Wednesday, December 17, 2008

While driving this morning

I passed a car abandoned between the two lanes of the highway, its derailment undoubtedly the result of last night's storm.  The lonely vehicle was door handle-deep in snow, and wrapped twice around its metal frame was a strip of yellow DO NOT CROSS police tape.

Perched upon the roof was an orange traffic cone, the car's personal dunce cap.

My Corolla snickered, but only slightly.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Uncle Stitch's Music Roundup: 2008

Like drinking too much mulled wine and telling the inlaws what you really think, my musical best-of list is back by December tradition.  My top ten, presented in reverse order for great suspense:

Top Ten
  • 10. Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs - Reigning indie pop darlings of the OC set return with their bleakest yet most compelling disc so far.
  • 9. No Age, Nouns - These two kids from LA may sound like a box of bees falling down a flight of stairs but underneath the grime and distortion and occasional ambient interludes are real songs with winning--if gradually revealed--hooks.
  • 8. Black Keys, Attack & Release - Raw bluesters stretch out of their comfort zone by partnering with Danger Mouse and the brilliant results sprawl stylistically while remaining easily recognizable.
  • 7.  MGMT, Oracular Spectacular - Nobody else better converted your morning commute into tripping balls while dancing naked on the beach.
  • 6.  Hot Chip, Made in the Dark - While Made in the Dark's first half nails the electro dance pleasure principle perfectly, it's the ballads that forge new territory while quietly stealing the show.
  • 5.  Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles may sound limited in concept, but their debut disc proves that there is a time for broken glass vocals over abrasive Nintendo beats and that time is fucking now.  The full album is a few subtracted songs away from perfection, yeah, but Crystal Castles establishes its importance with sheer visceral intensity.  The digital sugar punch of 2008.
  • 4.  Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes - You are wandering lost in the mountains, your stomach aching with hunger as the temperature drops.  Just as you begin contemplating curling in the snow and giving in, you barely make out a faint melody whistling through distant passages.  Hope renewed, you follow the sound, traversing the frosty terrain as the singing grows louder and closer.  Just as the four-part harmonies kick in, you turn a corner and find a group of musicians playing around a campfire glowing with generous warmth, the sound so inviting you wordlessly join and so nourishing your hunger disappears.  This is Fleet Foxes.
  • 3.  Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer - Worried about repeating themselves, Wolf Parade dropped the Modest Mouse-ish indie stomp of their debut and struck out into darker, murkier territory for their sophomore disc.  At Mount Zoomer finds two cracking songwriters operating at the top of their game, oscillating from the sublimely loopy ("Bang Your Drum") to outstanding torch-bearing rock ("Fine Young Cannibals").  Wolf Parade have recorded a rewarding disc that grows with each listen and firmly promotes them beyond "indie blog sensation of the month" territory.  My personal soundtrack to 2008.
  • 2.  TV on the Radio, Dear Science - After a debut that was more promise than delivery and a sophomore disc that crackled with ideas but lacked memorable songwriting, TV on the Radio finally got it all right with Dear Science, an ear-twisting and exuberant album exploding with equal parts joy, anger, and lust.  Dear Science is jaw-dropping enough to easily earn the status of album of the year, if only it weren't for a welcome return of one dormant veteran, which brings us to...
  • 1.  Portishead, Third - Who really expected this?  On paper the return of Portishead sounds about as relevant as a new wave of hypercolor shirts, and yet these veterans deliver a suffocated, fractured masterpiece.  By jettisoning the languid hiphop beats that made them famous but now sound like cologne ads, Portishead have crafted a timeless study of alienation and heartbreak that remains recognizable while sounding nothing like their previous material.  Third pushes against the listener relentlessly, ending songs prematurely and squeezing moments into uncomfortable dissonance, creating a tense and jarring atmosphere of dread that reflects the lyrical content but--here's the kicker--somehow manages to be compulsively listenable and addicting.  Portishead's Third certainly isn't for everyone--you can't have international spy sex to it, after all--but its uncompromising brilliance makes this one for the ages.

Honorable Mentions
  • Beck, Modern Guilt
  • The Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely
  • Vampire Weekend, Vampire weekend

  • Sigur Rós, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
  • Cold War Kids, Loyalty to Loyalty
  • Weezer, Red Album

Single of the Year
  • Hot Chip, "Ready for the Floor"

A solid year overall, with two incredibly strong contenders for album of the year.  Still to pick up: the Deer bands (-hunter, -hoof) as well as whatever I discover on other year-end lists.

Roll on 2009.

On second thought: You know what, screw that. "Single of the Year" category is typically where disposable pop has its opportunity to shine, but Flo Rida's "In the Ayer" never attained more than "kicks ass with alcohol" status, so consider its title RESCINDED. Instead please find good sirs Hot Chip's "Ready for the Floor," which rocked my shit all summer long.