Jesse Raub is a reviewer here at Punknews.org -ed
Greetings folks, and welcome to my list. This was a big year for me due to the launch of my own site, Bitter Press, which has sort of been put on hold during these crazy holiday seasons. So while you aren't getting as much of me as you'd like, I do want to remind everyone that you can relive the glory days with over two hundred Jesse reviews, prime, ripe, and ready for readin'. As you probably know, I wasted this year mainly listening to the Rolling Stones, Iron Maiden, the Kinks and Belle and Sebastian. My bad. But I have a solid top fifteen list of releases from this year that definitely deserve attention! So ignoring any current events, any tragic deaths, and anything that really happened this year, let's get to the albums!
Top 15 Albums
#15. Talib Kweli - Eardrum
Talib Kweli is the most technically proficient rapper out there. And he had a great social consciousness to his songs. I don't know where he went on this album, but the production isn't memorable, and the rhymes are sort of off on half the tracks. But still, some really standout work for the hip-hop game in the post-Kanye years where rap music is really struggling.
#14. Pissed Jeans - Hope For Men
It's pretty visceral, and sounds like the band is trying to rip a dumbed down Lords, complete with a mushmouthed Chris Owens impression. But it's not bad, you know? I didn't listen to that many albums this year. Sue me. They do some interesting stuff, plus have one of the coolest band names. But seriously, it really sounds like they're trying to rip off Lords. I guess it'll hold over until the next Lords album.
#13. Kanye West - Graduation
What can I say? It's a very disappointing album for Kanye West, but to be honest, it's a much stronger effort than most hip-hop I've heard this year. Okay, scratch that. As a hip-hop album, this is trash. All the rhymes are whack. But Kanye has the golden touch as a producer. And the beats are solid on most of the songs. Just pretend that "Drunk and Hot Girls" doesn't exist. And automatically block out any reference to fashion designers. To be honest, I only listened to this album a few times, but it's still good enough to earn a spot on the list. But let's be honest, rap music will forever be tainted. Like Michael Jackson before him, Kanye has managed to create songs that are attention grabbing, catchy, well-written and accessible to all. But Kanye's work as a producer almost feels like an intentional sabotage on other rappers who can't work around the elaborate beats that he constructs. Kanye has turned rap music on its head. You can't deny that fact. I solely blame Kanye for ruining rap music, but we'll address this later on in the list.
#12. Liars - Liars
These dudes went completely droning and ambient last year, so no one expected this shit to come about the way it did. Everyone's favorite samplers brought the rock with this self-titled album. Not quite a return to their dance-punk ways from their debut, the guys sort of ran their original sound through the meat grinder of their last two albums. It's a wonderful effect, but I didn't find it that appealing this year. It would probably be higher in the list if I was in the mood.
#11. The Shins- Wincing the Night Away
James Mercer can write pop songs around the best of them. And this album contains some of his best work yet. However, it also contains a song that sounds like a retarded Beck trying to get jiggy with some jazz flute. Not a real cohesiveness to this album, but damn if the singles aren't flawless. It's really hard to not like enjoyable music.
#10. Travis Morrison Hellfighters - All Y'All
Travis was really hitting his stride with D-Plan on Change, in my opinion. So it's nice to hear some return to that nicely polished sound. Working with this new band allows him some freedom in the instrumentation, and keeping with his focus on himself allows himself some freedom with the songwriting. A funky but keyed down release, perfect for a late night groove. Plus, Travis has really gotten ahold of his "yeah"s and toned âem down a bit.
#9. Ted Leo/Pharmacists - Living with the Living
Touch and Go
Ted Leo is the man, but he does tend to write too many songs for his album. Three songs less and this album would have been all gold. Regardless, Bob Dylan starts out one of his older songs with some rubbish about how most songs these days were written up in this place called Tin Pan Alley, but that the next song was written right here in the United States. Living with the Living was definitely written in the United States. After the driving effort Ted put into his music and message about getting Bush out of office, the letdown and regret was a crushing blow to the optimism presented. A few years later and Ted has some frustrations to bang out ("Bomb. Repeat. Bomb") but is also ready to own his letdown, singing "Everyone needs a Sunday sometimes" on "La Costa Brava." Unfortunately, some of the songs are just misses. We're looking for solidarity here, people. Like I said, three less songs that will remain nameless, and the album would have been at least at slot number four.
#8. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
What can I say about the best live band out there? The album is great, the songs are great, the music is awesomely written and well performed â- really a stellar release. Nothing really around to give it demerit. I guess I just didn't like it as much as the albums lower on the list.
#7. Blonde Redhead - 23
After crafting the gorgeous melancholy melodies of Misery Is a Butterfly, everyone's favorite Japanese/Italian trio came back this year with some shoegazin' guitars and steady driving rhythms. The overall result is a haunting extension of the previous album, simplifying the song structure but diversifying the tones presented. The very soft and atmospheric "The Dress" gives way to the driving "Spring and by Summer Fall." Brilliant.
#6. Feist - The Reminder
What can you say about a well-written album? Leslie Feist has put in her time with punk and indie bands in Canada for years, and just now she's getting some well-deserved recognition. The last album she put out revolved around a distinct vocal jazz style with electronic sounding instruments. This one is a warm assortment of classic vocal jazz stylings over acoustic accompaniments.
#5. Ghostface Killah - The Big Doe Rehab
You can't mess with Ghostface. This guy fucking slays every rhyme he attempts. And to be honest, I think MF Doom blows, and Fishscale wasn't as remarkable as it could've been. This time he's partnered with some dudes who understand that the beats aren't meant to outshine the rhymes. Subject matter be damned, Ghostface is the only MC out there keeping shit fresh while denying the Kanye craze. Ghostface doesn't need Mr. West to save his career, and he will always outshine Kanye in the rap game. Outshine? Fuck. Ghostface destroys Kanye. Really, we're all holding out for the new kids to grow up Ghostface. Lord knows Snoop Dogg isn't doing anything musically. And just to clarify, Ghostface can even make Method Man sound good again. Just take a listen to "Yolanda's House."
#4. 31 Knots - The Days and Nights of Everything Everywhere
This release blew me away. Polyvinyl is known for their quirky pop albums, and no one expected a post-hardcore release complete with dramatic tendencies to come out. Laden with samples and intricate riffs, the songs weave in and out following the instrumentation wherever it takes them. It sounds like nothing else I've ever heard in my life, and the album is extremely consistent from start to finish. Just mind-blowingly good.
#3. The Weakerthans - Reunion Tour
The Weakerthans have always been a favorite of mine ever since I heard a track from Left and Leaving on a Hopeless comp so long ago. And now they've grown even further, taking a slight edge off their country sound for something a little more polished and mechanical. That doesn't mean that the songs are any less warm and emotional. And like all albums by Samson and crew, the power of the songs descend on you after your third or fourth listen when you're actually paying attention to the lyrics. This one also features a song told from the point of view of a cat. The same cat from the last album, Virtute, if I'm not mistaken. "Elegy for Gump Worsley" takes a key from the spoken word affectations of "Without Mythologies." And in the end, you're always left with a smile on your face.
#2. Big Business - Here Comes the Waterworks
Viciously light-hearted but voraciously heavy sounding, I didn't know what to expect from Big Business after their fantastic collaboration with Melvins as their rhythm section. But they really outdid themselves. Pounding drums, fat bass lines, and some howling over the top of it all. It's some of the best organized music, yet it flows organically from song to song. They allowed a bit more room in song structures, allowing different types of rhythms and tempos to saturate.
#1. Akimbo - Navigating the Bronze
Well shit, did you expect anything different? Hands down the one album that kills me every time I listen to it is this one. This is the album I'd been waiting to hear ever since I saw Akimbo blow the shit out of the Ascot Room four years ago. The album is a non-stop, relentless barrage of the senses, slaughtering every demon and orc and most definitely trampling every kobold in its path. In fact, the drum fills in the beginning of "Wizard Van Wizard" have been known to crush Kobold skulls aurally. The songs speak for themselves, thundering through the speakers with digital production for the first time with Chris Owens from Lords at the helm, and they're saying that they're taking no prisoners. Your AC doesn't even matter, âcause these dudes just threatened a critical. All right, enough with the clichÃ©s and D&D references. The band has executed restraint for the first time, drawing back on riffs so fast that they grew muddy and playing up solid and loud riffs that are so simple that they become complex. "Huge Muscles" pounds through with a calculated chaos. "Lungless" starts out oppressively slow, and "The Curse of King David" is one of the heaviest metal shuffles I've ever heard. I can't even begin to describe how this album feels new every time I play it. It's like a future gift from the Gods of Rock and Roll Music that's been secretly blessed by the Lesser Gods of Heavy Metal. Five years from now, when Akimbo has gone Epic and destroyed every other band with their +5 broadsword of doom, you'll be thankful that you read this list and bought this album. They'll only spare those who pay tribute.
Spurned by hatred and bitterness, I really feel like there are some albums that need to be knocked down a few pegs. First of all, we're going to ride hard on the back of Bruce Springsteen. How he ever released Magic is beyond me. That shitpile refuses to go down smooth. And I'm a Boss apologist. I gave him tons of slack on Devils and Dust, and I think that one's a fine album. Get your shit together, Bruce. The Arcade Fire also make me want to vomit. Every time I like one of their songs, it turns into instant ipecac. Win Butler writes stuff that poisons my ears. If this band gained minor popularity, I'd feel okay. But the Arcade Fire has made everyone think that they are indie rock connoisseurs, and no amount of international stardom or performances with David Bowie can redeem the volcano of diarrhea that is the song "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations." Next. Modest Mouse. Man. They bring in Johnny Marr and can't even pull it off with a ringer. Isaac Brock needs to do more hallucinogens and write songs that just ramble on again. Or go back and try and find out where he went wrong after Good News, because frankly that was a pretty great album to gain that much fame and notoriety. Yadda yadda yadad, I was bored by Grinderman, Animal Collective and Panda Bear were cooler when they wrote songs with animals in them, and I still can't stand the voice of that guy from Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah.
Jesse vs 2008
And to be honest, the only thing I'm looking forward to in 2008 is the death of the record industry. Let us all pray that we will be bathing in its still smoldering ashes with grins of glee on our face. Well, I guess there's also another Akimbo album, and a new Lords album too. And probably some cool stuff on Bitter Press.