March 22, 2008

Make That Three...

Well, I suppose it's time for me to weigh in my favorites from 2007. There's a fair amount of overlap in my list and the others, so I'll try to stick to elaboration that hasn't been covered yet. Sound good?

  • Field Music, Tones of Town:
This album gladly joins the ranks of No Dice, Radio City, Heaven Tonight, and Bandwagonesque a A Document of Pristine Power Pop without sounding derivative or stale. It's just off-kilter enough to really seem like an innovative statement without losing the joy or approachability of the aforementioned records. Field Music play around with phrase lengths, rhythms, textures (they even sample the drum machine track from "Beat It", tastefully, and it's SEAMLESS), and vocal harmony but at the same time stick to the stuff that made rock into great art: songs that are more emotionally complicated than their three chords would have you believe. Plus, the video for "In Context" is pretty awesomely badass.
  • The Clientele, God Save The Clientele
If Belle and Sebastian are this generation's Fairport Convention, The Clientele are this generation's Chad and Jeremy + Left Banke + Zombies. Okay, so that sets the bar a little high in terms of homage. But The Clientele have really matured their sound since 1997 and the cleaner production of this album, in contrast with their reverb-drenched earlier efforts, helps reveal a breathtaking sophistication in the simplest things they do. "The Queen of Seville" wins mad props because its steel guitar line is beautiful, it's about being lonely, and the title character sends the singer roses from Spain. Full disclosure: This song is, weirdly, about me. Or at least coincides neatly with the fact that my girlfriend is spending the semester in Spain.
  • Georgie James, Places
You gotta believe a drummer can write/play/sing a great record after leaving his band! Easily the strongest Saddle Creek offering in a year that gave the world Help Wanted Nights from The Good Life and a fairly strong full-length debut from Two Gallants. The way John Davis and Laura Burhenn play with genre influences without resorting to outright form-exercise is really quite fascinating to me. Plus they rock ass.
  • John Vanderslice, Emerald City
I initially thought this record was a step backward from the note-perfect, lush songcraft of Pixel Revolt. Then I saw the songs live and realized that they may be some of the most emotionally charged story-songs put out so far this decade. Even if the fuzzy, overdriven acoustic guitars blow out your speakers, it's worth the price of Vanderslice's gift very forcefully arriving at your brain. As a social comment on the way we cope with the War in Iraq and what motivations make people do absolutely appalling things, it's a supremely apt statement. "White Dove," "Tablespoon of Codeine," and "The Tower" all impress with their lush lyrical detail and subtle musical flourishes.
  • Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger
While I respect Georgie James for their style-hopping syncretism, I likewise totally bow down to Ryan Adams for so adeptly making genre exercises his own. Where Cold Roses showed his classic rock-jam-flag at full mast, Jacksonville City Nights revelled in the quaint grandeur of countrypolitan retroism, and Rock n' Roll made a fairly convincing modern rock turn, Easy Tiger manages to incorporate the splintered elements of the Ryan Adams catalogue into a defiantly varied and accomplished album. "Two," "Everybody Knows," and "The Sun Also Sets" abide by the "original" R.A. sound in their touched, rustic folk-rock and "Pearls on a String" throws a bluegrass curveball, but I find "Rip Off" to be the album's most staggering track: three and a half minutes of restrained, stately, and emotionally bare-knuckled songcraft that combines elements of chamber pop, earnest folk, aching throwback country, spare lyricism, and gorgeous detail. That's enough gushing from me. This album is simply excellent.

Also enjoyed profoundly: Bishop Allen, The Broken String; Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, Living with the Living; Polyphonic Spree, The Fragile Army; Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank; Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights.

So yeah, the trinity is complete.

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