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December 26, 2007

other good best music of 2007 lists

The New York Times list is shockingly similar to my own.

No one actually picked the Metacritic list... it's just aggregated from scores of other reviews, like Metacritic itself. I am totally a Metacritic snob and check them for almost every single movie or album I'm interested in.

The Gorilla vs. Bear list is cool, and has some stuff I have to check out.

Paste magazine sure liked The National. You know, it's a great damn album, but it's just not dangerous enough to be #1. Well, like Feist is...

I think Stylus magazine shut down right after posting their best of list. Too bad, I like stylus.

But, they ultimately lost out to the shocking online musical erudition and snobbiness that is Pitchfork Media. See their list on display, and I'm sure it will take me most of the year to work through the stuff of their picks I haven't read yet. It took me until just a few months ago to get through most of last year's list.

Update: Didn't mean to miss the local and lovely Abbey's end of year album list.

December 21, 2007

the best of 2007: feist - the reminder

#01: Feist - The Reminder


No album affected me musically and emotionally more than this one, and it came out in May. I was fresh from an emotional breakup, my little sister was coming out of a cloistered retreat after three years and I was professionally frustrated.

I was already starting to really love Feist when this album came out. I started listening to Open Season, her remixes album, and hearing her sing so beautifully on the Kings of Convenience's Riot on an Empty Street. Finally I got her real album Let It Die and it broke my heart a good 40 or 50 times. I was going through some romantic nonsense and it just poked the wound so lovingly I couldn't help but want more.

Then, The Reminder came out, was released at Starbucks, had the songs My Moon, My Man and 1234 featured in every commercial on the planet, and suddenly Feist was this VH1 soft hit machine who had sold out in every possible way.

I'm here to tell you why I don't care, why I love Feist, and why I think The Reminder was the best album all year.

To me, Feist is one of the finest vocalists of modern pop music. She's like the Bill Evans of vocals. Bill Evans is a jazz pianist. But, he's not all experimental and exciting like Theloneous Monk. His piano playing is so gentle, that if you're not paying attention, it sounds like he's playing the most generic of lounge music. It's background music. It's elevator music. But, people who listen closer hear something so passionate and exciting. Bill Evans plays like he doesn't care if you're there or not, and within his form of gentle piano music, he makes an entire expressive world.

Feist is like that... although she can be thrilling even on first listen. Take a song on Reminder, for instance, like Limit to your Love. This is the pinnacle of the album, in my opinion. She plays guitar sexily in perfect accord with the longing in her song. She hits vocal heights and croons softly in the same song. She accuses and pleads. She sounds like she's coming to the realization that "I can't read your smile, it should be written on your face, I'm pieceing it together, there's something out of place." while the song actually wears on.

Even though there's songs like My Moon, My Man, which was made to be a Zune commercial (but it really a hell of a song, and has a great video of its own), there's a totally uncompromising song like the very next one on the album "The Park" where she sings, almost a capella, with only birds chirping in the background, in a song almost like "Nothing Compares 2 U", chastising herself for walking back through the park, because she walked back through the park. She thought she saw her lover there, but of course it wasn't him, of course "it's not him who would come, cross the sea to surprise you, not him who would know, where in London to find you".

To me, The Reminder is almost perfect. It's the incredible blend of her singing, songwriting and guitar playing. If she made a million dollars from Starbucks and the Zune, great. If she puts out another album even half this good, then she's forgiven as far as I'm concerned.

(stay tuned for more 2007 music stuff)

best of 2007 #02: of montreal - hissing fauna, are you the destroyer?

#02: Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?


With a name like that, it's got to be good, right?

Of Montreal has been around for awhile, and has recorded a stunning 13 albums and EP's since they started recording in 1997. Kevin Barnes is their androgynous front man, and while he sounds like, so TOTALLY ghey, he's actually straight per him, and this album is about the implosion and aftermath of his breakup with his partner and baby momma. That doesn't stop him from totally getting made up so he looks fabulous and occasionally performing live in the nude.

His earlier work is some pretty clever storytelling stuff. A little too literal and precious for my tastes. I really started liking them when he kind of struck off on his own and recorded The Sunlandic Twins and Satanic Panic in the Attic. These songs were a little more sharply produced, catchy, bitchy, hook laden, and the kind of music you could get a nun to shake her bootie to. All of it pointed to a pretty enjoyable snack of a band until this year, when suddenly Kevin Barnes drops his atomic bomb in the form of Hissing Fauna.

There's some baby cooing, some gentle firecrackers, and Kevin Barnes launches into sort of a the Beatles-on-crack instrumentation and songs questioning family, god, and his own sanity. And manages to make really a hell of an album doing it.

Like the reverse kaleidoscope (black in the center, colors on the outside) on the cover of the album, Kevin walks us through every mood of loneliness from the elation of freedom, from turning every head in the joint, to being too lazy to burn down a church but wishing he could, to locking himself in an apartment for days. He says it so plainly it's almost like teenage poetry.

But... he makes such a lyrical and musical rollercoaster ride of it, I can't help but be pulled along by it. It's a great way to integrate electronic music, rock and pop music and still make something adventurous and operatic out of it.

I can see this album being too peppy for some... too uneven for others... too poppy for others... too dark for still some others. But for me I gotta break this one out every once in a while, and be fully bitchy and heartbroken, singing along:

I guess it would be nice
To give my heart to a god
But which one do i choose?
Oh, the church is filled with losers
Psycho or confused
I just want to hold the divine
In my hand and forget
all of the beauty's wasted.

All the way until he reminds us that, "Physics makes us all it's bitches."

December 20, 2007

best of 2007 #03: beirut - the flying club cup

#03: Beirut - The Flying Club Cup


The music is sort of like Romanian carnival music. There's fiddles, accordians, an elaborate, moody party going on. And then Zach weaves his effortless spell over it all, twisting his voice into songs that make you want to put your arm around your best friends and drink deeply from a dark and musty bottle of booze. It's music to lay in bed to. It's music to howl at the moon to. It's Beirut.

The very young and lovely voiced Zach Condon said about the band name:

One of the reasons I named the band after that city was the fact that it’s seen a lot of conflict. It’s not a political position. I worried about that from the beginning. But it was such a catchy name. I mean, if things go down that are truly horrible, I’ll change it. But not now. It’s still a good analogy for my music. I haven’t been to Beirut, but I imagine it as this chic urban city surrounded by the ancient Muslim world. The place where things collide.

Zach is a really young guy, and you can feel him still finding his footing as a songmaster, but he's getting there. It's almost like he has the passion and showmanship of a young Tom Waits, back when he used to sing, and not just growl. (Have it be noted, I love Tom, growly or otherwise.)

As for the meaning of The Flying Club Cup, I'll leave that to Zach to explain as well:

Back in the early 1900s...there used to be this hot air balloon festival in Paris--[the album's] titled after that and after this very bizarre 1910 photo I found [by Leon Gimpel]. It's one of the first color photos ever made, at the World's Fair, and it...shows all these ancient hot air balloons about to take off in the middle of Paris. I just thought it was the most surreal image I'd seen in a long time.

best of 2007 #04: panda bear - person pitch

#04: Panda Bear - Person Pitch


I tried to explain Person Pitch to someone for the first time like this: Imagine some gentle percussion and train sounds, with an echoey Beach Boys' Brian Wilson voice in the background.

Then I played it for the person and they nodded, "That was a pretty good description."

Well, it's a pretty good description so you have some point of reference, but it doesn't really describe the cornucopia of sounds you're going to get when you decide to dig into this one.

There isn't another album musically like it released this year. There's albums lower on the top ten that I've listened to far more, but I don't think listenability is the highest order. I think there's some kind of (beauty + invention) equation that's important.

My favorite song is probably still "Take Pills". He says, "I don't want for us to take pills anymore (not that it's bad)." over and over again. Then, there's a watery rush and he explains why:

Take one day at a time
Anything more really hurts your mind
Only one thing at a time
Everything else you can leave behind
I don't want for us to
Take pills
Not that its bad
I don't want for us to take pills
Because we're stronger
And we don't need them

Imagine that with a bunch of harmonies and elevator dings, hand claps, hoots and maybe some tambourine and you get the general idea.

It sounds weird, and it is. Panda Bear is kind of a side project of people in Animal Collective, another band in the 'freak folk' realm, but where I find Animal Collective goes over the line of what's coherent and friendly, Panda Bear seems to make it all one unified whole. It teeters to the edge of noise sometimes, but mostly succeeds in being a both exciting and experimental album AND being a tender and real expression you can listen to with other people and not alienate them. It's a strange little jewel of an album, and it's my friend.

December 19, 2007

best of 2007 #05: radiohead - in rainbows

#05: Radiohead - In Rainbows


I hardly even feel qualified to review this album. It's been done elsewhere much better. The stylus review, the pitchfork review (where they joke about choosing your own rating), everyone's weighed in, and I'm just not a big enough Radiohead fan to place it so confidently in their pantheon. Most of the people reviewing it thing it's a great, humble return to form for the band that make OK Computer, but then lost their way with Kid A and Thom Yorke's solo album and their electronic noise noodling.

They say it's a vital, passionate, assured album by the band at the top of their powers. I agree. No one would be foolish enough to keep this off a top ten list for the year. I've probably listened to it more times than all of their other albums before. As an outsider, I'll say it... it sounds like they quit whining long enough to make the lovely music they're capable of.

Most of the way through the first song on the album, 15 Steps, some kids shout "YAY!" in the background, and I totally knew how they felt. It's a rousing start, and the first time I heard the third song, Nude, I knew I was in for something good. Suddenly I see what all the rabid fans were talking about all along.

Plus, they made the record industry quake in their boots, and that can't be bad.

best of 2007 #06: iron and wine - the shepherd's dog

#06: Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog


If folk music has a future, this is it. Here's a guy pulling together the history of country music, indie music, rock music and folk music. What he makes doesn't sound futuristic, it sounds like American music at it's best. I could still be listening to this album when I'm sixty.

Sam Beam has a beautiful voice, I'll give him that. I was never so impressed by him before, as it sounded like just another pretty voiced folk music guy. It really takes more than that to impress me. M. Ward did it last year with Post-War, winning me over with his sheer brilliant songwriting and explosively pretty guitar interludes. This year Sam Beam is the man to win me over, but for different reasons.

First of all, this is not just a guy with a guitar. This is an incredibly rich and harmonious instramentation: organs, steel guitars, an amazing mix of different percussion elements, and even a few electronic sounds thrown in there. But, it doesn't jar, and the whole album has a rich, unified sound. When I close my eyes and listen to this album it's like a golden grahams commercial, with pouring streams of honey colliding mid-air with tiny crunchy graham crackers. This is not a gimmick, this is a serious album. Whatever he was going for sonically, he nailed it on every track.

Next, this is some real, mature songwriting. You want to impress me? Write a song called Resurrection Fern and don't make it painfully obvious.

If you like your music straight-up beautiful and that's your highest ethic, then this album would have been #1 for you this year.

December 18, 2007

best of 2007 #07: the national - boxer

#07: The National - Boxer


Okay, I'm always going to be tempted to call them The Nationals, or American Mary, which they almost called themselves back in 2001.When I first heard this album I thought it was pretty boring. I thought their 2003 album, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers was way more inspiring.

It has grown on me, though. I'll admit, my top 4 songs carry the whole album, but those songs are great! This guy reminds me vocally of The Magnetic Fields, but without so much of the debauch sexual brokenness. The National is so much more Springsteenlike: political, a little defeated, pretty damn rockin'. By the time they shout, accusingly: "You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends!", I'm hooked.

One of the songs I love is "Racing Like a Pro" and I just read the great Seattle music blog "Sound on the Sound" where I read that she and many of her readers made the same mistake I did. For days I had this in my head: "Your mind is racing like a pronoun." I thought for days about what such a lyric might mean, so impressed by it. Like, which pronoun? Did pronouns race? But no, that's not The National's style. The girl in the song's mind is racing like a pro, now. Oh god, that was a million years ago.

Note: Just found out Abbey at Sound on the Sound is a girl. Who knew?!

best of 2007 #08: amy winehouse - back to black

#08: Amy Winehouse - Back to Black


There is just no doubt that Amy Winehouse is a tremendous talent. I think that her bizarre life and substance abuse have somehow sullied her musical legacy in some people's eyes, but that's like saying Billie Holliday's musical legacy is somehow sullied because of her personal problems, and that's absurd. And yes, I think they approach being in the same league.

Amy is a songwriter and vocalist of the highest order. Her dark vision of the world matches her life, and it's as if a motown great of the 60's was transported to the present. If Amy survives her vices and personal problems and keeps making music like this, she will undoubtedly be considered one of the greatest pop female vocalists of all times. I tend to like Neko Case's less universal, more symbolic style of songwriting, but they are both very similar to me in terms of being the female vocalists that I'll chastise kids for not knowing about when I'm 60.

I did like Rehab and You Know I'm No Good when they came out, but the songs that I just find amazing these days are Me and Mr. Jones and Tears Dry on Their Own.

She shares a band with the similarly spectacular Sharon Jones (the Dap-Kings) and their new albums are remarkably comparable. I didn't hear Sharon's new album until pretty recently so it hasn't had as much time to grow on me, but to me, Sharon Jones fell short of the almost explosive brilliance of the best of Amy Winehouse. Maybe another dozen listens will change my mind. I don't care, I'm glad music like this is getting made today. This is a dirty, dirty, beautiful album.

If you already love this album, she just finally released her first album, Frank, in the US. It's no Back to Black, but it's still awesome

December 17, 2007

best of 2007 #09: minus the bear - planet of ice

#09: Minus the Bear - Planet of Ice


The only person I know who was into Minus the Bear before this album doesn't like this album. She says it sounds like "something you'd hear on the END", basically generic alterna-rock. I listened to one of their older albums and it sounds just as much like it would fit in there.

In spite of that, I love this album and can't get enough of it. I have to admit, part of that is because it's so blandly listenable. The lyrics are poetic and evoke some sort of strange medieval journey. They've been compared to older prog rock like Rush or Yes, but I like how much less cheesy it is. There's some amazing guitar work, and the whole thing has a bit of an epic feel, but they don't do any 13 minute solos or anything. It just keeps moving and I feel a little twinge of regret when the journey is over and have to decide if I just want to play it again or not.

The vocalist, Jake Snyder, has a damn fine voice, and just keeps it easygoing and a little mysterious. I don't know what these songs are about exactly and he seems to like it that way.

They're local boys, and when this album was released, they did the record release party at the laserama here in Seattle with a little custom laser show. I remember thinking that was cool when it came out, but now that I'm into the album I'm kicking myself that I didn't get to see it. The Planet of Ice Laser Show would have been awesome.

best of 2007 #10: mos def - tru3 magic

#10: Mos Def - Tru3 Magic


Normally I hate songs like There is a Way, for just the reason Mos Def says at the beginning of the song, "This song only has four lyrics," but then he says why he would make such a song, "but this is what we really need to be singing right now." The lyrics, in case you were curious are:

There is a way, no matter what they say
Don't give up, don't give in.

He sings it like he means it. Just like the Beatles Let It Be where they sing those words probably 50 times. They make every time count. I tried to sing it in karaoke one time and let me tell you, it's harder than it sounds.

I had given up on Mos Def a little, although I always loved his voice, probably one of the straight-up loveliest in hip-hop. But Mos Def is a smart guy and I shouldn't have written him off. Almost everyone I gave music to this year (who likes hip hop) came back to me later and said: hey, I really liked the Mos Def.

It's not too hard to see why, because this album MOVES. His rhymes are good, his singing is amazing, and he zigs where a lot of hip hop zags. Not too much hip hop is so pretty and still makes you think. He stumbles a little in songs like Thug is a Drug, but makes up for it in great songs like Sun, Moon & Stars, and his Liquid Swords tribute Crime and Medicine. It's hilarious to hear him crooning softly GZA's impaired slogan, "To snort cocaine, and act insane" so sweet and regretfully.

Oh, and the 3 is because it's his 3rd album. I like the minimal packaging too... a soft plastic case with no paper, just the CD. Pretty damn good album, but it's at #10 for a reason. On the whole it's not a masterpiece, the whole album doesn't quite rise above the sum of its parts. Still, Undeniable and Sun, Moon and Stars is going in my permanent party rocking list.

December 16, 2007


I was strangely moved by the odd little game Passage. It's an abstract little game about life, death and partnership, written by a guy named Jason Rohrer.

What I find amazing is that one would write such a game, and then, as he says on his about page... not show it to his wife!

You can do a fair amount of exploration in the game, but it ends after five minutes... when you die of old age.

I love games that are abstract and primarily allow for exploration. Probably the most amazing to date is Knytt. I never quite got the last piece in Knytt, so I never "won". I did get to explore a beautiful world and hear some cool music though. It's nice to go be Knytt for awhile. In writing this blog post I just realized there was a sequel. Ooooh.

December 14, 2007

10 Albums For the Ages: 2007

I know how to navigate the sea of technology and download just about any newly released album I want to hear, sometimes even before the official release date of the album. And I do. I download and listen to almost any album I'm interested in, probably 50 or 60 albums in any given year.

There's no way I would ever purchase all these albums. If there were no other way to get them, I would listen to probably 1/10th of the new music I do listen to. Instead, I listen to many things I would otherwise never hear. I think about who would like the albums, and I tell people about them. The people I love, I go see live. I have a hard time believing that these artists would have it some other way, but I could be wrong.

I consider myself a kind of music journalist, and these copies of music to be advance copies. I go out of my way to promote the music I really believe in, and consider it my payment for the music.

This year in particular I listened to a tremendous number of albums, and as I started to look around at some emerging top ten lists for the year, and I saw that I had listened to at least half the albums on most people's lists, and I started to think maybe I should assemble and do write-ups on my own top ten albums of the year list.

My list is finally ready, and I'm going to post a countdown of my top ten and do a small (pretty much glowing) review of each album. Then you can feel the incredible tension as you begin to stay up wondering what albums made THE CUT and which albums didn't.

December 9, 2007

the sauce


Considering there has to be some kind of incredible reason for me to buy a wine over $20, I would not consider myself a wine connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination. To me it's just something nice to drink by itself and I've never been good at noticing a wine pairs particularly well with food. I don't even like to drink alcohol with food. I like coke. I know, I'm a philistine. If I order a beer before I eat at a restaurant I'll usually stop drinking it when my food comes.

So, as simplistic as this wine probably is, goddamn it's about as tasty a wine as I've had. I mean, I've had some pretty good wine but I can just sip or slam this stuff. It tastes like blueberry deliciousness and it's not Boone's Farm simple or anything. Yum. It's Layer Cake 2006 Shiraz. Lots of people love it, but this guy about had an apoplexy over the marketing campaign (note he hadn't tried the wine).

I'm more of a beer lover usually, but this fall it's been all about the wines. Mostly because I don't like those sweetsy winter style ales. I prefer the clean, crisp spring beers. The one that's out right now that I'm loving, I've only seen in 22oz. bottles but it was a pleasant surprise. I love Descutes Brewery but still was stunned at how much of a beer I like this Hop Trip IPA. It's clean and hoppy and just oh so drinkable. It comes close to being as perfect as the Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA in pure yumminess. On their website they call it "the session beer for beer geeks" and I think both Hop Trip and the 60 minute fall into that category.

I did discover the amazing taps of Seattle's Brouwer's this week where they oh my god have Rasputin Imperial Stout on nitro (basically that means "like guinness", only this beer is a lot more hard core than Guinness).

I did also have the Corsendock X-Mas 2007 beer. Belgians and winter seasonals aren't really my thing, but I have to admit I was impressed. The Corsendock Abbey Pale was a little more to my liking.

Whoo. Who knew I was such a lush! I could have written about beer for another page or so. Here's to the sauce!

the garden is closed

Without the expert guidance of my ex, Zan, my garden was not as productive or pleasing as last year. I love her garden help, but it always ends in tears, so I'm on my own, right?

I started potatoes too late and barely got any yield. I didn't start garlic at all and so I won't have any next year. It's hard for me to put garden tasks in my life workflow. It's just hard!

But, I finally pulled everything out, and as soon as I mulch, it will be closed for the year. I wish I had a garden consultant to help me make a schedule for times of year and garden planning, because I love to keep a garden and it keeps me sane. I have a feeling next year I'm really gonna need it.

When I dug out my paltry crop of potatoes, I also dug out my experiment: garnet yams. To me there are few foods more delicious than roasted garnet yams. Some I had on my counter this year sprouted so I planted them. They made very pretty plants, but the roots they produced were tiny. I heard they really grow best in more tropical climes.

I like to just grow greens and potatoes, because that's what I most like to eat. Radishes are so easy to grow but I don't like them in much. They are great in simple taco-truck tacos though with a little lime and mild radish. I have to think of some other stuff to grow. Cherry tomatoes are cool and easier to grow than big tomatoes. Green beans and such don't seem to yield enough. I started some blueberries and that's awesome but they're permanent. If I had my own house I would probably line one whole side of my yard with blueberry bushes. Carrots didn't seem to do too well. What do people grow anyway?

December 7, 2007

working in fremont

Fremont Foundry

It's been over a month since I started working in Fremont, and my main home computer crashed, so I had to wait to post photos I took. The above is the sign for the Fremont Foundry, a cool local foundry and arts center.

Here's a better picture of the view from out my window:

the view out my window

And here's me pretending to work:

pretending to work

See the whole series.

December 3, 2007

a small, foggy update

I wanted to wait and post photos of my hood but there's so many little projects on my home computer I thought I'd at least post a small update. The question of the hour is really, "how's the job". I wish I had something more interesting to talk about honestly, but there it is. If I tell people when they ask, then they start to snore.

I don't blame them. I write software for librarians. It's cool for people who really care about how data is organized, but not to anyone else.

There's things that don't have anything to do with coding though. Today, on the rainiest day in Seattle in awhile, I can look out my window on this early morning and see the fog over queen anne hill in my little perch. I'm getting paid well to work at a company that makes money, and I have a nice computer and some pretty sweet workmates.

There's some frustrations with working this way, and slogging through all the red tape to get anything done, but I can learn how to work on such a slow-moving ship. It's not too bad.