I AM FUEL, YOU ARE FRIENDS

...we've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side. (Pearl Jam, Leash)

Monday, December 31, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

Ah, the last day of 2007. We have about four different options for this evening and no one can decide anything. Both my brother and sister are still in town, which adds to the fun myriad of possibilities. Right now I think the frontrunners are either going to Heidi's to drink hot German wine (she just got back from a trip to the Paterland), doing something in Denver with my little brother, or perhaps just the usual NYE tradition of sitting on my porch with that bottle of vodka and a shotgun.

Also, in related holiday news, my sister is the best present buyer ever -- look what finally arrived:Courtesy of Uncommon Goods. Now I just have to figure out what to put in a bowl with a hole in the center (it was, after all, a real record in its past life).

My last five offerings of 2007!

My Own Worst Enemy
George Stanford

With a crisp piano melody that sticks in your head like a Billy Joel or Ben Folds tune, this song just feels like cold January and fresh starts. A couple of trusted ears recommended that I check out this artist from Philadelphia (George Stanford is formerly of the band Townhall). This first track I listened to is rumored to have a dual-meaning about either a girl or his love/hate relationship with his music and songwriting. Either way, it's charming and heartfelt and I've found myself humming it all day. Stanford has an EP currently out on Smash Records.

Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Vampire Weekend

I've mentioned before that I worked in a rad international education job for five years, and during that time I got to help dozens of students study abroad in African countries. Two students that I remember took the time to share some African music when they came back, feeding a primal love that runs hot in my veins for the ebullient, earthy percussion common to much of their music. So it's a bit inexplicable that I've resisted listening to hot blog-buzz band Vampire Weekend, which has an oft-cited African undercurrent reminiscent of both Graceland-era Paul Simon (an album I unabashedly love) and mid-80s Peter Gabriel. I finally took a spin, and of course, I find their album absolutely delightful.

[Sean's in the same late-arriving boat as me, but as usual, he's a heck of a lot more eloquent]

Electric Bird
Sia

With swankily gorgeous vocals that boast a hint of '40s glamour mixed with Fiona Apple's dramatic range, Sia is an Australian artist that I have heard a a few scattered places and always enjoyed. This track is from her forthcoming January release, Some People Have Real Problems. I have no idea what is going on with the U.S. album cover so I just close my eyes and listen to the sultry brassiness of this tune instead of pondering the magic marker on the face. It could be the hot trend of 2008.

Baltimore
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Old pal rbally blog is sneakily back after taking too many months on hiatus, and this elates me. Jenning's fifth or sixth post since returning is a screaming live show from former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus, with his new band The Jicks (causing me to wonder what a jick is). Rbally also points me to this new mp3 from the Matador website, a first listen off of Malkmus' forthcoming album Real Emotional Trash, due in March. Still all crunch and fuzz but with elegant melodies and flourishes throughout, and laced with Malkmus' literate lyrics and endearing warble.

Number One
Miss Fairchild

Finally, if you have no idea what to play tonight for your New Year's festivites, and don't have time to make up a mix (like moi), then the fine trio of gents from New England funk/soul band Miss Fairchild still have that 2-part mixtape up for free download on their website. Their mix blends together a wide range of old-school and modern songs (funk, hip hop, soul) with a few get-up-shake-it tracks of their own making, like this dancetastic groove from the Ooh La La Sha Sha EP. Their MySpace says they sound "like Sly Stone remixed by Beck" -- it is thoroughly fresh and modern, but also a lot like something Prince would put on a mix for you. It's a free party in 2 clicks, just waiting to happen. And a bonus for those who snag it: In January when you hit the gym with all the other resolvers, you'll have the best soundtrack on Treadmill Row.


Oh, and this image ran in the paper today in their retrospective article on 2007. It's still my favorite picture of the year, and when I am old, I will think back on the pure joy of The Rockies' amazing 2007 run, and smile.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

I wanna be adored

Last night I sat down on the couch with the new Rolling Stone (and their interview with my thoroughly-beloved Cormac McCarthy) and watched two very interesting BBC America documentaries. The first was called My Small Breasts and I, followed by My Big Breasts and Me. Yep, boobs. Both of them were fascinating inquiries into how a) we always want what we ain't got and b) bigger is not always better (I must say, I ran with a new sense of gratitude at the gym today).

I mention breasts not only to watch all the interesting Google results that will now bring people here on my statcounter, but because when Small Breast British Girl #2 was walking down the cobbled streets of her quaint town, giving her new sample boobs a test drive and judging the reaction of men passing by, the song playing in the background was The Stone Roses "I Wanna Be Adored." This made my ears perk up because that's certainly a slinky fantastic song normally absent from American TV, and I felt the need to officially give props to those cool BBC music producers. Then, as my brain is wont to do, I ADHDed my way across synapses to think upon this cool documentary that I had recently seen on VH1 about the Stone Roses and meant to mention. See, it connects.

VH1 Classic is schooling us all with an enjoyable series on The Seven Ages of Rock, including one about What The World's Been Waiting For: Brit Pop. If The Man is forcing you to work today, this is a superb way to kill time which is already essentially grey, lifeless, and dead in these waning hours of 2007 when no one wants to be at work.

You can watch the entire feature online, and it's nicely broken up into segments on The Smiths, the Manchester scene, The Stone Roses, Oasis, Suede, Blur, The Libertines, etc. While I almost prefer the gentle British lull of the female narrator talking about breasts to Dennis Hopper's sharp delivery here, you know that I love this era of music, and this series (which was originally assembled for the BBC) unearths some pretty cool live footage and has ace interviews with all the biggies.

I Wanna Be Adored - Stone Roses
I Wanna Be Adored (early version) - Stone Roses

P.S. If you haven't read Alex Green's wildly enjoyable take on the Stone Roses yet, why not?!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesday Music Roundup

I had high aspirations for posting this on Monday, but then I had Christmas shopping to do (meager shopping since we're still half-jobless this holiday season, which is actually kind of freeing cos no one expects anything but cookies from you). My sister and I actually braved the shopping scene to find some fun little inexpensive gifts. They're selling shirts like that on the right at Target, which confused me.

Sis has been feeling the stress of helping to care for my sick uncle (she's the closest-located relative to the hospital in CA) so she had expressed a desire to bake the most complicated Christmas cookies we could find while she was here in town. Her exact instructions to me were, "Go online to Martha Stewart.com, and find a recipe for something like talking reindeers with 8 layers of phyllo dough and green glitter." We didn't get quite that adventurous but we did manage to make even more basic cookies than truly necessary. They were good snackin to eat warm from the oven on Christmas Eve while the whole family watched A Christmas Story as we do each year in the hours before Santa comes.

"Sons of b*tches! Bumpuses!"


Bad Place
The Beauty Shop

At first, I listened to The Beauty Shop out of curiosity - their moniker was incongruous for the sound described (Mojo says "as much J Mascis as Johnny Cash"), but also probably because it made me reminisce of the cosy little Beauty Bar in San Francisco that I used to go to on occasion. See, both use the name and the promise of beautiful things to entice the unsuspecting. I am glad I clicked to listen to this trio out of Illinois because they get under my skin. This song feels a bit like that cover of Cash covering Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage," and when frontman John Hoeffleur sings about punching a hole in the sky, punctuated by little yelps and a rough and ready acoustic guitar, you believe him. More tunes here.

345
Supergrass

Fitting nicely onto your mix between Feist's 1234 and something from The 5.6.7.8.s, this new numerical scorcher from Oxford's Supergrass is just as slicing as the other new track "Diamond Hoo Ha Man" was. If these tunes are any indication of what's to come from the forthcoming album in 2008, they've been listening to more White Stripes and smoking less supergrass. I felt a little frisson of electricity when this first came over my speakers.


Endless Conversation (acoustic)
The Alternate Routes

One of the Fuel/Friends favorites in 2007, The Alternate Routes keep on putting out sublime melodies with this new acoustic EP, which they're selling exclusively at shows. Eric the guitarist tells me that the band had these alternate versions echoing in their heads of songs from Good and Reckless and True, so they recorded the EP themselves and now their label, frankly, is trying to figure out what to do with it. Let's hope it gains an actual release in 2008 because it's simply lovely -- dusty backporch Sunday, sweetly aching, Willie Nelson-styled versions of their roosty music.

Heart It Races
(Architecture in Helsinki cover)
Dr. Dog

I mentioned this song some months ago as the b-side to a Dr. Dog 7" Beck remix, and now I finally have the mp3 from a friend who put it on his annual Best-Of-2007 mix CD which he distributes to his lucky friends. Track #9 on the mix, I've been listening to this tune non-stop on repeat. It took me a while to place this song as an AIH cover that I'd streamed months before, but either way it made me love Philadelphia's Dr. Dog even more. With equal parts Sixties doowop, git-down handclapping rhythm, and spacey My Morning Jacket-esque vocals, this is a perfect song. Perfect.


Cut Your Hair (Pavement cover)
Cassettes Won't Listen

This is what happens when Stephen Malkmus gets channeled through your Casio keyboard, and even though it's impossible to improve upon the original, this updates it in a strangely danceable, slightly-weird but pleasing way. Part of a free EP of Nineties covers with album art that hits right at the heart of the Class-of-'97 nostalgia bin, Cassettes Won't Listen and the blog Music For Robots take care of you with this free collection. They also give Liz Phair, Butter 08, Blind Melon, and Sebadoh their unique treatment, just for kicks and giggles.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Had to be good for Santa Claus: Pearl Jam 2007 Christmas single

In all my years of collecting the Pearl Jam Christmas singles, I can tell you for a fact that the annual 7" has never arrived on Christmas Eve, in the purple twilight, with snow dancing all around me.

I stopped by my mailbox a few hours ago on the way back from last minute grocery shopping for the Christmas dinner I am making tomorrow. As I stood there shivering, fumbling the key with my frozen-in-two-seconds fingers, I got a fantastic Christmas present in plain brown wrapping, stamped "Ten Club" in the corner. As every year, my heart began to thump as I savored the slow unwrapping. Most years we use the term Christmas single loosely because it turns out to be a Presidents Day present or an Easter gift. But for 2007, Ten Club -- your timing was impeccable.

Merry Christmas, guys.

Santa God - Pearl Jam
Jingle Bells - Pearl Jam



Thanks to DropTheLeash for the audio rip and SYM

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

"...that lick embedded in our DNA starts to come out of the speakers" :: McCartney rocks Amoeba

In late June I received a cryptic email message from my friend Tony, who knew I was heading out to California at some point in the heat of the summer, but said he was "going to LA for a once in a lifetime event," thought he might have an extra pass, and wanted to make sure I was going to be 1500 miles away and not 5. Intriguing.

The plane ticket I was holding was indeed for the end of July, not June, and on barely four days notice I couldn't find a way to get out to the California coast that didn't involve knocking over a liquor store. If I had, this is what I could lived through, and this is what I could have heard:

PAUL MCCARTNEY AT AMOEBA RECORDS
LOS ANGELES, JUNE 27, 2007
Drive My Car
Only Mama Knows
Dance Tonight
C Moon
That Was Me
Blackbird
Here Today
Back In The USSR
Nod Your Head
House of Wax
Get Back
Hey Jude
Lady Madonna
I Saw Her Standing There

ZIP: MCCARTNEY AT AMOEBA


During the event on a Wednesday evening, Tony texted me with something that read like "so ringo starr is standing right next to me. this is insane." Even that tenuous connection with the proceedings three states away made me feel happy and I couldn't wait for the boot to eventually surface. Also definitely read this piece to feel the excitement, an evening "too good to be true."

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová (Once) cover "Into The Mystic"

One of the most highly acclaimed musically-infused movies to come out this year, Once is the story of a Dublin busker who works part-time in a vacuum repair shop instead of living out his musical calling (Glen Hansard of the Irish band The Frames and The Swell Season), and the musical connection that he forms over the course of a week with a fellow struggling artist, a not-yet-twenty year old street vendor from the Czech Republic who happens to play the piano (Markéta Irglová, the other half of Swell Season).

You've probably seen the lush and lovely soundtrack that they made popping up on year-end Best of 2007 lists all over the place, and with good reason. This particular cover is a bonus track on some special editions of the soundtrack, and it is jaw-droppingly good. Although it starts winsome and delicate, it builds into moments of heartfelt intensity. The song always ends too soon, so I have to back up and listen to it over again.

Into The Mystic (Van Morrison cover) - Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová

The DVD came out this week in the U.S., which is something that my Netflix queue is thrilled about.


* * * * * * * * *
In unrelated news, this kinda restored some of my faith in humanity this morning as I read the paper over my cup of coffee. Religious or not, I thought it was an inspiring story of giving this time of year, and what we are capable of.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas mixery

Mmmmmm. Cookies. My 4-year-old and I baked those Rudolph cookies last weekend. There was sugar and M&Ms everywhere, and don't even get me started on how hard it was to bite those pretzels into antler shapes. Unsanitary, but it gets the job done the only way I could figure out how. The end result was fantastic, and we've been delivering (what I now realize are little saliva-contaminated) batches to our good friends all week long.

While we baked, we listened to my new Christmas mix for 2007 that I've been tweaking and perfecting for weeks. I think I'm good now, and since I just realized that Christmas is in 5 days, we should hop to it. Let me just say that there is so much annoying Christmas music out there. Good heavens, no one should be allowed to cover Little Drummer Boy again, and nothing with synthesizers, ever.

These 20 tracks have passed my Grinchy muster, and all 20 of them are non-annoying -- good Christmas listening that won't bug the snot out of you.

FUEL/FRIENDS CHRISTMAS MIXERY 2007
The Christmas Song - The Raveonettes
Merry Xmas Everybody - R.E.M.
(2007 fan club single)
Father Christmas - The Kinks
Let It Snow - Magnet
Do You Hear What I Hear? - Third Day
(with the night wind talking to the little lamb, this song was a favorite as a kid)
Merry Christmas, Baby - Otis Redding
Christmas Song - Denison Witmer
Xmas Eve - The Damnwells
Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time! (Sufjan cover) - Luke Flowers
Here It Is Christmas - The Old '97s
(new song 2007)
Much Farther To Go - Rosie Thomas (pretty sure w/ Sufjan)
Christmas Means Love - The Soul Stirrers
In The Bleak Mid-Winter - Sarah McLachlan
(from Wintersong)
That Was The Worst Christmas Ever! - Sufjan Stevens (still my favorite of his thousand Christmas songs)
It Feels Like Christmas - Al Green (and to hear it, by "Christmas" Al means "sex")
Ding, Dong, Ding, Dong - George Harrison
Sing Mary Sing - Jennifer Knapp
O Holy Night - Tracy Chapman
Waking Up On Christmas Morning - The Smithereens
Christmas Message from Elvis / Silent Night - Elvis Presley


CHRISTMAS MIXERY ZIPPERY

One note: Luke Flowers, who covered Sufjan up there in spot #9, is a talented local artist here in Colorado Springs. I saw him perform that song Tuesday night at a coffeehouse in my neighborhood, and he recorded the whole set. By the magic of the internet we can listen again and recreate that event. You can download the 12-song live Christmas album for free on his site: some lovely reworkings of traditional tunes, 4 Sufjan covers, and an original song about his Christmas pony that froze solid. Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Two brand new songs from Superdrag!

Superdrag fans have been lying awake at night for the past four years on their Stratocaster-print pillowcases, tossing and turning while they ponder the aborted run of this fine Knoxville band, wondering to themselves what kind of songs may still have been nestled within them when the final incarnation of the band split in 2003.

Today, they wait no more.

Superdrag has recently reformed in their original lineup and posted two brand new songs on their MySpace page this morning with the session information listed as "4-Track 2007." I am very excited by how good these sound. This first track preserves the classic Superdrag sound -- fuzzy guitars, clattery drums and edgy-but-perfect harmonies. Plus John Davis uses the word "immolate" which makes the vocabulary freak in me do a little jig. Somewhere his high school English teacher is smiling.

I Only Want A Place I Can Stay - Superdrag

One other track (the hazier resistance of "Live and Breathe") is streaming at www.myspace.com/superdragofficial. Let's all go tell em how happy we are to hear them back again.

[img credit]

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The Stereophonics at Kelly's mum's house in Wales

The Stereophonics recently played a set for the BBC 1's Live Lounge series, starting with an interview at Kelly's childhood home in Wales, followed by a show at the Cwmaman (no, I don't know how to say that) Men's Club where the band had played their first show way back in the day.

The band covered the Foo Fighters song "Best of You" during the set, and after hours of fighting with the stream on the BBC site, I finally found this unofficial blog that had just the tune I was gunning for. Tonight this just seems like one of the saddest, most melancholy songs I've heard in a long time; Kelly sings like he's a staring off a million miles away. Each lyric gets at me tonight. Clearly that's also by virtue of the strength of the original songwriting here that glows through the ache.

On this version you don't get the Grohl-screaming but you get at the core in a new way.

Best of You (Foo Fighters cover) - Stereophonics

That site also has an mp3 of their performance of "Local Boy In The Photograph," which feels fitting for the setting. And on a lighter note, here are a few more pics from the whole silly junket:

Beryl and Oscar (aka Mum and Dad) charmingly have a few Stereophonics videos in their collection, behind the ceramic elephant and the piano school tote bag.

Kelly's mum telling interviewer Jo Whiley about the mullet that Kelly rocked when he was younger . . .

Said mullet in the sunset. Hot.

Their live set at the Cwmaman Men's Club.

The full photo slideshow is here

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Ian Dury contest winners

Sorry I forgot to wrap this up sooner: For that cool Ian Dury 7" contest, I have picked my two random winners. Eli from New York and khalas/Kelly each won themselves a nice vinyl single of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Thanks for playing, sorry it took me so long. I just got the vinyls the other day; they sound great.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

The internet can be so eerily voyeuristic (you know this, anonymous blog reader). I'll admit to being fascinated by sites like PostSecret and Found Magazine; now I have a new place to click and look inside the ephemera of other people's lives. The To-Do List Blog collects and reprints people's lists for your perusal. Seems fitting in this list-making season, and you get to see charming resolutions like #5 above: "Let my eyelashes grow."

A noble aspiration for us all.

This week's tunes, a day late:

The Silence Between Us
Bob Mould

After former Hüsker Düer / Sugar frontman's dancetastic side project last year, Bob Mould returns in early 2008 with his 7th solo album District Line. I am digging this first single, it's all my favorite fuzzy guitars and big hooks [via]. I've heard that Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty is holding down the percussion end of things here, and this intro heavily reminds me of Pete Yorn ("For Nancy" - listen and see). Plus, do you hear an echo of the Sugar song "A Good Idea" here like I do? This is a very strong, rocking return to form, and I look forward to hearing the whole album.

200 More Miles (feat. Ryan Adams)
Cowboy Junkies
Other than a hazy SNL appearance with really foxy hairstyles where they performed their cover of Sweet Jane that I've seen in re-runs, I will admit that I don't know much about the Cowboy Junkies. I've heard that this is an oversight on my part, and I should probably rectify that. Eh, we'll see. But to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Trinity Session album, the Junkies released a CD/DVD combo of performances in the same Toronto church where the original album was recorded. Ryan Adams sings lead vocals here on this tune (I love the way his voice quavers when he sings the lyric, "Atlanta's a distant memory / Montgomery a recent blur"). Adams plays guitars, drums and trades harmony vocals on a few other songs [pics here], and Natalie Merchant and Vic Chestnutt also appear. Trinity Revisited is out now, but maybe only in the UK.

X Marks The Spot
Frankel

Here is another fresh discovery from my year-end list perusing, this time from the formidably-almost-always-right Aquarium Drunkard. Of this independent Los Angeles artist, Justin writes: "an absolute must for fans of Nilsson, Lennon/McCartney, et al. I recently described the sound of the LP as the orchestration and instrumentation of latter era Elliot Smith, combined with the songwriting and world view of Richard Swift." After reading that descrption, I said "Okay." And I am glad I did. The album is called Lullaby For The Passerby.

I Came Here To Say I'm Going Away
(Serge Gainsbourg cover)
Okkervil River
Artists behind another fine album from 2007 that missed my list, Okkervil River is feeling generous this Christmastime. They've put together an EP of live cover tunes available for free on their website, and they have dug up some wonderful, obscure tunes to make their own. Called the Golden Opportunities Mixtape, the collection includes this cover by risque French songwriter of the '60s Serge Gainsbourg (wherein they also tag a bit of "96 Tears"), plus Joni Mitchell, The Fugs, John Cale and more. The mix also includes the evocative original tune of theirs called "Listening To Otis Redding At Home During Christmas" that I recently posted. Nothing says Christmas like free music; go get it.

Paper Planes
M.I.A.

Several of you have suggested I should have named this song of the year, but since I didn't do a list like that, it's a moot point (like a cow's opinion, it doesn't matter). I will admit an affinity for this catchy song, built entirely on a foundation of The Clash's Straight To Hell, with one of the best and most un-singable choruses all year (I kinda do a head bop to one side for the gunshots, then two to the other side for the cash register sounds. I look really cool doing it, especially at the gym where I am most prone to listen to it, and people think I am having a seizure). The video [via GvB] is entertaining: even if her rolling-ocean-flow hand motions lose their charm after about the second time, the Beastie Boys cameo where she sells them food off the back of her trailer restaurant doesn't.

Straight To Hell - The Clash

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fuel Favorites of 2007

For each year so far that I've been dabbling in this music-blog-writing hobby, there seems to be a greater proliferation of choices for my ears to make. It seems like more artists are making their voices heard, more albums getting out there in one form or another, more people being turned on to music outside the mainstream 35 songs you hear on the radio.

This is good news for ears, hearts, and souls, and bad news for listmakers.

After much struggling, I've picked out ten albums that I'm happy with being my favorites from 2007; add all of these to your collections and be happy too. There were some very good albums that I left off this year (I am sure you will point them out to me in the comments) but these 10 are the ones that connected with me uniquely and viscerally. And they're listed in alphabetical order because even numerically ranking them defeated me.

If you would like to hear me talk more about these albums, and discuss my perspective as a music blogger in the digital music world in 2007, please tune in to NPR's World Cafe on January 1st. I'll be doing a piece with David Dye, Tom Moon from NPR and Marco Werman from BBC's "The World" program.

And yes . . . this is my poker face. I'm doing little freakout backflips on the inside.


TEN FUEL FAVORITES OF 2007

BECAUSE OF THE TIMES
Kings of Leon

Folks complain that this album isn't as loose and rough and gut-punch raw as earlier KOL efforts, and they're right. This album is bigger and hazier and more anthemic, but I find myself craving the riffs, the melody, the scowly drawl of the lyrics, and the unabashed rock. I agree with the fantastic Daytrotter piece that called this one "a sneaker" (as in it sneaks up on you, not a shoe). I like that KOL are experimenting with their sound and pushing the edges. Plus, they absolutely have the best live show I saw (twice) this year, all caged energy, confident strut and rock and roll.
Fans - Kings of Leon


BOXER
The National

This is the richest album in my top ten this year, in that the songs seep under your skin and percolate slowly. As we discussed, so much of this is 4am music; the late-night special, flawed but transcendent. Woven through songs that pulse restlessly with thumping drums, elegiac strings and evocative piano melodies, the lyrics here destroy me. Absolutely. They lament "another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults," then ruefully note that "we’re so disarming darling, everything we did believe is diving diving diving diving off the balcony / Tired and wired we ruin too easy, sleep in our clothes and wait for winter to leave." The purity of elemental urges and gorgeous expression makes me wants to live inside the stories of this album.
Fake Empire - The National


DIRTY BOMB
The Star Spangles

Here to save the rock and roll crown from the hands of slicker entries this year, The Star Spangles from New York are filthy and gritty and raw, making pub-chant punk with strong melodies. Full of heart, they are the real deal so don't mess with their work ethic. In addition to playing roughly 3,528 fiery live shows this year, they're not above doing things like playing a recent show at the Jesse Malin/Ryan Adams hangout Niagara in NYC wearing only a trenchcoat and a fedora (all the better to rock with less friction, I guess). Listen to this vibrant album loud, and feel the ebullient crush of youth.
Take Care of Us - The Star Spangles


FIGHTING TREES
The Swimmers
The owner of some trusted ears remarked upon first hearing this Philly band that "this is what Wilco might sound like if they just let their popness run rampant." Fighting Trees is a shimmering, delicious, intelligent album full of pop goodness but not too sugary-sweet. It's got the jangle and the thump, the three-part harmonies and the cohesive storyline lyrics that sweep me off to somewhere else; they weave a dream-sequence where you are floating above yourself, watching the actions below with a distanced eye. Loosely based around the 1964 short story "The Swimmer," both the grad-school premise and the resulting album deserve massive props.
[stream here, buy CD at shows, out via Mad Dragon in early 2008]
Heaven - The Swimmers


GOOD AND RECKLESS AND TRUE
The Alternate Routes

In a year when I was really hoping for a grand, rootsy, golden album from Ryan Adams that never materialized for me, The Alternate Routes warmed the speakers of my car all summer long with their expansive, windows-down, wholeheartedly good brand of alt-country rock. One of my favorite lyrical pictures all year comes from these opening notes: "I've been wasting my days good and reckless and true, I have danced in the dark at the edge of the water, swingin my hips at the black and the blue..." The songwriting is solid and incisive, highlighted by the aching tenor of lead singer Tim Warren -- and speaking of Ryan Adams, current Cardinals drummer Brad Pemberton pitches in on the skins here as well. Although the album swings effortlessly from rollicking to pensive, the common thread that I find appealing is the earnest commitment to simply playing their blessed hearts out.
Ordinary - The Alternate Routes


THE HISTORICAL CONQUESTS OF JOSH RITTER
Josh Ritter

A pal recently asked me who I thought the best modern-day songwriter was. At the time it was 2am, and I mumbled something about how I thought Josh Ritter was pretty dang incredible. Upon coherent reflection, I take that back; I think Josh absolutely may be the best songwriter of our generation that I've heard. His penetrating lyrics consistently blow me away, and the rock influences of his new album ramp up the folk sounds I've loved in the past into something that definitely hits harder and leaves me all itchy and excited-like. You must see him live in 2008, the new material is amazing in concert. As Josh weaves his intricate, literate songs on stage, he overflows with each lyric as if he were birthing every line afresh for the first time. That same refreshing joy is palpable on this album, and we are grateful for it.
To The Dogs or Whoever - Josh Ritter


I CAN'T GO ON, I'LL GO ON
T
he Broken West
When I first heard this new Merge Records signing last January, my post title was "I want to listen to The Broken West all weekend long, maybe until my eardrums crystallize into sugar." That pretty much sums up how vividly I crave the sounds on this disc. Catchy hooks and fuzzy power-pop sounds blend with a blast straight from the '60s in terms of sheer listenability -- and you're having 100% Fun with Matthew Sweet while the Kinks play in your garage. Hailing from Los Angeles, the guys in the Broken West wrap up all kinds of California imagery while also underscoring a bit of the shadow as well: "Sun down, blood horizon, now it feels all right/ No one feels the darkness down in the valley tonight." Musical novocaine.
Down In The Valley - The Broken West


NIGHTTIMING
Coconut Records

This clever, humble, and thoroughly enjoyable album from Coconut Records (the nom de rock of actor Jason Schwartzman) came out of absolutely nowhere this year in a stealth digital-only release that spread like wildfire. Normally we can all agree that actors making music spells disaster, but in this case it absolutely spells y-a-y. Schwartzman blends some of the jangly California indie-pop of his previous work with Phantom Planet with his experience in composing film scores for this aural delight. No two tracks alike: the Weezer rock of "Back To You" flips over the lo-fi duet on "Mama" (with Zooey Deschanel?) and the scratchy dabble into Beatles pop with "Easy Girl" is a million miles from the disco beats of the title track or the Franz Ferdinand stomp on "Minding My Own Business." The album is eclectic, stripped of pretension and ready to make you smile.
Back To You - Coconut Records


THE REMINDER
Feist

The completely charming and effortlessly cool Leslie Feist covers a lot of ground on this album, her third of original solo material, in addition to her releases with the Broken Social Scene. Feist is musically adventurous with a sound that is impossible to pin down. Moving easily from intimate songs like "The Park" that aches like a midnight dirge sung lying flat, looking out a darkened window, to the spiritual-gospel handclap community of "Sea Lion Woman," you never know what the next track will bring. The only common thread among the songs is her gorgeously honey-drenched, knowingly sly voice. Feist possesses a welcome imaginative streak that she’s not afraid to reveal on this album. She deserves every ounce of recognition that Apple commercial got her in 2007; anyone who conceives of the idea to do a rainbow-hued dance video clothed in spangles to a song that good gets my respect. I wait in breathless anticipation to see what she does next.
My Moon, My Man - Feist


WE BELONG TO THE STAGGERING EVENING
Ike Reilly Assassination

Call it defiant pre-punk, cranked-up '50s rock'n'roll that slipped past the censors, or just some seriously good music. Ike Reilly writes unflinching rock songs full of bluesy, boozy, humid, rock riffs and intelligent, biting, evocative lyrics that make me want to take off with him through the desert on the run from the cops, the windows down and a knowing glance between us. Ike's not ripping off a halcyon era of memories past like some of the retro-influenced acts today (Brian Setzer, I love you, but I'm talking to you), but rather he feels like an earnest, fierce character who somehow slipped in from a time when the music was rawer, the sex was furtive, and the liquor was bootlegged. This is a fiercely fantastic album that provocatively edged itself into my top ten the first time I listened to it.
Valentine's Day in Juarez - Ike Reilly


And yes, since you asked, my membership in the bloggers guild is currently under review for revocation for not listening to Arcade Fire or Radiohead in 2007. I'll keep you posted.

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