(Just In Case You Missed It...)
Top 10 Albums of 2008
10. Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs
They're Death Cab For Friggin' Cutie, okay? They had to
sneak in there. Honestly, I think I fell in love with the
bright, melodic riffs and hooks of this well-produced album
in the first few months after it was released. Since then,
though, I've found myself becoming more un-stunned by
its plain nature. If I wrote this list back in May, though,
this album would have made number one. There's something
that becomes a little 'ho-hum' about this work the more
it rotates in my stereo. But still - come on - they made
the cut. They're Death Cab For FREAKING Cutie.
Who releases an 8 minute song as their first single?
I'll tell you who - Death Cab For FU*KING CUTIE!
9. Mark Knopfler & Emmy Lou Harris - All The Roadrunning
I've had a bit of a 'thing' for Mark Knopfler for some time, now.
I have always had a deep respect for his style of guitar-ism
when he was with Dire Straits and although this was a choice
of my wife's when she was cruising through some new releases,
this album deserves a little street cred. Emmy Lou sings
her blessed little heart out and Mark rasps along beside
her and plucks away at his tempered, steely guitar sound.
This album is a little short on depth but long on listening
pleasure. It is served best on a highway (preferrably an
interstate) with long stretches of flat, prairie land.
8. Sigur Ros - Meo Suo I Eyrum Vio Spilum Endalaust
Despite some hilarious personal references to album art
on the cover and the fact that this album came out in the
summer (ahem), Sigur Ros (though they intimidate the heck
out of me with their weird, non-existent Icelandic
dialogue) continues to do what they do best. They build
soundscapes and life theme-songs that are unparallel
with any other artist of today (save for maybe Radiohead).
My wife bought this album and although I have only
heard its full spool-through a few times, it is a conceptually
beautiful collection of music. I just wish I could understand
whatever it is that they're talking about...but maybe I
don't need to? Therein lies the beauty and the mystery of
7. Stars - Sad Robots (EP)
This was a bit of a difficult album to put in my top 10,
a. It's not really an album - it's an EP
b. I don't even know if anybody heard about it
because it was released super-silently.
Regardless, though, seeing Torq Cambell and Miss Millan
live a few months back at the Bronson Centre made my
decision as clear as day. I hadn't heard any songs on this
EP before seeing the show...and that's what made them
as bold and intense as they are. 'A Thread Cut With A
Carving Knife' is, in my opinion, on the best Stars' songs
of all time as it builds, changes and thrusts into an
oblivion of textured instrumentation and passionate
vocals about living for today. As soap-boxy as he can
be at times, Torq Campbell is a prime performer who wants
his listeners to notice their surroundings, as opposed to
the 'sad robots' whom we all know and come into contact
with from time to time.
6. Sloan - Parallel Play
The boys are back in town - or were back in town with the
release of this new Andrew-heavy disc. After interviewing
Jay Ferguson back in the spring about Sloan, where they've
come from and where they are going, I couldn't help but
appreciate this well layered work that basically sums up
the band's existence to date. Chris Murphy drives the
balls-out rock train, Andrew labours and crafts away
intensely at his weird yet wizardly songs, Patrick blasts
his arena-rock fuzz for all to love and wave their arms
to and Jay Ferguson carefully plucks flowers in the field
of his mind where he smokes out cinammon puffs from
the candy cigarettes that are his songs. All in all, for a band
I've admired for over a decade now, this is a 'piece de
resistance' from Sloan to date and it worth a
5. Weezer - The Red Album
True to their form, Weezer continues to be a curveball or
slider pitch of the music world. You just never know what
you'll get with these guys. Stepping back from being a
creative control freak, Cuomo actually let some of the
other bandmates write some songs of this album...and
they're actually decent! Honestly, though, the song that
sold me on this disc was 'Pork And Beans' as it pretty
much sums up Rivers Cuomo's entire philosophy about
the music industry:
'I'm gonna do the things that I want do/
I ain't got a thing to prove to you/...'
I just love how millions of music-snobs look at the way
these guys do their thing and say 'What the...?' and yet
they still remain successful. Go get 'em, Weez. Whenever
you finish your tour of primary colours for album names,
I'll still be listening.
4. Brendan Canning - Something For All Of Us
I know - Broken Social Scene brain-washed me and pays
me to write good reviews of their music. Ha ha. Funny.
The reality is that seldom few can create such an anamoly
of and array of sound like these folks can. Brendan
Canning, too, stepped up as more of a background bassist
and released a front-man batch of very well-crafted songs.
Sometimes, the feel of this album rests a little too heavy
on the shoulders of older Girls Against Boys tunes but
that's just fine with me. Most of the songs are driven
by terse, driving bass-lines (sometimes distorted,
sometimes not) but they all usually explode into some
epiphany of sound. Canning's disparate and patchy lyrics
are all about community as he truly doles out 'Something
For All Of Us'.
3. Coldplay - Viva La Vida/Prospekt's March
Coldplay! I KNOW! I'm such a massive sell-out. It's disgusting.
Despite being pegged by Pitchfork as 'yet another band who
sold out to sound engineer Brian Eno to change their creative
direction', say what you will - but we all know that Coldplay
has it where it counts. I was expecting to be VERY
hum-drummed by this release but I've found that it gets
more play in my iPod than many other artists. The intricately
digitalized songs of this album have an unparallel sound that
I crave a lot of the time. Chris Martin and crew are incredibly
good at what they do and they have done very well to evade
any sort of traps of the music industry. Ask anyone who has
attended a recent liveshow and they'll all say the same thing -
'The quality of sound made it seem like a live playing of the
album except way louder and WAY better.' There may
not be much room for live improv...but to have millions of
people say the same thing about their live performances
is pretty friggin' incredible.
2. Silver Speakers - Streetlights And Stars
Conflict of interest? Reviewing an artist who is on my record
label? I don't give a DAMN. Yeah, that's right. Suck it.
Tyrone Warner is a great song-writer and deserves some
just desserts. In a tiny Toronto beer-garden-like pub, back
in September, I got the chance to hear the live cd release
of this album and it has vacuumed my sub-conscious ever
since. Each word drips with meaning and the songs are
rife with faith-searching 'meaning of life' type stuff. 'Are You
Only In My Head' is one of most hauntingly beautiful songs
I have ever heard as the guitars and keys cascade the listener
through a valley of sound and light. The only reasons why
I couldn't give SS the #1 nod are...well...obviously, he's a
friend of mine and that's a little bias...and because he was
forced (due to resource restraints) to use a drum machine
which draws away from the magnificence of the songs, at
times. Better luck next year, T-money.
1. Matt Mays & El Torpedo - Terminal Romance
I know what you're thinking and the answer is 'No! - I don't
only review East-Coast artists or musicians I've interviewed'
okay? Back off. There just really wasn't a massive number
of albums released this year...but THIS one by THIS dude
takes the cake of rock and eats it, wholesale - candles and
all. Pulling a reverse of what 'Narrow Stairs' did to me,
I didn't really care much for this album when I first heard
it. The fabric of Great Canadian ballad-rock, though, weaves
this album together into a finely tangled mesh of sweaty shirts
and plaid-jacket, pine-tree highway visions. Matt Mays
has shown, once again, that he is a superbly talented
songwriter and speaks of the traps that are romances
which have become disastrous diseases. What I love most
about this album and MM&ET, though, is that Matt is never
trying to be something he is not.
He is a rocker - through and through. In an interview I
conducted with him (that he later invited me to the show
afterwards), he said 'I just love guitar riffs, man. Is that
wrong?' This album blasts out of the gate with the throat-
ramming riff that brings 'Building A Boat' to life and
trucks full throttle right into the Springsteen-esque
ballad mid-point of 'Terminal Romance' and keeps a-rollin.
This album is not for the folky hyper-instrumentalized
Sufjan lovers or for the indie-whistling 'everyone-wants-
to-be-the-flaming-lips' listeners either. It is heavy like
lead - and it will change you.