Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Long and the Short of It... Part 2

Well it's officially Christmas as I write this. The "Eve" has come to an end and while the other Elves are taking a much-deserved rest after building all those toys, I thought I'd get cracking on the second batch of selections from my longlist. Without further ado (and a Merry Christmas to you)...

Lightspeed Champion - Falling Off The Lavender Bridge (Domino)
I actually reviewed this for The Manitoban way back in January. Here's what I had to say about it:

This one took me completely by surprise. Dev Hynes – the mind behind Lightspeed Champion – is best known for his work with the short-lived but very loud Test Icicles. No one but Hynes could have known that after his noise-rock past, the present would find this British native recording in Omaha, Nebraska with Saddle Creek producer Mike Mogis, exploring roots-tinged indie-pop under the Lightspeed Champion moniker.
It's also a thoroughly pleasant surprise, as Falling Off The Lavender Bridge is one of the best releases of this new year (that may not sound like great praise but let us consider that 2008 has already seen new releases from The Mountain Goats, Cat Power, Black Mountain and The Magnetic Fields – heady company for Hynes).
"Galaxy of the Lost" was released as part of a promotional EP last November and it still stands up as one of the strongest tracks on the album, but the quality of Falling Off… is uniformly high and so "Galaxy" flows beautifully into "Tell Me What It's Worth," and the gorgeously orchestrated "All To Shit." That brief ditty segues to "Midnight Surprise" which is wonderfully layered by Mogis to provide a rich atmosphere for Hynes' warm tenor. If you aren't won over by the time this nearly ten-minute-long epic is over you're unlikely to ever fall for Falling Off… but really, that's the least of your problems.

Here's the video to "Galaxy Of The Lost"

British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music? (Rough Trade)
Another one from early in the year that stood the test of time. I'm not sure if the question is meant rhetorically but my answer is a resounding 'yes.' Especially when we're talking about the rock music produced by this group of talented Brits. While Do You Like Rock Music? doesn't quite clear the bar BSP set with their amazing debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, it's the third strong release from a group who turn their amps to 11 and wring every last reverbed note out of their guitars.

Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride (4AD)
UMFM Station Manager Jared McKetiak and I were discussing artists we would potentially hold a spot open for in our Year End lists if we knew they were releasing a record - John Darnielle is one such person for me. I don't think I've heard a Mountain Goats record I haven't enjoyed and they're the type of records that reward repeat listens. Darnielle is a hyper-literate songwriter capable of writing from his own experiences but equally adept at creating rich vignettes of the lives of others. From opener "Sax Rohmer, Pt. 1" about the writer behind the Fu Manchu series, on through a baker's dozen worth of songs, Darnielle adds to his burgeoning body of amazing work.

Luke Doucet & the White Falcon - Blood's Too Rich (Six Shooter Records)
I had the good fortune of seeing Doucet open for Blue Rodeo when he came through town a while back and if you happen to live in one of the cities he's touring through in the early months of 2009 - GO SEE HIM. He'll be touring on the strength of Blood's Too Rich and given the headlining spot the opportunity to hear more of this great record is well worth the price of admission. Here's what I had to say about the album when I reviewed it for Stylus back in the spring:

Doucet's not-so-secret weapon has always been his guitar work on the handful of albums he's released under his own name (and before that with Veal). On his latest, Doucet's guitar work is its strongest yet and the ringing tones he coaxes out of his instrument are richer than the blood of the title. That wonderful guitar is accompanied by 'the White Falcon' – a great backing band that includes Rich Levesque on bass, Paul Brennan on drums and Doucet's wife, Melissa McClelland on backing vocals. Blood's Too Richis the first album credited not just to Doucet and it's fitting as the band creates a rich backing for their leader's songs.
Whether he's singing about driving a rig, a man in Cleveland with a girl in the clink or faux-autobiographical tales of barroom reminiscence and living beyond his means, the White Falcon accompany Doucet with a gritty undertone to their playing that helps dirty up his vocals a little. Thank goodness, because as roots/country as the music is, Doucet's voice (like Jim Cuddy's, who guests on the title track and "The Commandante") is almost too gentle to sell these tales convincingly without it.
It might not be gritty, but it turns out Doucet's voice perfectly suited to covering Robert Smith and The Cure's "Love Cats." On paper it seems like a wacky choice, but Doucet nails it and tweaks things just enough to make it his own and not mere mimicry – plus there's that guitar of his again, shimmering and commanding the listeners' attention.

Here's Blue Rodeo backing Doucet on the album's title track:

Hayden - In Field & Town (Hardwood Records)
True story - back in the day when I was working at Record Baron in Brandon (it might have been Music Baron at the time; I can't remember when we made the switch), I was playing Hayden's The Closer I Get and some middle-aged dude (who, in my mind's eye, has a mullet but who probably didn't - this is isn't that long ago) shouts out "Boy this music sure makes you want to kill yourself!"
Backed by the members of Cuff The Duke, Hayden sounds a little cheerier on In Field & Town than he has in the past and the instrumentation is a little more muscular, but his delicate voice is still front-and-centre, delivering equally delicate lyrics. There's a populist poetry to what Hayden writes about - he's never overly flowery or ornate, but he conveys the everyday and universal in an artful manner.

Here's Hayden live in Vancouver, backed by Cuff The Duke:

Quantic presenta Flowering Inferno - Death Of The Revolution (Tru Thoughts)
For quite some time I've been referring to the album as Flowering Inferno but it turns out that's the name of yet another project for Will Holland (a/k/a Quantic). Not like the dude needs another project - between the output recorded under the Quantic moniker, his live group the Quantic Soul Orchestra, The Limp Twins, his remix work, DJ'ing, and curating some incredible comps, it's a wonder the dude has time to scour places like Latin America and the Caribbean for new sounds. But he does and he did - on Death Of The Revolution, Holland mixes dub, reggae and tropicalia to whip up a concoction that is incredibly catchy and indescribably deep. You could get lost in these grooves and hearing them just once, you'll want to.

Check out the awesome title track and see for yourself:

Forest City Lovers - Haunting Moon Sinking (Out Of This Spark)
Toronto indie label Out Of This Spark really caught my attention this year and from my first hearing of the new Timber Timbre, it will be keeping my attention in '09. While another OOTS artist cracked my Top 20, Forest City Lovers still represented well. They played a great in-store at Music Trader and Haunting Moon Sinking is a fully-realized and well-arranged record. (As an aside: are in-stores popular where you live? My experience with them is generally that about a half-dozen to maybe ten people are actually there to see the band, while a couple people mill about looking at the records and trying to ignore the performance). Kat Burns has a wispy but forceful voice that steers the musical ship for Forest City Lovers and you can't help but listen to her when she sings. But to my ears, the secret weapon FCL possess is Mika Posen's gorgeous violin. The string arrangements augment the impact of the songs on Haunting Moon Sinking as you can hear on "Pirates (Can't All Sail The Indian Ocean)" here:

Giant Sand - proVISIONS (Yep Roc)
Four years since Is All Over The Map and Howe Gelb has found a new (and highly suitable home) at Yep Roc. Here's what I had to say in Stylus:

How does Howe do it? Despite what he himself refers to as "attempted singing" in the liner notes, the gravel-voiced Gelb produces affecting and strangely beautiful music. It doesn't hurt that he has assembled a capable but un-showy band in Giant Sand, nor that he has surrounded himself with the likes of Isobel Campbell, Neko Case and M. Ward – but only Howe Gelb could deliver lines like "they talk like a filibuster / their words surrounding me / like I was Custer" in a deadpan atop Anders Pedersons haunting slide guitar on "Without A Word" and completely sell it. The man knows his strengths and writes for them (or at least his weaknesses and compensates for them).
Recorded partly in Denmark, Tucson and at the Woodshed Studios in Toronto, proVISIONS maintains a coherent sound and feel despite the changes of locale and credit for this is due to Gelb and his co-producer Kent Olsen – this collection of a baker's dozen worth of songs all have a little dust in their corners as they echo off into the desert sky night.
Of the album's title, Gelb says: "what we need in this day and age… folks with vision… positive vision." But a thorough scan of the lyrics find him painting fairly bleak pictures of the world – they might not be positive, but they're honest and compelling visions.

Here's a vision of Howe performing "Increment Of Love":

The Roots - Rising Down (Def Jam)
I was holding out hope for Rodney Smith to provide the best rap album of '08 but Slime & Reason was tremendously uneven and a far cry from 2005's stellar Awfully Deep. Leave it to the 'manuva'-less Roots to out raw Rodney and produce a record that it is awfully deep in its own right. Rising Down came out the gates blazing with a couple of videos that were gritty and in-your-face. "75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction)" hit harder than Balboa pounding a side of beef and the images that accompanied it were just as visceral:

In a year when hip-hop was abuzz because Nas contemplated dropping the "N" word in something other than a lyric, and Kanye went all emo-mushy-self-referential on us it was up to Jimmy Fallon's house band to show us the way.

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer (Sub Pop)
I just double-checked and this album didn't even make the Top 50 on Bitchfork's year-end list. In fact I haven't seen it on many lists and it's a shame because this Montreal group successfully avoided the sophomore slump and followed up the incredible Apologies to the Queen Mary with a very strong effort. All those side-projects didn't divert Krug & co. from the creative catharsis that is At Mount Zoomer. There are some fantastic sounds and songs here and I remember many a pleasant shift listening to this album with co-workers at Music Trader this summer. Shame to see it get overlooked.
Here's "Kissing The Beehive":

Well if my math is right, that's another ten from the longlist and we inch ever closer to actually discussing my Top 20 albums of '08. But I need to wrap this up so Santa can come drop off my copy of Lego Batman (*fingers crossed*).

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

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