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march 2008

How come it's only the snowboarders, and never the skiers, who you catch listening to their iPods on the ski slopes at volume levels that insure they have near-total lack of awareness of their environment? I mean, aside from the fact that most of them are reckless, drunken fools with the motorskills of a blindfolded baby sasquatch...

Listening to lots of old stuff this week. Old as in 2003-2005, a lot of which I haven't listened to since I got the iPhone because it can only hold enough to cover the last couple of years of releases.

It's very strange to me that we're about to close out the first decade of this century. It still feels like we just clawed our way out of the 90s to me.

I still love the Fiery Furnaces. I love them a lot. But really, they haven't put together a solid album, one that was worth listening to all the way through, since their breakthrough, Blueberry Boat. EP was pretty amazing, but that was odds and ends cobbled together, not a proper album. Rehearsing My Choir was a dreadful mistake, and for whatever reason they don't seem to have recovered from it completely.

"Bam Thwok" is better than I remember it being when it was first released. But with the hope of a new Pixies album seeming to have evaporated after their big reunion tour, it might well be the last recording we ever get from them. Still, the Breeders have a new disc out in April, and Kim Deal was always the coolest one anyway.

Pogues show coming up on Sunday, which I'll again be attending with Sliced Tongue. I have an extra ticket because my wife had to cancel at the last minute to attend to an ailing family member, but worst case scenario I can just give it away outside the club and still end up only having paid about $20 for my ticket, because I sold the extra pair I got for $200 on eBay a few weeks back.

The Pogues were pretty good last night, but the show wasn't quite the religious experience that the show a couple years back was. Which is okay——you can see some bands a dozen times and not get a show like the one they put on two years ago. Shane had to take a few more breaks, which meant to a lot more selections from the non-Shane Pogues material, including the two albums they released after Shane left the band, records I don't own and have never heard, and the set seemed a little shorter even though they came out for good-sized encore.

My favorite song, "Bottle of Smoke", made it onto the setlist again, but no "Fairytale of New York" this time (although that was probably okay, because it was so magical before that it's okay if that's the only memory I have of that song being performed). There were no tracks from Peace & Love, but every other Pogues album was represented. The crowd was also a lot less rowdy than before, which I guess makes sense, because to go to a show on Sunday night likely means that you're stable enough in your job and high enough in the pecking order that you can take Monday off, or at least come in late (the show we attended two years ago was on a Friday).

I also wasn't even able to give away my extra ticket; I hung around outside for about ten minutes trying to get rid of it, but there were at least a couple of other people trying to do the same thing, and I didn't want to wait another half hour and fight it out with them. That's a bit of a change from last time that probably has a bit to do with the Sunday night aspect, but there's also not as much pent up demand this time around (two years ago, it had been more than a decade since the Pogues had played the states), and there's also more regional saturation this time——in addition to the two DC shows, the band is also playing Wednesday in Baltimore (and that show isn't even sold out yet).

Still a great show and a great band——I hope Shane's got it in him for at least one or two more trips stateside over the next few years.

Okay. No more screwing around: time for my 2007 top ten lists. No long lead-in entries where I talk about the bad and the middling before I tell what I thought was really good, just the two lists, starting with the top ten albums today. As usual, I'll go in reverse order, so the final one in the list is my pick for the best release of last year. Here we go:

Les Savy Fav——Let's Stay Friends
A nice comeback album from a band that has grown in popularity over the past few years despite not having released a proper studio album in six years. It didn't immediately attach itself to my brain like their compilation Inches did, but repeated listens are worth the time——it's every bit as good as anything they've released.

Kanye West——Graduation
I don't listen to much rap/hip-hop, and this year Graduation and Lupe Fiasco's The Cool were really the only albums I bought that fall into this category. It's becoming easy to take West's talent for granted——he has yet to experience the album-to-album ups and downs of his mentor Jay-Z——so just because I think this is his weakest effort yet doesn't mean that it's not completely amazing. His protege Lupe thinks he's in the same league as Kanye, but compare The Cool to Graduation (the second and third releases from each artist respectively) and it's clear who's really playing in the majors.

Animal Collective——Strawberry Jam/Panda Bear——Person Pitch
I don't normally clump two records into one selection——hell, I separated out Conor Oberst's Bright Eyes and Los Desaparecidos projects for my top ten list a few years back——and I know that although Panda Bear is a member of Animal Collective, his solo work has different goals than his work with the Collective. But both these records hit the same part of my subconscious. I have to be in the right mood to listen to them (less so with Person Pitch than with Strawberry Jam), but man, when I'm in that mood, nothing floods serotonin into my brain like these two records.

Datarock——Datarock Datarock
Kind of an odd choice for this far down the list, and no, I probably couldn't make a rational argument as to why this should rank higher than any of the albums above it on the list. It seems like there are a lot of bands trying to do what these guys are trying to do, but despite a few misses and near-misses on their debut, I don't think anyone else out there is doing it nearly as well.

Okkervil River——The Stage Names
It took a while for me to warm up to these guys——if I had writen this list at the end of 2007 like I was supposed to, I can almost guarantee that they would not have been in the top ten——but I get it now.

Peter Bjorn and John——Writer's Block
This was an early surprise from last year's crop, released in this country just about a year ago, and I figured that it would get bumped out of my top ten before the end of the year. But it held firm, and there were very few records that proved better. They mine the same kind of quirky pop with a Euro accent that Jens Lekman is the supreme lord and master of, but they aren't imitators, just practitioners of the same art.

Art Brut——It's a Bit Complicated
I wasn't sure if this band would be able to make a record anywhere near as good as their debut without simply being repetitive, but somehow they did it. Don't ask me to explain it, because I'm not sure I can, but just trust me: if you liked Bang Bang Rock and Roll, you'll like this just as much and you won't feel like you're just listening to outtakes from those sessions.

LCD Soundsystem——Sound of Silver
I'm on the cusp of revering these guys. I get a little bored with some of the longer and/or more ordinary ventures into electronica, but their best tracks are better than just about anything, and they have a lot of songs that fall into that category, especially on this, their first proper LP. If we Americans had any sense, James Murphy and Co. would be fucking huge, but we don't, so they're likely to remain a thriving indie act earning critical raves while our increasingly cow-like youth listen to Hannah Montana or some other immaculately imagineered spawn of Disney.

Radiohead——In Rainbows
This isn't going to win Radiohead any new fans, but given that they really do seem to be the best band on the planet with millions of devotees, that doesn't really matter much. Even ignoring hoopla around the unique release method for these songs, this may well be the band's most important album. Humanity has always lurked around the edges of their records, haunting the empty spaces and blank computer screens of that are the stock in trade for a band concerned with the themes of alienation and technology, but the human element is, for the first time, front and center on In Rainbows. Who ever thought we would hear Thom Yorke sing "You are all I need" without sarcasm or cynicism? And yet it's also sung without sentimentality, which is probably the biggest surprise of all.

Jens Lekman——Night Falls Over Kortedala
This isn't Jens' best album, and it probably doesn't deserve to be ranked above LCD Soundsystem and Radiohead, but it's getting some spillover effect from his previous two efforts, which I started listening to around the same time that I acquired Night Falls. So while this is an incredible album that is well worth owning if you like anything even remotely resembling pop songs, the ranking is really a sort of lifetime achievement award to acknowledge the combined greatness of his catalog to date (I'd start with You're So Silent Jens if I had to pick just one, and after that it's a toss up between Night Falls and When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog). Jens is like a Swedish Stephen Merritt without the misanthropic tendencies. Give him a shot; if you don't fall in love, you should probably look into some long term therapy.

It's taking me a bit longer to figure out the singles list than originally anticipated. I think the only way to resolve it will be to break one or more of my personal rules for compiling a year-end list. I need to ponder this a little more.

Finally, my top ten singles from 2007:

Okkervil River——"You Can't Hold The Hand Of A Rock And Roll Man"
Lots of good tracks on this record, but I think this is the one that has gets funnier and smarter each time I hear it.

Tokyo Police Club——"Box"
This band has so much promise coming off of their two EPs. I just pray they don't go all Voxtrot on me on their upcoming full length debut.

Art Brut——"Post Soothing Out"
I was half-sure these guys would turn out to be a one-trick pony, but they thankfully proved that their schtick wasn't just a schtick. Tons of good tracks, but this was the first on that got stuck in my head after I got this album.

This is Liars' most listenable album since their debut, but it's still got some pretty challenging stuff on it. This song is one of the biggest outliers in their catalog in terms of style and sound, but it's also one of the best things they've ever recorded.

Radiohead——"All I Need"
Straight up sincerity from one of the world's most ironic, cynical, sarcastic bands. We always knew they had it in them, because there was always a real human heart driving the machines they're so fond of, but we never thought they'd allow themselves a song like this. It's one of the biggest steps forward for a band that's taken more risks than any mainstream act of the past decade.

Peter Bjorn and John——"Amsterdam"
This track killed me the first time I heard it, and the visceral response hasn't faded yet. I still get excited when I hear the opening notes.

TV On the Radio——"Me-I"
Yes, this is a demo-quality outtake that showed up on a free compilation album you could only get via download from the Adult Swim web site. And yes, it's one of the best things TV On the Radio has ever done, and one of the best songs released this year.

Datarock——"Computer Camp Love"
I can't explain to you why I love this song so much. It's a weird amalgamation of characters from Revenge of the Nerds and a song from Grease, and from that description it seems like the kind of thing I would find cheesy and unlistenable. Instead I find it adorable and catchy as hell.

Jens Lekman——"A Postcard To Nina"
Another artist who produced a slew of top ten worthy singles this year, but there's no doubt in my mind that this is head and shoulders above the others, even though there are some amazingly great songs on the album. If you don't like "Nina", then you probably won't like anything by Jens. And if you don't like Jens, well, then, god help you.

LCD Soundsystem——"Someone Great"
LCD Soundsystem——"All My Friends"
John Cale——"All My Friends"
I'm violating a couple of rules with these selections: 1) No two songs from the same album or artist on a top ten list; and 2) No covers. "Someone Great" is one of the most heartwrenching songs I'd ever heard, and if you had asked me midway through the year, it would have easily claimed the top spot on its own. But then I saw LCD Soundsystem perform "All My Friends" live, and it jumped into contention. And the John Cale cover that came out late in the year might be better than either of the LCD Soundsystem tracks. So, since I wasn't about to bump two other artists out of the top ten, these three songs get to share the top spot. Give them a good hard listen and tell me if you disagree with my decison.

Also: I think the White Stripes, Nine Inch Nails, Patrick Wolf, the Shins, Albert Hammond, Jr., Los Campesinos, and the Shout Out Louds had some pretty decent releases this year, even though none of them made it onto either of my top ten lists. And neither Arcade Fire's Neon Bible nor Wilco's Sky Blue Sky is as mediocre as they initially seemed to be, but come on, guys, we know you can both do much better.

If you're going to celebrate something as patently silly as St. Patrick's Day, then I can't think of a better way to do it than drinking Guinness while seeing the Pogues play live. So have fun NYC——and I hope they give you "Fairytale of New York".


When I was dead, I wore a strong perfume
When I was dead, I never left the room

I know he's English, but Robyn Hitchcock has my vote for Poet Laureate.

I'm dying for some new releases, but I can't bring myself to go back to what used to be our local indie store but which was busy morphing itself into some fake corporate record store the last time I was in there, and I'm still unwilling to buy things on iTunes that I can get on CD. So in the meantime, I've been going back through my iTunes and listening to all the stuff I've loaded in there in chronological order. And listening to the stuff from the 70s and early 80s by the Clash, Talking Heads, R.E.M., U2, the Cure, Joy Division, New Order, etc., makes me not so eager to load new stuff onto my computer.

The first part of Siouxsie & the Banshees' Tinderbox is as kick-ass as I remember it, but man, that last part drags on. I don't even recognize some of those songs, and I listened to that record heavily for about two months straight when it came out.

I always figured that the fact that The Queen Is Dead was the first Smiths album I bought factored heavily into why it was my favorite record from them, but looking back now, I think you can pretty objectively state that this record was their finest effort.

My average number of CDs purchased each month is somewhere around 4-5; so far I've only bought 3 this entire year. Granted, there are a few that I would like to purchase but which I just haven't taken the time to locate (although my lack of motivation should tell you something), and April has a few releases that I will go out and get, but so far it's been a really slow year.

That Petrol Emotion's debut, Manic Pop Thrill, isn't nearly as good as I remember it. Now I'm a little afraid to listen to their other releases again for fear of tarnishing the mostly positive memories I have of their music (End of the Millenium Psychosis Blues notwithstanding).

If William Shatner's version of Pulp's "Common People" ever naturally gets dethroned as my most listened to track (according to the iTunes database of my listening habits over the past five years), I think I'm going to be seriously tempted to cheat and listen to it 20 times in a row to make sure it stays at the top forever.

I still miss XTC, and I bemoan the fact that they never seemed to get back on track with their recording career after that brief burst of two new records back in the early part of this decade. But I always miss them more as springtime approaches; I don't think there's a better soundtrack in recent memory to the transition from the cold sterility of winter to the warmth and ease of sunny summer days than Skylarking. Just do me a favor and skip that "Dear God" track——I don't care if it did get them on MTV, it wasn't on the original release and it really doesn't fit with the rest of the record..

Yes, R.E.M. needed a serious kick in the ass to remind them that they are indeed a rock band. But was pairing them up with the producer who brought us U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb really the right way to go?

When we were visiting Fort McHenry this weekend while taking our out of town friends to do some of the touristy things that we haven't done ourselves yet, we were treated to an enlightening discourse on Supertramp while trying to view the exhibits in the officer's barracks. A sample:

"Like many mediocre bands, their best album was a live album."

Ummm...yeah. Now could you get off your cellphone or at least take it outside where we don't have to strain to hear the recorded narration over your self-important drivel? Jackass.

And who the fuck gives a good goddamn about Supertramp anyway?