Saturday, December 15, 2007

All Things Must Pass

George Harrison needs love.

Why does no one seem to appreciate the Quiet Beatle?

I mean, while in the Beatles, he wrote songs like "Old Brown Shoe," "Taxman," "Something," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Savoy Truffle"...the guy was great! And he kicked John Lennon's ass at the guitar, too (see: anything at all ever. Any Beatles lead that's marginally good or interesting was either Georgie or McCartney).

And then, of course, there's his solo output, most notably All Things Must Pass. People seem to forget that this is a really, really fantastic album. "What is Life?" and "My Sweet Lord" are the standouts, of course, but there's so much more! You really just have to hear it. I sing its praises regularly, because I love George Harrison.

RIP Georgie. I know you died years ago, but I feel that not enough people really appreciated you, so rest in peace, sweet warrior of rock.

At least I miss you.

Hazen's Raisins

Why isn't this an internet phenomenon yet?

Make it one!


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Top 20 Albums of 2007

20. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Of Montreal's most recent album lacks the buoyant fun of The Sunlandic Twins, and tends to wallow in melancholy, but all of the droney falsetto-funk and Scandanavia references makes me readily forgive Kevin Barnes his transgressions.

19. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Baby 81. I was woefully unfamiliar with the BRMC until this year, but I was very impressed with the vaguely garage-y scuzz-pop of Baby 81, and I'm sorely tempted to dig deeper into the band's catalogue.

18. Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends. Les Savy Fav could've copped out on this one. No one would've thought less of them; the art-punk quartet earned it. But that's just not Tim Harrington's way, and so Les Savy Fav's most recent album is as dancey / slinky / punishing as 3/5, and maybe even more listenable (maybe).

17. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away. The Shins will not change your life. They will, however, give you wonderfully un-saccharine, pleasant indie pop to listen to while seducing quirky, artsy girls (if that's what you're into).

16. Okkervil River - The Stage Names. I know, I know - this should probably be higher. Okkervil River's sophomore album was critically adored, and yes, it is very good; I just couldn't connect with it the way others could though. I would probably rate it lower on sheer "I like it" criteria, but I can at least see why it's brilliant.

15. My Brightest Diamond - Bring Me the Workhorse. Shara Worden is, hands down, my favourite female vocalist, at least in 2007 (sorry Feist, I just don't have a crush on you like a lot of people do). Shara proved her mettle first as one of Soof's Illinoisemakers (her official title was "cheer captain"), and proves her place in the indie pantheon with her full-length debut. The vocal acrobatics on "Golden Star" are enough to put this in the top 20.

14. Gogol Bordello - Super Taranta! Okay, so, I love Gogol Bordello. I really, really do. I find them obnoxious and charming and endearing, and Eugene Hutz is as fine a frontman as he is an actor (Everything is Illuminated). Their new album throws some Italian taranta dance moves into their Euro-krainian balalaika stomps, and really, it just makes it better.

13. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky. Wilco's a boring pick by now. Of course Jeff Tweedy is a genius. Of course their new album is one of the best of the year. Next.

12. Justice - Cross. Daft Punk's spiritual heirs (and countrymen) throw the funk off the dance floor and drags Jesus in, and the results are either asinine and bizarrely addictive ("The Party") or childlike and completely reasonably addictive ("D.A.N.C.E.")

11. Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity. Last year's The Runners Four was sprawling and wonderful, and seemed impossible to top. Somehow, everyone's favourite multinational freak-poppers did it, taking the cosmic weirdness of their previous epic and making it concise, and actually approachable for once.

10. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible. Indie darlings the Arcade Fire's sophomore album is somehow both more hushed and more dramatic than Funeral, toying with morose religious imagery all throughout, and teasing the listener until the orgiastic release of "No Cars Go," which is in turn immediately undermined by the dirge-y closer "My Body is a Cage." Tasty stuff.

9. St. Vincent - Marry Me. Naming her debut after a line from Arrested Development, former Polyphonic Spree guitarist Annie Clark has crafted a dramatic and winning album. Really, there's not much else to say. It's really great, particularly "Paris is Burning."

8. Beirut - The Flying Club Cup. Zach Condon's sophomore album has the basic aesthetic of sepia-toned photographs your European grandmother has, and in an album completely bereft of things like guitars, he weaves classic narratives from personal experiences, and squeezes high drama out of his 21 year-old voice.

7. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala. Everyone's (or my) favourite Swede, pop songsmith Lekman returns with more sample/string based guitar-pop, soaring melodies, and Morrissey-morose, often hilarious lyrics.

6. Panda Bear - Person Pitch. Animal Collective's Noah Lennox really lets loose on this newest offering, twisting his angelic voice and contorting his rhythms like Brian Wilson clapping his hands somewhere in the middle of the California desert.

5. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Like Wilco, Spoon is by now a boring pick. Their new album is fantastic. It is, in fact, near flawless. But come on - it's Spoon. After Gimme Fiction, where else are they gonna go? Come on.

[No photo available because actually sucks]
4. Black Kids - Wizard of Ahhs EP. I know it's a little unorthodox to include an EP on a "Best Of" list, particularly in the top five, but this really is flawless. Evey single one of the four songs contained herein could become a hit single; there isn't one misstep, which is really saying something.

3. Radiohead - In Rainbows. Probably the only surprising thing about Radiohead being on here is that they aren't at number one, but this wasn't the best album of the year. It was a fantastic album, and the best Radiohead have made (arguably) since Kid A, but it still wasn't the best of the year. Still, you know, go Radiohead.

2. Battles - Mirrored. No one can blend techno and rock as organically as math-rock supergroup Battles. All angular rhythms and processed vocals, all capable of being reproduced by a quartet, live, Battles really raises the bar for experimental rock music, for all time, really.

1. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver. There's no individual song on here as great as Radiohead's "Videotape," nor is there anything as groundbreaking as Battles, but LCD Soundsystem's sophomore effort is far and away the best album released in 2007. Full of overarching rhythm and a feeling like every song is perfectly in place, completely devoid of filler, Sound of Silver should be a witness to the world of music that it's still possible to craft a classic Album, an album of a piece, like they used to. Starting with the Brian Eno / Talking Heads funk of "Get Innocuous!", Sound of Silver slides through nine perfect tracks, some cheeky ("North American Scum"), some morose ("Someone Great"), other unapproachably funky ("Sound of Silver"), culminating with the epic rock ballad "New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down," mixing Velvet Underground-scuzz and Queen-like pitches into a defiantly rockist and un-funky end, tying the rest of the no wave shimmying of the album together - it may be the song that makes this album an Album, if you catch my drift.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Be Still, My Beating Nerd Heart

I finally bought The Black Dossier, by Alan Moore, illustrated by Kevin O'Neill.

Words cannot express how I feel about this book.

First, some background information:

Around the turn of the century, renowned comic book legend Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell) came out with his newest project, a Victorian superhero team-up pastiche called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The premise was novel: in an alternate universe where works of art and entertainment have actually happened, a team of Victorian English sci-fi, horror, and adventure characters team up for government spec-ops. Thus started the illustrious second careers of Bram Stoker's Mina Murray, H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain, Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Henry Jekyll (and his devilish counterpart, Edward Hyde), Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, and H.G. Well's Dr. Hawley "the Invisible Man" Griffin.

No one expected the dizzying nuance of Moore's new world, in which every single character comes from a pre-existing source, from a brief meeting with Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Prof. James Moriarty ending up as the main villain. In 2004, a sequel was released, this time set against the backdrop of (the original, 1898) War of the Worlds, and still darkening the tone by having Dr. Moreau assist the government in biological warfare, and Mr. Hyde viciously murder-raping the Invisible Man (he had a reason).

And so this is the new one, set sixty years after the end of the original (making this one in 1958, for you mathematicians out there). Featuring a narrative spanning from the dawn of time to the mid-twentieth century, and fantastic references from Cthulhu's place in creating the world, to Shakespeare's Prospero adventuring with Don Quixote, from Bertie and Jeeves obliviously battling Lovecraftian monsters to a young James Bond seducing a young Emma Peel, and being a Big Brother party symapthizer, The Black Dossier really exceeds all possible expectations, making it one of the most nuanced, complicated, and basically fun books released this year.

I highly recommend it if you haven't read it (read the first two first, if you haven't read those), as well as anything else Alan Moore has written. Alan Moore's a genius, you see...