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Monday, December 29, 2008

Lou's Top 20 of 2008, Part 2

Here's the second in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2008. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it.

11.) Bodies of Water - A Certain Feeling (Secretly Canadian)

It's hard to know exactly what to say about this band/record. It doesn't sound quite like anything else I've ever heard, though neither is it incredibly unusual. There are a lot of male-female harmonies/gang vocals and creative arrangements of simple basic rock instrumentation (though you do get an ambitious Sergio Mendes-inspired coda on "Even In A Cave"). There is a good mix of uptempo rockers and powerful (and pretty) dirges. Great enthusiasm is totally evident through it all. The band's equally strong self-released debut was also reissued by Sec Can this year.

12.) National Eye - The Farthest Shore (Park the Van)

This Philadelphia collective's third album is its most focused to date, leaving behind the snippet-like tunes of its predecessors for more fully formed songs without losing the weird charm or melodic hooks. The brilliant melange of odd instrumentation remains as well. As does the strong Bowie-Eno influence. So perhaps Shore isn't so much different as it is, well... better.

13.) Calexico - Carried To Dust (Quarterstick)

I, for one, was a bit taken aback by this album's predecessor, 2006's Garden Ruin, which--while enjoyable--seemed a bit like a contrived departure from the band's previous work. Fans should feel a little more at home with Carried, which opens with the Mariachi-tinged "Victor Jara's Hands." Next, the excellent "Two Silver Trees" nods toward the poppier material on Ruin, but about splits the difference between that record and 2003's definitive Feast of Wire, of which the same could be said of the record as a whole. Vocalist/guitarist Joey Burns' songcraft is allowed to come to the fore throughout, continuing to distance the band from its challenging early work, but maintaining its fierce originality. The beautiful "Slowness," a country-ish duet with Pieta Brown, is a highlight.

14.) Conrad Ford - Secret Army (Tarnished Records)

One of the great things about making a year-end list is finding out what I've really been listening to all year. For instance, my meticulous research for this review revealed that Conrad Ford is in fact a band, and not merely a dude with a band. Regardless, vocalist-songwriter Andy McAllister (who knew?) lays down a nice vaguely Waits-ian rasp on these melancholy yet highly melodic tunes, while providing "Marry the Unknown" an Oldham-esque moan. A beautiful blend of pedal steel, Wurlitzer, melodica, banjo, understated drums, etc. is woven around them by the other Fords.

15.) The Dreadful Yawns - Take Shape (Exit Stencil)

This Cleveland band’s fourth full-length, with a completely new lineup with the exception of principal songwriter/vocalist Ben Gmetro, has its share of the rootsy, dreamy folk-pop that dominated its first three records but takes plenty of twists and turns as well. Opener “Like Song” is a groovy, jangly gem that could have come off of any of the Yawns’ platters, like “Catskill,” a beautiful, sad folk-rock tune that Gmetro harmonizes with new member Elizabeth Kelly. These numbers, however, sandwich the Nuggets-worthy “Queen and the Jokester,” which showcases a more muscular side to the new group. “Saved” carries on this newfound garagey swagger and appends the album’s first freakout. Kelly takes the lead vocal on both the sprightly “Kill Me Now” and the Apples in Stereo-like “Expecting Rain.” The rollercoaster ride really begins, though, toward the end of the record. “All the Dead Soldiers” is a hybrid of a typically enchanting Gmetro indie-folk showcase with a far out coda. Next, “Don’t Know What I’ve Been On” sees a trippy sunshine-pop number morph into a disarmingly chaotic jam before wrapping up at length with a fingerpicked acoustic and hushed harmonies. Finally, the closing “Mood Assassin” melds a sweet Kelly vocal with an angular indie-rock barrage and a string section into the most significant departure of the album and a truly new frontier for the band. While all the left turns are a bit shocking at first, this record only cements the Yawns' status as one of the most original and under-recognized bands out there today.


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