TV On The Radio: Dear Science, (DGC/Interscope)
Crackling, immediate, wholly new with viscous roots shooting down into something undeniably human, meaty and machine-y in equal measures, modernity through the romantic sieve of Motown, movie kisses and modern poetry. Describing TVOTR is the definition of dancing about architecture. I ain't ashamed to say this brought a tear to my eye more than once. (feature article, 2006 feature)
And The Rest…
Top 13 Debut Albums of 2008
To my ears, this baker's dozen is the graduating class for this past year - artists one would be wise to keep tabs on because they're likely to be making amazing music in the years to come.
Big Light: Big Light EP
While they've found favor in the jam world, Big Light is really a superb pop-rock outfit that knows how to stretch boundaries and when to sink their teeth into a juicy impromptu moment. This EP suggests the charms that have truly blossomed through regular gigging. Fronted by Fred Torphy, a genuine rock-star-in-waiting (this guy looks like a future groupie magnet to me), Big Light hums with the same dedication to craft and anything-is-possible energy as early MMJ and Dr. Dog. And besides all that, their music makes one feel good to be alive.
Nicki Bluhm: Toby's Song (Little Knickers)
Bluhm strongly recalls young Linda Ronstadt & Bonnie Raitt in power, range and instincts, and aided by her gifted hubby Tim Bluhm of The Mother Hips (more on him later…) her quietly bewitching debut and growing live prowess with her band, The Gramblers, only point to many good things to come. (album review)
Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)
A haunted, hesitantly hopeful cry from the wilderness to be sure, and one doesn't soon forget Emma or her effect on Iver man Justin Vernon. But, seeing how Bon Iver has become a band, something fuller and deeper than one man's frozen retreat, it is the next chapter I'm most excited about. My nose smells masterpieces on the way. (feature article)
Deer Tick: War Elephant (Partisan)
An old, wise soul resides in 22-year-old John McCauley, who hopped out of the gate with an album a seasoned vet like Springsteen would be proud of. Feverish in its execution, War Elephant weeps and spins with undeniable presence and compelling sureness. (album review)
Everest: Ghost Notes (Vapor)
Taken as a whole, Ghost Notes is really good but as one begins to take it apart, dropping a cut on a mix or having a gem resurface on iPod shuffle, well, it becomes obvious this is actually great stuff able to hold its own against rock's heavyweights. The extended opening slot they had with Neil Young and Wilco last year says I'm not alone in hearing the promise in Everest. All the fundamentals are in place, and they're one or two inspired recording sessions away from popping up on a lot more radars. Get in now while the getting is good.
Liam Finn: I'll Be The Lightning (Yep Roc)
One of the most complete, engaging and wide swinging first offerings by a pop artist in a decade. He's got some of dad Neil Finn's artistry but there's punkier, weirder depths to Liam. (album review)
Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
While perhaps not as completely sold as the rest of the world appears to be, there's something undeniably special about the Foxes, who've crafted an enchanting album that builds nicely on their root sources (Steeleye Span, CSN, Bert Jansch). (album review)
Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit: A Larum (Lost Highway)
With all the punk-folk energy of early Billy Bragg and the traditional music tangling dexterity of Fairport Convention, young Mr. Flynn and his Wit overflow with talent, great energy and a streetwise understanding that's uncommon in the folk field. That this knotted, emotionally barbed music has found a place on the charts in the U.K. just makes me grin broadly. (album review)
Haale: No Ceiling (self-released)
Pregnant with explosive ideas and genre smashing sonics, the music of Haale Gafori and partner in crime percussionist-producer Matt Kilmer engages faith, politics and love in refreshing ways that understand that lovely and terrible things coexist. Haale's inherent poetry leans back to Patti Smith and Rumi, Jefferson Airplane and T.S. Eliot – engagers of the world's saints and sinners that reveal the unseen realm behind all things. (feature article)
Daniel Martin Moore: Stray Age (Sub Pop)
Moore is perhaps the most immediately striking singer-songwriter Sub Pop has snagged since Iron & Wine's Sam Beam. Call that hype if you like but the resonant, unlabored perfection of his songs possesses the same tendrils Beam's early work. If we're lucky, Moore will blossom into the same kind of hyper-talent. (album review)
The Mumlers: Stitches & Thickets (Galaxia)
Will Sprott, the guiding light behind this San Jose, CA band, is another wise-beyond-his-years new arrival. There's so much off-handed grace and unforced sweetness to Stitches & Thickets that it seems the work of an old hand, someone with miles of gigs behind them and a fat notebook of material. There's something of Randy Newman, The Smiths, '75 Dylan and other thick flavors to The Mumlers, who feel like they're just getting started. (album review)
TK Webb & The Visions: Ancestor (Kemado)
If Mick Ronson ran the Spiders From Mars they might have sounded like TK and his Visions. Unapologetically heavy, Ancestor throws lyrical curveballs, going uber-simple one minute and then slicing into the subconscious the next. All the while, the band plays like it's their last night alive and they're going to grind out something the kids will remember. This one just keeps gettin' better over time. (album review)
Nate Wilson Group: Unbound (self-released)
Hugely exciting music that rocks like a tricked out Camaro driven by a hot blond on the way to see Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy in their fighting prime. Assembly of Dust alumni Wilson (keys, lead vocals) and Adam Terrell (guitar) drive this smart, skilled hesher-tastic quartet into tunes I desperately want to cut a laser light show to. One day their live show will have flash pots if I have any say in the matter. (album review)
Archival Release of 2008
Dennis Wilson: Pacific Ocean Blue, (Legacy)
Melancholy, oceanic gospel for the faithless. A masterpiece resurfaced. (Sunday Spin)
Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs – The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 (Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006) (Columbia/Legacy)
Put bluntly, I'll take this double disc culling of Bob's late period output over most of the individual albums since 1989. There's more off-the-cuff appeal to these takes and less concern about the "integrity" or "art" worthiness of it all. The man writes a good song and has discovered newfound love for interpreting vintage material. More simply, this is some fine, croaky old Dylan music. If you have him your bloodstream this is a fine fix.
Danielson: Trying Hartz (First Fruits '94 – '04) (Secretly Canadian)
Splendid weirdness encapsulating a decade's worth of peculiar love ditties, outpatient jams and other wonderful, happy-sad stardust that'll make you dance like a five-year-old in a summer sprinkler. Neat!
Vintage Discovery of 2008
A couple real standouts from the past that found me last year…
Bob Frank & John Murry: World Without End (Bowstring)
Some of the purest, deepest American songwriting in recent years, ten death songs full of ragged bullet holes, frozen flesh and even colder hearts. This pairing of emerging S.F. area talent John Murry and veteran Bob Frank carves scenes in fantastic detail, each piece wonderfully arranged and offered with appropriate croak. Originally released in 2006, the album reached wider acclaim in the U.K. in 2007 when MOJO & Uncut took a major shine to the duo. Life is both dear and cheap in their tales - as it is in the real world - but managing this gray area verisimilitude is a real achievement. Enfolded in vibrant soundscapes that suggest graveyards, the afterlife and lonely dawn hours, World Without End is addictive, insightful listening that carries the death song tradition forward a few good miles.
Al Stewart: Zero She Flies (Collector's Choice)
If, like me, you only know "Year of the Cat" and a few other mid-70's hits, there's a whole world of Al Stewart to be discovered, including this lost folk-rock marvel from 1970. Drawing inspiration from Dylan, Leonard Cohen and fellow Brits Fairport Convention, Zero sounds like an unacknowledged forefather to Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and other pastoral rockers, and an album that ranks up there with Graham Nash's Songs For Beginners and John & Beverly Martyn's The Road To Ruin from the same era.
Best "New" Classic Rock Album of 2008 (or "The Zeppy Award")
The Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely (Third Man/Warner)
Rose Hill Drive: Moon Is The New Earth (Megaforce) (feature article)
Motley Crue: Saints of Los Angeles (Eleven Seven) (album review)
The Steepwater Band: Grace And Melody (Diamond Day) (album review)
Best Roots Albums of 2008 (tie)
Sammy Walker: Misfit Scarecrow (Ramseur) (album review)
Kathy Mattea: Coal (Captain Potato) (album review)
Most Adventurous Acoustic Music of 2008
Punch Brothers: Punch (Nonesuch) (feature article)
Concept Album of 2008
Bryan Scary & The Shredding Tears: Flight of the Knife (Black and Greene Records)
Hip-Hop Album of 2008
GFE: Broken Time Machine (Granola Funk) (album review)
Best Singer-Songwriter (Foreign Division) of 2008
Thomas Denver Jonsson: The Lake Acts Like An Ocean (Kite Recordings) (album review)
Best Live Album of 2008
The Brakes: Tale of Two Cities (Hyena) (album review)
Toubab Krewe: Live At The Orange Peel (Upstream Records) (feature article)
Best EP of 2008
Todd Snider: Peace Queer (feature article)
Monotonix: Body Language (Drag City) (album review)
Grandly Loopy Album of 2008
Megapuss: Surfing (Vapor) (album review)
The Howling Hex: Earth Junk (Drag City)
25 Songs from 2008 That Will Greatly Enrich Your Life
1. "We Will Awaken" by Sam Champion
2. "Red Ribbons" by Tea Leaf Green
3. "Left Behind" by CSS
4. "Make A Man's Body Hurt" by Brothers and Sisters
5. "Nothing Hides" by James Jackson Toth
6. "Pemberton Steps" by Dave Brogan
7. "Old Turns" by David Vandervelde
8. "Possession" by Thomas Denver Johnson
9. "Show Me The Coast" by War On Drugs
10. "Ginger Tea" by The New Up
11. "Furr" by Blitzen Trapper
12. "Oklahoma" by Elvin Bishop
13. "Blond And Golden Johns" by Larkin Grimm
14. "Smoking Figs In The Yard" by Endless Boogie
15. "Looking For Nothing" by Aimee Mann
16. "Foot By Foot" by Blue Turtle Seduction
17. "Can't Take It With You" by Marah
18. "You Might As Well" by Sera Cahoone
19. "Let's Go Mad Together" by Grampall Jookabox
20. "Misfit Scarecrow" by Sammy Walker
21. "She Don't Mind The Rain" by The Rosewood Thieves
22. "Princes" by Gang Gang Dance
23. "The Step And The Walk" by The Duke Spirit
24. "Stop" by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
25. "Come On Down" by Jenny Scheinman
A Look To The Future…
Covers There Should Be A Moratorium On In 2009
Both The Talking Heads and The Grateful Dead have MANY other tunes worth exploring, so let's give' "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)" and "Sugaree" a solid rest in '09. Too many bands are onto these cuts for them to have much more oomph in concert. Really, I'm asking nicely, touring musicians. The Corner suggests y'all explore the rich catalogs of Thin Lizzy, Spirit, The Doobie Brothers and Elton John for some primo, less-traveled fare when looking to juice your setlists.
5 Artists To Watch in 2009
1. Brothers And Sisters
As I've peeled tracks off their sophomore release, Fortunately (album review), for mixes I've found them holding their own against Graham Nash, The Black Crowes and other heavyweights, particularly their slow burners. Full of great harmonies and a swelling melodic bent, this Austin-based group is starting to tour nationally and I sense the road is only going to refine and accentuate the great things one already hears.
2. The Society of Rockets
After being laid flat by 2007's Our Paths Related (album review), I spent the past year digging into their back catalog and discovered one of the most vibrantly & restlessly creative rock bands today. There's so much craft yet also a high-wire kind of experimentalism that makes already top notch songs sparkle in myriad ways. This large S.F. band is working on a follow-up to Our Paths Related, which, fingers crossed, we'll hear before this year is over. In the meantime, pick up all their stuff and then send me a thank you note for the gift I just gave you.
3. Tim Bluhm
Seems like the emerging Bay Area rock scene woke up to this Mother Hip powerhouse in '08. Besides his chooglin' partnership with Phil's fresh-faced boy Jackie Greene in Skinny Singers, Bluhm produced highly satisfying debuts from ALO's Dave Brogan, spouse Nicki Bluhm and is currently helming Hot Buttered Rum's upcoming release. Put very directly, Tim Bluhm has the kind of possessed genius associated with Paul McCartney and John Lennon slathered with something earthier. His own songwriting, guitar playing and singing grow by leaps and bounds each year, and it's a joy to see his fingerprints emerging in lots of places as this rich community takes advantage of this resounding resource in their midst.
4. Southeast Engine
Few bands write about spirituality and mortality with greater eloquence. What Southeast Engine's forthcoming late winter release, From the Forest to the Sea (arriving February 17 on Misra Records), reveals is the musical muscle shown on 2007's stunning A Wheel Within a Wheel (album review) has only grower tauter, leaner, cooler. I'll confidently say From the Forest to the Sea is a dead lock for my '09 Best Albums list, and it's going to be a blast to see what the road does for them as they branch out from their Ohio home. This feels like a band teetering on the edge of incredible things.
5. Red Cortez
Speaking of groups teetering on the edge, the former Weather Underground has been woodshedding their full-length debut after a series of fab EPs (see EP reviews). The urgency and hard slap they showed at last year's High Sierra Music Festival and the unabashed ambition of their vision in the studio convinces me that they won't settle for anything short of greatness in what they offer up next. I'm waiting impatiently, sirs.
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