Tag Archives: 2008

The Best Music of 2008

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2008 was a pretty good year for new music.

The Best albums released in 2008 (Album –  Artist):

  1. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark –  Drive-By Truckers
  2. The Evening Descends –  Evangelicals
  3. The Chemistry of Common Life –  F**ked Up
  4. At Mount Zoomer –  Wolf Parade
  5. HLLLYH –  The Mae Shi
  6. Hold On Now, Youngster… –  Los Campesinos!
  7. Liver! Lung! FR! –  Frightened Rabbit
  8. Ice Cream Spiritual –  Ponytail
  9. Jim –  Jamie Lidell
  10. Heretic Pride –  The Mountain Goats

“You! Me! Dancing!” by Los Campesinos!, from their debut album, Hold On Now, Youngster… (also found on the 2007 EP Sticking Fingers Into Sockets)

The rest of the best (in no particular order):

  • 808s & Heartbreak –  Kanye West
  • Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
  • Third –  Portishead
  • We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed –  Los Campesinos!
  • Vivian Girls –  Vivian Girls
  • In The Future –  Black Mountain
  • Distortion – The Magnetic Fields
  • Ferndorf –  Hauschka
  • Life…The Best Game in Town –  Harvey Milk
  • Cities of Glass –  AIDS Wolf
  • Microcastle –  Deerhunter
  • The Odd Couple –  Gnarls Barkley
  • Skeleton –  Abe Vigoda
  • The Midnight Organ Fight –  Frightened Rabbit
  • The Twilight Sad Killed My Parents and Hit the Road –  The Twilight Sad
  • Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea – Silver Jews
  • Methods: (EP) –  Imperial China
  • Sing Along (EP)  –  Caverns
  • Kittens! (EP)  –  Caverns
  • Music Needs You –  Ryan Blotnick
  • Red, Yellow & Blue –  Born Ruffians
  • A Certain Feeling –  Bodies of Water
  • Nouns –  No Age
  • Smile –  Boris
  • Pop-Up –  Yelle
  • Made In The Dark –  Hot Chip
  • Lost and Found –  The Dexateens
  • Long Gone And Nearly There –  Julie Ocean
  • Litany of Echoes –  James Blackshaw
  • Arm’s Way –  Islands
  • Magnificent Fiend –  Howlin’ Rain
  • High Places –  High Places
  • Flight Of The Conchords –  Flight Of The Conchords
  • Christmas On Mars (Soundtrack)  –  The Flaming Lips
  • Street Horrrsing –  F**k Buttons
  • Visiter –  The Dodos
  • Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us –  Death Vessel
  • Drippers and  Bonus Drippers –  Black Moth Super Rainbow
  • Rip It Off –  Times New Viking

Best Re-issue of 2008:

  1. Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul –  Otis Redding

– R.H.

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The Best Albums of 2008 :

1. Is it the Sea – Bonnie Prince Billy : Our favorite melancountry superstar delivers a live album that reminds one of his greatness while examining it in a whole new light.

2. Stay Positive – The Hold Steady : Working class is not a label that readily describes Craig Finn and co but their tales of townies and misguided teenagers are just as funny, touching and perfect in their own scrappy way as ever. The world’s best bar music as interpreted by indie elitists.

3. Glasvegas – Glasvegas : Melodic catharsis in spades delivered by four Glasgowians. This young band is not infallible as a whispered poem over Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata suffers in comparison to the original but they got spirit, energy and stories of absent fathers, wounded teens and overall angst that really should not work as well as they do.

4. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed – Los Campesinos : Cheeky and clever but much more than that. Nihilists on the outside but pop craftsmen at heart, their ruminations on youth’s assured end in dejected failure are all good fun until you stop and realize they’re telling you the party’s going to be over and there’s nothing you can do.

5. Microcastle – Deerhunter : There’s something ethereal about this band and especially this album. Playing with avant garde ideas without sacrificing listenability, these ambassadors of indie keep winning.

6. You and Me – The Walkmen : The Bob Dylan comparisons become ever more pronounced especially with frontman Hamilton Leithauser affecting nasally intonations. Still, their chief appeal is heartfelt, esoteric storytelling, aged and cackling.

7. Skeletal Lamping – Of Montreal : The hype machine finally broke down and Kevin Barnes began to tumble critically while selling out shows. The music, however, is just as inventive and grand as it ever was. Though lacking the darkness of Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Barnes’ latest is rife with the new ideas he keeps discovering and surely will stand more prominently in the cannon once the sobering influence of time takes hold.

8. Modern Guilt – Beck : The dream team of Beck and The Gray Album mastermind Dangermouse creates surprisingly ignored quality tunes. Beck is still haunted by his demons from Sea Change but he still finds time to offer Dangermouse jubilant, sampled pop ditties to wash down the depression.

9. Saturnalia – The Gutter Twins : An album that abounds with apocalypse throughout as two musical legends push each other to the limits of their sensibilities, one high the other low.

10.That Lucky Old Sun – Brian Wilson : A musical legend who seems to be experimenting with the harmonies and arrangements that have fascinated him throughout his career not for the audience’s benefit but his own. The results are as reliably stunning as ever.

Honorable Mention: 808s and Hearbreak – Kanye West, Untitled – Nas, A Larum – Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, The ’59 Sound – The Gaslight Anthem

– Vman

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Review: ‘Ferndorf’ by Hauschka

Ferndorf, the title of Hauschka’s new album, translates to “distant village.” That might just be where you end up after listening to the pleasantly soft, ambient album.

Or, you might just stay right in your place; only accompanied by the careful tunes of Hauschka. Ferndorf is very good as ambient music after all, not a sweeping epic to transport you but rather a guide to your self.

Best known as a pianist who likes to play with electronic instruments, composer Volker Bertelmann (recording as Hauschka) adds a string duo into the mix for most of the songs on Ferndorf. And it works.

Ferndorf is the German composer’s fourth full-length as Hauschka and the strings truly are a big deal. It is hard not to get hypnotized by the piano but the string accompaniment becomes not just accompaniment but a major player, transfixing ears right alongside the piano.

Bertelmann has become known for his use of the prepared piano, an instrument which he dedicated an entire album to (2005’s appropriately titled The Prepared Piano). His use of this instrument emphasizes his categorization as an experimental, avant-garde artist. A prepared piano is simply a piano but with assorted objects stuck inside and affixed to the piano’s strings; the modifications to the classic instrument create another world of sounds.

Ferndorf is also notable for its album-as-one-piece mentality. The record works on a whole, as no songs dare stray from the vocals-less, experimental chamber pop aesthetic Bertelmann marks as Ferndorf’s.

The album also flows beautifully. Only a few songs on the record do not transition seamlessly with one another (and this only due to a break in music, not poor juxtaposition).

While a plus with this album, some might consider the seamlessness a drawback. Because of Ferndorf’s fluidity there are no stand-out tracks. All the songs are quality ones but none of them will be making the year-end best songs list. That’s because this is an album.

It’s not a collection you can categorize in the “buy one song from iTunes, discard the rest” trash bin. Ferndorf is a piece meant to be consumed as a whole.

Not that you cannot enjoy the songs individually, for you certainly can. You just won’t be walking away with a brilliant pop hook stuck in your head.

All the songs on the 12-track disc are given German titles, save for the opening and closing songs.

“Blue Bicycle” starts the album off with a classy piano refrain that swells into evolution as the strings come into introduce Ferndorf as one you will not mind playing again and again (perhaps in the background, but nonetheless).

“Weeks of Rain” closes the set on a mildly somber note. The reflective piano of the song would not be classified as twee by anyone with their emotions in order. The song simply ends somewhat abruptly without any finishing grandiose flourishes. You might not even notice the album is over.

But when you do notice, you press repeat.

– R.H.

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Review: The Dark Knight

The best comic book adaptation of all time. Heath Ledger is stunning.

-Vman

I agree. Everyone is stunning. The Nolans present a brilliant and dark film. Gary Oldman is great. Christian Bale’s Batman is the definitive screen portrait. His Bruce Wayne is a pitch-perfect playboy caricature. Heath Ledger is creepy, disturbing and utterly brilliant. He is the Joker. The underrated score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Aaron Eckhart puts on a successful performance. Maggie Gyllenhaal works out well as the love interest.

This is a pretty great movie. The Dark Knight is another testament to the fact that Batman is the best superhero character ever created.

– R.H.

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Review: The Wackness

A really great movie.

The performances are great. The film often looks really beautiful. There’s one shot, near the end of the film, that is just plain gorgeous. We see the characters of the excellently mopey and teenage Josh Peck and the brilliant Sir Ben Kingsley (Why hasn’t he overtaken Jack Nicholson yet? (or has he?)) sitting on the beach. The shot is from above, characters’ backs to the camera, and we see the ocean and the skyline… It’s a beautiful shot composed of such tone… Just how well-made a film The Wackness is is hinted at throughout the film, but when you see this shot (and the entire late-in-the-film scene on the beach), you know. Definitively.

As mentioned, all performances are really well-played. Famke Janssen plays Kingsley’s bored wife. It’s a small role, but it’s a depressing role if there ever was one. Not cry-depressing, but “Geez! Open up the blinds! Let the sun shine through your windows!”-depressing. She obviously gets this point across well. Method Man plays a drug dealer’s drug dealer (literally) and plays it convincingly, even carrying an authentic-sounding accent. Olivia Thirlby gets past her somewhat annoying Juno character and nails it as Kingsley’s privileged step-daughter. Even Mary-Kate Olsen does a good job in her brief role. And of course, Kingsley: Check. Josh Peck is known for his performances on children/tween shows on Nickelodeon.  In movie-land it might be possible that you know him for two roles. His one as a New York City teenage drug dealer in The Wackness and his role as a cruel and annoying potty-mouthed bully (when he was a large prepubescent kid) in 2004’s Mean Creek. Both, more or less, “indie” films. (Mean Creek much more so) And he does a great job in each of these roles.

You know protagonist Luke Shapiro (Peck). Or at least have experienced one of the things he experiences in the film. You must have (or will). This is life. The guy just graduated from high school for Pete’s sake. You don’t remember that? Or the stuff that was going on in your teenage life? Youth! Youth! What a time.

The Wackness details Luke’s summer months between high school and college as he deals pot and deals with life. Kingsley is his fairly eccentric psychologist, trading sessions for marijuana. The Shapiro family is having troubles, key among them, financial troubles. Luke sets out to help his family with his pot dealing profits. He also deals in order to save up money for college. That’s a real person right there. Real. (albeit, feelgood movie-esque)

Thank writer/director Jason Levine for an excellent film. As we’ve discussed, we know the film is a well-made film and all the performances are terrific. But you know we have a great film on our hands when we recognize that The Wackness has a great script. It’s magnificent. First love, heartbreak, hip-hop, drugs, being young and alive; all these themes are authentically touched upon. The film is set in 1994 and, yes, Levine accurately brings us back. Biggie is up-and-coming, Luke references Pearl Jam and we get to hear A Tribe Called Quest’s classic “Can I Kick It?”

This film makes you smile, laugh, recognize, feel, think. Yes! This is a funny movie! One of the funniest and most sincere films of 2008 so far. This is an excellent, excellent movie. It’s dark. It has substance. It has meaning. The meaning of life! Luke and Kingsley’s shrink talk of the meaning of life and how to live. This is brilliant. The Wackness is a brilliant film (or at least really good). Go see it.

– R.H.

Vman’s Take:

Jonathan Levine is definitely an auteur to watch out for. Easily one of the best movies of 2008, The Wackness captures the essence of the mid ’90s with a perfect combination of hip-hop, drugs and heartbreak. This film reminds us once again of the promises of the indie film movement, in that it allows certain filmmakers to create highly personal and startlingly original works of art. Do not be put off by seemingly clichéd characters such as the depressed, drug-addicted psychologist played by Ben Kingsley or Olivia Thirlby’s bored and extremely promiscuous (what a combo) rich girl. Levine adds nuance to these archetypes and charms the viewer with his humor, allowing him to deliver an emotional wallop in the film’s bittersweet conclusion.

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Nike and the Boredoms Present… 88BoaDrum!!!!!!!!

For those of you who have come across this site in search of news about the Boredoms, well, here’s a tasty tidbit: (The) Boredoms have announced their second crazy, mass-drummer experiment, set for (as predicted) August 8, 2008 (8/8/08).

It’s taking place in both Los Angeles and Brooklyn, New York. They’re both free public events. They’ve got 88 drummers. They’re both sponsored by Nike. They’re both… Wait. What? Nike? Yep. The Boredoms increase the weirdness factor every time we run into each other.

Don’t forget other artists teaming up with Nike in recent times. LCD Soundsystem. The very recent A-Trak release. Beat maker Lance Armstrong. Etcetera.

And according to Pitchfork, Soft Circle’s Hisham Bharoocha is the 88BoaDrum (the name of this crazy percussion-wild event) artistic director. (Soft Circle toured with the Boredoms recently. Check out our review.)

The drummers will be in L.A. it seems, while friends of the Boredoms Gang Gang Dance take care of Brooklyn duties.

Get the full details over at the aforementioned Pitchfork.

Sounds like a good time. Anybody making a road trip out to one of the events?

– R.H.

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TSV’s Consumer Guide: Summer Movies

In Christgauian spirit, instead of full reviews here are some quick and dirty opinions on the latest cinematic fare:

The Fall: Brilliant, original film-making and an excellent juxtaposition of the dark side of film: a suicidal actor (Lee Pace) with fantastical escapism narrates a story about a motley crew of outcasts taking on an evil governor to an idealistic young girl (Catinca Untaru). The performances are pitch perfect and the visuals, filmed on location in a variety of breathtaking locales, house an epic adventure, which form an improbable yet highly effective contrast to the interior struggle of Pace’s paralyzed actor with his condition and his failed romantic relationship. This unique film, helmed by the Indian film director Tarsem Singh (who often goes by just Tarsem) and “presented” by David Fincher and Spike Jonze fuses various genres and ideas so seamlessly that it demands to be seen and enjoyed.

R.H. on The Fall: Beautiful, beautiful film. Breathtaking, visually. The story is a bit weak. But being such a visually stunning film, you want to forgive the movie of all its missteps.

The Wackness

Savage Grace: A highly controversial movie that one cannot help but have an opinion about. The incestuous and extremely unsettling relationship between a divorced mother (Julianne Moore) and her son (Eddie Redmayne) is based on a true story and is likely to dominate the coverage of the film. This development, though expected, is highly unfortunate in that it precludes notice of Moore and Redmayne’s excellent performances. The queasy chemistry they establish, though not something to be relished, is certainly something to be admired as an excellent exercise in craft. Stephen Dillane turns in another disturbing performance as Moore’s estragned alpha male, explorer husband. Director Tom Kalin, imbues the movie with easily overlooked subtext concerning the nature of masculinity and sexuality. Again, the issue of the affair between Moore’s character and her gay son, ultimately grabs much of the attention and overshadows the careful character studies at play in this movie. That is why, I, your humble reviewer, ask that you put aside your own trepidations regarding incest and give this stylish and perfectly made movie a chance.

Wanted: James McAvoy brings his own charm to this film, mainly in that he cannot act without bringing out the humanity in his characters, whether it was as a half-goat, half-man in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or a working class young man in over his head in 2007’s Atonement. Predictably enough, McAvoy cannot “make an action movie that’s actually good” as he told Jon Stewart he aimed to do. The sheer ridiculousness of the plot inspired stifled laughter among my movie watching mate and your humble narrator. Of course, all action movies are ridiculous but Wanted takes it to such high levels and sorely lacks any of the philosophy that made the outrageous stunts of The Matrix so worthwhile that one is left with a naked Angelina Jolie, a sleepwalking Morgan Freeman and lots of bendy bullets but not much of a film.

R.H. on Wanted: Surprisingly, this film is pretty entertaining. The first half is fairly action-packed and funny. It’s a good summer popcorn flick. Very profane and bloody. Is the plot ridiculous? A society of killers worships a loom. You tell me. A fun movie, though.

Hancock: Many viewers, critics included went into the film expecting another pleasing but not excessively demanding genre film from Will Smith. Disappointment set in as they realized that Peter Berg, with his handheld camera close ups and focus on character, is trying to do more with the story than create a few huge digital action set pieces and collect his paycheck. Hancock is easily one of the most severely underrated and exceptionally good superhero movies ever made. This is a movie, that although will clearly make ridiculous amounts of money, will not be fully appreciated by its current audience. Perhaps filmgoers in the future, free from the expectations of viewers today, will be able to appreciate the way Berg makes a character-based superhero movie. Will Smith refuses to rehash the cocky smartass protagonists he has been asked to portray so frequently in films such as Wild Wild West and Men in Black and plays Hancock with the sense of melancholy, turmoil and even humor that the material requires. Sure, there are tonal shifts but such is life; it can be a Shakespearean comedy and a Greek Myth at the same time. Hancock has strains of both and emerges as a severely under-appreciated, very good film that asks the viewer to take a leap of faith into experimental superhero film territory  in its finale, those who do will surely be rewarded.

R.H. on Hancock: The critics were mostly right. The first two acts are pretty entertaining. The third though… a wee bit weird. The third act introduces a concept that could easily carry its own full-length, sci-fi/fantasy film. But the ferocious speed at which silly ideas are catapulted at the audience boggles the mind. Even the “villain” that reappears later in the film… Not creepy or disturbing. Just plain annoying. Blame the writers, but blame “actor” Eddie Marsan, as well. Hancock is not as horrendous as the mass of reviews would have you believe. It’s good. But it could have been much, much better.

Get Smart: It’s a funny, mainstream comedy with excellent comic performances from all the players. It is a consistent laugh-maker. Thank whoever (Get Smart TV series co-creator Mel Brooks?) that these type of movies (funny films that are actually good) still exist. – R.H.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army: Meh. It’s entertaining. But nothing really that great.

The Incredible Hulk: This movie was made to make money. According to press reports, Edward Norton wished to do more with it but was severely limited in his attempts to flesh out the character by Marvel Studios (trying to match their recent success with May’s classy action film Iron Man) who correctly guessed that the average moviegoer would rather see the Hulk smash rather than Bruce Banner brood over his tragic condition. Ang Lee’s original Hulk (2003) was a mixed bag but there was a great film in there somewhere. This iteration of the Hulk story wishes to show you flashy special effects and I suppose, “entertain” the average viewer, which it manages to do to a large degree. Still, one cannot help but wish that the studio bigwigs had given Norton a little bit more freedom to truly show us who Bruce Banner was and not just give the director of The Transporter 2, Louis Letterier, lots of money to blow lots of stuff up.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Continuing the trend of movies simply made to make a buck, this series of reviews shall be concluded with the latest Indiana Jones movie. Harrison Ford is back, the fedora is back and so is the iconic John Williams score. Indy is fighting the communists, represented by Cate Blanchett, who although mired in a quest for world domination are in an odd Plato-like quest to attain ultimate knowledge. There is an unintended tragic nobleness about the culmination of Blanchett’s evil Communist’s quest to solve the mystery of the crystal skulls that led me to care a bit more than your humble reviewer should have, considering that this film featured an action sequence in which the chief protagonists were friendly commie-hating monkeys and then commie-hating ants. Clearly, everyone here is mailing it in, but the movie is not without its small pleasures, such as a bar fight between the greasers and the socs. Shia LeBeouf is an actor that continues to inspire indifference and a stray chuckle or two. The latest Indiana Jones movie accomplishes the goals of its creators, to replicate the adventure films of Spielberg’s earlier days, and more importantly, make everyone a lot of money.

On that slightly depressing and cynical note, I bid you adieu and sincerely hope that you can process the flood of movie criticism unleashed by your humble narrator.

-Vman

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Review: ‘The Ruiner’ by Made Out Of Babies

Surprising. Unexpected.

I did not know what to expect from this album. Album cover? Made Out Of Babies? Metal that’s “not metal”?

Well, turns out, it’s pretty darn good. Or at least, so far, it’s more accessible than expected. Good!

The first track, “Cooker,” definitely starts the album off on a good note. Or rather, some good pushed-to-its-limits guitar. “Cooker” is the most original track, musically, on the album. If Made Out Of Babies can be defined by “Cooker,” they’ve done well.

Going through the album, vocalist Julie Christmas both worries and captivates us. She does quite a good job at her screams and the other noises required for being the best metal singer you can be. Christmas takes a sinister drive at the wheel of her vocals. Christmas works expertly with the music of Made Out Of Babies (what a name, right?). Vocals at the front, or the stuff mixed in the background, it all works out well.

The fault shouldn’t entirely rest on Christmas, but possibly because of the female vocals, The Ruiner begins to sound somewhat bland; derivative in the same way as other female-fronted “metal” projects. Least names be mentioned, let’s just say that’s not good. But Christmas is fine, just the haunted memories the music + her voice bring out are bad. In all likelihood, we need more confident female vocalists like Christmas doing right on hard rocking music.

As previously discussed, the music of Made Out Of Babies is most out-there/experimental on “Cooker.” Elsewhere, the band crafts well-made metal, trying to escape the restrictiveness such a label can have on a band. Traditional metal chugs are coupled with the crystal-clear guitar work sometimes found in the modern metal landscape (see: “The Major”). The drums are often the most distinctive part of The Ruiner. Drummer Matthew Egan pounds when needed and drops the sticks on a remote drum when it sounds good. Complaints are hard to make.

The Ruiner reaches a nice plateau of easily-accessible metal with enough uniqueness and originality to justify its existence. It’s not pop-metal, nor [anything close to] art-metal, but…there certainly are a few good pop songs on the record.

– R.H.

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