without further ado, top five records of the year n' shit.
5. Des Ark/Ben Davis-Battle Of The Beards
Besides being a DJ at WQFS, getting to see Des Ark play numerous times a year has been far and away the most rewarding aspect of the music scene in North Carolina. Aimee Argote, the voice behind the quietly vicious, and devastating music of Des Ark, has played a WQFS show each year I have been at Guilford, and getting to know her has been lots of fun. I was not really into half of this record, that being the half that she didn't write (Ben Davis' side). Yet her five tracks here are five of the most simultaneously somber, hungry and powerful songs I've heard all year, and by any artist, ever. Pitchfork Media compared her to Bright Eyes, and I was like, what the fuck? Her lyrics are dark, but far more articulate and honest than anything Conor Oberst could ever touch. I don't think I've ever been to a Des Ark show where half the audience didn't start sobbing. I also don't think I've ever heard of a band that lost its entire rhythm section, didn't bother to replace it, and made an instantly classic album like this one. It came along at a time when I really needed it in my life, and I am really thankful for it. It's perfect for spending night after lonely night, spinning it, sitting on your roof and smoking cigarettes, like I did this summer.
4. Radiohead-In Rainbows
I haven't really listened to Radiohead since I was 14, and with this record I was able to fall in love with them all over again. Don't get me wrong, Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief were great records in their own right, but they just didn't really hit me like their earlier stuff. Different writers have claimed In Rainbows to be their most "accessible" record since Ok Computer, or the sign of their "coming back to earth." While I think claiming that a record sucks because it is too weird, there is something to be said for a certain level of accessibility. This record allows you to get out of it what you put into, where as with their last three records, I felt like there was sort of something you had to "get" when listening to them. This is Radiohead back to their ambiguously alienated, brooding, yet user friendly self, while still remembering that the last three records they made were incredibly innovative, and they need not abandon the blueprints they created. It's the sound of a band who reached the peak of a sound they were working with, and managed to find a brand new road to go down. And the music is good, too.
3. Explosions In The Sky-All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone
So I know a lot of people hate on Explosions In The Sky, especially this record, but seriously, I really think they are one of the best bands in the world. The beautiful cover art serves as the perfect introduction to this record, appropriately considering that their music is kind of like a painting. Each note, crescendo, crash and silence seems to represent another gorgeous brushstroke in their quest to make...uh, some kind of sweet painting. Anyway, from the lost in the flood/searching in the dark cover art that certainly brings to mind images of Hurricane Katrina, or just the sad and disconnected state of humanity, you know from the start that they are trying to get something across to you. It may be hard to notice if all of this instrumental bullshit sounds the same to you, but here they have abandoned everything that made their previous albums work so perfectly, and have come up with something else entirely that is somehow also pretty much perfect. They have songs under the five minute mark. They're kind of done with the basic soft/crescendo/loud/quiet structure they working with, a structure that spawned dozens of lousy imitators with no ear for melody. Instead, they succeed more than ever in writing songs so fitting and colorful that there is absolutely, positively, more assurance than ever that a vocalist would be useless here. The music itself fills the void, and then some. Unlike their previous work, these songs don't necessarily work as individual songs. This album requires a focused listen from beginning to end, a target that unfortunately may miss the mark for people who don't have the time or energy for that kind of thing. I first fell in love with it driving around the highways and backroads of their homestate of Texas over spring break. I have found few albums more perfect for a long, lonesome car ride than this one. A great record for a time of transition, loneliness, reflection, heartbreak, and eventual catharsis.
2. The Everybodyfields-Nothing Is Okay
This year I discovered, or re-discovered, my love for country music, and the band that singlehandedly did the most for me in this process was Johnson City, TN's The Everybodyfields. My first interaction with them was smoking pot with guitarist/vocalist Sam Quinn at the Shakori Hills bluegrass festival last fall. We talked about playing heavy metal and "Jungleland" by Bruce Springsteen, and I suppose it was all set from there on out. They describe their songs as being about "leaving, losing, and home." I think that about sums this record up perfectly. Sam and Jill Andrews, the other half of the band, used to date very seriously, and broke up shortly before the release of their first record, Halfway There: Electricity and The South. Subsequently, they have a consistent track record of writing and performing country music in a way that only ex-lovers could: passionately, regretfully, and honestly. The recording process of this album was particularly hard on the band, as the tension between Sam and Jill had escalated to such a level that, at several points, they were near canning the whole thing. This whiskey-induced desire to give up and go home to their lonely beds seeps through every pore of this record. It's haunted by the ghosts of the american south, the ghosts of country music of old, all the Johnny/June and Gram/Emmylou combinations there ever were, and many, many, empty handles of Jack Daniels. Musically speaking, it brings to mind the influence of 1970's, Comes A Time, Harvest era Neil Young, as well as Gillian Welch and The Band. This is certainly a record you can spend many lonely nights with, if you want to.
"I combed my hair, it looked just right. And went out to go to these places, I go."
1. The National-Boxer
Sometimes that perfect album comes along at the time in your life right when you need it most. Boxer was that record for me this year, perhaps the last two or even three years. I first saw them open for the Arcade Fire in may. I was really stoned and had great seats, and they started playing as soon as I sat down. I remember very little about their set except for how in awe i was, and how severely they blew the Arcade Fire out of the water that night. While this record did not hit me at first, in due time, it turned out to be exactly what I needed for a time where depression, happiness, deep reflection, and transition were hitting me all at once. There is as much variety within the lyrics of each song on this record, which is one of the many things that makes it so perfect. If you funneled all the decades of American folk, punk, alternative and indie into one band, that would be The National. In fact, if I could think of any one band right now that might be the perfect American band, it would be The National. They explore themes of alienation, aging, losing friends, falling in love, basically concepts involving both the triumph and downfall of the American dream.
The romanticization of the monotonous happenings of everyday life, the detailed descriptions of seemingly irrelevant place, weave in and out of these songs, bringing to mind the early music of Bruce Springsteen. While there's no Crazy Janey, Mission Man, or Wild Billy in any of these songs, each song describes interactions between anonymous American characters in anonymous American places, allowing the listener to put themselves into the song perhaps more easily than Springsteen allowed for. They can make a song about staying indoors and listening to records ("Apartment Story," the single of which features a gorgeous b-side cover/re-interpreation of Springsteen's "Mansion On The Hill") sound just as heartfelt and dying for empathy as any Springsteen song ever did. They turn the seemingly boring details of everyday life into poetry, assuring the listener that they, just as much as anyone, have a story to tell. It is so easy to listen to this record, and so easy to get out of it exactly what you want from it. This year, I have spent many mornings, afternoons, and nights with this record, and I have written so much about it that, at this point, all I can say anymore is just how fucking important it has been for me. Almost in such a way where, if you listen to it, I would be kind of embarassed as to what you might think of me.