Monday, December 22, 2008

NQL Album of the Year: The Walkmen - You & Me

This is going to be NQL's last "best of" post for 2008. Really, it is. Our own Jim Powers analyzed, dissected, and crunched the numbers of all of our contributors' picks (click on this link or just scroll down a couple of inches), and it was determined that The Walkmen's You & Me was the album of the year. The album could not be more deserving and here is our review of the then-just-released You & Me as written by Brian back in August. All of the results are below. Don't agree? Hey, take it up with the scientific method.

9-11 (tie). David Byrne and Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today; Deerhunter - Microcastle; M83 - Saturdays = Youth (21 points)
8. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (22 points)
7. Titus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances (27 points)
6. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight (31 points)
5. Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer (34 points)
4. The Dodos - Visiter (36 points)
3. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular (38 points)
2. TV on the Radio - Dear Science, (49 points)
1. The Walkmen - You & Me (58 points)

--NQL Staff

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best of 2008: Albums

At last, here follows the albums of the year as decided by certain NQL contributors and a few guests. So here's to a good year of music, and to another one just on the horizon...

Ryan Bigg
1. MGMT Oracular Spectacular - Following in the footsteps of other great bands that have chosen to use shorthand to identify themselves such as BTO, BAD, and GNR, MGMT had some big shoes to fill. Fill them, they did. Three spectacular singles surrounded by adequate, if not great, filler, I fell in love with this album from listen #1.

2. TV on The Radio Dear Science, – I'll go ahead and continue this letter.
Dear Science,

Evolution is a myth. I, too, have never seen a crocoduck.


TV on The Radio

3. Vampire Weekend S/T - A fine album to listen to in a new sweater and a pair of chinos, this album would have been a bit closer to number one until I heard "A-Punk" at The Gap. Hearing music I found appealing and then realizing I was at The Gap made me feel old....until I saw them in concert, then I felt really old.

4. Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight - By far, the best thing to come across the pond in the past 12 months, add Glasvegas's album to this and the music scene in Scotland is having quite a purple patch.

5. Ra Ra Riot The Rhumb Line - I would like to apologize to Ra Ra Riot for not seeing them when they came to Louisville a couple weeks ago. That being said, please come back and this time, don't play at the alterna-church where I can't enjoy a beer and am instead encouraged to sip on a cup of hot cocoa and you'll sell more albums in the Bluegrass State.

6. Albert Hammond, Jr. Como Te Llama? - Me llamo Jonathan. Me gusta tortugas.

7. Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes - This is the My Morning Jacket album that My Morning Jacket wishes they had released.

8. Blitzen Trapper Furr - This is the Bob Dylan album that Kate Blanchett wishes she had starred in.

9. Sigur Rós (The new one)- Being from Iceland I decided I would do most of my review in their native tongue:


10. Islands Arm's Way – Actually being 'of Montreal', Islands took offense at the piece of drivel that the aforementioned band released this year and put out something far superior.

Alex Crisafulli
This is a list from 10-1. I probably should have just listed them in no particular order, but I find a mindless and arbitrary numerical order to be much more meaningful. Make no mistake about it, these are albums I listened to this past year. I didn’t listen to thousands of new records, but I did listen to a lot. Maybe five years from now I will fall ass-backwards into a record that blows every single one of those below out of the water, but until that day comes…

10. MGMT Oracular Spectacular
This record is overproduced almost to the point of being obnoxious. But, so what, like Die Hard III, you'll love it anyway. Yippee ki-yay, MFKR.
Recommended Tracks: "Time to Pretend," "The Youth," "Electric Feel," and "Pieces of What"

9. The Hold Steady Stay Positive
The first time I heard Finn sing, "Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer/I think he might have been our only decent teacher" I got chills, which is telling since I was six when the Clash released their last studio album. But the Hold Steady possesses an unrivaled ability to make you feel like you're one of them, and they are one of you, their stories are your stories, you know, all that crap. Stay Positive is not their best album, but it’s still another very listenable chapter from a band that could be in the process of compiling a legendary discography. And, in the face of the current economic crisis, Blagopalooza, and the Bears excruciating loss to the Atlanta Falcons on October 12th, it has never been more important to stay positive.
Recommended Tracks: "Constructive Summer," "Sequestered in Memphis," "Lord, I'm Discouraged," and "Stay Positive"

Jeff Tweedy..err, I mean, Blago, tells us we gotta stay positive.

8. Oxford Collapse Bits
I don’t like writing record reviews. I find the whole thing to be rather self-aggrandizing. I hate putting myself inside the head of such-and-such band and trying to pretend I can interpret their motives and intentions with each track. This is especially true for a band like Oxford Collapse. They are meant to be listened to and enjoyed; not dissected with your friends and colleagues like some book club. Save that for the next Decemberists record. (If you agree, just quit reading now and go listen to Bits. If not, continue reading the next part, and pretend I didn’t write this part.)

On Bits, the tone is set immediately when opening track “Electric Arc” starts with the sound of a car engine turning over immediately recalling the Minutemen’s “D’s Car Jam” from Double Nickels on the Dime. This song has a tempo reminiscent of “In Your Volcano”, the closer from Remember the Night Parties. That was a good way to end, and “Electric Arc” was a good way to start, as it was one of the best rock songs written this year. (I can’t believe not a single one of these idiots included it in their best songs of 2008.) The buildup for each song typically begins in the opening seconds, save for the string duet on “A Wedding.” Had someone told before I listened that the new Oxford Collapse record would have a track that features strings, I would have rolled my eyes, banged my head against the table three or four times, put one of those PIRG kids in a headlock, and then rolled my eyes again. I would have been rushing to judgment, though; they pull it off. In all, the most overlooked and underrated album of the year.
Recommended Tracks: “Electric Arc,” “The Birthday Wars,” “A Wedding,” and “Men & Their Ideas”

7. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
We had our office Christmas party last night, and afterwards I went out with some friends to a bar. I was trying to impress this girl by quoting Jim Carrey’s movie The Mask. For instance, one time I said something along the lines of, “I might get another beer. You watch, I just might do it. SOMEBODY STOP ME!” She didn’t even crack a smile. Nothing worse than a girl with a bad sense of humor.
Recommended Tracks: “Soldiers Grin,” “California Dreamer,” “The Grey Estates,” and “Kissing the Beehive”

6. Los Campesinos! Hold On Now, Youngster…
I first thought Los Campesinos! had all the making of a band that would be fun for a couple of weeks, and then never heard from again: They’re unisex. There are about ten of them. They are young. And, their debut LP was filled with quick and quirky pop songs that seemed to all follow the same blueprint. However, I don’t think it’s a crime if every song follows relatively the same blueprint, if that original blueprint is awesome. (I do think it’s a crime to be caught on videotape engaging in sexual acts with underage girls, but hey, that’s just me.)
Recommended Tracks: “Death to Los Campesinos!,” “Don’t Tell Me To Do the Math(s),” “You! Me! Dancing!”, and “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks”

5. The Dodos Visiter
First off, props to Ian Cohen for being the first person in America to write about this record and not mention Animal Collective. Second, “Fools” seemed to get all the attention, but there is not a lazy song on this record. I remember giving it a spin from the beginning and “Jodi” showed up well past the half-way point and just thinking, “Really, another great song? Another one?!” Third, did these guys choose the name “The Dodos” before realizing they were going to pen a hit record and be stuck with that moniker? Horrible name, fellas. Next thing you know someone is going to tell me there is a band that calls themselves Frightened Rabbit.
Recommended Tracks: “Walking,” “Fools,” “Jodi,” and “God?”

4. Cut Copy In Ghost Colours
One summer in grade school, I attended a basketball camp and Joe Dumars was supposed to be there. Although he was a member of the hated “Bad Boys” (albeit, the “good” Bad Boy), the opportunity to see an NBA superstar in person was a big deal. Because of scheduling conflicts Dumars couldn’t make it, and I remember the harrowing announcement being made by camp officials, immediately followed with, “But hey, how about that great camp t-shirt?!”, as if that somehow made up for it. I was reminded of this incident this past summer at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Rumor spread that airport issues were preventing Cut Copy from making their festival-closing set on Sunday night, but festival officials quickly reminded us, “But hey, how about that Spoon on the main stage?!” Congratulations Spoon, you’re the camp t-shirt. (Quick note: I am being slightly unfair. For one, we all had a great time that weekend and Cut Copy eventually did show and played three songs. Second, I love Spoon. I have just seen them numerous times to the point of boredom. Third, I wasn’t even that into Cut Copy at the time, and was planning on watching Spoon anyway. So, not only is this slightly unfair, it’s bordering on being an outright lie. But, I have since fallen in love with In Ghost Colours, and if this incident were to play out again today, there is no doubt in my mind that Spoon would be the camp t-shirt.)
Recommended Tracks: “Feel the Love,” “Lights & Music,” “We Fight For Diamonds,” and “Hearts on Fire”

Hey, Joe, thanks for showing up.

3. TV on the Radio Dear Science,
Only because I have to.
Recommended Tracks: “Halfway Home,” “Golden Age,” “Family Tree,” and “Lover’s Day”

2. The Walkmen You & Me
The other day I was walking to the DC Metro and listening to this album on my iPod. I walked by a storefront with a large window, and in the reflection I caught myself making really bizarre facial expressions. However, if you could have heard what I was hearing, the expressions would have made perfect sense. But only I could hear what I was hearing (folks, keep your volume level under 60%), so I looked like an absolute lunatic. That’s what this album does to me. I can’t sit still while listening to it. I get engulfed in it. It’s not white noise. It’s not an album that can be played in the background while trying to read Infinite Jest. It’s an album that demands my utmost attention. And that’s because You & Me might be the most consistent album of the year in terms of start-to-finish snarling good rock tunes and dive-bar hooks. Or, more specifically, the Walkmen’s glacially jutting arrangements and the scenery chewing of singer Hamilton Leithauser make them sound like an uptown version of U2, with prep-school smarm subbing for ecopolitical earnestness and Brooks Brothers peacoats for wraparound shades. Is that more clear? Good.
Recommended Tracks: “In the New Year,” “Red Moon,” “Four Provinces,” and “I Lost You”

1. Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight
Classic poetic samples of love, and lust, and trying to talk your way into someone else’s heart:

To show me worthy of thy sweet respect,
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee,
Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.
(from Shakespeare’s Sonnett #26)

Let's live
I love you
There's nothing wrong with me
Loving you, baby no no.
(from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”)

I’m drunk, I’m drunk
And you’re probably on pills.
If we both got the same diseases,
It’s irrelevant, girl.
(from Frightened Rabbit’s “Keep Yourself Warm”)

I’ll give all the guys out there time to grab a pen to write that down before we continue: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Alright, here we go with the album of the year. The Midnight Organ Fight had me with the first track, “The Modern Leper,” where vocalist and guitarist Scott Hutchinson essentially taunts a girl who keeps coming back to see him even though he warns he hasn’t changed: “Well, is that you in front of me?/ Coming back for even more of exactly the same/You must be a masochist to love a modern leper / On his last leg.” Moving along to the next track, Hutchinson throws down the gauntlet and declares to presumably the same girl that this will be the last time he will sing about her. If you listen closely to the rest of the album, you’ll get the joke as nearly every song after that is about her. In “The Twist” the protagonist finds himself looking for any random hookup just to quell his loneliness, but later in the record, he concedes the folly of this thinking in the aforementioned “Keep Yourself Warm”, when he not-so-romantically declares, “You can’t find love in a hole.”

I don’t know if this is a classic break-up, revenge, or moving-on-with-your-life record, but I get the sense it was meant to be all three. And it addresses all of these stages with humor and not a bass guitar to be found. I saw Frightened Rabbit play this past spring. I left early because I had the flu, but five songs in they had played the album from the beginning. I don’t know if this continued, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. I remember being confused at the time, but after I spent more time with this record it made perfect sense. The Midnight Organ Fight is a classic boy/girl story that’s best told in chronological order—from selfishness, to anger, to revenge, back to anger, and finally to some semblance of acceptance. I would try and explain it more, but if you get the chance, just have a listen for yourself and I think you’ll see what I mean.
Recommended Tracks: “The Modern Leper,” “Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms,” “Keep Yourself Warm,” and “Floating In the Forth"

Other Albums I enjoyed this year: She & Him Volume 1, Midnight Juggernauts Dystopia, Shearwater Rook, Okkervil River The Stand Ins, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks Real Emotional Trash

Matt Farra
I realize I am getting older. I now have less time to devote to music and even less time to spend trying to find new music. Regardless, I feel that the year was highly disappointing.

Jimmy Valpo was none too pleased with the amount of crap released this year.

Needless to say, there were several albums that I actually listened to more than once. What follows is a list of albums/EPs I remember liking/not deleting from my iPod (in no particular order):

The Walkmen You & Me
MGMT Oracular Spectacular
Bonnie “Prince” Billy Lie Down in the Light
The Mountain Goats Heretic Pride
Portishead Third
The Hold Steady Stay Positive
Los Campesinos! Hold on Now, Youngster…
Fleet Foxes Sun Giant EP
Vampire Weekend S/T
Dodos Visiter
Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago
Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer

And the following are my top three for 2008:
T.V. on the Radio Dear Science,
Islands Arm’s Way
Titus Andronicus The Airing of Grievances

Should have WYSWM’d earlier this year: Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight; Hercules and Love Affair Hercules and Love Affair; and T.I. Paper Trail.

Jim Hanke from Kid, You’ll Move Mountains
10 (+ 1) of my favorite 2008 albums:
Okkervil River The Stand Ins
Tilly & the Wall O
Atmosphere Strictly Leakage
Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
John The Savage Kitchen Voodoo
Girl Talk Feed The Animals
Nada Surf Lucky
My Morning Jacket Evil Urges
Todd Barry From Heaven
Headlights Some Racing, Some Stopping
She & Him Volume 1

Brian Herrmann
One day, many years from now, when our children ask us what the musical landscape was like in 2008, we'll look them directly in their curious, innocent eyes and be able to answer in truth: "It was pretty good." Here, alphabetically, is why.

Bonnie Prince Billy Lie Down in the Light: It can be hard to square prolificacy with quality (cough, Ryan Adams, cough), but how often do incredible albums spring from Will Oldham's head. Beginning with the easy shuffle of "Easy Does It" and progressing through a set of pristine left-field folk songs about blowjobs, conservation and family, and man's general insignificance, Lie Down in the Light stands up with the Bonnie Prince's best work.

David Byrne and Brian Eno Everything That Happens Will Happen Today: As if this album had any chance at all of being bad. Rife with midlife contentment yet still current and questioning, Everything That Happens is as uplifting as anything released this year. Listen to "One Fine Day" and just try not to get goosebumps.

Constantines Kensington Heights: Constantines didn't reinvent the wheel with Kensington Heights, they just made a really good wheel.

The Cool Kids Bake Sale EP: The Cool Kids are the Vampire Weekend of indie rap: hyped to death on basically no real output by virtue of touring their asses off and getting their name on the lips and their music in the ears of the people with clout. I believe back in the day this was called "hustling." Good thing, then, that the Cool Kids back up that hustle with muscle--tinny, minimal, atrophied muscles. Good thing, too, that they're not above joking around, or so serious that they avoid spitting about their haircuts, their fly-ass Dynos, and being broke. All rap should be this funny and observant; all rap should feel this effortless.

Deerhunter Microcastle: Microcastle = Macroawesome.

Fuck Buttons Street Horrrsing: Heart of Darkness translated into music: the farther you steam downriver, the less able you are to turn around, even though you want to, because deep down you know it's fun being a little scared.

Fucked Up The Chemistry of Common Life: Art-rock masquerading as hardcore. Blending big riffage, furious drumming, washes of static, cheese-gratered vocals, layer upon layer of overdub, and even bongos, Fucked Up crafted an album that's both immediate and distant, hard-edged and tender, hirsute and sleek. Chemistry's literal and figurative heart--"Crooked Head" and "No Epiphany"--towers over a towering record. My friend Schuhmann was surprised that I liked Chemistry so much. My retort: How could I not? Rarely does cacophony sound this elegant.

Hercules and Love Affair Hercules and Love Affair: Last year The Field outed me as a techno fan. This year Hercules and Love Affair outed me as a disco fan. Finally I can tell people how much I loved the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack as a kid. And of course Antony sounds amazing on a disco album.

M83 Saturdays = Youth: Pick an 80s touchstone--The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, New Order--and Saturdays = Youth touches them all. But S=Y isn't only a simple nostalgia trip or reverent homage (though it is both those things), it is itself a statement, grand and sweeping and simultaneously intimate--a headphones record that's stadium sized.

No Age Nouns: Washes the charm, er, scuzz off Weirdo Rippers only to reveal the band's limitations, which are (1) Dean Spunt can't sing, (2) bad lyrics, and (3) tracklist padded with instrumentals to compensate, one presumes, for (1) and (2). Turns out that earnestness and enthusiasm still trump limitations, and Nouns rips start to finish. Spunt and Randy Randall make such a racket (cf. "Here Should Be My Home") it's difficult to believe they're the only two guys in the band. It's equally difficult to believe they make that racket sound like something approaching beauty.

Portishead Third: The first time I played Third for my wife, a huge Portishead fan, she said, "It's no Dummy," and she was right. Third is better: more mature and direct, still somber but less so. When I listen to "Machine Gun," I duck for cover. When I listen to "The Rip," words escape me. If this is what happens during a Portishead hiatus, take eighteen years next time.

Q-Tip The Renaissance: Renaissance, indeed, though not necessarily the reinvention we might've expected after a nine years of label limbo. A decade removed from Phife and Ali, Q-Tip is as vital and on point as he was in the Native Tongues heyday. On The Renaissance, the Abstract delivers a set of understated grooves ("Manwomanboogie"), and absolutely murders the album's two Dilla-produced and best tracks, "Gettin' Up" and "Move." The Renaissance's thunderous, fluid basslines and Tip's flow, still impeccable after twenty years in the game, should serve as a fakebook for up-and-comers.

Titus Andronicus The Airing of Grievances: As long as there are smart, frustrated young people and music, smart, frustrated young people will make music like this.

TV on the Radio Dear Science,: Jittery, jubilant soundtrack for New America.

The Walkmen You & Me: The main complaint against You & Me is that, unlike their previous albums, it doesn't have an immediate high point (or a number of them, depending on which album is under discussion). I fail to see how this is a negative, and You & Me is all the better for it--slow and steady wins the race, or so the saying goes. The relative mellowness of You & Me signals a maturity that lets the anger that birthed "The Rat" simmer down and produce "Donde Esta La Playa" or "Seven Years of Holidays" or "Canadian Girl" or "New Country." Instead of finger-pointing, the Walkmen are navel-gazing; instead of "how dare you" it's "no problem, I was thinking of road-tripping anyway." They have realized that from loss comes possibility. How peculiarly grown up.

Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer: Apologies to the Queen Mary might have been impossible to follow up properly, so Wolf Parade decided to spill their guts all over At Mount Zoomer and in the process they forged an entirely new direction for themselves. Brutally honest and leaving no emotion unconsidered, on At Mount Zoomer, Krug, Boeckner, et al., engage convenient love ("An Animal in Your Care"), rebuke ("California Dreamer"), disenchantment ("The Grey Estates"), and control ("Call It a Ritual"), and end it all with an eleven-minute free-associative acid jam that I wish would go on forever. If At Mount Zoomer doesn't cement Wolf Parade as a once-in-a-generation band, their next album will.

Honorable Mention:
Antony & the Johnsons Another World EP: Oh, Antony, ya big, beautiful trannie ya.

Black Mountain In the Future: Thirty years from now, dirty metal kids will be wearing tattered black Black Mountain t-shirts.

The Clientele That Night, a Forest Grew EP: Of course they still sound good without reverb.

Dizzee Rascal Maths + English: Released stateside in '08. It counts.

Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid: Music for wusses like me.

Evangelicals The Evening Descends: Almost buckles under pretense but manages, somehow, not to.

Fleet Foxes Sun Giant EP/Fleet Foxes: Probably a vagrant used it as a toilet and then moved on.

Flying Lotus Los Angeles: Post-Dilla mutant mindfuck glitch-hop that curls once around the house and goes to sleep.

The Streets Everything Is Borrowed: Sue me.

The Tallest Man on Earth Shallow Grave: "I grow a diamond in my chest / I make reflections as the moon shines on." Same here, dude, same here.

Vampire Weekend S/T: Privileged, talented, good-looking motherfuckers. I hate you. No, wait, come back. I love you.

Wale & Nick Catchdubs The Mixtape About Nothing: Rap + Seinfeld = I'm interested in your mixtape. PS: No way that's really Julia Louis-Dreyfus on there, no way. PPS: Someone please send me a tracked version of this mixtape.

Wild Beasts Limbo, Panto: Wild Beasts should make tons more records and then have tons of babies and teach them how to make records.

Wilderness K(N)o(W)here: Deals in subtle gradation and variation, freer and more democratic than their previous work.

2008 albums I'm most looking forward to enjoying in 2009: Fennesz Black Sea; The Nerves One Way Ticket; DJ/rupture Uproot; Super Furry Animals Hey Venus!; Tindersticks The Hungry Saw; Cut Copy In Ghost Colours; anything by a band with a conjugation of "to fuck" in their name--bring it, fuck-bands.

Disappointments and Overrateds:
High Places - Everything they've done: Simply put, High Places don't write good songs, and they are terrible live. Sorry, the internet. They get some anti-hate points because the girl is funny.

The Hold Steady Stay Positive: I'm still waiting for Craig Finn to make a grown-up record. I know he's got it in him. It pains me to say this, too, because I love THS. They reduce me to the fanboyest fanboy, so I'm really disappointed by how damn average Stay Positive is. We'll call this a bump in the road. Points for the wicked logo. Bring on the Hold Steady-branded sneakers, wallet chains, mead flagons, etc.

Of Montreal Skeletal Lamping: This creative abortion gets a 71 on Metacritic, and was voted sixth-best album of the year by Stereogum readers, which is flummoxing. After Alex and I reviewed Skeletal Lamping, I was going to let my hatred die, but I just couldn't. I hate this record so much. It makes me want to scream and set fires. I want to grab Kevin Barnes by his (hopefully clothed) shoulders and say, "Let your ideas gestate a while! You don't have to release a record every year! I know you're creative and shit but damn dude parse your songs some next time, shit!" You know? And Kevin would be all, "yeah," and his next album would be tits.

Times New Viking Rip It Off: This album is unlistenable, and I actively hate it. The songs underneath the muddy mess might be good, but you'd never know it because of a silly aesthetic choice. There is a right way to do lo-fi noise punk, and there's a wrong way to do lo-fi noise-punk. Times New Viking chose the wrong way. Listen to Nouns and take notes, guys. (Update: A few days ago I forced myself to listen to Rip It Off again, just to see if maybe I might have been too hasty in my assessment. I wasn't, but apparently it's my fault that this music is horrible, apparently I'm just "unconverted." Whatever. As they say, one man's challenging yet rewarding record is another man's I can't delete this horseshit from my hard drive fast enough.)

Travis Newman
Honorable Mention: This year it seemed that a mainstream album might crack my top ten, possibly lowering my level of music snobiness. Alas, though I enjoyed these albums, it would be disingenuous of me to rank them above any on my list:

Beck Modern Age, R.E.M. Accelerate, Coldplay Viva La Vida, and Guns n’ Roses Chinese Democracy.

Best Albums of 2008:
10. Dodos Visiter
The shout-out backup vocals on “Fools” alone could be enough to secure this album on my list.

9. Times New Viking Rip It Off
Alex, I am working on the affidavits, but our firm’s notary has left for the day. I will admit that initially, I too called bullshit on anyone who claimed to enjoy this album. I played it on my hi-fi and only made it about five minutes through what sounded like a tweeter and woofer abortion. Months later, while listening to my iPod through earphones a TNV song came up on random and it was good. So I gave Rip It Off another chance, through earphones, and discovered that not only is there a great GBVesque indie pop album behind all that distortion, the distortion is actually well-employed.

8. Destroyer Trouble In Dreams
La la la la la It’s tough following up Destroyer’s Rubies la la la la la Absent this juxtaposition though, Trouble In Dreams is a very good Bejar album la la la la la which makes it an excellent album la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la.

La la la la la la-la-la-la.

7. No Age Nouns
There are not a lot of nouns on this album. Or verbs, adverbs, or adjectives for that matter. Doesn’t need them, though the tracks with vocals are some of the best songs of the year.

6. Black Mountain In the Future

5. Titus Andronicus The Airing of Grievances
Somewhat pretentious. Somewhat whiny. Somewhat Obersty. Somehow excellent.

4. Deerhunter Microcastle
Pitchfork cannot get enough of Bradford Cox. (Read that again, I really didn’t do anything with that statement. Admire my restraint). Although I think his Atlas Sound stuff and the ambient instrumentals on Cryptograms amount to little more than boring boards and knobs wankery, I’m a believer in this album. A strong start anchored by “Never Stops” is euthanized when Bradford and the boys decide for the band (and the listeners) to take a nap through tracks 6-8. However the Dan Deaconish “Nothing Ever Happened” then begins one of the most impressive three song runs of the year.

3. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
Spencer Krug’s obligatory appearance on my year-end list, although it’s cool to mention that Dan really shines on this one. I’m cool.

2. TV On the Radio Dear Science,
In almost any other year, this album would be my favorite. “Lover’s Day” is maybe the best love song since Pantera’s “This Love”. Unfortunately for TVOTR they ran into the juggernaut that is my number 1. However, I will make this claim: TV On The Radio is currently at the top of the Game That Is Music. No other band displays the level of studio brilliance, while at its core, just f’n rocks. If you don’t believe me, listen to their albums, then see them live.

1. The Walkmen You & Me
You & Me is as much a jazz record as it is an indie rock album. This album is meant to be listened to in a dark bar, relaxing on red leather couches, collar loosened, 5 o’clock shadow rocking, and preferably drinking scotch. The Walkmen have managed to do here something few bands are able to accomplish; capture a mood and keep it both consistent and interesting for an entire full-length album. An album I truly see myself coming back to 5, 10, 15 years down the road.

Jim Powers
10. Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
I don’t really have much to say about this album other than it’s really nice to listen to. Also there’s a song on the album called “Meadowlarks”, which makes me thing of Meadowlark Lemon, which is one of the best names ever, right up there with Zebulon Pike. But seriously, I didn’t listen to this album as much as I would have liked this year, but I know I’ll come back to it at some point.
Favorite Track - “Mykonos” (shut up, I know it’s on the EP)

9. Portishead Third
This is just an excellent out of nowhere comeback album. Even though it’s not really a comeback album or out of nowhere. Here, Portishead establish a very different sound from the familiar Dummy-era Gibbons-plus-dub-plus-scratching while still sounding entirely like Portishead. Kind of like what Radiohead did on Kid A. That was the first of likely thousands of Radiohead references that will appear in this list. Thousands.
Favorite Track - “The Rip” (which was covered this year by….wait for it…Radiohead)

8. Vivian Girls Vivian Girls
This is a headphones album, and a good one. It sounds amateurish, like these three girls got some shitty equipment and used it to lay down some stuff they kind of thought about once. But it’s amateurish in a good way. It’s one of those albums that sounds easy to make, but when you listen to it more, you realize that this is a very talented band with a keen sense of how to put together a song.
Favorite Track - “Never See Me Again”

7. Los Campesinos! Hold On Now, Youngster...
I think this came out in 2008. If not, I hereby decree that any albums called Hold On Now, Youngster that came out in 2007 are now deemed to have come out in 2008. Usually I have a problem with bands whose names include an exclamation point, but I’ll make an exception for bands with songs as catchy as those on this album. I’ve had “Death to Los Campesinos!” in my head for about six months now. They also get extra points for releasing a second album less than a year after their first. (Hear that, Radiohead?) I haven’t listened to the second one (We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed) yet, but I look forward to including it on my list of best albums from next year.
Favorite Track - “Death to Los Campesinos!”

6. Jay Reatard Matador Singles ‘08
This is kind of a make-up pick because I only started listening to Reatard this year and I like his other two singles collections (Blood Visions and Singles 06-07) a little better than this one. But this one is still pretty fucking awesome. In the first two collections, Reatard sounds like the perfect combination of traditional ‘70s punk + Wire + Guided by Voices. In this collection, Reatard sounds a whole lot like The Buzzcocks, which is not at all a bad thing. I’m a little worried that he’s getting too polished, but I think he’s smart enough to know where his bread is buttered. His first real LP (coming sometime in ’09) is one of the albums I’m most looking forward to.
Favorite Track - “See Saw”

5. Crystal Stilts Alight of Night
I saw Crystal Stilts open for Love Is All earlier this year and thought they had a lot of potential hidden in what I thought was a messy live show. After writing a review of that show, I got in a blog fight with their guitarist, bought (and liked) their self-titled EP, and ultimately ended up really looking forward to their full length.

The potential I saw months ago is realized in Alight of Night in spades. This is an excellent album. The Jesus and Mary Chain and Joy Division influences are obvious, but what sets these guys apart from the other million new bands with those same influences are two things. First, the decision to bury the lead vocals and to use them as more of an instrument than as traditional singing. The buried vocals were one of my problems with their live show but the vocals on the album are a little clearer while staying true to the band’s sound-- it’s the perfect balance. Second, the guitar is basically the lead singer. The guitar sound, a sort of surf-rock throwback, is at the forefront of the sound mix and cuts the droning background like a laser. The rhythm section along with the keyboards keep the backbone straight and hold everything together, as a good rhythm section should. This is a solid debut for a band who should keep refining their sound and getting better.
Favorite Track - “Crystal Stilts”

4. Wild Beasts Limbo, Panto
I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who listen to this album hate it within the first 15 seconds. This is because, within 15 seconds, the listener is introduced to Hayden Thorpe’s voice--a high and loud falsetto that’s either interesting and impressive or grating and unlistenable depending on the listener’s taste. I, obviously, love it and I love the band behind him lurching along, switching up, and providing a great frame to cage that voice. Of course, a voice and a band are nothing without songs, and Wild Beasts certainly deliver in that regard. Limbo, Panto is, on the whole, excitingly original--it’s the most impressive debut of the year.
Favorite Track - “Vigil for a Fuddy Duddy”

3. The Last Shadow Puppets The Age of the Understatement
This is just a really fun album. Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner joined with The Rascals’ Miles Kane and, with a dime from Final Fantasy, set out to make a record that sounds like the ‘60s. Not only did they succeed with that specific sound, they crafted a great collection of songs. I hope these two make another album together.

All right, why the hell doesn’t Alex Turner get the respect he deserves as a really good songwriter? Arctic Monkeys got unfairly pigeonholed as just another NME-hyped Brit-pop band, but if you look past that, they have some really, really good songs. “A Certain Romance” is one of the better songs of the past few years. The rest of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is, stupid name aside, full of good songs. Even the completely ignored follow up Favourite Worst Nightmare is top-to-bottom excellent. Turner is good. Really good. The Age of the Understatement just proves it. All of you jerks who’ve dismissed him because you think he’s just another Brit-pop fad of the week need to listen again. For your own benefit.
Favorite Track: “Separate and Ever Deadly”

2. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
It was a tough call between this and The Age of the Understatement for number two, but this one wins out because it includes “Kissing the Beehive”. I felt differently about this album than I did about Apologies to the Queen Mary in that, this time, I enjoy Dan’s songs more than Spencer’s. “Soldier’s Grin” is a great momentum-establishing opener, and “The Grey Estates” and “Fine Young Cannibals” are both really solid. Not to say that Spencer’s songs aren’t good - “California Dreamer” is up there with the band’s best, and “An Animal in your Care” has a terrific last few minutes.

But the star here is clearly “Kissing the Beehive”, the best song of the year and one that I consider to be a “Paranoid Android”-level masterpiece (coming from me, there is no greater compliment). I love the back and forth between Spencer and Dan, I love the parts, I love the uncomfortable time signature at the end. But most of all, I love one detail: how the chanting at around the 3:45 mark comes back at the very end. It’s brilliant song structure and it gives me cold chills every time.
Favorite Track: “Kissing your mom the Beehive”

1. The Walkmen You & Me
This is kind of an upset. A few weeks ago, there was little chance that I would have ranked this album any higher than third. I thought it was very good, but that it lacked a killer song like “Kissing the Beehive” and wasn’t as, I don’t know, exciting as The Age of the Understatement. Then, last Sunday, I put it on as I was cleaning up my apartment and realized, about half way through the album, that I had been standing in the same spot for about 10 minutes just listening.

While the album lacks a single standout track like “The Rat”, each song fits perfectly into place within the sprawling whole. The tone set right off the bat with “Donde Esta La Playa”, the music is completely all over the place. It seems unfocused at first, but after repeated listens it becomes clear that the focus is the sprawl. Leithauser just absolutely kills it on every song. I love how he sounds (and, live, looks) like he’s trying as hard as he can to hit the right note, succeeding most of the time.

The number one reason why this is my number one is that I know that, years from now, I can pretty much guarantee that this will be my favorite album from way back in 2008. It’s really a remarkable achievement for a band that always had it in them and that finally put it all together in such an unexpected and exhilarating way.
Favorite Track: “In the New Year”

Scott Rudolph
It has been a busy year at my desk here at NQL doing a lot of things that require me to not listen to music. Because music makes me listen to it, I cannot have it on while I am writing anything academic; therefore, it was a slow year in music consumption down this pallet. So, I have offered a list of things that I heard,;however, I completely discredit myself and my list by recounting the albums that I have either spun only once or not at all. What this means is that I will have a very confusing time next year for my 2009 list, because I will think all the albums on my “not heard” list below were released in 2008. So, here ‘tis:

Top 10 Albums I heard
10. Jenny Lewis Acid Tongue
9. Devotchka A Mad and Faithful Telling
8. TV on the Radio Dear Science
7. Sun Kil Moon April
6. The Black Keys Attack & Release
5. Hercules and Love Affair Hercules and Love Affair
4. Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
3. MGMT Oracular Spectacular
2. Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend
1. Brian Eno / David Byrne Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

Top 13 Albums I haven’t heard or didn’t have proper time with:
13. Jamie Lidell Jim
12. Blitzen Trapper Furr
11. Jack Johnson Sleep Through the Static
10. Ray LaMontagne Gossip in the Grain
9. Buena Vista Social Club Buena Vista Social Club At Carnegie Hall Concert
8. The Dodos Visiter
7. Man Man Rabbit Habits
6. Bonnie "Prince" Billy Lie Down In the Light
5. Deerhunter Microcastle
4. Okkervil River The Stand-Ins
3. Portishead Third
2. She & Him Volume One
1 . Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago

Matthew Schuhmann
9. Krallice Krallice
Mick Barr rulezzz.
8. Disfear Live the Storm
My friend Ryan Bigg got me into this Swedish hardcore/metal band because he liked it so much. Thanks.
7. Harvey Milk Life ... The Best Game in Town
If albums could grow facial hair, this one would have a really thick Tom Selleck moustache . . . possibly foul smelling.
6. No Age Nouns
This album gave me ADD and scabies.
5. Tv on the Radio Dear Science,
Meet Wally Sparks ... the album.
4. The Hold Steady Stay Positive
Rock, yes please.
3. Fucked Up The Chemistry of Common Life
They should have called this band "Fricked Up" because it's nicer.
2. Black Tide Light from Above
I keep getting older, but wicked guitar soloists stay the same age.
1. The Sword Gods of the Earth
As followup to Age of Winters this album had a lot to live up to and it didn't disappoint. I like it with ice cream.

Would've made the list had it come out in 2008:
Trailer Park Boys Seasons 1-7; ASG Win Us Over (2007); Early Man Closing In (2005); Ungdomskulen Cry Baby (2007); Mahavishnu Orchestra The Inner Mounting Flame (1971); The Advantage Elf-Titled (2006); Cathedral The Carnival Bizarre (1995)

2008 Honorable Mention: Torche Meanderthal, Saviours Into Abandon, Made Out of Babies The Ruiner, These Arms are Snakes Tail Swallower and Dove, Genghis Tron Board up the House, Foals Antidotes

Jimmy Valpo
Jimmy Valpo has been very busy this year. Therefore, Jimmy Valpo did not listen to much new stuff. Jimmy Valpo wishes to ask you for his apology. Jimmy Valpo is prepared for a new, better year of music listening and attending concerts. Jimmy Valpo is sorry for everything. Jimmy Valpo plans to have a firm grasp on reality by the end of 2009. Tune in at this time next year to see if Jimmy Valpo succeeds. Jimmy Valpo will never bother you with hipster blather and his philosophical music ramblings. Jimmy Valpo does not analyze music, he just rocks out when appropriate.

1. T.V. on the Radio Dear Science,
2. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
3. No Age Nouns
4. The Hold Steady Stay Positive
5. Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight
6. Portishead Third
7. Titus Andronicus The Airing of Grievances
8. Deer Hunter Microcastle
9. Dodos Visiter
10. M83 Saturdays=Youth

*We would certainly like to thank everyone who took the time reading not only this (ridiculously long) post, but also any post from the past year. Please keep coming back. Have a great holiday and we will see you next year.

--NQL Staff

Monday, December 15, 2008

Best of 2008: Songs

Once again, several NQL contributors (and one recent guest) offer up what they respectively consider to be some of the best songs of 2008. There was no set stylistic format, and the order of the songs as set out by each contributor should be rather self-explanatory. So, if you're looking to not even come close to impressing that one girl, you know, the one who has absolutely no interest in you whatsoever...take notes on what you read below...make her a playlist...creep her her away forever. Works every time. Top albums of 2008 coming soon.

Ryan Bigg
1. MGMT – "Kids"
2. Albert Hammond – "GFC"
3. Ra Ra Riot – "Ghost Under Rocks"
4. MGMT – "Time to Pretend"
5. Blitzen Trapper – "Furr"
6. M83 – "Kim & Jessie"
7. TV on the Radio – "Halfway Home"
8. Okkervil River – "Lost Coastlines"
9. Glasvegas – "Geraldine"
10. Islands – "Creeper"

Silver Jews
Alex Crisafulli
10. "Bruise" by Chairlift

9. "So Everyone" by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy—A song that's best not taken literally.

8. "Sequestered in Memphis" by The Hold Steady—I first heard this song last May and was particularly underwhelmed. But it lingered, and by mid-summer I couldn't get enough of it. Probably the best summer anthem since the "Thong Song" drove us all wild back in 2000.

7. "Singer Songwriter" by Okkervil River—Only one I-slept-with-that-hipster's-wife lyric away from being the greatest dis track laid down since "Hit ‘Em Up."

6. "Nowhere’s Nigh" by Parts & Labor

5. "Sweet Talk" by Spiritualized

4. "Suffering Jukebox" by Silver Jews—Next person who tells me they don't like this song is getting two shoes thrown at them in rapid succession.

3. "The Modern Leper" by Frightened Rabbit

2. "In the New Year" by The Walkmen—After already snagging the coveted "Boilermaker" Award, the accolades just keep coming for "In the New Year." I saw the Walkmen last January at Schubas well before You & Me came out and I remember they played a new song that I had never heard but it still left me in awe. It was this one.

1. "Time to Pretend" by MGMT

(Other songs I liked: "Conquest" by Tapes 'n' Tapes, "Northwestern Girls" by Say Hi, "Rivers" by Destroyer, "Soldier's Grin" by Wolf Parade, "Fools" by The Dodos, "Dragonfly Pie" by Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks.)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Jim Hanke of Kid, You’ll Move Mountains
(10 [+3] great songs from 2008 albums that aren't on my list):
Mates of State - "The Re-Arranger"
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!"
Able Baker Fox - "Stuttering"
Throw Me The Statue - "Your Girlfriend's Car"
MGMT - "Electric Feel"
Cadence Weapon - "Real Estate"
Spiritualized - "Sweet Talk"
The Raconteurs - "Consoler of the Lonely"
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - "Glue Girls"
Man Man - "Hurly/Burly"
R.E.M. - "Living Well is the Best Revenge"
Bon Iver - "re: stacks"
The B-52's - "Funplex"

Los Campesinos!
Matt Farra
10. "Graveyard Girl" (M83): My second most-favorite song ever to have a spoken-word interlude.

9. "Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ" (Titus Androticus): After I learned that this wasn't another Mr. Oberst side project I was able to open myself up to one of this year's best breakthrough albums. This is my favorite song ever to have a spoken-word interlude. I have also been to Mahwah, no big deal, back in the late 1980s. Mahwah happens to be the home of both Foxy Brown and Les Paul.

8. "M79” (Vampire Weekend): One day, about one year ago, I made a couple of clicks on my keyboard and strangely came across a free copy, in digital format, of Vampire Weekend’s eponymous debut. Yet, for some reason, my copy didn’t have "M79." The first time I heard this song was when they played it on that Kristin Wiig show, which was before I ever saw this, which made me do this, followed up by this, before deciding to meet this guy on a beach. Anyway, the moral of this story: When borrowing music from the internets, make sure it’s not some two-bit production piece.

7. "Smokin from Shootin" (My Morning Jacket): Music critics lived large this year after shreddin and shittin on the Louisville band’s fifth album. And while there may have been ample reasons to support such a bashin and flushin, "Smokin from Shootin" incorporates all the influences that this band so desperately and consciously tries to evoke with a sound that had echoes and remnants of The Tennessee Fire.

And now my top 6 for the year…which can stand alone.

6. "Never Stops" (Deerhunter)
5. "Walking" (The Dodos)
4. "Better" (Guns n’ Roses)
3. "Slapped Actresses" (The Hold Steady)
2. "The Age of the Understatement" (The Last Shadow Puppets)
1. "You! Me! Dancing!" (Los Campesinos!)

Vampire Weekend
Travis Newman
Honorable Mention AM Radio Songs of the Year – "Furr" – Blitzen Trapper; "Rooks" – Shearwater

10. "Better"– Guns n’ Roses
The first song I heard off the leaked Chinese Democracy and the perfect way to reintroduce Axl Rose to the world, as the bizarre disguised opening vocal gives way to the inimitable howl absent from our world for nearly seventeen years. (Yes, the song from End of Days doesn't count).

9. "Kids" – MGMT
I choose to believe this song is about hipsters in tiny clothes who like to dance and get sweaty, not "Kids" like the ones from which NQL contributor Jim must stay 500 yards away.

8. "Gamma Ray" – Beck
"Come a little gamma ray/standing in a hurricane/Your brains are bored
Like a refugee/From the houses burning/And the heat wave's/Calling your name"…okay…but it sounds good.

7. "Touch Me I'm Gonna Scream 2" – My Morning Jacket
Magical is a word seldom used in the description of songs. This song is no exception. What it is, however, is an excellent closer to a wildly inconsistent album.

6. "Son the Father" – Fucked Up
So Dicky Barrett joined a hard rocking indie band, critical praise and the best opening track of the year followed.

5. "Age of the Understatement" – Last Shadow Puppets
The perfect song to listen to when making a microfiche dead drop in Bratislava in 1962.

4. "Slapped Actress" – The Hold Steady
No truth to the rumor that this song is about Mickey Rourke's girlfriends from the 80s.

3. "GFC" – Albert Hammond, Jr.
Underrated Criminal = Dr. H. H. Holmes; Criminally Underrated = This Song

2. "Eraser" – No Age
Thank you No Age for all the looks I received while driving in my car and screaming along "Watch Him Die."

1. "Kissing the Beehive" – Wolf Parade
(In honor of Don LaFontaine, the movie trailer guy, R.I.P.) In a world where indie music critics are ready to pounce on a band who defies the punk aesthetic with adjectives like "self-indulgent," "bloated," and "pretentious," one indie darling dared to record a closing track that nearly broke the eleven minute mark.
And this was eleven quality minutes, no three minute bleeps and static bridge. All this song was missing was a drum solo (though you've earned it, Arlen Thompson). Despite this, "KTB" rambled its way to being my favorite song of the year.

Jim Powers
(In no particular order):
"The Age of the Understatement” - The Last Shadow Puppets
"In the New Year” - The Walkmen
"Wishing Well” - Love Is All
"Cassius” - Foals
"Death to Los Campesinos!" - Los Campesinos!
"Why Do You Let Me Stay Here" - She & Him
"Viva La Vida" - Coldplay
"The Beginning of the Twist" - The Futureheads
"The Rip" - Portishead
"Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" - Vampire Weekend

Okkervil River
Audrey Wen
10. "Kenya Dig It?" the Ruby Suns
9. "White Winter Hymnal" Fleet Foxes
8. "Skinny Love" Bon Iver
7. "Army of Ancients" Dr. Dog
6. "Murder in the City" the Avett Brothers
5. "Cherry Tulips" the Headlights
4. "Fools" the Dodos
3. "Get Better" Mates of State
2. "Lost Coastlines" Okkervil River
1. "Kids" MGMT

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Best of 2008: Miscellaneous

I was originally going to have our "Best of 2008" column for songs and albums posted this week, but I was worried Chris Martin might read it and then try and pass it off as his own, so I thought it best to hold off a week. Instead, a few NQL contributors decided to each post any random list, musing, or rant of their choosing. And we also teamed up and compiled one list at the end. 2008 songs and albums coming soon.

NQL Honorary Awards

The Rod Blagojevich Award for the band that I don’t ever want to hear from again goes to Times New Viking. Good God, turn that racket down. And Barack, please tell me you’re in no way shape or form affiliated with this band.

The Michael Phelps Award for the album that I really liked but got sick of hearing about from every single person I ran into goes to the Fleet Foxes self-titled record.

The 2008 Chicago Bears Award for the album that was hard to figure out whether it was good or not goes to Conor Oberst's solo album. I still haven't made up my mind. But I think it is safe to call the album intriguing, which, in essence, is a good thing, I just don't see myself remembering much about this album (or this Bears team) five years from now. I hope I'm wrong, though.

The Freaks & Geeks Award for band that I should have realized was fantastic years ago but for whatever reason didn't come to my senses until this year goes to Belle and Sebastian. If this award were for an album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi by R.E.M would have won.

The "Boilermaker" by The Jesus Lizard Award for the song that most made my neighbors angry on account of it possessing an inability to be played at a soft-to-medium volume is a tie between "In the New Year" by the Walkmen and "Paper Planes" by M.I.A. Yeah, I know "Paper Planes" isn't really this year but after The Pineapple Express trailer it was pretty much resurrected, so I say it's in play. And besides, I mentioned New Adventures in Hi-Fi earlier, so obviously we're not going to be too strict in the miscellaneous section.

The Dark Knight Award for the album that I wouldn't shut up about for the first two weeks after I listened to it, and then realized maybe I was kidding myself just a tad, and that perhaps it wasn't as good as maybe I actually wanted it to be in my mind, but then a few months passed and it became obvious that it really is a pretty great record goes to Dear Science, by TV on the Radio.

The I Can't Believe You're Still Using that Cell Phone Award goes to me every time I find myself at a record store buying a CD. It's almost to the point where I feel like I just walked into a Best Buy and asked the clerk to direct me to the Sega Genesis section.

My Top 10 of 10 Years Ago
This wasn't easy. I always consider the late '90s to be a dark time for music. For reference, look at this awful best-of list compiled from 1998. Perhaps not the greatest source, but that gives you an idea of what I'm working with here. No matter, without further ado...

10. Hole Celebrity Skin—Once a guilty pleasure. Piss off.
9. Liz Phair WhiteChocolateSpaceEgg—Her last album worth buying.
8. The Beta Band The Three Eps—You can instantly sell five copies just by playing "Dry the Rain."
7. Smashing Pumpkins Adore—Misunderstood and misunderrated.
6. Billy Bragg and Wilco Mermaid Avenue—Mr. Bragg and Wilco took old Pat Boone lyrics and turned them into songs. And it worked.
5. Beck Mutations—Perfect schizo softy follow-up to the obnoxious Odelay.
4. Destroyer City Of Daughters—As good as Rubies.
3. Outkast Aquemini—Whenever I brought a girl back to my dorm room in college I would play this album while absolutely nothing in the form of awkwardness unfolded.
2. Neutral Milk Hotel In The Aeroplane Over The Sea—An independent rock music classic.
1. Lucinda Williams Car Wheels On A Gravel Road—An American classic.

--Alex Crisafulli

Musings and Miscellanea

No snappy introduction here; just an alphabetical list that contains a concert, a song, and some albums that weighed heavily upon my year in listening.

David Byrne at Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis: Even though David Byrne has to know that everyone in the room loves him, he acts like he can't believe it (and I guess he still might not)--that he's astonished people are there to listen to him, that the crowd's effusion is genuinely for him--a humbleness which came through as generosity onstage: Byrne eagerly gave up center stage to his dancers and backup singers, drummers and keyboardist, more often joining in the choreography than leading it (and he did that dumb running-in-place dance move, which rules). For over two hours, counting the three encores, Byrne & Co. ran through the best of the new Byrne/Eno album--"One Fine Day," "My Big Nurse," "Everything That Happens," "The River" (still concerned with the quotidian, eh, David?), "Wanted for Life," "Strange Overtones"--one song from the old Byrne/Eno album--"Help Me Somebody"--and innumerable Talking Heads classics--"The Great Curve," "Air," "Born Under Punches," "Take Me to the River," "Once in a Lifetime," "Heaven," "Burning Down the House." The result? Tears of joy (mine), and, spotty sound notwithstanding, easily one of the best concerts I've ever seen.

Califone - "The Orchids": Lore has it that Tim Rutili was out of ideas, and upon hearing "The Orchids" on a years-old mixtape, he was inspired afresh to record 2006's Roots and Crowns. Understandable: lyrically obtuse though it may be, "The Orchids" is a song about confusion leading to rejuvenation if you're open to the possibility. I haven't heard the Psychic TV version, but it's difficult to imagine it being better than Califone's.

The Cars - The Cars: I used to think The Cars were boring, just another dad-rock radio band--but then I listened: Impeccable melodies and clean, robotically precise musicianship make their self-titled album a front-to-back classic. It doesn't matter how many times you've heard "Just What I Needed" or "My Best Friend's Girl," or how pronounced your sense of irony is, these songs still have the power to stop you dead in your tracks. And then make you dance. In that herky-jerky fashion that no one understands but you.
Feist - The Reminder: As astounding as Let It Die is mediocre, which is to say, quite.

Jurassic 5 - Quality Control: The press has been unkind to J5 for a few years now, perhaps somewhat justifiably: Their most recent album, Feedback, is a chameleonic cash-grab that suffers not only from the absence of Cut Chemist but also from the lack of a focused aesthetic. But dig a couple albums backward in their discography to Quality Control, and and ignore the haters who call J5 one-note (they're lying), and you'll find some of the smartest, feel-goodest hip-hop released in recent years. Also, "comin' harder son as if my name was Kadeem" is awesome.

The Nerves - The Nerves EP: That this EP was long out of print and long The Nerves' sole document (until this year, anyway) is a criminal act. In pre-punk Los Angeles, it must've been impossible having three outstanding songwriters--Peter Case, Jack Lee, Paul Collins--in a three-piece band, but you'd never know it listening to The Nerves: Not one second of this EP feels tossed off or slapdash. Everyone knows "Hanging on the Telephone," but the other three tracks are even better. "When You Find Out" is the sardonic lost-love song; "Give Me Some Time" is the I-can-do-it love song; "Working Too Hard" is the unstoppable-bassline-having I'm-too-young-for-all-this-love-shit love song. The gamut of post-adolescent emotion in seven minutes, fifty-five seconds.

Russian Futurists: I'm not sure how, but I accidentally bought The Method of Modern Love from iTunes last spring, and what a happy accident that turned out to be. So happy, in fact, that I snatched up Our Thickness when I saw it at B-Sides in Indy. Russian Futurists are the absolute inverse of early Magnetic Fields--jubilant instead of mopey bedroom pop, as if Stephen Merritt grew up on rap and electro-pop instead of The Smiths. Matthew Hart needs a bigger budget next time.

Paul Simon - Graceland: There isn't really anything more I can say about Graceland. It's amazing in every respect, and, even though I've known the album since my childhood, somehow I didn't understand its amazingness till this year.

--Brian Herrmann

Top 10 from 10 Years Ago: (It's completely possible that I missed some '98 releases as I put this list together with the help of the tubes in about 20 minutes.)

10. The Beta Band The Three EPs: Still sounds good any time, any place.
9. Air Moon Safari: Ditto above.
8. Placebo Without You I'm Nothing: Every song is good.
7. Mercury Rev Deserter's Songs: "Opus 40" still almost makes me cry every time.
6. Spiritualized Live at Royal Albert Hall: For the rendition of "No God Only Religion" alone.
5. Outkast Aquemeni: My favorite hip-hop album. P.S. I hate hip-hop.
4. Beck Mutations: For my money, his best album.
3. Massive Attack Mezzanine: Best 3 a.m. album ever.
2. R.E.M. Up: Criminally underrated.
1. Neutral Milk Hotel In The Aeroplane Over The Sea: Obviously.


Best non-2008 album that I discovered in 2008: Paul McCartney Ram

Non-2008 record that I listened to the most: Built to Spill Perfect from Now On, Jay Reatard Blood Visions (tie)

2010 Rookies of the Year: Lars Anderson (AL), Madison Bumgarner (NL)

Thing that most made me want to jump off a bridge: Saved by Zero

Super Bowl prediction: Dallas 31, Jets 24

What I had for breakfast: Special K

Most disappointing album of 2008: Bloc Party Intimacy. Unforgivable.

Aliens vs. Predator: Predator

Favorite concert I went to in 2008: Built to Spill

Album I'm most looking forward to in 2009: Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion

--Jim Powers

Best Shows I Saw In 2008:

10. Spoon. The Metro, Chicago. New Year's Eve/Day, just after the stroke of midnight.
9. The Avett Brothers. Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle. August 27
8. Destroyer. Logan Square Auditorium, Chicago. April 17
7. Tapes 'n' Tapes. The Metro, Chicago. April 11
6. Les Savy Fav. Pitchfork Music Festival, Chicago. July 19
5. Cold War Kids. The Showbox, Seattle. September 29
4. Okkervil River. Schubas, Chicago. August 2
3. The Dodos. Bottom Lounge, Chicago. October 8
2. Wilco. Winter Residency, Night 1. The Riviera, Chicago. February 15
1. My Morning Jacket. McCaw Hall, Seattle. September 28

--Audrey Wen

She & Him, But Please No You & You
In light of this year’s success of the (fantastic) She & Him record Volume One by M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel , the NQL staff has compiled a list of actors and musicians that we would rather not see get any ideas.

10. Conor Oberst & Elizabeth Berkley
9. R. Kelly & Dakota Fanning
8. Huey Lewis & Gwyneth Paltrow
7. Amy Winehouse & Meshach Taylor
6. The Beach Boys & John Stamos
5. Sista Soulja & William Ayers
4. Abe Vigoda & Abe Vigoda
3. Bob Mould & Isaiah Washington
2. Jenny Lewis & Blake Sennett
1. Madonna

--NQL Staff

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Jeff Mangum, Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Blogs To You

The year has nearly come to end. That means it’s time for best-of lists and ours will be coming soon. But first, we wanted to recognize Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum. The year essentially belonged to him. And given the indie blogosphere’s tendency to blow their collective wads anytime Mangum is seen venturing outside his home, we here at NQL decided to comb through the various blogs and webzines and compile the biggest news stories and events that involved Mangum in 2008.

On January 18, 2008, Aquarium Drunkard blogged that Jeff Mangum had recently purchased the Goodyear Blimp through fan contributions. It has since been renamed "Jeff's Jolly Good Floating Balloon.”

On January 29, 2008, Theft Liable to Prosecution confirmed that Jeff Mangum had reprised his role as Daddy Warbucks in an off-Broadway production of Annie. Mangum's performance was widely panned as "derivative" and "inauthentic."

On February 4, 2008, in a pre-game Super Bowl discussion with NFL analyst Chris Collinsworth, Jeff Mangum predicted the New York Giants would upset the then 18-0 New England Patriots and "shock the world." His prediction turned out to be true. He also performed at halftime:
On February 14, 2008, breaking from their regular format, The View added a male perspective to the show by inviting Jeff Mangum to be a regular member. The position only lasted three days as there was rumored a bitter power struggle between Mangum and Barbara Walters. When interviewed after his departure, a bitter Mangum replied, "Fuck them. I was only trying to get closer to a speaking role in Sister Act 3 anyway." Whoopi Goldberg steadfastly denies any pre-production of a Sister Act 3.

On March 4th, 2008, Idolator reported Jeff Mangum recited the famous Cool Hand Luke dialogue from "Civil War" with Guns n' Roses at a concert in Prague.

On April 18, 2008, a Pitchfork Media writer unknowingly walked in on his wife and Jeff Mangum engaging in sexual intercourse. While giving what he saw a 10.0 rating, the writer famously quipped, "Like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and I See A Darkness before it, this jurasich act screams simplicity, but when the necessary (yet onerous) layers of creativity are peeled back, the lucky audience realizes what they are seeing is more dense and heartening than the vortex of a centaur's soul." It was also reported that the writer was greeted with congratulatory shouts and high-fives from other members of the Pitchfork staff immediately following the official announcement that Mangum had nailed his wife.

On March 17, 2008, Brooklyn Vegan was the first to break the news that a piece of burnt toast bearing Jeff Mangum's likeness sold on eBay for a then-record sum of $7,012.00.

On May 15, 2008, My Old Kentucky Blog reported that Jeff Mangum was apprehended by local authorities scrawling "Here's where your mother sleeps, / and here is the room where your brothers were born" on a men's room wall in Sacramento, CA.

On June 1, 2008, after playing to a sold-out crowd of vagrants in Miami, Florida, Jeff Mangum pulled down his pants to commemorate Jim Morrison's famous exposure twenty-eight years earlier. The audience instantly is made aware of the true meaning behind the song "Two-Headed Boy".

On June 28, 2008, according to Large Hearted Boy, Jeff Mangum reportedly walked into a bar in Greenwich Village in New York and was informed by the bartender that they had named a drink after him. Sensing a set up for a bad one-liner insult, Mangum hesitantly walked up to the bar. However, he was soon delightfully surprised when he was served a Jeff Mangum: 1/3 lemon spritzer, 1/3 top shelf vodka, 1/3 ginger ale, with a splash of love. Magnum was reported to have said, "That's very refreshing," after he took a sip.

On July 2, 2008, Pitchfork Media reported that while vacationing in London, Jeff Mangum headed over to Wimbledon, grabbed a racquet, and dusted off Roger Federer in straight sets (6-0, 6-0, 6-1).

On July 10, 2008, Tankboy blogged about a newly released bag of Skittles in which each of the five candies is "flavored" after a Jeff Mangum project. Sales were slow and production stopped in August, but those who liked the new Skittles bought and consumed them feverishly while they were available.

On August 12, 2008, while under physical surveillance by several Cokemachineglow interns, Jeff Mangum walked into a Boston Dunkin Donuts and ordered a box of 60 Munchkins. He was only charged for 59 of them.

On August 31, 2008, Stereogum was the envy of the indie blog world when they were the first to report that Jeff Mangum had recently ridden the New York subway.

On September 12, 2008, an area underneath the Brooklyn Bridge attracted a large crowd and media attention when an image of Jeff Mangum mysteriously appeared on the concrete wall. Apples in Stereo leader Robert Schneider was summoned and, upon examination, announced the image was, in fact, not Mangum, but rather the Virgin Mary. The crowd quickly dissipated.

On October 4, 2008, Jeff Mangum was prominently involved in another Chicago Cubs postseason collapse:

No Jeff, nooooooo!

On October 9, 2008, at an Elephant 6 reunion show in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Jeff Mangum, while playing a life-affirming one minute set, shed a single tear, out of which a resurrected Anne Frank arose.

On October 18, 2008, at another Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour in Pittsburgh (see below), Jeff Mangum made a surprise appearance and played Neutral Milk Hotel b-side "Engine" much to the delight of the small crowd packed in at the Brillobox. However, delight quickly turned to chaos as several people in the audience fainted from excitement. This included former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, who was front and center. "It was still worth it," a smiling Greenspan said. "Although I still can’t believe he didn’t play 'Holland, 1945.'"
The Elephant 6 lineup at a reunion show (from L-R): Guy with tuba, guy no one cares about, Jeff Mangum!!!, Larry Bird, guy...maybe girl, guy grabbing the mic stand.

On October 25, 2008, the world was shocked when Jesus Christ, not heard from for approximately 2000 years, issued a press release through his agent Scott Boras during Game 3 of the 2008 World Series. The release stated, "I love you too, Jeff Mangum."

On November 22, 2008, Pitchfork Media realized they had only included one Neutral Milk Hotel song in their newly released book The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present. In a panic, they immediately contacted their publishing company and ordered them to stop production of the 1st edition. The 2nd edition, with appropriate corrections, is now titled, The Pitchfork 522: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present.

On November 30, 2008, Gorilla Vs. Bear reported that moose hunters discovered what was first believed to be Jeff Mangum's withered corpse inside a homemade sleeping bag in an abandoned bus in the Alaska wilderness. Gorilla Vs. Bear further stated that Mangum's last words, written in wild blueberry juice on the end leaf of Chuck Klosterman's Fargo City Rock, were, "Where's a vegan taco stand when you need one?" (NQL would like to point out that these reports are still unconfirmed.)

On December 2, 2008, President-Elect Barack Obama tagged Hilary Clinton to be Secretary of State, rather than going with the conventional pick of Jeff Mangum. Obama political consultant David Axelrod stated that the final decision came down to Mangum's complete lack of foreign policy experience, and his refusal to discontinue business negotiations with Germany.

On December 8, 2008, it was confirmed by several media outlets that Jeff Mangum had still not recorded or released any new material in a long, long time.

--NQL Staff

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Interview: Jim Hanke of Kid, You'll Move Mountains

Illinois band, Kid, You'll Move Mountains, recently released their debut album Loomings and will play a CD release show at the Metro on January 2nd. I have been listening to Loomings for the last week and a half and can't get enough of it. But I did take a recent break and chatted with lead singer Jim Hanke about the album and other notes of interest concerning the band.

NQL: First off, can you tell me about this Ragged website contest and how Kids, You'll Move Mountains got involved.

Jim Hanke: Well, although we've been playing shows since the summer of 2006, we haven't had anything recorded until now, so we've been looking for ways to just get people to know that we exist. We're going to hit the ground running with the new album for sure, but we heard about it through Filter Magazine and thought it might be a good chance to reach people in Austin, because I guess that's where the Ragged issue will be distributed.

We all have day jobs right now and when you're tied down like that, I think finding other ways to get your name out other than just straight touring helps. Whatever that is. So if ten people pick up this free Ragged issue and give us a chance, then cool. I will say the fact that the Filter staff picked us as one of the final five though out of hundreds of entries is pretty humbling, though.
Never expected to be a finalist.

NQL: I noticed the other bands come from the likes of San Francisco and Miami and then there's you guys from "Rural Illinois." You all are city people, or at one time were city people, since I know my Land of Lincoln pretty well, where exactly is "Rural Illinois"?

JH: Four out of the five us live in Geneva, IL which is about an hour or so west of Chicago. It's a little suburb. I come from Milwaukee, which is certainly smaller than Chicago, but bigger than Geneva by a landslide, so it is a little weird reading about us and it kind of insinuates that we practice in a barn or something. But to get to where we practice in Elburn, we do have to drive through corn fields. That's definitely true. But we're honest. We don't live in Chicago. There's a lot of that, I think, where bands say they're from Chicago and are even further away from there than we are. We're proud of where we're at because we can always play in DeKalb, Rockford and Chicago. And you can get a $3.00 omelette in Geneva. We love Chicago, but a cheap omelette is pretty hard to find there.

NQL: Yeah, sometimes you'll be downstate and you'll see a flyer of band and it will say "FROM CHICAGO" in letters larger than the actual band name.

JH: Right. A lot of Milwaukee friends of mine assume I moved to Chicago and when I say it's not Chicago, they're kind of stunned.

NQL: Will the Ragged Website thing coincide with a trip to SXSW?

JH: We'd love to play SXSW. Since I was old enough to know about SXSW, I've wanted to play it. Nate and Andrew from our band played there a few times when they were in Troubled Hubble, so they're anxious to get back, too.

NQL: Speaking of Troubled Hubble, can you explain the writing dynamic in the band. Especially with Nate and Andrew coming from a Lookout! band and also, between yourself and Nina.

JH: I'm very happy that everything in our band is pretty communal. One person isn't coming with a song completely written and the rest of us fall in line, and I love that it's not that way. I'm comfortable writing all the words for Nina and I, but I am absolutely not good at telling a group of four other people what to play and when and how loud. Everyone throws in their ideas and if most of us don't like an idea, we can it. Andrew specifically, I know, wanted to try different things in this band as opposed to Hubble, so in this band he switches a lot between bass and baritone guitar, or he'll use lots of pedals along with Corey.

When we started the band, I was excited that Nina was involved because I wanted to not be the main singer for once. She was really open to me writing the words and I didn't know how I'd do that at first, writing for another person. I could totally understand how what I wanted to say might not exactly be what she wanted to say. But it's worked out really well, I think. The feedback we've been getting is that she has some pretty sinister lines and that's what I wanted all along. Not the standard 'Oh, it's a guy and a girl singing, so it's all lovey-dovey and cute all the time'. I wanted some back-and-forth that was more push-pull and I hope we accomplish that.

NQL: Have you ever written a lyric and her say something along the lines of, "Sorry, try again, I'm not singing that."?

JH: The only things that I've changed have just been phrasing, not anything as far as subject matter. Just single words that would sound too rushed or choppy, because I think I tend to overwrite as far as lyrics. I love writers like Elvis Costello or Craig Finn who write a ton of lyrics and then cram it all together so it makes for a very urgent delivery. I don't think Nina or I sing like that, but I think I try to write a novel and then cram it into the time frame. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But no, she's never balked at anything I've given her, subject-wise. We just changed one or two synonyms around.

NQL: "I'm A Song From the Sixties" is one of my favorites on Loomings. It kind of has that dance/punk sound that I don't hear as much anymore but wish I did. Does that song specifically recall some of your influences as a band?

JH: Oh, cool, thanks. It was one of the first songs we wrote. I don't know if it shows any influences specifically. We definitely never set out to write a dance song or a slow song or anything. We kind of just found that rhythm in that song and went with it. I think we all have different influences and we don't always agree, but that's good. Nate and I really like REM, but some in the band aren't as into them as we are. One of Nina's favorite pianists is Vince Guaraldi, but I couldn't tell you what else he's played other than the Charlie Brown music. Corey is big into IDM beats and I don't know much about that stuff at all. So whatever comes out I guess is just stuff we all managed to agree on. We agree on more than we disagree on, for sure. Otherwise I don't think a band could exist or grow.

NQL: Right. Backing up a bit, and I should have mentioned this earlier when talking about Illinois, but your bio has this written in it: “each voicing stories of looming autumn days that turn to the dead of winter, before each also sings of the hopefulness of spring.” I love that because it's such a Midwest mindset. And I guess my question is, do you think region actually plays a role in a band's existence and ethics, or is that something that's just often overblown by media-types.

JH: I don't know necessarily either way. I think it's silly to assume that it doesn't because your location growing up effects what you hear. Bands like Braid and The Promise Ring, being around my area, influenced me and I can't know if they still would've influenced me if I only heard their records in, say, Billings, Montana but never saw them. But I can't say that being from the Midwest has really affected the words at all. I know what you mean though about people maybe blowing a band's whereabouts out of proportion. I read blogs and with all the bands coming from Brooklyn now, I can hardly keep track. And I know that those aren't 10% of the bands in Brooklyn.

NQL: My friends and I joke about that all the time. I pretty much just assume a band is from Brooklyn until I find out they're not.

JH: We should've done that, maybe. Or just say "America."

NQL: [laughs] That would be great. "West" is another song I really like. Nina does a great job vocally. And the lyrics and those to "Volts" kind of led me to the image on your album cover. Can you tell me what's going on there, with the imagery with the whale and stuff.

JH: "Volts" is kind of this mess, lyrically, that covers music in general. Kind of like, the points of view of the fan, the critic, the band, etc. The whale line from the song is kind of a metaphor for hype. And with the art on the album, where when you open the sleeve, there is a couch, a clock and different things falling out of him, I kind of look at the design as a visual of "not living within your own hype". In anything, not just music, you don't want to get too comfortable in just what your friends or others say about you. You want to branch out, challenge yourself, etc. and I'd like to think that we try to do that. When I saw the whale design, I don't think Marky Hladish, who did our art, had any idea bout that line in "Volts". So I asked him to kind of mock something up where pieces of someone's apartment were falling out of the whale and he gave us something we were extremely happy with.

NQL: I know you all are playing Chicago on January 2nd. Anything after that?

JH: I'm not sure where we're going or what exactly we're doing after the Metro show, but we want to be as busy as possible. As busy as we can be with us just doing everything ourselves. The Metro date is just this overwhelming dream come true to me. Andrew, Nate and Corey have all played there before in other bands, but for me, it's this hallowed ground, a place where I've been to see so many amazing bands, that I never thought I'd ever ever play at, let alone headline.

NQL: I love the Metro. It's one of those places that makes you feel like you're seeing a big show no matter who is on stage. It's hard to describe. You mentioned the day job thing earlier, how difficult is it to juggle your lives with the band?

JH: Right now, it's relatively easy to juggle band and work because we're at a point where we just absolutely have to work. We get out regionally and luckily our respective employers have been cool with us cutting out early or taking a long weekend here or there. I'd love to drop everything and go out and see the country. Nate and Andrew and Corey have all done that but none of my previous bands had that opportunity, but I'm realistic with what we CAN do. Hence, something like that Ragged contest that we talked about before. Hopefully getting our name out there (helps), despite not physically being able to be in front of everyone.

NQL: I often talk to bands and ask them if they have seen any shows recently and usually I get the answer that since they are on tour so much, the last thing they want to do when they get home is go to a show. I totally understand that, but at the same time I always think that's kind of unfortunate. With KYMM touring, do you find yourself a bit more reluctant to spend off nights inside some rock club watching another band?

JH: I definitely go to less shows than I used to, but I think that's more due to location and not due to playing in a band. I always try to go out and support my touring friends when they come through DeKalb, but it's harder to get out to the city on a Monday night at 10pm when I live an hour away. We have a pretty tight group of friends who play around Wisconsin and Illinois who are always there for us, so we want to be there for them, too.

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