Monday, December 22, 2008

The Long and the Short of It... Part 1

Well as I mentioned in my last post, I like to leave compiling a "Best Of The Year" list until as close to year-end as possible. That task is now done and UMFM Station Manager Jared McKetiak and I are busy pre-recording our New Years' Eve special (airing 4pm - midnight CST on UMFM 101.5 and streaming online as well), counting down our individual Top 20 songs and albums.
Leading up to that broadcast I'm going to do a couple installments on the albums that made my "longlist" but, due to a combination of objective and subjective criteria, just didn't make the Top 20.

All year long I've been keeping a list in the Notes section of my iPod with strong albums I've enjoyed and when it came time to figuring out my Best of 2008 list, I had about 60 albums in contention. This may sound like a lot of records, but it's a tiny fraction of the records I've heard this year. Between reviewing for Stylus and Uptown, my position at the station, working part-time at Music Trader and just being into music generally my best guess is that the longlist represents 8-10% of everything I heard. I strongly recommend checking the albums on the longlist out - I wrestled with what did and didn't make the Top 20 and would have loved to just come up with three separate lists. But that would be cheating. Anyway - here's the first batch of titles from the longlist, starting with some releases I've already covered on Ear To The Sound.

The Airfields - Up All Night (Humblebee)
This is a great mixture of pop and shoegaze and opener "Prisoners Of Our Love" made my Top 20 songs. I wrote about this record here.

Hello, Blue Roses - The Portrait Is Finished And I Have Failed To Capture Your Beauty... (Locust)
Dan Bejar has made my list in the past with his Destroyer project, but Trouble In Dreams didn't really float my boat. However, the project he did with life partner Sydney Vermont caught my ear and kept my interest. I wrote about it here.

Woodpigeon - Treasury Library Canada (Independent)
This one's getting re-released by Boompa in February, which I hinted at here. Since that post, I discovered a live video of the song "Knock Knock" which I had written about at length.

Kutiman - Kutiman (Melting Pot)
Israel's funk scene linchpin blew my mind here.

Snailhouse - Lies On The Prize (Unfamiliar)
There are an abundance of great songs on this record, but none more-so than "They Won't Believe You." This album was one of the soundtracks to my summer road trip.

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
Yeah, believe it or not, Pitchfork's #1 Album didn't even make my Top 20. It's a rich and beautiful album that sounds AMAZING on vinyl - an already warm recording envelops listeners like a blanket. Fleet Foxes have made a fantastic debut record and it kills me a little bit that I didn't find a place for it on my list. That said, "Mykonos" from the Sun Giant EP found a spot on my Songs list.

Mr. Scruff - Ninja Tuna (Ninja Tune)
Four years since his contribution to the Solid Steel release series and SIX! since his last full-length, Mr. Scruff returns with his playful take on breaks intact and a handful of high-profile guests to aid him: Roots Manuva, Alice Russell and Will Holland (aka Quantic) all bring their skills to making this an album that was worth the wait. Here's the video to "Music Takes Me Up" with Alice Russell's fantastic vocals.

Bill Dixon - Bill Dixon With Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey)
Thrill Jockey nearly took out a lease on my Best of 2008 list - there are two TJ releases in my Top 20 and Pit Er Pat's "High Time" likely could have found a place in the longlist. It didn't, but this free jazz explosion (pun intended) did. Legendary trumpeter Dixon joins forces with Rob Mazurek (Isotope 217), Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and the rest of the Exploding Star Orchestra for a fantastic aural voyage.

Calexico - Carried To Dust (Quarterstick)

Burns and Convertino are like the Lennon & McCartney of the American desert. They write such staggeringly beautiful songs that at their core are quite simple. But the arrangements and embellishments that the band as a whole brings to the material makes complexity out of simplicity. In another year, this album would have been right up there - as it was, Calexico did provide one of the most transcendent live experiences of the year for me: their workshop with The Acorn and Apostle of Hustle at the Winnipeg Folk Fest was amazing.

Okkervil River - The Stand Ins (Jagjaguwar)
Jagjaguwar's another label that could've taken out a lease on my list, and Okkervil River nearly pulled off a back-to-back Top 20 placing after 2007's The Stage Names. Just how good a songwriter is Will Sheff? The Stand Ins are his freakin' outtakes from The Stage Names. His sloppy seconds put Sean Avery's to shame.

DJ Brace - The Electric Nosehair Orchestra Presents: Nostomania (Balanced Records)
Former UMFM host and Canadian DMC Champ DJ Brace unleashes a mind-bending turntablist experiment in line with DJ Shadow's Endtroducing... record. It uses the turntable as an instrument and combines a wide range of samples and noises to create something wholly new and original.

So that's it for Part 1, but keep your Ears peeled for more this holiday season.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

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