My Favorite Things

Friend and neighbor, Tris McCall, has been posting the results and analysis of his annual Critics Poll. My favorite bit—Miscellaneous Categories—went up today. I am even mentioned in the analysis. Always a thrill. Oddly, however, Tris notes that I am an "audiophile."

Tris, what's up with that? You never called me names before.

If you do visit Tris' miscellany, be sure to scroll down the page and read Ben Krieger's thoughts on digital recording. If anyone around here is an audiophile, it's Ben. I also recommend reading the comments from Zachary Lipez and Jens Carstensen, not because I know these guys (I don't, really), but because I like the way they think. Also, Marisol Fuentes cracks me up.

I am always happy when Tris asks me to participate in this exciting event, but, in previous years, I have not felt qualified to offer my opinions. Last year, for instance, I listened to almost nothing but New York City salsa records from the 1970s. I had very little to say about 2007's rock albums. This year, however, I was pumped for the Poll. Having completed my conversion to the vinyl format, and with the subsequent supercharged enthusiasm for all sorts of music, I listened to more new records in 2008 than in any other year of my life. By far. By very, very far. Really. Thanks to vinyl, and thanks to a few music-loving friends, I was ready for the Critics Poll. This year, I knew my shit, man. And so, you can imagine my surprise when I saw that the winner in the "Best Album" category was from a band I had never even heard of.


It says something about how much outstanding music was released in the last year. There was a lot. It boggles the mind. It makes a dude go kind of crazy. I mean, it's pretty overwhelming if you're trying to keep up. I'm sure I'll be discovering still more excellent 2008 releases long after we've forgotten this miserable cold weather.

Is it just my imagination, or is there something truly radical going on? What's the deal with all the experimental, multicultural, hippie stuff? Huh? What the hell is up with Portland, Oregon? And how is it that so many new bands have emerged with stellar debut releases? I mean, we had Fleet Foxes, Santogold, Vampire Weekend, the Knux, Bon Iver, MGMT, Lykke Li, Ra Ra Riot… all with notable releases. There were other, better known acts—Be Your Own Pet, No Age, TV On The Radio, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, The Hold Steady, Of Montreal—with solid releases. And there were even old folks—Beck, Raphael Saadiq, David Byrne and Brian Eno, AC/DC, Guns'n'Roses, Jackson Browne, Randy Newman, Metallica, B.B. King, god, don't make me go on—coming out of nowhere with good, new albums. It was a lot to take in.

So what's the deal? I'm tempted to think that this outburst of high-quality art is some sort of backlash to the shithole of a world left to us by our last president. I'm also tempted to think it has something to do with technology; the overuse and the misuse of technology—that people have grown weary of their MP3s and their faceless files—and finally want something more; something better. We want quality. We'll sacrifice convenience, we'll even sacrifice choice. We will limit ourselves for love. We want big, fat, blindingly colorful album covers and we want two sides and we want to put the needle on the record. You know where I'm going with this. But you can take it symbolically or literally, people. Whichever you prefer. We want something to love.

Anyway. Despite how qualified I thought I was for Tris' Critics Poll, I knew I'd be surprised by the results. Just like with hi-fi, there is no "best" when it comes to art. We should be thankful. The "best" album of the year is most likely one of the many that I didn't hear. My friend, Michael Lavorgna, reminds me of this. So do the people at Matador. (I can't even pronounce most of the stuff on Patrick Amory's list.) And, of course, there were many other great year-end lists out there.

You'll notice that my list—a list of "favorites"—is made almost entirely of music that can fall into the "Rock" category. Well, it's what I listen to most. It's the sort of music I most enjoy. There are no jazz albums here, though I'm well aware that some very important jazz albums were released this year, including those by Sonny Rollins and Shirley Horn. Fred Kaplan's list of "Best Jazz Albums" tells us more. There are no classical albums on my list. I know fuck-all about today's classical music. Same can be said for yesterday's. I'm not proud of that. Someday, when I have the time, I'll get to work on correcting it.

There are several albums that I know for a fact I enjoyed—I might have even mentioned them to you—but, for whatever reason, I only made it a point to listen to them once or twice (maybe three times at the most), and so, it would be wrong to list them as "favorites." Duh. These, then, will be my Honorable Mentions. I plan on revisiting them this year:

Alopecia: Why?

Atlas Sound: Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel

Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Lie Down in the Light

Calexico: Carried To Dust

Destroyer: Trouble In Dreams

El Perro del Mar: From the Valley to the Stars

Flying Lotus: Los Angeles

Lykke Li: Youth Novels

My Brightest Diamond: A Thousand Shark's Teeth

Nightmares On Wax: thought so…

Son Ambulance: Someone Else's Deja Vu

Sonic Youth: SYR7

I'm sure I'm forgetting a few. But let's move on. Here are the albums that I played like crazy this year:

The Black Keys: Attack & Release

Bodies of Water: A Certain Feeling

Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago

Boris: Smile

Cat Power: Jukebox [And the Dark End.]

Dengue Fever: Venus On Earth

Devotchka: A Mad & Faithful Telling

El Guincho: Alegranza!

Fucked Up: The Chemistry of Common Life

Grails: Doomsdayer's Holiday

Jaguar Love: Take Me to the Sea

Man Man: Rabbit Habbits

Pivot: O Soundtrack My Heart

Portishead: Third

Ratatat: LP3

Rodriguez: Cold Fact (reissue)

Santogold: Santogold

Silver Jews: Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea

She & Him: Volume One

Steve Reid & Keiran Hebden: NYC

Sun Kil Moon: April

Syclops: I've Got My Eye On You

Valet: Naked Acid

White Denim: Workout Holiday

Xiu Xiu: Women As Lovers

Beck's Modern Guilt is not on my list. Neither is the Magnetic Fields' Distortion. All circumstantial evidence indicates that I should have loved the Beck album, produced by Danger Mouse and with a reputation for being soulful and personal. But I just can't stand Beck's whiny-ass voice these days. The Magnetic Fields album sounded like hell.

I'll list my final 10 in the order in which I listed them for Tris. These top 10 albums are, essentially, my absolute favorites, but I want to stress that this order is pretty much meaningless. It's simply the order which seemed appropriate for the day I created it. Meaning: It can change depending on my mood. Cat Power's Jukebox could've replaced any of these, for instance. Number 10 could have been number 1 (and would have been a couple of months ago). And here we go:

10. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cardinology [And: Stop.]

9. Gang Gang Dance: Saint Dymphna

8. Frida Hyvonen: Silence Is Wild

7. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes

6. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! [Dig!!! again.]

5. Leila: Blood, Looms, & Blooms

4. Mogwai: The Hawk Is Howling

3. TV On The Radio: Dear Science

2. Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog: Party Intellectuals

1. Lights: Lights

Yes, Lights made quite an impression on me. And, yes, they probably benefited from the fact that I only just discovered them a couple of weeks ago, in 2009. In any case, I haven't been this excited about a band in a long time. I plan to attend at least two of their performances next week. Maybe even three, if I get really crazy.

Comments? Criticisms? Know of an album I missed? Please let me know. I didn't do all of this dang coding just for the fun of it.

tris mccall's picture

everybody's an audiophile compared to me!

Bongofury's picture

Great lists. This was a great year for me as well for new bands or stunning work by veterans. I really liked the albums by Burial and Elbow from the UK, and from America, works by Anya Marina, Birdmonster, Darker My Love,Department of Eagles, the Dodos, the Heavenly States, The Kills, Manuok, Sticky & Extra Freshness, and the Walkmen. "Grocery Store" by Sticky &EF pretty much summed up the Bush Administration for me.

ncd's picture

no Easton Stagger Phillips-- one for the ditch ?South San Gabriel/Centro Matic--Dual Hawks ?Woven Hand--10 Stones?Gentlemen Jesse and His men? If you havent heard any of those, please, please check them out.