As excited as I am to bust out my near-expert turkey skillz this week, I kinda hate late November. Around this time of year I suffer from unrelenting twinges of anxiety every time I listen to part of a new album, because great is my worry about excluding a late-year release for consideration as one of my favorites of the year. What if I just don’t know it yet, and mistake that for not loving it? Will I adore it come February? What kind of a huckster am I?!
I’m reprising my talking head role (like Max Headroom) on NPR’s World Cafe this year, and I am so aware of all the wonderful music this year held, and the inverse proportion to my amount of listening time. Sigh. I think I have 8 of the 10 favorites nailed down with two dark horse spots left to be filled. Wish me luck. What are your favorites of the year?
A few more tunes from 2008 that are very good:
City of Electric Light
The opening lines of this song are among my favorite this month: “And I thought you were the moon in the sky, but it turned out you were just a streetlight, you were burning like a hole in the night.” Ah, the old story of mistaken identity; an error that many of us make. This track traces the journey from infatuation to disillusionment, and uses what sounds like xylophones. You cannot go wrong. Calgary’s Chad VanGaalen makes shiny, multi-instrumental homespun recordings, with his newest release Soft Airplane out now on Sub Pop.
Not The One
My NYC friend Cara posted this track from Francois Virot out of Lyon, France, saying that he had a “sort of shambolic happiness, a violent acoustic guitar player type. he’s got the right kind of crazy going on in his voice.” I love the torrent of strumming acoustic guitar as percussion, and the way he flirts with an untamed edge throughout this song. As he repeats, “It’s over now; I’m not the one, not the one, not the one…” it’s as if he is primarily trying to convince himself. Virot has a bunch of tour dates coming up, but mostly all in France. My brother is teaching English in Calais for the year, so maybe he can scrape together the funds to see this guy — this kind of passion would be amazing live. Yes or No is out now through Red Eye Distro.
The Low Anthem
Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, The Low Anthem has made a fantastic album that friend Bruce says sounds like a night ride home in Joni Mitchell’s car. That’s the best way I’ve heard yet to capture what this song feels like, from a band who hand silk-screens their CDs with love and says their ethos is “not entirely jaded yet: music that really is music, not an advertisement. Imagine that.” Citing influences in the vein of Dylan, The Band, Tom Waits and Neil Young, they vacillate between stripped-down acoustic arrangements and a more rollicking jam that echoes modern contemporaries like The Felice Brothers. The female vocal harmonies on this song also add such a warm and bittersweet undertone. The band is currently unsigned, and their album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin is out now.
The State I Am In (live on BBC)
Belle and Sebastian
From 1996-2001, Glasgow’s twee extraordinaires Belle & Sebastian recorded five sessions at the BBC for folks like John Peel, Mark Radcliffe, and Steve Lamacq, and they are now releasing this look into their early years as a band. If it’s possible for the songs to take on an even more vulnerable timbre, they do here. I enjoy hearing the intimacy of these sessions, the acoustic takes on favorites, and the four previously unreleased songs. The BBC Sessions is out now as double-disc on Matador (second disc is a live gig from Belfast in 2001).
In 2005, I fell in love with the awkward indie pop of Nashville’s The Features, with their song “Blow It Out” (celebrating sitting between a pair of speakers and playing vinyl very loud) making it onto pretty much every mixtape I created that year. This first single from their new album Some Kind of Salvation pulses with darker textures, and surprisingly reminds me more of The Killers. How did that happen? It’s an interesting development for this ebullient band.