Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chris Sisson's Best of 2008

Here it is boys and girls! Better late than never right? As always Chris Schuck's Annual Surprise Birthday Bash for Jesus features selections from my favorite albums (19 this year) of the year. I've included some links to webpages where you can hear more tunes from these artists. Please enjoy.

1. Sigur Rós – “Gobbledigook”
Album: Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
In english the album title translates to With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly. I’d say this is the most accessible album by my favorite Icelandic quartet. I couldn’t decide which song to choose so this year’s Birthday Bash is bookended by Sigur Rós. Leanna and I saw them at the Uptown this summer and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
Also check out: "Inní mér syngur vitleysingur " "Við spilum endalaust"

2. Los Campesinos! – “Death to Los Campesinos!”
Album: Hold On Now Youngster
Last year the Birthday Bash brought you “You! Me! Dancing!” which was on the Campesinos! Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP. This year they released two full length albums, the first of which being Youngster. I love the energy on this record. It was hard to leave track 5, “My Year In Lists” off the Bash for obvious reasons, but no song made me happier in 2008 than “Death to….”
Also check out: “My Year In Lists” “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks”

3. Erykah Badu – “The Healer/Hip Hop”
Album: New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War)
This lady’s got herself some soul. The New Amerykah is the first album of a trilogy. Part Two comes out in early 2009 so watch out for that. If you’re ever in need of some good cruising around with your windows down music, pop this one in.
Also check out: “Soldier” “Twinkle”

4. The Black Keys – “Oceans and Streams”
Album: Attack and Release
I am amazed this record isn’t all over the year end lists. It’s definitely in my top 3, although to be honest, I fell in love with it before I ever heard a note. It was going to be a Dangermouse produced Ike Turner record with the Black Keys as the session band. Unfortunately Ike passed away last December leaving the ‘Mouse and the Keys with a bunch of tunes that became Attack and Release. If you’re unfamiliar with the Black Keys, they’re a two piece garage rock band out of Akron, Ohio. Make no mistake, this is the Black Keys, but there is a bluesy soul element that sets this one apart from their past releases. It sounds pretty normal until 2:18 into "All You Ever Wanted" and then this organ kicks in that gives me chills and sort of announces that this is not your father's Black Keys.
Also check out: “I Got Mine” “Psychotic Girl”

5. Bon Iver – “Skinny Love”
Album: For Emma, Forever Ago
For Emma was actually released independently in ’07 but was formally released by Jagjaguwar in February. Critics absolutely love this record, but I have to admit, I was slow to warm up to it. As you can hear, it’s a lot of guy and a guitar, sad bastard type music which I have a hard time getting into. In the end though, it won me over because the songs are just so pretty. Bon Iver is the stage name of Justin Vernon. He wrote and recorded For Emma in a cabin in rural Wisconsin after, what else, his girlfriend dumped him. I would suggest putting this on if you’re stuck inside on a really cold snowy evening, or when you want to be sad.
Also check out: “Flume”

6. TV On The Radio – “DLZ”
Album: Dear Science
It seems like TVOTR have been indie darlings for like 10 years. It helps that they keep getting better with every release. Dear Science is probably their most listener friendly album to date. I chose “DLZ” basically at random because just about every song on it deserves to be heard.
Also check out: “Dancing Choose” “Shout Me Out” “Red Dress” “Halfway Home”

7. Gnarls Barkley – “Going On”
Album: The Odd Couple
Here’s the second Dangermouse album on my list. The Odd Couple doesn’t have any “Crazy”-type hits, but is overall more solid than St. Elsewhere. It showcases Cee-lo’s voice a little more, and most of the songs are built around 60’s soul samples.
Also check out: “Run(I’m a Natural Disaster)” “Who’s Going To Save My Soul”

8. K’naan – “My Old Home”
Album: The Dusty Foot Philosopher
I need to thank Jim and Greg at Sound Opinions for bringing Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan to my attention. This album has been around for a while, but didn’t come out in the US until this April. K’naan was born in Somalia and lived there until the still ongoing civil war broke out. The story is that his family made it onto the last commercial flight out of Mogadisho when he was 13. They settled in Canada where he learned English and started rapping. “My Old Home” is obviously about his childhood in Africa, but the subject matter of Dusty Foot Philosopher is all over the map. What I like most of all though are the beats. You’d never hear any of these songs on Hot 103 Jamz (don’t forget to slam that Z), and that’s a good thing. He has a new record coming out in February called Troubador. Should be real good.
Also check out: “Smile” “Voices In My Head” “In The Beginning”

9. What Made Milwaukee Famous – “Sultan”
Album: What Doesn’t Kill Us
Here are some dudes from Austin who write really catchy songs. There isn’t really anything all that exceptional about this record, but quite often I find myself humming their tunes. I’d wager that after listening to the Bash this year, “Sultan” is the one that will be running through your head the next day. Consistently solid.
Also check out: “Resistance St.” “Cheap Wine”

10. The Hold Steady – “Sequestered In Memphis”
Album: Stay Positive
I think my burned Hold Steady disc (Stay Positive + favorites from the past) owes me some rent because it practically lives in my Saturn’s CD player. Some of the best driving I did this year was summertime on I-70, Columbia to Kansas City with all the windows down and Stay Positive blasting at full volume. By the way, if you haven't noticed, how well a CD sounds while I'm driving around with the windows down is a huge factor in my opinion of it. Now, I'm not one of those people with a trunk rattling system in his car (you know, I don't hear as many of those as I used to) who wants everyone to be annoyed by what he's listening to. I just like the feeling of open air and good tunes. Really, what's better? This isn’t really a concept record, but a lot of the songs, like “Sequestered” involve murder mystery, John Grisham type stuff.
Also check out: “Constructive Summer” “Stay Positive”

11. Cloud Cult – “Everybody Here is a Cloud”
Album: Feel Good Ghosts (Tea Partying Through Tornadoes)
I had heard of Cloud Cult, but never really heard them until this fall when I was listening to The Current (Minnesota Public Radio) online while studying. Now I’m a little disappointed in myself for not having been all over them in the past. I love their sound. Cloud Cult is mainly the project of one man, Craig Minowa. Back in 2002, his two year old son passed away which has since become the subject of the majority of Cloud Cult songs. By the way, did anybody notice how we’ve grouped the two Minnesota artists together at 10 & 11? Pretty clever huh?
Also check out: “No One Said it Would Be Easy” “It’s What You Need”

12. Fleet Foxes – “Blue Ridge Mountains”
Album: Fleet Foxes
This may be the consensus album of the year, at least among my sources. People really love it, but like Bon Iver, it took me awhile to get into it. The whole spooky, wailing harmony, wispy sound just doesn’t do it for me that often, but when it does it really hits the spot. “Blue Ridge Mountains” became my favorite song on the record after I saw them play it on Letterman, but “White Winter Hymnal” is all over the best songs of 2008 lists.
Also check out: “White Winter Hymnal” “Quiet Houses”

13. It’s Over – “My Dear Wife”
Album: That Girl
Kansas City’s own It’s Over (now on perfect is that?) finally came out with a full length record this year. They’ve been favorites around here for a while, and you can hear why. They're influenced by old school 50’s rock and they write songs about being married to serial killers. What’s not to like?
Also check out: “Hallelujah” “To Be In Love” “She’s a Killer”

14. Murder By Death – “Fuego”
Album: Red of Tooth and Claw
Here’s another band I’d heard of but not really heard until this year. Track 5 (“Theme”) is an instrumental homage to Ennio Morricone (the guy who wrote all of those haunting soundtracks to spaghetti westerns), but I think they should have made it the first track because it really sets the tone for the record. Red of Tooth... is a concept record (I'm a sucker for a good concept record) about bad men in the old west and they have the perfect sound, with the baritone vocals and spooky cello, for that particular subject.
Also check out: “Theme” “Rum Brave” “Steal Away”

15. Drive-By Truckers – “A Ghost To Most”
Album: Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Loyal Birthday Bash listeners will not be surprised by this pick. I’ve made no secret of the fact that the Truckers are one of my favorite bands, both live and on wax (well plastic or whatever they make CD’s out of). However, I am somewhat disappointed by this record. As you learned last year, Jason Isbell has left the band, taking his fantastic songwriting and guitar playing with him. They replaced him with John Neff who’s supposedly some kind of pedal steel virtuoso, but the end result is they went from a super tight three guitar attack to a two guitar and pedal steel band. In spite of all this though, there are some really great songs on this one, not the least of which is Cooley’s “Ghost”.
Also check out: “Righteous Path” “Three Dimes Down” “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife”

16. Whiskeytown – “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart” featuring Alejandro Escovedo
Album: Strangers Almanac Deluxe Edition
So Ryan Adams released yet another album this year called Cardinology, but for my money, the best Ryan Adams release of 2008 was the reissue of Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac. It’s a two disc set with all of the original material plus a whole bunch of in-stores, acoustic performances, radio appearances and b-sides. I was a little on the fence about whether to include it in the Birthday Bash since the original came out in 1997, but since Strangers Almanac is my all-time favorite record and since it’s my list, I put it on there.
Also check out: “Houses on the Hill” “16 Days” “Waiting To Derail”

17. Why? – “Fatalist Palmistry”
Album: Alopecia
Indie hip-hop fans may recognize Why?’s lead singer, Yonni Wolf as one half of the duo CloudDead. Released on the supercool Bay area label, Anticon, Alopecia is one of those genre smashers that really sticks to your ribs if you know what I mean (if you do would you explain it to me because I have no idea what I’m typing right now). I was driving around in a snowstorm last night and found Alopecia to be the perfect soundtrack.
Also check out: “The Hollows” “The Vowels Pt. 2”

18. Rhymefest – “Thriller” (skit)
19. Rhymefest – “Get Up” featuring Wale
Album: Mark Ronson presents Rhymefest: Man In The Mirror
This is a “Michael Jackson tribute album” by Chicago rapper Rhymefest. You can download it for free from Rhymefest’s website. Here’s a link. They dug up some old MJ interviews and spliced ‘Fest (aka El Che) in with them to produce some pretty funny skits in between a bunch of really good songs built around MJ samples. I think it’s fantastic.
Also check out: “Can’t Make It” “Breakadawn”

20. Blitzen Trapper – “Black River Killer”
Album: Furr
Blitzen Trapper, one of about 12,000 hip bands from Portland, OR showed up last year with the self released Wild Mountain Nation, which got some good reviews due to its varied styles although I thought it was completely unmemorable. They’ve since signed to Sub Pop and this year they gave us the much more focused Furr. It’s pretty folky and the singer is doing his best Bob Dylan impression, but in a good way.
Also check out: “Saturday Nite” “Furr”

21. Sigur Rós - "Inní mér syngur vitleysingur ”
Album: Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
Here you go. We’ve bookended the Bash with Sigur Rós.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Birthday Bash. Did I leave something out? MGMT? Vampire Weekend? Metallica? Nickelback? Are you outraged by my selections? Let me know what you think. Until next year, keep your ears to the ground and keep reaching for the stars!

-Team Sisson