January 31, 2006

The Moment You've All Been Waiting For....

The Best Album of 2005 is...
Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Before I get to the review, I need to tell a little story. Some people are going to disagree with Sufjan as the number one pick of 2005, and I want to defend myself before I get to the musical reasoning for my opinion. I have a friend named Daniel. Most of you only know him as Merkey, but if you know the young man I am referring to this little story should be of no surprise. Although we both agree on the wonder that is Dave Matthews, we tend to disagree on just about every other band under the sun. Dan is a music major at Roberts Wesleyan College with hopes to someday be a magnificent conductor. While I am just a music elitist, who thinks that everyone should listen to what I think is good because I've been listening to good music for as long as I can remember and I know what I'm talking about. Every now and then, I throw him some indie band that has a good sound or something unique he hasn't heard. Which, I hope he might find interesting. Then, every time he tells me how much they make his ears bleed and how they have as much talent as Murdock (local band with hopes of musical world domination until they realized they, in fact, had no talent). I've thrown bands at him such as The White Stripes, RJD2, Elliott Smith, Sigur Ros, A Tribe Called Quest, G. Love and Special Sauce, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Radiohead, Stereophonics, Handsome Boy Modeling School, and the Dave Matthews Band (the only band to make it past Merkey's extremely discriminating screening process). All this time I've been getting angry with him for not liking the amazing music that I listen to when the answer to this problem has been right in front of my face the whole time. Recently I did an experiment. I made Daniel listen to the DaKah Hip Hop Orchestra (a 90 piece orchestra fused with hip hop). He ate it up, note for note. He even pretended to conduct it as it was being played. It dawned on me at that very moment while we were sitting in my room stoned, that it wasn't Daniel that had the problem, it was me. It was then that my idea of being an elitist was thrown to the curb and ran over by a Byrne Dairy truck. It was right under my nose the whole time, I just couldn't smell it. It's something I've been preaching all along but was too naive to realize it for myself. Everyone has their own tastes, and you can't just expect them to listen to what you think is good just because it's your personal opinion. In the same sense, you shouldn't criticize their preferences just because they don't coincide with yours. John Cusak said it best in High Fidelity "How can it be bullshit to state a preference?" Merkey is a fan of the horns, brass, woodwinds, and percussion. I am a fan of synths, keyboards, turntables, and drum kits. Merkey likes orchestras, symphonies, and jazz. I like hip hop, alternative, indie, and progressive.

It was with this wisdom that I realized why Sufjan Stevens' "Illinois" is the best album of the year. His dynamic range of instruments and his ability to create such poignant music puts him in a class of artists that can be appreciated by many different kinds of fans. "Illinois" is an album overflowing with little numbers about the history of the state of "Illinois". I know this sounds mind-numbingly lame, but that is what makes Sufjan such a genius. Nearly every song has a melody that is irresistible. Even the mood shattering "John Wayne Gacy Jr" is a masterpiece. Who else can write a song about a brutal serial killer and make it one of the most stunningly beautiful songs you've ever heard? Songs like "Casimir Pulaski Day" and "Jacksonville" exhibit Sufjan's folk roots and really add character to this impression album. Trombones, saxophones, trumpets, flutes, banjos, strings, and choirs make up what "Illinois" is. It's an album abundant with narrative historical harmonies. As most of my top 5 of the year are, this album is not a first time charmer. It took me a few listens to really capture the essence of this cd. Writing about everyone from Superman to Abraham Lincoln to Carl Sandburg, Sufjan has found a way to make history interesting. This twenty-something guy has come to impress with his latest concept album. His initial plan was to make an album for every state in the United States. After "Michigan", he sidetracked and made "Seven Swans". Something must have pushed the concept back into his mind when he made "Illinois".

I think I have finally found the puzzle piece to my Merkey problem. Sufjan Stevens is a conductor and a singer whose insight and intelligence has been able to create a musical work of art complete with staccatos, crescendos, decrescendos, and many other band terms that I can no longer remember. Sufjan Steven's "Illinois" is a wonderful journey that starts as soon as put it in your stereo and doesn't end until the last note comes out. I hope you've enjoyed reading this list as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Keep checking up to see what else is coming out.

January 26, 2006

The Best of 2005: #2

#2: Sigur Rós - Takk...
If I thought Frances the Mute was going to be hard to describe, Takk is going to be even tougher. If you've never heard of Sigur Rós, you are missing out. This band from Iceland is starting to make a name for themselves with their emotionally touching music that has the ability to free your mind. Although they sing in Icelandic, that doesn't stop them from connecting to you more personally than most bands that sings in English. Listening to Sigur Rós can literally put you in a completely different frame of mind, putting you in a bizarre atmosphere all together. Their 2002 release "( )" is exactly what a crisp, gray, gloomy winter morning would sound like if it could make noise. "Takk" has the same effect except relating more to a spring afternoon than a winter morning. What sets "Takk" apart from other cd's on the list is it's ability to paint a picture in your head when you listen to it. Sigur Rós is not of this world. They are completely unique in every sense of the word. Only a gay Icelandic guy would think of playing the electric guitar with a cello bow. The music that comes from that technique is inventive and mystical. Thought of as a calmer more emotionally charged Radiohead, Sigur Rós is an acquired taste that will have you smitten with time. As soon as you listen to it, you get struck with "Glosoli", a 6 minute long song that completely erupts at the end. After that "Takk" does not let up. The rarely played single "Hoppi­polla" is an enchanting song that is filled with piano and violins that builds up just like every other song on the album, including the gem "Saeglopur". The beauty of this album is unparalleled, and though not as dark as their other works, this record is a jaw dropper. It's amazing how this music creates such beautiful imagery with little talking. The best part about Takk is you don't even need to be a fan of indie music to enjoy it. Just pick it up and use it as background noise sometime, and I promise you you'll see what I'm talking about. If you don't want to spend $15 on an album purely because I say so, I'll understand. Go to the bands website and watch the video for Glosoli and Hoppipolla. If watching those videos doesn't show you why Takk is number 2 on my Best of 2005 list, then my hands are tied. Takk is Sigur Rós' masterpiece, and that is saying a lot.

January 23, 2006

The Best of 2005: #3

#3: The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute
Preface: Before I started this blog I always had trouble putting my thoughts about my music into words. I like to think I've been getting better since my first entry, but all of that is about to change. When I started this blog in December I knew the time would come when I had to use words to describe Frances the Mute. I have been dreading this review the entire time. Anyone who has heard The Mars Volta before should know why I'm going to have trouble with this.

I'm not going to sugar coat this for you, I'm going to come right out and say it. The Mars Volta is the Pink Floyd of our generation. Taking progressive rock to a whole new level, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala don't make their music to obey the laws of labels. You never know what's coming next in Frances the Mute. They can calm you down with a smooth melody for 10 minutes just before they send you on a brain melting musical journey. Though Frances consists of 12 tracks, it is really a 5 piece musical concept album. Aside from the 6 minute "The Widow", the other pieces are anywhere from 12 to 24 minutes long. The highlight is, without question, "L'Via L'Viaquez". The 12 minute masterpiece that goes by too quickly combines salsa rhythms keeping with their Latino roots with their messed up innovative sense of technical jazz. Including two John Frusciante guitar solos helps with the transition from salsa to rock throughout the song. After the distorted ending to "L'Via L'Viaquez", Frances the Mute starts full throttle into the extremely intense "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore". Don't let the lovely chirping birds fool you, this piece will make you hold on to your seat (she can bat a broken eyelid/raining maggots from it's sty/and with the traces that she leaves/she will skin you out alive). "Cassandra Geminni" is the closing piece that builds to the climatic ending that, oddly enough ends with the same quiet track that the album starts with, "Sarcophagi". With Flea from Red Hot Chilli Peppers adding his jazz input with the trumpet, Omar ripping one jagged guitar solo after another, Jon Theodore drumming with 3 arms, and Cedric singing with as much passion as a man can, The Mars Volta make one of the best albums to push the limits in a time when limits rule the music industry.

Epilogue: Frances the Mute is not for the weak of heart. I would suggest listening to some before going out and getting it. Let me know if you want a taste. If you're looking to get your dig on with an epic album that has no boundaries and is not afraid to fuse jazz/metal/prog into one musical masterpiece, then spark one up, put your headphones on, and let this album rock you like nothing you've ever heard . If not, I would suggest staying away.

The Best of 2005: #4

#4: The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan
As soon as this cd goes into the stereo, your ears are blessed with the different path The White Stripes took on this album as opposed to their other records. Practically setting aside their style of ear-splitting guitar solo's and booming drumming to start experimenting with pianos, marimbas, tambourines and surprisingly enough acoustic guitar. Meg White's drumming is still as kick ass as before with this new style of hard rock that her brother (or ex-husband, I don't think anyone really knows which) Jack, is to good at writing. If you are a fan of The White Stripes then I'm sure you have already gone over the growing process that this cd requires. The first day I bought it, I couldn't stand a single song except the ones that reminded me of the old White Stripes ("Instinct Blues", "Blue Orchid", "Red Rain"). Even after a few listens when a cd usually comes around, this one didn't. I thought it was childish, and I missed the power and crazy guitar of the old White Stripes. Then one day "As Ugly as I Seem", the soft-spoken acoustic bongo ballad spoke to me. From then on, I was in love. After that everything seemed to click right into place. I suddenly couldn't get enough of this cd. Then I realized that's what I love about The White Stripes albums, their ability to completely take over your stereo. It is truly priceless these days when a cd comes out that is made as an album and not for singles to be played on the radio. Even though the singles rock ("Blue Orchid", "My Doorbell", "Denial Twist"), this album is to be absorbed as a whole. The first track "Blue Orchid" sounds similar to the old style, then the album takes a turn with marimba's and gets oddly loud in "The Nurse". "Forever for Her" is one of Jack's better written songs, while "Passive Manipulation" is Meg's best song. Every song on this album has something different in it to go crazy about. It is no secret how kick ass the new White Stripes cd is. Although Get Behind Me Satan may push away some casual fans, it captures what The Stripes do best. What's that you ask? Well if you don't already own this cd or any other Stripes albums for that matter, you gotta listen to understand.

January 21, 2006

The Best of 2005: #5

#5: Coldplay - X&Y
After releasing 2 Grammy award winning Album of the Year records, the expectations were high to say the least for their latest attempt X&Y. My least favorite of the three, X&Y is still a favorite of 2005, so that must be saying something about this incredible band. One thing I can say about every Coldplay album is it takes some time for the record to really settle and sink in. Once it does, you'll be surprised at how much you can get into their songs. This album didn't sink in until I went to see the band at Darien Lake in September. It was only after going to the best concert I've ever seen that I really got into this album. Though the first single "Speed of Sound" was super weak, the following two "Fix You" and "Talk" were some of the best songs on the album. "Till Kingdom Comes" is the meaningful hidden track on the album and was written for Johnny Cash. The new songs have a fresh sound, though I'd hardly call it experimental. Though not as original as "Parachutes" or "Rush of Blood to the Head", the band still has that clever basic sound that is easy to sing along with. Although I've heard and hate this comparison, Coldplay really is the U2 of our generation. The bands global recognition has literally lifted them into stardom. Lead singers marrying movie stars, extending their sold out tour dates, this band is making a name for themselves in a huge way. X&Y has what it takes to be a good Coldplay album. As much as I love it, I think I was hoping with all the time the band took to make it that it would have something a little different from their previous work. Maybe a song or two that is so out there nobody would have been able to guess it was Coldplay. I know this review sounds like a hate piece, but I only criticize because I love this band so much and I don't want them to bury this great thing they have going for them in the ground. The next album better have some spunk, or they're going to go through the same thing bands like Dave Matthews Band and NIN did when they went that next step forward. They held onto that familiar sound for so long that when they changed up their style they lost that special thing they had in their music. Change it up at just the right time. Bands like Radiohead, Incubus, Ani Difranco, Beck, Smashing Pumpkins, Ben Harper, and The White Stripes have pulled off the change. It doesn't need to be a complete 180º, just something to excite the fans and remind them why they love you. I only hope Coldplay doesn't hold onto this for too long. Learn from the past, don't make the same mistake that so many other great bands have done. I believe the saying goes "stick with what works" though, and this works very well. I just hope this money making sound doesn't go to their heads on the next album.

January 08, 2006

The Best of 2005: 6-10

6: Beck - Guero
Reuniting with the infamous Dust Brothers that produced Beck's defining album "Odelay" was a monster success for his latest release "Guero". Following the acoustic ballad album "Sea Change", Guero takes us back to the old Beck days. Rapping about popsicles and Yanni cassettes, sound effects taken straight from video games, Spanish ramblings, distorted guitars, riffs that get in your blood and beats being dropped left and right. Guero has everything you could want from a Beck album. Not to mention a song written about Elliott Smith (Broken Drum) and Jack White on bass guitar (Go it Alone). The singles "E-Pro" and "Girl" were the singles that got some play from the radio stations, but tracks like "Farewell Ride" and "Black Tambourine" really bring to light the magic of Guero. Money Mark adds his musical insight to the intense keyboard song "Earthquake Weather". If you listen to Beck and are a fan of his work, you already have this cd. Guero is truly an album you will enjoy time and time again.

7: Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams
Hawaii native Jack Johnson scores again with his 3rd album "In Between Dreams". Keeping with the chill out, sitting on the beach sing along theme that his previous 2 albums had, In Between Dreams offers acoustic ballads that have the power to either put you to sleep at night or keep you awake and entertained at a campfire. Johnson's light voice and easy going guitar strumming are irresistible for any music fan. The best part about Jack Johnson's laid back style is that his music is simple enough to listen without straining or boring you to death. Considering himself a surfer and filmmaker before a musician is, what I think, makes In Between Dreams so great. Jack doesn't seem to take his music too seriously, he has fun making it which in part makes it fun to listen to. His lyrics are another story, writing about love and our egotistical society. The lovely "Breakdown" was originally made for The Handsome Boy Modeling School's album "White People" but was remade to capture it's true meaning in the acoustic way it was intended. "Better Together", "Never Know", "Good People", "Banana Pancakes", and "Sitting Waiting Wishing" make Jack's latest attempt just as wonderful as his last two. A serious must have of 2005.

8: David Gray - Life In Slow Motion
After releasing the mediocre album "A New Day at Midnight", David Gray stepped up his game for the first full studio album of his career " Life In Slow Motion". Gray has been an established singer songwriter known for his inspiring songs and compelling voice. With an entire studio at his fingertips, Gray took his time making Slow Motion. Taking a more musically moving path than his previous lyrically driven records, this album has a lot more strings and orchestra work in it. That's not trying to depreciate his quality of songwriting at all. Gray still delivers his message with picturesque writing. The mood is almost visible in the cover art. Slow Motion has such an intense sound for being such a gray (no pun intended), quiet yet moving album. In an album full of highs, lows and a beautiful sound only captured by Gray, it's hard to pick favorites. Although if I had to recommend a few, I'd have to say "Slow Motion", "From Here You Can Almost See the Sea", and The One I Love" are the best qualified to represent such an amazing album.

9: Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning

Some will say that Conor Oberst does nothing more than whine with that nasal sound in his voice, crying about the one that got away. The truth is yes, he does sing about the pitfalls of love. Who doesn't? What sets Conor apart is the poignant lyrics he creates in every song he writes. Whether it be about love, politics, drugs, loneliness, friends, alcohol, family or god, Conor puts thought and soul into everything he writes. I'm Wide Awake It's Morning is just one of many albums Bright Eyes has released, but what sets this apart from his earlier works is the commitment Conor has to his country rock roots. From the first song "At the Bottom of Everything" you can't help but notice the Dylan comparison. Writing poems and putting folk guitar and harmonized singing into the mix is what Conor does best, especially in his masterpieces "Landlocked Blues" and "We Are Nowhere And It's Now". Conor has been a talented singer/songwriter creating music since age 12, but Wide Awake puts him on the map as a rising talent that gets better and better with each song he writes.

10: Death Cab For Cutie: Plans

After releasing 4 albums on the Seattle based indie-rock label Barsuk, Death Cab For Cutie decided to make the jump to the major label world by signing with Atlantic. Some indie fans will lose respect for a band for making the switch, but what Death Cab has done in it's 2005 release Plans makes it hard to resist. Plans is not an album that should be cast aside because of it's label, this cd is truly a sign of Death Cabs ability to write catchy songs that are irresistible to most fans. This album is a little more produced than their previous album "Transatlanticism", and with that comes a little less raw emotion. But Plans is a solid album none the less, with songs like "Crooked Teeth", "I'll Follow You Into the Dark", and "Marching Bands of Manhattan" to push on the blissful pop sound that this album is full of. Is Plans different from other DCFC albums? Yes. Does it sound more polished than other DCFC albums? Sure does. Is that because they signed with Atlantic? You betchya. Does it still capture the essence of DCFC? It certainly does. If you're a Death Cab fan, and you're not buying this album because of it's label, you've got a serious problem. Plans is the next step for DCFC, like it or not... And I like it.

The Best of 2005: 11-15

11: Wilco - Kicking Television

Like I said earlier, there are only two live albums on my Best of 2005 list. Wilco has been around for some time now, making hit albums like "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", "Being There", and their most recent studio album "A Ghost is Born". Although their studio albums leave little to be desired, Kicking Television is more Wilco than you could have ever hoped for. The only live album released by a band who has made a name for themselves with their live performances, lives up to all the hype that's been put on it. From the first song "Misunderstood", you know Wilco brought their A game for at least 1 of the 4 nights they played for their home town Chicago crowd. This double disc is packed with favorites spanning across the entire Wilco collection. Gems include "Via Chicago", "Spiders (Kidsmoke)", "Jesus, Etc.", "Shot in the Arm", "Misunderstood", "Company in My Back", and "I am Trying to Break Your Heart" just to name a few. A must have album for any Wilco fan.

12: Eels - Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

A double disc album beautifully written by Mark Oliver Everett that is a diary of the pain, heartbreak, and joy in his life. After his sister's suicide and fathers death, Everett became somber and closed. This is apparent in Blinking Lights. Some songs make you want to cry and others are so beautiful you can't help but fall in love. A few song are cheerful, making you forget you were crying just a few songs ago. Some have words, and some don't. Some have percussion, and others are just a guitar or piano. Either way you slice it, this album is full of some of the most moving and loving songs I have heard all year, leaving you with a feeling of completion. This album is high on my Best of 2005 list for a reason people, check it out.

13: Sleater-Kinney - The Woods

"The Woods" is a rock and roll album that was completely unexpected from the female Portland, OR trio. Exploring a new sound full of heavy guitar riffs and powerful drums, this album gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "girl power". Within the first few seconds the music grabs you by the collar and makes you listen. With their authorative attack at reality television and celebrity power in 2005, "Entertain" shows us these women want no piece of the pie. With a well known producer David Fridmann (Weezer, Flaming Lips) at the wheel, Sleater-Kinney has made a modern rock classic. Progressive psychedelic guitar solos carry the 11 minute "Lets Call it Love" that was amazingly enough done in one take. The Woods is for anyone who wants to let off a some powerful steam at the world we live in today.

14: Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine

After 6 years of waiting, Fiona Apple finally comes out with a new album, shattering all expectations put on her. Not that it was easy to put this album out. Fiona went through problems with her label as most artists do. Sony refused to put out her new album, but after lots of aggressive internet protests, the label finally released they needed to change. Extraordinary Machine leaves her other albums in the dust. Not that "Tidal" and "When the Pawn..." Weren't enjoyable albums. Fiona has always been a very serious artist with meaningful songs. The difference is the maturity you hear in this album. Fiona has become the well-developed musician we all hoped she would be. "Parting Gift", "Extraordinary Machine", and "Tymps" are the showcase songs on this album.

15: Ben Lee - Awake is the New Sleep

I took the advice from the title of this album, and since the day I bought it Ben Lee has been my wake up album of the year. Every morning when my alarm goes off it goes off to the sweet melodies of "Awake is the New Sleep". Once you get past the contagiously catchy single "Catch My Disease", you'll realize this album is packed with clever lyrics and relaxing tunes to carry you through the entire morning. Well at least 50 minutes of your morning.

The Best of 2005: 16-20

16: Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
What makes bloc party kick ass? I can sum it up in 2 words, staccato drumming. From the first track "Like Eating Glass", you can tell the percussion is what drives this album. One thing they need to stay away from is politics. Having a song called"Price of Gas" and singing about how much it sucks is completely ridiculous. Not that prices don't suck, but honestly, who sings about it? Aside from that one song, their lyrics are really profound. The album also flows really well, changing moods and tempos almost seamlessly both from song to song and even within each song. Altogether a fantastic album, but gems are "This Modern Love", "Blue Light", and "Helicopter". Other than their political knowledge being that of a 10 year old, this album delivers in a major way.

17: Kaiser Chiefs - Unemployment
The Kaiser Chiefs have done nothing original on their debut album Unemployment, but they did make British rock fun again. Not unlike Franz Ferdinand, this band put a lot of energy and catchy riffs into their songs, making them nearly irresistible. Having the same producer as Blur has helped capture that fun and irreverence that is British rock. "I Predict a Riot", "Na Na Na Naa", and "Oh My God" are songs that will have you screaming along with them even when you're by yourself. From the anti-love opener "Everyday I Love You Less and Less" to the quiet charm of "Team Mate", this album has a lot to offer. Strongly recommended for fans of Franz Ferdinand, The Kinks, Kasabian, and Bloc Party.

18: Decembrists - Picaresque
Coming out of Portland and signed under the Kill Rock Stars label are reasons enough to want to check out this imaginative European band. Listening to this album is like reading a Charles Dickens novel, brilliant and tragic all at once. Writing songs with such an unusual vocabulary, its almost hard to get the message the first time along. You may feel like a moron, but you'll need a dictionary to look up words as you sing along."Sixteen Military Wives" and "Engine Driver" are two songs that really stand out in my book. This album is great for both easy listening and for really getting into the songs one by one.

19: Bright Eyes - Motion Sickness
I know live albums don't really belong on a best of list, but 2 made it on mine this year. Bright Eyes have so much emotion in their studio albums, it's hard to resist when a live album comes out. It mostly contains songs from the bands newer releases, but has a few old favorites like "Method Acting" and "Make War" from the album "Lifted...". Motion Sickness has a song called "When the President Talks to God" which is, needless to say, a song dedicated to ripping apart President Bush's administration. Conor Oberst brings as much emotion to his live shows as he does to the studio. The highlight on this album though, without a doubt, is Conor's slow, somber cover of Elliott Smith's "Biggest Lie". To hear an amazing songwriter recognize another amazing songwriter gives me goosebumps.

20: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!
Literally coming out of nowhere, this no name band hit it big over night. Making Rolling Stones next big hit list was a start. From there the band has gotten insane reviews from just about everyone that hears them. In my humble opinion, they rock. This album sounds like a modern day Velvet Underground, with a side of The Strokes. The lead singer has an interesting voice to say the least. I wouldn't suggest everyone go out and spend $15 on this right away, because it is certainly not for everyone. If you are a fan of the two bands I compared Clap Your Hands.. To and are looking for something slightly different to fill the void in your music collection, give these guys a shot. Tracks like "Skin off my Yellow Country Teeth" and "Home on Ice" are definitely worth a giving a listen.

The Best of 2005: 21-24

21: Gorillaz - Demon Days
The oh so catchy songs from the band's second full length album push this cd into my best of 2005. Everyone remembers the head bobbing "Feel Good Inc." from the Ipod commercial that became a huge single for the band. Songs like "Dirty Harry", "Last Living Souls", and "Dare" really make this album a nice follow up to their 2001 self titled release. You can always count on the gorillaz to find that beat that makes you want to sing from the roof of your car (I know its not professional to include inside jokes in your reviews, but then again, I'm not that professional)

22: The Mars Volta - Scab Dates
Releasing 2 albums in one year was a big jump forward for the up and coming Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. This cd captures the sounds of The Mars Volta in a live concert. What must be a visual experience live is, on cd, quite bizarre and hard to listen to even for a huge Volta fan like myself. If you can handle listening to 20 minutes of amazing music mixed in with an hour of filler, then give this a shot. The dragged out concert still makes the list cause if listened to, it still has an amazing sound that only Omar and Cedric can produce.

23: And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Worlds Apart
I hate to write reviews of cd's that I don't own, but this cd has to make the list. I've heard this album and luckly it has a different sound but same brilliance as their first album, "Source Tags & Codes". It's hasn't been highly regarded as a great album, but I loved what I heard.

24: Oasis - Don't Believe The Truth
Oasis finally came out with a new album this year, and for most people it was impressing. A different sound for them that was praised for being original. Even though the album sounds good, I lost a lot of respect for it purely on the fact that it was hailed as unique when this 70's style velvet underground droning and sound has already been done by numerous bands. Basically, they took something that's been proven by bands like Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, and tried to cash in on it. I know its been done a hundred times by a thousand bands, but this particular one pissed me off.

January 04, 2006

Elliott Smith - From a Basement on the Hill

Elliott Smith held nothing back for what would come to be the last album of his career. Basement on the Hill came out after his death on October 21, 2003. The 3 years before his death, Elliott seemed to have vanished from existence. His friends hadn't heard from him and they had no way to contact him. Elliott was busy, not with his music, but busy slipping deeper into the drug problem that had become very apparent while he lived in LA. Heroin, speed, cocaine, acid, anything the man could get his hands on. Elliott moved in with his new producer David McConnell after a falling out with producer Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann). McConnell was a collector of antique recording equipment, pieces of which were famous. Some of the equipment McConnell owned was the original equipment used in recording the famous White Album from the Beatles. One of the many reasons Elliott was so attracted to the small basement in McConnells home. There Elliott stayed for years. Writing, singing, playing, recording for days on end. Elliott would take heroin and find the sound he wanted, then take enough coke and speed to keep himself awake for days until he perfected the sound he was looking for. And that sound turned out to be some of the most magical music I have ever listened to.

Basement opens with "Coast to Coast", a self-loathing song about loving someone that doesn't care about him. Its a big opener and sounds quite different from most Elliott songs. If you've listened to Elliott before, and I hope to god that you have, you'll find that this album contains both songs that sound perfect for a regular Elliott album, and then songs that sound completely different. Elliott does a lot more musically with this cd than he's done with his previous works. Not trying to take anything away from the sound that comes from Roman Candle (Elliott's first album, just him in a basement with a guitar and a 4-track), but this time around he captures a richer sound musically. Don't worry though, he still captures that same acoustic magic in his last work too. Come on, would it be an Elliott album if there wasn't a few acoustic songs that make you want to stay in bed for days? Tracks like "Fond Farewell", "Twilight", "Last Hour" and last but not least my favorite "Memory Lane" are acoustic masterpieces that hit you when you're down. If you listen to his words you can really see what sets Elliott Smith apart from the rest. His lyrics are so compound and deep, it seems like every line is a metaphor about a metaphor. Every time you listen to it you get something new out of it. What makes Basement so special is how you can hear the enormous amount of thought Elliott put into each song. "King's Crossing" is the cream of the crop, telling his heroin story in a way that makes you feel like you're in his shoes. "Shooting Star" is about a shooting down a one hit wonder girl that thinks she's quite the catch. It was written in one night by Smith and McConnell after being awake for 4 days and snorting an exorbitant amount of cocaine and sounds like they had a great time doing it. Elliott was hard pressed to get the perfect sound for every song. If you look at pictures of Elliott during the recording sessions, you can see the struggle and restlessness in his rugged face. The Last song on the album, "A Distorted Reality is Now a Necessity to be Free", calls out all the money bags making it big off of other peoples talent and decision makers in our society (all you ladies and you gentlemen/in between is all you've ever seen or been). Its a fitting end to an amazing album.

It's funny how Elliott's first album was recorded in a basement in Portland, somber and distant, and his last was made in a basement the exact same way. Listening to Elliott is the definition of contagious. I cant tell you how many people start with one album, cherish it, then find themselves clawing for more. Listening to the last Elliott Smith album is just as much a soul searching experience as listening to the first album. Basement on the Hill doesn't need to be sold, but if I don't say this, I wouldn't be getting the point across. Now I don't take this next phrase lightly, so take it as seriously as I'm saying it. Basement on the Hill has got to be my favorite album in my collection. Even though I don't always listen to it anymore, I always go back to it and find myself sucked right back into my uncontrollable desire to hear more Elliott. That being said, I hope you pick it up.