Wednesday, June 25, 2008

As I awoke from my deep, dark slumber...

Wow, another six months have gone by with me postless. Anyone (and that means the one or two of you) that bother to read my blog are probably like "does this guy still exist?" Well, after many months with my nose to the grindstone and getting a master's degree (YAY), I want to have fun again! And I find writing about music fun. So here is (finally) a mid-year recap of my favorite (oh, let's just say the best) albums of the first half of 2008. Those coming up will just have to work harder...

CUT COPY--In Ghost Colours (Modular)

All I can say is, if you haven't bought this album yet, shame on you! Playing like a seamless mix of 80's New Order and 00's Daft Punk, Cut Copy raise the bar with this, their second album, by creating songs that actually generally match the level of the music this time around. "Feel the Love" and "So Haunted" do a good bit to bring the indie pop, while "Lights & Music" and "Hearts on Fire" conquer the indie disco side, while "Out There on the Ice" and "Far Away" are personal faves, merging both worlds. The vocals are catchy and unpretentious, and DFA member Tim Goldsworthy does an excellent job producing. Do not let it pass you by!

HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR--Hercules & Love Affair (Mute US)

I have a feeling Tim Goldsworthy may want to call and thank me for placing two of his productions at the top of my list here, but this album really is deserving of attention. I will be the first to admit this is NOT TO EVERYONE'S TASTE as illustrated by the recent offering of the lead single "Blind" as a free download from iTunes in the US, where it received much more derision than elevation. That alone shows how ahead of the trend this is, and how a vocalist like Antony Hegarty can polarize opinions. From my first hearing of "Blind", I was immediately transported back to the Bronski Beat "Smalltown Boy" and Soft Cell "Torch" era. However, this is no pastiche...this is the real deal. Using a variety of singers and the talents of DJ Andrew Butler, this album is generally a success from start to finish, with Antony's other contributions ("Time Will" and "Raise me Up") being particular highlights. Who knew the Mercury Prize winner could sing this kind of music so well? ("You Belong" sounds like Inner City reborn.)

VAMPIRE WEEKEND--Vampire Weekend (XL)

Not one to usually cave to hype or trends, I have to admit I keep going back to this album. The thought of four Columbia grads doing Afro-beat inspired pop songs would normally send shudders through me, but this album is truly unique in today's pop landscape. The melodies are catchy, the lyrics funny without being crass, and there is a certain fresh quality to their references that hasn't been seen since the likes of bands like the Specials. Yeah, its all a bit NYC, but since when is that a bad thing? They even name check Peter Gabriel for God's sake! "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa", "M79", and "Walcott" are three non-single faves. Great for summer as well!

GOLDFRAPP--Seventh Tree (Mute)

Well, what an about face this was. This album caused an immense stir when it was revealed to be bereft of sexed-up electronics and whacking beats, in favor of more pastoral gestures. It was a shame to see many disco-nistas run for the hills, because Goldfrapp have cleverly crafted an album full of warmth and subtlety they had yet to explore. "A&E" is possibly the best three-minute single of the year, while "Happiness" and "Caravan Girl" are simply euphoric. Not to mention that "Clowns" is the most Cocteau Twins sounding song we've heard from anyone since their demise over a decade ago (what is Allison saying about titties?) In any event, this was a beautiful diversion and escape. Now what's next, classical? Prog? Industrial?

THE PRESETS--Apocalypso (Modular)
Wow, Modular is cleaning up this year and Australia gets some respect! This album is remarkable, as it is such a quantum leap forward from their last, and has a great balance of electropop singles and industrial stormers. "My People" and "A New Sky" are futuristic slabs of dark techno, while "This Boy's in Love" and "If I Know You" effectively outdo the Pet Shop Boys at their own game. Any weak moments are more than made up for by the sheer embrace of synthetic textures and the strength of great songwriting.

SPARKS--Exotic Creatures of the Deep (no US label yet)

I feel guilty listing this as already released, but the US is still waiting (possibly In the Red will pick this up as they released the last Sparks album which did rather well). Quite simply, this may be the best Sparks album in 25 years. I'm not just saying that. This album takes everything that was good about their previous work and combines it into one strong effort. "Good Morning" and "Photoshop" serve the pop side well, "Strange Animal" and "Lighten Up, Morrissey" do good service to alterna-rock, and "Let the Monkey Drive" is reminiscent of their more recent classical influenced experiments. Russell's voice has never been stronger, and if these brothers can continue to produce music of this calibre 40 years into their career, they will definitely be having the last laugh.

PORTISHEAD--Third (Go! Discs)

After 11 years of hibernation, Portishead returned with the darkest and most uncompromising album of their career. As a band that dwells on the dark and depressing side of life, that is saying something. Once expectations get thrown out the window regarding any kind of trip-hop or DJ scratching, we are left with a visceral piece of modern art that is utterly unique in shape and purpose. Beth Gibbons vocals are still front and center, connecting the old and the new, although here she lets the music surround her performance, as opposed to her trying on a new voice for every song. The progression from "Deep Water" to "Machine Gun" alone shows the wild variety of sounds they have been toying with for the better part of a decade. A proliferation of Hammond Organ would suggest Deep Purple as a reference, but it is churned through the Portishead sound in such a way that it could only be them. Glad to have you back, if for nothing else to know that somebody out there feels worse than me.

THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS--The Age of the Understatement (Domino)

Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys fame decided to take a break with his friend Miles Kane, and upon a trip to France, came up with this incredibly engaging piece of retro-pop that totally shreds those Duffy-chasers. Sharp writing skills and big orchestral arrangements courtesy of Owen Pallett (of Arcade Fire fame), this plays like a more romantic version of the Monkeys giving space so the melodies can shine. "My Mistakes Were Made for You" and "The Chamber" are particularly mature recordings for 23-year-olds, and while they do go a bit to ape the sound of prime-era Scott Walker, is that such a bad thing? Nobody else has done this kind of music in the last 20 years which such panache (excepting Marc Almond), and nobody so young! It's a revolution!

SAM SPARRO--Sam Sparro (Universal)

We have Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Adele, and more retro-Brits waiting in the wings. It's about time a guy got some respect, and Sparro is, quite possibly, the best blue-eyed soul singer in a generation (sorry Jamiroquai). Combining elements of soul, electro, and funk, Sparro creates something that doesn't rely on retro alone, but pushes into new territory. Lead single "Black & Gold" is a case in point--a song that could have been oversung and oversold, Sparro's delivery is restrained enough to let the song speak for itself. Even when he gets funky, as on "21st Century Life", he melds so well with the music that it would be difficult to imagine one element without the other. He even outdoes Prince with "Hot Mess", which should be Christian from Project Runway's new theme song!

CYNDI LAUPER--Bring Ya to the Brink (Columbia)

Who would have thought Lauper would be gracing this list instead of Madonna? While I still love the queen, her latest does not send me into orbit the way the previous four did. That being said, Ms. Lauper, a queen in her own right, has released the second best album of her career (She's so Unusual is pretty unsurpassable at this point). While not a complete Cyndi devotee, I will admit that I have loved many of her songs, and her Christmas album is my favorite holiday record (see "December Child" or "Christmas Conga"). With a voice that could shred taffeta, Lauper has learned (probably too much) from Cher's example, but still has managed to craft a superb and modern dance-pop record with a bunch of A-list producers that probably did not cost as much as Madonna's recent choices. She will probably also not be conquering the charts the way Madonna does, but that does not mean her efforts have gone unnoticed. Best pop songs are "Into the Nightlife", "Echo", "Grab a Hold", and "Rain on Me", but there are plenty of forays into disco and dance too, with "Rocking Chair" (with the aid of Basement Jaxx) a personal favorite. Nobody sings like Cyndi, and fans who don't like this album need to realize that we're not in 1983 anymore. Admittedly, "Lyfe" is the only song that should be cut, but unfortunately it contains the album's title in the lyrics.

As an advance warning...there is no appearance from Justin Timberlake on this record.


Aimee Mann-- @#%&*! Smilers//Coldplay--Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends//R.E.M.--Accelerate//ABC--Traffic//The Whip--X Marks Destination//Neon Neon--Stainless Style//Hot Chip--Made in the Dark//Walter Meego--Voyager//Guillemots--Red//Destroyer--Trouble in Dreams//Hoosiers--Trick to Life//Madonna--Hard Candy


Robyn--Robyn//Kylie Minogue--X//I Am X--The Alternative//Ed Harcourt--Beautiful Lie


Sigur Ros--Med Sud...//Wombats--Guide to Love, Loss, and Desperation//Alanis Morissette-Flavors of Entanglement//Elvis Costello--Momofuku//Santogold--Santogold//B-52's--Funplex//Duffy--Rockferry//Donna Summer--Crayons//Gnarls Barkley--Odd Couple//Hoosiers--Trick to Life//Ladytron--Velocifero//M83--Saturdays=Youth//MGMT--Oracular Spectacular//Temposhark--Invisible Line//Radiohead--In Rainbows (technically a 2008 CD release)//Ting Tings--We Started Nothing (sorry XO)//and the aforementioned--Cut Copy, Presets, Hercules & LA, Sam Sparro, Vampire Weekend, and Cyndi Lauper


Calvin Harris--I Created Disco (too monotonous)//Feeling--Join With Us (too sappy)//Guillemots--Red (sometimes trying new things isn't the best course of action)//Janet Jackson--Discipline (more pop less sex pls)//Fischerspooner (didn't even release an album, just bad singles--what happened?)//Moby--Last Night (a valiant effort, but a bit too "been there, done that")//Fratellis--Here We Stand (not fun, really)//Long Blondes--Couples (I like synths as much as the next guy, XIV (so bad I completely deleted it from my playlist)//Sia--Some People Have Real Problems (bahring)//Scarlett Johannson--Anywhere I Lay my Head (nuff said)


Morrissey//Annie//Grace Jones//Franz Ferdinand//Sophie Ellis-Bextor//CSS//ABC (US)//Keane//Jem//Lily Allen (digging the myspace tracks!)//St. Etienne (another singles collection)//Peter Gabriel//Darren Hayes DVD//Tracey Thorn//The Cure//Pet Shop Boys//Royksopp//Patrick Wolf//Kaiser Chiefs (working w/Mark Ronson)


Shirley Manson//David Bowie//Roxy Music (promises, promises)//David Sylvian//Dido (thought it should have been out by now?)//the Knife (soon?)//Tears for Fears (are no more?)//Daft Punk//Daniel Merriweather//Amy Winehouse (should I ask?)//Massive Attack//the Prodigy//Divine Comedy//Boy George (again, should I ask?)//Liz Fraser//Siobhan Fahey//Kate Bush (ahem...)


Yay on me for finally creating a post with added pictures! Hopefully media files will be next!