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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lou's Top 20 of 2008, Part 3

Here's the third 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.

6.) Damien Jurado - Caught In the Tress (Secretly Canadian)

On eight albums over the past decade plus, Damien Jurado has quietly amassed a catalog establishing him as simply one of the best singer-songwriters ever. This album is one of his finest and considerably burnishes that credential. After opening with maybe the poppiest track of his career, the infectious "Gillian Was A Horse," Jurado delivers his usual procession of alternately aching, unsettling, and haunting indie-folk, many given a welcome extra kick here by a rock-solid rhythm section, the beautiful harmonies of Jenna Fisher (who composed the creepy hoe-down "Best Dress"), and well-placed keyboards and cello. There are too many excellent tracks here to pick highlights, so suffice it to say that Jurado has proven his greatness once again with perhaps his strongest album beginning to end.

7.) The Mumlers - Thickets & Stitches (Galaxia)

A truly unique debut that throws in just about everything including the kitchen sink instrumentally and stylistically. Traces of everything from jazz to r&b to '40s pop to Eastern European folk are detectable. A delightfully loose horn section somewhat akin to a Dixieland funeral band carries a few of the songs while avoiding the tendency of brass instruments to be oppressive. The songs remain the focal point and are the album's strongest asset. "Whale Song" is a beautiful, fingerpicked love ballad, "Untie My Knots" recalls Muswell Hillbillies-era Kinks, while "Hush" brings The Band to mind with its countryish tune entwined in a swirling melange of keyboards. This band's ability and creativity is already staggering and bodes extremely well for its future.

8.) Okkervil River - The Stand Ins (Jagjaguwar)

Whether or not they continue their prolific output in 2009, Okkervil River will go down as the best band of the decade, having released five albums that would have made the Top Ten in any year. The Stand Ins continues in the more theatrical and rockier direction O.R. waded into on last year's excellent The Stage Names, and apparently continues its concept, which I still haven't exactly put my thumb on yet. Regardless, "Singer Songwriter" provides a vehicle for vocalist Will Sheff to portray a wry mid-'60s Dylan, "Pop Lie" hovers around New Wave, and "On Tour With Zykos" is a beautiful if despairing piano ballad. All of it achieves the excellence fans have come to expect from this band and which they have consistently delivered.

9.) Ladyhawk - Shots (Jagjaguwar)

Just about every Ladyhawk song is a visceral experience, whether it pummels you from beginning to end like album opener “I Don’t Always Know What You’re Saying” or “You Ran” or crawls painfully to the crescendo of a searing solo on “Faces of Death.” Shots is simultaneously looser than the band's great eponymous debut while still containing amazing pop hooks in nearly every track. Some new textures like (gasp!) the occasional keyboard or the girl-group backing vocals on “Night You’re Beautiful” add some new depth to the band's outward austerity.

10.) The Donkeys - Living On the Other Side (Dead Oceans)

Another Southern California band under the spell of the magic of a bygone era, though they are apt to look north to conjure the Grateful Dead at the height of their stoney rootsiness of the early '70s. It boggles that the Dead's legacy has become entwined with the ridiculous "jam" bands when it is far more faithfully represented in the aching "Dolphin Center," the breezy "Pretty Thing," the country stomper "Bye Bye Baby" or any number of other tracks here. The acoustic "Dreamin'" detours toward CSN&Y, but "Boot On the Seat" is an American Beauty for sure and maybe the best here. Those guys were on to something back then and these guys are now. An easy album to dig.


Blogger Agent Ska said...

Okkervil River? Really? The best band of the decade?

Mmmm...that's a pretty big statement.

But to each his/her own, I guess.

9:19 PM  

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