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Archive for November, 2009

I have talked of a lack of debate on the global warming causation here (also check our global warming category), and now there is the hoopla about – forgive me – “climategate” (I really wish I didn’t use that term).  I don’t really have anything new to add to all the news about the UAE hacking that led to the discovery of the discussion of destroying evidence that didn’t fit the needs of certain climate scientists.  There are many who are hyperventilating about this being the end of the global warming agenda for Al Gore and others – I don’t agree.  And there are also plenty of people defending the scientists by saying that there are valid reasons, and explanations, and that there are plenty of checks and balances at the IPCC – again, I don’t agree.

All I can add is my continued dismay at the way this discussion and debate is handled, and that my skepticism grows, not shrinks, because of the “experts”.

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Hopefully your turkey is warm at least.

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Since Sgt Grumbles and shared his more finalised version of the ‘Best Albums of 2009’ I figured it was as good a time as any to revisit my list.  I would have simply updated the original post, but there have been some significant changes to my ‘Best Albums of 2009 (thus far)‘ list due to the release of several amazing records since I left America.  I have therefore removed the following from my previous list:

  • Cass McCombsCatacombs
  • Andrew BirdNoble Beast
  • Sunset RubdownDragonslayer
  • The Pains of Being Pure at HeartThe Pains of Being Pure at Heart

I must say that the four records above are worth buying, but in narrowing my list down to ten with the inclusion of a larger canon of new albums in 2009 (my previous list was posted nearly three months ago) I needed to revise my list.  Therefore I give you my more official and updated ‘Best Albums of 2009‘.

07 - These Four Walls

10.  We Were Promised Jetpacks—These Four Walls
I still stand by the excellence of this record, but it has slipped three slots (from seven to ten).  Enjoy the incredible Glaswegian sincerity and steady flow of energy.

9.  Atlas Sound—Logos
Bradford Cox (of Deerhunter) really did an excellent job on this record (released 19 October in the UK) with a little help from Noah Lennox (aka ‘Panda Bear’) and Lætitia Sadier (of Stereolab).   Cox demonstrates his exceptional and deeply personal writing abilities and leaves room for many more excellent Atlas Sound records to come.

8.  Times New Viking—Born Again Revisited
I first heard Times New Viking last year when they released Rip it Off.  That album proved to be a great surprise (which was enhanced by the energy and precision of their live shows).  This next record (released 21 September in the UK) proves to employ the same techniques – simple pop songs performed by a three piece band (drums, guitar, keys) and production that is intentionally downgraded for an extremely primitive and lo-fi sound.  But the songwriting on this album represents a broader stylistic spectrum than their previous work which makes this record more accessible and even more listenable (for someone who usually enjoys what others have sometimes deemed ‘unlistenable’).

08 - Mythomania

7.  Cryptacize—Mythomania
As I mentioned previously, this album was very surprising, and it has proven more surprising as I’ve listened on, securing it a rank of number seven (previously eight).  At this point one might ask, “Wait, with this subjective switch aren’t your reviews worth the computer screens they are illuminated on?”  Correct, the albums I deem worthy of listen are based upon my dynamic personal preferences.  But in the end, we must wait for NME’s ‘Top Albums of the Decade’ instead of taking their top album from each year of the decade because of developing musical trends and tastes, so I don’t feel so guilty.  This album deserves this spot and maybe even a higher one.  This album possesses a near-perfect amount of creativity, innovation, skills and utter fun!  A great improvement from Chris Cohen’s previous work on Asthmatic Kitty (Curtains).

6.  Girls—Album
I first heard the track “Hellhole Ratrace” back in August.  It was raved about by Pitchfork and Stereogum and I found the track very enjoyable, but not as incredible as the reviews were claiming.  I bought the record soon after its release on 22 September and gave it a listen.  By the second listen I was hooked.  Think of a more nihilistic and energetic Elvis Costello circa 1977, with a hint of Buddy Holly.

04 - My Maudlin Career

5.  Camera Obscura—My Maudlin Career
This record (along with Cursive’s new record) slipped a slot entirely due to the release of my new number three record of the year.  As I’ve mentioned previously, this is probably my favorite release from Camera Obscura.  The more I’ve listened the more I appreciate the record and also the more sure I am that I didn’t simply “love it so much because Belle & Sebastian hasn’t released an LP since 2006.”  Well orchestrated and executed indie-pop, with plenty of Scottish wit.  Even if there is a hint of my love for B & S in this pick, the album (and the band) stands on its own through musical precision and artistic maturity.

03 - Mama

4.  Cursive—Mama, I’m Swollen
Mama, I’m Swollen probably seems to be an odd pick for this number [four] slot, but I will always have a soft spot for Cursive.  This is not to say that this album is undeserving of praise.  Cursive is not interested in being another experimental freak-folk-electro-post-rock-cross-genre-remixed piece of overproduced crap like so many other groups are becoming (namely Dirty Projectors).  They are faithful to their expressive indie roots, this album being far less poppy than Happy Hollow.  It reminds me of Domestica even.  Tim Kasher is still obsessed with refuting a theistic/morally superior worldview, but he does it with so much passion and angst I can’t help but be stirred.  Cursive encourages us to realize the failure of our Enlightenment/modern ideals and to accept our animalistic/primitive nature.  I don’t buy it (but not because it’s not packaged well).  I say we drop the Enlightenment and read more Kierkegaard and Barth.

3.  Converge—Axe to Fall
After all these years Converge is still bringing ‘it.’  What is ‘it?’  ‘It’ is unrelenting energy.  Of all of the bands on this top ten album list, Converge is by far my favorite.  This album (released 20 October) is both extremely heavy and true to Converge’s metal roots while remaining very accessible (like 2001’s Jane Doe).  Axe to Fall has also made its way into my top three all-time Converge records.

02 - Merriweather

2. Animal Collective—Merriweather Post Pavilion
Retaining its number two slot, Merriweather Post Pavilion – though it is more accessible (think Pet Sounds) than their entire repertoire (a bad start in my odd musical sense) – is very unique, big (to the point of breathtaking at times), and yet more cohesive with itself than any other Animal Collective album.  The songs don’t leave you asking, “When is this going to end/how does that even fit?”

01 - Veckatimest

1.  Grizzly BearVeckatimest
I raved about their performance in Glasgow earlier this month and I stand by this pick as the ‘Best Album of 2009.’  My first listen of this record was a positive, but not profound experience.  Only two tracks really stuck out to me: “Two Weeks,” and “While You Wait for the Others.”  I was even a little disappointed with the album version of “While You Wait for the Others,” at first (compared to their incredible live performance I saw on Morning Becomes Eclectic last year).  I sat with the album for another month and at that point it hit me.  This is by far (maybe I’ll get harassed for saying that) Grizzly Bear’s best record.  By best I mean that they demonstrate great maturity and excellence both in writing and execution, two points that have always seemed to miss one another by an ever-so-slight degree.  This record is certain to remain among my favorites unless I fully give myself over to jazz-fusion or something.

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Our own brilliant Elijah Wade Smith posted his favorite new albums of the year a bit early this year (August), but I’d like to pick up where he left off and share some favorite albums from this year, along with my definitive songs of 2009 and one marvelous musical discovery…

Since Elijah already listed 4 of the albums I would have chosen (We Were Promised Jetpacks, Cass McCombs, Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective), I will use this space to highlight 10 other albums (3 of which earned an honorable mention from my esteemed colleague).  Between my regular CD purchases and my beloved eMusic account (which I was not paid in any way to mention), I was able to purchase around 50 albums this year, but I still feel like I have certainly neglected many more releases that should have been heard (e.g. I have not heard one note of the new Muse album).

Sadly, this year some of my favorite artists only turned out middling efforts at best (Andrew Bird, Jeremy Enigk, Imogen Heap, Patrick Watson) and deeply disappointing at worst (Doves, Pete Yorn, Morrissey).  The jury is still out on the new Swell Season album (feelings are ambivalent–is it too derivative or a purposeful homage?) and I intentionally neglected to include U2‘s album, as I am unable to evaluate their work in isolation from their status/body of work.  A final note:  though Sufjan Stevens‘ “The BQE” was released this October, it feels like it belongs to another year (2007, when it was initially performed)…I will say that I LOVED his “You Are the Blood” on the Dark Was the Night compilation, and of course, I admire his work in general more than anything else I’ve ever heard, so I’m sure any appraisal of it would be unfairly elevated as well.

Without further caveat, I give you (alphabetically listed) the best, with my best…

TOP TEN ALBUMS (not on Elijah’s list):

Counter-offensive? Um, what counter-off...oh, that.

-Lou Barlow—Goodnight Unknown: I would include Barlow amongst the best living American songwriters.  His stylistic range is somewhat limited (he’s practically copyrighted a particular kind of staccato down strum), but if it isn’t broke…(I couldn’t force the “ain’t” in there).  He’s lyrically sentimental on some songs, but it’s the tender truthful sort, and then in other places he’s brutally insightful.  A beautiful, rich album:  see “Gravitate,” “Too Much Freedom,” and “Modesty.”

-David Bazan—Curse Your Branches: To quote from the Barsuk Records press release:

“…Curse your branches is his masterpiece — a beautiful, passionate, profoundly courageous work of art that deserves and will reward your close attention. It is a deeply personal, frankly autobiographical dispatch from the front lines of a crisis of faith. Song after song peers deep into the abyss of insoluble mysteries and comes up with something far more useful than answers.”

Do I agree?  Maybe.  Still, it’s light years better than any of the shite that makes millions these days.

-Neko Case—Middle Cyclone: One day, I drove my sister-in-law Megan’s truck up to LAX to pick her up and this CD was in the player.  Love at first listen.  I knew her voice from The New Pornographers (lovely, fierce, voluptuous), but her singing her own melodies and lyrics = twisted longing & lovely loss.  The experience was so intensely moving I ended up listening to all 30 minutes of the last song–which is only the sound of crickets in the field outside her studio.

-Hayden—The Place Where We Lived: He was on my top 10 last year…how in the heck did he put another little gem together so quickly.  I will say that he may be an acquired taste, so do give this album a test run before you trust my quirk-happy palate.

-Lightning Dust—Infinite Light: I have no recollection of where I came across this album, but it’s a rare flower:  timeless (and therefore similar to what has come before) and unique (the quaver of the singer’s vibrato–again, may not be to all tastes–and her wry, experienced, and [creepy to say it] sexy delivery…kind of a Chick Jagger if you get my meaning).

-Passion Pit—Manners: The sound of this album is like eating a substantial meal of sweets.  I’m not sure if people can keep from loving this band…it is my kid’s number one choice off my iPod.  Unbelievable hooks, propulsive beats & a mystifying falsetto…

-The Low Anthem—Oh My God, Charlie Darwin: I’m just going to admit that before two weeks ago, I knew only the name of this band.  I am so seriously excited about looking more into this band, past & future…go to iTunes and listen to the first three songs (then skip the next two) and tell me you can’t hear the talent.  I’m anxious to figure out the evolution (if you will) of the lyrical themes, but it’s work I look forward to.

-Matt and Kim—Grand: Another admission–I only discovered this band because of the placement of their insanely catchy song “Daylight” in a Bacardi ad.  BUT these two performers give me hope for the next generation of bands…and they DIY’d it without the help of a guitar, fueled only by raw passion and teen spirit.

-The Mountain Goats—The Life of the World to Come: Every song is named after a passage from the Bible, but just listen to the lyrics and you’ll know you’re not in Jesusland:  “I became a crystal healer and my ministry was to the sick / Creeping vines would send out runners and seek me in their numbers / I sold self-help tapes.”  I would strongly recommend “Hebrews 11:40,” “1 John 4:16,” and “Deuteronomy 2:10.”  I haven’t yet looked up any of the scripture references, but I think that the passages will probably function in a way similar to the inspiration of the 10 commandments in Krysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue.  Perhaps this could be a topic for some student of theology & culture…in Scotland?

-Regina Spektor—Far: This album almost didn’t make this list due to the dolphin noises she makes at exactly 2 minutes into “Folding Chair”–she needs a naysayer in her entourage.  But she can write a pop song or melancholy ballad with her piano and lovely, funny voice like nobody’s business (see “Laughing With,” “Human of the Year,” and “Genius Next Door” along with most of the other cuts…though “Machine” is a bit awkward as well).  She’s really amazing…

BEST SONGS OF THE YEAR:

I made an iMix of these which can be found by pasting the words “Sgt Grumbles Best Songs 2009” into the iTunes iMix search box…570 seconds of goodness at least.

  1. “Charlie Darwin”: The Low Anthem/Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
  2. “Hard To Be”:  David Bazan/Curse Your Branches
  3. “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)”:  Monsters Of Folk/Monsters Of Folk
  4. “Ten Thousand Words”:  The Avett Brothers/I And Love And You
  5. “Laughing With”:  Regina Spektor/Far
  6. “Too Much Time”:  John Vanderslice/Romanian Names
  7. “Two Weeks”:  Grizzly Bear/Veckatimest
  8. “Little Secrets”:  Passion Pit/Manners
  9. “My Girls”:  Animal Collective/Merriweather Post Pavilion
  10. “Wondering What Everyone Knows”:  Lightning Dust/Infinite Light
  11. “Daylight”:  Matt and Kim/Grand
  12. “Modesty”:  Lou Barlow/Goodnight Unknown
  13. “The Pharoahs”:  Neko Case/Middle Cyclone
  14. “Deuteronomy 2:10”:  The Mountain Goats/The Life Of The World To Come
  15. “The Executioner’s Song”:  Cass McCombs/Catacombs
  16. “An Almighty Thud”:  We Were Promised Jetpacks/These Four Walls
  17. “I Want You Back”:  Discovery/LP
  18. “Let It Last”:  Hayden/The Place Where We Lived
  19. “Lille”:  Lisa Hannigan/Sea Sew

BEST DISCOVERY:

-The album The Texas/Jerusalem Crossroads by the band Lift to Experience.  I don’t completely know how to describe how important this album has become to me.  It is simply one of the most fascinating ALBUMS ever recorded, as in a musical composition where everything is working together towards one purpose/theme on EVERY LEVEL IMAGINABLE.  You listen to it, and you must listen to in IN ITS ENTIRETY & you feel like you are in some run down warehouse listening to them play, no CREATE–right there and then–this mad, apocalyptic masterpiece of beauty and fierce passion that is flowing in some profane mixture of Ahab-esque monomania and true divine inspiration.  I don’t have the inclination to ruin the bizarre experience of discerning the “tale” of this one-of-a-kind concept album, but here is a formula that may help give a sense of what we’re talking about here:

Jeff Buckley + Explosions in the Sky + My Bloody Valentine (the book of Revelation/ fundamentalist preacher’s kid) + Texan pride/outsider art (messiah complex) – worst album cover art ever (it looks like it was designed on Microsoft Word!) = one of the greatest albums ever

Hard to believe, but it is a damn MAGNUM .357 OPUS

I was going to include some books, but I’ve asked enough of your time.  I will be back with more later…

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Occasionally this CAI writer will chime in to his local paper to respond to an editorial or another writer.  Here is the latest exchange.

Press-Telegram Letters to the editor (11/13/09):

Honored by street sweepers

On Veterans Day, when the U.S. Post Office is closed, when the banks are closed to salute our military brethren, when schools are closed to allow students to remember those brave young men and women who served so heroically, when City Hall is closed to give families time to gather and give thanks to those who serve and fight for our freedom, I wanted to thank you for having our street sweepers work so that they could cite me with a $47 ticket while I stayed home on Wednesday to reflect on my service, the service of my family and those who have contributed to our nation’s democracy. I feel so honored.

Felix Mendoza Jr.
Captain, USMC
Long Beach

Press-Telegram Letters to the editor (11/16/09):

Trivial honor

Re “Honored by sweeper” (Letters, Nov. 13):

While I greatly appreciate what Captain Felix Mendoza Jr. and others do for our country, I am a bit troubled by his offense at receiving a street sweeping violation on Veterans Day.

If he were caught speeding on the freeway should he not get flagged? If he parked in a handicap zone and was, in fact, not handicapped should he not be fined? Veterans Day does not absolve our rules and regulations any more than Halloween does. Maybe it’s the sad state of how our soldiers have been treated in the past that they now look to having no street-sweeping as an honor.

I hope Capt. Mendoza is shown his absolute due respect and honor, but I also hope he doesn’t always seek it out in such trivial matters.

Mark Stump
Long Beach

Don’t know if you all agree or not.  I absolutely love our soldiers and am awed by the service they perform… but it definitely seemed silly to me.

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You decide… but I can’t stop watching this for some reason, and now the song is stuck in my head.  “Not a game, not a game, not a game… we’re talking ’bout practice.”

Thanks Shawn.

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If CAI were a wife then we writers here would be sleeping on the couch.  The one-year anniversary of the launch of this blog occurred on October 23rd, and went sadly unreported.  For those of you who read our blog, we resoundingly thank you for your readership and look forward to another year ahead.

In the last year we have gone international (thank you Elijah) with our correspondence; have endured a conversion from blogger to commenter (Grumbles); and have also given you over 200 quality, finely-written, absorbing, witty, ground-breaking* posts to read.  Our dear Sgt. Grumbles was the one to grace CAI with the 200th post, a stirring ode that will be forever hailed in our annuls.  Thank you again… we hope you keep coming back.  [ELIJAH ADDS:  Updated the Listening List…]

candle

Can We Possibly Make It To Two??

*verification in process

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