Category Archives: year end

Guest list: Charlie Brand of Miniature Tigers

This year, I’ve asked a few Phoenix-area musicians/people of interest for their year-end, best-of lists: albums, songs, whatever. This installment comes from Charlie Brand, frontman/writer for Miniature Tigers, who released the excellent Tell it to the Volcano in August.

Brand offers up a list of the albums he listened to most in 2008, whether they were released this year or not. Of Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, Brand told me, “I discovered it late in the game. One of my favorite and most listened to albums of the year.”

Department of EaglesIn Ear Park (4AD)
Of MontrealSkeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)
Beach HouseDevotion (Carpark Records)
Alvin BandMantis Praying
Harry NilssonNilsson Sings Newman (RCA Victor Europe)
Grizzly BearYellow House (Warp Records)
Elvis CostelloArmed Forces (Hip-O records)
The Kinksentire catalogue
PortistheadThird (Island)
Van Dyke ParksSong Cycle (Rhino/Warner Bros.)

Favorite albums of 2008
Favorite song(s) of 2008
Guest list: Jay Wiggins (aka DJ Funkfinger)
Guest list: Brendan Murphy of Source Victoria

Guest list: Jay Wiggins (aka DJ Funkfinger)

This year, I’ve asked a few Phoenix-area musicians/people of interest for their year-end, best-of lists: albums, songs, whatever. This installment comes from good friend Jay Wiggins, who spins under the name DJ Funkfinger at Shake! on Saturday nights at the Rogue, voted Best Hipster Dance Night by the Phoenix New Times.

Jay was also kind enough to host mp3s for all of his selections for his indie-pop top 10 (in no particular order).

Oxford Comma – Vampire Weekend [3:16]
What can I say that hasn’t been said?

Ready For The Floor – Hot Chip [3:53]
Caught the last bit of these guys at a festival in San Diego (with
Kevin) – what little I saw made my day.

Lights Out – Santogold [3:13]
Yeah, this track was selling Bud Light well prior to the album’s
release. I’m a buyer (of Santogold, not the beer).

The Wolf – Miniature Tigers [2:34]
Local AZ band that I was introduced to at a show Kevin was putting on. This track grabbed me there, and I promptly found and downloaded.

American Boy (Ft. Kanye West) – Estelle [4:45]
Played a million times this summer, and I still like it. An essential
“summer jam.”

Good Time – Brazilian Girls [3:47]
The name says it all. I get the feeling that it they would be
excellent to see live.

Bring It On – Little Boots [4:20]
Relatively new to my library, she (Little Boots) put out a mix that I
really enjoyed so I dug deeper and tracked this down.

Look At Me (When I Rock Wichoo) – Black Kids [4:13]
The chanting at the end of the song is why it made the list.

Shut Up And Let Me Go – The Ting Tings [2:51]
The short but sweet star of their popular “indie” album.

Universal Mind Control (UMC) – Common [3:26]
This was the B-side of a pre-album single. The now-released album is
named after this track. Enough said.

Guest list: Brendan Murphy of Source Victoria

This year, I’ve asked a few Phoenix-area musicians/people of interest for their year-end, best-of lists: albums, songs, whatever. It’s only natural I start with Brendan Murphy, singer/guitarist for Source Victoria. And, oh, yeah, he’s my brother, and he’s probably had as much influence on my music tastes as anyone.

Go to to download a zip file of Source Victoria’s full-length debut, The Fast Escape.

Here are his top 14 albums of the year, in no particular order:

Kanye West808s & Heartbreak (Roc-A-Fella)
Frightened RabbitThe Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat)
Sigur RosMed sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust (XL)
The Silver StateCut and Run (Young American)
Bon IverFor Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)
ElbowThe Seldom Seen Kid (Fiction Records)
Magnetic MorningA.M. (Friend or Faux)
Fleet Foxesself-titled (Sub Pop)
RadioheadIn Rainbows (XL)
Vampire Weekendself-titled (XL)
Retribution Gospel Choirself-titled (Caldo Verde)
PortisheadThird (Island)
TV on the RadioDear Science (Interscope)
Ryan Adams and the CardinalsCardinology (Lost Highway)

Favorite albums of 2008.
Favorite song(s) of 2008.

Favorite albums of 2008

“How can it be bullshit to state a personal preference?” – Rob Gordon, High Fidelity

For the second year in a row, I was asked for a top 10 list that will be included in the annual booklet that local record shop Stinkweeds puts out (get the 2007 edition here). Again, it’s difficult to quantify these in a ranking system. Other than the top two albums, the order of these picks can change any day, any minute. Never do I claim these to be the best, just the albums I listened to the most.

That said, I didn’t seek out as much new music as in years past. I’ve tried to spend more time with fewer (hopefully, better) albums than less time with more albums. So it’s almost certain I overlooked some amazing artists/records. But I’m fairly confident the following list is a decent representation of my year in listening:

10. NADA SURF: Lucky (Barsuk)
As long as Nada Surf keeps cranking out no-frills power-pop gems, I’ll keep listening. Lucky hardly seems like a sexy pick in ’08, and I think that’s exactly what I love about it. Substance wins out over gimmicks.
Favorite tracks: See These Bones, Weightless and The Fox.
MP3: Nada Surf | See These Bones

9. RADAR BROS.: Auditorium (Merge)
There’s something calming and meditative about Jim Putnam’s rolling melodies, which come in waves on Auditorium. I feel comfortable in the Radar Bros.’ languid compositions – specifically here on Pomona – when most of the self-important/need-to-feel-different indie rock quickly wears out its welcome.
Favorite tracks: Pomona, Warm Rising Sun, When Cold Air Goes to Sleep.
MP3: Radar Bros. | Warm Rising Sun

8. BORN RUFFIANS: Red, Yellow & Blue (Warp Records)
Here’s hoping misguided comparisons to Vampire Weekend (nothing wrong with VW, mind you) don’t taint this album’s reputation. Red, Yellow & Blue explodes with quirky call-and-response anthems and time-signature trickery, pulled together by the band’s unparalleled chemistry.
Favorite tracks: Badonkadonkey, I Need a Life, Kurt Vonnegut.

7. FLEET FOXES: self-titled (Sub Pop)
Though I’m more enamored with the stunning (but too short) Sun Giant EP, the band’s debut is a beauty. Who can resist those harmonies?
Favorite tracks: White Winter Hymnal, Oliver James, Quiet Houses.
MP3: Fleet Foxes | White Winter Hymnal

6. CADENCE WEAPON: Afterparty Babies (Anti-)
While the Edmonton-based Cadence Weapon introduces hip-hop heads to tech-house beats, few (save for Busdriver, of course) can match his scattered and sophisticated well of rhymes and deliver it with tongue-and-cheek charm.
Favorite tracks: Real Estate, Getting Dumb, Limited Edition OJ Slammer.
MP3: Cadence Weapon | In Search of the Youth Crew

5. Q-TIP: The Renaissance (Universal Motown)
Nostalgia might be clouding my judgment, but Q-Tip returned with what should prove to be a timeless album that solidifies his place in hip-hop lore (as if A Tribe Called Quest didn’t do that already). Production help from Mark Ronson and the late, great J Dilla certainly doesn’t hurt.
Favorite tracks: Move/Renaissance Rap, Life is Better, Dance on Glass.
VIDEOS: Q-Tip | Move and Renaissance Rap

4. BON IVER: For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)
So what if this album, a majority of which was written and recorded in an isolated cabin in Wisconsin, was technically self-released in 2007? Its reissue via Jagjaguwar rightfully introduced Justin Vernon to a wider audience, his soaring falsetto and delicate melodies deserving a place on this year’s lists.
Favorite tracks: Skinny Love, Creature Fear, For Emma.
MP3: Bon Iver | Skinny Love

3. THE HOLD STEADY: Stay Positive (Vagrant Records)
Another album that does nothing to harm the Hold Steady’s reputation as the best bar band in America. If he hasn’t already, singer Craig Finn is becoming a spokesman for an indie generation.
Favorite tracks: Slapped Actress, Yeah Sapphire, Stay Positive.
VIDEO: The Hold Steady | Stay Positive

2. ELBOW: The Seldom Seen Kid (Fiction Records)
A long overdue Mercury Prize for The Seldom Seen Kid confirms what we already knew: Elbow is reaching great heights with its highly stylized indie-rock noir. It may be a tad bloated, but this album is rich with depth, storytelling and grace.
Favorite tracks: One Day Like This, The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver, The Bones of You.
MP3: Elbow | One Day Like This

1. FRIGHTENED RABBIT: The Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat)
It’s the mother of all break-up albums, feelings ranging from rage to sorrow to self-pity. Through his thick Scottish accent, Scott Hutchison’s detailed commentary of love gone wrong is at times painful, agonizing and somehow endearing.
Favorite tracks: Keep Yourself Warm, The Twist, Good Arms vs. Bad Arms, Old Old Fashioned.
MP3: Frightened Rabbit | Keep Yourself Warm

The next five (in no particular order): Damien Jurado, Caught in the Trees (Secretly Canadian); The Walkmen, You & Me (Gigantic); Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer (Sub Pop); The Roots, Rising Down (Def Jam); The Dodos, Visiter (French Kiss).

Albums I may soon regret not including on this list:
The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound; The Kills, Midnight Boom; Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak; The Mighty Underdogs, Droppin’ Science Fiction.

Favorite songs of 2008.
Favorite albums of 2007.
Favorite album of 2006.
Favorite albums of 2005.

Favorite song(s) of 2008

I didn’t want to let myself pick two songs for favorite song of the year. Frankly, it’s a cop-out. Ties are for the weak, like in soccer. Nobody loses! Everybody wins! Lame.

But then I was thinking about these two tracks, the two children I was forced to choose between: One Day Like This by Elbow and Keep Yourself Warm by Frightened Rabbit. Love is the common thread here – its beautiful beginnings (Elbow) and sometimes bitterly destructive end (Frightened Rabbit). If two songs ever matched those polar-opposite emotions, it’s this pair.

Much as I wanted to write off One Day Like This as over-the-top fluff, it became increasingly difficult not to succumb to singer Guy Garvey’s almost-confused admissions to love (“What made me behave that way? / Using words I never say”) and the song’s instrumental swells (aided immensely by a string section). I’ve been told (maybe as a joke?) that I have a heart made of stone, so to hear a writer/singer I admire drop his guard like this certainly offers me a lesson in how to be vulnerable – or at least to show me that there’s a sunny side to all that sad-bastard music I listen to. Call it corny if you must, but One Day Like This works only because it does go over the top, similar to U2′s Beautiful Day; a half-assed effort wouldn’t have cut it.

So if One Day Like This is the first kiss, the butterflies in the stomach, then Keep Yourself Warm is the devastating breakup and the avalanche of emotions that comes with it. It’s hard to put in words any more clearly than singer Scott Hutchison does what a gut punch this song is (though I enjoyed my friend Casey’s description of it as a “withering assault on an ex”). I’d challenge anyone to find a more powerful and forthright line than this: “It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.” (Perfect for sing-alongs!)

I’m not sure why some people think this song is about casual sex and/or one-night stands. It seems obvious to me that Hutchison is tormented here, but the song also serves as his cathartic release, as he mocks his ex in a fit of fury: “Can you see in the dark? / Can you see the look on your face? / The flashing white light’s been turned off / You don’t know know who’s in your bed.”

Ain’t love grand?

I also really liked these songs:
The Baseball Project, Past Time (mp3)
Birdmonster, Born to Be Your Man (mp3)
The Black Angels, Science Killer
Bon Iver, Skinny Love (mp3)
Born Ruffians, Badonkadonkey
The Broken West, Perfect Games
Cadence Weapon, Real Estate and Getting Dumb
Calexico, Writer’s Minor Holiday
Damien Jurado, Dimes and Trials
Death Cab for Cutie, Cath
Destroyer, Blue Flower/Blue Flame (mp3)
The Dodos, Fools and Jodi
Elbow, The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver
Fleet Foxes, Drops in the River, Mykonos and White Winter Hymnal
Frightened Rabbit, Good Arms vs. Bad Arms
The Helio Sequence, Keep Your Eyes Ahead
Her Space Holiday, The Truth Hurts So This Should Be Painless and No More Good Ideas
The Hold Steady, Slapped Actress and Yeah Sapphire
Kidz in the Hall, Drivin’ Down the Block
The Kills, U.R.A. Fever
The Knux, Cappuccino
Magnetic Morning, Spring Unseen
Menahan Street Band, Make the Road By Walking (mp3)
Miniature Tigers, Dino Damage and Tell it to the Volcano
Murs, Can It Be
My Morning Jacket, I’m Amazed
Nada Surf, See These Bones (mp3) and The Fox
Plants and Animals, Bye Bye Bye (mp3)
Q-Tip, Move/Renaissance Rap
Radar Bros., Pomona
The Rosebuds, Bow to the Middle
School of Language, Rockist Part 1 (and Parts 2, 3 and 4, for that matter)
Silver State, Faith You Changed Your Name (video)
Vampire Weekend, The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance
The Walkmen, In the New Year
The Whigs, Right Hand on My Heart
Wolf Parade, The Grey Estates

Favorite song of 2007
Favorite song of 2006
Favorite songs of 2005

Favorite albums of 2007

I intended to stick to last year’s model of just writing about my favorite album of the year until Kimber Lanning, owner of Stinkweeds and Modified, asked me for a top-10 list for a year-end booklet she puts out at Stinkweeds.

So here’s the list, even though, quite honestly, I’m pretty list-ed out at this point.

It should also be noted that The Fast Escape, an album released this month by my brother’s band Source Victoria, is not included. Given my personal ties, it exists on a different plane and is more difficult to put in proper context. I don’t hesitate to say, though, that it belongs alongside any of these.

10. TRAVIS: The Boy With No Name (Sony/Independiente)
It’s too late now, but this record easily could have served as the successor to 2000’s humongous hit “The Man Who,” perhaps a sign that Fran Healy and Co. are comfortable letting the Coldplays of the world fight over the biggest-band-in-the-world title.
Favorite tracks: Selfish Jean, My Eyes.

9. WILCO: Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)
Who knew an album as seemingly innocuous as this would piss people off so much? I didn’t care much for the album upon first and second listens, and I still think drummer Glenn Kotche is severely underutilized. But the musicianship is unmatched (thank you, Nels Cline), and the songs show Jeff Tweedy in a comfortable place, which isn’t a bad thing.
Favorite tracks: You Are My Face, What Light.

8. THE BESNARD LAKES: The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse (Jagjaguwar)
If the black stallion engulfed in flames on the album cover wasn’t enough to convince you, this album is a pretty epic piece of atmospheric space/pych-rock. And if you get the chance to see them live, do it. I have just two words about that: fog machine.
Favorite tracks: Devastation, Disaster.

7. THE BROKEN WEST: I Can’t Go On I’ll Go On (Merge)
An impressive debut from an LA band that reminds me of Summerteeth-era Wilco. Not a dud in the bunch. Seriously. When I was trying to decide what track (or tracks) to put on a year-end CD mix, it was damn near impossible to choose. For the record, I eventually decided on Brass Ring, though Shiftee is probably my favorite song.
Favorite tracks: Shiftee, Brass Ring, Hale Sunrise, on and on.

6. SPOON: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
“Less is more” might be cliche, but I don’t understand why more bands don’t heed its message. That Spoon has delivered such a satisfying album in 10 songs/36 minutes shows the focus and ambition (not to mention self-editing) of a band in its finest moment.
Favorite tracks: You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb, The Underdog.

5. KANYE WEST: Graduation (Roc-A-Fella Records)
Kanye overcomes his shortcomings as a lyricist – “I’m like the fly Malcolm X, buy any jeans necessary” (ugh) – with focused production and impassioned delivery. Cutting out the cumbersome “skits” – yeah, we know, concept record – can’t be overlooked, either. Despite what I said, I really love this record.
Favorite tracks: Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Flashing Lights, Barry Bonds.

4. BAND OF HORSES: Cease to Begin (Sub Pop)
I love that Ben Bridwell, with his endearing falsetto, can pull off potentially trite lines – “The world is such a wonderful place” – without causing so much as an eyeroll or snicker from my direction. I’ve either gotten a little soft or Bridwell just writes/sings with a sincere passion in what he believes. I say the latter.
Favorite tracks: Ode to LRC, No One’s Gonna Love You, Islands on the Coast.

3. EL-P: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (Definitive Jux)
Even if El-P takes himself a little too seriously, his unease and paranoia make for a sobering dose of reality. When so many rappers live in a fantasy world, El-P delivers post-9/11 doom and gloom in gritty Orwellian fashion. Favorite tracks: Smithereens (Stop Cryin’), The Overly Dramatic Truth, Flyentology (specifically, the Cassettes Won’t listen remix).

2. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: Challengers (Matador)
I don’t know how they do it, but the New Pornographers just crank out hit after hit. It took me about a month before diving into this album, and once I did I was hooked. Dan Bejar’s three contributions – Myriad Harbour (song of the year), Entering White Cecilia and The Spirit of Giving – anchor the album. Favorite tracks: Myriad Harbour, The Spirit of Giving, Mutiny, I Promise You.

1. THE NATIONAL: Boxer (Beggars Banquet)
I’ve expended quite a bit of mental energy debating with myself over which National record is better: Alligator (favorite of ’05) or Boxer. And I still haven’t come up with an answer. It’s probably a fool’s errand to even try comparing. What I loved about Alligator – mainly its somewhat drastic emotional ebb and flow – hardly exists on Boxer, a more even-keeled, patient album. It wows you with understated but overwhelming arrangements and fewer vocal flare-ups – like, say, on Abel or Mr. November. It’s tempting to call Boxer the group’s masterpiece, but that would mean the National has reached its peak. And I hardly think that’s the case. Given the pattern, I already have an idea what my favorite album of 2009 will be. Favorite tracks: Apartment Story, Slow Show, Ada, Mistaken for Strangers.

Albums that, on any other day, could be on this list: Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger; Busdriver, RoadKillOvercoat; Common, Finding Forever; Menomena, Friend and Foe; Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha; The Ponys, Turn the Lights Out; Jay-Z, American Gangster; St. Vincent, Marry Me.

Sorry, I’m just not that into you: Panda Bear, Person Pitch (I’m trying really hard, though!); Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?; Amy Winehouse, Back to Black; The White Stripes, Icky Thump; Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala.

Need more time: LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver; Lupe Fiasco, The Cool; Wu-Tang Clan, 8 Diagrams; Ghostface Killah, Big Doe Rehab.

Five favorite shows of the year, in no particular order:
Travis, Marquee Theatre in Tempe, Nov. 25 (recap).
Menomena, Rhythm Room in Phoenix, March 11 (recap).
The National with St. Vincent, The Wiltern in Los Angeles, Sept. 28.
The Hold Steady, The Brickhouse in Phoenix, June 2.
DJ Z-Trip, The Brickhouse in Phoenix, Aug. 22 (review at

Favorite song of 2007

Disclaimer No. 1: “How can it be bullshit to state a personal preference?” – Rob Gordon, High Fidelity.

Disclaimer No. 2: I am mostly sticking to last year’s idea that year-end lists are too hard to quantify. I said, and I quote: “The difference between, say, my 13th and sixth favorite albums is probably negligible.” And, yes, I just quoted myself (what a dick). However, I did put together a top 10 list of albums for a booklet that Stinkweeds, a local indie record store, puts out at the end of the year. I’ll share that here in the next week or so.

OK, enough with the fine print.

Favorite song of 2007:
The New Pornographers, Myriad Harbour
(From Challengers, on Matador Records; available at eMusic.)

In theory, this shouldn’t make much sense. I have no special attachment or nostalgic connection to New York, the city about which Dan Bejar sings with equal parts fascination and disdain. I’ve been there just twice, though the second time was this past September, a fact that might have heightened my reaction to the song, silly as that seems.

Though I think Myriad Harbour could represent the disconnect between a visitor and any foreign city, New York has a way of intensely magnifying that unnerving feeling of not belonging. For a desert rat like myself, it was easy to feel lost and out of place. Bejar sums up that emotion in the final verse: “Stranded at Bleeker and Broadway / Looking for something to do / Someone somewhere asked me is there anything in particular I can help you with? / All I ever want to help with was you.”

Bejar’s not the first, and he certainly won’t be the last, to write about New York. But he does it in a conversational tone that engenders a certain sympathy in the listener, as if you can really relate to him. I’ve convinced myself that I would never make it in New York, that (cliche as it sounds) I prefer the laid-back style of the West, where dressing up means jeans and a collared shirt. But the allure – people in constant motion, the sights, the sounds – is hard to resist. And here at least Bejar has humanized those fears instead of bowing down to the great city.

  • The New Pornographers | Myriad Harbour
  • The New Pornographers | Myriad Harbour (live on KCRW) (previous post)

I also really liked these songs (in no particular order):
The National, Apartment Story and Blank Slate (iTunes bonus).
Band of Horses, No One’s Gonna Love You.
Travis, My Eyes.
The New Pornographers, The Spirit of Giving.
Andrew Bird, Plasticities.
The Besnard Lakes, Devastation.
Busdriver, Less Yes’s, More No’s.
Kanye West, Can’t Tell Me Nothing.
Low, Murderer and Violent Past.
Kings of Leon, Fans.
Pharoahe Monch, Push.
Spoon, You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb.
Silverchair, Straight Lines.
Aqueduct, Keep it Together.
Wilco, You Are My Face.
Ryan Adams, Two and Halloweenhead.
The Broken West, Shiftee and Brass Ring.

Favorite song of 2006.
Favorite album of 2006.
Favorite songs of 2005.
Favorite albums of 2005.

Pigeon John’s Top 10 Cities to Rock Shows

Our friends at Quannum wanted to let us in on Pigeon John’s top 10 list for 2006: Top 10 Cities to Rock Shows. I saw PJ and Busdriver in Scottsdale, which, unfortunately, did not make the list. But Tucson did. Big ups to the Old Pueblo.

This list is pretty hilarious, especially when he gives shouts out to Montana. Montana?!? OK, when Phoenix/Scottsdale is falling behind Missoula, Montana, I know we have our work cut out for us.
Be sure to check out PJ’s Pigeon John … and the Summertime Pool Party.

1. Whittier, CA
Why? All the boys look like Morrisey and all the girls look like they dropped out of heaven in the 50′s…

2. Missoula, MT
Why? Unsuspecting mountain people with huge brains and hands filled with beer mugs hug you and make you feel special.

3. Tuscon, AZ
Why? Haunted youth stroll the streets lost and amused. The prettiest sunsets on Earth and the underage drink scary amounts of Bud Lite. Busdriver and I sat back and gawked.

4. Memphis, TN
Why? The South did rise this year. Me and Slim Kid Tre drove in expecting 20 but were blown away at the hundreds of pirates that came. The girls are pretty Janis Joplins and the boys wear Gucci shoes…with no socks.

5. Colorado Springs, CO
Why? The bleek and grey industry town warms my soul. Tea and Vodka greet my hands and the people that come to the shows are thirsty for truth and will not take lies for an answer.

6. Orlando, FL
Why? The Social. The scene is young enough not to be stuck up. Flynn from LA Symphony lives there and if you’re single, this place will put you in a choke hold.

7. NYC
Why? Its the old gangster grandfather who still dates 23 year old lawyers from Sweden. You have to prove yourself … to him … but not to the transplants who slip on the NYC culture like cheap fake designer coat. … screw them.

8. Seattle, WA
Why? The city dwells in a thick history of slickness. The people will always be cooler than you without trying. Chop Suey’s the best place to play. Its small, red and filled with danger.

9. Aspen, CO
Why? The rich and homeless live together. The women wear furs as big and flowing as the sea. The mountians sing praises to their king and the shows are always solded out.

10. Sydney, Australia
Why? Oz is like a huge California. The food is good, the drinks are good. Everything is good. Jam Recordings (my Oz label), treat you like Wesley Snipes in 1995. I met great friends out there and got lounge with with guys from Silverchair at The Establishment. The 2007 black Range Sport speed fast following the silver 2007 BMW M3 through the wet street of Sydney. It was beautiful.

Favorite album of 2006

By the time I first saw Band of Horses this year in March, I only barely recognized their name and had little to no clue if going to that show, a last-minute decision, would even be worth it. Three live shows, a digital album and vinyl purchase later, Everything All the Time (Sub Pop) was pretty much a shoo-in as my favorite album this year.

I’m not sure I’d put it on the same pedestal as my pick from last year (The National’s Alligator), but Band of Horses bring something so needed amid the disaffected and mopey masses of indie rock: a genuine affability. Their music is as approachable as the guys are likable. A live show only supports the point. Frontman Ben Bridwell’s dude-man personality is charming and a welcome change from performers who take themselves too seriously.

Then there’s the small matter of the album, which seems an honest reflection of the group’s engaging attitude. Put simply, these are songs that are easy to like. They are not pretentious nor do they try too hard. In June, I wrote for Mars Needs Guitars that The Great Salt Lake had “a bit of grandeur in the sound.” Really, the same could be said about the entire album. Comparisons to My Morning Jacket and the Shins make sense but shouldn’t be taken too literally. Band of Horses strikes a balance between the Shins’ fragile guitar tip-toeing and MMJ’s cumbersome jamming.

When I’m sure The Funeral or The Great Salt Lake are the album’s high points, Monsters makes me rethink it all. These are big, sprawling songs, but they never threaten to burden the album with an overwrought sense of self-importance.

It’s very possible, and I’m no musician, that Everything All the Time is not a marvel of technical musicianship. But sincerity is the great equalizer. How does an album make you feel? Warm and welcome or distant and indifferent? I can’t imagine feeling more invited and comfortable than I do when I listen to this album.

Ten more albums I also really enjoyed (in no particular order):

Favorite song of 2006

By about August, I had begun formulating year-end lists in my head. I was mentally shuffling songs and albums up and down and back and forth when it finally hit me earlier this month: Who cares? The overwhelming volume of year-end lists (Largehearted Boy is keeping track: A-M and N-Z) has watered down the process, although I still kept tabs on lists from bloggers and writers I especially admire (Chromewaves, Gorilla vs. Bear, Marathonpacks, Bows + Arrows, for starters).

There is nothing wrong with lists (I made two last year). At best they are tangible reminders of a year that was; at worst they are masturbatory exercises of self-importance. They do open up the author to all sorts of criticism (“What? No, TV on the Radio?!?”), although that’s half the fun, I suppose.

For me, the difference between, say, my 13th and sixth favorite albums is probably negligible and hard to quantify. So instead, I’ve whittled it down to one song and one album that moved me or commanded a majority of my attention.

Favorite song of 2006:
Elvis Perkins, While You Were Sleeping
(From Ash Wednesday, self-released in 2006 and due out on XL in February 2007.)

In the newspaper business (of which I’m a part), you’re taught that the lead to a story is vital – it will determine if someone continues to read a story. It’s a good analogy for records, though, in the case of While You Were Sleeping, track No. 1 on Ash Wednesday, I kept doubling back to listen on repeat.

No doubt, the rest of the album is golden. But While You Were Sleeping is something else: insightful, pretty, sad, plaintive. From the first note, when an acoustic guitar gently dives into what NPR calls “midnight ruminations of an insomniac,” the song slowly builds layer upon layer of instrumentation – acoustic guitar gives way to bass gives way to drum beat gives way to horns.

But Perkins’ writing – the imagery – carries the song. He’s singing to someone long asleep, a winding narrative of what is passing this person by in the stillness of slumber: “While you were sleeping, the time changed / all of your things were rearranged.” It’s a simple yet sort of eerie idea: that the world, time, people don’t stop just because you do.

Favorite line:
“While you were sleeping the money died /
machines were harmless /
and the Earth sighed.”

Elvis Perkins | While You Were Sleeping

I also really liked these:
Band of Horses, The Great Salt Lake.
Josh Ritter, Girl in the War.
The Walkmen, All Hands and the Cook.
The Long Winters, Hindsight.
The Roots (feat. Peedi Peedi and Bunny Sigler), Long Time.

Favorite songs of 2005.
Favorite albums of 2005.