12.30.2008

TOP ALBUMS OF 2008!

01. THE HOLD STEADY: stay positive.
i must admit, i got on the hold steady boat a bit late. the first record of theirs that i heard was their third, 2006's "boys and girls in america", and i was pretty upset that i couldn't give it a top ranking on my
best of 2007 list. after devouring every last second of that record, anticipation for the new one was flying high. i had kept up with the studio blogs posted on the bands website, and had spoke to my friends in the loved ones who were gearing up to tour with them upon the release of the new record. (funny little side story, i have a tattoo based on the loved ones album "keep your heart", and directly above it i have a banner that says "stay positive", everyone seemed to get a kick out of the fact that my arm could have been some sort of preemptive tour post for aforementioned tour). when i finally got my ears on a copy of this record, i was instantly gratified. i knew right away that i loved the record, and that love only strengthened the more i listened to it. conceptually the lyrics often touch upon the foundations of the punk/hardcore music community; friendship, believing in yourself, and letting your attitude and effort control your own fate (see "constructive summer", "stay positive" and "slapped actress"). like their past records, there is a diverse stylistic selection of songs, spicing things up with some new instrumentation, including a 12 string guitar ("lord i'm discouraged") and what sounds like a harpsichord! ("one for the cutters"). there are also a couple kindly welcomed and appreciated vocal cameo's from lucero frontman ben nichols, which adds for nice taste. once i fully digested this record, and started noticing the lyrical ties to the boys and girls record, i found myself hungry for more and leaped into the earlier records; "almost killed me" and "separation sunday". opening that door, and further following the intertwined and linking story lines, it was clear that the hold steady were at the forefront of my musical intake for the year, and had quickly become one of my favourite bands. while "stay positive" may seem to steer away from the conceptual happenings of holly, charlemagne and co., the story is not over, and the lineage is still present throughout the lines of this record. i can see how people may accuse vocalist craig finn of lyrical regurgitation, while rehashing lyrics from old songs into parts of new songs. for me, it seems like the hold steady are writing for their fans, and being able to understand the loaded history and reference in lines like "when the chaperon crowned us the king and the queen, i knew that we'd arrived at a unified scene, and all those little lambs from my dreams, well they were there too. cuz it's one thing to start it with a positive jam, and it's another thing to see it on through, and we couldn't have even done this if it wasn't for you" makes you feel like you really get the band, more than the average first time listener, welcoming you into some sort of exclusive and accepted club of appreciating fans. its hard for me to say which is my favourite hold steady record (although i think i'd say separation sunday is their best as a complete work, story and album) nor could i pick which one i like the least, but i can definitely say that this record sounds great, is packed with great songs, and definitely tops my list for the year.

02. PAINT IT BLACK: new lexicon.
now, as opposed to what i said above about the hold steady; i can definitely say that this is my favourite, and the best paint it black record. i really think that the band took a leap here, broke away from the expectations of their previous projects, while still keeping the vibe they had built on their first two releases, and made a definitive record. the record smacks you in the face with a brutal and blistering fury of rage, while keeping a inherently "catchy" melodic undertone. the first track ("the ledge") comes at you quick with a traditional fast paced and pissed off tone, right into a melodic riff and sing-along (dare i say) "chorus". before you know it, with the snarly bass tone, and machine gun snare hits, right into the next fists up anthem ("four deadly venoms") urging you to scream out: "CHRONIC DEFECT IN MY HEAD". an eerie overtone effect breaks into the first drum and bass interlude which nicely sets up dr. dan's call-to-arms style two bar monologue of "we will not", which jumps right back into the brash aggression. next we get the first real taste of the highly innovative extra touches of the hip hop producer acquired for this record, with one of many aggressively manipulated interludes. before i get caught up giving a song-for-song play-by-play, i'll just say in short that this record encapsulates a nice blend of caution free 80's hardcore, the fast and melodic sounds and sing-alongs of dan's former projects (see: lifetime, kid dynamite), a pinch of a more traditional pop punk sound (i hear a little ramones here and there in the guitars), and that sweetened freshness that the perhaps risky production elements and interludes add, while entirely avoiding any sort of hardcore cliche or typicality. an added bonus was seeing this band live for the first, and quickly followed second times this year!

03. CONSTANTINES: kensington heights.
the cons have been one of my favourite bands since before i was old enough to get into their shows (brodie, if you're reading this, thanks again for sneaking me in). here on their fourth record, it seems like they have really found their stride. i love each and every one of the cons previous efforts, but i don't think i have ever made it through a whole record without at least being tempted to skip a track or two. the fact of the matter is, they've always had some really
really great songs, but have always had trouble selling me on an entire record. it's not just that they let that one guy sing a few songs either, but on this record, when guitarist steve lambke steps out of the shadows, he really shines (just have a listen to track 4, the epic fugazi-ish jammer "shower of stones"). something that i think i will point out now, is that i always find it really cool when bands sing about where they are from (see: modern life is war - witness / any hold steady record) and being in a band, i always thought "man, it would sound really stupid if we sang about ontario", but somehow, constantines seem to be able to pull it off. i suppose most of these examples come from their past releases, but i always found a kind affection and cracked a smile whenever they mentioned streetcars, the don valley parkway, or "some scarborough disco". i suppose it plays into this record as well, as they have an entire song about the trans canada highway, and have that one line about living our lives along the boarder, this band really is the modern voice of canadian working class rock n roll. something else, i feel like if i had to split this record into two sides, i would make side a tracks 1-4, and then start side be on track five. for some reason, i often found myself starting this record at track five. it's not that the first four tracks are bad by any means, but i think they are each, in there own, very much just songs, that stand strong on their own as singles, but then the record really starts and creates a vibe at track 5. i think the second half of the record is much mellower than the cons usually are, and i don't hate that. i think that you hear often, especially with a bands third or fourth full length, that they claim, or are said to have "matured their sound". if ever this statement is true, it's here with kensington heights. some of my favourite songs are "time can be overcome", "our age", and "do what you can do". speaking of which, the last track ("do...") really hammers home that rough hands, hard working attitude that the cons sing so well and true, beautifully closing the album with the simple words "you do what you can do with what you got". it can't be said better than that.

04. BAYSIDE: shudder.
it's no secret that these four guys are my close friends, and loosely extended family. i've been a fan of their music since we first met, and have experienced so much, been to so many places with, and shared so many monumental moments together, for better or for worse. i have enjoyed each of their three previous records before this one, and have seen them along a steady incline through their career. i think that while i have liked all of their records, and songs, there has always been something missing with their albums. i think after hearing this new disc shudder it is clear to me that the previous records were simply lacking a proper, well produced, quality recording. i have nothing against those records or the people involved in making them, i just think that bayside records have always sounded thin and hollow, and lacked some quality that i always heard in the band, their songs and the live show. at last, they have overcome that sonic obstacle and made a record that sounds awesome, and packs in hits cover to cover. these guys really stepped up to the plate with this record, hiring on david schiffman (known best for his work alongside rick rubin) to produce, as well and delivering some fantastic songs and performances. i often found myself finishing this record, only to start it over and listen again. the riffs are big, the rhythms are solid, and the melodies are catchy and leave you hungry for more. top songs for me include the opening 1-2 punch of "boy" (i can't stop signing along
"learn to drown before you learn to swim") and "the ghost of st. valentine", power ballad "i can't go on", and the hardcore/pop punk anthem "roshambo". they also break the mold a few times, especially with the seemingly gypsy influenced "moceanu", which spells out clearly "this is r-e-a-l-i-t-y...when did life get so real?" it's no secret that these fellows are onto bigger and better things.

05. THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM: senor and the queen / the '59 sound.
this is now the second year in a row that a band has released not one, but two records earning spots on my year end top list. rolling off the well earned hype and success of their debut, last years "sink or swim", gaslight has had ample momentum leading to nothing but high hopes and strong expectations. they kicked off the year right with their sophomore release "senor and the queen", a four song ep released on both cd, 7" and 10" vinyl. the ep was just a glimpse of the steps these guys were taking from their debut. the reminiscent sounds of against me! and lifetime were replaced by that of springsteen (and that "blue jeans & white t-shirts" song really sounds like constantines), setting the stage for the vibe for things to come, with "the '59 sound", citing and referencing influence and inspiration from the boss to roy orbison, miles davis, tom petty, and the cure, et al. i think the "senor..." ep is my favourite of the bands works, mainly as it's four great songs in a row, all which stand alone as diverse works, yet compliment each other nicely,
"all killer, no filler" as some spikey haired bitch probably came up with. as for the full length, it was definitely one of my most anticipated releases of the entire year, and when i finally got it, i couldn't stop listening on repeat for days. i think i burned out on it after a week or two, but then felt a bit rejuvenated with it after catching a short opening set in toronto, opening up a massive tour with rise against. '59 sound kicks off with 3 massive and undeniable hits. i haven't heard anyone listen to "great expectations", "the '59 sound" and "old white lincoln" and just thought the songs were okay. from there, i find a bit of a lag in the record, maybe just because those first 3 songs are so strong. i definitely find myself cringing, and often skipping track six ("miles davis and the cool"), especially by the time that god awful, and seemingly pointless key change comes along. personally, i think the record ends on a strong foot, with the subdued "dear john"-esque response, "here's lookin' at you kid" (i'm going to go ahead and reward this "break up song of the year") and the closer "the backseat", where vocalist brian fallon claims "in the backseat we're just trying to find some room for our knees...we're just trying to find some room to breathe". being long legged, often short winded, and heavy hearted, i can't not relate.

06. VERSE: aggression.
i was recently given this album in a gift pack from a friend at their label, and was urged to give it a strong listen asap. i had heard a few people talk about verse, and seen the name around a ton, but had never given a listen. immediately i was taken with this disc. the first track "the new fury" starts off with a pretty, yet eerie clean guitar riff, reminiscent to that of a music box, breaking into a powerful, passionate and epic (don't let me say it) "amazingcore" (or whatever the fuck they call it) anthem. the second track "old guards, new methods" breaks in with the classic double time, melodic hardcore beat. immediately i knew that this record had all of the elements that i enjoyed in hardcore, dynamic, melodic, aggressive, passionate and motivating sing-along anthems. i heard my favourite aspects and moments of (newer) comeback kid, modern life is war, with honor, poison the well, rage against the machine. the lyrics and vocal performance are angry, bitter, urgent, and at the same time honest, empowering, motivating and sincere. there is also an apparent flow to the vocal delivery, or as my friend daniel called it "hip hop sensibility", which is (along side the politically and world issue conscious lyrical content) where i draw the rage comparison. a must listen is certainly the three part mini-saga, tracks 6-8; "story of a free man", where they play out (in many more, and better words than my own) a scenario of a man dealing with the tolls and trials of living and dealing with loss, grief, addiction, poverty and both personal and circumstantial confliction. when sharing my new found excitement for this band and album, a couple of friends of mine who had been fans of previous records urged me to have a listen to the older stuff, claiming it was better in their books. when i gave the old stuff a chance, i didn't feel the same spark or immediate connection, and felt like the songs were pretty typical hardcore songs, similar to those of bands like bane or have heart, and that just didn't do it for me. this record has something special, and whether it's the confrontational lyrics, urgency, passion, or simply put (as the title suggests) "aggression" of this record, i am certainly sold as a fan.

07. CHRIS WOLLARD: & the ship thieves.
i got this record like a week ago, and it was my latest addition to this list, but certainly ranks #1 on my top albums of this week. it's no secret that i am a fan of chris wollard's (hot water) music, and i knew i would like this record before i heard it. i was however a bit surprised at the not-so-typical, and unexpected approach this record has. i kind of figured that when chris said he was making a solo record, that he would go the simple, stripped down acoustic "singer songwriter" route that his band mate chuck ragan, as well as closely tied friends and musicians tim barry, matt skiba, ben nichols, dustin kensrue and so many others have taken in the past (i'll admit, it's got a few of those songs, but as a whole i feel a more put together record). it was refreshing to see chris take a different approach with the sound of this record, and i quite enjoyed the slight change in vocal styling to that of his previous efforts with hot water and the draft. needless to say, i love this record, and haven't been able to put it down all week, and probably would rank it higher if you asked me again a month from now. if i had to compare it to anything, i'd say the first track "no exception" sounds like the replacements fronted by pedro the lion's david bazan, and i can't help but think chris must have heard the new ladyhawk record (see below) or the constantines (see above) before writing this album.


08. LADYHAWK: shots.
i wasn't really sold on this record at first listen, but after hearing it a few times and asking people "hey, i know this, what is this" enough times, i gave in and bought it (twice) and ended up listening to it a ton this summer on request of my fellow american apparel stock room employees. much like their peers, tour mates and predecessors (see: constantines, attack in black, sloan), these western canadian fellows put together a nice modern canadian post-punk sound that blends elements of 80's punk, classic canadian rock (see: neil young, the guess who, the band), grunge (see: nirvana) and that urge to just get wasted (some less than others), rock out, and have a good time with your friends. i read a really strong review for this record
here, and couldn't really agree more with the reviewer, aside from the fact that i kinda dig those foolishly heartfelt teenage moments of "faces of death" and "ashtray". i heard these guys rip live, and wouldn't expect otherwise, and am kinda bummed i missed them a few times this year including their most recent stop in toronto at the horseshoe with attack in black.




09. CURSED: III: the architects of troubled sleep.
i'm going to make this simple; this is the heaviest record, ever. i think it's my favourite of the three, and i love the intro sample right into the furious blasts of "night terrors". i think this record sounds great, and really captures the bands live sound. i like the sound of I, but this record seems to sound thicker, hit harder and heavier. i never liked the sound of II, it's pretty muddy and muffled in my opinion. it was tragic to
hear what happened to these guys while over in europe, but it's no question that they went out on top with III. it's safe to say that there will never be a better (or heavier) music industry criticizing "power violence" moment written after "DON'T CALL ME, I WON'T CALL YOU" (see: "friends in the music business"). i was fortunate enough to see these guys twice on their last legs after the release of this record, in two very weird settings, the first being a small dive bar in peterborough ontario (paid attendance was somewhere between 4 and 7) and the second in hamburg germany in some crust-punk bar/squat basement just a week before they hung their hats and called it a day. chris colohan remains the kindest, yet most credible (and questionably longest standing) contributor to the southern ontario hardcore scene (he's still vegan and straight edge, too).



10. THE LOVED ONES: build and burn.
i think this was one of the first records i got excited for in 2008, it came out early in the year, and i had been anticipating it for a while. frankly, this record is "pretty good". it's no better than the bands debut "keep your heart", but it's certainly no worse. they definitely stepped up their game with the addition of a new bassist and second guitarist from the explosion, as well as occasional keyboards and female vocals. you can definitely hear the fruits of their contributions, although personally i think the production leaves a lot to be desired. it sounds like they tried to go for a more twang-toned, folky, americana sound, and they pull it off most of the time, but at times it can make the record sound thin. some stand out tracks for me are opener "pretty good year", "sarah's game" and "brittle heart". throughout the album, vocalist dave hause attempts to stretch out a giant metaphor with the title "build and burn" and the image of a bridge. making repeated mention of a bridge, building it up, and burning it down, leaves you to wonder if the repetition is in the best interest of the central theme, or if he just ran out of things to sing about. i think i made the same argument with the hold steady lyrical content, and supported it there, but for some reason here it just seems to fall short. regardless, i love this band, and enjoy this record.


HONORABLE MENTION
(no specific order)

FUCKED UP: the chemistry of common life.
this record is really cool, and though i may not be hip enough, or punk enough to appreciate it as my favourite, i do really enjoy it. these guys definitely made some moves here that could and should be called risky, and innovative, but that's seems to be the point. i wasn't sure about the 2 minute flute solo intro, but hey, sometimes you gotta throw people off, right? my favourite song has to be "black albino bones", most likely for the additional melodies of guest vocalist dallas green (of city and colour / alexisonfire), that quick and simple
"i need a little escape" seems to really carry the song through the barks and grunts of larger than life vocalist 'pink eyes'. i also really enjoyed the moments of this record where it sounds like oasis are being fronted by the dude from 'blood for blood' (see: "no epiphany"). the fact of the matter is, this album is a definite masterpiece, and i can certainly appreciate that. sonically it sounds really cool, with tons of blended and layered guitars, instruments and effects. i always enjoy seeing these and hearing about guys releasing dozens of limited run singles, and playing multiple shows in a weekend, or multiple hours (12) in a day. hopefully in 2009 i'll have the opportunity to catch them live more.



ALKALINE TRIO: agony & irony.
with their 6th or so full length studio album, it seems like a bit of a new page for the trio. i'm not sure if it's just because of a new label, or working with a new producer, or maybe the extra time they took getting this one out, but something here just feels fresh and new, while still holding true to the affectionate moments of their past. i have really enjoyed this record the few times i've listened to it, and i saw the band live twice this year and liked the songs then as well. i think the opener "calling all skeletons" would be up there for me for song of the year, and the rest of the disc certainly packs in the hooks, leaving not much for dull moments. as great as this record is, there will always be that rose coloured rear-view into the past, and i would sooner find myself dropping the needle on a majority of their early releases before this one, but maybe time will change that.




BON IVER: for emma, forever ago.
this album is really,
really good, and i think that the only thing holding it back from making the cut is the fact that i haven't actually given it many spins. the more i listen to it, the more i love it, and i'm sure next year i will be listening to it more than half of the stuff on my list. the song "skinny love" is beautifully tragic and perfect, and would probably take the cake for song of the year for me (would also rival gaslight for breakup song of the year). if you're into sad bastard acoustic stuff like pedro the lion, owen, or the quiet moments of ryan adams, you'd love this record. i know will love it more and more with every listen.







FOXBORO HOTTUBS: stop, drop & roll.
here's a neat record from the newest alter-ego side project of mall punk pioneers green day. it's seems here that the bay area trio really just wanted to make a record for themselves, without having to try to please ten million fans, or follow up their colossal rock opera "american idiot", let alone live up to their break out hit record "dookie". this record is by no means a green day record, but at the same time, it's totally a green day record. these are not 3 chord pop punk anthems, and there is certainly no "boulevard of broken dreams" or any of those other songs that make you chuckle to hear while shopping in home sense. this is a 50's/garage/rockabilly record, and it's really catchy! i have a special place for green day in my heart, and loved 'grease', so this record just really worked for me. favourites of mine include "mother mary", and "red tide" (which questionably sounds like something out of pulp fiction).




CANCER BATS: hail destroyer.
it's really cool to see friends make records. it's also really cool to see a band break out of their typical formula and "find their sound" amongst the diversity of their influences. the cancer bats have done this here. i'm going to go ahead and say that their debut "birthing the giant" was a cool record and all, but aside from a few stand out songs, i could never really listen to the whole thing. i think they definitely stepped up to bat for this record, and wrote some really cool, different songs. they clearly blend influences of punk, hardcore, southern rock and metal, but there is a difference between a whole record of crossover songs that all kinda sound alike, and a record of songs that stick out diversely, but come together to form a sound. "hail destroyer" leaves nothing to be desired, and really covers all the bases with their influences. i think vocalist, and superpal, liam cormier really went above and beyond with here with his performance. his screams and snarls are intense, and take more of a zach de la roca shape this time around, losing a few of those "hell yeah" moments that make him sound like a obviously less british lemmy. the scoeb drops some action packed riffage, and mikey holds it down strong with hard hitting rhythms from cover to cover. this record sounds great and is packed with bangers, definitely worth a rage.


ABLE BAKER FOX: voices.
i think this was officially the first record that i picked up in 2008, as it hit streets in late january. i was really excited to discover this band, as they are made up of 3/4 of small brown bike, with the addition of nathan, guitarist from coalesce and vocalist from the casket lottery. small brown bike are one of my favourite bands, and i have been mourning their loss heavily since their breakup a few years back. i am also really upset that i didn't catch their 2007 reunion shows. this record really gave me hope for a new SBB project, and seeing as the SBB/casket lottery split is one of my favourite splits ever, i was really pumped for this. needless to say, this record is rad, yet something is definitely missing. it certainly falls short of that split record, and after a while just makes me miss and want to listen to small brown bike. i will take what i can get though, and hopefully that means another record from this project of friends living in 3 or 4 different states. i must also mention that this record naturally found it's way to the top of my ipod (starting with the letters AB and all, i don't really know any solo artists named aaron), and it's opening seconds acted as my alarm clock many a early mornings.


RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS: cardinology.
so i recently saw ryan and the cards live, and
posted about how much of a let down it was. i said there, and i'll say it again, i am a much bigger fan of ryans solo works rather than his albums with the cardinals, but i still enjoy and appreciate the later full band albums. this one is pretty good, and i think i may even like it better than last years "esay tiger". i just don't think it has one me over enough to warrant a spot on my top 10. i do however really enjoy that song "crossed out name", along with a few others; "born into a light", "fix it" and the piano based, 29 throwback closer "stop". when discussing this record with anto, she seemed to think, seeing as i'm really into upbeat solo rocker "rock'n'roll", that i would be into the more upbeat rockin' moments of cardinology. when i heard the intro the the song "magick", i said to myself "alright, here we go, i can get into this", but then had that moment of enjoyment completely blown when i picked up on the lyrics. the chorus croons out with something along the lines of "so turn the radio up loud and get down, let your body move, let you body swing, listen to the music, it's magick", and frankly, i felt like puking. this song seems like such a cop out to revisit those brash, riffy moments of his early records, but completely misses the mark for me. these lyrics sound like something i would expect from some band just out of highschool opening up for one of our tours. so yeah, this record has it's moments, but falls short in a lot of ways.

2 comments:

Dickbeard said...

I'm digging this year end list.

Just out of curiosity, were you at the HWM/Raygun shows in Chicago? I thought I saw you there, but wasn't sure.

chanxxx said...

that bon iver record is amazing. he just put out a new ep called Blood Bank that you should check out.