Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Best Music of 2008 So Far...

Duffy – Rockferry
She’s being hailed as the “new Amy Winehouse” which is meant as a complement from an artistic standpoint, but, unfortunately, carries negative connotations not just because of Amy’s behavior, but because of the glut of “new Amys” that are already bottlenecking the record bins.

For my money, Duffy is actually an improvement over Amy. Her voice is just as rich and lush, like a modern day Dusty Springfield, and the music is more organic. Amy was a classicist to be sure, but also seemed to be appealing to the hip-hop audience. Duffy relies more on her talents, than on the producers and studio gimmickry. Amy is good, but Duffy is solid.

Unfortunately, the single is not the best song on the album. That is a recurring theme this year. It’s satisfying to see the album is selling well anyway. Artists like her deserve the kudos. I don’t know if her career will span decades or if she’ll come and go like the other “new Amys” are bound to do. But she’s a bright star now.

Best Song - "Rockferry"

Mudcrutch – st
It’s the best work Tom Petty has done in over a decade (or two in my opinion, but I’m not a long-term Petty disciple). Who knew reuniting his first band would trigger the creativity like this?

Last year, director Peter Bogdanovich released a four hour documentary on Petty called Running Down A Dream that premiered on the Sundance channel. The reception was very positive and in the film viewers learned that the band that started it all was actually Mudcrutch. They were the ones that made the cross-country drive from his native Florida to LA to score a record deal, only to have the label axe Mudcrutch in favor of Petty, who they saw as the real value. A couple guys stuck around for what would become The Heartbreakers, and a couple other guys went home and lead normal lives for the next 30 years missing the entire circus. Petty must have felt guilty or deeply nostalgic because he reformed his original band after the doc’s airing and released a beautiful album.

More so than with his Heartbreakers stuff, Mudcrutch (terrible name, btw), sound even sunnier than he normally does. Honey-soaked melodies of bright yellows and oranges permeate the album. Even the darker stuff still sounds like dusk on a warm summer night. It’s folkier than the normal stuff too. He’s always been heavily influenced by the Byrds, but he wears it more on his sleeve this time out. At 14 tracks, it could have lost 2 or 3 to make for a tight, perfect offering, but it’s pretty close as it is.

Put it this way. I’ve resisted being a big Petty fan his entire career. It took Mudcrutch for me to stand up and take notice.

Best Song - "Scare Easy"
There are many, but you may as well start with the single.

Nada Surf – Lucky
Some people just don’t get this band, or find them inconsequential. Me, I find their last 3 albums, especially 2002’s Let Go, some of the most beautiful pop ever written.

Imagine a gorgeous girl without any make-up on. That’s Nada Surf. Pure, simple, lovely, natural, unforgettable. Singer Matthew Caws has a voice like a lovelorn romantic on a late, dark night. Full of passion that is haunted and yearning. Yet, his love is perfect, just as his melodies are perfect. His thoughts and emotions are clear. His muse is on his shoulder. No frills. Just bottomless heart.

It's certainly a far cry from their one gimmick hit "Popular" from '96. They aren't even the same band anymore.

Best Song - "Beautiful Beat"
The bestest of all the "best" songs I point to here.

R.E.M. – Accelerate
They’re still around? Yep, and finally recapturing the fury of their youth. Many have criticized the last 15 years of the band’s career. Surely, the sales have shown that one of the biggest bands ever, and a one-time monster revenue generator, have dwindled to a core of cultist fans who just haven’t moved on with their lives yet. (That being said, I thought 2002’s Reveal was one of their best, but I’m the only one who feels that way).

REM are smart businessmen and couldn’t help but notice their star plummeting, so they tried to infuse some life in their seemingly forgotten careers. Thus, Accelerate, a fast and lively and energetic shot of adrenaline that reintroduces them as artists to take seriously once again. Will they be rediscovered? Probably not. The young don’t care about the old unless they’re on a dating show on VH1 and even then it’s not for their music. But, fans will finally feel repaid for their investment.

The easiest touch point is to compare the album to 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant. To call it a carbon copy is not meant to minimize the greatness of Accelerate. It just means that they took their best template for a rock record and reworked it for 2008. The songs are urgent and vibrant and straightforward. No experimenting. No obscure lyrics. No drama.

Again, the single “Supernatural Superserious sucks and is the worst song on the album. Don’t let it, or your dubious feelings about REM, keep you from checking it out though. I know you’re sitting there thinking, “But, I really don’t care anymore.” In fact, their fall to mediocrity might even cause you to forget that you ever cared (chances are you did once). But fight that impulse. They’re handing you a reward. Take it! It’s yours!

Best Song - "Man-sized Wreath"

Vampire Weekend – st
Yes, the hype is deserved. Yes, they’re that good. Yes, they’re worth your time.

It’s this simple. They sound like ivy-league college kids who were heavily influenced by Paul Simon’s Graceland album. That also happens to be exactly what they are. If you’ve seen them live, you know they wear v-neck sweaters, sear-sucker pants and boat shoes, the Cape Cod uniform. Not to be clever either. That’s them. The music is rich white kids versions of afrobeat and ska and new wave. It doesn’t sound at all pretentious (to me, at least), and, in fact, sounds like the freshest music of 2008. No one else is doing this.

Best Song - "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"

Wussy – Left For Dead
Take Nada Surf’s girl with no make-up and smear some lipstick on her. Maybe some thick, black eyeliner. Dress her up in a white t-shirt with a pack of cigs rolled into the sleeve and make her road weary and you have Wussy.

They manage to take the pop simplicity of Nada Surf, but run it through the DIY aesthetic. Crunchy, fuzzy guitars, even lower-maintenance production, a chick lead singer (on most of the songs), and some attitude. What they’re calling on, are the spirits of long gone bands like Replacements and Husker Du. It isn’t totally ramshackle. In fact, it’s often quite beautiful, just as those bands could be when they chose to dial it down. It’s real and raw and earnest.

Best Song - "Jonah"
Truthfully, it's one of the only ones I could find a link for. But it is good.

Honorable Mention
Black Crowes - Warpaint
Estelle - Shine
Moby - Last Night

Gnarls Barkley - Odd Couple
Bob Mould - District Line
Spiritualized - Songs in A&E
Deathcab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs

No comments: