Monday, January 28, 2008

Sometimes the Year Doesn't Start Till March

A pop culture year is very much like the average human week. Most Mondays are slow, boring and dealing with leftovers of the weekend, Tuesdays seem bland and mechanical and on Wednesday, the week begins to take shape. At that point we all know exactly how this week will be remembered, if at all.

January can be a boringly horrid month for someone like me. I hate the cold, I just returned home from vacation and another is too far off to think about. However from a personal vantage point, '08 is getting a kick start compared to years past. A friend turned me on to Times New Viking's Rip it Off a couple of weeks back as well as Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut and I had the pleasure of getting to review Dub Trio's new album, Another Sound is Dying. Now, I'm not going to get ahead of myself and say that these will be around come Album of the Year time, but at least the wheels are moving at idling speed for now.

Now, since January is usually the Monday of any year, most of it is spent following up on previous year leftovers. Certain art house films that were massively praised by critics mid-year are just now seeing American screen time next to also-ran blockbuster (supposed) releases that just weren't good enough to see light in the last set of 365. Last year about this time is when masterpieces like Caché and Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada saw their releases. These were give deserved praise by critics, but forgotten by audiences by the time they hit theaters which is a shame.

Music is a different kettle of fish altogether. Sure, blogs start buzzing about albums rather early, prophecizing the coming of musical saviors and/or disasters that readers could probably take or leave, but sometimes proper exposure never comes till the next calendar year. Such is the case of the album Here Comes the Future by The Honeydrips. I'm not saying that this album is a lost masterpiece or one of the best albums of the year by any stretch, but it's sweet, groovy little dream pop gem that could've gone a long way with some push behind it.

In fact, that album is the reason for this writing. While I chose my top 20 very much in the vein of Rinus Michels' coaching methods for Dutch Total Football in the '70s - where every player barring the keeper, should play every position with the captain as the leader on the pitch - it's common sense that every football team needs substitutes and most leagues allow 5 on the bench. Thus, here are the 5 substitutes if my 20 starters couldn't get a proper result. Shockingly, the inspiration for this piece didn't make the cut.

S1. Tomahawk - Anonymous

With the first substitution slot usually slated for a goalkeeper (in the off-chance they might need him). I can't think of more important musical figure that I could bring on with more confidence than Mike Patton. Though I can't say I'm a Mike Patton "fan" yet because I simply don't meet the requirements. I've not followed his every move ever nor have I been able to hear even half of his output since Faith No More. Hell, I haven't even heard all the Faith No More stuff, either. However, Tomahawk's Anonymous continues a tradition of consistency that's evident in all of his work as well as the hallmarks of all things Patton. No one can say it better than Patton Superfan Raymond Flotat, "It defies name, genre, convention and heretofore all expectations for the group. Anonymous is a marvelous achievement. It's unique and enjoyable in the best way possible, an attempt at pushing boundaries of which Tomahawk should be proud."

S2. Black Kids - Wizard of Ahhhs

I can't claim to be an expert on bands who've pimped themselves to success via the internet, but I can say that the best work I've heard from a band where the internet was the sole means of exposure exists in the 4 tracks from this EP. The band's mix precious, lo-fi indie rock augmented with synths and lyrics of pure romantic yearning is also one of the best examples of EP usage in a long time. There's no time for it to overstay its welcome and never boring over repeat listens. I would encourage anyone and everyone with a love for good-hearted rock and power-pop balladry to give this a shot. Not since Big Star's Radio City or Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos has a band embodied all of the beautiful possibilities of romantic guitar rock. Couple that with C-86 preciousness and you have a unique package that I can't wait to hear more from.

S3. Joanna Newsom - The Ys Street Band

Then there was the darling of 2006. To me she came out of nowhere. I'd no knowledge of who Joanna Newsome was before I heard Ys. After the first listen, I couldn't have cared less. However, something in that album held on tightly to the back of my mind and waited ever so patiently to tap into my 'Must go back and Check' sense. When I went back, I still wasn't totally bowled over by what many raved as the best album of the year. Frankly, I'm still not sold. But I can't consider her overrated or overhyped as all the accolades she's received are deserved on some level or another. Ys getting album of the year, for me was probably how some felt when Annie Hall got the Oscar in 1977. There were better albums in 2006, but I don't think any of them touched it in terms of sheer songwriting intellect and bravery. The Ys Street Band EP may serve as overrun for that album, but this is a display the could prove Newsom's worth. "Colleen," the leftover from Ys coupled to live renditions of older Newsom tunes shows her at full strength in studio and on stage. At only 3 songs, she'll leave many of her fans absolutely salivating for more. Too bad the wait will probably be long.

S4. Thurston Moore - Trees Outside the Academy

If there's anyone who could write a book on how to age gracefully, it would be this man - The book would have its forward written by James Murphy. His band Sonic Youth have made waves for nearly 3 decades and have failed to falter. Sure, some of their albums aren't as good as others, but they continue to move forward without stagnating. In fact, the only times laurels are ever rested upon seem to be on his solo releases and, seeing since there aren't many, it's never a bad thing. Trees Outside the Academy may be on the heels of SY's latest masterpiece, Rather Ripped, but it's another song-driven affair full of pop hooks and trademark Sonic Youth noise. What's so great about Thurston and SY is that though they get older, their music, however linked to 90s alternative it might be, still seems ageless after all these years.

St. S5. Vincent - Marry Me

Rob, if you read this, thanks for this one. This was an album that I didn't listen to based on my childish tendency of looking at the cover. While that tendency has gotten me into many a great band (Massive Attack, Portishead, Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, etc.), it has failed me on several occasions as well. This was one of them. Annie Clark really delivered here. Lush yet chaotic arrangements would seem out of place if not for her beautifully full voice. While I've not heard anything previous to this release except The Polyphonic Spree's Fragile Army, which she appeared on, I can say that I've not heard a more idiosyncratically masterful album in quite some time. Song's like "Now Now," "You're Lips Are Red" and "Jesus Saves, I Spend" reveal an artist of truly original talent. While this effort is consistent, clever and absolutely lovable, I would pick this woman as highly likely to drop a creative masterpiece in the near future. While Marry Me has laid a strong foundation for the future, it still feels like a rose at half-bloom. Once this woman reaches full confidence, there's not going to be much that'll stand in her way.

Even with an extra 5 entries, the list doesn't feel complete. Of course, I could go into others still left off like Grizzly Bear's Friend EP, Air's Pocket Symphony and the aforementioned album that inspired this writing. I declare that to be an utterly pointless task. That could raise questions about the fruits of this labor. For that, I can provide no other answer than I really dig writing about music, among the other things that this series of writings might contain.

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