Sunday, December 30, 2007

My 42 Favorite Albums of 07 - Part One, Or: Random Thoughts and Bullet Points

List City, Man!

2007 was a good year for music. I'm nearly 80% positive that that's a true statement. Since I've been without a home computer for over a year now, I've gotten back into the habit of listening to CDs on actual stereo systems and boom boxes. It's been rather pleasant. Unlike last year, I didn't go through quite so many random downloading phases, so this year's list is a little more focused. Downloading is scarce for a brother without a computer, but that doesn't mean I failed to gorge myself on new tunes.

Now the reason I'm only 80% positive that 2007 was a good for music is this: Lots of "good" music sucked. There were some albums that were just plain unlistenable (I'm talking to you Wilco, Josh Ritter and Rilo Kiley!). Others were major disappointments: Over the Rhine went from "sophisticated" to "boring" on Trumpet Child, a fine line to be sure, but one they've skated triumphantly for some time now. And who would have thought Avey Tare & Kría Brekkan, the half-voices and half-brains behind Animal Collective and Múm, could thud so hard? Even when reversed back to normal, Pullhair Rubeye wasn't much to listen to. And Modest Mouse's big team-up with Johnny Marr? Not quite as middling as Good News for People Who Love Bad News, but that's not saying much.

One last note before we get into the grime: There were a few albums I completely ignored this year. This happens on an annual basis, really, and shouldn't be taken the wrong way. Some albums I need to just wait until the right time to hear and appreciate. So you won't see Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface, M.I.A., Beirut, White Stripes, Lucinda Williams or Kayne West on this list. Maybe next year, I guess. We'll see. Now, on with the show.

42. Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity: What more is there to say about Deerhoof? This: They are basically all that's left of anything resembling punk rock these days. In fact, they're actually too punk for punk rock. Cereal.

41. Dirty Projectors - Rise Above: Dave Longstreth has never really been a favorite of mine, and neither has Black Flag, but this album has legs, people. It's got legs and it knows how to use them.

40. Lucky Soul - The Great Unwanted: Girl pop is back! At least in the UK. They really are much hipper than us.

39. The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism: This album would have been in my top ten four years ago -- mellow, sweet sounds of country-ish/folk with occasionally off the wall subject matter. Like Whiskeytown fronted by a younger, happier version of Tom Waits. Sort of. I don't know. It's nice, I guess.

38. The Fiery Furnaces - Widow City: Will Fiery Furnaces ever release another album that makes me giddy all over for days at a time? Widow City is good times, but it's not hella good times, and that my friend, makes all the difference.

37. Stars - In Our Bedroom After the War: Maybe it is trite indie-pop for late 20-somethings, but I don't care dammit! Duets on almost every song! Sweet, suite serenades! Good for late, over-caffeinated nights while driving through New Jersey! Suck it, Pitchfork!

36. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala: I only downloaded this cause Ryan Schreiber told me to. I'm such a hypocrite. It's actually quite excellent. I should've ranked it higher. Sorry, Jens.

35. St. Vincent - Marry Me: Annie Clark is the new Karen O, only clever. So clever. "Jesus Saves, I Spend" is my fourth favorite single of the year. Also, she's the prettiest girl in indie pop at any given time. Like now. Or now. Maybe not now. But now. Yes, now.

34. The Bees - Octopus: The Bees play old-timey music, but not that old-timey, more like 66-72 old-timey. So not really old-timey at all, actually. I like it, though.

33. Blitzen Trapper - Wild Mountain Nation: The winner of the most fractured album of the year award, a field recording of dissociative identity disorder to the tune of country/folk/jazz/jam/fuzz/rock. That means nothing to me, either. Good night.

32. James Blackshaw - The Cloud of Unknowing: Yes! The prettiest album of 2007 that doesn't have lyrics! Take that you electro-ambient fiends! Acoustic guitar arrangements can rock your face off and lull you to sleep!

31. Shannon Wright - Let In The Light: Shannon Wright is like Tori Amos if Tori Amos were punk. Or good, for that matter. Oh crap. I just plagiarized myself.

30. Peter Bjorn and John - Writer's Block: I was burning "Young Folks" on my May 2007 mix waaaaaay before it became the theme song for Sears/JC Penney/Target/Wal-Mart! And now everyone hates it! But not me! I don't watch commercials! Internet-television rocks!

29. The Go! Team - Proof of Youth: Maybe not as fun as Thunder, Lightning, Strike, but neither is Vermont. And I'm still here. So I guess that says something.

28. Frontier Folk Nebraska - The Devil's Tree EP: I have no idea when this EP came out, so maybe it doesn't even fit here. Do you like dusty folk? Do you like folk, Dusty? Do you like folk that no one else has heard of? Ever? Then go here. You too, can be as cool as me. Try it today!

27. Caribou - Andorra: Caribou lights fires in me that I never knew existed. It's sunny music for late nights. Where have you been all my life? To the north!

26. Feist - The Reminder: I liked "Mushuboom", but this takes the cake. Yes, cake. Go to Leslie Ann Feist. She is yours and you are hers! Her banner over us is love!

25. The New Pornographers - Challengers: Okay, this album possibly sucked. But when you think of it as a follow up to The Slow Wonder, you might really start to like it. I mean it. Burn the drum slowly. See where it goes. What have you got to lose?

24. Battles - Mirrored: Is this math rock? Post-rock? Prog rock? Well, your mom is prog rock. Oh crap. Now I'm plagiarizing internet trolls.

23. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver: When I first heard this album, I thought, meh. I think my heart wasn't calibrated correctly. Were the batteries out? Then "Time to Get Away" became my second favorite single of the year. This album is the boss hog, sister. The. Boss. Hog.

22. The National - Boxer: I keep telling everyone I know -- these guys write the songs that U2 wish they still had in their brains, but don't, because they made Rattle and Hum and all heaven and earth came crashing down in the terribleness that was 1988. It's not like Boxer's all signature delay; and Matt Berninger sounds nothing like Bono. But still, U2 are sooo jealous of these guys. Because this album sounds great. And moving. And cathartic. And oh, you know, relevant.

21. Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings: "WHAM City" is my single of the year. Dan Deacon is my golden elephant of shiny, flickery, jump-up-and-down happiness. I don't understand half his electro-beat stuff, but that's okay. We're still prominent friends.

20. Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon: Disappointing? At times. Unfocused? Oh, yes. But I'm sofa king retarded for DB. "Seahorse" might just be my most favoritest moment of his career so far. Careen! Yes, Karen, you have a phone call.

19. Taken By Trees - Open Field: From the voice of the Concretes, only more Glasgow. Quiet and pretty as all get out. And better than I'm giving it credit for here.

18. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam: You rock, rock! I took a nap one night when I could have seen them live. I don't regret it. I regurgitate it.

17. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog: If I didn't have to skip the first two tracks every time I put this one in the CD player, it could've have been a top 10 contender. Sam Beam has stolen my heart and hidden it under Joanna Newsom's couch. Gross.

16. Múm - Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy: Another album that grew on me after a while. Sure, it's nothing like Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today Is OK, but don't sweat it. Just go with the flow. Hey, Flow! These guys are with you! Thanks!

15. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha: I listened to this album way more than I should have. I kind of hate it now. But for most of 2007, it was one of my favs. Andrew Bird is such a nice, young boy. Good mannered. Excellent whistler. Enjoys his tea bitter and his women bitterer.

14. Patty Griffin - Children Running Through: Seeing her live was kind of terrible, but only because I was the only person who looked like me at the theatre. I never knew she had so many old, old fans. One of my true, true loves, even if my fellow Fatty Pans (thanks Liz!) are all collecting Social Security checks.

13. The National Lights - The Dead Will Walk, Dear: Oh, jeez. Seriously, the prettiest quiet album of the year. No kidding. If not for Sonya Cotten, I wouldn't be able to stand it anymore (another album I overplayed this summer). But whenever she chimes in on these sunny songs of murder, rape and mayhem, I go all melty.

12. Pharoahe Monch - Desire: I missed alot of hip-hop this year, but not Monch's return. Well-worth it? Well answer me this, what hath God wrought. That's right: "Body Baby." I can't believe this isn't everyone's album of the year. Including my own. We're all bastards!

11. Menomena - Friend and Foe: This is the closest thing I'll ever get to jam-bandiness, outside of the Akron/Family's New Age Love-fests. But if all jam bands jammed liked Menomena, who aren't really a jam band at all, then the world (especially Vermont, oh God Vermont!) would be a much better place. I'm not kidding. People listen to crappy music around here. It's kind of depressing.


Ha! You didn't think I was going to give you the whole list today, did you? Never! I need time to recollect my thoughts, and collect album art work, and call my physician. Albums one through ten will have to wait. No flipping!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

But is it a Nor'easter?

Folks this week have been all aflutter with news of a major storm that finally hit Rutland early this morning, though it's nearly done as I type this. The buzz word here in Vermont has been, of course, Nor'easter, a word that didn't enter my vocabulary until I read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch a few years back. But seeing as how simple Vermont folk are, like myself, hopeless landlubbers, I really don't know if they're using the term correctly. So what is this? A big winter storm or an actual nor'easter?

Using a Google News search doesn't clear things up. Like my Vermont friends, the local press and wire services seem to love a buzz word like nor'easter, whether they actually know how to define one or not. Lots of press articles about the "nor'easter," but little mention of what makes a nor'easter or why this storm should be called one. Yes, it's quite the storm. But it's the same storm that hit the Plains and Midwest earlier this week. But we wouldn't call a foot of snow over Kansas a nor'easter now, would we?

So is a nor'easter just a hella big storm that hits the Northeast US? Well, no. Big storms happen a few times a year, but not every one gets labeled a nor'easter. If we can trust Wikipedia, and I for one, really think we can within reason, then a nor'easter "describes a low pressure area whose center of rotation is just off the East Coast and whose leading winds in the left forward quadrant rotate onto land from the northeast." Aha! We've found it! Of course!

But wait a tic, I didn't understand that either. Let's try again. A nor'easter is a low pressure area, kind of like a hurricane or other large storm system. But unlike a hurricane, nor'easters feed off cold air. From Wikipedia again: "Nor'easters thrive on the converging air masses; that is, the polar cold air mass and the warmer ocean water of the Gulf Stream."

So for a storm to be a nor'easter, it has to be a two-parter. Part one is cold polar air, which is what a low front or storm system picks up when it breezes through Vermont. The storms that just blew through the Midwest are doing just that, bringing in loads of cold, Arctic air as they pass from West to East. Part two, however, is warm ocean water from the south, specifically the Gulf Stream. So do we have that?

I have no effin' idea.

According to the Weather Channel, I don't think so. For two reasons. One, the weather maps don't show a mass of warm air coming up from the south. Now, there's got to be some warm air off the North Atlantic Coast because of the Gulf Stream. But according to the radar (and of course, I could be terribly wrong), there isn't anything out of the ordinary. But the second reason is probably the best reason: there's no mention of a nor'easter on the Weather Channel's website. Not that these guys are the final word on weather, but if they ain't, then who is?

So if this isn't a nor'easter, why do people keep calling it one? Lundlubbing ignorance, I guess. I bet merchant marines and coastal fishermen up and down New England just hate it when the White Plains Journal (just to pick on one of many) calls every big snow storm a nor'easter. Typical, they mutter.

What's ironic is, there may be an actual nor'easter in our sights within the next few days. The remains of Tropical Storm Olga are menacing parts of Florida as we speak. Should that mass of warm, ocean air find its way up the Coast, we could very likely have that Part Two we were looking for earlier. Who knows, maybe that's what all the rumors this week were about. Maybe we all just got confused and jumped the gun by 48 hours. Cold arctic air? Check. Warm Gulf mass? We'll see.