14
Feb
09

Top 5 of 2008

Sometimes I’m surprised I remember how to log into WordPress.  Thanks to Dave for more than making up for my absence, as usual.  He’s rockin’ it.  Here’s the second half of my Top 10 albums of the year, at long last.  As if you were still waiting…..

5. TSee full size imagehe Hold Steady, Stay Positive

Unlike many, I make a strong differentiation between rock and pop.  It might be arbitrary, but it works in my mind.  I happen to think Spoon and The Hold Steady are the best two American rock bands.  They play believable rock.  One reason R.E.M.’s latest was Top 15, and not Top 10 for me this year is because I didn’t buy it as a rock album, and that’s what R.E.M. tried to sell it as….they’re not a rock band without Bill Berry.  I had dismissed The Hold Stead early on, thinking they were another overblown indie pop band from Brooklyn.  Instead, as Stay Positive once again demonstrates, they rock out, drink too much, and are ridiculously talented at putting together a good tune.  The beginning of the title track, is nearly as good as anything was for me in 2008: “i’ve got a lot of old friends that’re getting back in touch/and it’s a pretty good feeling yea it feels pretty good/i get a lot of double takes when im coming round the corners/and its mostly pretty nice its mostly pretty alright.”  Particularly moving?  No, not really lyrically.  But it sure makes me want want to jump out of this chair and kick over my computer!

4. Amsterdam, Arm in Arm

One of my most anticipated releases in several years, after their debut album simply blew me away and I managed to catch them several times in England.  Amsterdam walks a fine line–trying to be an emotional, at times Celtic rock band in the tradition of The Waterboys while also being, at heart, a pop band from Liverpool.  At times it doesn’t completely work, and the album veers too closely into a Top 40 morass.  At others time, in “Home”–they do the Celtic rock thing as well as it can possibly be done.  In “Lament,” they do the pop thing nearly as well.  I could ask for them to change, but it’s really part of the band’s charm.  They can play the famous Borderline in London one week, and the Liverpool Philamonic the next.  Arm in Arm, as I’ve commented before, is overall a brilliant piece of songcraft.  I hope they release another “Double LP,” in a split personality sense, soon…very soon.


3. James, Hey Ma

No one writes better pop songs.  No one.  Hey Ma is a triumphant return.  I was discussing this week how I’ve always loved Coldplay’s  Grammy-winning song “Vida La Vida.”  As most are aware, the band has been sued for supposedly stealing part of the song from guitarist Joe Satriani.  This wonderful post, breaks down the common melody at work in the song and the myriad of others, many before Satriani’s. But, this dicussion made me mention James.  James writes great, hooky melodies–ones I think are better than Coldplay’s.  Could James have done “Vida La Vida” in the same way Coldplay did, probably not.  But Coldplay is successful for other reasons than hooks (not that they’re shabby in that department).   There are few bands that I can of in which I can hum the melody of nearly every single over 20+ years–James is one.  Something magical happens when these guys create music together, and seeing (and meeting) the band at four dates on their first American tour in more than a decade was overwhelming–like Charlie in the chocolate factory good.  Pure joy.

2. Liam Finn, I’ll Be Lightning

Most appropriately-titled album of 2008 (yes, released in late 2007 in the UK).  All you need to know about Finn is that he’s got the pop genetics on his side, yet has the ego of a rock star to go open for Eddie Vedder on his North American solo tour.  Finn’s album is pure pop, with some of the best written hooks of the year, yet he’s near one-man band with more energy than most indie rock kids have ever been able to muster on an album, much less in a frantic 3 minutes and some change.  His performance at Red Rocks during Monolith was one of the most impressive, and just shocking, solo performances I’ve ever seen–playing lead drums, lead guitar, and lead vocals on the same song–and ending it with 45 seconds of unadulterated noise and carnage.  As a lover of Flying Nun Records and NZ Pop, I think Harp Magazine wrote the best line of the year in reviewing Finn’s debut masterpiece: “With no intent to jinx this rising 24-year-old New Zealand star —Liam Finn’s debut solo album has the free-wheeling vibe of Paul McCartney’s early post-Beatles stuff, and with a tart twist of Kiwi fruit for zest.”  Amen.

1. The Felice Brothers, The Felice Brothers

I lose respect for Pitchfork when they slap a 5.5 on an album like this one, by arguing the band takes itself too seriously in attempting to capture The Band and Dylan.  While this album, at least to me, has some songs that are certainly less memorable, when it hits, it hits in a special way, with more authenticity than Pitchfork can clearly imagine.  Seeing them live, is really what it’s all about and there’s nothing fake about these guys–to see them shake hands with fans outside the Fox in Boulder two minutes after the show, while smoking a cigarette, says it all.  Or to see them downing a bottle of whisky on stage likes it’s a Dasani.  While Pitchfork discusses Dylan writing magic, and being all the too cognizant of it, I think The Felice Brothers are as legimate a band gets hailing from the Catskill Mountains.  When they sing, “sunny day, a shotgun and a Chevrolet/Wouldn’t you like that/A painted scene, our voices on the city green” in “Love Me Tenderly”–I buy it and it’s beautiful songwriting.   But, lets assume you think I’m full of shit, and Pitchfork is right–they’re a bunch of wanna-be Dylan fanboys.  Check these clips, and still tell me that bullshit (1, 2, 3).  And, of course, they’re even better vocalists than Dylan.  My best album of the year.  At least I didn’t wait until March…

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5 Responses to “Top 5 of 2008”


  1. February 14, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Better later than never, JT. Solid write-up. The intro made me laugh.

    I’m glad I was part of your James excursion last year!

  2. 2 Rose
    February 14, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    A wonderful write-up well worth the wait, Joe! I love all of your top five, but I especially love The Felice Brothers at number one– they are (thanks to you) my favorite musical discovery in a long while. And lest you forget, not only were they shaking hands with the crowd after the show in Boulder, they were giving HUGS too (after promising them from the stage during their encore). Shotguns and hugs. The people at Pitchfork only wish they were that cool.

  3. February 14, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I love what Rose brings to this site! Fantastic, T!

  4. 4 radstarr
    February 17, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Yeah, that Liam Finn record really grew on me! He opened for MGMT at Schubas’s last year and was actually really good! He played guitar, drums, and sang, and had this back-up chick that was his best friend, had a great voice, and they had some really funny banter between the two of them (I actually think he hits that when there are no groupies around:). I wondered how that James LP was, the last time I caught up with them Tim was feeling like Fred Astair!

  5. February 19, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Fantastic completion to your top 10. My heart was instantly won-over after the multiple call-outs to PF. Hilarious. I was a little shocked not to see Amsterdam in the top 3 but I realize ’08 was a great year of music for you. Fine work as always.


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