rouse. All of the songs on the album have that warm summer feeling, maybe it's because it's recorded in Valencia, Spain or maybe it's just because it seems like Josh Rouse is a really happy guy nowadays. I think he has written one of last years best songs with the funky "Hollywood Bass Player", a tongue-in-cheek song which is the best get out of bed and let's have fun song in a long long while. Another favourite of mine is "Domesticated Lovers".

All in all Josh Rouse has made a classic early seventies playful singer/songwriter album. Only nine songs and a total time of about 30 minutes is for me the perfect length of a record. It's long enough to have some substance and it's short enough to make you want to hear it over and over again. And that's what I've been doing, listening to it over and over again. It also got me to revisit his whole back-catalogue. Just forget what I said at the top of this thing. Everything he has released is great, Country Mouse City House just may be a little bit better.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Last years best albums countdown

# 7. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (Merge)

Did I hear anyone say Bruce Springsteen? Well, I'm sorry, but it just has to be said. This is the best Bruce Springsteen album since the late seventies. Don't think I'm being disrespectful to Arcade Fire now, 'cause I just simply love them. And I love my Neon Bible. I even feel a little bit disapointed in myself for not having them higher on this countdown. Neon Bible must be one of the best second albums in the history of music. It continues what they started with their debut Funeral. Everything is just darker, bigger and maybe even better. (In a constant battle with myself over that last remark).

"Black Mirror" is the first song on Neon Bible and it sets the tone from the very begining. You just know that this is going to be great. Then the band even manages to take it up a notch on the second song "Keep the Car Running" before taking it down a notch or two for the title song "Neon Bible". If you have seen or read Nick Hornby's book High Fidelity you may recognize that this is the way the book's antihero Rob Gordon says that the perfect compilation is made. Not that I'm saying that that's the only way to make a good record, but it's not a terrible way to start of a record either. The next song is "Intervention" which is my favourite on the record. I don't know why really, but it's the song on Neon Bible who sounds most like the songs from the last album Funeral. That could be it, but I'm not sure. A great song none the less.

My favourite lyrics on the album are those of the song "(Antichrist Television Blues)" which in my opionion just sound like a stream of conciousness of Win Butler's thoughts about the USA after 9/11. The song is also the greatest Springsteen pastische ever recorded. It wouldn't have been out of place on Springsteens Nebraska album from 1982. The live-performances of the song are even better with the introduction on the tv-screens with one of these TV-evangelists. It just scares me, plain and simple.

Other great songs are the previously released "No Cars Go" and "Windowsill". Well, I like every song on the album, but if I had to pick some, you now.

I also recomend you to search up the Calexico cover of "Ocean of Noise". Starkingly beautiful. It's released on the "Intervention" seven inch single.

Last years best albums countdown

# 8. Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL Recordings)

This album has almost everything, and everything sounds like it was made in the seventies. Still it sounds refreshingly new. In my humble opinion this is the best album that Devendra Banhart has released to date. The album is long, they always are with this guy, but still very concise. It continues the feeling from the Cripple Crow album but it follows a much more narrow path. Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon was recorded in a old house up in Topanga Canyon and it channels what I like to think of as the "Topanga-feeling". The "Topanga-feeling" is the feeling of being free, yet close to the big city of Los Angeles. Former residents of Topanga are musicians like Neil Young, Frank Zappa and the Doors. Charles Manson also lived there before the Tate-murders. And it's the feeling of all those people who sets the feeling of Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.

The album starts of with three slow mellow melodies, very inspired by latin music. You get that Getz & Gilberto summer feeling going and then the song "Seahorse" starts up. "Seahorse" is for me the best song on the album. The song are like a three-song-suite. It begins with this mellow ballad like melody then it flows over in this guitar-piano groove which is more than a little reminiscent of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five". Then for the final melodychange of the suite we get a Grand Funk Railroad groove with Banhart singing over it like a Jim Morrison ressurected. A fantastic song indeed. When it clocks in at a little over eight minutes you just wished it could continue a little longer.

Other great songs worthy of mention are "Shabop Shalom" which includes some gibberish. Not something you get on all your mainstream album releases. "Tonada Yanomaminista" is another song who uses the seventies groove from "Seahorse", it sounds like something that Santana could have made in his glory-years. Then you have the fantastic gospel "Saved" which wouldn't have been out of place on something out of Muscle Shoals. In between all this songs you get a lot of latin inspired folk music which nobody does better than Devendra Banhart. Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon is a truly great album that you can listen to time and again and still find new things to discover every listen.